The Oral Palimpsest: Exploring Intertextuality in the Homeric Epics

  Tsagalis, Christos. 2008. The Oral Palimpsest: Exploring Intertextuality in the Homeric Epics. Hellenic Studies Series 29. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 11. Intertextuality and Intratextual Distality: Thetis’ Lament in Iliad XVIII 52–64


Through a close examination of the composition of this speech, I will show how the Iliadic tradition has converted the intertextual background of Thetis’ mourning for the dead Achilles into a highly original γόος, ‘writing’ its eccentricities against the typology of the other Iliadic personal laments. Distal intratextual sequences (since the γόοι are scattered throughout the entire poem) help understand the aberrance and liminality of Thetis’ lament, matching the marginalization and liminality of its addressee, the epic’s most atypical, but also greatest, hero.

Framing the Lament

The presentation and framing by the diegesis of Thetis’ lamentation [4] will be our starting point. After the list of Nereids who accompany Thetis before she rises from the depths of the sea to speak to Achilles, we hear two verses (XVIII 50–51) preceding the actual utterance of the personal lament: [5]

τῶν δὲ καὶ ἀργύφεον πλῆτο σπέος· αἳ δ᾿ ἅμα πᾶσαι 3
στήθεα πεπλήγοντο. Θέτις δ᾿ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο· 0

The silvery cave was filled with these, and together all of them
beat their breasts, and among them Thetis led out the threnody.

Verses XVIII 65–67 following Thetis’ speech look similar to the ones preceding it:

ὣς ἄρα φωνήσασα λίπε σπέος· αἳ δὲ σὺν αὐτῇ 3
δακρυόεσσαι ἴσαν, περὶ δέ σφισι κῦμα θαλάσσης 3

So she spoke, and left the cave, and the others together
went with her in tears, and about them the wave of the water
was broken.

There are striking similarities between these two pairs of verses: 1) they both designate the spatial surroundings (σπέος/cave) of Thetis and the Nereids, specifying the place where the personal lament will be uttered; 2) in both couplets the first verse ends with similar adonics (αἳ δ᾿ ἅμα πᾶσαι / αἳ δὲ σὺν αὐτῇ) that have twice the necessary enjambment (type 3); [
6] 3) the beginning of the second verse of each couplet is occupied by an expression describing the emotional stage of the group of mourners that accompany Thetis (στήθεα πεπλήγοντο / δακρυόεσσαι).

The first verse of each of the two couplets that frame the personal lament ends in a similar adonic (αἳ δ᾿ ἅμα πᾶσαι / αἳ δὲ σὺν αὐτῇ). These phrases function as a refrain, exhibiting, through the repetition of equivalent semantic patterns placed at the same metrical slots and the two following necessary enjambments, a specific textual and poetic rhythm. The solemn approach of the chorus of mourners accompanying Thetis’ lament with their gestures and tears is thus effectively expressed. Necessary enjambment, “revealing that the crucial element in a clause is the verb,” [9] results in a faster rhythm, not allowing even a minimal pause at verse-end. What follows is not an addition to a line of thought expressed in the enjambing verse, but the completion at the beginning of the second verse of the very kernel of the sentence. In necessary enjambment, which is the exact opposite of coterminacy, [10] semantic completion is effectuated by a run-over word or expression, making the mental leap to the next verse absolutely compulsory. The repetition of these necessary enjambments [11] closely conjoins the Nereids (to whom αἳ δ᾿ (έ) refers in both cases) with the specific ritual gestures (στήθεα πεπλήγοντο / δακρυόεσσαι) described in the very beginning of the lines following the enjambed verses. In this way, the ritualistic aspects of the scene are tightly linked to their performers with an obvious impact on their intensity and rhythm. [12]

The beginning of the second verse of each couplet describes the emotional stage of the group of mourners. Verse XVIII 51 starts with a description of a corporeal gesture, (στήθεα πεπλήγοντο), the Nereids’ beating of their own breasts. The same phrase is also attested in XVIII 31, referring this time to the female slaves (δμῳαί) of Achilles who beat their breasts while lamenting Patroclus. The expression “to beat one’s breast” is only confined to females in the Iliad. Women beat their breasts as an external sign of excessive, uncontrollable lamentation, whereas men express their grief with a series of immediate and violent gestures: they hit their face, raise their hands (Priam in XXII 33–34), roll in the dung (Priam in XXII 414), pull their hair (Agamemnon in X 15 and Priam in XXII 77–78), and put their hands on the breast of the deceased (Achilles in XVIII 317 = XXIII 18). [13] The phrases στήθεα πεπλήγοντο (XVIII 31 = XVIII 51), employed for the maidens and the Nereids, and χεῖρας ἐπ᾿ ἀνδροφόνους θέμενος στήθεσσιν ἑταίρου (Iliad XVIII 317 = XXIII 18), used in Achilles’ lament for Patroclus, extend both to the act being accomplished (beating versus putting) and to the receiver of this act (mourner versus deceased). The difference is important, more so since it refers to two distinct levels of lamentation. Whereas female mourners employ a self-destructive beating of their breast, Achilles places his own hands on the breast of his deceased friend. In this way, he covertly expresses both sharing the pain and taking an oath of avenging one death (that of his friend Patroclus) with another (that of Hector). This opposition between a female centripetal and a male centrifugal act seems to be the equivalent, on the level of corporeal gestures, to another antithesis on the level of sonority between the expressions ὀξὺ κωκύειν and βαρὺ στενάχειν, since in Homer the former is reserved only for women whereas the latter only for men. [14] Monsacré [15] has convincingly argued that women display a much more limited range of gestures compared to those of men. This may come as a surprise, but it is perfectly understandable if we keep in mind that, according to Monsacré, female grief:

s’exprime toujours à l’intérieur d’ un rituel au sens strict: la lamentation qui se passe dans des circonstances déterminées, suivant un code précis, qui ne semble leur laisser aucune marge de manoeuvre … Face à l’ expression féminine de la souffrance, figée dans un code hyper-ritualisé, la douleur des hommes s’ inscrit dans un registre plus large. À la douleur féminine, cantonnée à l’intérieur du seul rite, s’ oppose la souffrance des hommes, libres d’utiliser pour s’ exprimer tout le language gestuel de la société épique.

The idea of disfigurement expressed by the phrase στήθεα πεπλήγοντο is, therefore, inscribed on a larger register, comprising both female and male lament terminology. In Iliad XIX 282–286, the lament gestures performed by Briseis in front of the dead body of Patroclus are described in detail:

And now, in the likeness of golden Aphrodite, Briseis / when she saw Patroklos lying torn with sharp bronze, folding / him in her arms cried shrilly (λίγ᾿ ἐκώκυε) above him and with her hands tore (χερσὶ δ᾿ ἄμυσσεν) / at her breasts (στήθεα) and her soft throat (ἁπαλὴν δειρήν) and her beautiful forehead (καλὰ πρόσωπα). / The woman like the immortals mourning for him (κλαίουσα) spoke to him.

With respect to this moving and powerful introduction to Briseis’ ensuing γόος for Patroclus, Pucci [
16] has argued that “Briseis utters her lament as she performs the rituals of mourning that comprehend the κωκύειν and the scratching of the breast, throat and face. She repeats ritualistic gestures that have their own ceremonial reason, intensity and rhythm.” [17] The corporeal gestures of disfigurement positioned next to lament expressions such as λίγ᾿ ἐκώκυε and κλαίουσα are further intensified, by virtue of being performed by slaves and not free women. [18] In this light, disfigurement implies self-effacement and symbolically mimics death through self-wounding. The female mourners’ release of intense emotional force remains restricted within a hyper-ritualized code of expression. Women mourners tend to erase themselves as living human beings and figuratively assimilate into the condition of the dead. Their gestures are self-referential. [19] Given the rhythmic register on which the phrase στήθεα πεπλήγοντο is inscribed, one can detect a clear emphasis on the emotional preparation for a moving lament, in fact the most affecting in the Iliad.

The use of the verb δακρύω in XVIII 66 (δακρυόεσσαι) designates the appearance of tears in the eyes without any particular emphasis on their flowing, as is the case with the substantive δάκρυ that is accompanied by various verbal forms and is more frequently used in the Iliad. [20] Given that the lament is framed by an ‘introductory’ expression of disfigurement (στήθεα πεπλήγοντο) and a ‘capping’ unmarked verb for grief, it becomes clear that the diegesis aims at creating an interplay between a corporeal gesture, symbolizing excessive grief, and a more restrained verbalization of mourning. The latter expression simply connotes an internalization of pain and suffering [21] that is consonant with the effect of the completion of the personal lament. The chorus of mourning Nereids, to whom both the expressions preceding (στήθεα πεπλήγοντο) and those capping (δακρυόεσσαι) the lament refer, have become less expressive, since the only role that will be assigned to them in the following verses is to return to the sea-depths and inform Thetis’ father, the old man of the sea, of what had happened. [22] Therefore, the participle δακρυόεσσαι marks the completion of a concentric ring framing the personal lament and summarizing its emotional effect on the mourners (who are also, together with Achilles, the internal audience in this scene). The sonority of a violent corporeal gesture (στήθεα πεπλήγοντο) has been transformed after the utterance of the γόος to a silent (δακρυόεσσαι) internalization, a refined rationalization of mourning.

