Homer’s Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts

  Barker, Elton T. E., and Joel P. Christensen. 2019. Homer's Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts. Hellenic Studies Series 84. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BarkerE_ChristensenJ.Homers_Thebes.2019.

1. Troy, The Next Generation: Politics [1]

Homer’s engagement with Thebes comes to the fore as the two opposing forces prepare to do battle for the first time in the Iliad on the plain in front of Troy’s citadel. Agamemnon’s review of his troops (Iliad 4.223–421) continues both the examination of his leadership and the introduction to some of the main Achaean figures. While some heroes—Idomeneus, the Aiantes, and Nestor—are praised for their eagerness for war, others are chastised for holding back. Among this latter group (which includes Menestheus and Odysseus) is the son of Tydeus, Diomedes. [2]
In criticizing Diomedes, Agamemnon compares him to his father, Tydeus, a hero who belongs to the Theban mythscape of an epic siege. Agamemnon’s story of Tydeus’ escapades at Thebes is the first and most detailed scene in the Iliad that directly relates the events of its rival tradition. In it, Agamemnon recounts how Diomedes’ father first visited Mycenae with Polyneikes, for the purpose of seeking allies for the assault on Thebes; later Tydeus went to Thebes alone, where he challenged and beat the Thebans in athletic contests; on his return, he single-handedly defeated an ambush of fifty picked men, leaving only two survivors (4.370–400). [3] If only his son, Diomedes, were such a man.
The example of Tydeus is cited on three further occasions, each time as Diomedes takes a leading role in the action. In the first, Athena appears to Diomedes in the midst of his aristeia (Iliad 5.800–813), in itself a highly visible manifestation of this hero’s response to, and stirring riposte of, Agamemnon’s earlier stinging criticism. Relating some of the same events that Agamemnon had told, Athena reveals that, though she had urged Tydeus to keep the peace at Thebes, he had nevertheless challenged the Thebans to athletic contests. Later, in the wake of the failed embassy to Achilles, as the Achaean leaders meet to plan a daring night raid on the enemy camp, Diomedes mentions his father’s Theban embassy and emphasizes Athena’s support in repelling their ambush, as he offers his own prayer to the goddess for support (Iliad 10.284–294). Finally, in Book 14, with Agamemnon again despairing of his army, Diomedes at long last provides his version of his father’s tale and, by taking ownership of his paternal inheritance, affirms his own heroic credentials.
With these different, but interrelated, examples, Homer’s Iliad demonstrates its awareness of a rival tradition that pertains to the siege of a city. Significantly, however, only these events—the exploits of Tydeus—are preserved as storied elements within Homer’s tale. [4] No other aspects of a Theban plot are articulated, even if other major heroes, like Herakles and Oedipus, do gain passing mentions (as we shall see in later chapters). Moreover, even the Theban story that is related—Tydeus’ travel there and back again—is frustratingly brief, elusive and even oddly inconsequential. Nevertheless, some scholars have argued that Agamemnon’s framing of his account as derivative (“they say,” 4.375) “presupposes a knowledge of the events,” as if these events were an acknowledged part of the tradition and the Iliad (through Agamemnon) were representing them accurately and in due order. [5] Whether or not this is true—and we have our doubts, as we explain below—it remains striking that the focus is not where one might expect it to be. That is to say, Agamemnon, as well as Athena and Diomedes after him, has nothing to say about the attack of the Seven against Thebes itself, which one might have supposed would have been the primary comparandum for the Trojan story. Rather he concentrates on a single episode in the epic career of one of the heroes, which belongs not to the decisive battle for the city but to obscure preliminary events. [6]
Using these episodes involving Diomedes and the tales about this father, in this chapter we test our hypothesis that the Theban material in Homer is put to the service of the narratives of the Iliad and Odyssey, rather than preserving a remnant of the original narrative focus of a Theban poem. [7] We propose that a close examination of Agamemnon’s tale of Tydeus reveals a thematic disharmony with certain strains within the Iliad at large. This incongruity, we suggest, not only reflects the Iliad’s own consumption and interrogation of competing views on warfare, heroism and human society; it also represents an invitation to weigh the consequences of those choices in relation to other story traditions. To set the stage, we give a brief account of the epic careers of the Seven against Thebes as preserved elsewhere in the archaic Greek poetic corpus. Next, we analyze the individual components of Agamemnon’s tale to explore how he creates a legendary tale of Tydeus with themes rooted in the mythical past and an emphasis on an individual’s exceptionality. Then, by examining the tension between Agamemnon’s message and the responses that it elicits (both from the characters involved and in the subsequent narrative), we argue that the embedded tale contrasts to, and is corrected by, the Iliad’s own developing interest in collective action.
Our argument will be that the subordination of the Theban material, upon which Agamemnon draws to the main narrative of the Iliad, encourages reflection on the relationship between the Homeric epics and the pasts presented within them. Arguably the most striking aspect of this Thebes story is the fact that it is presented as the past, an example—and a negative one at that—to the heroes of the (always) present, the heroes of Homer’s Iliad.

The Battle for Thebes

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. And I praise this poem especially, after the Iliad and Odyssey at any rate.
Pausanias IX 5 [8]

When it comes to thinking about the story of the Seven against Thebes in epic, it is difficult to avoid being drawn in to a discussion of an epic “Seven Against Thebes.” While we made it clear in the introduction that we neither consider it fruitful to try to reconstruct the lost or fragmentary epic(s) that told this story nor are interested in examining whether or not our Iliad draws on specific passages in an analytic fashion, [9] in order to appreciate the Homeric representation of this material we must first give a brief preliminary sketch on what a notional Theban epic on the siege of the city may have included.

In antiquity the poem known as the Thebais was attributed to Homer by authors as far apart temporally as Herodotus (V 67) and Pausanias (IX 9.1). [10] While scholarship of the last two centuries has largely followed the Aristotelian trend of ascribing only the Iliad and the Odyssey to Homer, many have nevertheless seen the appearance in the Homeric poems of details from stories assumed to be part of a lost Thebais as indicating an extant tradition with which “Homer” was familiar. [11] Such a notion is entirely plausible, though we are more cautious about positing a monumental Thebais about which we can assert anything positive. Indeed evidence from the Iliad would seem to suggest a narrow, specific, and rather idiosyncratic engagement with Theban themes, one which, furthermore, privileges one putative Theban tradition (the Epigonoi) over another (the Thebais). In all likelihood one reason for this is the narrative drive of the Iliad, which, as we shall see, is interested in both establishing and then interrogating the internal dynamics of the Achaean political community. In order to appropriately assess Homer’s praise for the younger generation and emphasis on coalition politics set against individual heroic endeavor (as imagined taking place at Thebes), it will be useful to briefly summarize what we think might have been in the lost Theban poems.
The fragmentary remains of the Thebais scattered through a range of diverse sources provide at least some picture of what the epic might have included. [12] Though nothing can be said about the poem’s structure or characterization, its plot is assumed to have covered the events that later constitute Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes and is further detailed in the mythographer Apollodorus (III 6). Cursed by their father, the sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polyneikes, contest the leadership for the city. Gathering allies from around the Greek world, they precipitate a dreadful conflict that leads to the death of many great heroes—not least the two of them, killed by their own hands at city’s seventh gate. [13] Strikingly, in what appears to be the remains of its opening invocation, the Thebais begins not with Thebes but with Argos from where the expedition departed: “Goddess, sing of very-thirsty Argos, from where the leaders [departed for Thebes].” [14] As with the other fragments, we will discuss this opening further in Chapter 4 below; for the time being it is worth noting that the headline theme anticipates a story about a group of heroes engaged in a collective act. Indeed, while two of the lengthiest fragments attest to familial conflicts (fr. 2 and 3), others point to a gathering of heroes that aligns the Theban tradition both to the framework of a cosmic history (outlined in the introduction) and to the idea of a coalition of Achaeans from the Trojan War tradition (as represented by the Homeric poems). The smattering of details that refer to the magical horse Arion (fr. 6), the denial of immortality to Tydeus (fr. 5), and the involvement of Amphiaraus, Parthenopaios and others, unsurprisingly fail to communicate the character of the whole epic, leaving us guessing as to what the (or a) poem might have looked like. But what is clear is that these fragments do not align easily with the information about Thebes recorded in the Homeric poems, specifically in the Iliad. Again we should stress that Homer’s Theban story centers largely on Diomedes’ father, Tydeus, and expressly a single episode that would have been but a small portion of any epic’s larger plot structure. Tydeus, as we shall see, comes across as a very different kind of hero than his son. [15]
We believe that Homer capitalizes upon and subverts poetic traditions in Theban myth in two ways. First, he chooses one character out of the many on whom to focus, thereby downplaying the element of coalition or a cooperative dynamic at play in Theban narratives. Second, by focusing on Tydeus and his contrast with Diomedes, the Iliad’s tale also undermines a conventional theme of generational decline, marking out the sons, for once, as better than their fathers. This strategy, as we discussed in the Introduction, has metapoetic concerns as well. Even though the Iliad is situated as coming after Thebes—Thebes has already been sacked by the time that Homer’s poem is staged, it projects itself as anything but—as the only siege story worth telling. To make matters more complex, Homer may well be exploiting tensions already latent in the Theban traditions.

The Seven Sons

There is mention of the Hyperboreans in Hesiod and in Homer as well in the Epigonoi, if Homer actually was the one who composed that poem.
Herodotus IV 32.7 [16]

In contrast with the Thebais, the story of the second Seven against Thebes is not well attested during the Archaic and Classical periods. At an early period the failed Theban sack had accrued more than one “sequel,” the first being Theseus’ siege of the city to force the burial of the war dead (see Apollodorus III 7). Even later mythographers leave little space for the deeds of the sons. In Apollodorus’ breezy account, for example, the sons barely warrant a mention: he concentrates instead on the many tales surrounding the death of Teiresias and the follow-up story involving Alcmaeon. As such the story that is strongly fronted by the Iliad appears to have enjoyed a rather tenuous existence.

It comes as no surprise, then, that very little certain is known of the epic poem referred to in ancient testimonies as the Epigonoi. Although it is attributed to Homer as early as Herodotus (IV 32), the stories that appear to be at home in that narrative—the sacking of Thebes by the sons of the Seven—are not well attested until after the Classical period; [17] modern scholars agree on only a single fragment as being genuine. [18] Even in the context of an imagined cycle of Theban epics, [19] the Epigonoi seems to be derivative from and secondary to the main stage: that is, the tales of Oedipus and the original Seven against Thebes. In nearly every surviving mention of the sons who came after, it is their nature as successors—as stand-ins or understudies for an original line up—that is emphasized, more than their role as heirs or inheritors of an epic glory. Depending as they do on a preceding tale for context and meaning, the tales of the Epigonoi seem incompletely formed. Such a reception of the Epigonoi narrative may be endemic to the kind of story it tells. The tale of sons returning to complete the deeds of their famous fathers certainly has an air of a sequel about it rather than the material for a primary plot. Moreover, because of its marginal place in epic cosmic history—between Thebes and Troy, as it were—it lacks the paradigmatic quality of either of the other expeditions. Rather, it represents a transitional tale, caught betwixt and between one amalgamated coalition story and the grander, Panhellenic opera.
As we have already noted briefly, the twin aspects of derivativeness and secondariness, which characterize the fragments of the Epigonoi tradition, are reflected too in the Iliad: the very reason why Agamemnon introduces a Theban tale is to chastise one of the Epigonoi for not living up to the exceptional deeds of his father. Central to its agonistic strategy, then, is the exploitation of latent themes underlying that earlier expedition. In exploiting these themes, the Iliad is also in part responsible for perpetuating them and ensuring their inclusion as part of the dominant narrative about Thebes. Yet, as we shall see, the Iliad’s handling of the Epigonoi is a good deal more complicated, not least because of its own positioning as a post-Thebes story.
Before turning to consider the Homeric reception of the Epigonoi in detail, to end this section it is worth drawing out a number of significant themes at which the remaining fragments appear to hint. The only widely accepted fragment comes from the Certamen, the Contest between Homer and Hesiod: “Now, Muses, let us sing in turn of the younger men” (Νῦν αὖθ’ ὁπλοτέρων ἀνδρῶν ἀρχώμεθα, Μοῦσαι, fr. 1). [20] This fragment reflects an essential secondariness in several ways. As the first line in an epic poem it does not start out by establishing its own story-world in the manner of an Iliad or an Odyssey; instead, its opening adverbs “now, in turn” (Νῦν αὖθ’) indicate that it is dependent upon something that has come before, as if a singer is picking up the story at a point that another has just left off. It requires an earlier story-frame for its own existence. Second, rather than invoking a single hero or even specific men in a specific time and place (by ethnonym or toponym etc.), the players of this poem have only a derivative or comparative nature: they are the younger men, the next generation. The context of the fragment underlines its secondary status: it follows directly on from what is considered to be the opening line of the Thebais (῎Αργος ἄειδε θεὰ πολυδίψιον ἔνθεν ἄνακτες), as “Homer” is made to recite examples of his Theban material (i.e. “heroic epic”, as distinct from Hesiod’s own brand of epic). That prior poem provides a place, Argos, that acts as metonym for narrative: it is the location from where the heroic agents (the epic ἄνακτες, ‘lords’) departed for Thebes, while the epithet πολυδίψιον (‘very thirsty’) suggests a rich mythological source on which to draw. (A thirst for blood, perhaps?) In a way, the derivative status of the Epigonoi represents in part the general attitude from early Greek poetry that the present is degenerate and the past was more “heroic.” As we know from Hesiod, it was in a bygone age that heroic men walked the earth.
It is this potential theme that the Iliad addresses most pointedly through its appropriation of the story of the Epigonoi. As we discuss in the Introduction and later in our discussion on epic themes (Chapter 4), the compositional tool of the anticipatory doublet—in which a theme or motif is repeated and expanded in a secondary mention—may indicate a general conceptual relationship between Homeric poetry and its precedents. In this regard, Homeric poetry doubles and echoes what came before, but not in a way that is derivative from or secondary to that material, but antagonistic to it; it works with and builds on (strips down and reuses) previous seige narratives in order to be the best (and only) show in town. The Iliad’s appropriation of the Epigonoi and its revision of the Epigonoi’s status vis-à-vis the earlier Theban cycle are thus both a fine indication of the way Homeric epic uses Theban themes and a test case for a broader poetic understanding of the anticipatory doublet.
In the rest of this chapter we examine the Theban story as presented to us in the Iliad. Our concern will be to consider the place of Thebes in Homer’s epic poem. This means exploring to what ends Thebes is incorporated within the Iliad’s narrative, and asking what effect this has on our understanding of the two epic traditions of Troy and Thebes.

