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

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Chapter 17. On the Antagonism of God and Hero

17§1. Aside from the direct testimony of P.Oxy. 1800 and Aesop Vitae G+W 142 about a hero cult of Aesop, there is important indirect evidence for his actual function as cult hero. Again we turn to the parallelism between the deaths of Aesop and Pyrrhos. In the myth of Pyrrhos, the theme of his antagonism with Apollo is fundamental to his essence as cult hero of Delphi. [1] Now we see a parallel pattern of antagonism in the Life of Aesop tradition. At the moment that the Delphians plot the death of Aesop, Apollo is described as having mênis ‘anger’ against him (μηνίοντος: Vita G 127). [2] There is a crucial supplementary detail in the Golenishchev Papyrus, where the god is described as actively helping the Delphians bring about Aesop’s death (P.Gol.: συνεργοῦντος). [3] Apollo’s anger is motivated by an incident in Samos: Aesop had sacrificed to the Muses and set up a shrine for them, neglecting to place Apollo in the center (Vita G 100, 127; P.Gol.). [4] The pattern of antipathy between Aesop and Apollo is in fact complemented by a pattern of sympathy between him and the Muses. In the course of Vita G, there is mention of the Muses no fewer than twenty-five times, often in the context of Aesop’s swearing by them. [5] It was the Muses who had {289|290} originally given Aesop his power of verbal skills (Vita G 7). [6] Before he dies, it is at a sanctuary of the Muses that Aesop takes refuge (Vita G 134), imploring the Delphians in the name of Zeus Xénios not to despise the smallness of the sanctuary (Vita G 139)—as the eagle had once despised the smallness of the dung beetle (Vita G 135). [7] The implicit but obvious foil here for the smallness of the Muses’ sanctuary is the overwhelming greatness of Apollo’s sanctuary at Delphi. In this connection, we may observe that Aesop never mentions Apollo by name in Vita G: instead, he refers to the god either as the prostátēs ‘leader’ of the Muses (G 33, 142) or simply as ‘he who is greater than the Muses’ (G 33). The latter designation meshes neatly with the implicit theme that the Muses’ sanctuary is small in comparison to Apollo’s.

17§3. In fact, the traditional diction of archaic Greek poetry makes it explicit that the essence of the poet is defined by the Muses and Apollo:

Moreover, Apollo is traditionally the leader of the Muses from the standpoint of ritual poetry, as we see from the following spondaic fragment concerning libations:

Besides the title Moúsarkhos, Apollo also qualifies as Mouseîos (IG 7.1.36: Megara) and Mousagétēs ‘Leader of the Muses’ (IG 12.5.893: Tenos). [
13] Still, in view of this evidence, an important question arises: {291|292} why is it, then, that the archaic poet as a rule invokes the Muses without Apollo at the beginning of his composition (Iliad I 1, Odyssey i 1, Works and Days 1, etc.)? We will arrive at an answer, I submit, by looking further at the context of the same Hesiodic passage that explicitly derives the essence of the poet from the Muses and Apollo (Theogony 94–95): the aoidós ‘poet’ is now specifically called Μουσάων θεράπων ‘the therápōn of the Muses’ (Theogony 100). Before we can interpret this expression, however, an excursus on the word therápōn is in order.