The pattern employed in the framing of Thetis’ personal lament is built on components that indicate an internal emotional shift, a movement from excessive lamentation to restrained grief. Since this pattern is not observed in any other Iliadic lament, it seems reasonable that its intratextual differentiation from Iliadic practice may be relevant to the scene’s heavy intertextual orientation. According to the Neoanalytical credo, Thetis’ Iliadic lament for Achilles is based on her lament in the *Memnonis, the pre-Homeric epic narrating the story of Memnon, whose plot corresponds to the second part of the post-Homeric Aethiopis by Arctinus of Miletos. Although we are in no position to know the form of Thetis’ lament for Achilles in the Aethiopic tradition, we can still speculate about the context of this γόος by combining (a) the information in Proclus’ summary concerning the mourning for Achilles in the Aethiopis and (b) the Odyssean intertextual references to the lament for Achilles (Odyssey xxiv 58–62):

καὶ Θέτις ἀφικομένη σὺν Μούσαις καὶ ταῖς ἀδελφαῖς θρηνεῖ τὸν παῖδα· καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα. ἐκ τῆς πυρᾶς ἡ Θέτις ἀναρπάσασα τὸν παῖδα εἰς τὴν Λευκὴν νῆσον διακομίζει.

And Thetis, arriving with the Muses and her sisters, bewails her son. And after this, snatching him from the pyre, Thetis conveys her son to the island of Leuke.

198–200 Severyns = 65–66 Kullmann

ἀμφὶ δέ σ᾿ ἔστησαν κοῦραι ἁλίοιο γέροντος
οἴκτρ᾿ ὀλοφυρόμεναι, περὶ δ᾿ ἄμβροτα εἵματα ἕσσαν.
Μοῦσαι δ᾿ ἐννέα πᾶσαι ἀμειβόμεναι ὀπὶ καλῇ
θρήνεον. ἔνθα κεν οὔ τιν᾿ ἀδάκρυτόν γ᾿ ἐνόησας
Ἀργείων· τοῖον γὰρ ὑπώρορε Μοῦσα λίγεια.

The daughters of the Old Sea-god stood round you with bitter lamentations, and wrapped your body in an imperishable shroud. The Nine Muses chanted your dirge in sweet antiphony and you would not have seen a single Argive without tears in his eyes, such was the clear-voiced Muses’ song.

Odyssey xxiv 58–62

In light of the two aforementioned passages, it is clear that Thetis arrived (ἀφικομένη) at the Achaean camp accompanied by both the Muses and her sisters (Nereids). According to Proclus’ summary, Achilles was lamented by both groups of mourners. Conversely, in the Odyssean version the Nereids ‘stood round’ (ἀμφὶ δέ σ᾿ ἔστησαν) Achilles’ body ‘with bitter lamentations’ (οἴκτρ᾿ ὀλοφυρόμεναι) and ‘wrapped’ it ‘in an imperishable shroud’ (περὶ δ᾿ ἄμβροτα εἵματα ἕσσαν), whereas the Nine Muses ‘chanted the dirge in sweet antiphony’ (Μοῦσαι δ᾿ ἐννέα πᾶσαι ἀμειβόμεναι ὀπὶ καλῇ // θρήνεον).

There are at least two serious problems with this interpretation, one external and the other internal. As far as the former is concerned, scholars have failed to notice that the absence of the Muses in the Iliadic version of Achilles’ lament need not be due to the influence of an older, pre-Homeric *Memnonis-Stoff, since it results from the very constraints governing the plot of the Iliad. The absence of a dead Achilles, i.e. of his body placed on a deathbed in the Achaean camp where the lament should take place, culminates in a re-localization of the lament by Thetis and the Nereids at the bottom of the sea. [27] In other words, since it would have been absurd to have Thetis and her sisters lament Achilles while standing in front of him in the Achaean camp, then in order to tailor this unusual lament to its plot requirements, the Iliad needed to change its location and place it at the abode of Thetis and the Nereids, the bottom of the sea, where the problem of the absence of a dead body disappears. This necessary restriction leads directly to the elimination of the Muses from Achilles’ Iliadic lament. The reason is very simple: the Muses cannot be placed at the bottom of the sea. The localization of the lament for Achilles at the bottom of the sea is clearly an Iliadic invention, since in the pre-Homeric *Memnonis (for those taking a Neoanalytical stance) the placement of the dead body of Achilles in the Achaean camp would have necessitated the performance of the lament by Thetis and the Nereids (and the Muses, according to my argumentation) on shore.

The second argument is, as I have mentioned above, internal. The presence of the Muses clearly symbolizes the honor and κλέος bestowed upon Achilles, especially within the context of the Odyssey’s final Book, where it is placed. Heubeck makes the attractive suggestion that the two groups of mourners (Muses and Nereids) in Odyssey xxiv correspond to the two groups of mourners (the professional ἀοιδοί and the chorus of Trojan women) in the first part of the lament for Hector in Iliad XXIV. What has escaped his notice is that in both of these cases we have a description of a formal θρῆνος, a lament sung by professionals and ‘answered’ by the bitter lamentations or inarticulate cries of a chorus of women. Whereas in Iliad XXIV this first part of the lament for Hector is followed by a second ‘personal’ phase in which three relatives (Andromache, Hecuba, and Helen) sing their personal laments or γόοι accompanied by a chorus of Trojan women (playing exactly the same role as in the formal θρῆνος), in the Odyssey there is no mention whatsoever of a personal lament by Thetis. [28] In fact, the Odyssey restricts itself to the presentation of only the formal θρῆνος, not the γόος for Achilles. Moreover, according to the Odyssean version, within the framework of the θρῆνος the Muses play the primary role, acting as professional singers, whereas the Nereids are downgraded to a secondary chorus. How is it possible that the Nereids, who were primary according to the Neoanalytical interpretation, have become secondary and vice versa for the Muses?

In this light, I maintain that either the pre-Homeric *Memnonis or the Aethiopic tradition (for those who take an ‘oral’ stance and promote the importance of tradition instead of crystallized texts) would also be willing to confer special κλέος on Achilles. The lament for him needed to be special, and it is the presence of the Muses together with the Nereids that allows his θρῆνος to acquire cosmic significance. I suggest that, in the Aethiopic tradition, Achilles may have been lamented both through a formal θρῆνος and a γόος by Thetis, more or less in the manner of Hector in Iliad XXIV. The Muses, as professional singers, would have first sung the θρῆνος in the company of the Nereids, who would have been a chorus equivalent to that of the Trojan women at Hector’s funeral. Then, a second phase would have followed in which Thetis would have uttered her personal lament for her son, accompanied by her sisters, the Nereids, who would again (as is the case with the Trojan women in Iliad XXIV) have answered to her γόος with their bitter lamentations. In fact, it is Hector’s funeral in Iliad XXIV that has been shaped under the influence of Achilles’ funeral in the Aethiopic tradition. The absence of Thetis’ lament from Odyssey xxiv is explained as the result of this epic’s attempt to highlight only the public, not the personal, aspect of Achilles’ lament. Since Agamemnon’s soul underscores Achilles’ importance for the army, the personalized tone and intimacy of Thetis’ γόος would have been quite inappropriate within this context. On the contrary, the Odyssey does not need to eliminate Thetis’ preeminent role in the organization of funeral games for Achilles, since the games promote the public aspect of her son’s life, i.e. his importance for the army. [29] In my view, it is perfectly plausible that the Aethiopic tradition would indeed have been an ‘ideale Achilleis’, [30] where both a formal θρῆνος by the Muses and the Nereids and a ritual γόος by Thetis would have been sung. With this in mind, the framing of Thetis’ lament in Iliad XVIII is particular to its plot and bears the lasting imprint of the Iliadic tradition.

Opening and Closure

After examining the oral-poetic frame that encompasses this personal lament, it is necessary to explore the diction of both the first two verses (52–53) by which Thetis addresses the Nereids and of the last two verses (63–64) capping the γόος proper:

κλῦτε, κασίγνηται Νηρηΐδες, ὄφρ᾿ εὖ πᾶσαι
εἴδετ᾿ ἀκούουσαι, ὅσ᾿ ἐμῷ ἔνι κήδεα θυμῷ.

Hear me, Nereids, my sisters; so you may all know
well all the sorrows that are in my heart, when you hear of them from me.

Iliad XVIII 52–53

ἀλλ᾿ εἶμ᾿, ὄφρα ἴδωμι φίλον τέκος ἠδ᾿ ἐπακούσω
ὅττί μιν ἵκετο πένθος ἀπὸ πτολέμοιο μένοντα.

Yet I shall go, to look on my dear son, and to listen
to the sorrow that has come to him as he stays back from the fighting.

