The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry

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Chapter 15. The Best of the Achaeans Confronts an Aeneid Tradition

15§1. Having finished with the diction surrounding the Thersites figure, we may now turn to another Iliadic passage, XX 246–256, which rivals the passage about Thersites in its wealth of information relating to the poetry of blame. For a proper understanding, however, we must begin with an Iliadic passage found earlier on in the action.

15§2. In the heat of battle, the Trojan hero Deiphobos suddenly finds that he needs help from his ally Aeneas, and he goes to look for him:

… τὸν δ᾽ ὕστατον εὗρεν ὁμίλου
ἑσταότ᾽· αἰεὶ γὰρ Πριάμῳ ἐπεμήνιε δίῳ,
οὕνεκ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐσθλὸν ἐόντα μετ᾽ ἀνδράσιν οὔ τι τίεσκεν
And he found him standing hindmost in the battle,
for he had mênis [anger] always against brilliant Priam,
because he [Priam] did not honor him [Aeneas], worthy that he was among heroes.

Iliad XIII 459–461

There is a striking thematic parallelism here between Aeneas and Achilles, who likewise had withdrawn from battle because he had mênis against Agamemnon (Iliad I 1, etc.). The king had not given the hero tīmḗ ‘honor’—even though Achilles is not just “worthy among heroes” but actually the “best of the Achaeans” (Iliad I 244, etc.). [1] These themes of mênis/withdrawal/ tīmḗ/excellence are not only present in the Iliad; they are in fact central to it, permeating the composition in its monumental dimensions. [2] It is the expansion of these central themes in the Iliad that makes us so aware of their compression in the mention of Aeneas at XIII 459–461. Moreover, this Iliadic mention contains a unique attribution of mênis to Aeneas. With the {265|266} exception of XIII 460, the word mênis (and its derivatives) always applies to the reciprocal anger of Achilles as the individual warrior against Agamemnon as king of the collective Achaeans. This anger is the prime theme of the Iliad, and no other anger on the part of any other hero ever qualifies as mênis in the entire epic [3] —with the exception of XIII 460. Thus the microcosm of XIII 459–461 shares a distinctive pattern with the macrocosm of the Iliad. In short, the nature of the themes attributed to Aeneas in this passage suggests that they are central to another epic tradition—this one featuring Aeneas rather than Achilles as its prime hero.

15§3. Let us reconsider the words describing the withdrawal of Aeneas:

τὸν δ᾽ ὕστατον εὗρεν ὁμίλου
And he found him standing hindmost in the battle

Iliad XIII 459–460

This stance of the hero is in sharp contrast with his later involvement in the fighting:

The speaker here is none other than Achilles himself, who has just been confronted in battle by this hero whose epic tradition is parallel in its themes to his own. [
5] After this question alluding to the specific theme of a withdrawal by Aeneas, Achilles continues with another taunting question:

There is a conflict going on here between Achilles and Aeneas as warriors in battle and also between the epic traditions about each of the two heroes. Moreover, the Iliad here is actually allowing part of the Aeneas tradition to assert itself at the expense of the Achilles tradition. We have just seen Achilles taunt Aeneas by predicting that he will never replace Priam as king of Troy. And yet, the god Poseidon himself then prophesies the exact opposite:

ἤδη γὰρ Πριάμου γενεήν ἤχθηρε Κρονίων·
νῦν δὲ δή Αἰνείαο βίη Τρώεσσιν ἀνάξει
καὶ παίδων παῖδες, τοί κεν μετόπισθε γένωνται
For the son of Kronos has already abominated the line of Priam.
And presently the might of Aeneas will be king of the Trojans
and his children’s children, who are to be born hereafter.

Iliad XX 306–308

This destiny prophesied by Poseidon is part of a poetic tradition glorifying the Aeneadae, as we see from the independent evidence of the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite. [
10] There we find Aphrodite making a parallel prophecy to the father of Aeneas:

Moreover, Poseidon rescues Aeneas in the middle of his battle with Achilles precisely because, as the god himself says, ‘it is destined’ (μόριμον: Iliad XX 302) that Aeneas must not die at this point. In this way, the line of Aeneas will not die out, and he will have descendants (Iliad XX 302–305)—as compared to the doomed line of Priam (Iliad XX 306). At XX 336, Poseidon personally tells Aeneas that his death at this point in the narrative would have been hupèr moîran ‘beyond destiny’. In effect, then, it would be untraditional for the narrative to let Achilles kill Aeneas in Iliad XX, since there is a poetic tradition that tells how Aeneas later became king of Troy; accordingly, Poseidon intervenes in the narrative and keeps Aeneas alive for further narratives about his future. [

