6. The Modes of Generation of Flowers and Trees: Homeric Poetry and Theophrastus

In Chapters 4 and 5, we surveyed two sets of Homeric vegetal images. The one set associates arboreal images with the established order of the cosmos and floral images with changes or challenges to that order. In the other set, the wild growths both of flowers and of trees are associated with uncivilized lands, in contrast with the managed growths of agricultural fields and orchards, which are in turn associated with the good order of civilized societies.
The two sets of images do not map perfectly onto one another: wild growths of flowers and trees are differentiated in images of cosmic order and of changes and challenges to that order, but not in the equivalent civic images. Nevertheless, if we consider these two sets of images alongside one another, it is possible to distinguish four different kinds of vegetal growth, together with their respective conceptual associations. Wild floral growths are associated both with challenges or changes to cosmic order and with an absence of civic order. Wild growths of trees, by contrast, are associated with uncivilized lands, but not with changes or challenges to cosmic order. At the other end of the scale, two kinds of vegetal growth managed by human hands—cereal crops and fruit trees—are associated with good order in the city; and as we have seen, the Odyssey places special emphasis on the orderly connotations of orchards.
I have already suggested that the associations of crops and orchards with civic and not with cosmic order reflects a belief that civilized societies could only be maintained through the careful efforts of their rulers. But we have yet to gain a sense of the reasons why the poets of the Odyssey might have seen fit to differentiate between agricultural and arboricultural labor; nor, a fortiori, can we yet intuit why the Homeric poets might have distinguished between the four different kinds of vegetal growth outlined above. But as we shall see, it is possible to explain why they associated these four kinds of vegetal growth with different degrees of order and disorder, if we read our Homeric evidence alongside the descriptions of plants in the botanical treatises of Theophrastus. [1] Theophrastus’ treatment of vegetal generation draws on an intellectual tradition dating back to the Presocratics and hence to the archaic age, the focus of our study. [2] But of all archaic and classical Greek authors, Theophrastus gives us our clearest exposition of the various types of vegetal growth.
When we compare Homeric vegetal imagery with Theophrastus’ treatises, we can see why the Homeric poets might have associated flowers and trees with cosmic order and with challenges to that order: such associations relied on Greek perceptions of distinctions between spontaneous and non-spontaneous growths. Reflecting such beliefs, Theophrastus explains that small flowering plants were capable of spontaneous generation, outside the bounds of regular causality, but that wild trees are more likely to arise from more regular origins, such as seeds. In Homeric poetry, this contrast is echoed in a distinction between the perfect and pluperfect tenses of φύω (regular arboreal growths) and the verb’s present, future, and aorist tenses (spontaneous floral growths).
A combination of Theophrastus’ treatises with the linguistic choices of the Homeric poets also helps us to understand why orchards might carry particularly close associations with civic order in the Odyssey. Theophrastus distinguishes between the modes of propagation of domesticated trees and crops: while agriculture depended on modes of generation found also in the natural world, trees in orchards were propagated through techniques not paralleled in the wild, such as grafting: these were, then, modes of propagation associated only with civilized spaces. The Homeric poets reflected this distinction in their use of the root ἀρο- to describe agricultural labor and agricultural fields, and of φυτο/ε- to describe arboricultural labor and orchards.

Spontaneous and Non-Spontaneous Growths of Wild Plants: Homeric Poetry and Theophrastus

In preparation for my comparison of Homeric and Theophrastan depictions of vegetal generation, I would like to focus firstly on Historia Plantarum 2.1.1, where Theophrastus categorizes the different modes of vegetal generation:
Αἱ γενέσεις τῶν δένδρων καὶ ὅλως τῶν φυτῶν ἢ αὐτόματοι ἢ ἀπὸ σπέρματος ἢ ἀπὸ ῥίζης ἢ ἀπὸ παρασπάδος ἢ ἀπὸ ἀκρεμόνος ἢ ἀπὸ κλωνὸς ἢ ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ τοῦ στελέχους εἰσίν… Τούτων δὲ ἡ μὲν αὐτόματος πρώτη τις, αἱ δὲ ἀπὸ σπέρματος καὶ ῥίζης φυσικώταται δόξαιεν ἄν· ὥσπερ γὰρ αὐτόματοι καὶ αὐταί, διὸ καὶ τοῖς ἀγρίοις ὑπάρχουσιν· αἱ δὲ ἄλλαι τέχνης ἢ δὴ προαιρέσεως.
Theophrastus Historia Plantarum 2.1.1
The modes of generation of trees and plants in general are either spontaneous or from a seed or from a root or from a shoot or from a branch or from a slip or from the trunk itself… Of these the spontaneous is first, but those from seed and root might seem the most natural; they are themselves also, as it were, spontaneous in that they are found in wild plants; the others are matters of skill or deliberate choice.
In this passage, Theophrastus establishes two contrasts which, when supplemented with other statements of his, suggest four modes of generation. On the one hand, he sets spontaneous (αὐτόματος) generation against generation from some part of a parent plant (seed, root, shoot, branch, slip, or trunk). On the other, he distinguishes the generation of wild plants in general from those modes of generation requiring human input, i.e., generation from shoot, branch, slip, or trunk. As he explains, the propagation of wild plants might also be called αὐτόματος, but only by analogy (ὥσπερ, “as if”) with αὐτόματος generation sensu stricto: presumably, such generation is spontaneous in the sense that it occurs of its own accord, without the need for human management. [3] As for generation from shoot, branch, slip, or trunk, Theophrastus elsewhere makes it clear that these practices belong not to the cultivation of agricultural crops, but to arboriculture: cereals and legumes grow only from seed or (weakly) from root-stock. [4] He implies, then, that there are four modes of generation: spontaneous (sensu stricto) generation deriving from no part of a parent plant; wild generation from seed or root-stock (which might be called spontaneous by analogy); agricultural generation from seed or root-stock; and generation using techniques specific to arboriculture—from shoot, branch, slip or trunk. As we shall see, these four modes of generation offer a parallel for the four kinds of vegetal growth in our Homeric passages and help us to understand the origins of the relevant Homeric images in perceptions of vegetal growth in the natural environment.
