Ankle and Ankle Epithets in Archaic Greek Verse

1. Introduction

Toward the end of Alcman IP, the choir of maidens makes a strangely emphatic exclamation about the presence of Hagesichora. The identity of this figure is mysterious, and the significance of the passage is unclear:

οὐ γὰρ ἁ κ[α]λλίσφυρος
Ἁγησιχ[ό]ρ[α] πάρ’ αὐτεῖ,
Ἀγιδοῖ …. αρμένει
θωστήρ[ιά τ’] ἅμ’ ἐπαινεῖ

The appearance of the adjective καλλίσφυρος contributes to the mystery. It is the only adjective describing Hagesichora in the poem, and its significance is all but clear. The word appears nowhere else in extant lyric poetry. Why is Hagesichora at this dramatic moment καλλίσφυρος? What importance does the adjective have for its context? Does its use reflect a specific intention, or is it necessary to accept it as lacking any independent meaning in the poem?

While the word καλλίσφυρος does not appear in any other attested lyric poetry, however, it does appear both in the Homeric epics and in Hesiod, and so it is possible to trace the history of its use and to compare its various appearances. The use of the epithet is no more apparently significant in early poetry than it is in Alcman’s composition. In both the Iliad and the Odyssey, in fact, καλλίσφυρος is a prime example of the so-called “ornamental epithet,” one which describes a series of characters and one whose literal meaning bears no discernable relation to its immediate context. Is it necessary to accept this apparent lack of significance, or is it possible to discover a latent emblematic meaning that is not at once evident, but that would make some sense out of the epithet’s use, explain why it appears where it does and what it contributes to the poem?

Lord’s assertions are suggestive but they offer no method for recovery of the significance of this epithet. Perhaps by examining each instance of an epithet’s appearance—considering its function within one passage and its recurrence in several works—it is possible to arrive at some idea of its original meaning and the intention of its use.


[ back ] 1. Parry 1928b:235.

[ back ] 2. Ibid. 246.

[ back ] 3. Lord 1960:65.