4. Doubling Down On Strife [1]

In the first three chapters of this book, we have avoided attempts to reconstruct lost Theban epics in favor of identifying where Theban material occurs in Homer and exploring the ways in which Homer re-presents that material by putting it at the service of his narratives. In Chapter 1 we examined Homer’s most explicit engagement with Thebes, via a series of scenes in which Diomedes is compared to his father, Tydeus, one of the original Seven against Thebes. Our analysis brought to the fore a political focus that valorized coalition-building over individual action. In Chapter 2 we investigated Herakles as the hero who has already sacked Troy, but whose influence on the current war narrative is carefully delineated (and limited). Instead of being a model for the current generation of heroes at Troy, Herakles emerges as a figure from a previous age, when heroes could labor alone and be made immortal. In Chapter 3 we focused on a third Theban figure, Oedipus, to unpack some of the generic complexities underpinning Homeric epic. Relegated to a fleeting appearance in the Odyssey’s catalogue of women, Oedipus represents a hero stripped of the narrative elements through which he would have resonated through an epic cosmos. In these last three chapters we take a slightly different tack by refocusing on the Theban story and scrutinizing possible interpoetic rivalry with the Homeric poems. While this work will necessarily be more speculative—given the paucity of our source material—we hope nevertheless to reveal interesting dynamics that shed light on Homeric poetics. Again resisting the common pull towards reconstructing a putative Theban tradition, we attempt to identify those themes and motifs that seem in all likelihood less germane to a Trojan War tradition and to use these, together with the fragmentary remains, to rethink how the two traditions emerged from the same pool of epic language, themes, and story-worlds.
In this chapter we consider what is arguably the epic theme par excellence: strife. Strife is clearly important to the war narrative that the Iliad recounts; but it is equally central to the tale of the homecoming of Odysseus, who is constantly striving to return home and then, once home, must overcome his opponents on Ithaca. Moreover, while the strife between the Achaeans and Trojans is the raison d’être of the Iliad’s story, the poem’s starting point and primary focus is on strife within the Achaean camp; for its part, the Odyssey makes competition with other narratives a key feature of its composition. As a key example of the traditional referentiality of early Greek hexameter poetry, strife is most explicitly addressed and anatomized by Hesiod, whose account of its double origins goes some way to shedding light on its manifestations and uses in Homeric poetics. It is Hesiod’s evidence to which we first turn.

Strife and the Age of Heroes

As we observed in the Introduction, when Hesiod mentions Troy and Thebes together, it is in the context of the destruction of the “divine race of heroes, called the demigods” (ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων θεῖον γένος, οἳ καλέονται / ἡμίθεοι, Works and Days 160–161), killed in action either around “seven-gated Thebes” (ὑφ’ ἑπταπύλῳ Θήβῃ, 163) or at Troy (ἐς Τροίην, 166). [2] Significantly, this is not the only epic reference to the destruction of the race of heroes. According to a fragment of the Cypria, believed to be its proem, Zeus, in pity for an Earth overburdened with men, “fanned the flames of the great strife of the Iliakos War / to lighten her [Earth’s] weight with death” (ῥιπίσσας πολέμου μεγάλην ἔριν Ἰλιακοῖο, / ὄφρα κενώσειεν θανάτωι βάρος, fr. 1.5–6). In both cases, Zeus lies behind the destruction (implicitly in Hesiod, explicitly in the Cypria), [3] and destruction takes the form of war (“evil war and dread battle [killed] them,” τοὺς μὲν πόλεμός τε κακὸς καὶ φύλοπις αἰνή, Works and Days 162). The Cypria fragment provides the additional detail that war is the manifestation of, or defines, Zeus’ “great strife” (πολέμου μεγάλην ἔριν). The importance of strife is identified in another Hesiodic fragment, where she divides the gods at the birth of Helen’s daughter, Hermione: this provides Zeus with another opportunity to hasten the destruction of the heroes and annihilate the offspring of the gods. [4] As well as explaining the disappearance of the race of heroes, strife prominently appears elsewhere in the Hesiodic cosmos to account for where we come from (Theogony), and why we still need to continue to strive (Works and Days). [5]
In fact strife is fundamental to the myth-world of archaic Greek hexameter epic more generally. In his second-century CE summary of the Epic Cycle (Chrestomathia), Proclus traces the ultimate cause of the Trojan War all the way back to Eris:
παραγενομένη δὲ Ἔρις εὐωχουμένων τῶν θεῶν ἐν τοῖς Πηλέως γάμοις νεῖκος περὶ κάλλους ἀνίστησιν Ἀθηνᾷ, Ἥρᾳ καὶ Ἀφροδίτῃ αἳ πρὸς Ἀλέξανδρον ἐν Ἴδῃ κατὰ Διὸς προσταγὴν ὑφ’ Ἑρμοῦ πρὸς τὴν κρίσιν ἄγονται· καὶ προκρίνει τὴν Ἀφροδίτην ἐπαρθεὶς τοῖς Ἑλένης γάμοις Ἀλέξανδρος.
Strife appears while the gods were feasting at the marriage of Peleus and sets in motion a conflict over beauty between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, who, at the command of Zeus, are led by Hermes to Alexandros on Ida for judgment. Alexandros decides in favor of Aphrodite, excited over a marriage with Helen.
Proclus’ identification of the cause of the Trojan War represents the transposition of strife among the gods (Eris, herself a goddess, personifies the effects to which she gives rise) to the human realm. The language that Proclus uses and the pattern that he establishes for this transposition are telling. Conflict (neikos), the physical manifestation of strife (eris), is envisaged as deriving from rival divine claims to receiving honor in a social setting (a wedding); this is, in turn, resolved by a judgment (krisis) that has the effect of disrupting human codes of honor through another marriage (of sorts). These underlined words—eris, neikos, and krisis—are metonyms for other story patterns. Using them we can isolate interformulaic and intertraditional resonances that are critical in the formation of the epics we have from Homer and Hesiod, and, as we will see, also important for what we know of the lost Theban epics. That is to say, they encapsulate patterns significant to understanding not only the poems we have but also the competitive environment that shaped both them and, relatedly, the poems that we no longer have. [6]
The question of strife’s role in Greek epic is even more pointed if we plot it within the logic of Hesiod’s sense of cosmic history. In his Works and Days, Hesiod’s insertion of the race of heroes into the myth of ages disrupts the clear serial decline (based on a ranking of metals from gold through silver and bronze to iron), in which each successive age of humankind recedes ever further away from a golden age of ease and moral probity to resemble ever more closely the world of the audience. The end point, the thesis of this poem, is the (iron) age of austerity, in which the common people must toil even to eke out a living, and whose morally bankrupt leaders Hesiod rails at. As well as subverting the pattern by being “better and more just” (δικαιότερον καὶ ἄρειον, 158) than the previous generation of bronze, Hesiod’s race of heroes fulfills a clear teleological function within this explanatory framework. On the one hand, heroes must disappear because the audiences of Homer and Hesiod only know them through their cult rites and tales—and, of course, by definition the heroes are unlike us in terms of their status as “demigods” or their physical strength. [7] On the other, precisely by being larger than life, heroes have the potential to be not only a benefit to society but also a danger, or at the very least a problem in it. [8] Implicit here is a cosmic history that both explains the necessity of limiting the powers of heroes and sets out where we, Hesiod’s audience, come from. [9] This includes, we suggest, a critical reframing of conflict. For it is the appearance of strife and its connection to our two famous locations—Troy and Thebes—that specifically separates this generation of heroes from others. And it is strife and its themes, we suggest, that help to make these stories particularly epic. [10]
In the rest of this chapter we explore in more detail Hesiod’s representation of strife, mapping out a framework in which we can read early Greek hexameter poetry as a whole and trace its shifting manifestations. We suggest that the movement through epic history from the Theogony, via the Homeric poems, to the Works and Days offers a dramatic treatment of the matrix of themes that Proclus identifies as seminal for understanding the cause of the Trojan War. Each step in the narrative sequence, we argue, inquires into the origins of strife, examines attempts to mediate conflict through the distributions of rights and honors, and explores the exigencies of incomplete or problematic resolutions. Relatedly, we identify themes of strife (eris and neikos), distribution (dasmos), and judgment (krisis) as central compositional features of the Greek epic tradition, as represented by both Hesiodic and Homeric poetry, and—as we shall see in the following chapter—in extant fragments of the Theban tradition and its surviving testimonia. [11] One manifestation will be of particular significance for our study of Homer’s Thebes: the process by which the strife that appears destructive and cosmically threatening in the Theogony is transformed into a striving that is both formative for, and espoused by, the other epics—the two Homeric poems and the Works and Days—that deal with mankind’s place in the cosmos. For the divine realm, these related motifs allow audiences to gain an insight into how the Olympians achieved their strong and stable government; for humankind, the questions remain unresolved, the solutions only partial or temporary. Revolving around the struggle in words—or in other words politics—these issues reflect, interrogate, and help structure the experiences and concerns of audiences throughout the early Greek world.

The Eris Revolution

Being in wonder at also this the Greeks praised Homer, because his epic poetry was beyond what could be naturally expected, and they were clamoring to give him victory. But the king crowned Hesiod, saying that it was just for the one who was issuing an invitation to farming and peace to have the victory, not the one who was describing wars and slaughter. They report that Hesiod happened on victory this way and add that, once he took the bronze tripod and inscribed it, he dedicated it to the Muses.
The Contest of Homer and Hesiod, 204–212 [12]
Among the many elements of the cosmos that Hesiod’s Theogony establishes and catalogues is the origin of strife (223–232):
τίκτε δὲ καὶ Νέμεσιν, πῆμα θνητοῖσι βροτοῖσι,
Νὺξ ὀλοή· μετὰ τὴν δʼ Ἀπάτην τέκε καὶ Φιλότητα
Γῆράς τʼ οὐλόμενον, καὶ Ἔριν τέκε καρτερόθυμον.
αὐτὰρ Ἔρις στυγερὴ τέκε μὲν Πόνον ἀλγινόεντα
Λήθην τε Λιμόν τε καὶ Ἄλγεα δακρυόεντα
Ὑσμίνας τε Μάχας τε Φόνους τʼ Ἀνδροκτασίας τε
Νείκεά τε ψευδέας τε Λόγους Ἀμφιλλογίας τε
Δυσνομίην τʼ Ἄτην τε, συνήθεας ἀλλήλῃσιν,
Ὅρκον θʼ, ὃς δὴ πλεῖστον ἐπιχθονίους ἀνθρώπους
πημαίνει, ὅτε κέν τις ἑκὼν ἐπίορκον ὀμόσσῃ.