I would like to start with the Homeric associations of flowers with challenges or changes to cosmic order. As we shall see, the growths in the relevant passages broadly resemble descriptions of spontaneous (sensu stricto) generation in the work of Theophrastus and his predecessors in the Presocratic tradition. This suggests that in their descriptions of flowers the Homeric poets were, like Theophrastus and his archaic predecessors, describing a mode of propagation outside the bounds of regular vegetal reproduction. Such generation, which did not follow the rules for regular propagation, would have provided a ready model for Homeric poets to explore actions and events that undermined the established order of the cosmos.
In keeping with the tendencies of their respective genres, the Homeric poets trace these irregular growths to divine influence, but Theophrastus and his predecessors employ purely physical explanations for such processes. Personified gods are a strong presence not only in the Homeric Hymns but also in the Iliad and the Odyssey; and in all of the Homeric poems such characters help to bring about events that are beyond the control of human agents. Their interventions include manipulations of the world of nature: at Odyssey 23.241–246, for instance, Athena holds back the dawn so that Odysseus and Penelope can enjoy the first night together after their reunion. Similarly, the actions or simply the presence of gods in our descriptions of changes or challenges to cosmic order appear to cause wild growths of flowers. Gaia for instance “sends up” the narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter. The flowers of Hymn to Apollo 135–139 sprout automatically the moment that Apollo first strides onto Delos. Likewise, flowers grow in the Διὸς ἀπάτη as Zeus takes Hera in his arms (Iliad 14.346–349).
By contrast, the models of spontaneous generation developed by the Presocratics and by Theophrastus attribute such processes to physical causes alone. Theophrastus and his predecessors tend to explain spontaneous generation as the result of the sun’s warming mixtures of earth and water. Anaximander for instance is of the opinion that ex aqua terraque calefactis exortos esse siue pisces seu piscibus simillima animalia (“from heated water and earth arose either fish or animals very similar to fish,” A30 DK). [5] Theophrastus explains spontaneous generation in similar terms: it occurs when the sun warms a mixture of earth and water (De Causis Plantarum 1.5.5). [6] At 1.1.2, he adds the element of decomposition: spontaneous generation arises ἐκ συρροῆς καὶ σήψεως (“from flowing together and rotting,” De Causis Plantarum 1.1.2; cf. 5.4.6). [7]
In other respects, however, the descriptions of wild floral growths in our Homeric passages bear a close resemblance to Theophrastus’ descriptions of spontaneous generation. Firstly, the kinds of plants that Theophrastus associates with spontaneous generation match those that are described in our Homeric passages. Theophrastus believes that spontaneous generation is typical of smaller plants, especially annuals (ἐπετείων) and herbaceous (ποωδῶν) species: αἱ δ’ αὐτόματοι γίνονται μέν … τῶν ἐλαττόνων καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἐπετείων καὶ ποωδῶν (“spontaneous modes of generation pertain to smaller plants, especially annuals and herbs,” De Causis Plantarum 1.5.1). The descriptions of flowers in Homeric images of cosmic change accord with Theophrastus’ statements: Theophrastus’ annual and herbaceous plants are precisely the sort of small, flowering plants that we have encountered in the relevant Homeric passages.
Secondly, Theophrastus and his predecessors describe spontaneous generation as unparented growth—in the case of plants, growth that did not originate from a part of a parent plant, such as a root or a seed. [8] Our Homeric passages are consistent with this notion: in none of the passages that we have studied is there any mention of a seed or a bulb whence the flower might have originated. This omission is particularly striking in the case of the narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter. As we saw in Chapter 4 above, lines 12–14 of the hymn describe in detail the parts of the narcissus. But there is no mention of a bulb: the plant emerges only as a result of Gaia’s actions. As in Theophrastus’ treatises, then, these Homeric flowers emerge suddenly and without obvious botanical cause. We can observe a correlation between Theophrastus’ descriptions of irregular vegetal growths and Homeric descriptions of floral growths associated with changes or challenges to cosmic order: both the Homeric poets and Theophrastus describe irregular growths that do not require seeds or bulbs.
There is also a correlation between the sorts of plants that are associated with more regular vegetal growths in Theophrastus’ treatises and in the Homeric poems. The trees that the Homeric poets associate with the more permanent order of the cosmos are the sorts of wild plants that, according to Theophrastus, do not typically follow spontaneous modes of generation. Theophrastus explains that spontaneous generation only occurs in larger plants under special conditions: where there is heavy rain, or some other peculiar configuration of the air or the ground (οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν μειζόνων ἔστιν ὅτε συμβαίνουσιν, ὅταν ἢ ἐπομβρίαι κατάσχωσιν ἢ ἄλλη τις ἰδιότης γένηται περὶ τὸν ἀέρα καὶ τὴν γῆν, De Causis Plantarum, 1.5.1). These larger plants, which would include the trees of the Greek natural environment, reproduce instead from seeds or root-stock, as can be seen from the extract quoted at the top of this section (Historia Plantarum 2.1.1).
The relevant Homeric passages place emphasis on mature arboreal growths rather than on the generation of trees. Nevertheless, like the trees that reproduce from seeds or root-stock in Theophrastus’ treatises these arboreal growths form a clear contrast with the spontaneous growths of flowers. In Theophrastus’ treatises the non-spontaneous generation of larger plants, which arise from identifiable botanical causes, contrast with the spontaneous generation of smaller plants and with their origins in warmed earth and water. In Homeric poetry, arboreal growths such as Sleep’s tree in the Διὸς ἀπάτη or the date-palm in the Hymn to Apollo are stable and enduring features of the landscape, quite unlike the sudden growths of flowers in those passages.