Iliad XVIII 63–64

An internal ring is created by two distichs, an introductory couplet containing an address and exhortation to the Nereids to listen to her sorrows (κήδεα), and a closing couplet in which Thetis states her decision to go and listen to her son’s mourning (πένθος). This ring consists of the following features:

2. The emphatic repetition of εἴδετ᾿ ἀκούουσαι + indirect clause (ὅσ᾿ ἐμῷ ἔνι κήδεα θυμῷ) and ὄφρα ἴδωμι φίλον τέκος ἠδ᾿ ἐπακούσω + indirect clause (ὅττί μιν ἵκετο πένθος ἀπὸ πτολέμοιο μένοντα), putting the emphasis on the perception of the sufferings of the mother and the mourning of the son. In the first case the Nereids are invited to learn the sufferings of Thetis, whereas in the second Thetis herself will hear the mourning of her son. By equating the semantic rings of the opening and closing, the Iliadic tradition denotes that, in the process of the personal lament, Thetis takes the place that the Nereids occupied at the beginning, and Achilles the place that Thetis had when she began her speech. Synaesthetic knowledge—acquired by seeing (εἴδετ᾿ / ἴδωμι) and hearing (κλῦτε, ἀκούουσαι / ἐπακούσω)—is deftly employed to mark the transition from the chorus of mourners (Nereids) to the individual lament singer (Thetis). In this way, mother and son are tightly linked in the world of lamentation and pain.

3. Both couplets constitute two separate blocks, independent from the rest of the speech. It would be tempting to hypothesize that they owe a considerable debt to a pre-Homeric *Memnonis and that the preverbal Gestalt [32] on which they are based reflects an attempt by the Iliadic tradition to dictionally accomodate Thetis’ personal lament, which did not really fit its narrative blueprint. Although such a hypothesis contains a fair amount of speculation, it is very likely that in the Aethiopic tradition Thetis would have come out of the sea together with the Nereids to lament Achilles. The first couplet, or at least the idea it expresses, may have complied with the plot line of the Aethiopic tradition, but the capping couplet is clearly an Iliadic invention. Moreover, both couplets commend themselves for the special care that the Iliadic tradition has bestowed upon them with respect to dictional selection. The use of φίλον τέκος in the accusative as object of ἴδωμι (Iliad XVIII 63), an Iliadic and Odyssean hapax legomenon, [33] the repetition of the same syntactical pattern (equivalent verbs + indirect clause), and the hortatory tone of the two blocks of verses speak for the meticulous verbalization of dictional material that is more rhetorical than funerary. This is the only occasion [34] where a personal lament begins and ends with two integral and almost autonomous couplets, clearly distinct from the rest of the speech. By displaying a linear rhythm “missing the layers of familiar echoes but exhibiting their forceful unrecognized meaning,” [35] these distichs covertly indicate the process of adjusting extratextual material to the Iliad’s narrative plan.

Recasting a Formulaic Pattern

The personal lament proper begins with a really remarkable verse (Iliad XVIII 54):

ᾤ μοι ἐγὼ δειλή, ᾤ μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια

Ah me, my sorrow, the bitterness in this best of child-bearing

Verse XVIII 54 constitutes an introductory self-referential address, not referring to Achilles (the notional addressee of the speech) but to Thetis herself. It does not conform (despite the presence of ἐγώ, [36] μοι and δειλή, which recur in personal lament introductory addresses) to the pattern of the expanded address, [37] but deviates from it through the repetition of ᾤ μοι, ᾤ μοι (the only attestation of a double ᾤ μοι in both the Iliad and the Odyssey). [38] This is the only case in the entire Iliad where the exclamatory ᾤ is repeated in the same verse and the sole occasion the exclamatory ᾤ is attested in the Iliadic γόοι. [39] The verse is furthermore marked by the creation of the surprising epithet, δυσαριστοτόκεια, a truly enthralling coinage [40] and a hapax legomenon throughout all of Greek literature. [41] Ferrari has argued that in such an apostrophe as τέκνον, ἐγὼ δειλή (which begins Hecuba’s personal lament in Iliad XXII 431), we can recognize a precise threnodic form (recurring in the “expanded” address that often begins a personal lament), “… una giustapposizione immediata, una elementare frizione emotiva fra apostrofe nominale … e pronome (o aggettivo) personale, fra ‘tu’ e ‘io’. [42] If we apply this observation to ᾤ μοι ἐγὼ δειλή, ᾤ μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια, we can see that this threnodic template is not at work, since the juxtaposition described above does not exist here. ᾤ μοι and ἐγὼ δειλή are not opposed to any “apostrofe nominale”. Thetis does not address Achilles (therefore using the common proper-name vocative for speech introductions), but refers to herself (μοι, ἐγώ, δειλή). The “apostrofe nominale” is here replaced by δυσαριστοτόκεια set at the end of the verse. The anadiplosis of ᾤ μοι … ᾤ μοι creates, through the repetition that it enhances, an intensification of the lament, verbalizing an emotionally strong throbbing by which Thetis addresses her own exceptional sufferings to bring herself to the foreground. The penthemimeral caesura coming after δειλή distributes the two ᾤ μοι to both the first and the second part of the verse, underlining the existence of a correspondence between the two parts: ᾤ μοι + ἐγώ + adjective (δειλή) / ᾤ μοι + adjective (δυσαριστοτόκεια). This emphatic correspondence is accompanied by a stronger beat in the second, more expanded part. This is the only time that ᾤ μοι ἐγώ(ν) begins the verse without being introduced by the formula ὀχθήσας δ᾿ ἄρα εἶπε πρὸς ὃν μεγαλήτορα θυμόν. [43] Whereas in all other attestations of this word-group a secondary clause follows, here the internal verse break comes only after δειλή, without allowing ᾤ μοι ἐγώ to constitute a sentence. Thus, the two vocative clauses in asyndeton placed at the beginning of Thetis’ speech and occupying an entire verse (XVIII 54) connote moments of high emotion. [44]

The first verse of the lament proper stands out as exceptional because of its deviation from the pattern of the expanded address that often begins a personal lament, and more significantly through the anadiplosis of ᾤ μοι and the use of δυσαριστοτόκεια. The Iliadic tradition captures the attention of any attentive listener by having Thetis accumulate, in the beginning of her lament, poetic innovations that produce an unfamiliar effect. Her emotional condition, that of deep pain, becomes the focus of attention as her lament is verbalized by way of the unknown and the unexpected.

By referring to the excellence of her son and to his prevalence among other warriors, Thetis virtually employs a variant form of the comparison, a typical feature of the Iliadic personal laments. [49] In this case, the comparison is one of ability on the battlefield, not of previous and present sufferings or losses of dear ones. This disguised comparison is verbalized by the gradatio (αὔξησις) ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε, // ἔξοχον ἡρώων. The first two epithets simply characterize Achilles, whereas the third illustrates his excellence among heroes as the best warrior, a quality with which the Iliad has amply endowed him. In the word group ἔξοχον ἡρώων there is a latent superlative element picking up the second part of the compound δυσαριστοτόκεια, which also contains the superlative (αριστο-). The differentiation of Thetis’ address is carried out not by avoiding the typical elements pertaining to the expanded address (such as the superlative), but by their different handling and placement, resulting in an important shift of emphasis. The first two epithets (ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε) are paratactically linked without any particular impact on the picture the mother draws of her son. Contrariwise, the phrase ἔξοχον ἡρώων following in asyndeton shifts the stress. Achilles is not an ordinary warrior, but the best of the Achaeans, the one around whose wrath the whole Iliad has been composed. The effect produced is highly significant; for Thetis has prepared the ground for drawing an emotionally powerful picture, that of Achilles’ life.