After she bore Nemesis too, a pain for mortal men,
Ruinous Night then gave birth to Deception and Sex
And destructive Old Age, and also strong-hearted Strife.
Then hateful Strife gave birth to grief-causing Toil,
And Forgetfulness, and Hunger, and tearful Pains,
Battles, Wars, Murders, and Man-killings,
Conflicts, Lies, Arguments, Doubletalk,
Bad-government, Blindness, each other’s bosom companions,
And Oath, who pains mortal men the most of all
Whenever someone willingly swears falsely.
In this rogue’s gallery, Strife, “strongwilled” (καρτερόθυμον) and “hateful” (στυγερή), is identified as the daughter of “destructive Night,” along with her ugly sisters Deception, Sex, and destructive Old Age. Far more fecund than her mother, she gives birth to Toil, Forgetfulness, Hunger, and Pains, as well as “Battles and Wars and Murders, and Man-killings, / Conflicts and Lies and Arguments and Doubletalk, / Bad-government and Deception,” and finally Oath. While the sources of strife are thus general ills that afflict humans (dishonesty, desire, and mortality), its results manifest themselves in both individual and societal struggle, including both physical and verbal violence. While the rest of the poem addresses the remaining problem of Strife among the gods (as befits its theogonic perspective), this passage on her birth and affiliations demonstrates forcefully the extent to which Strife is thematically linked to conflict, specifcally the total wars of the age of heroes.
Hesiod provides further background to Strife in Works and Days, where a rather different picture of this productive goddess emerges. Most conspicuous is the new information that “there was not just one birth of Strifes after all, but upon the earth there are two” (οὐκ ἄρα μοῦνον ἔην Ἐρίδων γένος, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ γαῖαν / εἰσὶ δύω, 11–12). The one, Hesiod explains, “a man would praise once he got to know it, while the other is blameworthy, and they have a spirit split in two” (τὴν μέν κεν ἐπαινέσσειε νοήσας, / ἣ δ᾽ ἐπιμωμητή: διὰ δ᾽ ἄνδιχα θυμὸν ἔχουσιν, 12–13). The latter Strife, the type which incurs blame, recalls her Theogonic genealogy: fostering “evil war and conflict” (ἣ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμόν τε κακὸν καὶ δῆριν ὀφέλλει, 14), she receives honor from mortals “out of compulsion” (ὑπ᾽ ἀνάγκης, 15) and “by the plans of the immortals” (ἀθανάτων βουλῇσιν, 16). This latter phrase may bring to mind the dios boulê and the association of Zeus’ plotting with the strife-ful narratives of the Iliad and also, by what we can tell from its proem, the Cypria, and specifically Zeus’ role in destroying the race of heroes. [13]
Evidently we should already be familiar with this “burdensome” Strife, for Hesiod provides a genealogy for only the second kind of Strife, the one that would be praised, were we to get to know it. [14] Hesiod sets about putting us in the know. She too is born of Night (though this time Night is more ambiguously “dark” not “destructive”); but Zeus is said to have “set her in the roots of the earth” where she turns out to be “much better for men” (γαίης ἐν ῥίζῃσι, καὶ ἀνδράσι πολλὸν ἀμείνω, 19). Exactly how Strife could be a good thing is the idea to which Hesiod next turns his attention (20–26):
ἥ τε καὶ ἀπάλαμόν περ ὁμῶς ἐπὶ ἔργον ἐγείρει·
εἰς ἕτερον γάρ τίς τε ἴδεν ἔργοιο χατίζων
πλούσιον, ὃς σπεύδει μὲν ἀρόμεναι ἠδὲ φυτεύειν
οἶκόν τ’ εὖ θέσθαι· ζηλοῖ δέ τε γείτονα γείτων
εἰς ἄφενος σπεύδοντ’· ἀγαθὴ δ’ ῎Ερις ἥδε βροτοῖσιν.
καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει καὶ τέκτονι τέκτων,
καὶ πτωχὸς πτωχῷ φθονέει καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀοιδῷ.

She awakens even those who are lazy to do work:
For a man who shirks work sees another
Who is wealthy, who hastens to plow and plant
And order his house well. Neighbor envies his neighbor,
The two of them hastening to wealth. This is the good Strife for men.
And potter begrudges potter, and carpenter carpenter—
And beggar envies beggar, and singer singer.
In its very insistence on disambiguation, Hesiod re-creates a figure of some ambiguity, a Strife whose role doubles up in the world of men both as the destructive propagator of arguments and war and, it seems, as a stimulus to compete in more constructive ways. [15] The reason for this doubling is complex and uncertain, though it must have something to do with Hesiod’s supplementary biography for the goddess. By explicitly locating this second Eris on earth, Hesiod emphasizes her connection to mankind, and perhaps even more directly to his Works and Days, which addresses the epic endeavor facing the everyday man working the land. [16]
Strife’s connection to human beings is rooted in cosmic history and the growing distinction between the mortal and immortal realms. In the story that unfolds in the Theogony, the gods who always are attain honors that never cease. Their world (from this point on, because of the narrative told in the poem) remains unchanging; the distribution of their (rightful) honors remains forever the same. [17] Among men, who live briefly and die, the story is quite different. To get on in life, no matter what it is they do, humans must continually strive. At one level, this distinction is about the daily grind of human subsistence in contrast to the gods’ carefree existence, which may again recall the myth of the ages, specifically the contrast between a golden age of ease and bliss and the present iron age of toil and misery. At another, it contributes to an important debate on the dynamics of competition. [18] The Theogonic destructive Eris signifies a “zero-sum game” wherein one party can gain only if another loses. In contrast, the earth-bound Eris represents a type of struggle whose outcome, rather than being zero-sum, increases the material and social position of its participants—in similar game-theory terminology, one might call this a “positive-sum game.” This supplementary aesthetic, a binary opposition in contrast to the polar opposition intrinsic to the zero-sum game, is both competitive and also cooperative. [19]
Significantly, Hesiod’s double take on strife performs this very notion of the supplement. The Works and Days revision is both a competitive take on the (conceptually) earlier Theogony by virtue of correcting, even countermanding, its definition and, at the very same time, a cooperative move in the sense that it represents an extension of the original idea. The passages on strife taken together (assuming that they can be regarded as having coexisted in a common performance tradition) represent macro-level extensions of what Fenik has called “the anticipatory doublet,” where an idea is expressed and then repeated in an expanded or altered form. [20] Such a pairing can both implicitly signal the greater importance of the second element (akin to Kakridis’s “ascending scale of affection”) and facilitate the advancement of themes from one example to another. [21] With regard to the two Erides, the second strife builds on the first, encompasses or retains all of its prior characteristics, but has something extra added or supplemented to it. The additional material in this case is that, while strife (in its original form) is wholly to be blamed (and shunned), it is also (in its second form) praiseworthy (and to be practiced) insofar as it can be useful. In essence strife as competition encompasses both the good and bad strife, but here Hesiod uses a tool of early Greek poetic thought—the anticipatory doublet—to disambiguate the single concept into two in order to home in on its positive aspects.
The complexity and profundity of these poetic moves in all likelihood has to do with the nature of oral poetry—in this case, the function of poetic themes. Eris in its single and double forms functions as a metonym that both evokes and invokes story patterns. A basic revelation from oral-formulaic studies, articulated first by Albert Lord, is that oral poetry of the kind represented by the early Greek hexameter epic tradition exhibits the phenomenon of composition by theme. [22] Conventional formulae are often intricately—and sometimes exclusively—connected to given themes, so much so that the themes’ meanings may be felt even in their absence. [23] Themes are said to be compositional in that they carry within them patterns that can be expanded or compressed, re-ordered and re-arranged, with elements either obscured or magnified; outcomes can differ according to the execution. [24] A process like this in the context of multiple song traditions, such as we find in early Greek poetry more broadly, lends itself to a competitive imperative, wherein the song being sung is heard in tension with the expectations established by those that have come before. [25] In addition, just as individual utterances accrue meaning through their history of potential uses, so too do thematic motifs derive their most affective force from both their diachronic and synchronic axes—the process that we’ve been calling (following Bakker) intertraditionality. From the perspective of enjoying or analyzing an oral poem, compositional themes and their intrinsic intertraditionality allow us to understand that narrative patterns are metonymic retellings, or recombinations of similar conventional story “genes,” for specific contexts and new creations.
For Eris, this means that its meaning and power derives in part from a repertoire of traditional meanings deployed in other performances. The performance context and the function of theme, then, are inherently both cooperative (individual meanings depend upon prior iterations) and competitive (each new invocation potentially redefines and replaces what came before). In this way, both the nature of Eris as defined by Hesiod in Works and Days and the way it functions in that particular instance directly engage with the act of poetic composition and performance. That is to say, in his redefinition of Eris, Hesiod gestures toward what he is doing as a poet. By drawing on the description of the nature of Strife, he recalls a theme from a putatively earlier performance (of the Theogony). At the same time, even as he integrates this theme into the current performance (of the Works and Days) he contests its relevance to his poem by adding to it, thereby changing not only its form, but also meaning and significance. In the act of performance the contested topos is made subordinate to, but remains underneath and underpinning, the new one. Hesiod’s redefinition is thus both cooperative in the sense that the two definitions are mutually dependent, but also competitive insofar as the second seeks to contain and thereby supplant the “original.” This is, in short, a model for poetic rivalry. Among different traditions and iterations of these themes, we see a dynamic rivalry that motivates each new instantiation to integrate and add to what came before, facilitating the development of new perspectives in traditional forms and contexts.
Above we noted the titular aspect of Eris in epic poetry as defined by Proclus, who (re)defines the Trojan War as Eris writ large, setting in motion a conflict (neikos) over beauty. [26] Though a late witness to the resonance of epic, Proclus uses vocabulary that is highly resonant within an epic cosmos, such as that found in another fragment from the Hesiodic tradition (Hesiod fr. 43.36-39):
αἶ]ψα [δ’ ἄ]ρ̣’ ἀ[λλ]ήλοισ[ι]ν ἔρις καὶ ν[εῖκος] ἐτ[ύχθη
Σισύφωι ἠδ’ Αἴθωνι τανισφύρο[υ εἵ]νεκα [κούρης,
ο]ὐδ̣’ ἄρα τις δικάσαι [δύ]νατο βροτός…