Such a contrast between stable arboreal growths and sudden growths of flowers is reinforced in our Homeric passages through the use of different forms of the verb φύω. [9] Growths of flowers in Homeric descriptions of challenges to cosmic order are marked by the present, future, imperfect, or aorist tenses of the verb or, to speak more technically, by its continuous or perfective aspects. [10] The aorist (perfective aspect) draws attention to the suddenness of the growth. It is used of the growth of the narcissus in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, once by the external narrator and once by Persephone: φῦσε (8), ἔφυσ’ (428). [11] By contrast, the present and imperfect tenses (continuous aspect) dramatize the process of growth. For the duration of Zeus and Hera’s lovemaking, the earth “was sending up” (φύεν, Iliad 14.347) flowers beneath the divine couple. [12]
The Hymn to Apollo associates the future tense of φύω with floral growths. The future may describe either duration or punctuality and may therefore emphasize either the suddenness of the emergence of flowers or the process of their growth. Leto’s threat to Delos that she will never bring forth plants, which is answered by the flowers that bloom as Apollo steps onto the island, is couched in the future tense: οὔτ’ ἂρ φυτὰ μυρία φύσεις (“you will not grow [nor continue to grow?] countless plants/trees,” Hymn to Apollo 55). [13] The use of this tense anticipates either the continuous process implied by the present participle in the phrase χρυσῷ … βεβρίθει καθορῶσα (“as [Delos] looked [at him], she was weighed down with gold,” 135–136), or the perfective ἤνθησ’ (“flowered,” 139), which emphasizes the moment when the golden flowers first bloomed on the island.
The perfect stem of φύω, a stative form of the verb, describes stable arboreal growths that are associated with the established order of the cosmos. While the flowers that bloom beneath the divine lovers in Iliad 14 are linked to the imperfect of φύω, the sky-high tree on which Sleep sits, foreshadowing his challenge to Zeus’ control of the cosmos, is described with the perfect participle of φύω as “having grown very tall” (μακροτάτη πεφυυῖα, 288). The “heaven-high” fir of Calypso’s island (Odyssey 5.239) is twice associated with the pluperfect of φύω: it is one of the “tall trees” (δένδρεα μακρά, 238, 241) that “had grown” (πεφύκει, 238, 241) at the edge of the island. Unlike the verb βεβρίθει at Hymn to Apollo 136, the pluperfect seems here to have a stative rather than continuous force. While Delos becomes weighed down with golden flowers during the course of the Hymn to Apollo, the trees of Calypso’s island are in a full state of growth in the historic past of the hymn. This difference is signaled by the use of a present participle along with the pluperfect in the first passage but not the second. [14]
Such Homeric uses of the perfect and pluperfect tenses suggest endurance and stability, in keeping with the evocations of cosmic stability and orderliness in the passages cited above. While the imperfect describes processes and the aorist is associated with punctual actions, the perfect tense denotes a state that is an enduring, non-momentary achievement of the subject. Likewise, the pluperfect frequently describes an enduring state in the past. [15] And when coupled in Homeric poetry with prepositions or adverbs of place, the perfect and pluperfect of φύω also suggest fixity, i.e., permanence of location. [16] Described with such verb forms, the growths of trees in the relevant passages would have provided a ready image for ancient audiences to understand the stability of cosmic order, which could likewise be associated with stative verbs. The perfect tense is, for instance, used by Poseidon at 15.189 in his description of the division of the cosmos, which we discussed in Chapter 4: τριχθὰ δὲ πάντα δέδασται, ἕκαστος δ’ ἔμμορε τιμῆς (“all things have been divided in three, and each has received a share of honor.”) [17]
From this evidence, then, we can infer that Homeric images of order and disorder are based on a distinction between stable and spontaneous growths of wild plants that parallels Theophrastus’ distinction between spontaneous and non-spontaneous modes of generation. And in both cases such distinctions are readily explicable in terms of the natural phenomena that would have been familiar to the Homeric poets, Theophrastus, and their respective listeners and readers. In my Introduction, I noted the remarkable suddenness of Greek spring blooms. These sudden growths of flowers, appearing as if from nowhere to cover the barren winter landscape, would have created the impression of generation outside the confines of regular causality. [18] And such irregular floral growths would have offered a contrast with the more regular growths of trees in the Greek landscape.
It appears, then, that the Homeric images of cosmic order and its opposite respond to a contrast between sudden growths of flowers, perceived as spontaneous, and the more enduring growths of trees in the Greek landscape. Such imagery draws on concepts that would have been familiar to early audiences: the Homeric poets created images that linked the apparently more concrete dichotomy of regular and irregular modes of vegetal growth to the abstract concepts of cosmic order and of challenges to that order and thus enhanced listeners’ understanding of the relevant concepts. Order in the cosmos possessed the kind of stability and endurance of trees in the natural environment; but changes or challenges to that order arrived as suddenly as the Greek spring flowers.

Managed and Unmanaged Growths

Theophrastus’ distinctions between regular and irregular growths of wild plants, together with the linguistic distinctions presented by the use of φύω in our Homeric passages have helped us to understand the basis for Homeric images of order in the cosmos and of changes and challenges to that order. And if again we bear in mind not only the linguistic choices of the Homeric poets but also Theophrastus’ work on vegetal growth, we can gain new insights into the bases for Homeric images of civic order and its opposite. As demonstrated in Chapter 5, the relevant passages of Homeric poetry contrast wild growths in general—both flowers and trees—with managed growths. But at times the Homeric poets also distinguished between agricultural and arboricultural growths, the latter having a particularly close association with civilized order in the latter books of the Odyssey. Such distinctions are reflected in the language of the passages that we have studied. Wild growths are again associated with the verb φύω; but we do not find the clear distinctions between associations of spontaneous (sensu stricto) growth with the present, future, and aorist, and of non-spontaneous growth with the perfect and pluperfect tenses that we observed above. Rather, the Homeric poets contrasted agricultural and arboricultural growths with wild growths and with each other through use of the root ἀρο- (“plow”) and of the stem φυτο/ε- (“plant [trees]”). And such Homeric contrasts are mirrored in Theophrastus’ descriptions of wild as opposed to cultivated growth, and of arboricultural as opposed to agricultural techniques.