17§4. As Nadia Van Brock can show, [14] therápōn had actually meant something like ‘ritual substitute’ at the time it was borrowed into Greek from Anatolia, probably in the second millennium B.C. Compare Hittite tarpas̆s̆a-/tarpan(alli)– ‘ritual substitute’, corresponding formally to Greek theraps/therápōn. To paraphrase Van Brock, the Hittite word designates an entity’s alter ego (‘un autre soi-même’), a projection upon whom the impurities of this entity may be transferred. [15] She goes on to cite a Greek reflex of these semantics in the Iliadic application of therápōn to Patroklos, [16] the one Achaean who is by far the most phílos to Achilles [17] —and who is killed wearing the very armor of Achilles. [18] Without any such comparative evidence, without even having to consider the word therápōn, Cedric Whitman has independently reached a parallel conclusion: that Patroklos functions as the epic surrogate of Achilles. [19] Granted, the prevailing applications of the word therápōn in ancient Greek poetry are semantically secondary: ‘warrior’s companion’ (as typically at Iliad IV 227, VIII 104, XIII 246, etc.) or simply ‘attendant’ (Iliad XI 843, XIX 143, Odyssey xviii 424, etc.). But we can see from the contexts where Patroklos is therápōn of Achilles (Iliad XVI 165, 244, 653; XVII 164, 271, 388) that the force of the word goes far beyond the dimensions of ‘warrior’s companion’. As Dale Sinos has convincingly argued, [20] Patroklos qualifies as therápōn of Achilles only so long as he stays within his limits as the recessive equivalent of the dominant hero. [21] In the words of Achilles himself, Patroklos and he are equivalent warriors, so long as {292|293} Patroklos stays by his side; once he is on his own, however, the identity of Patroklos as warrior is in question:

By its very outcome, the fatal impersonation of Achilles by Patroklos reveals that the therápōn is no longer the equivalent of Achilles once he leaves his side and goes beyond the limits Achilles had set for him (Iliad XVI 87–96). [
23] Since even the epithet assigned to the therápontes of Achilles is ankhémakhoi ‘those who fight nearby’ (Iliad XVI 272, XVII 165), [24] we may infer that Patroklos has ceased to be therápōn of Achilles at the moment of his death. As we shall now see, he has become the therápōn of someone else.

17§5. When Patroklos has his fatal confrontation with Apollo, he is described as daímoni îsos ‘equal to a daímōn‘ (Iliad XVI 786), and we have observed that this epithet is traditionally appropriate for marking the climactic moment of god-hero antagonism in epic narrative. [25] In the Death Scene of Patroklos, this climactic moment is also the context of a more specific epithet: he is described as thoôi atálantos Árēï ‘equal to swift Ares’ (Iliad XVI 784). There was one other time when Patroklos was equated with Ares: back in Iliad XI, when he first became involved in his fatal impersonation of Achilles. There we find Patroklos leaving the tent of Achilles and coming out of seclusion; he is described at that very moment as îsos Árēï ‘equal to Ares’ (Iliad XI {293|294} 604). In the very same verse, the narrative itself takes note that the application of this epithet marks Patroklos for death:

We recall that the designation ‘equal to Ares’ is particularly appropriate in the Iliad to the two other heroes who wear the armor of Achilles—the two main antagonists who are thereby cast in the same mold of warrior: [

Achilles ἶσος Ἄρηϊ Iliad XX 46
  ἶσος Ἐνυαλίῳ [28] Iliad XXII 132
Hektor ἶσος Ἄρηϊ Iliad XI 295, XIII 802
  ἀτάλαντος Ἄρηϊ Iliad VIII 215, XVII 72

In fact, when Hektor puts on the armor of Achilles which he had despoiled from the body of Patroklos, [29] he is sealed in this armor by Zeus (Iliad XVII 209–210) and then, quite literally, ‘Ares entered him’ (δῦ δέ μιν Ἄρης: Iliad XVII 210). Here we see Ares not so much as an Olympian ally of the Trojans but as the divine embodiment of murderous war. The same notion is inherent in such Homeric adjectives as Arēḯphatos (Iliad XIX 31, etc.) and Arēïktámenos (Iliad XXII 72), both meaning ‘killed by Ares’ = ‘killed in war’. No matter who the immediate killer may be in any given narrative of mortal combat, the ultimate killer is Ares as god of war. For example, the Achaean Idomeneus kills the Trojan Alkathoos [30] in mortal combat (Iliad XIII 424–444), with the direct help of the god Poseidon (Iliad XIII 434–435); nevertheless, Ares is designated as the god who actually takes the hero’s life (Iliad XIII 444). [31] So also with the death of Patroklos: although {294|295} it is Hektor who kills him, with the direct help of the god Apollo, Patroklos is the ultimate victim of the war god, Ares. In his fatal moment of god-hero antagonism, the therápōn of Achilles is overtly equated with Ares, who is the ultimate motivation for his dying as a warrior of epic. Accordingly, Patroklos is identified no longer with Achilles but rather with Ares himself. In that sense, he is now the therápōn of Ares! And the most important evidence for this assertion has yet to be adduced: as an aggregate of warriors, the Achaeans [Danaans] are specifically addressed as θεράποντες Ἄρηος ‘therápontes of Ares’ (Iliad II 110, VI 67, XV 733, XIX 78). As a generic warrior, the hero of epic qualifies as a therápōn of Ares. [32]