15§4. One of the most obvious traces of a variant epic tradition about Aeneas in Iliad XX is this surprising rescue of a pro-Trojan hero by a decidedly pro-Achaean god, Poseidon himself. This is not to say, however, that the narrative about the rescue is out of joint with the overall composition of the Iliad. True, we may have expected Apollo rather than Poseidon to rescue Aeneas. And yet, if this pro-Trojan god had attempted such a rescue, then the timing of the other gods’ respective interventions would have been thrown off, as the narrative itself says (Iliad XX 138–141). In other words, the Theomachia would have begun prematurely. [13] Whereas a rescue by Apollo would have been simply a pro-Trojan act, the rescue by Poseidon puts the act above taking sides; the figure of Aeneas thus transcends the war of the Trojans and Achaeans. [14] In this sense, Aeneas is beyond the scope of the Trojan War tradition in general, reflecting other themes and perhaps even other concerns of other times. The favorable relationship of Poseidon with Aeneas may in fact reveal a special cult affinity {268|269} between the god and a dynasty of Aeneadae; [15] during the times that the Iliad and the Hymn to Aphrodite traditions were separately evolving into their ultimate forms, the current importance of such a dynasty could be retrojected into the Heroic Age by such poetic devices as the prophecy to Aeneas that his descendants, not Priam’s, will be the ones who are to hold sway in the Troad (Iliad XX 302–308, Hymn to Aphrodite 196–197). [16] I avoid saying, however, that the Hymn to Aphrodite—let alone the Iliad—was expressly composed for an audience of Aeneadae. [17] Even when we take into account the observation by Reinhardt that Aeneas is the only attested Iliadic hero who is mentioned as having descendants in the present, [18] it does not necessarily follow that such descendants are the key figures in the poet’s audience, nor that the “poet of the Iliad” had made an ad hoc reference to the presence of this audience by virtue of narrating a self-fulfilling prophecy. [19] Rather, we see from the evidence of Iliad XX and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite that the perpetuity of the line of Aeneadae was itself a traditional poetic theme. [20] The Iliad does not invent something, even if it is historically true, just to please a given group. Of course, it can still please those in any given group by repeating something traditional about them. [21]

15§6. Ironically, Achilles himself conjures up the presence of other traditions when he tries to intimidate Aeneas by reminding him [23] of an incident that happened when Achilles was capturing the cities of Lyrnessos and Pedasos (Iliad XX 187–198). As Achilles tells it, Aeneas was handily routed by him (Iliad XX 187–198). [24] Moreover, Aeneas himself had earlier told Apollo that he was indeed intimidated at the prospect of facing Achilles in combat; the reason for his fear, he says, is that he remembers how Achilles had routed him when the Achaean hero captured Lyrnessos and Pedasos (Iliad XX 89–98). But now a curious thing happens: as he is being reminded of the same incident by Achilles, Aeneas is suddenly no longer intimidated. He replies to Achilles:

Aeneas is saying that he too can narrate kertomíai and aísula— words that indicate the poetry of blame. [
26] By implication, the words {270|271} [épos plural] that Achilles had just narrated about the Capture of Lyrnessos and Pedasos—words that make Aeneas the object of blame—are not the only possible narration. It seems that Aeneas now has in mind other words [épos plural], words that Aeneas could in turn relate about Achilles—words that make Achilles the object of blame.

15§7. The very word epos [plural] at XX 200 (also recapped at Iliad XX 256) indicates not just ‘words’ in general but ‘poetic words’ in particular, [27] as we can see from the lines that immediately follow XX 200–202:

The words of Aeneas to Achilles here reveal the traditional conceit of the aoidós ‘singer, poet’, who knows nothing but hears the kléos ‘fame’ = ‘that which is heard’ from the Muses, who in turn know everything. [
29] As the poet declares at the beginning of the Catalogue:

When a poet starts his performance by asking his Muse to tell him the subject (cf. Iliad I 1, Odyssey i 1), the composition is in fact being presented to his audience as something that he hears from the very custodians of {271|272} all stages of reality. The poet’s inherited conceit, then, is that he has access to both the content and the actual form of what his eyewitnesses, the Muses, speak as they describe the realities of remote generations. I should emphasize that this conceit is linked with the poet’s inherited role as an individual performer, and that “only in performance can the formula exist and have clear definition.” [
31] The formulas are the selfsame words spoken by the Muses themselves: they are recordings of the Muses who were always present when anything happened. In fact, the frame in which these formulas are contained, the dactylic hexameter, was traditionally called épos by the poetry itself. [32] Since the dactylic hexameter, as well as all verses, has an inherited tendency to be syntactically self-contained, [33] the épos is truly an epic utterance, an epic sentence, from the standpoint of the Muses or of any character quoted by the Muses. The word introducing Homeric quotations is in fact regularly épos. There are even some subtle grammatical distinctions, in traditions of phraseology, between the épos the Muses quote and the épos they simply narrate. [34] In a medium that carries with it such inherited conceits about accuracy and even reality, we can easily imagine generations after generations of audiences conditioned to expect from the performer the most extreme degrees of fixity in content, fixity in form. In sum, the words of Aeneas to Achilles imply that they both have complete poetic access to each other’s heroic lineage and, by extension, to each other’s heroic essence. [35]

15§8. It remains to be seen what sort of épos [plural] Aeneas had threatened to relate about Achilles at XX 200–202. The key is the épos [plural] related by Achilles about Aeneas—words that made the Trojan ally an object of blame. As we have already observed, these words [epos plural] of Achilles concerned the Capture of Lyrnessos and Pedasos. Significantly, this story comes from an epic tradition that is different from that of the Iliad. Whereas the Homeric Iliad is Panhellenic in scope, the Capture of Lyrnessos and Pedasos tradition is decidedly local. Its orientation is that of ktísis poetry, which is {272|273} distinguished by its adaptability to the ever-shifting character of whatever local community it happens to glorify. [36] From place to place, the heroic themes of ktísis poetry can be expected to shift in accordance with local lore and ideology. [37] It may even be that different local traditions could present the same incident to the disadvantage of different heroes—so that different heroes would become the object of blame. In fact, the words of Aeneas himself allude to precisely this factor of local variation in theme:

ἔστι γὰρ ἀμφοτέροισιν ὀνείδεα μυθήσασθαι
πολλὰ μάλ᾽, οὐδ᾽ ἂν νηῦς ἑκατόζυγος ἄχθος ἄροιτο.
στρεπτή δὲ γλῶσσ᾽ ἐστὶ βροτῶν, πολέες δ᾽ ἔνι μῦθοι
παντοῖοι, ἐπέων δὲ πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.
ὁπποῖόν κ᾽ εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ᾽ ἐπακούσαις.
ἀλλὰ τίη ἔριδας καὶ νείκεα νῶϊν ἀνάγκη
νεικεῖν ἀλλήλοισιν ἐναντίον, ὥς τε γυναῖκας,
αἵ τε χολωσάμεναι ἔριδος πέρι θυμοβόροιο
νεικεῦσ᾽ ἀλλήλῃσι μέσην ἐς ἄγυιαν ἰοῦσαι,
πόλλ᾽ ἐτεά τε καὶ οὐκί· χόλος δέ τε καὶ τὰ κελεύει.
ἀλκῆς δ᾽ οὔ μ᾽ ἐπέεσσιν ἀποτρέψεις μεμαῶτα …
It is possible for the two of us to tell each other very many reproaches [ óneidos plural], [
and not even a hundred-benched ship could bear their burden.
But the tongue of men is twisted, bearing many stories
of all kinds. And there is a manifold range of épos [plural] from place to place. [
The sort of épos you say is just the thing that you will hear told about yourself. [
But why must there be éris and neîkos [plural] [
41] for the two of us
to make neîkos against each other, like women [
who are angry in a thūmós-devouring éris
and who make neîkos against each other in the middle of the assembly, {273|274}
saying many true things and many false. [
43] Anger urges them on.
But I am eager for battle and you will not deflect me from my strength with épos [plural] …

Iliad XX 246–256

At verse 250, Aeneas is in effect saying that he could recount épos [plural] about Achilles as an object of blame, and that his narration would be the exact opposite of the épos [plural] Achilles had recounted about him. Instead of any further talk, however, the Trojan ally is now determined to start fighting (Iliad XX 244–245, 256 ff.). The ensuing narrative of the duel between Aeneas and Achilles may even reveal some details from a variant local tradition in which the hero of our Iliad was actually injured by his opponent. At XX 291, the action of the duel is interrupted by Poseidon at the very moment when Aeneas has the initiative: he is about to throw a huge rock at Achilles (Iliad XX 285–287). On the basis of parallels in other narratives about duels where one hero throws a rock at another, we should expect Aeneas to win the encounter. [
44] But then the thematic requirements of the Iliad take over: even if Aeneas had succeeded in hitting Achilles with the rock (Iliad XX 288), the hero’s shield or helmet would surely have withstood the blow (Iliad XX 289), and then Achilles would surely have killed Aeneas (Iliad XX 290)!