The differences between the kinds of plants that the Homeric poets associate with challenges and changes to cosmic and civic order can readily be explained if we bear in mind Theophrastus’ discussions of wild and cultivated growths at Historia Plantarum 2.1.1. Theophrastus presents two different perspectives on modes of propagation, which are reflected in alternative classifications of those modes. As we have already seen, Theophrastus distinguishes not only between spontaneous (αὐτόματος sensu stricto) and non-spontaneous generation in the wild, but also between wild growth and cultivated growth. Since wild growths arise not from deliberate management but of their own accord, they are “as it were, spontaneous” (ὥσπερ … αὐτόμαται). Theophrastus, then, describes two different conceptions of vegetal generation, which are reflected in the literal (sensu stricto) and metaphorical uses of the term αὐτόματος. If his readers focused only on plants in the wild, they could distinguish between those that reproduced without botanical cause, following spontaneous (sensu stricto) modes of generation, and those that reproduced from seeds or root-stock. But they could also contrast these different kinds of wild growth, which were all “as it were, spontaneous,” with the kinds of generation that occurred in cultivated plants.
Such differences in perspective are suggested also in our Homeric passages. On the one hand we have observed associations of the regular growths of trees in the wild with cosmic order and associations of irregular growths of flowers with challenges to that order. Such a contrast mirrors Theophrastus’ distinction between the spontaneous (sensu stricto) generation of smaller plants in the wild and the non-spontaneous generation of larger plants in similar settings. On the other hand, the Homeric poets associate cultivated plants with civic order and wild growths in general with uncivilized lands. This second contrast echoes Theophrastus’ distinction between the modes of generation of cultivated plants and of wild plants in general, which might be thought of as spontaneous, but only by analogy. This evidence from Theophrastus, then, draws our attention to the different viewpoints embodied in the two sets of Homeric images studied in Part II: images of cosmic order and of challenges and changes to that order distinguish between different kinds of wild growths, while images of civic order and its opposite treat wild growths as a single category and contrast them with cultivated growths.
Theophrastus’ treatises also help us to understand the particular emphasis on arboriculture in our Odyssean descriptions of civilized order. As we have already seen, Theophrastus distinguishes between the techniques used to propagate agricultural crops (cereals and legumes) and those used in arboriculture. Cereals and legumes are usually grown from seed: that is, they follow a mode of generation also found in the wild. But arboriculture employs modes of propagation not found in the wild, such as the use of a slip from the parent plant. These modes are the result “of skill or deliberate choice” (τέχνης ἢ δὴ προαιρέσεως, Historia Plantarum 2.1.1): that is, they require the labor and decision-making capabilities of a gardener. Such observations are in keeping with the contrasts that we have observed in Homeric poetry. Although the Odyssey does not list the various techniques of arboriculture, it places emphasis on the work required to manage arboreal growths.
What is more, like the final books of the Odyssey, Theophrastus’ treatises associate civilized order more closely with arboriculture than with agriculture. Only once in his treatises does Theophrastus associate the cultivation of cereals with the act of civilizing: at De Causis Plantarum 3.20.6, he describes land that has been worked in preparation for sowing as “tamed”—διημερωθείσης τῆς γῆς. But in several other passages Theophrastus and the other authors whom he cites associate arboriculture with civilization or, more specifically, with the act of civilizing the recalcitrant. Propagation from shoot, branch, or slip, as mentioned at Historia Plantarum 2.1.1, would often be carried out by grafting the torn-off piece onto a new plant. At 2.7.6–7, Theophrastus cites some who refer to such techniques as the punishment of an overweening host tree (κολάζειν ὡς ὑβρίζον τὸ δένδρον, “to punish the tree as if it were overweening”), [19] or others who imagine it as an act of correction (εὐθύνειν).
Theophrastus’ treatises have given us a sense, then, of the reasons for some of the choices of the Homeric poets. We have come to see why, in forming their imagery of civic order and its opposite, they might have chosen to distinguish between wild growths and managed growths and at times also between agricultural and arboricultural growths. While cultivated growths are managed by human hands, wild growths might be considered “spontaneous” (αὐτόματος) in the sense that they grow of their own accord. And owing to the techniques of arboriculture, managed growths of trees are more clearly separated from wild growths than agricultural crops.
We can moreover see how Homeric images of the civilized and the uncivilized drew on audiences’ perceptions of their environments to help them understand these abstract concepts. They could conceive of the distinction between civic order and its opposite through the rather more tangible contrast between the orderly plantations of the civilized world and the wild lands beyond it. [20] These plantations are set off from the wild lands beyond the community—with the sorts of walls (ἕρκος) that surround the orchards of Scheria and Ithaca—and managed by farmers and gardeners. From their observations of those at work in orchards and fields, at least some listeners would also have been aware of distinctions between the techniques of agriculture and arboriculture.
And these distinctions between managed and unmanaged growths, and between agricultural and arboricultural labor are reflected in the language found in our Homeric images of civic order and its opposite. Wild growths in the relevant passages are described with the verb φύω. The managed growths of agricultural lands and orchards are, however, associated with different linguistic markers. The root ἀρο- most commonly describes agricultural fields and agricultural labor; but the substantival stem φυτο/ε-, built on the root φυ-, is frequently associated with arboricultural labor.
Earlier in this chapter, we noted a distinction between the different parts of φύω used to designate the sudden emergence of flowers and the stable growth of wild trees in the Homeric images of cosmic order and of challenges to that order. The passages that describe civic order and its opposite present evidence of similar distinctions; however, in keeping with the greater importance of contrasts between managed and unmanaged growths in the relevant passages, such distinctions are not drawn as precisely as in the first set of images that we discussed. The present tense of φύω is associated with spontaneous growths, but not with spontaneous growths of flowers; arboreal growths are described with the perfect and pluperfect of φύω, but can also be associated with other parts of that verb.