περικαλλέα ὄσσαν ἱεῖσαι ’emitting a beautiful voice’ Theogony 10
ἄμβροτον ὄσσαν ἱεῖσαι ’emitting an immortal voice’ Theogony 43
ἐρατὴν…ὄσσαν ἱεῖσαι ’emitting a lovely voice’ Theogony 65
ἐπήρατον ὄσσαν ἱεῖσαι ’emitting a lovely voice’ Theogony 67 [43]
So also Ἡσί-οδος ‘he who emits the voice’ [44] Theogony 67
ἀρτιέπειαι ‘having words [épos plural] fitted together’ Theogony 29
φωνῇ ὁμηρεῦσαι ‘fitting [the song] together with their voice’ [45] Theogony 39
So also Ὅμ-ηρος ‘he who fits [the song] together’ Theogony 39

Supplement: The Name of Homer

17§10. More needs to be said about the name of Homer, since its meaning seems to reveal a particularly archaic view of the poet and his function. For the interpretation of Hóm-ēros as ‘he who fits [the song] together’, built from the verb root *ar– as in ar-ar-ískō ‘fit, {297|298} join’, we may compare the following use of the same verb, as an intransitive perfect:

Moreover, I adduce the semantics of the Indo-European root *tek(s)-, which like *ar– means ‘fit, join’. From the comparative evidence assembled by Rüdiger Schmitt, [
48] we see that * tek(s) was traditionally used to indicate the activity of a carpenter in general (compare the semantics of joiner, an older English word for ‘carpenter’) and of a chariot-carpenter in particular. In addition, Schmitt adduces comparative evidence to show that * tek(s)- was also used to indicate, by metaphor, the activity of a poet: much as a chariot-carpenter fits together his chariot, so also the poet fits together his poem/song. [49] This comparison is actually attested as an overt simile in the most archaic body of Indic poetry:

It is, then, an Indo-European poetic tradition that the poet may compare his activity with that of artisans like carpenters. [
51] Moreover, we see from Odyssey xvii 381–387 that poets are in fact the social equals of artisans—carpenters included. [52]


[ back ] 1. See Ch.7 in general and Ch.7§4 in particular.

[ back ] 2. Here as well as throughout the Life of Aesop, the involvement of Apollo as Aesop’s antagonist has been eliminated in the “W” branch of the story’s transmission. For evidence that this adjustment is secondary and amounts to a distortion, see Wiechers 1961:11n9.

[ back ] 3. For the pertinent passage in this fragment, see Perry 1952:11. For the entire text of the Golenis̆c̆ev Papyrus, see Perry 1936:58–67.

[ back ] 4. Instead, the central place is assigned to Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses (Vita G 100). This incident in the Life of Aesop tradition is linked by the narrative itself with Aesop’s ultimate position as cult hero: see Ch.16§8 and n. 34.

[ back ] 5. Conversely, there is not a single mention of the Muses in Vita W; see and cf. Perry 1952:11.

[ back ] 6. The role of Isis as leader of the Muses (Vita G 6) is an innovation made possible by (1) an Egyptian phase in the transmission of the Aesop story and (2) the Egyptian religious trend of associating the cult of Isis with the cult of the Muses (on which see the evidence adduced by Perry, 1952:2n8, esp. Plutarch De Iside 352b).