And soon strife and conflict arose for them both,
Sisyphus and Aithon, over the fair-ankled girl.
No mortal was able to make a judgment for them.
Preserving a glimpse into another story of conflict that centers, this time, on an unnamed girl, the fragment again presents the formulaically matched pair eris and neikos (ἔρις καὶ ν[εῖκος]). Furthermore, the conflict worsens in the absence of someone who can resolve it through judgment (ο]ὐδ̣’ ἄρα τις δικάσαι [δύ]νατο βροτός). In this case, however, the warring parties agree to entrust the conflict to Athena, who settles the case by pronouncing proverbial wisdom on the importance of honoring agreements and not taking back what had been given. [27] That combination of the use of proverbial wisdom to resolve conflict also fits a pattern of Hesiodic poetry more generally, whereby destructive conflict tends to be avoided or negotiated, or sublimated in the poetic representation of a law court case.
If this fragment pointedly represents what we might consider a Hesiodic avoidance, deferral, or sublimation of conflict, Homeric poetry directly engages with conflict, though always staying alert to its destructiveness. Several lines after headlining mênis as its theme, the Iliad begins its narrative from “that time when those two men were striving” (ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε, 6), and immediately asks: “which god caused those two to fall into strife?” (Τίς τάρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηκε μάχεσθαι, 8). Both Homeric epics also refer to further conflicts in other story traditions using the language of neikos or eris. [28] Nestor, the hero with one foot in the epic past, calls a conflict from his youth a neikos (“as when a conflict arose among between us and the Eleans,” ὡς ὁπότ’ Ἠλείοισι καὶ ἡμῖν νεῖκος ἐτύχθη, 11.671; cf. 11.721, 737), while in the Odyssey he recalls how Athena created strife between the sons of Atreus (“she who set strife on both the sons of Atreus.” ἥ τ’ ἔριν Ἀτρεΐδῃσι μετ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἔθηκε, 3.136). Eris and neikos are also used interchangeably to describe the Trojan War in the Iliad. Paris is said to be the cause of the conflict (neikos) (“Paris, on whose account this strife arose,” Ἀλεξάνδροιο, τοῦ εἵνεκα νεῖκος ὄρωρεν, 3.87; cf. 7.374, 388), which shortly afterwards Menelaos redefines as eris (“on account of my strife and Alexandros’ beginning,” εἵνεκ’ ἐμῆς ἔριδος καὶ Ἀλεξάνδρου ἕνεκ’ ἀρχῆς, 3.100). Achilles describes his quarrel with Agamemnon in similar terms: “I think that the Achaeans will remember our strife for a long time” (...αὐτὰρ Ἀχαιοὺς / δηρὸν ἐμῆς καὶ σῆς ἔριδος μνήσεσθαι ὀΐω, 19.64–65). Given that Achilles is here looking back at and reflecting on his actions in the course of this poem, eris may be taken as a thematic judgment on the Iliad’s narrative. [29] In a similar metapoetic moment in the Odyssey, when the narrator mentions the conflict between Achilles and Odysseus, he uses neikos to describe it as a “tale of men, whose fame has reached wide heaven” (“the song, whose fame has reached the wide sky, the conflict of Odysseus and Peleus’ son.” οἴμης, τῆς τότ’ ἄρα κλέος οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἵκανε, / νεῖκος Ὀδυσσῆος καὶ Πηλεΐδεω Ἀχιλῆος, Odyssey 8.74–75).
Evidence in other early Greek poetry further points to the metapoetic valorization of strife as a metonym for Homer’s kind of epic. Anacreon (fr. 2) expresses his disdain for anyone who, while drinking, sings of “conflicts and tearful war” (νείκεα καὶ πόλεμον δακρυόεντα λέγει, 2). Theognis similarly advises his audience that those “who tell stories well around the mixing bowl / keeping away strife with one another for a long time” (ὑμεῖς δ’ εὖ μυθεῖσθε παρὰ κρητῆρι μένοντες, / ἀλλήλων ἔριδος δὴν ἀπερυκόμενοι, 493-494). The kind of song that constitutes heroic epic—with its emphasis on strife, conflict and suffering—is not appropriate to the sympotic context of men drinking together. As the narrator of one of the fragmentary Anacreontea makes clear, using the very pairing that we have been exploring together, Troy and Thebes won’t conquer him (“you speak the tales of Thebes, but he sings of the Phrygians’ battle-shouts, and I sing of my conquests,” Σὺ μὲν λέγεις τὰ Θήβης, / ὃ δ’ αὖ Φρυγῶν ἀυτάς, / ἐγὼ δ’ ἐμὰς ἁλώσεις, fr. 26). Instead, for the symposiasts, love conquers all. In heroic epic, strife is not only the tagline and thematic marker; it belongs to a matrix of associations based on interformular and intertraditional meanings that position the poems in and against the backdrop of an evolving cosmos.
The status of eris as a compositional theme with cycles of distribution and judgment, resulting at times in resolution and at others in further strife, [30] improves our understanding of the methods by which such metapoetic debates operated in early Greek poetry and influenced the shape of various poetic traditions, particularly the difference between Hesiodic and Homeric epic. Thus an audience familiar with the theme of rage (mênis) might expect a certain type of story-pattern from the first line of the Iliad—one, say, involving divine anger, cosmic conflict, and mortal suffering; in this way, mênis represents both a headline and a poetic frame. [31] Alternatively, when Hesiod redefines Eris in the Works and Days, he is both drawing on familiar narrative patterns and realigning their cosmic traditions, meaning that the new genealogy of Eris assumes a latent, even if imperfect, understanding of its “other” status. Hesiod does not so much erase the memory of the first Eris as add to its semantic range. It is supplementary to the other version rather than its replacement. [32]
The reason for dwelling on Hesiod’s ambiguous description of strife is its relevance for rethinking notions of epic rivalry. Famously, Hesiod ends his rumination on strife with the detail of singer rivaling singer, pointing to a performance aesthetic that is individually competitive and yet culturally cooperative. The Hesiodic revision and re-versioning of strife as somehow constructive—what we might call a domestication of Eris—is taken up and dramatized in the Homeric epics, [33] though the extent to which it ever manages to escape its more destructive twin is open to constant examination and question. Even here in the Works and Days, where Hesiod establishes competition as a cornerstone of human existence, it should be noted that the broader context is a rivalry that has gone awry: the poet’s brother and addressee has cheated him of his inheritance; the kings who should be judges have swallowed bribes. How the essential ambiguity of strife is managed in Hesiod’s epic cosmos more broadly is the subject of the next section.

Managing Strife in Hesiod’s Cosmos

I think that Homer and Hesiod lived four hundred years before my time and not more. These are the poets who created a theogony for the Greeks and who gave to the gods their names, while also dividing up their honors and skills and telling their forms. Poets who are said to have come earlier than these men, it seems obvious to me, came later.
Herodotus II 53 [34]
Though we have just said that Hesiod tends to defer strife, we are really only talking about its manifestation on earth in the form of total war among men. Some of the essential features of the Iliad’s treatment of conflict—the language of strife (neikos, eris); the thematic conflict over prizes and honors (gera, timai); the structural distribution of social position (dasmos)—are explored first (conceptually) on Olympos in the Theogony. In many ways this poem, which projects its priority in the early Greek hexameter corpus by narrating the origins of the cosmos, helps to establish a poetic baseline for the deployment of the eris story pattern in the rival Theban and Trojan traditions. Although the basic plot of the Theogony narrates the genealogical succession from Ouranos and Gaia to Zeus, large-scale conflicts largely associated with Zeus, once he’s already assumed power, punctuate and give structure to narrative. Significantly these conflicts largely manifest themselves as political issues, giving rise to questions about leadership, social organization and in particular the proper distribution of honor. [35]
The story that the Hesiodic narrator requests from the Muses concerns “how the gods divided the wealth and how they distributed their honors” (ὥς τ’ ἄφενος δάσσαντο καὶ ὡς τιμὰς διέλοντο, Theogony 112). [36] After being flagged at the beginning of the poem, this point is not reached until well after the birth of Eris discussed above, the overthrow of Kronos by Zeus, and the Titanomachy. At this juncture, in the brief respite before Zeus takes a series of women for the purpose of populating the world with heroes (and ordering human society), the narrator describes Zeus’ (re)ordering of the world of gods (881–885):
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥα πόνον μάκαρες θεοὶ ἐξετέλεσσαν,
Τιτήνεσσι δὲ τιμάων κρίναντο βίηφι,
δή ῥα τότ’ ὤτρυνον βασιλευέμεν ἠδὲ ἀνάσσειν
Γαίης φραδμοσύνῃσιν Ὀλύμπιον εὐρύοπα Ζῆν
ἀθανάτων· ὁ δὲ τοῖσιν ἐὺ διεδάσσατο τιμάς.

Then, when the blessed gods accomplished their toil
and achieved a judgment of honors with the Titans by means of strength,
They went and urged the Olympian, wide-seeing Zeus, to be king
And to rule the immortals at the advice of Gaia.
Then he divided the honors among them well.
Although the lexical items eris and neikos are absent, perhaps reflecting Zeus’ uncontested primacy at this point in the narrative, cognate terms such as toil (πόνον) and strength (βίηφι) provide an echo of former troubles. Toil is harshly juxtaposed midline with the gods’ epithet “blessed” (μάκαρες), while it is through a trial of strength (βίηφι) that the gods receive judgment (κρίναντο). After their battle with the Titans, the gods look to a new world order, namely the (now legitimized) kingship of Zeus. [37] Connecting these two moments is honor, over which the gods received judgment (in their conflict with the Titans), and for which they now turn to Zeus.
Zeus’ first act is to distribute “portions of honor” (διεδάσσατο τιμάς). The poem has already shown that Zeus has form in this regard. When Hesiod first mentions the honor that the Olympians newly receive (ὅσσοι γὰρ Γαίης τε καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἐξεγένοντο / καὶ τιμὴν ἔλαχον, 421–422), he is at pains to point out that Hekate retains her portion “of all of these things” (τούτων ἔχει αἶσαν ἁπάντων, 422), because of Zeus (423–425):
οὐδέ τί μιν Κρονίδης ἐβιήσατο οὐδέ τ’ ἀπηύρα,
ὅσσ’ ἔλαχεν Τιτῆσι μέτα προτέροισι θεοῖσιν,
ἀλλ’ ἔχει, ὡς τὸ πρῶτον ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς ἔπλετο δασμός.