On Not Being Alone

Our proposal, based on the relatively little that survives from the Thebais and Epigonoi fragments outlined above, is that the Iliad selectively adopts and adapts motifs, themes, characters, and story patterns from their tradition in order to advance its own narrative concerns. Homer’s agonistic appropriation of this other storyworld requires downplaying the collective character of a notional expedition against Thebes, in favor of promoting the Iliad’s vision of a Panhellenic coalition against Troy. At the same time, the Iliad challenges the common epic theme of generational degeneracy—archetypally represented by Hesiod’s myth of the ages—by privileging a father over a son. Diomedes’ father, Tydeus, is the figure designated for both of these tasks.
As the Iliad prepares for its first epic confrontation between Achaeans and Trojans, Agamemnon seeks to spur his leading men into action. The last of those on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing is Diomedes. He is presented with his father, Tydeus, who, it is said, successfully overcame all adversity on his Theban expedition, as a model to live up to. This section will set out how Agamemnon’s story about Thebes evokes a story pattern of solitary excellence that comes under increasing scrutiny over the course of the Iliad. What is striking is that Agamemnon relates a story about a hero on his way to a major war, not the main event itself but an episode expressly peripheral to it, “outside of war” (ἄτερ πολέμου). Focusing on the constellation of phrases around which Agamemnon forms his tale (μοῦνος ἐὼν πολέσιν, ἐπίρροθος, πυκινὸν λόχον, ἀεικέα πότμον, and the like), we will argue that, from the perspective of their wider deployment, several elements of Agamemnon’s focus—a singular hero alone among his enemies who, with the assistance of a divine helper, thwarts an ambush and unleashes vengeance on his assailants—sound out of place in a tale which will articulate the disastrous results of its protagonist’s assertion of his individuality. This dissonance has several important implications beyond guiding the audience in reading one of the key elements of the Iliad’s plot: that is, Achilles’ separation and exceptionalism. It also brings to the fore larger, foundational political themes, drawn from the wider cosmos of epic poetry, and makes them the special province of this story and this poem. Furthermore, in emphasizing the collective and privileging the later generation over the former, the Iliad also offers a metapoetic reflection on its relationship to other poetic traditions.
At the end of his review of the troops, Agamemnon turns his attention from Odysseus, whom he chastises for shirking battle, to Diomedes. Imagining the young hero to be similarly reluctant to fight, he issues a string of rebukes (“why do you cower, why do you look down on the bridges of war?”, τί πτώσσεις, τί δ’ ὀπιπεύεις πολέμοιο γεφύρας; Iliad 4.371), and reminds Diomedes of his father’s exploits at Thebes (4.372–400). [21] That Diomedes is singled out as the target of Agamemnon’s invective after Odysseus is significant. As one of the Iliad’s youngest heroes, Diomedes may be viewed as an index for the response of the epic’s internal audiences to its presented past—and by extension, an object lesson in reception for that story’s external audience. [22] It is important, therefore, that Diomedes is repeatedly enjoined to think about his father, even though, as he later admits to Glaukos in Book 6, he himself “does not remember Tydeus” (6.223–224). For Diomedes the past is an indeterminate, shifting construct, a text in the process of being stitched together, and whose significance as a model for the present is repeatedly contested. By looking more carefully at what Agamemnon says about this past, and how he uses it, we aim to tease out the combined significance of the utterances through which the Achaean leader selectively crafts his narrative and reflect on what extent his emphases are discordant with the context of Iliad 4.
As well as making a direct comparison between father and son, Agamemnon singles out Tydeus as a hero to emulate (4.370–400):

“ὤ μοι Τυδέος υἱὲ δαΐφρονος ἱπποδάμοιο
τί πτώσσεις, τί δʼ ὀπιπεύεις πολέμοιο γεφύρας;
οὐ μὲν Τυδέϊ γʼ ὧδε φίλον πτωσκαζέμεν ἦεν,
ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρὸ φίλων ἑτάρων δηΐοισι μάχεσθαι,
ὡς φάσαν οἵ μιν ἴδοντο πονεύμενον· οὐ γὰρ ἔγωγε
ἤντησʼ οὐδὲ ἴδον· περὶ δʼ ἄλλων φασὶ γενέσθαι.
ἤτοι μὲν γὰρ ἄτερ πολέμου εἰσῆλθε Μυκήνας
ξεῖνος ἅμʼ ἀντιθέῳ Πολυνείκεϊ λαὸν ἀγείρων·
οἳ δὲ τότʼ ἐστρατόωνθʼ ἱερὰ πρὸς τείχεα Θήβης,
καί ῥα μάλα λίσσοντο δόμεν κλειτοὺς ἐπικούρους·
οἳ δʼ ἔθελον δόμεναι καὶ ἐπῄνεον ὡς ἐκέλευον·
ἀλλὰ Ζεὺς ἔτρεψε παραίσια σήματα φαίνων.
οἳ δʼ ἐπεὶ οὖν ᾤχοντο ἰδὲ πρὸ ὁδοῦ ἐγένοντο,
Ἀσωπὸν δʼ ἵκοντο βαθύσχοινον λεχεποίην,
ἔνθʼ αὖτʼ ἀγγελίην ἐπὶ Τυδῆ στεῖλαν Ἀχαιοί.
αὐτὰρ ὃ βῆ, πολέας δὲ κιχήσατο Καδμεΐωνας
δαινυμένους κατὰ δῶμα βίης Ἐτεοκληείης.
ἔνθʼ οὐδὲ ξεῖνός περ ἐὼν ἱππηλάτα Τυδεὺς
τάρβει, μοῦνος ἐὼν πολέσιν μετὰ Καδμείοισιν,
ἀλλʼ ὅ γʼ ἀεθλεύειν προκαλίζετο, πάντα δʼ ἐνίκα
ῥηϊδίως· τοίη οἱ ἐπίρροθος ἦεν Ἀθήνη.
οἳ δὲ χολωσάμενοι Καδμεῖοι κέντορες ἵππων
ἂψ ἄρʼ ἀνερχομένῳ πυκινὸν λόχον εἷσαν ἄγοντες
κούρους πεντήκοντα· δύω δʼ ἡγήτορες ἦσαν,
Μαίων Αἱμονίδης ἐπιείκελος ἀθανάτοισιν,
υἱός τʼ Αὐτοφόνοιο μενεπτόλεμος Πολυφόντης.
Τυδεὺς μὲν καὶ τοῖσιν ἀεικέα πότμον ἐφῆκε·
πάντας ἔπεφνʼ, ἕνα δʼ οἶον ἵει οἶκον δὲ νέεσθαι·
Μαίονʼ ἄρα προέηκε θεῶν τεράεσσι πιθήσας.
τοῖος ἔην Τυδεὺς Αἰτώλιος· ἀλλὰ τὸν υἱὸν
γείνατο εἷο χέρεια μάχῃ, ἀγορῇ δέ τʼ ἀμείνω.”

“Oh my, son of wise-minded Tydeus the horse-tamer,
Why are you lurking, why are you peeping over the bridges of war?
It wasn’t dear to Tydeus, at least, to lurk like this,
But he fought with his enemies far in front of his dear companions—
That’s what those who saw him toiling say. I never met the man myself
Nor saw him. But they say he was better than the rest.
For, certainly, he went to Mycenae outside of war
As a guest when he was gathering an army with godly Polyneikes.
Then, they went on an expedition to the sacred walls of Thebes,
And they were begging these famous allies to join them.
And they were willing to go and consented to what these men asked
Until Zeus changed their minds by revealing fateful signs.
So then, after they left and were on the road,
They arrived at the Asopos, deep in reeds and grass
There, the Achaeans sent Tydeus forward on embassy.
And he went, and met the many Cadmeans.
Dining in the halls of mighty Eteocles.
There, stranger though he was, horse-driver Tydeus
was not frightened, alone among many Cadmeans.
But he challenged them to contests and won victory in all
easily. Such a guardian was Athena for your father!
But the Cadmeans, drivers of horses, were angered
and, as he departed from the city, they set up a close ambush
of fifty youths; there were two leaders,
Maion, son of Haimon, peer of the immortals,
and Autophonos’ son, Polyphontes, staunch in fight.
But Tydeus let loose on them a unseemly fate:
he slew them all and only one man he sent to return home:
he sent Maion, trusting in the signs of the gods.
Such a man was Aitolian Tydeus; but he fathered a son
weaker than he in battle, but better in the assembly.”

The story arc as presented by Agamemnon tells of a single, isolated hero, aided by a god, who successfully defeats an ambush and metes out punishment to his attackers. This type of discourse is neikos, blame speech, used here by Agamemnon to prick Diomedes’ pride. [23] His tale has a clear and simple aim: it functions to shame Diomedes for (allegedly) shirking battle even though he has the aid of his companions, when his father had successfully faced many men alone in an ambush. Yet Agamemnon’s intentions extend beyond merely shaming the hero, since he is trying to shape Diomedes into a singular hero to replace the one he has just contrived to lose, Achilles.