[ back ] 7. The message of “The Dung-Beetle and the Eagle,” as built into the narrative of Vita G 135 and as formally enunciated in the moral that concludes Aesop Fable 3 Perry, is that one should not despise the small, since no one is so negligible as to be incapable of revenge. For more on this fable, see Ch.16§5. Note that Aesop appeals to the ultimate protector of guest-strangers, Zeus Xénios, in acknowledging the smallness of the Muses’ sanctuary; compare the appeal made by Odysseus, in his disguise as a lowly beggar, to the same moral code of the xénos ‘guest-stranger’ (Ch.12§16). See in general Ch.12§§12–16 on the ideology of the poet as xénos.

[ back ] 8. See Perry 1962:299–300 on the probability that this fable was in the collection of Demetrius of Phaleron.

[ back ] 9. I disagree here with Wiechers 1961:14n21, who thinks that Aesop’s periphrastic references to Apollo in Vita G 142 are an innovation, not an archaism. Also, I think that the story of Aesop’s encounter with Isis and the Muses at Vita G 6–7 is the reflex of an older version in which Apollo functioned as the leader of the Muses. The replacement of Apollo by the polymorphous Egyptian goddess Isis would have been facilitated if the references to Apollo had been periphrastic even in this older version. From the Egyptian standpoint, Isis could then be substituted easily as “leader of the Muses” or as “she who is greater than the Muses” (cf. §1n6). Still, the question remains: if indeed the older version presents Apollo and the Muses as givers of speech and speech skills respectively to Aesop, why is Apollo in this case beneficent, rather than maleficent? See Ch.18§2.

[ back ] 10. Whereas aoidoí ‘poets’ (‘singers’) are traditionally pictured as accompanying themselves on the lyre (as at Odyssey viii 67–69), they are here mentioned along with ‘lyre players’ (kitharistaí). This doublet of singers and lyre players reflects not the fragmentation of the poet’s traditional function but rather the ensemble of song as embodied by the Muses and Apollo combined: the former sing while the latter plays the lyre, as at Iliad I 603–604. In this passage, the ensemble of the Muses and Apollo is described in a manner more appropriate to a specific picture than to a general event; cf. Hymn to Apollo 186–206. By “picture” I mean a traditional mode of iconographic representation.

[ back ] 11. The same verses recur in Homeric Hymn 25.2–3. On the integrity of this hymn as a piece of traditional poetry, see Koller 1956:178–179 (pace West 1966:186: “a senseless bit of patchwork”).

[ back ] 12. Page (1962) supplies τῷ in front of Λατοῦς.

[ back ] 13. Cf. Plato Laws 653d; Strabo 468; Pausanias 5.18.4, 8.32.2, 10.19.4. Cf. also Iliad I 603–604 and Hymn to Hermes 450–452.

[ back ] 14. Van Brock 1959.

[ back ] 15. Van Brock 1959:119; cf. also Lowenstam 1975.

[ back ] 16. Van Brock 1959:125–126.

[ back ] 17. Ch.6§§12–21.

[ back ] 18. Cf. Householder/Nagy 1972:774–776.

[ back ] 19. Whitman 1958:199–203.

[ back ] 20. Sinos 1975:46–52.

[ back ] 21. Cf. Ch.2§8 (and Ch.6).

[ back ] 22. Whitman (1958:200) quotes the same passage, adding: “When Achilles prays to Zeus for Patroclus’ safety, he seems to ask, indirectly, whether his friend can play his role adequately or not.”

[ back ] 23. Note especially what Achilles tells him at Iliad XVI 89: do not be eager to fight ἄνευθεν ἐμεῖο ‘apart from me.’ Dan Petegorsky draws my attention to a parallel: Pindar Olympian 9.76–79.

[ back ] 24. See Sinos, pp. 46, 61(n6).

[ back ] 25. Ch.8§§3–4.

[ back ] 26. See Nagy 1974:230–231. Cf. Whitman 1958:200: “Then he is ‘like Ares’; but here the poet is looking forward consciously to the Patrocleia, as is shown by the remark, ‘this was the beginning of his woe’ [Iliad XI 604].” Cf. also Whitman 1958:114, 194.