Neither did Kronos’ son do violence to her nor deprive her of the rights,
All those which she was allotted among the Titans who were the gods from before,
But she possesses what she did from the beginning at the first division.
Latent in the possibility that Zeus might deprive Hekate of her timê is a threat of eris—a threat that is hinted at by the description of Zeus not doing violence to Hekate. Equally, Zeus is careful not to disturb a prior distribution (dasmos). In the Theogony Hesiod attributes the success of Zeus’ rule, particularly its persistence, to his ability to negotiate the nexus of associations between strife, judgment, and division. He uses his powers of judgment to secure the latter and avoid the former.
A more complex instance of distribution and conflict negotiation is dramatized in Zeus’ dealings with the Titan Prometheus. Not coincidentally, this example is bound up with the world of mortals: indeed, it is the distribution where humans and gods are separated definitively. Introducing the episode through Herakles’ rescue of Prometheus, Hesiod describes how Zeus, “though especially angry desisted from his anger, which he held before on account of the fact that [Prometheus] used to strive [with him] in counsel” (καί περ χωόμενος παύθη χόλου, ὃν πρὶν ἔχεσκεν, / οὕνεκ’ ἐρίζετο βουλὰς ὑπερμενέι Κρονίωνι, 533–534). The reference to βουλάς hints again at the idea of plotting, as if Prometheus were a potential rival author to Zeus, whose epic song would take a very different path from this theogony. Hesiod provides a glimpse of what that might look like by tracing Zeus’ power back to when “gods and mortal men were separated for judgment at Mêkônê” (ὅτ᾽ ἐκρίνοντο θεοὶ θνητοί τ᾽ ἄνθρωποι / Μηκώνῃ, 535–536). At this critical juncture of cosmic history, when there appears to be a universal settlement of some kind, Prometheus apportions the sacrifice in such a way as to deceive the mind of Zeus (“after making a division he set it out, hoping to deceive the mind of Zeus,” δασσάμενος προύθηκε, Διὸς νόον ἐξαπαφίσκων, 537): he offers only the bones (wrapped in fat) for the gods, while making sure that mortals would receive the best cut of meat. This deception does not escape the mind of Zeus, however, who calls him out for having “so unfairly divided up the portions” (ὡς ἑτεροζήλως διεδάσσαο μοίρας, 543–544). The language and context should be by now familiar: one figure strives with another in the context of a distribution and scene of judgment, and uses deception—one essential cause of strife, we earlier learned—to try to get his way. Yet in spite of all this, and in spite of Zeus’ anger, open conflict does not materialize. Instead, Zeus remains in control of the situation/narrative and trumps Prometheus’ trickery with his own, by fashioning all-giving woman (Pandora) to be a bane to men forevermore and after. Hesiod’s structuring of the episode underlines Zeus’ authority by introducing us to Prometheus in the act of being freed by Zeus. Though he may get angry, Zeus can control that anger because he no longer strives. Later we learn that Zeus has even laid down the means to forestall the cunning wiles of any future Prometheus. “Whenever conflict and strife arise among the gods” (ὁππότ’ ἔρις καὶ νεῖκος ἐν ἀθανάτοισιν ὄρηται, 782), they are obliged to take a mighty oath on the river Styx. Here Zeus establishes the oath as an institutional means of managing conflict for the gods and, moreover, installs himself as its guarantor and executor. By these means Zeus removes himself from the fray and stands outside any (and all) future quarrels. [38]
The fair allotment of honors to individual Olympian gods is largely told elsewhere, in the corpus of epic poetry known as the Homeric Hymns, which collectively explore much of the same thematic matrix as Hesiod’s Theogony. [39] In the Hymn to Demeter, for example, Helios tries to curb Demeter’s anger (χόλος, 83) at Hades’ abduction of her daughter by arguing that Hades enjoys honor (τιμή, 85) from the original distribution of rights (ἔλλαχεν ὡς τὰ πρῶτα διάτριχα δασμὸς ἐτύχθη, 86). [40] Like Achilles’ anger in the Iliad, Demeter’s anger has the potential to be socially destabilizing. In her case she withdraws her powers of fertility, which leads to the death and dearth of crops and animals, and which in turn threatens the sacrifices that are a part of each god’s timê. [41] The Hymn to Hermes expressly addresses the lack of honor felt by this latest son of Zeus (166–172). His potential strife, however, is sublimated by a (playful) quarrel with Apollo (μή τις τοῦτο πύθοιτο πόθεν τόδε νεῖκος ἐτύχθη, 269), and judgment is made by Zeus (322–396) at his own request (“give me justice and take me to Zeus, Kronos’ son,” δὸς δὲ δίκην καὶ δέξο παρὰ Ζηνὶ Κρονίωνι, 312). In the Hymn to Aphrodite, Zeus pre-emptively moves against the goddess to ensnare her in her own power precisely because of the threat that it carries. For she can potentially lead even him, the greatest god with “the greatest share of honor” (μεγίστης τ’ ἔμμορε τιμῆς, 37) astray, by the power of love to reignite strife on Olympus. [42] Taken together as a collection, the Hymns along with the Theogony map out a cosmos in which each god has found or been allotted their own portion of honor and Zeus has secured his almighty power, forever and ever. [43]
Amen to that: for, by the end of the Theogony, the Eris that has been generated as part of the necessary cosmogonic imperative towards Zeus’ hegemony has been terrifyingly manifest in the violent successions of and titanomachic struggles among the gods. Significantly, however, it has also been mediated through Zeus’ (re)distribution (dasmos) of honors and rights (timai and gera) and managed via institutional mechanisms of judgment (krisis) and the oath. This concern to carefully frame the parameters of strife and redirect it towards more socially cohesive results is evident right from the beginning of the poem. In a passage noteworthy for its rumination on poetry and politics Hesiod articulates the triangular relationship between Zeus, the Muses, and the god-raised kings (79–93):
Καλλιόπη θʼ· ἣ δὲ προφερεστάτη ἐστὶν ἁπασέων.
ἣ γὰρ καὶ βασιλεῦσιν ἅμʼ αἰδοίοισιν ὀπηδεῖ.
ὅν τινα τιμήσωσι Διὸς κοῦραι μεγάλοιο
γεινόμενόν τε ἴδωσι διοτρεφέων βασιλήων,
τῷ μὲν ἐπὶ γλώσσῃ γλυκερὴν χείουσιν ἐέρσην,
τοῦ δʼ ἔπεʼ ἐκ στόματος ῥεῖ μείλιχα· οἱ δέ τε λαοὶ
πάντες ἐς αὐτὸν ὁρῶσι διακρίνοντα θέμιστας
ἰθείῃσι δίκῃσιν· ὃ δʼ ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύων
αἶψά κε καὶ μέγα νεῖκος ἐπισταμένως κατέπαυσεν·
τοὔνεκα γὰρ βασιλῆες ἐχέφρονες, οὕνεκα λαοῖς
βλαπτομένοις ἀγορῆφι μετάτροπα ἔργα τελεῦσι
ῥηιδίως, μαλακοῖσι παραιφάμενοι ἐπέεσσιν.
ἐρχόμενον δʼ ἀνʼ ἀγῶνα θεὸν ὣς ἱλάσκονται
αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν·
τοίη Μουσάων ἱερὴ δόσις ἀνθρώποισιν.

Kalliope is the Muse who attends kings worthy of reverence.
Whomsoever of the god-raised Kings the daughters of great Zeus
Honor and look upon when he is born,
On his tongue they pour sweet dew
And gentle words flow out of his mouth. Then the people
All look upon him as he separates out the laws
With straight judgements. He speaks securely
And swiftly halts even a great conflict with skill.
For this reason kings are sensible, so that whenever the people
Are harmed they may accomplish retributive actions in the assembly
Easily, persuading everyone with gentle words.
When he walks into the contest ground people propitiate him
Like a god with gentle reverence, and he stands out among the assembled.
Such is the sacred gift of the Muses for men.
(trans. after Evelyn-White)
In this passage we find a fully expressed articulation of the interrelationship between conflict (eris, neikos), judgment (krisis, dikê), and distribution (dasmos). Central to this account of what it is to be the good king (the one who is honored by the Muses and Zeus) is an anatomization of how to control strife. Managing strife depends on both the king’s innate persuasive abilities (“On his tongue they pour sweet dew / And gentle words [ἔπεα μείλιχα] flow out of his mouth”) and his performance within a rudimentary institutional framework. [44] The latter involves the king not only judging laws (διακρίνοντα θέμιστας) but also interceding in the agora to exact punishments that reflect the crimes (μετάτροπα ἔργα) and being honored in his community’s contest space (ἀγῶνα). Thus, even should a great conflict (μέγα νεῖκος) arise and cause harm for the people (laos), the king’s performance of remunerative—or, perhaps better, redistributive—acts would forestall the emergence of the kind of destructive Eris that will be documented exhaustively in the cosmogonic narrative of the Theogony. Honored by the Muses and Zeus, the king acts as a kind of surrogate for Zeus on earth.
In his Works and Days, Hesiod explores the alternative scenario—when the king is not being a good representative of Zeus. There he bluntly criticizes the kings who take bribes and fail to make fair judgments. In the Theogony, too, even as Hesiod uses an idealized representation of Zeus as king as a paradigm for mortal rulers, poetry and poetically marked speech emerges as a tool for managing Strife. Sweet dew is poured on the tongue of Hesiod’s model ruler and gentle words (ἔπεα μείλιχα) flow from his mouth. In making conflict management contingent on the effective use of words, Hesiod makes how you speak matter. [45] Poetry and politics are configured as two sides of the same coin. [46] Indeed, Hesiod’s description may be particularly charged. The type of words, epea (ἔπε’), that flow from the king’s mouth are those that give the description to this kind of verse: epic poetry. It is as if Hesiod is offering (his) epic as a way of negotiating conflict. While this description establishes the framework through which to read the Theogony’s cosmogony and has obvious relevance for Zeus, as the king who must use words to negotiate strife (to achieve and then secure his reign), it resonates equally powerfully for the poetic voice that appears in the Works and Days. There, Hesiod the poet laborer is embroiled in a conflict over a corrupt judgment on inheritance, which he (re)enacts through the very performance of this poem. Read in this way, it would be as if the Works and Days were a trial and Hesiod its plaintiff. [47]
We will return to this image in due course. For the present it is enough to note that if this passage is proleptic for the type of ruler Zeus could, and should, be by the end of the Theogony, then it also prepares the ground for the failures of kings elsewhere in the epic cosmos. The tradition outside Hesiodic epic obsessively interrogates the idealization of kingship anatomized here. The unexpressed possibility that not all men will judge with skill or that the judgment will not be expressed with gentle words is, for example, explored most rigorously in the Homeric poems, whether we think of the disastrous strife that explodes in the Achaean community at the beginning of the Iliad, as both Agamemnon and Achilles fail in their protective duties to the people, [48] or the equally socially destructive strife that infects the Ithacan community in the prolonged absence of its leader. [49] How this thematization of strife might have been articulated and explored in the Theban tradition is the subject of our final section in this chapter.