There are a number of phrases in this passage that resonate throughout the rest of the Iliad, pointing to shared story motifs and patterns between the two heroic endeavors, the events at Troy and the battle for Thebes. One of these is the phrase that serves to frame Agamemnon’s account, the formula “gathering warriors” (λαὸν ἀγείρων, Iliad 4.377). The same formula is used of gathering warriors at key points in the epic, as when Achilles likens Agamemnon’s taking of Briseis to Paris’ abduction of Helen from Menelaos, [24] or when Nestor tries to convince Patroklos to persuade Achilles to return to battle or to take his place instead. [25] On both occasions the formula refers to the process of recruiting allies for the war on Troy, suggesting some kind of correlation between Agamemnon’s inset narrative about Thebes and the current war at Troy. For Mary Ebbott, Agamemnon’s use of a phrase that resonates with his own situation might suggest a pointed reinforcement of his own recruitment of Achaean warriors for the struggle at Troy, after the shock of Achilles’ challenge and withdrawal. [26] After all he has managed to bring together a coalition, one so broad and diverse that Agamemnon could be regarded as the ultimate people-gatherer in the epic tradition. [27] Yet, while the formula resonates with the gathering of groups and the mustering of armies, Agamemnon’s redeployment of it sounds off key. In the tale that he offers Patroklos, Nestor gives an indication of what the theme of “gathering allies” might look like: the recruiters show up, find their intended warriors (Iliad 11.771–777), and are greeted and shown proper hospitality (Iliad 11.777–779). Agamemnon hints at a similar reception for Tydeus and Polyneikes in his hometown of Mycenae, whose men initially were willing to go—but then Zeus changes their minds and they reject the alliance. Agamemnon’s story instead privileges the victorious single hero, Tydeus. The framing device that Agamemnon chooses to deploy, then, resonates discordantly with his chosen subject.
Agamemnon’s particular, unconventional use of this formulaic unit (and fundamental epic theme) is further underlined by the related formula, κλειτοὺς ἐπικούρους, to describe the “famous allies” in Mycenae whom Tydeus and Polyneikes attempt (and ultimately fail) to win over. Ebbott notes that, except for this use within Agamemnon’s Theban story, the term ἐπίκουροι in the plural refers only ever to the Trojan allies in the Iliad. [28] Its resonant meaning—men who are “famous” because they fight for κλέος—seems to point to the role of allies. These are men who are not compelled to fight for the sake of their city but choose to fight. [29] One might think that the Achaean army is similar, but critically it is not an assemblage of foreign parts. [30] Indeed, within Agamemnon’s opening frame there are hints that the Achaeans as a group represent a different kind of a collective, where the king relates that Tydeus fought “far in front of his dear companions” (πολὺ πρὸ φίλων ἑτάρων, 4.373). “Companions” (ἕταροι) is a description that in the Odyssey refers, in a highly charged way, to the group who accompany Odysseus on his way back from Troy, while the repetition of the adjective φίλος—it was not dear (φίλον, 4.372) to Tydeus to lurk, but he fought in front of his “dear companions” (φίλων ἑτάρων)—gestures towards the key idea of friendship (philia). Like Tydeus’ companions, the Achaeans are friends, φίλοι, bound together by something more than a desire to win glory, as Ajax makes clear in his final appeal to Achilles to return (9.642). [31] The Trojans are epikouroi precisely because they are not philoi, unlike the Achaeans, and the same is apparently true of Tydeus’ allies. Or, to put it differently, whereas Agamemnon seeks to imply a favorable image of his leadership by comparing his gathering of allies with the (failed) attempt by Tydeus and Polyneikes, the very language of epic upon which he draws opens up his words to an alternative hearing that is less pertinent to the situation at hand. In spite of what Agamemnon says, the closer social bond of philia underpins the Achaean coalition. But then, this is not the only misapprehension under which he acts. In his description of Tydeus as someone who fights “in front of his dear companions” (πρὸ φίλων ἑτάρων 4.374), he indicates a position reserved for a champion or hero now absent among the Achaeans since Achilles is gone. Even in his initial framing of the Theban story, Agamemnon’s attempt to shore up his own coalition and, through that, his own prosecution of a siege sounds off key and off message. He clearly yearns for a different narrative and a different kind of hero to support it, on which basis he constructs Tydeus as a certain kind of model for Diomedes.
Other discordant echoes between the two traditions further unsettle Agamemnon’s account. The Mycenaeans of his tale are in fact at first willing to join up, only to turn back after receiving foreboding portents (“They were willing to give [famous allies] in turn and were praising what they were suggesting / but Zeus turned them back by showing fateful signs.” οἳ δ’ ἔθελον δόμεναι καὶ ἐπῄνεον ὡς ἐκέλευον· / ἀλλὰ Ζεὺς ἔτρεψε παραίσια σήματα φαίνων, 4.380–381). As we will see, Sthenelos, in his rebuttal of Agamemnon, attributes the success of the Epigonoi to their attention to such portents (4.406–408), which not only suggests “that such signs were significant in the Theban tradition” [32] but corrects Agamemnon’s tale—it was the sons of the Seven who sacked Troy, not their fathers. Portents are also significant in the Trojan War tradition. In his own attempt at (re)gathering the Achaean coalition to fight against the Trojans, Odysseus recalls the signs that they had received at Aulis, at the launch of their expeditionary force (Iliad 2.301–332): portents from Zeus frame his account (“big sign,” μέγα σῆμα; 2.308; “great portent,” τέρας μέγα: 2.324). [33] He is swiftly backed up by Nestor, who recounts how “the greatly powerful son of Cronus nodded in assent on that day when the Argives were embarking on the swift-traversing ships bringing death and destruction to the Trojans in the assembly of Book 2, flashing lightning on the right side, revealing signs of good omen” (ἐναίσιμα σήματα, Iliad 2.350–353). While Odysseus’ description of Zeus’ “great portent” (τέρας μέγα) is picked up by Agamemnon’s description of the “divine portents and help from Zeus” (τεράεσσι θεῶν καὶ Ζηνὸς ἀρωγῇ, 4.408), which the Epigonoi obeyed in their successful attack on Thebes, Nestor’s description of the good omens (ἐναίσιμα σήματα, 2.353) that the Achaeans at Troy have received contrast directly with the baleful omens (παραίσια σήματα, 4.381) received by the Mycenaeans. Indeed, it is because of these baleful signs that the Mycenaeans are deterred from joining the expedition against Thebes, and that Tydeus is sent on another embassy, this time to Thebes itself. [34] And, where the Mycenaeans had declined to join Polyneikes in obedience to divine signs (παραίσια σήματα, 4.381), so Tydeus spares Maion in obedience to divine signs (θεῶν τεράεσσι πιθήσας, 4.398). [35] A story ostensibly about a coalition turns out to be ambushed by a rather singular hero.
Further examples of interformularity with other Homeric passages reveal disharmonious tones in Agamemnon’s main presentation of Tydeus’ deeds. Arguably the most obvious disconnect with the Iliad’s narrative is Agamemnon’s account of the ambush that surprises Tydeus on his way back from his embassy in Thebes. Generally more at home in the Odyssey’s narrative of epic labors and return, the ambush tends to be configured as incongruous with the Iliadic focus on, if not ideal of, face-to-face combat on the battlefield. [36] It may be true that even in the Iliad the ambush can be viewed as a venue for performing singular deeds, but examples tend to be restricted to speeches [37] or the Odyssean misadventures of Book 10 (on which, see further below). [38] More pointedly, Agamemnon’s description of the ambush visited upon Tydeus as “close” (πυκινός) occurs on only two other occasions: at the end of the Iliad when Priam assures his fellow Trojans not to fear a “close ambush” (Iliad 24.779); [39] and in a contested line in the Odyssey where Odysseus recounts the command he gave inside the famous horse (ἠμὲν ἀνακλῖναι πυκινὸν λόχον ἠδ’ ἐπιθεῖναι, Odyssey 11.525). [40] In Priam’s reassurance we may read an implicit denial of the ambush and the Trojan horse tradition as an appropriate ending for the Iliad’s foundational narrative of political settlement. Priam’s faith is based on Achilles’ promise to him that he (Achilles) will hold the Achaeans back, while the Trojans mourn Hektor. The guarantee of an undisturbed burial for the hero of Troy not only goes some way to resolving the theme of ransom denied that Agamemnon had initiated at the beginning of the epic, but also gestures towards an uneasy settlement between the warring sides, however fragile or fleeting that truce might turn out to be. [41] In the second example, while the fate of Troy is made to rest on a πυκινὸς λόχος ‘close ambush’, Odysseus’ order points to his role in the Odyssey as the ambusher of the suitors: Odysseus here is the leader of the ambuscade, at once both like Tydeus and not like him because he initiates the ambush to capture the city—and will ambush the suitors to recapture his own. Hence the invocation of πυκινὸς λόχος communicates the perspective each epic takes on its tradition: the Iliad forever postpones the threat of the ambush as a result of its impetus towards the generation of some kind of common understanding in the context of death and mourning; for the Odyssey the ambush becomes central to the hero’s successful return home. In Agamemnon’s tale it functions simultaneously in contradictory ways: as part of the internal argument advocated by Agamemnon, the phrase fleshes out Tydeus’ heroism; on the other hand, its broader associations stand in tension with the Iliad’s limited presentation of the ambush. Tydeus’ defeat of an ambush has the tone of epic acclaim, but as a direct lesson to his son Diomedes it is harder to discern its relevance to or indeed value for this epic.
In this light it is worth considering Agamemnon’s description of the punishment that Tydeus metes out to his assailants as an “unseemly fate” (ἀεικέα πότμον). Aside from this instance, this phrase occurs only in the Odyssey. [42] While the suitor, Leocritus, is the first to employ this phrase, in his epic fantasy that Odysseus will meet an “unseemly fate,” [43] every other instance correlates to Odysseus’ ultimately successful defeat of the suitors and the shame he inflicts on them. Important for Agamemnon’s message, then, is the semantic charge of ἀεικέα πότμον that relates visiting an unseemly fate on one’s enemies to taking retribution against acts of injustice. [44] Odysseus himself articulates such a moral: the suitors, condemned by the gods, as he puts it, for “reckless acts” (σχέτλια ἔργα, Odyssey 22.413), “suffer an unseemly fate because of their own recklessness” (τῶ καὶ ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ἀεικέα πότμον ἐπέσπον, Odyssey 22.416). When Agamemnon uses the phrase ἀεικέα πότμον he has in mind a starkly Odyssean message in which the suffering that Tydeus metes out to his Cadmean ambushers is regarded as divinely sanctioned retributive murder.
An Odyssean tonality can be heard in Agamemnon’s description of that other venue in which Tydeus excels: the games. According to Agamemnon, Tydeus was able to conquer all easily because he had Athena as an ἐπίρροθος, a ‘helper’. The word itself recurs only when Odysseus prays during the footrace in honor of Patroklos (Iliad 23.770) and Athena hears him. Yet the association of the hero competing in games with Athena by his side resonates most strongly in the Odyssey, where Odysseus beats all the Phaiakians in a display of heroic bravado, just as Tydeus does here. Interestingly, Diomedes himself and Achilles after him will later echo Agamemnon’s description, when they both threaten Hektor with the words “if any god is perhaps also my helper” (εἴ πού τις καὶ ἔμοιγε θεῶν ἐπιτάρροθός ἐστι, Iliad 11.365–366; 20.452–453). [45] But, where the presence—imagined or actual—of a divine helper helps facilitate the performance of exceptional deeds, by the same token the assistance that the individual receives menacingly elevates the hero to a god-like status. [46] Not only does the god-aided hero bring death for the myriad mortalshe encounters; relatedly at such points the individual figure can appear worryingly removed from the world of his fellow men that, for all of the scenes of individual conflict, remains the heart of the Iliad’s representation of heroic epic. [47]
To sum up our argument thus far: while Agamemnon presents a hero of some valor and note, phrases resonant with the rest of the Homeric corpus serve to destabilize his vision of Tydeus as a figure whom the son should emulate. Of all the phrases that contribute both to the general force of his Theban tale and yet also to its insufficient or even inapposite purchase on the Iliadic context, it is Agamemnon’s description of Tydeus as “being alone among many” (μοῦνος ἐὼν πολέσιν) that stands out. A recurring motif in Homeric epic and archaic Greek poetry in celebration of the individual hero, the meaning of being alone varies depending upon the social frame—martial or familial, individual or political—of the story at hand. [48] As such, the Iliadic connotations of isolation bear heavily upon determining the thematic allegiances of Agamemnon’s tale. Odysseus’ notorious contemplation of retreat in Book 11, for example, echoes a fear of isolation—of being left alone on the battlefield—expressed by a number of warriors during the epic. [49] Nor is the vulnerability of the single hero restricted to scenes of battle. When Diomedes volunteers to spy in Iliad 10, he asks for a companion to go with him on the basis that two hold an advantage over one (10.224–226): Diomedes’ forethought in this matter is borne out when the lone Dolon is outwitted, overcome and done in by his two Achaean counterparts.
The problem of being alone serves to emphasize a fundamental feature of the war at Troy as argued by several recent commentators such as Oliver Taplin and Dean Hammer: the Iliad’s Achaeans are essentially a coalition. [50] From its beginning, the Iliad shows an intense interest in the survival of the Achaean group; and, from what we can piece together from Achilles’ statements, the Achaeans are fighting at Troy because of an agreement among the leaders, not because Agamemnon exercises any special authority over them. [51] Most importantly, however, it is the split in their polity in Book 1 that acts as a catalyst for the Iliad’s narrative, a substantial part of which explores how the multiple Achaean commanders can, or should, work together to preserve the expedition and consolidate the symbiotic relationship between the leader and the led. Unlike the Trojans, whose hopes rest almost entirely on Hektor and his management of their allies, Achaean strength comes from their partnerships, from pointedly not being alone. Indeed, the narrative takes pains to emphasize the importance of the army and the cooperation of its leaders after the departure of Achilles through the assembly, mustering, and catalogue of Book 2 and the rallying of the troops in Book 4—even as Agamemnon in his leadership role continues to flounder and throw that coalition into doubt. [52]
This burgeoning unity, however, is balanced by the isolation of the primary hero, Achilles. The language of singularity, in fact, features in the story of Achilles in several meaningful ways. Unlike his comrades, Achilles does not use the language of μοῦνος ‘alone’ to denote his vulnerability, since his semi-divine nature means that he need not fear isolation in battle even when fighting a god. Instead, significantly, when he talks about being alone, he emphasizes his political isolation: he bemoans how Agamemnon has taken a prize from him “alone of the Achaeans” (ἐμεῦ δ’ ἀπὸ μούνου Ἀχαιῶν, 9.335), which had been the action that precipitated his withdrawal from the Achaean community. Moreover, when Achilles draws a connection between Agamemnon’s taking of his prize Briseis, and the cause of the war, the abduction of Helen, he wonders sarcastically whether the Atreidae “alone of mortals” love their women (ἦ μοῦνοι φιλέουσ’ ἀλόχους μερόπων ἀνθρώπων, 9.340). Achilles’ use of μοῦνος here suggestively points toward the Iliad’s intersection with (and departure from) its tradition, by virtue of which a slave girl stands in for Helen as the cause of strife, and conflict takes place as much among the Achaeans themselves as between the Achaeans and the Trojans. [53] Underlying all of these occurrences is Achilles’ paradoxical status as a figure who both guarantees the Achaeans’ victory over the Trojans and who sends myriad Achaeans (Iliad 1.2–3) to their doom. [54] Indeed, it should be remembered that Achilles himself initially shows great interest in the group’s welfare and articulated their concerns in the opening assembly (Iliad 1.123–9; cf. 61, 87, 150, 162, 163–4), which he calls (1.54)—before his singular connections with the gods sever him from his community. [55] The rest of the narrative investigates whether, how, and to what extent Achilles can be brought back into the fold. When Agamemnon uses the μοῦνος formula to mark out Tydeus as exceptional and hold him up as exemplary, his message has to be heard through the interference of all these other examples in the epic.
Indeed, the phraseology here might again seem more appropriate to an Odyssean soundscape, where being alone amplifies the accomplishment of nostos. Events of that epic come to a head when Odysseus takes direct action by shooting Antinoos through the neck with an arrow as the latter sups from his wine cup, before turning his wrath on the rest of the suitors. At this point the narrator suggestively draws attention to the harsh juxtaposition between the two acts—drinking and fighting—by asking rhetorically who would have thought that “one man alone among many” (μοῦνος ἐνὶ πλεόνεσσι) could bring death to so many opponents (Odyssey 22.11–14). Where the Iliad plays against the inherited trope of a singular god-assisted hero on the battlefield, the Odyssey appropriates it and applies it to the new, and even more challenging, circumstances facing its single hero. [56]
That is true also of the alternative application of μοῦνος to denote single sons in both Homeric epics. Given the fact that the burden of preserving the family line depends on them entirely, they represent a group of particular fragility in the Iliad, [57] a point that is stressed (albeit in different ways) in the appeals made by Phoenix and Priam to Achilles, and that resonates here in Agamemnon’s appeal to Diomedes through his father, Tydeus. [58] The most explicit statement of generational anxiety comes in the Odyssey, as Telemachus describes how Zeus made his family line “single” (μούνωσε Κρονίων), yielding a grandfather, a father, and a son, single sons all (μοῦνον Λαέρτην…μοῦνον δ’ αὖτ᾿ Ὀδυσῆα…μοῦνον, Odyssey 16.117-120). [59] Although Telemachus’ plea captures something of the precariousness of a single male line extending over three generations, he utters it in the presence of his (disguised) father. This singular use of μοῦνος, repeated three times in the space of as many lines, then, marks the moment when Odysseus’ single line begins to reassert its hegemony, initiating a process that culminates in the epic’s triumphal end, as the three single sons fight together in glorious defeat of the suitors’ relatives. [60] In contrast, it should be remembered that, while the single line of male descent may evoke doubt about a family’s future, multiple sons risk something potentially even worse: internecine conflict within the family and division of the patrimony. Just such a scenario characterizes other family histories of those involved in Troy, such as, notoriously, the family of Agamemnon, though it is most prominent in the cycle of songs in rivalry with Homeric epic, the tales about Thebes. [61] As we shall see below, Diomedes, himself a single son, will have the last word on his singular father.
When Agamemnon deploys Tydeus as a lesson for his son, and describes him as a warrior-gatherer, alone among many, victorious over the Cadmeans both in the games and in the ambush, inflicting upon them shameful deeds, with a god as his helper, he triggers a number of meanings whose semantic reach far exceeds his sole focus on Diomedes. While being alone is something that epic heroes in particular experience, the meaning of isolation depends on the strategy of each narrative. The Iliad weighs general anxiety over being alone in battle or isolated from one’s group against the destructive singularity of a hero like Achilles; the Odyssey inverts that anxiety and celebrates it without ever entirely abandoning the sense of fragility. The man alone in Agamemnon’s tale, then, although at first glance perhaps fitting in well with the Odyssey’s revisiting of the exploits and return of the exceptional hero, [62] certainly seems at odds with the Iliad’s broader concern with coalition politics, all the more so when one considers that just such an exceptional man (Achilles) has already destabilized the alliance over which Agamemnon presides because of the leader’s failure to keep the public good in mind.
Agamemnon’s use of the discourse of neikos to spur Diomedes on will have its desired effect, when in the very next book Diomedes will stand out from the crowd by performing extraordinary deeds with Athena as his helper. Even then, however, the Iliad resists an exclusive focus on individual exploits, as Diomedes’ aristeia is crucially limited by Apollo’s intervention and interrupted by an elaborate scene of xenia—an institution critical for managing interpersonal relationships—played out on the battlefield, which makes the contrast to Agamemnon’s tale all the starker. [63] We noted above how Agamemnon frames his lesson by describing Tydeus as coming to Mycenae “outside of war” (ἄτερ πολέμου, 4.377); moreover, Tydeus’ heroic excellence is demonstrated by his individual performance in the games and in an ambush—a set of circumstances that differ markedly from the situation narrated in the Iliad. Indeed, the whole point of Agamemnon’s Theban tale is to illustrate the hero’s singularity: Tydeus was someone who, as Agamemnon puts it, “fought against enemies far in front of his dear companions” (ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρὸ φίλων ἑτάρων δηΐοισι μάχεσθαι, 4.373). The context is important here: Homer is preparing his audience for the first engagement between the Achaean and Trojan armies in the narrative, an engagement that for the first time in the war—so we are led to believe—will be lacking Achilles (and his men). Having already conspired to lose his most outstanding warrior, Agamemnon tells a story of Thebes that emphasizes the exceptionality of an individual figure. Holding out for a hero, Agamemnon tries to replace the absent Achilles with Tydeus’ son, whom he hopes will be a chip off the old block. Instead, he receives not one but two responses, as first Sthenelos and then Diomedes after him counter the lessons of this Theban story.

The Not-So-Magnificent Seven

We have argued so far that Agamemnon’s use of Thebes to shame Diomedes has introduced a rivalry not just between father and son, but also between different poetic traditions, contexts for heroism, and, in concert, ways of evaluating epic glory. The dissonance between the account that Agamemnon provides and the story in which he is a participant, moreover, invites consideration of how the Iliad itself is unlike these other tales. As we discussed in the Introduction, there is nothing inherent in the stories set about Thebes that made them any less amenable to the admission of political themes than those set around Troy. Yet their selective (mis)representation limits the appeal and broader application of this material. In the case that we have just examined, the distortion and devaluing of Thebes as a paradigm is complex and multilayered; Agamemnon, after all, turns to Thebes for a positive representation of heroic behavior, though its focus on a singular hero turns out to be ill-suited to the Iliad’s story about a gathered army struggling both to successfully prosecute a siege and to maintain equilibrium in the coalition. Other examples are not so restrained. A case in point is the twin set of responses that Agamemnon’s Theban tale provokes. In their engagement with the past, Sthenelos and Diomedes take on Theban traditions directly and more aggressively. [64]
Initially, however, Diomedes remains silent in the face of Agamemnon’s rebuke (4.401–402). By its very nature, silence can be difficult to read. In Homer, silence generally implies deference to the political position of the speaker, though it falls short of expressing full agreement. [65] Here, Diomedes’ refusal to speak marks him out as different from Achilles, insomuch as he will not directly answer back to his commander-in-chief, even given due cause. At the same time, his silence means that we do not know what he thinks about Agamemnon’s criticism, at least not directly and not now.
Instead, it is Diomedes’ companion, Sthenelos, who springs to the defense of his slighted comrade (4.404–410):

“Ἀτρεΐδη, μὴ ψεύδε’ ἐπιστάμενος σάφα εἰπεῖν·
ἡμεῖς τοι πατέρων μέγ’ ἀμείνονες εὐχόμεθ᾿ εἶναι·
ἡμεῖς καὶ Θήβης ἕδος εἵλομεν ἑπταπύλοιο
παυρότερον λαὸν ἀγαγόνθ’ ὑπὸ τεῖχος ἄρειον,
πειθόμενοι τεράεσσι θεῶν καὶ Ζηνὸς ἀρωγῇ·
κεῖνοι δὲ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο·
τὼ μή μοι πατέρας ποθ’ ὁμοίῃ ἔνθεο τιμῇ.”