Some of the relevant passages suggest a general distinction between spontaneous growths and more orderly arboreal growths, marked with different forms of the verb φύω. The first Hymn to Dionysus, for instance, uses the present tense of φύω to describe superabundant vegetation that is also associated with a lack of civilized order. Dionysus’ uncivilized birthplace sends up beautiful, nourishing plants (φύει, Hymn 1.14). [21] As with the descriptions of flowers considered above, these plants appear to grow spontaneously under the influence of the god. The present tense of φύω also describes the spontaneous vegetation of the land of the Cyclopes, in a passage that we shall discuss in more detail below. These growths are likewise inspired by the gods: “trusting in the immortal gods, / [the Cyclopes] neither plant nor sow …” (Odyssey 9.107–108); nevertheless, rain from Zeus swells their cereals and vines (110–111). Apparently, these plants grow without the need for seeds (ἄσπαρτα, 109), like the small plants described by Theophrastus.
In other passages, the perfect tense of φύω describes wild growths of trees. For instance, the wild poplars on Goat Island “have grown” (πεφύασιν, 9.141). [22] As we might expect, the Phaeacian orchards, which combine more regular growths with spontaneous effusions of fruit, are associated both with stative and with non-stative aspects of φύω. On the one hand, the present tense of the verb refers to the unheimlich, superabundant fruit that grows in the orchards (φύει, Odyssey 7.119). This fruit is nurtured by the West Wind: again, spontaneous growth is associated with divine influence. [23] On the other hand, the perfect tense of the verb describes the trees and garden-beds of the Phaeacian plantations (πεφύκασι, 7.114; πεφύασι 128).
But still other Homeric passages that explore the concepts of civilized order and its opposite associate arboreal growths with non-stative tenses of φύω: these passages, then, do not distinguish between arboreal and non-arboreal growths as clearly as those that we considered above. In contrast with Homeric descriptions of cosmic order, the relevant images emphasize the process of growth of these trees, rather than the stable states that they eventually achieve. The two olive trees that shelter Odysseus on his arrival in Scheria are described not only with the perfect, but also with the aorist of φύω (πεφυῶτας, 5.477; ἔφυν, 481). This use of the aorist dramatizes the process by which they came to be interwoven: πυκνοὶ / ἀλλήλοισι ἔφυν ἐπαμοιβαδίς, “they grew thick and intertwined.” The aorist of the verb likewise describes the olive tree around which Odysseus constructs his bed (23.190). In this way, the description of the olive on Ithaca echoes that of the olives of Scheria, the land that of all those visited by Odysseus most closely resembles Ithaca. The use of the aorist at 23.190 would also have encouraged audiences to imagine the natural growth that took place before Odysseus carried out his work on the olive and thus drew it fully into the realm of culture: θάμνος ἔφυ τανύφυλλος ἐλαίης … / … ἀπέκοψα κόμην τανυφύλλου ἐλαίης, “a leafy thicket of olive grew … / I cut off the foliage of the long-leafed olive” (190, 195). [24]
What is more, although the allusions to flowers in the Homeric imagery of uncivilized lands accord with the descriptions of spontaneous, divinely inspired growths in the passages that we considered above, they are not marked by the present, aorist, or future tenses of φύω: this, then, marks a further departure from the Homeric descriptions of challenges to cosmic order. As we have seen, the “flowery meadows” of Hymn to Aphrodite 169 suggest the wild power of Aphrodite that undermines Anchises’ efforts to tame the wild spaces of Mount Ida. Similarly, as we have observed, the disorderly nature of the god Pan receives its complement in the wild floral growths of Hymn to Pan 25–26. And in Odyssey 5, Calypso’s divine power appears to inspire violets to grow in her meadows: as we noted in Chapter 5, this demi-goddess is closely associated both with her cave and with the luxuriant vegetation surrounding it. [25] But in none of these passages are floral growths described with the verb φύω.
The managed growths associated with civilized order in the relevant passages are, however, clearly marked with the root ἀρο- or with the stem φυτο/ε-. The former root occurs in a number of the Homeric passages that associate agricultural labor with civilized order. At Iliad 11.67–71, for instance, the Trojans and Achaeans are compared with reapers working ἀνδρὸς μάκαρος κατ’ ἄρουραν, “in the field of a blessed man” (68). In Scheria, Nausithous “divided agricultural fields” (ἐδάσσατ’ ἀρούρας) among the Phaeacians (Odyssey 6.10). At 9.134, Odysseus sees the potential in the “flat plowland” (ἄροσις λείη) of Goat Island. [26]
Our passages associate the management of trees with the stem φυτο/ε-. We have seen how in Homeric images of cosmic order and its opposite spontaneous and non-spontaneous wild growths are described by different aspects of the verb φύω. By contrast, the stem φυτο/ε-, a substantival stem from the same verb, denotes managed growth, plants that have been grown by someone rather than simply left to grow. It is associated, in particular, with the managed trees found in orchards: according to LSJ, φυτόν denotes a “plant … esp. garden plant or tree”; φυταλιά suggests a “planted place, esp. orchard or vineyard, opp. to corn-land”; and φυτεύω means to “plant trees, esp. fruit trees.” [27]
In a number of our Homeric images, the substantival stem φυτο/ε- forms a contrast not only with the bare verbal root φυ- but also with the root ἀρο-, which as we have seen is connected with the growth of cereal crops. We can observe this in some of the passages that we explored in Chapter 5. The techniques and types of landscape denoted by φυτο/ε- and ἀρο- form a pair of complementary but distinct terms, as in the Iliadic formula φυταλιῆς καὶ ἀρούρης, “of orchard and plow-land” (Iliad 6.195, 12.134, 20.185). In these passages, the paired stems φυτο/ε- and ἀρο- describe the two chief kinds of cultivated lands. Similarly, in a passage mentioned above, Odysseus emphasizes the Cyclopes’ complete ignorance of the techniques of cultivation by pairing the stem φυτο/ε- with the root ἀρο- (Odyssey 9.108–109). He contrasts such techniques with the spontaneous generation of plants in the Cyclopes’ land, which he designates with the present tense of the verb φύω and again associates with an absence of agricultural labor: “they grow” (φύονται, 109) “unsown” (ἀνήροτα, a negativized adjective from the root ἀρο-):
οὔτε φυτεύουσιν χερσὶν φυτὸν οὔτ’ ἀρόωσιν,
ἀλλὰ τὰ γ’ ἄσπαρτα καὶ ἀνήροτα πάντα φύονται
Odyssey 9.108–109
They neither plant plants/trees with their hands nor sow,
But all these things grow unseeded and unsown.