Honor, Division, and Strife: A Theban Tale

The epic called Thebais was composed about this war. Kallinos, when he comes to mention this epic, says that Homer composed it. Many authors of considerable repute have believed the same thing. In my opinion too I praise this poem especially, after the Iliad and Odyssey at least.
Pausanias IX 9.5 [50]
From our survey of Hesiod’s cosmos, it has become apparent that the thematization of Eris, along with its attendant associations of division (dasmos), honors (timai, gera) and judgment (krisis), is fundamental at a compositional level in early Greek hexameter poetry. Viewed in the context of cosmic construction, the Theogonic treatment of strife “sets the table” for poetic feasting. The allotment of proper honors for the gods, no less, is explored and reified at the foundational scene of sacrifice described in the Theogony, suggesting an indelible thematic connection between the sacrificial feast (δαίς) and the proper apportionment of “cuts” (δάσσαντο is the iterative form of the verb δαίομαι). [51] Transgressions arising from unjust divisions result in strife and war; as we saw from Proclus, Eris attends banquets and portions out conflict.
The table motif will play a critical role as we pick over the scraps left of the Theban tradition. We have already seen that Hesiod groups Thebes and Troy together etiologically. As early as Herodotus, poems whose titles evoke a Theban tradition to rival that of Troy—the Thebais and the Epigonoi—were attributed to Homer, presumably on the basis of a similarity in thematic content and poetic style to the two Homeric poems that have come down to us. [52] Whatever precise form these poems took—and it is by no means clear that their narratives were ever as fixed or quite as large and epic as those of the Iliad and Odyssey—the two traditions share various points of contact, not least of all in their cast list. We have already seen (in Chapter 1) that the Iliad represents the sons of the Seven against Thebes fighting at Troy; other accounts record that a bastard brother of Atreus and Thyestes, by the name of Chrysippus, was raped by Laios, the king of Thebes. It was for this insult that Hera cursed him to be killed at the hands of his own son and replaced by him as king. [53]
Saying anything certain about the contents and especially the plot of any notional Theban epic is fraught with hazard, given the paucity of non-Homeric evidence, which is one reason why we have focused in this book almost entirely on what Homer does with Thebes. Anything that can be said derives from the few surviving hexameter fragments, later testimonia (including Proclus’ much later summary), reworkings (especially tragic), and, in our opinion most fraught of all, Theban material in the surviving epic corpus, primarily the Iliad and Odyssey. In each case, critics face the problem of interpreting Thebes through the distorting lens of other perspectives—interpretations that, to a certain extent, are conditioned by our understanding of these other sources. [54] Still, some broad and informative outlines seem tantalizingly in reach, especially with regard to the pervasively tragic treatment of Thebes’ sack. If this suggests the gravitational pull of a strong, possibly unitary composition (like an epic poem), [55] then we also have to consider the possibility that a tradition of Theban poems also existed. Perhaps these were not as extensive as the collection that appears to have been a Trojan Cycle, but nevertheless we can postulate a range of poems or versions of particular stories based at or around Thebes: ancient evidence would seem to attest to nearly a half-dozen different named Theban epics. Again the anomaly is the survival of the Iliad and Odyssey as complete texts of heroic epic.
A way forward may be to identify and reflect on the type of dynamic engagement that we have been exploring in the Homeric poems. First, however, we must deal with the sparse nature of our evidence, taking the fabula related to Oedipus as an example. In Chapter 3 we discussed the Odyssey’s engagement with the idea of Oedipus as a hero to rank alongside Odysseus: our focus here lies rather on how Oedipus’ story may have been told in his own epic, the Oedipodea. [56] A chief obstacle of doing any full comparative analysis of the Oedipus story in Homer and in a Theban epic is that all our evidence of the latter has been furnished explicitly for comparison to or explication of the former. Homer’s extant epics have provided the frame by which the lost epic is judged and the lens through which its contents are judged as strange or memorable.
The difficulty of retrieving any Theban archetype is demonstrated by the fact that only two ancient witnesses mention the epic, and both are late. The one, Pausanias, explicitly uses Homer (the Odyssey) to judge that Oedipus’ sons were born of Euryganeia not Iokasta (IX 5.10). [57] The other, a scholion to Euripides’ Phoenican Women, preserves only the tale of Laios’ sexual transgression against Chrysippus that we have just noted, along with the single quotation that survives: “the most beautiful and desire-inducing of all men / the dear child of blameless Creon, shining Haimon.” [58] The context that the scholion provides relates to the Sphinx, sent by Hera as punishment for Laios’ transgression, which implies that Haimon is its victim.
Admittedly all this, such as it is, is not much to go on. [59] However, if we use our earlier chapters’ ideas of interformularity and intertraditionality, rather than basing any reconstruction on a unidirectional notion of, say, Homeric precedence, then some interesting points of contact emerge. On the one hand, the death of a younger hero clearly reflects a common trope in heroic epic (such as Patroklos in the Iliad, or Antilochus in the so-called Aithiopis). On the other, the story arc, at least as represented by the scholion, befits an epic cosmos: in the first movement (“book”) of the Iliad, for example, a (sexual) transgression by a king leads to a god sending a plague against the people; we might further note that the leader, having sought a prophetic interpretation of the events, finds that he is the cause of the plague. While these elements also evoke the plot of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannos, the differences from the play provide circumstantial evidence that an Oedipodea may have taken a form along the lines suggested by viewing the fragment’s potential intertraditionality. Indeed, if we take the dynamism of this approach seriously, we might even speculate that motifs and thematic patterns from an Oedipodea may well have been appropriated by the Iliad, on the basis that the plot relating to Agamemnon’s transgression lies outside the core Trojan War material. [60] Or, to put that another way, the idea of a leader finding himself implicated in a prophetic judgment on the basis of his sexual transgression sounds Oedipal.
Of all the lost Theban epics, the Thebais, which was most often attributed to Homer, provides our largest sample of fragments. [61] The fragment that is purportedly its opening line preserves the epic invocation of the Muse: [62] Ἄργος ἄειδε, θεά, πολυδίψιον, ἔνθεν ἄνακτες.... “Sing, goddess, about very thirsty Argos, from where the lords...” (fr. 1). The headline subject—to sing about Argos—comes as somewhat of a surprise given the fact that this opens a tale about Thebes. Indeed, such a striking beginning may have had something to do with its memorialization (in the Contest of Homer and Hesiod). [63] The capacity to surprise or to misdirect, even in the presentation of a tale that can be recognized as being traditional, is a feature that characterizes both Homeric epics. [64]
It is the second fragment of the Thebais, the longest that we have, that is particularly notable in the light of our discussion on epic strife in Hesiod (fr. 2 B/D): [65]
αὐτὰρ ὁ διογενὴς ἥρως ξανθὸς Πολυνείκης
πρῶτα μὲν Οἰδιπόδηι καλὴν παρέθηκε τράπεζαν
ἀργυρέην Κάδμοιο θεόφρονος· αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
χρύσεον ἔμπλησεν καλὸν δέπας ἡδέος οἴνου.
αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’ ὡς φράσθη παρακείμενα πατρὸς ἑοῖο
τιμήεντα γέρα, μέγα οἱ κακὸν ἔμπεσε θυμῶι,
αἶψα δὲ παισὶν ἑοῖσιν ἐπ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἐπαρὰς
ἀργαλέας ἠρᾶτο· θοὴν δ’ οὐ λάνθαν’ Ἐρινύν·
ὡς οὔ οἱ πατρώϊ’ ἐνηέι <ἐν> φιλότητι
δάσσαιντ’, ἀμφοτέροισι δ’ ἀεὶ πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε.

Then the divine-born hero, blond Polyneikes
First placed before Oedipus a fine silver platter,
A thing of god-minded Cadmus. And then
He filled a fine golden cup with sweet wine.
But, when he discerned that lying before him were the
Honorable gifts of his own father, a great evil fell upon his spirit.
Swiftly he uttered grievous curses against both
Of his own sons—and he did not escape the divine Erinys’ notice—
That they would not divide their inheritance in kind friendship
But that they would both always have wars and battles.
The language of this fragment reveals motifs and structuring familiar from other extant epics. [66] The term hero (ἥρως) immediately locates these events in a heroic story world, just as in the proem to the Iliad or in Hesiod’s age of heroes. It is fitting too that the emphasis is on conflict, [67] here manifest in the form of a curse that “that they would not divide their patrimony in friendship, but always wars and battles would be between them” (ὡς οὔ οἱ πατρωίαν εἴη φιλότητι / δάσσοντ᾿, ἀμφοτέροισι δ’ ἀεὶ πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε). Division and strife are again coupled together, as they had been in Hesiod. A divided patrimony is a latent threat in Homer’s epics too, both with the characterization of the troubled half-brothers, Ajax and Teucer (a story more fully told in Sophocles’ Ajax) and in the very insistence on the uniqueness of the line of descent from Laertes through Odysseus to Telemachus—single sons all. [68] Nor is fraternal strife far away: in the Odyssey, Nestor recounts how Athena sets strife on both sons of Atreus (ἥ τ’ ἔριν Ἀτρεΐδῃσι μετ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἔθηκε, 3.136), the results of which cause the catastrophic division in the Achaean army that fatally compromises the safe returns of the many. It is easy to imagine such a tale of conflict between the Atreidae that, like our Iliad, starts with a problematic assembly (as too in Nestor’s account) and leads to a prolonged exploration of their troubled homecomings. [69] The conflictual nature of Oedipus’ patrimony, however, seems to be of a different order: just as both Achilles and Odysseus contain the seeds of their stories within their names, so too does Oedipus’ son, Poly-neikes, “much strife.” [70] The strife between brothers is essential to conflict in the Thebais.
Perhaps less obviously epic is the catalyst for conflict. There seems to be little in the way of conflict in the opening lines, where Polyneikes serves his father food and wine. On the contrary, the accumulation of positive epithets—divine-born, blond, fine silver, god-minded, fine golden, sweet wine—serves to create a mood of fine dining. It is all the more shocking—that element of surprise again—when a great evil fell upon Oedipus’ spirit. The reason appears all too elusive (and allusive?): “his father’s honored gifts had been set before him” (παρακείμενα πατρὸς ἑοῖο / τιμήεντα γέρα). With this line, the scene of conviviality is shattered, and Oedipus “swiftly” (αἶψα) curses his sons and divides their patrimony in strife.
A third fragment from the Thebais (3.1) lingers on the moment, even if the details remain frustratingly elliptical:
ἰσχίον ὡς ἐνόησε, χαμαὶ βάλεν εἶπέ τε μῦθον·
“ὤ μοι ἐγώ, παῖδες μέγ’ ὀνειδείοντες ἔπεμψαν...”
εὖκτο Διὶ βασιλῆϊ καὶ ἄλλοις ἀθανάτοισι
χερσὶν ὑπ’ ἀλλήλων καταβήμεναι Ἄιδος εἴσω.