[ back ] 27. Cf. Ch.2§8. When Hektor sets out to fight in the armor of Achilles, he is specifically described as looking just like him (Iliad XVII 213–214).

[ back ] 28. On the equivalence of Ares and Enyalios, see Nagy 1974:136.

[ back ] 29. The manner in which Patroklos is denuded of Achilles’ armor is highly significant: see Ch.9§33n83.

[ back ] 30. The semantics of -thoos in Alkắ-thoos seems relevant to the passage: Ch.20§10. On alkă-, see Ch.5§31n52. On the parallelisms between the death of Patroklos and the death of Alkathoos, see Fenik 1968:132–133.

[ back ] 31. For another striking example, consider the description of the tapestry woven by Helen depicting the áethloi ‘struggles’ endured by Trojans and Achaeans alike at the hands of Ares (Iliad III 125–128). For the connotations of poetic theme (“The Ordeals of the Trojans and Achaeans”) in the image of weaving here, see Clader 1976:6–9.

[ back ] 32. Note also the epithet ózos Árēos (ten times in Iliad), where ózos is not the same word as the one meaning ‘branch’ but rather a reflex of a compound: o– ‘together’ + *-sd-os ‘seated’; see Chantraine III 777. The hero Leonteus, described as îsos Árēï (Iliad XII 130), also qualifies as ózos Árēos (Iliad II 745, XII 188, XXIII 841). In the Alexandrian lexicographical tradition, ózos and therápōn were apparently considered synonyms (cf. Hesychius s.v. ὀζεία· θεραπεία). The semantics of ózos are suggestive of the relationship between god and hero in cult. Compare the description of Erikhthonios as a hero who gets a share of the sacrifices offered to Athena in her temple: Epigrammata 1046:89–90 Kaibel (on which see Nock 1972 [= 1930]:237). For more on Erikhthonios/Erekhtheus, see Nagy 1973:170–171. On the convergences and divergences of the Erikhthonios and Erekhtheus figures, see Burkert 1972:176, 211.

[ back ] 33. Ch.10.

[ back ] 34. Above, §3.

[ back ] 35. Brelich 1958:321–322. The most convincing aspect of Brelich’s book is the sheer accumulation of evidence for parallel patterns; it is well worth reading in its entirety.

[ back ] 36. Brelich 1958:322: “Così il poeta rientra perfettamente nella morfologia caratteristica dell’ eroe.”

[ back ] 37. Brelich 1958:321. Note that Hesiod’s divine patronage is local: the Muses of Helicon (Works and Days 658–659) as distinct from the Muses of Olympus/Pieria as invoked in the proem (Works and Days 1). In the Theogony too, we see that Hesiod’s essence as poet is defined by the Muses of Helicon (Theogony 22–34).

[ back ] 38. Cf. Ch.5§§4, 18–19.

[ back ] 39. Note the transformation of the Muses from Heliconian (Theogony 1) to Olympian (Theogony 25, 52, etc.), once they have defined Hesiod’s essence as poet at Helicon (Theogony 22–34). For the correlation of Olympus and Panhellenic ideology, see Into.§14.

[ back ] 40. The root *əu̯od– of *Hēsí-u̯odos recurs as *əu̯d– in audḗ ‘voice’ and audáō ‘speak’: Chantraine I 137–138, II 417. At Theogony 31, audḗ designates the poetry with which the Muses themselves inspire Hēsíodos. See now Nagy 1990b:47n32.

[ back ] 41. I agree with Durante 1976:194–197 (cf. Welcker 1835:128) that Hóm-ēros is a compound built from the Indo-European elements *som– ‘together’ and *ə r– ‘fit, join’ (as in Greek ar-ar-ískō ‘fit, join’). My interpretation of the semantics, however, is different (see §§10–13); so too is my reconstruction of the earliest Greek form: *homo-ar-os, becoming *hom-āros.

[ back ] 42. On these patterns, see the brief remarks of Brelich 1958:320–321.