In other passages of Homeric poetry the stem φυτο/ε- is used in isolation of arboricultural labor. We have encountered one instance where the noun φυτόν may refer to plants in general (Leto’s threat of barrenness to Delos at Hymn to Apollo 55). [28] But in other cases it clearly refers to trees grown in orchards. The noun is associated with Laertes’ manual labor in Odyssey 24: Odysseus observes him “digging around a tree,” λιστρεύοντα φυτόν (227; cf. φυτὸν ἀμφελάχαινε, 242), and praises his knowledge of every tree (φυτόν, 246). φυτόν is likewise used of trees in an orchard at Iliad 14.123, where Diomedes describes his father’s wealth: πολλοὶ δὲ φυτῶν ἔσαν ὄρχατοι ἀμφίς (“there are many orchards of trees all around”). The noun φυτόν, again with the meaning “tree,” is most famously associated with a character’s homeland at Iliad 18.57 and 438, where Thetis remembers how she raised Achilles φυτὸν ὣς … ἀλωῆς, “like a tree in an orchard.” [29] In other passages, the verb φυτεύω is used to describe arboricultural labor. At Iliad 6.419, nymphs are said to have tended elms around the tomb of Eetion: πτελέας ἐφύτευσαν. At Odyssey 18.359, Eurymachus makes a demeaning offer to his disguised king: he might make a living tending his long trees, δένδρεα μακρὰ φυτεύων. [30]
We have already seen that Odysseus’ attempts to reclaim his place in Ithacan society are closely associated with the management of trees. It is noteworthy, then, that one key aspect of his efforts—his plots against the suitors—is described with the verb φυτεύω, suggesting an arboricultural metaphor. Odysseus does not “plan” their deaths but rather “plants” or perhaps (to convey the specifically arboricultural sense of φυτεύω) “grafts” them. [31] For instance, as Halitherses predicts, φόνον καὶ κῆρα φυτεύει πάντεσσιν: “he plants/grafts murder and death for all,” Odyssey 2.165–166. [32] By contrast, the suitors’ plots against Odysseus and his family are most often described with the verb μηχανόω (“contrive”). [33] Odysseus’ description of the creation of the olive-tree bed, which enables him to be re-establish his marriage with Penelope, and Laertes’ tendance of his orchard, where Odysseus’ reintegration into the royal house of Ithaca is completed, are thus prefigured by Odysseus’ tendance of plots against the suitors’ lives, the first stage in that process.
The Homeric vegetal images of civilized order and of its opposite were based, then, on contrasts between the managed growths of agriculture or arboriculture and the untamed growths of the natural environment, contrasts which are reflected both in the treatises of Theophrastus and in the language of the relevant Homeric passages. By drawing on elements of the natural and tamed environments familiar to their audiences, the Homeric poets would have clarified their understanding of the antithetical relationship between disorder and civilization: while disorder in human communities resembled a return to the lawlessness of nature, the well-administered state was the result of careful management, like a tree governed by grafting and pollarding.
And if we combine these observations with our findings concerning the Homeric imagery of cosmic order and of challenges to that order, we detect a similar four-fold categorization of different kinds of vegetal growth in Theophrastus and Homeric poetry, though with verbal distinctions in the latter that are not found in the former: the spontaneous (sensu stricto) generation associated with small, flowering plants by Theophrastus and marked by the present, future, and aorist of φύω in Homeric poetry; the more regular growths of trees, marked by the perfect or pluperfect of φύω; the cultivation of cereals, associated with the root ἀρο-; and the techniques of arboriculture, connected with the substantival stem φυτο/ε-. My observations are summarized in Table 1 (next page).
The Homeric vegetal images of order and disorder were grounded, then, in perceived contrasts between spontaneous and more regular growths in the wild environment, between cultivated and non-cultivated growths, and between the techniques of agriculture and arboriculture. Cosmic order was strong and stable like the regular, enduring growths of trees in the natural environment; by contrast, the sudden emergence of flowers offered an image for challenges and changes to such established order. Civic order required the careful attention of a king, who managed his kingdom like the good gardener in his orchard. Uncivilized lands were like the wild growths beyond the boundaries of a community.
  Irregular growth-patterns Regular growth-patterns Harnessing processes found in the wild Using techniques not found in the wild
Theophrastus Spontaneous (sensu stricto)
Harnessing processes found in the wild
Common in smaller plants, rare in trees.
Non-spontaneous (sensu stricto)
Reproduction from seeds or root-stock.
Common in larger plants.
Reproduction from seeds (or root-stock).
Cereal crops.
Reproduction incl. grafting. (=“punishment”)
Trees in orchards.
Homeric Poetry φύω, continuous and perfective aspects.
Spontaneous growths of flowers.
Cosmic disorder and civic disorder.
φύω, stative aspect.
Enduring growths of trees.
Cosmic order but also civic disorder.
Cereal crops.
Civic order.
Trees in orchards.
Civic order.