Verses 56 and 57 depict a vegetal imagery. Achilles is presented as ἔρνεϊ ἶσος ‘like a young tree’ and his nurturing (θρέψασα, a word referring to both plants and men) is likened to that of a shoot growing “in the pride of the orchard.” Nagy has observed that Achilles in the Iliad and Demophon in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (2) gain their immortality through “the permanence of the cultural institutions into which they are incorporated—cult for Demophon, epic for Achilles of our Iliad” and that, like the epithet ἄφθιτος // -ον, the effect amounts to “the cultural negation of a natural process, the growing and the wilting of plants, and also, by extension, the life and the death of mortals.” [50] Moreover, in Homeric epic vegetal imagery is closely linked to lamentation. The phrase φυτὸν ὣς is only applied to Achilles in the Iliad [51] and the Odyssey, and the word ἔρνος is also used in a simile employed in the necrological vignette for the death of Euphorbus by Menelaus in Iliad XVII 53–60. Vegetal imagery, in a wider sense (containing also comparisons to trees), is typical of the Iliadic short obituaries. [52] In IV 482–487 Simoeisius is compared to a smooth poplar (αἴγειρος λείη), and in V 560 the two sons of Diocles are likened to high pine trees (ἐλάτῃσιν ἐοικότες ὑψηλῇσιν). The epithets θαλερός, deserved for Simoeisius in IV 474, and ἐριθηλές, used for the seedling to which Euphorbus is compared in XVII 53, also point to the same sort of imagery, since the verb θάλλω ‘to thrive’ describes literally the natural condition of bloom and figuratively human vigor. [53] In the context of lamentation vegetal imagery is employed for heroes who are likened to plants or trees. The reason for the consistency in the use of this kind of imagery is the Iliad’s preoccupation with the theme of premature death. Nature and, in particular, vegetation offer a good opportunity for stressing a motif of great importance for Iliadic epic. The fate of the epic’s greatest hero, Achilles, who is destined to die young (ὠκυμορώτατος), becomes the thematic pattern in relation to which the deaths of other heroes will be measured. By creating its own evaluation system, the Iliadic tradition opens up for its listeners its own horizon of expectations. [54] The contextualization of Thetis’ personal lament indicates that the nourishment of Achilles in the choicest spot of the orchard, i.e. in a privileged place deserved only for the chosen ones, is a covert reference to his aberrance from heroic norm, to the dramatic liminality that keeps him apart from the rest of his comrades. Thus, the vegetal imagery gives to the personal lament a wider scope, acquiring its full force only through a proleptic allusion to an extra-Iliadic event, Achilles’ death. [55] Now let us turn to verses XVIII 57–60:

τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ θρέψασα φυτὸν ὣς γουνῷ ἀλωῆς
νηυσὶν ἔπι προέηκα κορωνίσιν Ἴλιον εἴσω
Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον· τὸν δ᾿ οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις
οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω.

and I nurtured him, like a tree grown in the pride of the orchard.
I sent him away with the curved ships into the land of Ilion
to fight with the Trojans; but I shall never again receive him
won home again to his country and into the house of Peleus.

Verses XVIII 57–60 contain a long period with two independent clauses in parataxis. Participles (θρέψασα, μαχησόμενοι, νοστήσαντα) play a dominant role. As Thetis explains the reason for her sufferings (κήδεα), the rhythm of her words slows down. She now draws carefully, with attentive small moves (flowing one after the other without any subordination that would divide them into primary and secondary), the circle of Achilles’ life. τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ θρέψασα φυτὸν ὣς γουνῷ ἀλωῆς and τὸν δ᾿ οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις // οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω form its temporal “diameter”, since they refer to the beginning and end of her son’s life. On the other hand, Ἴλιον εἴσω // Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον determines its sharpened center, since it presents Thetis as responsible for the participation of Achilles in the war. The harmony of this description is the result of the juxtaposition of τὸν μὲν … Ἴλιον εἴσω // Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον with τὸν δ᾿ … // οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω, expressing the alternation between past (first clause) and future (second). This juxtaposition strikes a balance between what has happened in the past and what foreshadows the future. It also equates dictionally what is semantically opposed, i.e. the happiness of the past with the grimness of the future. The emotional outcome of such an effect is impressive, entailing a “rhythmic coterminacy” [
56] that starts at verse 57 and reaches its culmination at verse 60.

Being deprived of any single lament term, these verses mark a slowing down of the rhythm, since the high pitch and emotional intensity of the expanded address appears to evaporate or at least to be diffused. What follows functions like a commentary, an explanation and development of Thetis’ introductory outburst of pain.

Verses XVIII 57–60 are full of familiar expressions: γουνῷ ἀλωῆς (3 times in the Iliad); νηυσὶν … κορωνίσιν (13 times in the Iliad, once with the variant νήεσσι); Ἴλιον εἴσω (6 times in the Iliad); Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον (2 times in the Iliad); οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα (2 times Iliad); and δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω (2 times in the Iliad). These formulas create a dictional intimacy, as if Thetis were, through the use of familiar stereotypical vocabulary, to bring to the expressive surface of her speech the most basic external prolepsis of this epic, Achilles’ future death at Troy. Achilles’ short lifespan (being ὠκύμορος [57] and even ὠκυμορώτατος [58] ) and his destined death at Troy are also allusively suggested by the rhyming of Ἴλιον εἴσω (58) with δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω (60). The acoustical representation of a semantic correspondence between Troy and Phthia reminds the audience of the opposition of the two poles between which Achilles’ life has been spent. Through the aural link that the rhyming creates, an assimilation of the two places produces a dramatic summary of Achilles’ life. Troy and Phthia are not simply two place names, but stand for different states of Achilles’ being. In fact, they constitute an epic hero’s poetic topography, stretching from heroic death and κλέος at Troy to unheroic νόστος to Phthia. [59] In his personal lament for Patroclus in Iliad XIX 315–337 (uttered antiphonally to Briseis’ preceding lament) Achilles refers twice to both Troy and Phthia:

ὅς που νῦν Φθίηφι τέρεν κατὰ δάκρυον εἴβει
χήτει τοιοῦδ᾿ υἷος· ὃ δ᾿ ἀλλοδαπῷ ἐνὶ δήμῳ
εἵνεκα ῥιγεδανῆς Ἑλένης Τρωσὶν πολεμίζω.

who now, I think, in Phthia somewhere lets fall a soft tear
for bereavement of such a son, for me, who now in a strange land
make war upon the Trojans for the sake of accursed Helen;

Iliad XIX 323–325

πρὶν μὲν γάρ μοι θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσιν ἐώλπει
οἶον ἐμὲ φθείσεσθαι ἀπ᾿ Ἄργεος ἱπποβότοιο
αὐτοῦ ἐνὶ Τροίῃ, σὲ δέ τε Φθίηνδε νέεσθαι

Before now the spirit inside my breast was hopeful
that I alone should die far away from horse-pasturing Argos
here in Troy; I hoped you would win back again to Phthia

Iliad XIX 328–330

Achilles’ highlighting of Phthia (Iliad XIX 323, 330) and Troy (Iliad XIX 330) makes evident that these two places are metonymically equivalent to his past, present, and future. Scyros, which is also mentioned in the above lament as the place where Neoptolemus grew up, [
60] was the dwelling of Achilles according to a tradition that presented either his father Peleus [61] or his mother Thetis as unwilling to send him to Troy. [62] In the former, Lycomedes made Achilles dress like a girl and hide among the other women of his palace. In the end, he was discovered by Odysseus, who presented the women with baskets and weaving tools, but put weapons among them. While all the women were looking at the baskets and weaving tools, Achilles betrayed his identity by laying his hands on the weapons. He subsequently had to sail to Troy, leaving behind the daughter of Lycomedes, Deidameia, who was pregnant with his son, Neoptolemus. The Iliad seems to be unaware [63] of either variant version of the Scyros-episode, according to which Achilles hid on this island before the first gathering of the Achaean fleet at Aulis. [64] Conversely, the Iliadic tradition knows and alludes to an alternative version of the Scyros-episode featured in Proclus’ summary of the Cypria. According to this version (130–131 Severyns = 27 Kullmann), “Achilles sets in at Scyros and marries the daughter of Lykomedes, Deidameia” (Ἀχιλλεὺς δὲ Σκύρῳ προσσχὼν γαμεῖ τὴν Λυκομήδους θυγατέρα Δηϊδάμειαν). These two traditions (Achilles hiding at Scyros versus Achilles arriving at Scyros after the Teuthranian expedition) are incompatible. Bernabé wrongly attributes to the Cypria (frs. 19 and 21 in PEG 1) the episode mentioned by the scholia on Iliad XIX 326. Davies, more cautiously, lists both of these fragments under ‘fragmenta incerti loci intra cyclum epicum’ (frs. 4 and 5 in EGF). The Ilias parva may have been a better guess (see Iliad XIX 326 and Ilias parva 4A [= fr. 24 incerti operis in PEG 1], but also the problems arising from 4B in EGF). In my view, the cyclic fragments reflect two rival traditions. In the first, Achilles, sent secretly to Scyros by either Thetis or Peleus to avoid going to Troy, has an affair with Deidameia, who will later on give birth to Neoptolemus. In the second tradition, Achilles arrives at Scyros because of a storm, sacks the island, and marries Deidameia, who gives birth to Neoptolemus.

Thetis’ analeptic statement in Iliad XVIII 58–59 (νηυσὶν ἔπι προέηκα κορωνίσιν Ἴλιον εἴσω // Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον) and various other passages (IX 252–256; IX 438–440; XI 765–789) [66] show that the Iliadic tradition not only erased the unheroic character of Achilles’ hiding in Scyros, it even exploited the intertextual background through a complete reversal. While Thetis and Peleus (standing for alternative variants of a multiform tradition) tried to secretly keep Achilles in Scyros, the Iliadic tradition starkly presents both Achilles’ parents as being willing to send him to Troy. This pleonastic intensification of the willingness of Thetis and Peleus to send Achilles to Troy is the Iliad’s polemical cry against a rival tradition. By adopting such a mythical viewpoint, the Iliad is able to deepen the pathos in Thetis’ lament on the one hand, and make full use of the theme of Peleus on the other. Achilles’ suffering for his aged father left back in Phthia, a motif of cardinal importance for the Iliadic plot as shown by the Priam episode in Iliad XXIV, is significantly strengthened if Peleus had urged Achilles before his departure to Troy ‘to be always best in battle and pre-eminent beyond all others’ (Iliad XI 784: αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων). In this way, the Iliadic tradition was able to exploit the opposition between Phthia and Troy as emblems of heroic topography, the former standing for Achilles’ would-be unheroic νόστος, the latter for his foreshadowed heroic death and winning of κλέος.