“Son of Atreus, don’t lie when you know how to speak clearly.
We claim to be better than our fathers:
we took the foundation of seven-gated Thebes
though we led a smaller army before better walls
because we were relying on the signs of the gods and Zeus’ help.
Those men perished because of their own recklessness.
Don’t put our fathers in the same honor.”

Sthenelos frames his riposte to Agamemnon’s Theban comparison by drawing a connection between speaking the truth and speaking clearly. To speak clearly (σάφα εἰπεῖν) on a subject is to speak knowledgeably about it, with the authority of a poet. [66] Knowledge is here connected to clarity of expression—an important consideration in the dynamics of oral performance, where the bard had to make sure that his audience was with him every step of the way in his recounting of events, even if the issues themselves were complex and would demand (and repay) further thought. [67] In the brief interlude as Odysseus pauses from recounting his post-Iliadic wanderings, the Phaiakian king, Alkinoos, reckons him like a bard on the basis that his words have a shape and beauty, and that he knows how to catalogue the events appropriately. [68] Sthenelos’ blunt rejoinder that Agamemnon has misspoken relates to this idea of providing a clear account: the king has failed either to provide a clear paradigm or to align his version of events at Thebes with the Iliad’s narrative of the Trojan tale. According to Sthenelos, Agamemnon’s Theban tale is off message.

A principal aspect of that falsification, in Sthenelos’ eyes, is Agamemnon’s labored, and misplaced, construction of a Tydeus who can serve as a model for his son. There was a famous story, known at least as far back as the scholia on the Iliad, that told how Athena withdrew her favor from the hero, in disgust with him when he ate the brains of a defeated enemy. Whether that particular story about Tydeus was familiar to the Iliad’s audience is impossible to say. Evidence from tragedy, however, paints a picture of a hero well known for his boasting and transgressive action. It seems safe to assume, then, that the Theban tradition had characterized Tydeus with behavior that verged on the fringes of acceptability (like so many heroes), and that this reputation would have preceded him in Homer’s Iliad. Agamemnon’s encomium is flatly one-dimensional in comparison, devoid of any poetic nuance, insufficiently alert or attentive to the problems of singular action, let alone to the more gruesome aspects of Tydeus’ epic career. [69] Indeed, one might suspect Agamemnon of having a blind spot to Tydeus’ negative traits, given his own ethically transgressive behavior that has already manifested itself in the Iliad and that will lead ultimately to his downfall. [70]
The full force of Sthenelos’ charge that Agamemnon has failed to speak clearly (and thus truthfully) relates to the very point of the comparison in the first place. It was not their fathers who triumphed at Thebes, Sthenelos points out; it was they, the sons of the seven, who “took the seat of seven-gated Thebes.” [71] Sthenelos’ retort marks an important recalibration of Agamemnon’s exemplum and unmasks the conceit of a Theban tale that entirely omits any mention of the battle for the city or of Tydeus’ singular deeds in that effort. [72] The Seven against Thebes had failed as an expedition, and fails again as a model against which to compare their sons, since it was those sons who had succeeded where they had failed. [73] No wonder Sthenelos’ reply cuts to the quick: even on Agamemnon’s own terms, where the Theban story is used as a stick with which to beat Diomedes, the exemplarity of Tydeus’ heroic deeds fails the critical test—it was Diomedes and his comrades who sacked the city, not his father.
Sthenelos’ assertion that the sons are better than their fathers is remarkable given the usual epic assertion of the superiority of the older generation. [74] And it is all the more remarkable given the fact that they have yet to take Troy. This moot point could have been seen to lessen the status of the sons now fighting at Troy, as if they were not strong or courageous enough; this is how Agamemnon takes it, for example, which had prompted him to offer the Theban tale in the first place. Yet in actual fact it goes to stress the magnitude of the current conflict and, of course, of the current poem in performance. After all, Sthenelos observes pointedly, they had taken Thebes, where their fathers had previously failed, “with a smaller army.” The fact that they are still struggling at Troy in a Panhellenic coalition makes the stakes of the Trojan War even higher and the narrative of the Iliad even more worthy of note.
In addition to failing on its own terms, Agamemnon’s example is subtly corrected by the resonance of phrases deployed by Sthenelos in response. One of these is the phrase “by their own recklessness” (σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν), by means of which Sthenelos establishes an explanation for why they—the sons—had succeeded where their fathers had failed: their fathers had brought ruin upon themselves. Self-caused destruction, as indicated by forms of the phrase σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν, is a powerful notion in Homeric epic. [75] In its only other occurrence in the Iliad, Hektor resolves to meet Achilles on the basis that he has brought catastrophe on the Trojans because of his own reckless actions (making them camp out on the plain, even once Achilles has made his intention to return to the fray clear), and must face the consequences as a result. [76] In the Odyssey it is a recurring, almost obsessive, refrain, advertised prominently at the beginning of the poem to explain the doom of Odysseus’ companions (“for they perished because of their own recklessness,” αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο, Odyssey 1.7), and then later applied with insistent regularity to the misbehavior of the suitors. [77] Resonating strongly with this moralizing strain, Sthenelos’ redeployment of Agamemnon’s Theban tale realigns Thebes not with the Iliad (by virtue of it being a sack narrative) but with the Odyssey, drawing a connection between their fathers’ failure to take Thebes and the archetypal case of deserved suffering preserved in extant epic: just as the suitors came to a bad end due to their own recklessness, so did the original magnificent Seven against Thebes. Far from being an example of how to behave, the Seven are better seen as a case to avoid—a rebuke even more pointed if, as we suggested above, the audience would have been familiar with the stories about the ethically transgressive Tydeus.
A second phrase deployed by Sthenelos more directly challenges Agamemnon’s description of a god-fearing Tydeus. Where Agamemnon describes Tydeus as trusting in the gods (θεῶν τεράεσσι πιθήσας), Sthelenos asserts that the sons succeeded where their fathers failed because it was they who “obeyed the signs of the gods and Zeus’ aid” (πειθόμενοι τεράεσσι θεῶν καὶ Ζηνὸς ἀρωγῇ, 4.408). In the context of this previous usage, Sthenelos’ formula both meets Agamemnon’s claim, and trumps it: it is no longer the single hero who trusts in the gods, but the whole group, which is in and of itself more fitting for a narrative about a siege of a city; it is no longer nameless gods who are believed in but Zeus, the ultimate author of this epic and heroic narrative more generally. [78] In disputing Agamemnon’s appeal to Tydeus’ divine pedigree, Sthenelos draws the starkest distinction between the conduct of the two generations: the expeditions of the sons against both Thebes and Troy were, and are, divinely sanctioned, and overseen by Zeus.
Sthenelos ends his riposte with the assertion that the two generations should not be held in the same honor (τὼ μή μοι πατέρας ποθ’ ὁμοίῃ ἔνθεο τιμῇ). Although Agamemnon means for his tale to compare one exceptional hero to another, the effect of introducing Tydeus into the Iliad’s world leads Sthenelos to make the necessary subsequent comparison and correction: Tydeus’ deeds may have been extraordinary, but his expedition failed. The subsequent narrative bears out Sthenelos’ defense of his friend’s martial prowess. Agamemnon’s description of Diomedes hesitating and “looking down at the bridges of war” (πολέμοιο γεφύρας, 4.371) is picked up by the narrator himself immediately once battle is joined, when he compares Diomedes to a river in flood, “who sweeps away bridges as he swiftly flows,” (ὅς τ᾿ ὦκα ῥέων ἐκέδασσε γεφύρας, Iliad 5.87–88), thereby in the process sweeping aside any lingering doubt over his fighting ability. [79] It is not only the fact, however, that Agamemnon is wrong about Diomedes’ lack of martial prowess and is corrected by the narrative; in his formulation that ranks Diomedes as being “better in the assembly” than his father but, by implication, not in war, Agamemnon critically misreads the interests of this epic in debate and political formation. Indeed, he will learn soon enough the extent to which his own poor performance as leader in the assembly will have catastrophic consequences on the battlefield for his efforts to take Troy. In the Iliad the hero has to be both a doer of deeds and a speaker of words. [80] As we shall see, Diomedes’ later strength in the assembly points to his contribution to the Achaean coalition, and to the establishment of a new kind of political order. [81] His involvement in that process begins here with his reply to Sthenelos.

On Not Remembering Tydeus

Through Agamemnon’s critique and Sthenelos’ response Homer offers his audience the opportunity to compare heroic relatives and their poetic traditions. These embedded narratives naturally invite comparison to the compositional and poetic strategies of this poem vis-à-vis its tradition. Sthenelos’ response to Agamemnon has highlighted the importance of omission, by means of which essential aspects of the Theban story—notably the sack of the city—are left out in the telling of this siege narrative, the Iliad. Where Agamemnon assumes an equivalence in the circumstances of the two comparanda in order to make his point, Sthenelos affirms important distinctions in both situation and outcome to expose the inaptness of Agamemnon’s criticism of Diomedes.
Of particular importance in Sthenelos’ pointed response is the insistence on collective responsibility: men enjoy success or come to a bad end as a group. Diomedes underlines this second theme when he addresses Sthenelos and not Agamemnon at all (4.411–418):

τὸν δ’ ἄρ’ ὑπόδρα ἰδὼν προσέφη κρατερὸς Διομήδης·
“τέττα, σιωπῇ ἧσο, ἐμῷ δ’ ἐπιπείθεο μύθῳ·
οὐ γὰρ ἐγὼ νεμεσῶ Ἀγαμέμνονι, ποιμένι λαῶν,
ὀτρύνοντι μάχεσθαι ἐϋκνήμιδας Ἀχαιούς·
τούτῳ μὲν γὰρ κῦδος ἅμ᾿ ἕψεται, εἴ κεν Ἀχαιοὶ
Τρῶας δῃώσωσιν ἕλωσί τε Ἴλιον ἱρήν,
τούτῳ δ’ αὖ μέγα πένθος Ἀχαιῶν δῃωθέντων.
ἀλλ’ ἄγε δὴ καὶ νῶϊ μεδώμεθα θούριδος ἀλκῆς.”

Then looking darkly at him mighty Diomedes replied:
“Sit in silence, obey my speech.
I will not criticize Agamemnon shepherd of the people,
since he is rallying the well-greaved Achaeans to fight.
Glory will attend to him if ever the Achaeans
Overcome the Trojans and take holy Ilion;
on the other hand, he’ll have great grief should the Achaeans perish.
But come, let the two of us think about rushing valor.”

The general referentiality of the introductory formula “looking darkly” (ὑπόδρα ἰδὼν) has already been established in the Iliad. Indicating the annoyance of the speaker with the previous speech, it characterizes Achilles’ angry confrontation at the beginning of the Iliad with Agamemnon. [82] Given this association, it is all the more striking that this young hero pointedly does not confront the commander-in-chief face-to-face, but instead directs his verbal volley at his friend, Sthenelos. In contrast to Sthenelos, Diomedes remained silent in the face of Agamemnon’s abuse, even though he himself had been the primary target of it. Now he clarifies the reasoning behind that silence: in criticizing him, Diomedes reasons, Agamemnon intends to rally the troops. This strategy, he recognizes, is appropriate behavior for the shepherd of the people. The king ought to be doing this kind of thing.