[ back ] 1. Ch.2§§1–7.

[ back ] 2. Ch.5§§7–8.

[ back ] 3. Ch.5§8n18.

[ back ] 4. Cf. also Iliad XVII 342.

[ back ] 5. As the two heroes confront each other in combat, they are described as dúo … ānéres éxokh’ áristoi ‘two men who were by far the best’ (Iliad XX 158).

[ back ] 6. Compare the conflict between Aeneas and Priam over tīmḗ with the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon, as discussed at Ch.5§§7–8. Cf. Reinhardt 1961:453 and Fenik 1968:121–122.

[ back ] 7. Compare the géras deprived from Achilles: discussion at Ch.7§19.

[ back ] 8. An ironic understatement!

[ back ] 9. The taunts of Achilles continue at Iliad XX 184–186: if Aeneas kills him, does he expect that the Trojans will assign him a témenos ‘precinct’ of fertile land? Perhaps this description is appropriate to the grove of a cult hero: see Ch.16§8n34 (cf. the notion of tīmḗ for Aeneas from the dêmos, at Iliad XI 58; discussion at Ch.8§11n24).

[ back ] 10. The valuable work of Heitsch 1965 on the Hymn to Aphrodite and its relationship with the Aeneas stories in the Iliad is for me marred by his persistent assumption that he is dealing with interrelationships of texts rather than traditions. I also value the interesting work of Dihle (1970:65 ff.) on the idiosyncratic diction of the Iliadic passages about Aeneas. But for me his evidence shows not that the passages about Aeneas are “non-oral” but that they reflect an Aeneas tradition that is significantly different from the Achilles tradition of our Iliad. I have similar problems with the admirable work of Lenz 1975, who offers a conscientious reassessment of the interpretations found in Heitsch and Dihle.

[ back ] 11. The everlasting continuity predicted for the line of the Aeneadae is in compensation for the mortality of their ancestor Anchises, father of Aeneas; see Ch.7§1n5.

[ back ] 12. For more on hupèr moîran as ‘contrary to destiny’ and katà moîran as ‘according to destiny’ (as at Odyssey viii 496), where moîra is the ‘destiny’ inherited by the traditional poetic narrative, see Ch.2§17 and Ch.5§25n36; cf. also Pestalozzi 1945:40. Note too the traditional function of Diòs boulḗ ‘the Will of Zeus’ as the given plot of a given epic narrative. Discussion at Ch.5§25n36 (with further references).

[ back ] 13. See Scheibner 1939:6–7.

[ back ] 14. Cf. Scheibner 1939:6–7.

[ back ] 15. Note Iliad XI 58, where it is said of Aeneas himself that “he got tīmḗ from the dêmos, like a god”; this characterization of the ancestor of the Aeneadae is appropriate to a cult hero (Ch.8§11n24–25).

[ back ] 16. Cf. Jacoby 1961 [=1933] I:39–48, 51–53; also Donini 1967.

[ back ] 17. See Scheibner 1939:133 on the Hymn to Aphrodite. I also distance myself from any of the theories featuring the “poet of the Iliad” at the court of the Aeneadae (cf. Jacob 1961 I:39–48).

[ back ] 18. Reinhardt 1961:451. I would note, however, that there are other Homeric passages that refer to the present: see Ch.9§§15–16.

[ back ] 19. Pace Reinhardt 1961:451.

[ back ] 20. Cf. Kullmann 1960:283n1.

[ back ] 21. Besides Iliad XX 306–308 and Hymn to Aphrodite 196–197, there are attestations of still other prophecies addressed to the Aeneadae: see Acusilaus FGrH 2.39 and the commentary by Jacoby I 383.