When he noticed the cut of meat, he hurled it to the ground and spoke a word:
“Alas, my children have sent this as a reproach to me...”
He prayed to King Zeus and the other gods
That they would go to Hades’ home at each other’s hands.
Given the overlap in content, it is quite possible that this fragment comes from a different source and provides an alternative account of Oedipus’ cursing of his sons; [71] on the other hand, it is equally plausible that what it does is complementary to the previous fragment, in effect doubling the sons’ offense and giving voice to the curse. In either case what exactly provokes Oedipus’ furious response remains unclear, and we should perhaps not discount a sense of the uncanny or inexplicable. [72] What is apparent from both fragments, however, is the epic theme of strife and, more particularly, its network of associations that we have previously identified in Hesiod—specifically the division or distribution (dasmos) of honors (timai, gera) at a feast.
We observed above that the strife between Zeus and Prometheus in Hesiod also occurs at a feast: indeed, as the original “settlement” between the gods and humans, the feast in the Theogony represents and replays a foundational moment, when mortal and immortal are definitively separated. The idea of the feast as a source of conflict occurs too in the Odyssey. In Book 8, Demodokos’ song places the “strife of Odysseus and Achilles” at a feast. For three whole books Odysseus then sings about his strife (as he strives to return) in the banqueting halls of the Phaiakians. Within that frame, feasting plays a curiously prominent role in the death of his companions. They perish when they feast on the beach after sacking the city of the Kikonians; when they help themselves to Polyphemus’ provisions, only to be feasted on themselves; and when they slaughter the cattle of the Sun—their fatal demise which the narrator headlined as early as the proem. [73] Finally, back on Ithaca, with the return of the king, the suitors are slaughtered in Odysseus’ banqueting hall, as they feast. [74] While scenes of conflict at feasts are (arguably unsurprisingly) absent from the Iliad’s war narrative, another Trojan War epic, the Aithiopis, apparently included a scene of feasting where Achilles kills Thersites for mocking him over his desire for the Amazon queen Penthesileia. [75] The Iliad perhaps preserves a memory of such a conflict in its introduction of Thersites as “always abusing Achilles and Odysseus especially” (2.220). What is important in the Iliad, however, is the institutionalization, or domestication, of strife in scenes of meetings between the Achaean leaders, which are all framed by the formulaic line: “when they had put aside their desire for food” (e.g. 9.92: αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ πόσιος καὶ ἐδητύος ἐξ ἔρον ἕντο). [76] The intimate connection between meal taking and political deliberation, suggested by that formula, can be read as an extension of the Hesiodic contemplation on distributing honors at the sacrifice—as if providing different points of view in a safe environment were a distribution of honors of sorts. [77] In this way the Iliad recoups feasting as a socially unifying moment. Conflict at the feast becomes sublimated in the institutional, and formulaically framed, scene of council.
We will discuss some of the implications of viewing strife as a common theme for reading Homer in more detail in the next chapter; here we might note how the language and ideas of these two Theban fragments also resonate with the opening movement of the Iliad, and not only because of the honor (geras) of which Achilles is deprived. [78] In his quarrel (neikos) with Achilles, Agamemnon savages him for “always being in love with strife and wars and battles” (αἰεὶ γάρ τοι ἔρις τε φίλη πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε, 1.177), a line that Zeus repeats in his criticism of Ares (5.891) and that recalls Oedipus’ curse against his sons. What happens to the brothers in the Theban poems when their father promises them continual war and battles (ἀεὶ πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε) we don’t know: what we do know is that in the Iliad Agamemnon deploys the formula in a context of verbal battle, a conceptual extension of the motif of physical strife. Indeed, when Agamemnon reworks this line, he does to emphasize the social threat posed by Achilles, as Zeus too does later in relation to the god of war. [79] The interesting twist on Agamemnon’s perception of Achilles as a danger to all is that it is Achilles who, at least initially, stands up for a proper and communal distribution of goods (before his prize specifically is threatened). [80] We have no way of telling how the theme of strife played out in the Thebais, though it is true to say that the emphasis in the fragment is on familial conflict. In the Iliad, as we shall see, the manifestation of eris is complex, fluid, and socially oriented, an ambiguous figure that owes something to its double genealogy in Hesiod.
The fragments of the remaining Theban epics—that is to say, those not held to be thoroughly “Homeric”—do not appear to exhibit the kind of interformular thematics of strife that we have been discussing, so far as any conclusion can be drawn from a fragmentary corpus. Even then, however, there are interesting intertraditional echoes in the corpus. The longest fragment of the Alcmeonis, for example, starts with the brothers Peleus and Telamon, fathers of the Homeric Achilles and Ajax, murdering their half-brother Phokos (fr. 1): [81]
ἔνθα μιν ἀντίθεος Τελαμὼν τροχοειδέι δίσκωι
πλῆξε κάρη, Πηλεὺς δὲ θοῶς ἐνὶ χειρὶ τινάξας
ἀξίνην ἐύχαλκον ἐπεπλήγει μέσα νῶτα.

There, godlike Telamon struck him in the head
With a rounded discus and Peleus raised in his hands
Swiftly a bronze ax to strike him down through the middle of the back.
On the face of it, murdering one’s half-brother hardly seems to rank in the same heroic category as the actions of their sons, the Iliad’s most famous warriors. [82] But not only is it rather befitting of the savagery attributed to the fighters around Thebes where Tydeus famously eats brains; [83] it resonates strongly with the theme of fraternal strife and violence that is central to the Thebais. Elsewhere in the corpus of early Greek poetry more generally the idea of Thebes as a locus for strife is also prominent. A very good reason why Thebes proved such rich pickings for the Athenian tragedians relates to its tradition of thematizing internal strife, a particularly charged and fertile idea when explored through an individual (ruling) family.
The Lille Stesichorus provides further evidence for understanding these lexical markers and their attendant themes as an integral part of the story tradition around Thebes. [84] In addition to the poem’s clear Homeric diction, [85] neikos features prominently, appearing on no fewer than three occasions (μ]έ̣γα νεῖκος, 188; νεῖκος ἔμπεδον, 206; νε̣ί̣κεος ἐμ μεγάροις, 233), which serves to structure the narrative around an Eris theme. The second of those instances is put in the mouth of a female speaker, [86] who complains that “the immortal gods have established constant strife throughout sacred land for mortals” (θεοὶ θέ σαν ἀθάνατοι κατ᾿ αἶαν ἱ̣ρ̣ὰν / νεῖκος ἔμπεδον βροτοῖσιν, 205–206). The phrase κατ᾿ αἶαν ἱ̣ρ̣άν, “through the sacred land,” echoes and, at the same time, reworks the epithet and noun combination “sacred Thebes” in hexameter epic, as if conflict were no longer contained in the city alone but has spread throughout the land. [87] The fragment continues with a proposal to end the conflict through a proper division of the spoils: one son should keep the household, while the other takes the goods (220–221). [88]
As well as directly addressing the issue of fair distribution preserved in the Thebais fragments that come down to us, this scene of arbitration engages with the Hesiodic nexus of themes relating to eris, krisis, and dasmos that we identified and discussed above. Using the kind of “gentle words” (μύθ̣ο̣ις ἀγ[α]ν̣ο̣ῖς ἐνε̣π̣οίσα, 232) attributed by Hesiod to his adjudicating king, or requested by Nestor for his, [89] Iocasta’s (or is it Epikastê’s or Euryganeia’s?) act of arbitration attempts to redistribute inheritance in much the same way as we might imagine the absent kings doing in the beginning of Hesiod’s Works and Days, even if here the rightful distribution will ultimately be decided by lot (“whoever drew first with the willingness of the Fates,” πρᾶτος λάχηι ἕκατι Μοιρᾶν, 324). [90] In both cases—in Hesiod and in this reworking of the Theban story—an outbreak of conflict (eris) has been addressed through a judgment (krisis) that attempts resolution through some kind of a distribution (dasmos). The problem in both situations is that (at least) one of the brothers cannot or will not adhere to the results of the krisis and attempts to take more than what has been apportioned. The result of this initial failure of distribution will be the renewal of conflict. While for Hesiod the eris is reworked and sublimated into his poem, for the story of Oedipus this is the eris that will forever go on destroying the city of Thebes.


In this chapter we have discussed the importance of the bifurcation of eris and its connection to both the form and the content of epic poetry. By unpacking its constituent parts we have identified and explored a series of thematic moves that appear to be shared and shaped by both Trojan and Theban epics. On this basis we believe that investigating the content of the thematics of eris has been a useful and hermeneutically productive exercise for thinking about the agonistics of these rival traditions. However, we also want to emphasize the fundamental impact of the thematics of eris on the form of epic as well. In rivalry with and in response to other traditions, each epic poem builds on and develops motifs and themes in a process that is both competitive and cooperative. In our last example we have observed some of the ways in which both the Theban tradition of the Oedipus tale and the poetic conceit of the conflict between Perses and Hesiod depend upon and draw on the same themes, motifs and, in some cases, even the same language. Yet their deployment of these elements differs radically. Where Hesiod integrates eris to make his epic words a type of settlement, inviting his audience to a krisis within the regulatory framework offered by his poem, the Stesichorus fragment anticipates further conflict and destruction.
In a storyworld where we imagine the sacks of Thebes and Troy as coexisting, the intertraditionality that leads both narrative traditions to integrate similar themes into their representative poems results in mirrored explorations of the primeval force of strife. An integral part of the dynamic rivalry between these traditions was the inversion of theme and the juxtaposition of context and content. Where the nominal Theban epic, the Thebais, turns an internecine struggle into an international war of sorts, Homer’s response, as we shall see in the next chapter, is to integrate extraneous Trojan War motifs like civil strife into what initially appears to be a tale of a foreign expedition and the return home. Thus, the Iliad turns an international war into an internecine struggle of sorts, redirecting the focus of conflict from scenes of battle with enemy combatants to a war of words between the best of the Achaeans, with important political, foundational consequences for the people of Achaean society. In turn the Odyssey even more rigorously interrogates the social institutions that are supposed to protect society from destructive disintegration, all the time reflecting metapoetically on the role of song in the management and negotiation of strife, particularly civil war.