The arrows indicate that the only person who will indeed change location is Neoptolemus. In Iliad XIX 326-337, Achilles laments the dead Patroclus, who will not take Neoptolemus from Scyros and return to Phthia. He also refers to his father Peleus, whom he imagines as growing old in Phthia. Conversely, Neoptolemus will finally leave from Scyros but not return to Phthia. Instead, he will be brought by Odysseus to Troy, fight against the Trojans, and will only return to Phthia after the sack of Ilium. By combining Neoptolemus with Patroclus and Peleus, the Iliadic tradition is able to duplicate the Scyros element of the myth and integrate it into the poem’s viewpoint. Scyros is no longer reminiscent of the hero’s past, a place Achilles sacked after the Teuthranian expedition (according to the Kyprien-Stoff or Cypria-tradition), but a window to another hero’s future. The Iliad is thus able to join past and future by exploiting intertextual associations ‘bridged’ through the theme of Patroclus’ death and translated into an intratextual sequence of place names. Since the reference to Neoptolemus points both to the past and to the future, the two intertextual allusions acquire linearity in the course of Achilles’ lament. In fact, Achilles’ speech reaches a subliminal irony, since the audience knows that in the tragic universe of Iliadic heroism separated fathers and sons will never meet again. Achilles will neither return to Phthia (as a son) to meet Peleus nor to Scyros (as a father) to see Neoptolemus. Instead, Neoptolemus will come to Troy only after the death of Achilles and will finally return to Phthia after the death of Peleus. [

Under this scope, the polarity between Phthia and Troy highlighted by Thetis’ personal lament is set against its intertextual background. Reversal on the one hand, and duplication and re-orientation of some of its ramifications on the other culminate in the re-contextualization and the subsequent effectiveness of this γόος due to its special dramatic impact.

In light of this digression, revealing the role and significance of the place-names for Achilles’ fate, the rhyming at verse-end of the phrases Ἴλιον εἴσω and Πηλήϊον εἴσω declares their generic force, at the same time paralleling and contrasting them within the cycle of Achilles’ life. The addition of internal enjambment effectuated by the hemiepes (Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον: – ⏑⏑ – ⏑⏑ –) in verse 59 (Higbie’s 1b type) curtails the continuity of the μέν-δέ clauses and makes possible the rhyming between Ἴλιον εἴσω (58) and δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω (60). As a result, a slower pace is produced with internal links added in parataxis that depict Achilles’ life through the perspective of death. Then, Thetis (XVIII 61–62) returns to the present:

ὄφρα δέ μοι ζώει καὶ ὁρᾷ φάος ἠελίοιο,
ἄχνυται, οὐδέ τί οἱ δύναμαι χραισμῆσαι ἰοῦσα.

Yet while I see him live and he looks on the sunlight, he has
sorrows, and though I go to him I can do nothing to help him.

The formula ὄφρα δέ μοι ζώει καὶ ὁρᾷ φάος ἠελίοιο is attested once more in the Iliad (XVIII 442), when Thetis visits Hephaestus for the making of Achilles’ new shield. [
69] The first verse of this couplet is a typical metaphor, often employed in a funerary or lament context. The phrase φάος ἠελίοιο might even be a smaller formula, more so since it is shaped as a pherecratean [70] and is always placed at verse-end.

Ἄχνυται standing in verse initial position after clausal internal enjambment (Higbie’s type 2b) starkly inaugurates the use of lament terminology after the interlude of verses 57–60. Thus, eleven verses after the beginning of the γόος and only two before its end, we hear for the first time a term referring to the person whom Thetis is actually lamenting. This postponement, delaying the focus on Achilles, has kept the emotive tension of the personal lament suspended for its greatest part. Now, Thetis turns to her son and recapitulates the high key of her initial distress. The pitch is again raised as it was in verse 54, where the anadiplosis of ᾤ μοι and the epithet δυσαριστοτόκεια had expressed a true outburst of pain. Ἄχνυται conveys the hidden thematic seed planted by Thetis in the personal lament from its beginning. Thetis’ singling out of Achilles is achieved through an emphatic, lugubrious cadence and the emotionally powerful, mournful tune of a mother’s weeping.

Οὐδέ τί οἱ δύναμαι χραισμῆσαι ἰοῦσα contains the ‘verb + infinitive formula’ δύναμαι + χραισμῆσαι, which is attested, with some variation, 8 times in the Iliad. As Higbie has observed, [71] Iliad XI 120 and XVIII 62 = XVIII 443 are the only cases in which the aorist infinitive is used instead of the present, due to the flexibility of the formulaic system. Of interest for our analysis, only XI 120 and XVIII 62 = XVIII 443 do not have necessary enjambment. In all the other cases the infinitive is placed at the beginning of the next verse, producing necessary enjambment. Let us first review all of these cases before making some observations concerning XVIII 62:

ὣς ἄρα τοῖς οὔ τις δύνατο χραισμῆσαι ὄλεθρον 1a

so there was no one of the Trojans who could save these two

Iliad XI 120

ἄχνυται, οὐδέ τί οἱ δύναμαι χραισμῆσαι ἰοῦσα.

sorrows, and though I go to him I can do nothing to help him

Iliad XVIII 62 = XVIII 443

σύμπαντας· τότε δ᾿ οὔ τι δυνήσεαι ἀχνύμενός περ 3
χραισμεῖν, εὖτ᾿ ἂν πολλοὶ ὑφ᾿ Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο

all of them. Then stricken at heart though you be, you will be able
to do nothing, when in their numbers before man-slaughtering Hektor

Iliad I 241–242

θεινομένην· τότε δ᾿ οὔ τι δυνήσομαι, ἀχνύμενός περ, 3
χραισμεῖν· ἀργαλέος γὰρ Ὀλύμπιος ἀντιφέρεσθαι

struck down, and then sorry though I be I shall not be able
to do anything. It is too hard to fight against the Olympian.

Iliad I 588–589

ἣ δ᾿ εἴ πέρ τε τύχησι μάλα σχεδόν, οὐ δύναταί σφιν 3
χραισμεῖν, αὐτὴν γάρ μιν ὑπὸ τρόμος αἰνὸς ἱκάνει 0

and even if the doe be very near, still she has no strength
to help, for the ghastly shivers of fear are upon her also

Iliad XI 116–117

οἳ δ᾿ οὐκ ἐδύναντο καὶ ἀχνύμενοί περ ἑταίρου 3
χραισμεῖν, αὐτοὶ γὰρ μάλα δείδισαν Ἕκτορα δῖον. 0

who for all their sorrowing could do nothing
to help their companion, being themselves afraid of great Hektor.

Iliad XV 651–652

καὶ γὰρ σοὶ ποταμός γε πάρα μέγας, εἰ δύναταί τι 3
χραισμεῖν· ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἔστι Διὶ Κρονίωνι μάχεσθαι 1b

For here is a great river beside you, if he were able
to help; but it is not possible to fight Zeus, son of Kronos.

Iliad XXI 192–193

Of all the cases where δύναμαι + χραισμεῖν is used, there are three in which the expression ἀχνύμενός περ or its extended form ἀχνύμενοί περ ἑταίρου splits the formula by relocating it after δύναμαι and before the run-over word χραισμεῖν at verse-initial position. Higbie has argued that this formulaic expression “does not avoid enjambment by inverting its order, but does so by changing the form and shape of the infinitive, as in XI 120 and XVIII 62. In XI 116–17 and XXI 192–3, there is the regularizing tendency of the bucolic diaeresis as a convenient point to begin a phrase.” [

Thetis’ Iliadic helplessness must be set against her intertextually asserted power. By violating its audience’s expectations, the Iliad makes a profound statement concerning its stance not only towards a rival tradition, but also towards the heroic world as a whole. To this extent, the comparison between the Iliad and the Aethiopis is didactic. According to Proclus’ Chrestomathy (185–190 Severyns = 57–61 Kullmann), ‘Memnon the son of Eos arrives, with Hephaestan-made armor, to defend the Trojans. And Thetis foretells to her son events concerning Memnon. And when battle occurs Antilochus is slain by Memnon. Then Achilles slays Memnon, and Eos gives him immortality, having asked for it from Zeus’ (Μέμνων δὲ ὁ Ἠοῦς υἱὸς ἔχων ἡφαιστότευκτον πανοπλίαν παραγίνεται τοῖς Τρωσὶ βοηθήσων· καὶ Θέτις τῷ παιδὶ τὰ κατὰ τὸν Μέμνονα προλέγει. καὶ συμβολῆς γενομένης Ἀντίλοχος ὑπὸ Μέμνονος ἀναιρεῖται, ἔπειτα Ἀχιλλεὺς Μέμνονα κτείνει· καὶ τούτῳ μὲν Ἠὼς παρὰ Διὸς αἰτησαμένη ἀθανασίαν δίδωσι). The Iliad’s divergence and distancing from the Aethiopis is to be commended. Whereas in the latter epic Eos bestows immortality upon her son, Memnon, in the former Thetis is unable to avert her son’s death. Achilles is not elevated, like Memnon in the Aethiopis, into divine stature, on the contrary, he experiences death that not even his divine mother can forestall. The difference between the power of Eos in the Aethiopis (and, according to my stance, in the Aethiopic oral tradition) and the helplessness of Thetis in the Iliadic tradition epitomizes the dramatic perplexity and qualitative superiority of the latter. [75] The Iliadic stance on the world of heroes is much more thorough and critical in comparison to that of the Aethiopic tradition. Heroic immortalization is replaced by tragic death, which, despite its having been foreshadowed, remains disastrously inescapable.