Table 1: Regular, Irregular, and Managed Growths in Theophrastus and Homeric Poetry


[ back ] 1. For such a comparison, see Nagy 2013:345–364, esp. 350–351. Nagy reads the associations of good kingship with flourishing vegetation in the Just King simile (Odyssey 19.108–114) and in the description of Laertes’ orchards (Odyssey 24) alongside Theophrastus’ references to the taming of “overweening” vegetation, to be discussed below. He notes associations of justice with orderly vegetation and of injustice with uncontrolled vegetal growth.
[ back ] 2. See Quinn 1964, Amigues 2002b:22–23, and Theophrastus’ own discussion of spontaneous generation at Historia Plantarum 3.1.4, where he cites Anaxagoras, Diogenes, and Cleidemus. Like the Homeric poems, the work of the Presocratic philosophers arises from a tradition of oral performance active in the archaic period and continuing into classical times. For instance, a notice of Theophrastus (apud Simplicius Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics p. 23 lines 29–33 Diels = Thales B1 DK), regarding the first named figure in the tradition, Thales, records both that there were many earlier thinkers who studied nature (φύσις) and that Thales himself left only one written work. Diogenes Laertius refers to the opinions of some who go further in saying that Thales left no written works at all (1.23 = Thales A1 DK). Anaximander, moreover, received oral instruction from Thales: he was a “listener of Thales” (Θαλοῦ/Θαλέω ἀκουστής, Anaximander A4, 6 DK). Likewise, in the fifth century BCE oral performance was important to the activities of the successors of these archaic Greek thinkers, such as the sophists and Socrates. For further discussion of the Presocratics, see Chapter 4 n7.
[ back ] 3. See also De Causis Plantarum 3.1.1, where Theophrastus distinguishes between two objects of botanical study: μίαν μὲν τὴν ἐν τοῖς αὐτομάτοις γινομένην … ἑτέραν δὲ τὴν ἐκ τῆς ἐπινοίας καὶ παρασκευῆς … (“one, in the case of spontaneous things … the other that is from planning and preparation”). The second grouping is concerned with the human management of plants, such as the techniques of arboriculture. Quotations from De Causis Plantarum are taken from Amigues 2012–2017.
[ back ] 4. Cf. Historia Plantarum 8.1.2 (cereals and legumes) and below on the techniques of arboriculture.
[ back ] 5. See also Theophrastus’ accounts of Diogenes’ and Anaxagoras’ statements on spontaneous generation at Historia Plantarum 3.1.4. For spontaneous generation in Anaximander, see Gregory 2016:38–41. For the Presocratics more generally, see Lowe 2015:47.
[ back ] 6. Spontaneous generation happens διαθερμαινομένης τῆς γῆς καὶ ἀλλοιουμένης τῆς ἀθροισθείσης μίξεως ὑπὸ τοῦ ἡλίου (“when the earth is warmed and the collected mixture is altered by the sun,” De Causis Plantarum 1.5.5). Theophrastus does not explicitly mention water, but the phrase τῆς ἀθροισθείσης μίξεως (“the collected mixture”) suggests more than just earth: cf. Einarson and Link 1976–1990 1:41 n. d.
[ back ] 7. In Chapter 4 n3 above, I note intersections between Pindar Seventh Olympian and the Homeric floral images of cosmic change. But the description of the emergence of Rhodes/the rose in Pindar’s poem more closely resembles scientific accounts of spontaneous generation than those Homeric images (see Quinn 1964:53–54). Lines 69–71 associate the growth of the new land with the wet sea and with Helios’ rays: βλάστε μὲν ἐξ ἁλὸς ὑγρᾶς / νᾶσος, ἔχει τέ νιν ὀξειᾶν γενέθλιος ἀκτίνων πατήρ, / πῦρ πνεόντων ἀρχὸς ἵππων … (“There sprouted from the wet sea / An island, and the generative father of the sharp rays holds it, / Leader of the fire-breathing horses …”). Like plants in Theophrastus and the Presocratics, the rose grows out of a heated mixture of earth and water: the seabed, from which it originates, is a meeting place of earth and water, and the flower/island sprouts up under the sun’s rays.
[ back ] 8. See Quinn 1964. For spontaneous generation in Theophrastus, see also Balme 1962.
[ back ] 9. This distinction is not paralleled in Theophrastus’ treatises: Theophrastus uses the present tense of the verb’s middle voice (φύομαι) of any sort of growth, spontaneous or non-spontaneous. At Historia Plantarum 7.7.3, for instance, he uses the form φύεται of growth from roots, seeds, and spontaneous generation.
[ back ] 10. On Greek aspect, see Comrie 1976:16–22, 52–58.
[ back ] 11. Note however that the heads of the narcissus are also described with the pluperfect of φύω, which may have either stative or continuous meaning (see below): ἐξεπεφύκει, line 12 (“had grown” or “were growing”).
[ back ] 12. This is not to say that the growth of the narcissus is an intrinsically punctual action, while that of the flowers in Iliad 14 is intrinsically durative. As Comrie (1976:3–40) observes, the same situation may be described either with perfective or imperfective verbs, according to whether it is treated as a “single whole” or emphasis is placed on its “internal structure” (p. 16). On the spontaneity of vegetation at Iliad 14.346–349, see Irwin 1984:155 and Bonnafé 1984–1987 1:78–79.
[ back ] 13. On the spontaneity of vegetation in the Hymn to Apollo, see Irwin 1997:384–385 and Bonnafé 1984–1987 2:125. See below for the semantics of φυτά, which refers either to cultivated plants in general or to cultivated trees in particular.
[ back ] 14. On the association of the perfect stem of φύω with arboreal growth in Homeric poetry, see Heinemann 2005:20. See also the examples from Homeric images of civic order and its opposite that are given below.