[ back ] 22. The infinitive eukhetáasthai refers to the boast of Aeneas to Achilles at Iliad XX 206–209, as expressed by eúkhomai ‘I boast’ at Iliad XX 209 (recapped at Iliad XX 241). As Muellner points out (1976:93), “When a hero eúkhetai [boasts], he says the most significant facts he can about himself.” From the diction of Iliad XX 206–209, Muellner (pp. 76–77) can also show that Aeneas is using words that formally assign Achilles to a heroic stature lower than his own. On the etiquette-rules of such eúkhomai speeches, see Muellner, pp. 74–75n9.

[ back ] 23. Note the expression ḕ ou mémnēi ‘do you not remember’ at Iliad XX 188; for the poetic implications of mimnḗskō ‘remind’ and mémnēmai ‘have in mind’, see Ch.1§3n8 and Ch.6§§5–9.

[ back ] 24. On the poetic traditions that told of the Capture of Lyrnessos and Pedasos: Ch.7§29.

[ back ] 25. Note that kertomíās ēd’ aísula mūthḗsasthai at Iliad XX 202 is equated with oneídea mūthḗsasthai ‘tell reproaches [óneidos plural]’ at Iliad XX 246, on which see further at §8.

[ back ] 26. See n. 25. On kertomíai, see Ch.14§11n36 and §14. On aísula see Ch.19§6n39.

[ back ] 27. See Ch.12§15n56. Compare also the use of épos in Theognis 16 and 18 as discussed at Ch.17§12.

[ back ] 28. The epithet pró-kluto– ‘famed’, applied to épos [plural], is from the same root as kléos ‘fame’ = ‘that which is heard‘ (on which see Ch.1§2).

[ back ] 29. Again, Ch.1§2. As for the theme of hearing instead of seeing, compare the theme of the blind poet (Ch.1§§3–4) and the story of the poet who was taken beyond the field of vision (Ch.2§13n43).

[ back ] 30. Compare the íste … ídmen in Iliad II 485–486 and the ídmen … ídmen in Iliad XX 203 (recapped by ísāsi at Iliad XX 214) with the ídmen … ídmen of the Muses in Hesiod Theogony 27–28 and the ídmen … ídmen of the Sirens in Odyssey xii 189–191.

[ back ] 31. Lord 1960:33.

[ back ] 32. See Koller 1972; cf. also Ch.17§12n58.

[ back ] 33. Cf. Nagy 1974:143–145.

[ back ] 34. Cf. Kelly 1974 on the different patterns of correption in quoted speeches compared to plain narrative.

[ back ] 35. For lineage as essence in the etiquette of eúkhomai, see again Muellner 1976:74–77.

[ back ] 36. See Ch.7§§29–30.

[ back ] 37. See Ch.7§§29–30.

[ back ] 38. On the word óneidos as an indicator of blame poetry, see Ch.12§§3 and 7 (usage in praise poetry) and and §§6 and 11 (usage in Epos).

[ back ] 39. On nomós in the metaphorical sense of a pastoral ‘range’: Pohlenz 1965 [= 1948]:337.

[ back ] 40. On the semantics of epi- in epakoúsais, cf. Ch.6§6n18.

[ back ] 41. On the words éris and neîkos as indicators of blame poetry, see Ch.12§§3, 6, etc.

[ back ] 42. Richardson (1974:215) provides a list of festivals and cults where aiskhrologíā was restricted to women. On aiskhrologíā as ‘ritual jesting’, see Richardson, pp. 213–217. On tò aiskhrón ‘baseness’ as a formal mark of blame poetry, see Ch.14§§4–5.

[ back ] 43. From the standpoint of praise poetry, the words of the blame poet are conventionally false (cf. Pindar Nemean 8.21–25 and 32–33); discussion at Ch.12§§5-7. By contrast, the kléos conferred by the praise poet is true (cf. Pindar Nemean 7.63); discussion at Ch.12§3n7, Ch.14§12n39 The theme that blame can actually be true reflects an earlier time when the concept of a blame poet was not yet distinct from that of a praise poet: see Ch.16§10n44.

[ back ] 44. See Merkelbach 1948:307–308; also Heitsch 1965:66–71, esp. pp. 67. I do not agree, however, with their inferences about textual interpolation.

[ back ] 45. Cf. again Muellner 1976:74–77.

[ back ] 46. Meister 1921:156–157; cf. Perpillou 1973:186.

[ back ] 47. Ch.12§§18-19, Ch.13§12.