[ back ] 43. For a defense of this line, see West 1966:178–179 (I fail to agree, however, with his objections to the line on esthetic grounds).

[ back ] 44. In Pindar Olympian 6.61–62, the oracular response of Apollo is called artiepḕs/patríā óssa ‘the ancestral voice having words [épos plural] fitted together’; for more on óssa, see Ch.7§25n71.

[ back ] 45. West (1966:170) translates ‘with voices in tune’, helpfully adducing Hymn to Apollo 164 for comparison.

[ back ] 46. And, latently, with that of Apollo. Cf. n. 44.

[ back ] 47. Cf. West 1966:170.

[ back ] 48. Schmitt 1967:296–298.

[ back ] 49. Schmitt 1967:296–298.

[ back ] 50. The vā́k ‘utterance’ here is the sacral hymn itself; see Muellner 1976:128.

[ back ] 51. On the comparative evidence for the likening with weavers, see Schmitt 1967:298–301. For an attestation of this comparison in the semantics of the word rhapsōidós ‘he who stitches the song together’, see Durante 1976:177–179.

[ back ] 52. For the text of this passage from the Odyssey, with discussion, see Ch.12§13.

[ back ] 53. See Chantraine I 110–111.

[ back ] 54. The noun téktōn occasionally designates ‘artisan’ in general, not necessarily ‘carpenter’, but the context of Iliad V 60–63 clearly indicates carpentry. For more on téktōn, see §12n55.

[ back ] 55. The woodwork here is described as the kind done by one well-versed in tektosúnai ‘carpentry’ (Odyssey v 250).

[ back ] 56. On which see Nagy 1974:45.

[ back ] 57. Note that Harmoníē is daughter of Ares (Theogony 937). For the theory that the name Árēs itself is derived from *ar- ‘fit, join’, see Sinos 1975:52–54 and 71–72, who argues that Ares is the obsolete embodiment of the principles joining together the members of society in general and of warrior-society in particular.

[ back ] 58. On the use of épos to mean not just ‘utterance’ but also ‘poetic utterance’ as quoted by the poetry itself: Ch.12§15n56 and Ch.15.§7.

[ back ] 59. Neuter phílon indicates the institutional and sentimental bonds that join society together (cf. Ch.6§13). Since beauty is phílon, the social cohesion of Thebes is implicitly embodied in the esthetics of the Muses’ song, which in turn sets the cohesion of the poetry composed by Theognis. The concept of Harmoníē is appropriate to both the social and the artistic cohesion.

[ back ] 60. Note that the quoted utterance of the Muses is called an épos both before and after the quotation. This framing effect may itself suggest Harmoníē.

[ back ] 61. The Latin and Greek words ars and tékhnē are formed from verb roots that are no longer attested in the respective languages: Latin no longer has the verb *ar- from which the noun ars (*ar-ti-) is derived, while Greek no longer has the verb *tek(s) from which the noun tékhnē (*téks-nā) is derived. But Latin does have the verb texō (‘build, join’ in the older Latin, ‘weave’ in the later), and Greek does have the verb ar-ar-ískō (‘fit, join’). Note that Homeric diction actually combines the verb ar-ar-ískō with téktōn ‘artisan’ as subject: ḗrare téktōn (Iliad IV 110, XXIII 712; in the latter passage, the artisan is actually a carpenter). This word téktōn is by origin an agent noun derived from the verb *tek(s) ‘fit, join’.

[ back ] 62. For further discussion, see Schmitt 1967:297.

[ back ] 63. The verb harmózō ‘fit together’ is derived from the noun *hármo, by origin an abstract noun (‘fitting’) which came to have a concrete designation (‘chariot wheel’) and which is in turn derived from the verb *ar– as in ar-ar-ískō (‘join, fit’); see §11. The phonology of harmózō (from *hármo as distinct from standard classical hárma, meaning ‘chariot’) suggests that the word was inherited from the elite social strata of the second millennium B.C. See Risch 1966, esp. pp. 157. On the name of Homer and its relevance to the concept of rhapsode, see now Nagy 1996:74–78.