[ back ] 1. Sections of this chapter draw heavily on Christensen 2018a.
[ back ] 2. For a discussion of this passage, see the Introduction 5–10.
[ back ] 3. For Zeus’ plan in the Iliad’s proem, see Chapter 3, n39, above.
[ back ] 4. “All the gods were divided in heart / because of strife,” πάντες δὲ θεοὶ δίχα θυμὸν ἔθεντο / ἐξ ἔριδος (203-204)..
[ back ] 5. As we shall see, eris also occurs prominently in both the Iliad (its proem) and the Theban epic fragments. One manifestation of its creative aspect (see below) is how it lays the ground for the institutions that follow in the wake of the death of heroes and man’s new covenant with the gods, as represented by, and enacted in, Homer’s epics and hymns: see Chapter 5, below.
[ back ] 6. For an exploration of these themes as compositional features of early Greek poetry: Christensen 2018a. Sections of this chapter and the following one are based in part on this analysis.
[ back ] 7. On Hesiod’s description of the heroes as “demigods”: Nagy 1990:36–82. This seems to be a generic description of the age of heroes, since not all heroes are divine born. One who is not, Hektor, is nevertheless able to pick up a rock that it would take “two men nowadays” to lift (Iliad 12.447–449).
[ back ] 8. For heroes as those who both suffer and cause suffering, see above on Herakles (Chapter 2, “The Epic Herakles”) and Oedipus/Odysseus (Chapter 3, “Oedipus of Many Pains”). Note that the tension is encapsulated in epic phraseology: “the leader destroys his people” (e.g. ἐπεὶ πολὺν ὤλεσα λαόν, Iliad 2.115). See further Haubold 2000:20 and passim.
[ back ] 9. Cosmic history: see the Introduction, “Why Thebes?” In the process of myth, the Iliadic crisis of these values stands as a midpoint between the Theogony and the Works and Days. Cf. Mondi 1980 for an extended discussion of the Theogony as a cosmological text.
[ back ] 10. In the Near Eastern tradition, mass destruction of mankind most often takes the form of natural disasters, such as lightning or floods. The Greek epic tradition is unusual by putting the emphasis on humans’ involvement in their own destruction: See Barker 2008; cf. Haubold 2002.
[ back ] 11. On the compositional nature of theme from the perspective of oral-poetry, see the Introduction and Christensen 2018a.
[ back ] 12. θαυμάσαντες δὲ καὶ ἐν τούτῳ τὸν Ὅμηρον οἱ Ἕλληνες ἐπῄνουν, ὡς παρὰ τὸ προσῆκον γεγονότων τῶν ἐπῶν, καὶ ἐκέλευον διδόναι τὴν νίκην. ὁ δὲ βασιλεὺς τὸν Ἡσίοδον ἐστεφάνωσεν εἰπὼν δίκαιον εἶναι τὸν ἐπὶ γεωργίαν καὶ εἰρήνην προκαλούμενον νικᾶν, οὐ τὸν πολέμους καὶ σφαγὰς διεξιόντα. τῆς μὲν οὖν νίκης οὕτω φασὶ τυχεῖν τὸν Ἡσίοδον καὶ λαβόντα τρίποδα χαλκοῦν ἀναθεῖναι ταῖς Μούσαις ἐπιγράψαντα. See Graziosi 2002:168–180; Barker and Christensen 2013:195–196.
[ back ] 13. See the discussion in the previous chapter, “Strife and the Age of Heroes.”
[ back ] 14. For the disambiguation of the two Erides as programmatic for the poem, see Hamilton 1989:64; cf. Nagler 1992:79. On Hesiod “correcting” his view in the Theogony, see Most 1993: 76–80; against this view, see Thalmann 2004; cf. Nagler 1992:87. For the doubling of Eris as an innovation: West 1978:142; Gagarin 1990:173; Zarecki 2007:10; cf. Thalmann 2004:364 for earlier bibliography.
[ back ] 15. Nagler 1992:88–89 argues that the distinction is between “what is simplex and complex” and notes that Hesiod never calls one good and bad, but rather says that one should be praised and the other blamed. “The problem is that the Erides, or rather the two outcomes of acting under the eristic impulse, are often distinguishable only in their effects.”
[ back ] 16. For the roots of the earth as having to do with agriculture: West 1978:144; cf. Zarecki 2007:9-10; and Thalmann 2004:364, who notes that the roots of the earth (Theogony 728) are also where Night resides.
[ back ] 17. Thalmann 2004:376: “Hesiod’s description of the two Erides thus makes explicit the multiple potentialities in competition, conflict, and violence that are implicit elsewhere in hexameter poetry and in the narrative and formulaic traditions that underlie it, and that are obscured by the tradition (if such it was) reflected in the Theogony.”
[ back ] 18. For connections between Hesiod’s good strife and Greek agonistic culture: Hogan 1981:35, 57–58; cf. Thalmann 2004:367. For strife’s social functions in heroic poetry, see Nagy 1999 [1979]:213–242, 309–312.
[ back ] 19. We approach a similar phenomenon from a different perspective in our analysis of fight-or-flight debates common to the Homeric epics and the new Archilochus fragment: Barker and Christensen 2006. In that work we also emphasize the importance of rivalry and play to the development of poetic motifs and the emergence of separate poetic perspectives.
[ back ] 20. See Fenik 1974:142–207; Scodel 1984:55–58; Kelly 2007; Sammons 2014:302. For a fuller bibliography, see Tsagalis 2014:357.
[ back ] 21. See Kakridis 1949:43–49. For the doublet’s cooperative nature, see Sammons 2014:310: “Besides their anticipatory function, such doublet pairs can be used for the progressive development of themes.”
[ back ] 22. See Lord 1960:68–98; cf. Muellner 1996:15; Ebbott 2014:320.
[ back ] 23. See Lord 1960:94–97; cf. Ebbott 2014.
[ back ] 24. See Lord 1960:81–82; cf. Ebbott 2014:322.
[ back ] 25. See Lord 1960:75–80; cf. Ebbott 2014:334–335.
[ back ] 26. For a similar tour through instances of eris with a different emphasis: Thalmann 2004:360–374.
[ back ] 27. This text uses the readings and emendations provided by Most 2007.
[ back ] 28. For neikos as a synonym of eris to indicate verbal conflict: Hogan 1981 passim.
[ back ] 29. See Chapter 5. Hogan 1981:21 relates Achilles’ words at Iliad 18.107-108 to the eris of the proem (1.6, 8) and that of Athena’s request (1.210).
[ back ] 30. Hogan 1981:36: “A salient feature of an eris is that it is self-perpetuating.”
[ back ] 31. For the importance of the mênis theme in Homer, Hesiod and early Greek myth: Muellner 1996.
[ back ] 32. Cf. Derrida 1997:144. Culler 1982:103 explains the “supplement” as “an inessential extra, added to something complete in itself, but the supplement is added in order to complete, to compensate for a lack in what was supposed to be complete in itself.” In these terms, what is complete in itself cannot be added to: a supplement can occur only where there is an originary lack. In any binary set of terms, the second can be argued to exist in order to fill in an originary lack in the first.
[ back ] 33. For other analyses of the shared characteristics of Homeric and Hesiodic eris, see: Munding 1955 who suggests that the Homeric epics influenced Hesiod’s representation of Eris; and Havelock 1966:66–69, who argues that the roots of the Eris passage in the Works and Days lie in the Iliad; cf. Thalmann 2004:364–367; See Hogan 1981:57 for the implicit relationship (although he maintains passim that the Homeric eris must be analyzed on its own).
[ back ] 34. Ἡσίοδον γὰρ καὶ Ὅμηρον ἡλικίην τετρακοσίοισι ἔτεσι δοκέω μέο πρεσβυτέρους γενέσθαι καὶ οὐ πλέοσι· οὗτοι δέ εἰσι οἱ ποιήσαντες θεογονίην Ἕλλησι καὶ τοῖσι θεοῖσι τὰς ἐπωνυμίας δόντες καὶ τιμάς τε καὶ τέχνας διελόντες καὶ εἴδεα αὐτῶν σημήναντες· οἱ δὲ πρότερον ποιηταὶ λεγόμενοι τούτων τῶν ἀνδρῶν γενέσθαι ὕστερον, ἔμοιγε δοκέειν, ἐγένοντο. For an outline of how central the Hesiodic Theogony is even to the few examples of other theogonic tales extant: Fowler 2013:35.
[ back ] 35. On the politics of Hesiod’s succession myth: Holway 1989. On the poetics of the succession myth as connected to the Iliad’s mênis theme: Muellner 1996. Cf. Clay 2003.
[ back ] 36. In their analysis of the prolonged proem, Harden and Kelly 2014:9 show that part of the topic of the poem is “the division of timai.”
[ back ] 37. For a darker reading, see Thalmann 2004:386: “Zeus establishes his rule by might and intelligence and is then in a position...to head off further strife by inflicting it on mortals.”
[ back ] 38. The phrase recalls the Iliad’s description of Thoas, whom few could surpass in the assembly “whenever the young men were striving in debate (ὁππότε κοῦροι ἐρίσσειαν περὶ μύθων, Iliad 15.284): according to Barker 2009:65-66, the use of “whenever” (ὁππότε) demonstrates the institutionalization of dissent in the institution of the agora. At any rate, the indefinite temporal clause definitely gives it a feeling of custom if not of law. On the Iliad’s Zeus as somehow “outside” strife: Barker 2009:75–78.
[ back ] 39. On Zeus’ division of timai in the Homeric Hymns: Clay 1989. On the Hesiodic cosmos: Clay 2003.
[ back ] 40. Walsh 2005:147 argues that kholos is the type of anger that leads to neikos. On the meaning of kholos in general see Walsh 2005:109–231 and Muellner 1996:9, 83–4, and 111 (for its thematic importance in the Theogony and the Iliad).
[ back ] 41. Hymn to Demeter 311–312. Zeus resolves this danger by compensating Demeter for her lost position, by increasing both her and Persephone’s timai.
[ back ] 42. Consider similarly how Nestor’s (unsuccessful) attempt at mediation includes the warning to Achilles “not to strive” with the king, “since it is no like honor that is the portion of a sceptered king” (“ἐπεὶ οὔ ποθ’ ὁμοίης ἔμμορε τιμῆς / σκηπτοῦχος βασιλεύς,” Iliad 1.278–279).
[ back ] 43. Cf. Clay 1989; 2003.
[ back ] 44. West 1966:44 concludes that the difference in the treatment of kings between Hesiod’s Theogony and his Works and Days is the result of different target audiences—the former was composed for a performance before kings and the latter for a performance before “the people.” For us, the theogonic work praises kings while contemplating the evolution of a divine political order; the Works and Days excoriates kings for failing to fulfill the promise of this order and to carry out the duties imposed on them in the Theogony’s proem.