Under this scope, XVIII 62 strongly represents an Iliadic viewpoint. It bestows upon Thetis’ personal lament a tone of futility, stating the mother’s acknowledgement of her inability to help her son. At the same time, through this gesture, the Iliad reconfirms its decision to foreshadow, continuously from its very beginning, the death of Achilles. The uniqueness of XVIII 62, summarizing not only the son’s grief but also his mother’s helplessness, is intratextually manifested through its divergence from a sequence of formulaic and semantic uses that recur in the Iliad. Once more, the eccentricities of Iliadic diction reveal intertextual ruptures, such as Thetis’ helplessness and Achilles’ grief, which are singled out here for their pathos and intensification.

Comparative Observations on the Diction of Thetis’ Lament

The following comparative analysis of certain dictional features of Thetis’ lament explores both the eccentricities and peculiarities of this γόος and the reasons lying behind them. I will first study certain elements pertaining to the Thetis’ language in the Iliad and then resume the analysis of Iliad XVIII 52–64, concluding with an overall appraisal of the speech and its emotional force. I begin with a comparison between verses I 414, XVIII 54 and XXII 431, the first two of which are uttered by Thetis, the third by Hecuba in the initial verse of her personal lament for Hector in Book XXII.

A. ᾤ μοι τέκνον ἐμόν, τί νύ σ᾿ ἔτρεφον αἰνὰ τεκοῦσα;
… Ah me, my child. Your birth was bitterness. Why did I raise you?

Iliad I 414

B. ᾤ μοι ἐγὼ δειλή, ᾤ μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια
Ah me, my sorrow, the bitterness in this best of child-bearing

Iliad XVIII 54

C. τέκνον, ἐγὼ δειλή· τί νυ βείομαι αἰνὰ παθοῦσα
Child, I am wretched. What shall my life be in my sorrows

Iliad XXII 431

These three verses share the following metrical, dictional and semantic similarities:

1. The word groups (A) ᾤ μοι τέκνον ἐμόν, (B) ᾤ μοι ἐγὼ δειλή, and (C) τέκνον, ἐγὼ δειλή, occupying up to position 5 in the dactylic hexameter, are in complementary distribution. The first is to the second as the second is to the third, and as the first is to the third, as illustrated in the following scheme:

          (A)/(B): ᾤ μοι / ᾤ μοι

          (B)/(C): ἐγὼ δειλή / ἐγὼ δειλή

          (A)/(C): τέκνον ἐμόν / τέκνον

2. After the penthemimeral caesura, both (A) and (C) introduce a rhetorical question: τί νύ σ᾿ ἔτρεφον // τί νυ βείομαι.

3. (A), (B), and (C) end with three hapaxes sharing similar semantic nuances: αἰνὰ τεκοῦσα / δυσαριστοτόκεια / αἰνὰ παθοῦσα.

Given that (B) and (C) belong to personal laments and (A) and (B) are expressed by Thetis, the question needing to be answered concerns the impact they have on the verbalization of Thetis’ pain. In other words what do these verses show with respect to the manner Thetis expresses her grief?

A second comparative examination concerns verses XVIII 55–56, which describe Achilles as a special epic hero:

ἥ τ᾿ ἐπεὶ ἂρ τέκον υἱὸν ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε,
ἔξοχον ἡρώων, …

since I gave birth to a son who was without fault and powerful,
conspicuous among heroes;

Thetis develops the idea of Achilles’ excellence with respect either to his suffering or to his bravery (ἔξοχον ἡρώων). By paratactically accumulating epithets referring to her son’s excellence on the battlefield, she deliberately reserves for him a special place that no other mortal can hold. Thetis employs a form of the three-colon crescendo containing three terms in an almost ascending climax of importance. The expression ἔξοχον ἡρώων placed at the end of this climactic structure deviates from the typical three-colon crescendo, which is normally restricted to a single verse. The typical form of this stylistic device is used in catalogues and basically concerns nouns, the last of which is accompanied by an epithet:

Ἄργός τε Σπάρτη τε καὶ εὐρυάγυια Μυκήνη

Iliad IV 52

Ἴσανδρόν τε καὶ Ἱππόλοχον καὶ Λαοδάμειαν

Iliad VI 197

Δωρὶς καὶ Πανόπη καὶ ἀγακλειτὴ Γαλάτεια

Iliad XVIII 45

The three-colon crescendo can also be observed, though less frequently, in verses containing three epithets sequentially arranged:

ἀφρήτωρ ἀθέμιστος ἀνέστιός ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος

Out of all brotherhood, outlawed, homeless shall be that man

Iliad IX 63

Thetis’ γόος in Iliad XVIII is also relevant to what Zeus tells her in Iliad XXIV 104–105. I have already shown that the Iliadic tradition transforms the motif of ‘the lament for the dead Achilles’ into that of ‘the lament for a still suffering man’ by having Thetis progressively ‘move’ from her own sufferings (κήδεα) to her son’s cause for mourning (πένθος). The passages under discussion run as follows:

κλῦτε, κασίγνηται Νηρηΐδες, ὄφρ᾿ εὖ πᾶσαι
εἴδετ᾿ ἀκούουσαι, ὅσ᾿ ἐμῷ ἔνι κήδεα θυμῷ.

Hear me, Nereids, my sisters; so you may all know
well all the sorrows that are in my heart, when you hear of them from me.

Iliad XVIII 52–53

ἀλλ᾿ εἶμ᾿, ὄφρα ἴδωμι φίλον τέκος ἠδ᾿ ἐπακούσω
ὅττί μιν ἵκετο πένθος ἀπὸ πτολέμοιο μένοντα.

Yet I shall go, to look on my dear son, and to listen
to the sorrow that has come to him as he stays back from the fighting.

Iliad XVIII 63–64

ἤλυθες Οὔλυμπόνδε, θεὰ Θέτι, κηδομένη περ,
πένθος ἄλαστον ἔχουσα μετὰ φρεσίν· οἶδα καὶ αὐτός.

You have come to Olympos, divine Thetis, for all your sorrow,
with an unforgotten grief in your heart. I myself know this.

Iliad XXIV 104–105

By employing, therefore, the language pertaining to the Iliad’s conception of the heroic code, Zeus situates Thetis’ grief within the epic matrix of the world of heroes. In Iliad XVIII 52 Thetis starts her personal lament with a call to the Nereids to listen to her sufferings. The word she uses is κλῦτε, a term etymologically related to κλέος. By interweaving the semantics of the heroic term par excellence, κλέος, with the very fabric of her γόος, Thetis virtually asks the Nereids not simply to listen to her sufferings but to become the internal audience of her lament song, her commemoration of Achilles’ κλέος. The semantic congruity between κλῦτε and κλέος entails that Thetis’ γόος will epitomize the very foundations upon which the Iliadic heroic world is based, i.e. that πένθος ἄλαστον ‘unforgettable grief’ becomes κλέος ἄφθιτον through its commemoration in poetry. Given that πένθος ἄλαστον ‘unforgettable grief’ is strongly associated with the ritual lament expressed by women for the dead, Zeus’ words to Thetis in Iliad XXIV 104–105 reconfirm that her lament speech for Achilles in XVIII 52–64 has been decoded by the Iliad as a reactivation of Achilles’ κλέος ἄφθιτον ‘imperishable glory’ through poetry.

The verbalization of Thetis’ weeping reveals the special care in the choice of diction and in the internal organization of her speech. The heavily intertextual background of the entire theme of Achilles’ death has been ‘translated’ by the Iliadic tradition into multiple idiosyncrasies, violating expectations and breaking constraints relevant to the subgenre of Iliadic laments. Situated within a scene savoring intertextual associations, which have worked their way into the fabric of the Iliadic plot, Thetis’ γόος stands apart, exactly as Achilles stands apart from the rest of the Iliadic heroes.