Yet Diomedes also adds an important gloss to how leadership should be conceived—and this comment suggests a further, albeit far subtler, correction of Agamemnon’s Theban tale. Diomedes observes that the king enjoys a symbiotic relationship with his army, linking Agamemnon’s fate closely to that of the Achaeans as a whole. Thus great glory would be the king’s should the Achaeans take Troy; but, should they perish, he will instead experience “great suffering” (μέγα πένθος). μέγα πένθος is the unit of utterance with which Menelaos describes his intense emotional response to Patroklos’ death (Iliad 17.139), while the Odyssey uses it only of its long-suffering fathers, twice of Laertes, once of Odysseus (Odyssey 11.95, 24.233; 17.489). In its only other occurrences in the Iliad, however, which serve to frame this episode, Nestor twice uses the expression to denote the “great suffering” that the Achaeans endure together, because their leaders are not leading (Iliad 1.254, 7.124). With this same turn of phrase, then, Diomedes further glosses Agamemnon’s leadership and corrects his instruction. Where Agamemnon eulogizes the individual Tydeus, Diomedes economically, but decisively, observes the critical symbiosis between the leader and his group: Agamemnon will receive kudos should the Achaeans take Troy, but, were they to perish, he would receive acute pain. Agamemnon’s heroic record—whether he gains great glory or succeeds only in bringing great pain to himself—depends on the collective.
Diomedes’ observation that the leader’s fate is inextricably connected with that of the group over which he presides strikes a chord with the narrative. From its beginning the Iliad has put Agamemnon’s leadership under the spotlight and emphasized the importance of the people; in fact, before insults started flying in the assembly, Achilles himself had stressed the importance of the group in an articulation of his epic exploits. [83] There, Achilles had allowed personal recriminations to deflect him from his initial concern to speak for the community, and ultimately ends up cursing the very people he had spoken up to support. [84] Here, Diomedes shows a different way of handling Agamemnon’s poor leadership: whatever else can be said, the group needs to be consolidated under a leader, perhaps even arguably in spite of him. We have already seen this point enacted in the very actions that Diomedes performs, when, in response to Agamemnon’s abuse, he remains silent. That moment is made all the more significant by the narrator’s word play: Diomedes did not answer “because he respected the respected king’s reproach” (αἰδεσθεὶς βασιλῆος ἐνιπὴν αἰδοίοιο, Iliad 4.402). In both word and deed Diomedes shows the necessary esteem for his leader, as a leader, even if the king for the most part does not show himself worthy of it. At the same time, this respect for Agamemnon’s office is tempered by a recognition that the success of the enterprise rests with the camaraderie shown by the Achaeans. The very structure of the scene bears this point out: even as Diomedes holds his tongue out of respect for the king, Sthenelos speaks up in defense of his friend; in turn Diomedes rebukes Sthenelos for criticizing the king. Their twin reactions not only show the importance of friendship and sociality to the Iliad; they are a performance of it.
In their responses to Agamemnon’s praise of the singular hero, the two sons of the Seven against Thebes demonstrate an alertness to and interest in collective strands of heroic action that chime with the Iliad’s narrative focus on relationships in the Achaean polity. Far from focusing on the exceptional individuality of its primary hero, what the situation at Troy demands, like that which we might imagine for Thebes as well, is a story of a coalition—a coalition of the willing in Achilles’ earlier formulation. [85] In the broader context of the poem Diomedes’ response serves an important additional purpose. It defuses the politically destabilizing strife latent in Sthenelos’ speech and re-establishes a common will behind the king just in time for the poem’s first martial engagement. When Diomedes goes into battle and assumes his father’s mantle, he does so fighting with more than individual glory at stake; the hopes of Agamemnon’s people are carried with him. Appropriately enough, it is in this context that he earns the epithet, previously used of Agamemnon (sarcastically by Achilles), “best of the Achaeans.” [86]
Agamemnon’s criticism of Diomedes for not being like his father in war is further countered and complicated by the events of Book 5, when the Achaeans and Trojans come to blows for the first time, during which Diomedes assumes a primary role in the fighting. Indeed, it is his performance of being the best in battle that, while ostensibly bearing out Agamemnon’s call-to-arms, serves rather to highlight the ambiguous state of the exceptional hero, as one who, having no peers in battle, vanquishes all comers and threatens to surpass human bounds. During this comprehensive episode (which extends into the next book) the name of Tydeus punctuates the narrative at key moments to put Diomedes’ actions into relief—first when the wounded Diomedes belatedly invokes his father’s name and Athena’s support for him in order to gain vengeance; then when Athena impels him on to fight with the gods; and finally, when acknowledgement of his bonds of hospitality to the Lycian Glaukos through their fathers brings his aristeia to an end.
Several features of Diomedes’ aristeia betray an underlying ambivalence in, if not outright concern about, its value that complements the inappositeness of Agamemnon’s Theban example and builds on its critical reception. First, it is significant that Diomedes claims his father in the way Agamemnon desires, but only under duress. Though we are told at the beginning of the episode that Athena has put “strength and daring” in him (μένος καὶ θάρσος, 5.2–3), it is not until after he has been wounded by Pandarus (5.95–100) that Diomedes claims a special relationship with the goddess by appealing to her for the care that she showed his father (5.115-117) so that he might kill the man who wounded him. Athena responds by placing the “fearless father’s fury” in his breast, the “very stuff which shield-swinging Tydeus used to have” (ἐν γάρ τοι στήθεσσι μένος πατρώϊον ἧκα / ἄτρομον, οἷον ἔχεσκε σακέσπαλος ἱππότα Τυδεύς, 5.125–126). Additionally she gives Diomedes the ability to distinguish man from god with the specific command to wound Aphrodite (126-132). [87]
Thus it is in the context of martial rage that Diomedes asks Athena for help as once she helped his father, and only then when his own efforts have been insufficient to commit the very specific act of vengeance that he desires. In this way Diomedes’ self-identification with his father is carefully defined and limited. This is important because the direct consequence of Athena’s assistance is to make Diomedes superhuman. The flip side to him being made an irresistible force of nature, and directly stemming from it, is the fact that his humanity is put at risk; he even dares to do battle with the gods themselves. Such daring, when he wounds the goddess Aphrodite, earns him a stern rebuke from Dione, who compares him to Otus and Ephialtes and Herakles (other heroes who wounded gods, 5.382–405), behavior that, for the goddess, marks him out as foolish and short-lived (5.407–408), and in need of being reined in by Apollo (5.440–442). It is at this point, when he is already in danger of transgressing human limits, that Athena chides him for not being sufficiently like his father. Recounting her version of the episode that Agamemnon had previously narrated, [88] Athena spurs Diomedes to even greater fury and to even more extreme behavior, so that Ares, of all the gods, is cowed, complaining of this “arrogant son of Tydeus” (Τυδέος υἱὸν ὑπερφίαλον Διομήδεα, 5.881) whom Athena hurls (ἀνέηκεν, 882) like a weapon against the other gods. Athena’s sponsorship of Diomedes encourages him to go too far in fighting even the gods, in a manner that recalls the excesses of his father. Diomedes’ excesses here also anticipate the actions of the unbridled Achilles that the Iliad brings to the fore in Book 21, when the hero’s very humanity seems to be at stake. Ironically it is when Diomedes is impelled to push the boundaries of what it means to be human that he appears most like his father.
The cumulative tone of Diomedes’ aristeia in Book 5, then, becomes successively more difficult to read. While it is true that he performs deeds that no other mortals could achieve (cf. “Tydeus’ son [completed a great deed] which not even two men could carry off / such as men are today,” Τυδεΐδης μέγα ἔργον ὃ οὐ δύο γ’ ἄνδρε φέροιεν, / οἷοι νῦν βροτοί εἰσ’, 5.303–304), his fame is one that makes him a pawn of the gods—he is pricked by Athena, only to be slowed by Apollo; Dione promises Aphrodite that he will not live for long; even the frenzied Ares takes issue with his behavior. In each of these moments, Diomedes’ paternity is referenced. In this light, the Iliad credits Diomedes’ inheritance for a martial prowess whose excesses must be policed by the gods. While his aristeia ultimately fulfills Agamemnon’s aims when he criticized his lack of enthusiasm for battle, at the same time it raises concerns that issue from Agamemnon’s articulation of that very wish—for a singular hero performing singular deeds for his own glory. As an example of what such an exceptional hero looks like, Diomedes well illustrates the problems of excessive martial valor and power, since he has the effrontery to fight the gods themselves. In losing his humanity, Diomedes has his name added to a catalogue of heroes whose arrogant assaults against the gods are not to be forgotten or indeed imitated. At these points the name of his father is prominent, suggesting that it is precisely when he risks being something other than human that he appears to perform the role Agamemnon so desperately desires of him, as his father’s son.
The end of his aristeia is similarly marked by an appearance of his father, and it comes significantly hot on the heels of another narrative about a singular hero. Challenged by Diomedes to defend his paternity in the opening exchanges of their verbal sparring, Glaukos recounts the deeds of the hero Bellerophon, a story that is told, it seems, particularly for the benefit of his opponent. Like Tydeus, Bellerophon is described as “trusting in the gods”—the only other character in the Homeric poems to be described in this way. [89] Both, moreover, defeat a set of enemies (Tydeus in athletic contests, Bellerophon in battle) and are subsequently ambushed, only to prove victorious again. Finally, both are said to have been abandoned by the gods; for Bellerophon this is simply stated without any explanation (Iliad 6.200–202). The motif of the hero losing the trust of the gods seems especially pointed when it follows Diomedes’ aristeia. As with Agamemnon’s Theban tale above, the narrative serves the immediate purpose of persuading the targeted audience: in this case Glaukos, wisely, deflects Diomedes’ martial provocation by using the story of Bellerophon to establish a common bond of xenia. Yet, also like the Theban tale, the story about Bellerophon resonates more broadly with the thematic dynamics of the Iliad. [90] His tale—a stranger in a strange land, without family or bonds of xenia to accompany him into old age—reflects on the epic as a whole, by underlining the importance of establishing divinely sanctioned social practices (like xenia) and of remembering and reconstituting the communities at home. [91]
In contrast to Agamemnon’s Theban tale, this story gains acceptance. [92] Diomedes acknowledges the veracity of Glaukos’ account and recognizes their ties of xenia. Even as he affirms their bond, however, he admits to not knowing his father. “I do not remember Tydeus,” he concedes, “since he left me when I was still a child, at that time when the people of the Achaeans were destroyed at Thebes” (Τυδέα δ’ οὐ μέμνημαι, ἐπεί μ᾿ ἔτι τυτθὸν ἐόντα / κάλλιφ᾿, ὅτ᾿ ἐν Θήβῃσιν ἀπώλετο λαὸς Ἀχαιῶν, Iliad 6.223–224). [93] Above we noted that Diomedes, conscious perhaps of the uncertainty surrounding his paternal inheritance, or even anxious about what that might entail, represents an important test case for the Iliad’s positioning of itself in reference to other traditions. In Book 4 he accepts Agamemnon’s insults and allows the comparison to his unknown father to stand. In Book 5 Diomedes shows that in military prowess (and in marginal behavior) he has the potential to be his father’s son. Here in Book 6 he accepts the bonds of xenia with another hero through (a reminder of) the relationship forged by the father he doesn’t remember. The one thing that he does know about his father is how his actions led to the destruction of the “people of the Achaeans” (ἀπώλετο λαὸς Ἀχαιῶν). As Johannes Haubold (2000) has shown, the laos is the epic group par excellence whose security is consistently under threat in the Iliad due to the poor judgment and ill-discipline of its leaders. Their salvation will only be secure (and secured) once the race of heroes is dust and institutions have been founded in its wake. Within this foundational framework, Thebes is consigned to a dim and distant past—a “time when” the people of the Achaeans were killed. Contrast the Iliad, which, in following the career of Diomedes, presents itself as the narrative that both explains the (necessary) disappearance of the race of heroes and establishes the social and political ties out of which formal institutions like xenia and the agora may become realized. The next time that we see Diomedes will be in the agora, first acting (in Book 7) as the Achaean spokesman in rejecting Priam’s compromise proposal (to return the booty that Paris had escaped with, but not Helen), and then standing up to Agamemnon and ensuring that the Achaean coalition remain at Troy (Book 9).
Diomedes—and through him, the Iliad—performs a sophisticated set of poetic moves whereby a Tydeus is presented as a role model ill-suited to our Iliad (Book 4), whose martial strength, when imitated, has cosmic threatening implications (Book 5), and whose presence as an ally and example of xenia is emphasized instead (Book 6). Diomedes pointedly cannot recall the Tydeus everyone talks about; but he purposefully reminds us of the one this epic wants us to remember. It is not until a good deal later, in Iliad 14, that Diomedes himself finally breaks his silence in a way that challenges both the importance that Agamemnon had tried to claim for Tydeus and the rival tradition in which Tydeus would have played a prominent role.

A Hero Not of Our Time

As we have just anticipated, part of the story of Diomedes’ reflections on his father is that he goes through stages of denial, imitation, re-vision, and finally qualified acceptance. The steps in this process can be viewed both discretely—as instances of Homeric heroes selecting the meaning required for the rhetorical challenge at hand—or cumulatively—as if the epic were bit-by-bit altering a Tydeus inherited from the tradition into someone better fit for this world. We certainly do not believe that these options are mutually exclusive; each also reflects poetic strategies and stances of the larger poem. In this light, it is worth considering the continuing arc of Tydeus’ presence in the epic. On two separate occasions, Diomedes invokes his father again and claims something in addition from that story tradition. Although in Iliad 6 he claims not to remember his father, when he accepts Odysseus’ invitation to go on a night adventure, he recalls how Athena had once supported Tydeus (Iliad 10.284–291); later, in the context of (again) contesting Agamemnon (14.110–132), he provides even more information about his father, in reconstituting him for a role in the Iliad.
In the wake of Achilles’ rejection of the Achaean embassy (and explicitly Agamemnon’s authority), it is Diomedes who speaks up and offers the necessary riposte to the grim news (9.696-712). In the very next book, when it is proposed that the Achaeans should conduct a night sortie into Trojan territory to gain information, it is Diomedes to whom Odysseus turns when looking for a companion. In answering Odysseus’ call, Diomedes asks Athena to support him as she had once supported Tydeus (Iliad 10.284–291). Here the Theban material is recast in the form of a prayer, as the hero reminds Athena of her support to his father by recalling his embassy to Thebes and by allusively pointing to the mischief that he had worked there. [94] This scene continues a movement that began with Agamemnon’s invocation of Tydeus as a hero beyond compare, whom Diomedes must try to emulate. In fact, Diomedes’ prayer reaffirms Tydeus as the hero who fights alone and who enjoys a special relationship with Athena. Only, on this occasion, such a hero is needed. The adventure on which Diomedes and Odysseus are about to embark is a risky incursion behind enemy lines, where the usual rules of Iliadic warfare have no place. (It is not surprising that the whole book comprising of the “Doloneia” episode has been considered suspect: it is so very un-Iliadic.) Diomedes, too, needs to be a different kind of hero in this episode, more akin to the wily Odysseus (also a favorite of Athena’s) or his singular father. The pair of them will go on to spy, to lie to an enemy combatant they capture, and to murder men in their sleep.
Even here, however, the narrative that unfolds does not match Agamemnon’s construction of an epic Tydeus and reimagining of Thebes. It is of critical importance that Diomedes and Odysseus work in tandem, not alone—they will overcome the single Trojan spy, Dolon, as a result of their partnership. Moreover, their actions should be seen—and are framed—as performed in the service of the Achaean collective, even if in this instance they act apart from it. Indeed, this episode follows immediately after two public meetings that bookend Book 9—the assembly at the beginning that Agamemnon convokes in order to announce the failure of the expedition, and the equally hastily reconvened council at its end that considers Achilles’ rejection of the embassy. In both meetings, it is Diomedes who reaffirms the collective will to continue to prosecute the siege of Troy. He forcefully rejects the untraditional alternatives—Agamemnon’s decision to give up on Troy in the former, and in the latter, Achilles’ unwillingness to relinquish his anger and fight. Diomedes’ singular deeds are performed in conjunction with a comrade for the benefit of the group at large, who are in desperate need of some respite from the dire straits in which they find themselves due to the unilateral action of another singular hero.
In an important way Diomedes’ night mission marks the beginning of his recuperation of his father. Like Tydeus, he engages with the enemy outside the main arena of war and alone, save for a like-minded comrade; unlike his father, he risks himself in order to establish an advantage for his own coalition that contributes to the larger narrative at hand—the siege of the city. In this complex mirroring we can read both a reinterpretation of the Tydeus scene and an appropriation of it. Where the earlier scene presents a Tydeus whose characterization is ill-fitted to the Iliad’s world of collective action, the nighttime adventure—which would seem equally at odds with this picture—redeploys Tydeus’ qualities in a way that complements and builds on the poem’s dynamics, largely thanks to the actions of Diomedes, who helps construct and carry out the ambush.
The figure of Tydeus makes one last appearance in the Iliad, in the assembly scene of Book 14. When the Achaeans’ two best counselors, Odysseus and Nestor, counter another one of their leader’s disastrous propositions, Agamemnon desperately looks around for advice (Iliad 14.107–108). After his critical interventions in scenes of debate in Book 9, it is again Diomedes who speaks up (14.110–132):

ἐγγὺς ἀνήρ· οὐ δηθὰ ματεύσομεν· αἴ κʼ ἐθέλητε
πείθεσθαι, καὶ μή τι κότῳ ἀγάσησθε ἕκαστος
οὕνεκα δὴ γενεῆφι νεώτατός εἰμι μεθʼ ὑμῖν·
πατρὸς δʼ ἐξ ἀγαθοῦ καὶ ἐγὼ γένος εὔχομαι εἶναι
Τυδέος, ὃν Θήβῃσι χυτὴ κατὰ γαῖα καλύπτε
πορθεῖ γὰρ τρεῖς παῖδες ἀμύμονες ἐξεγένοντο,
οἴκεον δʼ ἐν Πλευρῶνι καὶ αἰπεινῇ Καλυδῶνι
Ἄγριος ἠδὲ Μέλας, τρίτατος δʼ ἦν ἱππότα Οἰνεὺς
πατρὸς ἐμοῖο πατήρ· ἀρετῇ δʼ ἦν ἔξοχος αὐτῶν.
ἀλλʼ ὃ μὲν αὐτόθι μεῖνε, πατὴρ δʼ ἐμὸς Ἄργεϊ νάσθη
πλαγχθείς· ὡς γάρ που Ζεὺς ἤθελε καὶ θεοὶ ἄλλοι.
Ἀδρήστοιο δʼ ἔγημε θυγατρῶν, ναῖε δὲ δῶμα
ἀφνειὸν βιότοιο, ἅλις δέ οἱ ἦσαν ἄρουραι
πυροφόροι, πολλοὶ δὲ φυτῶν ἔσαν ὄρχατοι ἀμφίς,
πολλὰ δέ οἱ πρόβατʼ ἔσκε· κέκαστο δὲ πάντας Ἀχαιοὺς
ἐγχείῃ· τὰ δὲ μέλλετʼ ἀκουέμεν, εἰ ἐτεόν περ.
τὼ οὐκ ἄν με γένος γε κακὸν καὶ ἀνάλκιδα φάντες
μῦθον ἀτιμήσαιτε πεφασμένον ὅν κʼ ἐῢ εἴπω.
δεῦτʼ ἴομεν πόλεμον δὲ καὶ οὐτάμενοί περ ἀνάγκῃ.
ἔνθα δʼ ἔπειτʼ αὐτοὶ μὲν ἐχώμεθα δηϊοτῆτος
ἐκ βελέων, μή πού τις ἐφʼ ἕλκεϊ ἕλκος ἄρηται·
ἄλλους δʼ ὀτρύνοντες ἐνήσομεν, οἳ τὸ πάρος περ
θυμῷ ἦρα φέροντες ἀφεστᾶσʼ οὐδὲ μάχονται.