[ back ] 15. Cf. Hymn to Demeter 100: an olive that shades Demeter is described with the pluperfect tense of the verb—it “had grown above” (ὕπερθε πεφύκει). The use of this tense at Hymn to Demeter 100 suggests the permanence of the olive: if we follow Richardson (1974 ad loc.), this description of an olive by the Maiden Well probably alludes to a feature of the Eleusinian landscape familiar to early audiences.
[ back ] 16. See Patzer 1993:24–26. See, for instance, Iliad 21.352, where the location of trees and other vegetation is specified with the preposition περί and with the verb πεφύκει, and Odyssey 7.114, from the description of the Phaeacian orchards: ἔνθα … δένδρεα μακρὰ πεφύκασι (“there … tall trees have grown”). For the latter passage, see also below.
[ back ] 17. See Adkins 1983:214–217 on the use of the perfect tense in this passage of Homeric poetry and in Greek thought more generally. The perfect tense “express[es] states of affairs as states of affairs, and … distinguish[es] them sharply from momentary or continuous actions” (p. 214; his italics). See also the use of the perfect tense in the Hesiodic passages that describe the structure of the cosmos, discussed in Chapter 4 above. The brazen threshold is “fixed unshakably” (ἀστεμφές … ἀρηρώς, Theogony 812); the roots of the world “have grown” (πεφύασι, 728) above the neck of Tartarus. For the use of the perfect of φύω to describe roots, see Iliad 4.482–484, where the roots of a poplar “have grown” (πεφύασι, 484). The tree as a whole is described with the pluperfect of φύω (πεφύκει, 483).
[ back ] 18. On the suddenness of the Greek spring, see Introduction above; Motte 1971:10, Braudel 1972:233, Huxley and Taylor 1977:21, 24, Polunin 1980:30–31. See also Höhfeld 2009:39 on the Troad.
[ back ] 19. For the “punishment” of trees, see also De Causis Plantarum 1.17.9, 2.4.1, 3.18.2, 5.9.11, and 16.3. For the association of the verb ὑβρίζω in classical texts with superabundant vegetal growth requiring “punishment,” see Michelini 1978.
[ back ] 20. On the importance of the distinction between agricultural lands and the land beyond them in Homeric poetry, the former being associated with culture and the latter with nature, see Redfield 1994:189–192.
[ back ] 21. I quote the first Hymn to Dionysus from West 2003. The present tense of φύω is also employed by Solon in his image of the “flowers of ἄτη” (ἄτης ἄνθεα φυόμενα, fr. 3.35), for which see Chapter 5 n5.
[ back ] 22. Cf. the use of the pluperfect of φύω to describe trees and other vegetation on the banks of the Xanthus (Iliad 21.352).
[ back ] 23. On spontaneous growth in the Phaeacian orchard, see Ahl and Roisman 1996:119. For the use of the continuous aspect of φύω to describe the non-permanent parts of trees, see also the descriptions of leaves at Iliad 1.235 and 6.148–149. In the latter passage, Glaucus uses the present tense of φύω both of leaves and of human generations. For discussion of Glaucus’ simile, see Chapter 7 below.
[ back ] 24. The aorist of φύω is also used to describe trees at Hymn to Aphrodite 265. Aphrodite places emphasis on the long but ultimately circumscribed lives of trees and of the nymphs who dwell within them. It would have been less appropriate, then, if she had used the perfect of φύω, with its suggestions of permanence.
[ back ] 25. The descriptions of divinely inspired vegetation in Odyssey 5 and the Hymn to Pan lead Thalmann (1992:48) and Elliger (1975:128-31) to state explicitly that these are spontaneous growths. What is more, if we follow Zanetto (1996:304) the associations of Dionysus and Pan at the end of the Hymn to Pan suggest their shared power of inspiring spontaneous growth: “sono divinità della vegetazione spontanea, connesse con la forza generativa della natura.”
[ back ] 26. Goat Island may in fact have been the former home of the Phaeacians: see Clay 1980. For associations of the root ἀρο- with civilized order see also Odyssey 18.374, where Odysseus boasts to Eurymachus of his skill “with the plow” (ἀρότρῳ).
[ back ] 27. See Heinemann 2005:20: citing only Homeric examples, he notes that φυτόν is used of that which has been planted. See also Snell 1955–2010 s.v. φυτόν: “cultivated … plant; of fruit-tree(s) and/or vine(s) as ag. sown crops.”
[ back ] 28. For instances where φυτόν refers to plants in general, see Iliad 21.258 and perhaps also Odyssey 9.108, quoted above. For Hymn to Apollo 55, however, see also West’s translation (2003 ad loc.): “nor will you bring forth a harvest or grow abundant fruit trees” (οὐδὲ τρύγην οἴσεις, οὔτ ἂρ φυτὰ μυρία φύσεις).
[ back ] 29. For φυτόν and the cultivation of non-cereal crops, see Hymn to Hermes 90, where the god observes that an old man is digging around his vines (φυτὰ σκάπτεις).
[ back ] 30. Odysseus answers Eurymachus’ insult with a boast about his prowess in agricultural labor (18.366–374). For this passage, see Chapter 5 above.
[ back ] 31. Bonnafé 1984–1987 1:121: this use of φυτεύω suggests the sense of “« planter », c’est-à-dire préparer de longue date, « le malheur » de quelqu’un.”
[ back ] 32. The metaphor is used of Odysseus’ plots against the suitors throughout the Odyssey: see also Odyssey 2.165, 14.110, 15.178, 17.27, 82, 159. Cf. 14.218, where Odysseus uses φυτεύω in a lying tale to describe his plots against his enemies, and 5.340, where Leucothea uses the verb to describe Poseidon’s plots against Odysseus. In the Iliad φυτεύω is used in this sense only at 15.134: Hera asks if Ares wishes to “plant a great evil” (κακὸν μέγα … φυτεῦσαι) for his fellow gods.
[ back ] 33. Odyssey 3.207, 213, 4.822, 16.93, 134, 17.499, 588, 18.143, 20.170, 370, 394, 21.375.