[ back ] 45. On the importance of understanding the correlation between the poet’s ability in speech and the king’s: Gargarin 1991:65–66. He argues that the king’s judgment is linked to the skill he uses to communicate it, and that the justice of the decision is based in part on its acceptability to the complainants who are persuaded by the king; cf Christensen 2018a.
[ back ] 46. The traditionality of this passage is buttressed in part by very similar lines in Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus describes the advantages that accrue to a man blessed by the gods with power of speech (8.165–177). For discussions about the relationship between the Hesiodic and Homeric passages: Solmsen 1954; West 1966:183; Edwards 1971:166–189; Janko 1982; Martin 1984. See especially Rosen 1997 for a bibliography and summary of prior arguments.
[ back ] 47. Walker 1996:250–251. For epos as a title for poetic discourse: Nagy 1999 [1979]:265–275.
[ back ] 48. Particularly striking in this context is Agamemnon’s later failure to win Achilles around. In preparing the ground, Nestor had counseled Agamemnon to be persuasive with “both glorious gifts and gentle words” (δώροισίν τ᾽ ἀγανοῖσιν ἔπεσσί τε μειλιχίοισι, 9.113); commenting on Agamemnon’s subsequent offer, Nestor mentions only the gifts (164). Judged only on the terms of the Theogony’s proem, Agamemnon makes a very poor leader. For the Iliad’s narrative, this is the reason why some other political settlement than a single king pronouncing on all has to be pursued: see Chapter 5 below.
[ back ] 49. For comparisons between this passage and Nestor’s introduction into the Iliad: Havelock 1966:71-73; Gagarin 1992:64; Walker 1996:246–248. Cf. Martin 1984:43; Nagy 1999 [1979]:311–312.
[ back ] 50. As cited above (epigraph to Chapter 1, “The Battle for Thebes”).
[ back ] 51. Nagy 1999 [1979]:127–139. Cf. Muellner 1996:33–34.
[ back ] 52. See Davies 2014:133–143; Bernabé 1996:20, 28.
[ back ] 53. See our discussion in Chapter 3, “Oedipus in Epic Fragments.” This story itself is contested, since some story traditions record that Chrysippus was rather murdered by Atreus and Thyestes: Gantz 1993:489, 548–552.
[ back ] 54. See our discussion of Thebes the Introduction, along with the bibliography cited there.
[ back ] 55. See Davies 2014:70–71.
[ back ] 56. The title is attested on the Tabula Borgia (IG XIV 1292) and the scholia to Euripides’ Phoenician Women. See Bernabé 1996:17; Davies 2014:1.
[ back ] 57. See Bernabé 1996:20; Davies 2014:132. Recent authors, e.g. Fowler 2013:404–405, follow Deubner 1942:16–17 and argue that the epic did not present the incest or children as an issue—the tragedians likely magnified these horrors. Davies is more sceptical: “it is hard to see how an epic whose very title implies a detailed account of the career and suffering of the hero could ever have similarly avoided these basic issues” (17). Modern scholars have also used the Odyssey to reconstruct the plot of the Oedipodea. See Davies 2014:13–17 for a discussion of the various scenarios.
[ back ] 58. ἀλλ’ ἔτι κάλλιστόν τε καὶ ἱμεροέστατον ἄλλων / παῖδα φίλον Κρείοντος ἀμύμονος, Αἵμονα δῖον, Scholion to Euripides Phoenician Women 1760.
[ back ] 59. Many scholars accept Peisander’s summary of the tale in the scholia as accurate: Bernrbé 1996:17–19; Davies 2014:7–8 with bibliography.
[ back ] 60. Discussions of the lost epics can be determined by a circularity based both on the fact that their remains were largely preserved with reference to the Homeric poems and on the desire of interpreters to create objects worthy of study: see Davies 2018. This reason—among others—is why we have primarily been concerned with the use of Theban material by Homer.
[ back ] 61. On the testimonia: Bernabé 1996:20–22; cf. Davies 2014:135–136.
[ back ] 62. Cf. the apparent opening line of the Epigonoi: “Now, Muses, let us sing in turn of the younger men” (Νῦν αὖθ’ ὁπλοτέρων ἀνδρῶν ἀρχώμεθα, Μοῦσαι, fr. 1): Davies 2014:107–108. For an outline of the typical events and sources: Gantz 1993:522–528.
[ back ] 63. For the surprise of a poem about the sack of Thebes starting with an invocation of Argos: Davies 1989:23.
[ back ] 64. On misdirection in Homer: Morrison 1992. On the importance of composing a tale in oral performance that sounds traditional: Scodel 2002.
[ back ] 65. The fragment is preserved in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists XIV 465b. The context is discussing eris as a thematic marker, the stories of Thebes being reduced to a “thumbnail” for the participants of the Iliad.
[ back ] 66. The lines throughout the fragment have parallels in extant epic: Davies 2014:49–51.
[ back ] 67. Thalmann 2004:385: The Iliad remembers a sack of Thebes and its quarrel, “an extremely pointed example of the destructive power of eris.”
[ back ] 68. See Chapter 3; cf. Goldhill 2010.
[ back ] 69. West 2013:244–250 imagines that the “Return of the Atreidai” mentioned by Athenaeus is actually the same as a single Cyclic poem called the Nostoi. Davies 2014:61 places this fraternal struggle in the larger context of Mediterranean fratricide myths.
[ back ] 70. On the speaking names of Achilles and Odysseus: Higbie 1995; Kanavou 2015: 29–35 and 91–100; and Chapter 3, n35.
[ back ] 71. For a discussion of the relationship of the two fragments: Davies 2014:54–62. Fowler 2013:408–409 suggests that it is easier to view them as fragments of different poems.
[ back ] 72. Oedipus’ rage derives from his sons’ disobedience and being reminded of his murder of Laios: Davies 2014:138; cf. 45–48. Taking the evidence more literally, a scholion to Oedipus at Colonus 1375 explains that Oedipus curses his sons after being denied a customary portion of sacrificial meat. See Davies 2014:138–139; Bernabé 1996:23–24.
[ back ] 73. See Barker and Christensen 2006 for a discussion of how generic rivalry with sympotic poetry might be at play. We might note too that Odysseus’ men are turned into pigs when they accept food from Circe.
[ back ] 74. See Pucci 1987:128–138; Barker 2009:123–126; cf. Rutherford 1991:44.
[ back ] 75. See Rosen 2002.
[ back ] 76. See Barker 2009:63 with n85.
[ back ] 77. Cf. the famous scene between Glaukos and Sarpedon (Iliad 12.310–328), in which the pair articulate the necessity to fight in the front line since they get the choicest cuts of meat. On this scene: Adkins 1970:34–35 and Pucci 1998:49-68.
[ back ] 78. Cingano 2004:278 places Oedipus and Achilles alongside each other as heroes who are deprived of a previously sanctioned γέρας and who experience wrath as a result.
[ back ] 79. On the comparison between Achilles and Ares: Nagy 1999 [1979]:131 and Christensen 2012:236. On the latent cosmic threat presented by Ares: Muellner 1996:5–13.
[ back ] 80. See our discussion of Achilles and the Achaean assembly in the next chapter.
[ back ] 81. For the content and scholarly history: Davies 2014:116–117.
[ back ] 82. Davies 1989:25–26 suggests that the fragments indicate that, unlike Homer’s Iliad where both sides are presented with sympathy, the attackers in the Thebais were “portrayed...as semi-monsters.”
[ back ] 83. For Tydeus’ brain eating, see fr. 5; Davies 1989:26.
[ back ] 84. For the text: Parsons 1977; Bremer 1987; Finglass 2014. The papyrus is dated by Finglass 2014:369 to the mid-third century BCE. According to Russo 1997 it may be a mistake to think of Stesichorus as operating outside the epic tradition. He addresses problems in our understanding of the poet’s genre and argues that Stesichorus occupies a space between epic and lyric that pre-dates the regular hexameter and (re)performances of Hesiod and Homer. In addition, he proposes that the performances of Demodokos in the Odyssey, which mix subjects later generations might see as deriving from these different genres, point to the Homeric depiction of this sort of figure.
[ back ] 85. See Parsons 1977:7 and 12.
[ back ] 86. Parsons 1977 identifies her as Epikastê. Finglass 2014:364–366, following Bremer 1987:139, believes it to be Euryganeia, on the basis that evidence for Oedipus’ mother living on after the shocking revelation is lacking until Euripides, and that in the tradition it was Oedipus’ second wife who gave birth to his children.
[ back ] 87. See the Introduction, “Why Thebes?” Bremer 1987:139, observing that the adjective “sacred” is attached to a city everywhere else in archaic poetry but here modifies generic “land,” finds the usage “curious.”
[ back ] 88. The division is repeated and expanded upon at 235–246: Finglass 2014:377.
[ back ] 89. See Bremer 1987:162 for Homeric parallels to “gentle speech.” Oedipus appears absent from the poem: Finglass 2014:366–367 suggests that he is dead already; Burnett 1988:115 argues that the poem has made “the queen the head of the house.” Bremer 1987:167 relates Iocasta’s adjudication of the conflict to the situation between Hesiod and Perses in the Works and Days. He also points to a historical example of fraternal distribution by lot: in the seventh century BCE, Cyrene sent out colonists by having families with more than one male heir draw lots to stay or go.
[ back ] 90. The rest of the poem first narrates the drawing of the lots and then prepares the ground for the renewed outbreak of strife as the sons protest and Teiresias prophesies their future doom. On the former: see Parsons 1977:27; Finglass 2014:385; on the latter: Parsons 1977:24 and 26. Finglass 2014:367 suggests that Teiresias’ prophecies replace the curses of Oedipus.