“The man is nearby—we will not look long for him. If you are willing
To consent and each of you does not get troubled by anger
Because I am the youngest among you by birth.
I also claim to be from a noble father by birth,
Tydeus, whom a heap of earth covers in Thebes.
Three blameless children were born to Portheus
And they used to live in Pleuron and steep Kalydon:
Agrios, Melas, and the third was the horseman Oeneus,
The father of my father. He was exceptional for his excellence.
But while he remained there, my father left for Argos,
Driven out. This was, I guess, how Zeus and the other gods wanted it.
He married one of the daughters of Adrastos and lived in a home
Wealthy for life: he had enough wheat-bearing fields,
And there were many orchards on all sides;
And he had many flocks. He also surpassed all the Achaeans
With a spear. You all have heard these things, if they are true.
Thus, you cannot claim that I come from low birth or I am a coward
And disregard the speech I set forth if I speak it well.
Now, let us go to war by necessity, even though we are wounded.
There, let us keep ourselves out of the strife of the missiles,
Lest someone add a wound to a wound.
But we shall send forth and encourage others, even those who before
Stood apart and did not fight, pleasing their hearts.”

In order to underline his capacity to speak authoritatively on matters of public concern in spite of his youth (“youngest by birth,” γενεῆφι νεώτατος, 112), Diomedes claims his inheritance as the son of a noble father, Tydeus (113–114).

This is the second time that Diomedes has insisted upon his nobility and capability in war before the Achaeans (cf. 9.34–36), only now he broadens his scope to include his father’s nobility as well. This move is all the more striking given that he previously denied any memory of his father, when responding to Glaukos’ detailed genealogical narrative back in Book 6; here, Diomedes provides an account of his ancestral line, starting with his father. He identifies several important details, including his grandfather’s excellence (ἀρετῇ δ’ ἦν ἔξοχος αὐτῶν, 118), the material wealth of his maternal family (δῶμα / ἀφνειόν, 121–122), his father’s death and exile (πλαγχθείς, 120), and Tydeus’ excellence with the spear (124–125). [95] This last detail is particularly pointed, for Agamemnon had earlier criticized him for not living up to the martial standards of his father. Here, we see Diomedes responding to that insult, that he is inferior to his father in war, as he acts on Agamemnon’s second slight, that he is better than his father in public speech (εἷο χέρεια μάχῃ, ἀγορῇ δέ τ᾿ ἀμείνω, 4.400). [96] By this time, the king has belatedly come to appreciate the value of a hero who can perform great deeds both in battle and in the assembly.
In this way Diomedes’ genealogical narrative can be understood within the framework of his prior encounters with Agamemnon. His mobilization of his genealogy is limited and follows the pattern observed earlier. This Tydeus is not the god-assisted victor of Agamemnon’s story. [97] Instead of recounting Tydeus’ heroic exploits, Diomedes describes him as an exile rejected by Zeus and the other gods (120)—as Bellerophon before him had been, according to the story that Glaukos tells Diomedes. This loss of divine favor is notable in light of Agamemnon’s earlier insistence on Athena’s support—and indeed of Athena’s and Diomedes’ own rendering of that special relationship. Moreover, after (finally) claiming Tydeus as his father (“I claim to be the offspring of a noble father, Tydeus,” πατρὸς δʼ ἐξ ἀγαθοῦ καὶ ἐγὼ γένος εὔχομαι εἶναι / Τυδέος, 113–114), Diomedes straightaway notes his passing: “whom now the heaped up earth covers in Thebes” (ὃν Θήβῃσι χυτὴ κατὰ γαῖα καλύπτει, 114). This is very unlike other patrilineal claims, such as Odysseus’, which serves to headline his account of his epic fame (Odyssey 9.19). On the contrary, Diomedes appears to undercut his father’s fame by passing over any mention of famous deeds in favor of burying him at Thebes.
When Diomedes does elaborate on Tydeus’ life, he does so in a way that again markedly contrasts with previous configurations of the hero’s career. Where Agamemnon’s Theban story had isolated Tydeus as a singular hero to whom the son will struggle to live up, Diomedes places him instead in the context of his ancestral line (117) and imagines him living profitably off the fat of the land given to him by his father-in-law (121–124). Just such a scenario had been put to Achilles in Book 9, as Odysseus offers Achilles recompense in the form of Agamemnon’s largesse—lands, titles and the hand of his daughter included. There the singular hero had forcefully rejected the proposal, in the Iliad’s most overt statement of the choices facing him: he could either live a long life of peaceful existence at home without fame or embrace an early death with the prospect of ensuring everlasting glory in compensation. In the terms established by Achilles, and in pointed contrast to what turns out to be this hero’s fate, Diomedes pictures his father living a life of ease, the very antithesis of a story worthy of fame. Indeed, the one mention that Diomedes makes of his father’s military prowess comes almost as an afterthought: “he excelled all others with the spear” (κέκαστο δὲ πάντας Ἀχαιοὺς / ἐγχείῃ, 124–125). This is hearsay that Diomedes is not able, or willing, to corroborate—an accomplishment in games perhaps even anticipating Agamemnon’s own problematic victory with the javelin in Book 23 (884–895). [98]
The members of each epic generation, for whom authority derives from their predecessors, depend for their future fame on their capacity to reinvent that tradition. Here, Diomedes, and through him Homer, furnish the new by reworking and re-interpreting the old. [99] The four moves that Diomedes makes—burying his father, tracing his own lineage to his forebears, replacing his father’s heroic deeds with a scene of peace and prosperity, and casting doubt on the process of memorialization—all contribute to an act of double erasure performed on Tydeus and his story at Thebes. First, by tracing his nobility not to his exiled father but instead to his grandfather Oeneus and Kalydon, Diomedes emphasizes the derivative and evolving nature of the epic tradition. Then, by undermining his father’s fame, he implies that the story that is important is the story that can be verified, that is to say, the tale unfolding before our very ears, the Iliad, guaranteed by the muse herself. Finally, just as the fame of Tydeus’ deeds is obscured, so Thebes itself is diminished in status—simply a burial ground for an unknown warrior. The rhetorical power of this speech simultaneously represents and reproduces Diomedes’ different form of heroism from his father. Yes, he is (or can be) ferocious in battle (sometimes overly so), but he’s also politically astute and a speaker of words. A hero, in other words, of and for this epic.
Agamemnon’s renewed suggestion (carried over from Book 9) is to abandon the war and sail from Troy secretly at night. After Nestor and Odysseus’ strong rebuttal, this time it is left to Diomedes to offer the advice: all the Achaeans should rejoin battle; even those who have been wounded can encourage the others to fight (Iliad 14.110–132). Diomedes introduces this short and direct proposition, which consists of only five verses, by a full eighteen-line account of his epic genealogy. The story of Thebes is fully subordinated to keep the Achaeans at Troy and the Iliad on track, in the fullest expression yet of group dynamics. Earlier Diomedes had rebutted Agamemnon’s despair by claiming that he and Sthenelos will stay at Troy and fight (9.48–49), even should everyone else depart, affirming the comradeship that the pair demonstrate in response to Agamemnon’s Theban tale. Here Diomedes speaks on behalf of the whole Achaean contingent at Troy to reaffirm their shared commitment to this siege story. His purpose thus served, we don’t hear of Diomedes again, apart from at Patroklos’ funeral games, where he wins the first, and foremost, of the contests: the chariot race. The focus turns instead to two other comrades, Patroklos and the very singular Achilles, whose story the Iliad tells. [100]


In the Introduction we suggested that it is more fruitful to analyze individual components of hexameter epic verse as common inheritances from an ever-evolving and expanding tradition, which are then deployed contrastively to help define and articulate the particular features of the poem in question. In this chapter we have discussed how Agamemnon’s tale of Tydeus as a primal hero chimes dissonantly with the Iliad’s broader and more nuanced articulation of collective political activity. Such disharmony is addressed directly by Sthenelos’ response, while Diomedes, conscious of avoiding (further) political strife with the king, reveals an acute understanding of the critical symbiotic relationship between the shepherd and his people, even as he seeks to maintain group solidarity behind the king. Following up his genealogy somewhat later, Diomedes subsequently reaffirms that the situation in their world is significantly different from that of their fathers and subtly asserts the pre-eminence of his tale, our Iliad, over the stories about Thebes.
There is also an important metapoetic connection made between the Theban and Trojan traditions through the participation of Sthenelos and Diomedes in both. As agents in the destruction of Thebes, the two sons attest to the pre-eminence of their generation over their fathers’; but as subsequent witnesses to and participants in the siege of Troy they function to mark the comparative difficulty of the later campaign. In addition, the presence of these same warriors in both conflicts projects a temporal frame upon the narratives that makes Thebes Troy’s antecedent. Thus, thematically, the Iliad effectively makes Thebes anticipatory to its own denouement. While Thebes occupies the prior position, Troy gains value and magnitude by coming after. It did not have to be this way. As we learn elsewhere in the Iliad, Troy has been sacked before. The single and singular warrior responsible for having already sacked Troy, moreover, is none other than the Theban hero par excellence—Herakles. This much-storied hero is the subject of our second chapter. [101]