[ back ] 1. Wilamowitz–Moellendorf 19202.

[ back ] 2. See Pestalozzi 1945; Kakridis 1949; Schadewaldt 19654.

[ back ] 3. In a previous study (Tsagalis 2004), I have argued that personal laments or γόοι constitute a subgenre that the Iliad has incorporated, tailored to its needs and plot requirements, and subsequently turned into an effective and indispensable constituent of its epic Weltanschauung.

[ back ] 4. For a similar attempt concerning the antiphonal laments of Briseis and Achilles in Iliad XIX, see Pucci 1993:258–259.

[ back ] 5. The numbers placed at the end of the verses refer to Higbie’s 1990:29 classification of enjambment types: 1a stands for adding internal, 1b for adding external, 2a for clausal internal, 2b for clausal external, 3 for necessary, and 4 for violent enjambment. I have followed this classification instead of those of Parry 1929:200–220 and Kirk 1966:75–152 because I regard it as more precise and useful as a hermeneutic tool.

[ back ] 6. The bibliography on enjambment is enormous but the most significant discussions are the following: Bassett 1926:116–148. Parry 1929:200–220 (= 1971:251–265); Lord 1948:113–124; Kirk 1966:75–152; Edwards 1966:115–179; Clayman 1977:85–92; Barnes 1979:1–10; Bakker 1990:1–21; Higbie 1990; Clark 1994:85–114; Friedrich 2000:1–19.

[ back ] 7. Edwards 1991:150 notes that the epithet ἀργύφεον (‘shining white’) attributed to σπέος contrasts the halls of the immortals with the ugly suffering on the shore. Therefore, it also alludes, through the theme of divine versus human disparity, to the difference between this personal lament, which is expressed by a goddess and those expressed by mortals. Notice also that Iliad XVIII 30 (χερσὶ δὲ πᾶσαι), has almost the same terminal adonic as XVIII 50 (αἳ δ᾿ ἅμα πᾶσαι), the former referring to the Nereids and the latter to the maids (δμῳαί).

[ back ] 8. One can recall the function of the scenery in Greek drama, which does not only localize the action but which also has wide interpretive consequences for the plot.

[ back ] 9. Higbie 1990:49.

[ back ] 10. Coterminacy is defined as the coincidence of semantic and structural completion within the boundaries of a single verse.

[ back ] 11. Necessary enjambment is a higher-quality technique for reinforcing repetition patterns because it supersedes the hexameter verse boundary, indicating that analogies between the initial and closing frames go deep, at least deeper than the single verse. See Foley 1993:152.

[ back ] 12. See Pucci 1993:258.

[ back ] 13. Women also pull their hair (Andromache and Hecuba in XXIV 711). I have restricted my search only to the Iliad as I have done throughout this study due to the fact that my topic concerns only the older epic.

[ back ] 14. On this opposition, see Arnould 1990:150–153. In Iliad XVIII 70–71 the expressions βαρὺ στενάχοντι and ὀξὺ κωκύσασα are found in two successive verses, the first referring to a male (Achilles) and the second to a female (Thetis) character. It seems that this scene is an allusion to Achilles’ own death, which is directly connected to the theme of vengeance that may have arisen from another oral epic tradition. What has been stated above is true only for these two expressions as they stand: λιγύ, when used with κωκύειν, is restricted only to women but has a different treatment when used with the verb κλαίω (e.g. Iliad XIX 5: κλαίοντα λιγέως referring to Achilles). The same is the case with the compound στενάχειν of the verb ἐπιστενάχεσθαι, used for females only in the second part of the formula capping a γόος (… ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες). On κωκύειν, see also Krapp 1964:38 and Pucci 1993:258.

[ back ] 15. Monsacré 1984:184.

[ back ] 16. Pucci 1993:258.

[ back ] 17. For a detailed analysis of Briseis’ personal lament for Patroclus in Iliad XIX 287–300, see Pucci 1997:97–112; Dué 2002:5–7, 10–16, 67–78, 80–81; Tsagalis 2004:139–143.

[ back ] 18. See Pucci 1997:97–112.

[ back ] 19. See Reiner 1938:42; Neumann 1965:85–89; Anastassiou 1971:22.

[ back ] 20. Δακρύω is attested 5 times in the Iliad (I 349; X 377; XVI 7; XIX 229; XXII 491), whereas δάκρυ 27 times. See Monsacré 1984:171–172. The verb δακρύω may be indicating the appearance of tears in the eyes, i.e. the beginning of an emotional outburst, which will soon become δάκρυ χέειν ‘to shed tears’, i.e. to cry. See Watkins 1977:187–209, who argues that “denominative verbs are secondary and not subject to the same semantic restrictions as the noun itself.” I owe this reference to Muellner 1996:9n11.

[ back ] 21. Despite the fact that the verb δακρύω describes the appearance of tears on the face, I tend to interpret it as an internalization of pain, since their is no crying but only a simple mentioning of the tears, not even an emphasis on their shedding in the manner of expressions containing the word δάκρυ.

[ back ] 22. See Iliad XVIII 140–144.

[ back ] 23. The existence of a pre-Homeric *Memnonis reflects the Neoanalytical approach, according to which the post-Homeric Aethiopis by Arctinus of Miletos is partly based on an older epic. From the point of view of oral poetics, one is able to argue for the existence of an ‘Aethiopic’ tradition feeding both the Iliadic tradition and the post-Homeric Aethiopis.

[ back ] 24. 1975:51.

[ back ] 25. 1998:472–473.

[ back ] 26. 1992:366–367 (ad Odyssey xxiv 60).

[ back ] 27. Kullmann 1960:37 has argued that the scene in Iliad XVIII, in which Thetis, situated at the bottom of the sea, listens only to Achilles’ and not to the maids’ cries for Patroclus, is due to the poet of the Iliad, who cannot allow for the Nereids’ lament to be lost under the lament of the maids. Given that both Patroclus and the maids are completely alien to Thetis, the poet of the Iliad effectively highlights the lament for Achilles. Once more, the intertextual background of this scene (in which Patroclus and the maids were absent) has been converted into an intratextual sequence ‘surfacing’ in the repetition of the phrase στήθεα πεπλήγοντο (XVIII 31, XVIII 51), which is attributed to both maids and Nereids. This grieving duplication is the result of the sequential, linear arrangement of two laments, one for Patroclus and the other for Achilles. The formulaic accretion of στήθεα πεπλήγοντο unveils the aberrant intertextual provenance of the two laments.

[ back ] 28. See also Pindar Pythian 3.100–103, where Achilles placed on the pyre, is mourned by the Greek army, and Isthmian 8.56–60, where only the Muses are described as singing in his honor. I owe this reference to Burgess 2004:27.

[ back ] 29. See in particular Odyssey xxiv 85–92, where special emphasis is laid on the admirable gifts set as prizes by the gods for the winners in the funeral games for Achilles.

[ back ] 30. Danek 1998:473.

[ back ] 31. In Iliad XVIII 52–60 Thetis is the main subject of the four verbal forms: τέκον, θρέψασα, ἐπιπροέηκα, ὑποδέξομαι. In the last two verses before the final closing couplet, it is Achilles who comes to the foreground (ζώει, ἄχνυται). Although the initial invitation to the Nereids presents Thetis as the one in pain, her lament is centered around the fate of Achilles. This progressive withdrawal of Thetis and the ensuing focus on Achilles is in agreement with the scene of the dialogue that will immediately follow the personal lament. Mother and son will stand one in front of the other and describe in detail the fate of Achilles (Schadewaldt 19592:252). Thetis summarizes in lament terminology what the ensuing dialogue will attempt to make more explicit.

[ back ] 32. On the preverbal Gestalt, see Nagler 1967:269–311; 1974:8.

[ back ] 33. This expression is always attested in the vocative (12 times in the Iliad; 4 times in the Odyssey).

[ back ] 34. There are twelve personal laments in the Iliad: IV 155–182; VI 407–439; XVIII 52–64; XVIII 324–342; XIX 287–300; XIX 315–337; XXII 416–428; XXII 431–436; XXII 477–514; XXIV 725–745; XXIV 748–759; XXIV 762–775.

[ back ] 35. Pucci 1993:261.

[ back ] 36. Edwards 1991:151 implies that the use of ἐγώ in the beginning of a personal lament may be a sign of informality: “The first laments for Hektor begin in the same way: τέκνον, ἐγὼ δειλή, (Hecuba, 22.431), Ἕκτορ, ἐγὼ δύστηνος (Andromache, 22.477). The first hemistich is also used by Odysseus as the storm arises (Od. 5.299). The three final personal laments for Hektor begin, perhaps more formally (my italics), with a vocative without ἐγώ (24.725, 748, 762).”

[ back ] 37. The expanded address is one of the typical features of the Iliadic personal laments. See Tsagalis 2004:32–36.

[ back ] 38. For statistics on initial vocatives in Greek epic and drama, see Wendel 1929; Dickey 1996, although her study does not concern Homer, offers an interesting discussion of the various uses of vocatives in different contexts and authors.