[ back ] 1. Many sections of this chapter draw on work originally published in Barker and Christensen 2011.
[ back ] 2. On the Epipolesis scene and Agamemnon’s speech, see Austin 1975:5; Martin 1989:63–72; and Beck 2005:154–164. Cf. Nagy 1999 [1979]:162–164. For the structure of the scene: Kirk 1985:353–354.
[ back ] 3. On the use of such paradeigmata in speeches, see especially Willcock 1964 and 1977. Cf. Braswell 1971; Combellack 1976; Held 1987; Andersen 1987; Edmunds 1997; and Nagy 1996a:113–146.
[ back ] 4. “All the substantial narrative allusions to the Theban Wars cluster around the hero Diomedes and have to do specifically with his father Tydeus” (Sammons 2014:297–298).
[ back ] 5. Ebbott 2010 and 2014; cf. Vergados 2014:438. Both scholars are right to point to the audience’s deep familiarity with a Theban epic tradition, but they do not consider how Homer might be exploiting it for effect.
[ back ] 6. Sammons 2014:299–300.
[ back ] 7. Sammons (2014:300) puts the question in slightly different terms, asking: how can we be confident that a corresponding episode loomed large or even existed in some archaic poem, or even performance tradition, to which we could imagine him alluding? While he suggests that “the very structure of narrative allusions can reflect the influence of other poems on the Iliad,” ultimately he remains “pessimistic that even this can constitute compelling evidence that Homer’s allusions are based on an external source.”
[ back ] 8. ἐποιήθη δὲ ἐς τὸν πόλεμον τοῦτον καὶ ἔπη Θηβαΐς· τὰ δὲ ἔπη ταῦτα Καλλῖνος ἀφικόμενος αὐτῶν ἐς μνήμην ἔφησεν ῞Ομηρον τὸν ποιήσαντα εἶναι, Καλλίνῳ δὲ πολλοί τε καὶ ἄξιοι λόγου κατὰ ταὐτὰ ἔγνωσαν· ἐγὼ δὲ τὴν ποίησιν ταύτην μετά γε᾿Ιλιάδα καὶ τὰ ἔπη τὰ ἐς ᾿Οδυσσέα ἐπαινῶ μάλιστα.
[ back ] 9. For a discussion of earlier comments reconstructing a Thebais’ contents for this purpose, see Davies 2014:34–38. He argues that the “basic presuppositions of the Iliad and the Thebais…are similar” (38). For neoanalysis as an approach, see the section “Neoanalysis” in the Introduction.
[ back ] 10. Davies 2014:28–32.
[ back ] 11. For a discussion and bibliography, see Davies 2014:32–41.
[ back ] 12. The evidence is helpfully brought together and discussed in Davies 2014, Chapter 2.
[ back ] 13. For the fragments of the Thebais see Davies 1988:22–26; Bernabé 1987:22–28. For the Seven myth, see the general narrative in Apollodorus III 57–77; cf. Hyginus 68–70. Cf. the discussion by Gantz 1993:502–518, and our discussion of the Stesichorus Lille fragment below in Chapter 5. See also Fowler 2013:408–414 on the early mythographers more generally.
[ back ] 14. Ἄργος ἄειδε, θεά, πολυδίψιον, ἔνθεν ἄνακτες (fr. 1.1).
[ back ] 15. For a survey of the stories about Tydeus omitted by Diomedes, see Janko 1992:163–164. Thebais fr. 9 PEG 1 (apud Σ [D] Iliad 5.16) presents us with a different view of Tydeus’ personality: there he is not the god-respecting champion of the Iliad but a brutish cannibal whose actions disgust even his protecting goddess, Athena. The question of human obedience to the gods could have been thematic for an archaic Thebais, since later poets repeatedly emphasize that the Seven marched “not according to a path of good-fated birds” (αἰσιᾶν οὐ κατ’ ὀρνίχων ὁδόν, Pindar Nemean 9.18–19, see Sammons 2014). The scholion on ἄτερ πολέμου (“outside of war”) presents the embassy to Mycenae by Polyneikes and Tydeus as part of a known narrative about the war against Thebes: Ebbott 2014. Far from drawing a distinction between the Iliad’s account and any nominal Theban poem, the scholion even provides a detail that harmonizes the two: Agamemnon only heard about the tale because it was Thyestes to whom they made their appeal for allies.
[ back ] 16. Ἀλλ’ Ἡσιόδῳ μέν ἐστι περὶ Ὑπερβορέων εἰρημένα, ἔστι δὲ καὶ Ὁμήρῳ ἐν Ἐπιγόνοισι, εἰ δὴ τῷ ἐόντι γε Ὃμηρος ταῦτα τὰ ἔπεα ἐποίησε.
[ back ] 17. For the Epigonoi myth, see the short summary at Apollodorus III 80, which has the events start ten years later. This narrative says relatively little about what the sons of the Seven do and focuses more on Teiresias. Cf. the similarly brief treatment at Hyginus 71. See also the discussion in Gantz 1993:522–524. For early references, see Pindar Pythian 8.39–55. Tragedies on the Epigonoi are ascribed to both Aeschylus and Euripides: Fowler 2013:414.
[ back ] 18. For the fragments of the Epigonoi see Davies 1988:26–27; Bernabé 1996:30–31. Davies 1988 accepts only fr. 1 as genuine. For the Theban epics in general, the most recent overview is Davies 2014. While earlier scholars argued that the Epigonoi was most likely a part of the Thebais, Davies 2014:107–108 insists that they were separate poems with the Epigonoi functioning as a closely related “sequel.”
[ back ] 19. For a Theban cycle that might include the Oidipodeia, Thebais, Epigonoi, and perhaps even the Alcmeonis, see Burgess 2011:184; West 2013:2–4; Fantuzzi and Tsagalis 2014.
[ back ] 20. Other fragments attributed to the Epigonoi are either too uncertain or too generic to add much to the foregoing analysis. Bernabé accepts fr. 4 from Clement of Alexandria as genuine (“Many evils come to men from gifts,” ἐκ γὰρ δώρων πολλὰ κάκ’ ἀνθρώποισι πέλονται) but its inclusion in the Stromata’s list of plagiarized ideas gives no original context, but merely attributes the line to Antimachus of Teos (not to the Epigonoi specifically) and collocates it with a line of similar sentiment from the Cyclic Nostoi (“Gifts deceive the minds and actions of men,” δῶρα γὰρ ἀνθρώπων νόον ἤπαφεν ἠδὲ καὶ ἔργα, fr. 8.1). Bernabé lists two more dubious fragments. In fr. 6, “They feasted on the meat of cattle and they loosed the horses’ sweating necks, since they were sated with war” (ὣς οἱ μὲν δαίνυντο βοῶν κρέα, καὐχένας ἵππων / ἔκλυον ἱδρώοντας, ἐπεὶ πολέμοιο κορέσθην). Fr. 7 features “men who gird for war, and when they are done, some pour from towers and a war-cry arises” (θωρήσσοντ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτα πεπαυμένοι / πύργων δ’ ἐξεχέοντο, βοὴ δ’ ἄσβεστος ὀρώρει). These two fragments are certainly suggestive of epic themes (as we discuss them in Chapters 5 and 6), but they lack context and specifics.
[ back ] 21. Kirk 1985:368 is unclear why Diomedes is chosen for rebuke and suggests that it is only for the opportunity to present a digression on Tydeus. Taplin 1992:145–146 contrasts Diomedes’ refusal to engage in strife with Agamemnon to Achilles’ quickness to anger. Willcock 1964:144–145 considers Agamemnon’s account of Tydeus to be vastly exaggerated.
[ back ] 22. For Diomedes’ youth, see Nestor’s comments (Iliad 9.57–58). Andersen 1978 suggests that Diomedes is a Homeric innovation; hence, the poet can manipulate his story as he wishes. On Diomedes’ maturation in the Iliad, see: Martin 1989:54–56; Christensen 2009:151–153.
[ back ] 23. For an extensive analysis of blame expressions in Homer, see Vodoklys 1992. Cf. also Nagy 1999 [1979]:211–275 and Martin 1989:30–35.
[ back ] 24. “Why did Atreus’ son gather the host and lead it here? (τί δὲ λαὸν ἀνήγαγεν ἐνθάδ’ ἀγείρας Ἀτρεΐδης; Iliad 9.338–339). That is to say, the expression here relates to the gathering of warriors for the Trojan expedition. All examples are taken from Ebbott 2014.
[ back ] 25. Having described Athena as the one who gathered the warriors for the Pylians’ battle against the Epeians (Iliad 11.716), he goes on to remind Patroklos of the instructions his father Menoetius gave to him before he and Achilles left for Troy (11.769–770).
[ back ] 26. Ebbott 2014.
[ back ] 27. On the importance of people-gathering in epic, see Haubold 2000, Chapter 1, especially p. 33.
[ back ] 28. Ebbott 2014 also notes that the Trojans are called their “allies in fame” (with κλειτοί at least six times, τηλεκλειτοί ‘far-famed’ at least four times, and ἀγακλειτοί ‘very famous’ at least once).
[ back ] 29. The situation is more complex, as one of the most famous of these allies, Sarpedon, articulates in 12.310–328: because he and Glaukon are most honored in their community, they need to fight in the front line. However, this social obligation in the end is subordinated to the importance of winning fame, as Sarpedon concedes that, were he immortal, he wouldn’t fight in the front line after all, but, since they are not, they should try to win glory.
[ back ] 30. Iris describes the Trojans in such terms, as they gather for the first time in the epic: the “many allies of Priam” (πολλοὶ…Πριάμου ἐπίκουροι) among whom “tongue differs from tongue among widely-seeded mankind” (ἄλλη δ’ ἄλλων γλῶσσα πολυσπερέων ἀνθρώπων, Iliad 2.803–804).
[ back ] 31. On philia as a critical cohesive force in the Iliad: Goldhill 1991:80–93.
[ back ] 32. Ebbott 2014.
[ back ] 33. Ebbott 2014. Odysseus introduces the portent as a μέγα σῆμα ‘big sign’ (2.308) before quoting Calchas’ interpretation that the Achaeans will fight for nine years and be victorious in the tenth. The quotation of Calchas refers to the petrified snake as a τέρας μέγα: “so to us Zeus the deviser revealed this great portent” (ἡμῖν μὲν τόδ’ ἔφηνε τέρας μέγα μητίετα Ζεὺς, Iliad 2.324).
[ back ] 34. Thus it turns out that Tydeus’ “embassy to Mycenae is not so much arbitrary as it is redundant; Agamemnon’s narrative is fashioned so that Tydeus participates in two embassies” (Sammons 2014:301). Sammons describes this structure as conforming to Fenik’s (1968) “anticipatory doublet.” In the first embassy, Tydeus arrives in the company of another hero, he is treated with gracious hospitality, and his mission is nearly a success. In the second embassy, he goes alone to a hostile city, and the embassy ends not only unsuccessfully but with an outbreak of violence.
[ back ] 35. Sammons 2014 notes a further doubling: Tydeus first challenges the Thebans to athletic contests and defeats them; later he is waylaid by a Theban ambush and defeats them in battle. Hence two challenges, two contests, and two victories. The doubling, which may be significant for thinking about Thebes as the other to the Homeric tradition of a siege and as the place where the family is horrendously doubled up, suggests an overdetermination on Agamemnon’s part—an inability to exactly match the events at Thebes with his immediate concerns in this narrative.
[ back ] 36. See Iliad 1.227, 6.189, 8.521, 11.379, 13.279, 18.519–21, 24.779; Odyssey 4.277, 388, 395, 441, 531, 463, 8.515, 11.526, 13.268, 13.425, 14.217, 14.469, 15.28, 16.369, 16.463, 20.49, 22.53. Cf. Pindar Nemean 4.59–61 and Hesiod Theogony 173–174.
[ back ] 37. When Achilles criticizes Agamemnon for his unwarlike spirit, he pairs battle with ambush: “you have never dared in your heart to arm with the host to go to war nor to go into ambush with the best of the Achaeans” (“οὔτέ ἐς πόλεμον ἅμα θωρηχθῆναι / οὔτε λόχον δ’ ἰέναι σὺν ἀριστήεσσιν Ἀχαιῶν / τέτληκας θυμῷ,” Iliad 1.226–227). See Kirk 1985 ad loc.
[ back ] 38. Dué and Ebbott 2009 argue against the prevailing view that the Iliad presents the ambush in a negative light, by suggesting that post-Homeric notions of honour and battle behaviour have prejudiced readers. Certainly, mining the epics for ideology is fraught with difficulty: see, for example, Thalmann 1988, 1998; Rose 1997; and Hammer 2004.
[ back ] 39. Periphrastically, there is one additional instance where a λόχος is referred to as πυκινός. During Glaukos’ narrative of Bellerophon, the trap set for that hero is described as a πυκινὸν δόλον (6.187) only to be called an ambush three lines later (189). On the significance of πυκινός in Iliad 24, see Lynn-George 1988:230–233.
[ back ] 40. Aristarchus omitted this line, but it existed in his notes: see Heubeck and Hoekstra 1989:108–109. Cf. Van der Valk 1963. The scholion reports that other manuscripts printed had “the wooden horse” (δούριον ἵππον).
[ back ] 41. A resonance between Priam’s use of πυκινὸς λόχος and Agamemnon’s may indicate homology in the political situations. Tydeus, in Agamemnon’s tale, has been ambushed even though he went as a messenger to the Cadmeans—their ceasefire lasts only long enough for the Cadmeans to enact sinister plans. Priam, it seems, forestalls anxiety about similarly underhanded plans. Here, then, we find a contrast between Tydeus’ world and Priam’s: by end of the Iliad, a truce can be trusted, however precarious and temporary—the Trojans subsequently post guards just in case. Cf. Lynn-George 1988:254.
[ back ] 42. Odyssey 2.250, 4.339, 4.340, 17.130, 17.131, 19.550, 22.317, 22.416.
[ back ] 43. “But he would meet an unseemly fate here if he should fight against many” (ἀλλά κεν αὐτοῦ ἀεικέα πότμον ἐπίσποι, / εἰ πλεόνεσσι μάχοιτο, Odyssey 2.250–251). Evidence gathered in Danek 1998 attests to other versions of Odysseus’ tale, in which our hero defeats the suitors with the help of a small army he had gathered from the countryside, including shepherds, swineherds, and Laertes himself. Remarks such as those by Leocritus, therefore, also work to counteract the audience’s familiarity with other versions in which Odysseus was pointedly not alone but enjoyed considerable support in his battle against the suitors.
[ back ] 44. The combination of these two lexical items contributes to the resonance of retributive acts in this phrase. See, for example, Simonides fr. 26.1–3 and Pindar Olympian 2.35–37. ἀεικής is combined with clearly bad things like destruction (λοίγος, e.g. Iliad 9.495), slander (λώβη, e.g. 11.142), pay for work (μίσθος, e.g. 12.445), the brutal ἔργον of war (14.13; also Herakles’ service at the hands of Eurystheos, 19.133). Cf. Ouranos’ deeds as ἀεικέα (Hesiod Theogony 166). Solon uses this adjective provocatively to describe the situation of slavery suffered by Athens’ poorer citizens (Solon fr. 4.23–25).
[ back ] 45. Elsewhere the related ἐπιτάρροθος serves similarly to mark an individual hero’s special relationship with the gods. For ἐπιτάρροθος see Iliad 5.808, 5.826, 11.366 (Diomedes), 12.180, 17.339 (Aeneas), 20.453, 21.289 (Achilles) and Odyssey 24.182 (Odysseus). Only on one occasion is the help, both the subject and object of it, plural; that is when the narrator describes the pain of the gods helping the Danaans (Iliad 12.180). Note that the only occurrence in the Odyssey comes when a figure from the enemy group (the dead suitor Automedon) claims that Odysseus had a god as a helper, even though Athena’s assistance of her favorite is a continuous, and conspicuous, feature of the narrative; the Odyssey seems consciously to avoid the term ἐπιτάρροθος. Outside Homer, this lexical item may mark divine helpers from a ritual perspective. See, for example, Sophocles. fr. 583. 7–10, Papyri Graecae Magicae 6.25.7 (where Apollo is called ἐπίρροθε), and Macedonius Paean in Apollinem et Aesculapium = Inscriptiones Graecae II2 4473.9 (where Asclepius is referred to as a helper against diseases). Cf. Orphic Hymn 61.10–12 and Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes 357–358.
[ back ] 46. The Iliad emphasizes the double-edged nature of divine “assistance.” In the case of Diomedes, his aristeia comes as a result of Athena’s aid, but its force is attenuated by his wounding of Aphrodite (Iliad 5.336). Consider too: (1) Agamemnon and the false dream he receives from Zeus in Book 2; (2) the ultimate outcome of Achilles’ plea to Zeus via his mother in Book 1 (his best friend will die); and (3) Hektor’s death: at first, he believes that he is being aided by Deiphobus, but it is actually Athena sealing his doom (22.296–305). On some of the negative connotations underlying a hero’s aristeia, see Nagy 1999 [1979]:30–32.
[ back ] 47. For a recent articulation of the Homeric epics’ increasing human focus, see Graziosi and Haubold 2005:68–99, 98–103, 121–149.
[ back ] 48. For references to μοῦνος ἐὼν πολέσιν in archaic Greek poetry, including in the reconstructed new Archilochus fragment (Obbink 2006), see Barker and Christensen 2006:25n1.
[ back ] 49. “It will be chilling if I am caught / alone…” τὸ δὲ ῥίγιον αἴ κεν ἁλώω / μοῦνος, 11.405–406. Cf. 11.467, 12.41, 17.94, 17.472, 20.188, 22.456. Zeus grants Hektor honor and glory “alone among many” (15.611)—but, fatally, only for a short period.
[ back ] 50. A number of scholars have recently drawn attention to the importance of the group in the Iliad, whether that is read in terms of epic’s interest in the survival of the people (Haubold 2000:40–100) or as an incipient political framework of some kind (Detienne 1996:91–102; Donlan 2002, cf. 1979; Taplin 1992:57–66; Carlier 1996; Schofield 1999:21–30; Hammer 2002, cf. 1997; Barker 2009, cf. Barker 2004; Elmer 2013). It is certainly the case that the Iliad forcefully challenges Agamemnon’s wilful assertion of authority: see especially Taplin 1990; cf. Haubold 2000:52–68. See further in Chapter 5.
[ back ] 51. E.g. Iliad 1.152–60; 9.337–9.
[ back ] 52. See Schofield 1986:28–30 on the importance of Nestor in the assembly and mustering of Book 2. Heiden 2008b reads the Catalogue of Ships as privileging group commemoration over the celebration of individual aristocratic leaders.
[ back ] 53. For Helen as the cause célèbre of the tradition, see Mayer 1996.
[ back ] 54. Cook 1999: in the epic careers of heroes such as Achilles and Odysseus we see them both suffering and meting out suffering; indeed, it is written into their very names.
[ back ] 55. In little over one hundred lines, Achilles goes from championing the public cause to swearing an oath promising the destruction of the group he had purported to support (1.241–244). See Haubold 2000:68–83, for whom all of the epic’s leaders fail to save their people. On Achilles as speaking on behalf of the group, see Taplin 1992:61. Donlan 1979:58 argues that Achilles’ “leadership authority” is grounded in his relationship to the group, but fails to account for Achilles’ prayer for their destruction (Iliad 1.239–44). On Athena’s decisive intervention in the assembly, see Barker 2009:49–52.
[ back ] 56. The Odyssey describes its eponymous hero as “being alone” repeatedly. See 3.217, 12.297, 15.386, 16.105, 20.30, 22.107, and 23.38.
[ back ] 57. Dolon is also marked out as an only son among five sisters (Iliad 10.317). Cf. Ilioneus (14.492). Both only sons are killed: the single male issue adds poignancy to their death, since with them their line too perishes.
[ back ] 58. Phoenix stresses that Peleus treated him like an only son (Iliad 9.482), while Priam misrepresents his situation to depict himself as a father to an only son, Hektor (24.242).
[ back ] 59. Telemachus’ expression of his family’s exceptionality is remarkable: the unique verb μουνόω in hexameter epic is glossed by three successive lines with μοῦνος in the line-initial position. Goldhill 2010 investigates the use of μοῦνος, particularly in this passage, for marking out the exceptionality of Odysseus, his line, and this poem.
[ back ] 60. Telemachus is described as a single son by Eurycleia (Odyssey 2.365). Connected to the single son motif is the epithet “late-born” (τηλύγετος) applied to Telemachus in a simile at Odyssey 16.19. Its occurrences in the Iliad suggest another highly charged term: Helen uses it of her daughter (Iliad 3.175), Agamemnon of his son (Iliad 9.143), and Phoenix of himself, loved by Peleus (482); cf. Homeric Hymn to Demeter 164–165 where Demophoon is described as “late-born” twice: τηλύγετος and ὀψίγονος. On its unclear etymology and meaning, see Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:194. For some audience members of the Odyssey the arrival of a “telugetos son” may provocatively recall Telegonus, a(nother) son of Odysseus (by Circe). For discussions of the Telegony, see Burgess 2001:143 and 153–154; and Marks 2008:87–90.
[ back ] 61. See PEG fr. 2 with n11 above.
[ back ] 62. So Kirk 1985:369–370. While Agamemnon’s language may sound “Odyssean,” this label, we suggest, indicates more the paucity of extant epic narrative than it does any conscious allusion to our text of the Odyssey. If nothing else, the self-reflexive use of these motifs by the Odyssey demonstrates why it will not really do to describe Agamemnon’s Theban tale as Odyssean: the Odyssey itself is reinventing the basic story pattern of the great exploits of the solitary hero.
[ back ] 63. Iliad 6.119–236. See Taplin 1992:58–59. On Diomedes’ troubling aristeia, see further below.
[ back ] 64. Agamemnon stresses the second-hand nature of his tale (Iliad 4.374–375). In Homer tales may be confirmed (cf. Nestor’s frequent eye-witness testimony) or simply related: the Tydeus narrative, then, receives special notice as a second-hand tale that cannot or may not need to be verified. If no confirmation is required, this may point to the well-known status of the tale whereby Agamemnon can rely upon the fame of the father to shame the son. Diomedes’ later avowal, however, that he cannot remember his father may contribute to a distancing effect implicit in Agamemnon’s phrase.
[ back ] 65. For a detailed analysis of replies to speech in the Iliad, see Elmer 2013. Diomedes’ silence prompts a variety of responses: Scott 1980:17 suggests that Diomedes is silent because of the aidos he feels for Agamemnon; Nagy 1999 [1979]:161–164 argues that Agamemnon’s taunt compels Diomedes to prove his worth in deeds; Martin 1989:71–72 suggests that Diomedes’ silence is an assertion of social superiority. For the general import of silence in Homer, see Montiglio 1993.
[ back ] 66. σάφα as an adverb occurs only here with a verb of speaking in the Iliad; on the other hand, σάφα εἰπεῖν occurs frequently in the Odyssey, such as when Telemachus admits to Nestor that no one can tell him clearly what has happened to his father (Odyssey 3.89); see: Odyssey 2.30, 43, 108; 17.106; 24.144. The interest in speaking σάφα befits the Odyssey, which is well known for its acute self-reflexive awareness of narration. See, for example, Goldhill 1991, Chapter 1.
[ back ] 67. On the importance of clarity in Homer’s poetic art: Richardson 1996.
[ back ] 68. “Your words have a shape and within you is a noble mind, and you know how to narrate your story just like a bard” (σοὶ δ᾽ ἔπι μὲν μορφὴ ἐπέων, ἔνι δὲ φρένες ἐσθλαί. / μῦθον δ᾽ ὡς ὅτ᾽ ἀοιδὸς ἐπισταμένως κατέλεξας, Odyssey 11.367–368). Cf. Graziosi and Haubold 2005: 47–48.
[ back ] 69. Janko 1992:163–164 suggests that Homer “knew the story of this war but avoided telling how Tudeus, frenzied and dying, sucked out the brain of his foe” (163), which, for example, is referenced in Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes, where Tydeus is described as “the murderer, the corruptor of the city, the greatest teacher of evils for Argos, caller of Furies, servant of Murder, Adrastos’ counselor of these evils” (τὸν ἀνδροφόντην, τὸν πόλεως ταράκτορα, / μέγιστον Ἄργει τῶν κακῶν διδάσκαλον, / Ἐρινύος κλητῆρα, πρόσπολον Φόνου, / κακῶν δ’ Ἀδράστῳ τῶνδε βουλευτήριον, 572-575). In any case Tydeus’ fall from favor seems sufficiently integrated into (but not explicitly described in) the Homeric frame to allow for rather wide knowledge of this motif.
[ back ] 70. We owe the description of Agamemnon as “ethically transgressive” to one of the reviewers of Barker and Christensen 2011, on which this chapter is based. Agamemnon’s actions in Book 1, in which he unilaterally takes back Achilles’ prize, are acknowledged as transgressive by the gods: Athena calls the action hubristic (Iliad 1.214). Furthermore, in professing to rank Chryseis above his wife Clytemnestra (Iliad 1.113–4), Agamemnon ironically brings to mind his later fate, when his wife will murder him in part because he returns home in thrall to another slave girl, Cassandra.
[ back ] 71. Sthenelos’ description of the city’s fall echoes the account of the city’s foundation in the Odyssey (with the verb “seize” (εἵλομεν, 4.406) replacing the Odyssey’s “build” (ἔκτισαν, Odyssey 11.263): Pache 2014. The narrative of Thebes’ annihilation is ultimately and inextricably bound up with its foundation. Sammons 2014:311 points out that it is rare for the appropriateness of a mythological paradeigma to become a matter of explicit debate.
[ back ] 72. Sammons 2014:313 is right to argue that “Homer, too, eschews any narrative of the war’s ending…choosing rather to focus inwardly on a single narrative (the wrath of Achilles) slightly off-center from these ‘main’ events.” The Iliad, however, does make it clear that: (1) Troy’s fall is now inevitable; and (2) this outcome is a result of Achilles’ actions in the narrative (his defeat of Hektor). Agamemnon’s recollection of Tydeus’ deeds fails even to address the relevance of his tale for this larger narrative, even were we to grant him license for not making the most salient point in comparing Troy and Thebes—that they are both cities under siege and destined to be sacked.
[ back ] 73. On the failure of exemplarity, see Goldhill 1994. Even on the terms set by Agamemnon, Thebes simply does not measure up to the standards of the Iliad.
[ back ] 74. The Iliad frequently points to the differences between epic heroes and the men of today, as when a hero picks up a stone that no one alive (in the audience’s time) could lift (5.302–304, 12.380–383, 12.445–450, and 20.285–287). See Ford 1992.
[ back ] 75. In the Iliad ἀτάσθαλος is associated with bad leadership and its ascription to an enemy is a typical strategy to claim right on one’s own side: see Nestor on the Epeians (11.695); Menelaos on the Trojans (13.461); and Priam on Achilles (22.418). Hesiod draws an association between ἀτάσθαλος and ὕβρις to condemn the bad king (e.g., Works and Days 261); ὕβρις ἀτάσθαλος characterises the silver age of men (Works and Days 134). Deeds referred to as ἀτάσθαλα justify retribution: see Hesiod Theogony 164; 207–210; 992-996; cf. Hesiod fr. 30.15–20.
[ back ] 76. “Now, since I lost the people by my own recklessness, I feel shame before the Trojans and Trojan women” (νῦν δ’ ἐπεὶ ὤλεσα λαὸν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ἐμῇσιν, / αἰδέομαι Τρῶας καὶ Τρῳάδας ἑλκεσιπέπλους, Iliad 22.106). Agamemnon does not admit the same, but does concede his blindness (19.134–137), a theme he anticipated at 2.111–115 and repeated in Book 9. The difference may be character-based, but it may also be contextual. Hektor accuses himself of ἀτασθαλία in private; Agamemnon admits to blindness in public.
[ back ] 77. See Rutherford 1986:151n37; Cook 1995:24; and de Jong 2001:12, who notes that the root ἀτασθαλ- occurs only once—Odyssey 1.7—in narrator text, while of the twenty-eight occasions it is used in character text, the majority (fifteen) refer to the suitors. No less a figure than Zeus announces that men in general are to blame for their own suffering (“They have pains beyond their lot because of their own foolishness,” οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ / σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν, 1.33–34), which, as Cook 1995:32–37 argues, suggests that the Odyssey establishes criminal acts rather than divine whim as the cause of human suffering. Nagler 1990:346 shows that the proem’s myopic focus on Odysseus’ companions betrays a broader anxiety regarding “the hero’s outright violence” against the suitors, back home in the “‘real’ political world” of Ithaca.
[ back ] 78. For the association of the phrase, “and the will of Zeus was being accomplished,” with the generation of heroic epic narrative, see Chapter 3, n39, below.
[ back ] 79. In this way Diomedes prefigures Achilles, who chokes the waters of a real river in Iliad 22 and who also asserts that he will not shrink from “the bridges of war” (οὐδ’ ἂν ἔτι δὴν / ἀλλήλους πτώσσοιμεν ἀνὰ πτολέμοιο γεφύρας, Iliad 20.426–427). For Diomedes as a second Achilles, see Lohmann 1970:221; Griffin 1980:74; and Schofield 1999:29 for a bibliography. Cf. Nagy 1999 [1979]:30–31
[ back ] 80. Iliad 9.443 (Phoenix). The collocation of battle and assembly (μάχη and ἀγορή) occurs at two critical junctures in the narrative. In the first, the narrator describes the end of the first Achaean assembly in terms of Agamemnon and Achilles fighting with opposing words (“the pair stood apart, fighting with words, and they ended the assembly,” μαχεσσαμένω ἐπέεσσιν / ἀνστήτην, λῦσαν δ’ ἀγορὴν, Iliad 1.304–305). Diomedes himself echoes this description when he announces that he will fight the king in his folly (“I will fight you first, son of Atreus, when you are acting like a fool,” “ Ἀτρεΐδη, σοὶ πρῶτα μαχήσομαι ἀφραδέοντι,” Iliad 9.32). See further Chapter 5 below.
[ back ] 81. Diomedes’ power in words forestalls Agamemnon’s retreats in Book 9 (31–49), reunites the Achaeans for war after the failed embassy (9.697–709), and provides a counter-plan to Agamemnon’s flight in Book 14 (110–132). For an examination of Diomedes’ contribution to the political order and bibliography, see Christensen 2009. On Diomedes as enacting—in a more socially constructive format—Achilles’ initial dissent from Agamemnon, see Barker 2009:61–66.
[ back ] 82. ὑπόδρα ἰδών first appears at Iliad 1.148 to introduce Achilles’ verbal assault against Agamemnon, after which it is applied to: Achilles (Iliad 20.428; 22.260, 344; 24.559); Odysseus and Diomedes (Iliad 4.349 and 411; cf. 2.245; 5.251; 10.446; 14.82); Glaukos, in reaction to Hektor (Iliad 17.141); Hektor to silence Poulydamos (12.230; 18.284; cf. 17.169); Zeus, silencing Hera (Iliad 5.888; 15.13). In the Odyssey, the phrase primarily refers to Odysseus (Odyssey 8.165; 18.4; 337, 19.70; 22.34, 60, 320): both Antinoos (17.459) and Eurymachus (18.388) give themselves away by this reaction when teased by (the disguised) Odysseus. Holoka 1983 interprets this phrase as denoting the class status of the speaker.
[ back ] 83. Iliad 1.123–129; cf. 54, 61, 87, 150, 162, 163–164. See nn. 25, 27, and 29 in the Introduction. Cf. Haubold 2000, Chapter 1.
[ back ] 84. See Barker 2009:46–47.
[ back ] 85. As Achilles puts it, the Achaeans have followed Agamemnon to Troy to please him (Iliad 1.158), but how would any one of them willingly obey him (1.150) now that he is threatening to take away their prizes? On the importance of this expression, see Hammer 1997.
[ back ] 86. See Nagy 1999 [1979], passim for the fateful resonance of this phrase.
[ back ] 87. Stamatopoulou 2017 argues that the wounding of Aphrodite by Diomedes is a model for the depiction of Herakles in the Hesiodic Sheild (on which see Chapter 6, “Beyond Thebes” and “The Boiotian Hesiod”).
[ back ] 88. Athena’s version of the story in Iliad 5 supplements Agamemnon’s in various interesting ways, but especially by recounting events from the divine perspective. Not merely confirming Agamemnon’s vague sense that Tydeus enjoyed the aid of the goddess, Athena gives more specifics about how she helped him and what advice she gave. But, besides this, she seems in general to place less emphasis on her own aid to the hero and more on Tydeus’ inborn heroic temper: Sammons 2014:304–306.
[ back ] 89. The combination πειθόμενοι τεράεσσι θεῶν καὶ Ζηνὸς ἀρωγῇ ‘trusting in divine portents and Zeus’ aid’, which occurs only in Sthenelos’ speech, appears to utilize two ideas. The first (τεράεσσι πιθ-) occurs twice in the Iliad in tales of heroes who accomplished great deeds because they trusted in the signs of the gods (Tydeus, 4.398; Bellerophon, 6.183). The second, involving the noun τέρας, occurs many times in the Iliad and the Odyssey to describe actual or potential signs from the gods (general or specific). The noun τέρας is used to refer to specific and concrete signs given for particular moments and actions; ἀρωγή, on the other hand, appears to be a reference to a god who is consistently on, and by, your side.
[ back ] 90. As Andersen 1987 argues, paradigms have an additional function in Homeric poetry: they facilitate the mirroring of the embedded tale to and from the outer narrative (the epic) and may also thus function to model for us or instruct us how to read epic.
[ back ] 91. It is tempting to hear an echo of Agamemnon’s pursuit of a foreign bride to the detriment of the communities before Troy and at home, or the privileging of nostos that is so central to the Odyssey.
[ back ] 92. From a metapoetic perspective, we also believe that Glaukos’ use of his ancestry gives us a peek at the Homeric strategy of instrumentalizing genealogy. Glaukos selectively presents a genealogical narrative to affect a present situation; his audience accepts the account and thus confirms the present relationships they share. Agamemnon similarly “re-reads” a genealogical tale in order to impact his current reality. His audience, however, contests his tale and de-authorizes the account, destabilizing the interpretation initially offered. Not only does Agamemnon’s Theban story narrowly focus on a series of “off-center” moments in that other tradition; the story itself fails to gain audience sanction and thus this alternative story about a siege lacks authority.
[ back ] 93. Even as Diomedes professes not to remember his father, he does recall the gift that Bellerophon gave to his grandfather Oeneus (6.223–224). Athena, who describes Diomedes as “little like” his father (ἦ ὀλίγον οἷ παῖδα ἐοικότα γείνατο Τυδεύς, 5.800), also seeks to goad him by invoking the name of Tydeus (5.124–132 and 800–813). This rather odd episode, reminiscent of Athena’s testing of Odysseus in Odyssey 13, has attracted suspicion: see, for example, Apthorp 2000; Nagy 2004:36–37.
[ back ] 94. Vergados 2014:442.
[ back ] 95. For the structure of this speech, see Lohmann 1970:140–146; and Janko 1992:162–163.
[ back ] 96. See Elmer 2013: 189–191, who argues that Diomedes may have a genealogical connection to socially constructive speech.
[ back ] 97. Janko 1992:163–164 suggests that behind Diomedes’ mention of his father’s wandering is his exile for kin-murder—a story meant to make his fate “more pitiable” (164).
[ back ] 98. Achilles awards Agamemnon a prize before the latter even casts his spear, thereby depriving the king of the opportunity to show his worth, even as Achilles shows respect (it seems) for him. On the ambiguities latent in this scene, see Postlethwaite 1998.
[ back ] 99. As Telemachus puts it in the Odyssey, an audience is always eager to hear the newest song (Odyssey 1.351–352).
[ back ] 100. Slatkin 2011:116–117 notes that as soon as Patroklos “rises up—Diomedes disappears, and with him the traces of Thebes;” cf. Pache 2014:282. See also Nagy 1999 [1979]:162–163.
[ back ] 101. See Sammons 2014:315–316, particularly for the storied relationship between Herakles and Tydeus.