[ back ] 39. Vocative repetition preceded by ὦ within a single verse is attested one more time in the entire Iliad (VI 55: ὦ πέπον, ὦ Μενέλαε …).

[ back ] 40. See Pope 1985:1–8.

[ back ] 41. Edwards 1991:151 notes on the use of this epithet: “The startling δυσαριστοτόκεια occurs only here, though Euripides has a reminiscence of it (Rhesus 909: μ᾿ ἄπαιδα γέννας ἔθηκεν ἀριστοτόκοιο) and perhaps Stesichorus too S13.2–3 (PMGF) = S13.2–3 (SLG): ἐ̣γ̣ὼν̣ [μελέ]α καὶ ἀλασ-//τοτόκος κ]αὶ ἄλ̣[ασ]τ̣α̣ π̣α̣θοῖσα.”

[ back ] 42. Ferrari 1984:263.

[ back ] 43. See Iliad XI 403–404; XVII 90–91; XXI 552–553; XXII 98–99.

[ back ] 44. See Higbie 1990:46–47; Beck 2005:161n24.

[ back ] 45. The same epithet is attested 5 times in the Iliad (three times in personal laments: XVIII 54; XIX 287; XXII 431) always in addresses in character-text. The same expression is constantly used: ἆ δείλ᾿ (XI 441, 452; XVI 837; XVII 201; XXIV 518) when a man is the addressee.

[ back ] 46. See Schadewaldt 19654:250.

[ back ] 47. According to Nagy 1979:182 § 11n3: “The phrasing ἥ τ᾿ … ἔξοχον ἡρώων at 55–56 serves to elaborate on the compound epithet dusaristotókeia at 54, with the culminating theme conveyed by the epithet éxokhos herôôn ‘the very best of heroes. (The element dus– ‘bad, sad’ of the compound dus-aristo-tókeia is meta-linguistic, in that it conveys the application of the epithet -aristo-tokeia ‘mother of the very best’ in the context of o moi … o moi, the language of lamentation) …”

[ back ] 48. It seems that the Iliad ignores or rather deliberately disregards the fact that Thetis had left the house of Peleus and had been living with her father in the depths of the sea. See Willcock 1984 ad loc. But cf. Kakridis 1949:72 rejecting Bethe’s proposal (1914:89; 1922:227) who had argued that verses 59–60 had been taken from the Ὁπλοποιία, which was, pace Bethe, an independent poem. Thetis could only have welcomed her son in the house of Peleus and not in the depths of the sea. Therefore, what she says should be read not as a sign of ignorance of her separation from Peleus after their marriage but as the prevalence of her maternal side, which brings her closer to mortals than gods, hence her helplessness.

[ back ] 49. See Tsagalis 2004:36–39.

[ back ] 50. Nagy 1979:184.

[ back ] 51. See Iliad XVIII 57 and XVIII 438.

[ back ] 52. See Tsagalis 2004:179–192.

[ back ] 53. Nagy 1979:183 § n2. refers to Iliad XXII 87 in which Hecuba uses the expression φίλον θάλος “in the context of conjuring up a future scene where Hektor will be laid out on the funeral couch and his mother will be mourning him.”

[ back ] 54. On this term, see Jauss 1982:28–32 (for ancient literature).

[ back ] 55. In the sense that Achilles will not die in the Iliad, but in the Aethiopis (Proclus’s Chrestomathy 191–192 Severyns = 62 Kullmann).

[ back ] 56. I have borrowed the term coterminacy from verse-structure analysis. Coterminacy describes the conjunction of prosodical/metrical completion and semantic consummation. It is textually expressed by heavy or light punctuation ‘reminding’ the reader that in pre-pausal positions not followed by enjambment the tone should be neutralized for an instance, until the new verse begins in a distinctively different rhythm.

[ back ] 57. See Iliad I 417; XVIII 95, 458.

[ back ] 58. See Iliad I 505.

[ back ] 59. See Iliad IX 410–416, where the antithesis between Achilles’ two choices is epitomized in plain epic terms.

[ back ] 60. See Proclus’ summary of the Ilias parva in his Chrestomathy 217–218 Severyns = 76 Kullmann.

[ back ] 61. According to the scholia on Iliad XIX 326 (Dindorf), it was Peleus who did not want to sent Achilles to Troy because he knew that he was destined to die there (Πηλεὺς δὲ προγινώσκων ὅτι μοιρίδιον ἦν ἐν Τροίᾳ θανεῖν Ἀχιλλέα, παραγενόμενος ἐς Σκῦρον πρὸς Λυκομήδην τὸν βασιλέα παρέθετο τὸν Ἀχιλλέα ‘Since Peleus foresaw that Achilles was destined to die in Troy, he went to Scyros and entrusted Achilles to king Lycomedes’).

[ back ] 62. Hyginus Fabulae 96; scholia on Iliad I 417 (Dindorf). According to this version, it was Thetis who entrusted Achilles to Lycomedes, after she found out from Zeus that her son was destined to have either a short life in Troy or a long life if he were not to take part in the war.

[ back ] 63. But is not, as I will show.

[ back ] 64. Kullmann 1960:197.

[ back ] 65. Kullmann 1960:191, 196–198.

[ back ] 66. See Kullmann 1960:258–260.

[ back ] 67. Kullmann 1960:198.

[ back ] 68. See Proclus’ summary (Ilias Parva 217–218 Severyns = 76 Kullmann; Nostoi 299–300 Severyns = 111 Kullmann). Hector and Priam constitute the equivalent Trojan example, whose analogy to Achilles and Peleus is narratively exploited in Iliad XXIV.

[ back ] 69. See Iliad XXIV 558, a verse that seems to have been a later interpolation since neither the scholia nor Eustathius mention it. See Richardson 1993:335 who notes: “… Herodian and Didymus discuss various explanations of ἔασας which assume that it stood on its own, and Sidonius read ἐπεί με πρῶτ᾿ ἐλέησας in 557. Probably it is a late interpolation designed to complete the construction ἔασας, which stands on its own at 569, 684, and elsewhere.”

[ back ] 70. See Nagy 1974:49–102.

[ back ] 71. Higbie 1990:160–161.

[ back ] 72. Higbie 1990:161.

[ back ] 73. In Iliad XI 120, necessary enjambment is also avoided but in that case the verb ἄχνυμαι is not used.

[ back ] 74. See Kullmann 1960:37.

[ back ] 75. Memnon and Achilles are adversaries in the Aethiopis, but at the same time they share a parallel fate. In Nemean 6.50 Pindar uses the expression Μέμνονος οὐκ ἀπονοστήσαντος, which recalls οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις / οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα in Iliad XVIII 59–60.

[ back ] 76. Edwards 1991:150–151: “It seems unlikely that her [Thetis’] speech here could have owed more than occasional phrases to other versions, for her account of Akhilleus’ life is framed in characteristic style by context-related couplets (52–3, 63–4; see also Lohmann 1970:54) and concludes with a reference to his present misery (61–2).”

[ back ] 77. See Tsagalis 2004:36–39.

[ back ] 78. Kullmann 1960:37.

[ back ] 79. See Iliad XVIII 10, where Achilles employs ἄριστος for Patroclus.

[ back ] 80. Τεκοῦσα seems to be in ring form with τέκνον placed at the beginning of the verse. Here localization, euphony (τέκνον / αἰνὰ τεκοῦσα), and etymology tightly bind these phrases together.

[ back ] 81. The following features point to the same interpretive direction: 1) the presence of τέκον in I 418 (ἔπλεο· τώ σε κακῇ αἴσῃ τέκον ἐν μεγάροισιν) and XVIII 55 (ἥ τ᾿ ἐπεὶ ἂρ τέκον υἱὸν ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε), and 2) the absence of this verb from both of Hecuba’s personal laments in Iliad XXII and XXIV.

[ back ] 82. Verse XXII 431 is continued by: σεῖ᾿ ἀποτεθνηῶτος. This is a different form of death wish (Todeswunsch), which is a typical device in Iliadic personal laments. See Tsagalis 2004:42–44.

[ back ] 83. See Slatkin 1991:48–52.

[ back ] 84. On Hecuba’s personal laments for Hector, see Tsagalis 2004:154–161.

[ back ] 85. In tragedy, this device is used with great syntactical variety and often with a stress not on the length of its expanding members but on their sequential juxtaposition, as the ancient grammarians had observed. See Euripides Heracles 494: ἄρηξον, ἐλθὲ καὶ σκιὰ φάνηθί μοι, where the second member of the sequence is not longer than the first. In other cases the three-colon is continued to the next verse (Sophocles Electra 13, Antigone 901, Euripides Heracles 1226, 1390). This device was called by Behagel “Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder.” I owe the reference to Allen 1973:118–119. This device had already been observed by the ancient grammarians. See Demetrius On Style 18, as well as Cicero De oratore III 186.

[ back ] 86. Nagy 1979:94.