The Language of Heroes: Speech and Performance in the Iliad

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Chapter 2. Heroic Genres of Speaking

{43} The notion of “genre” has been described as “the most powerful explanatory tool available to the literary critic.” [1] It has usually been discussed within the confines of literary criticism. With the growth of Modernism and, concurrently, the recognition of non-Western literary traditions, critical assumptions about idealized genres of any sort have had to change. [2] In this critical climate, perhaps the most useful change for students of Homer is the increasing attention paid to non-standard, or even nonliterary genres, such conventional yet variable forms as proverbs, street games, anecdotes, conversation, even sports announcing, military commands, and auctioneering. These “genres” of verbal behavior attract the attention, primarily, of folklorists and anthropologists. Yet the study of these seemingly trivial forms, unusual as it may be to classicists, should engage the literary critic. Through such genres we obtain the best view of the social nature of verbal art; we can perceive, by means of these forms, the link between conventionalized modes of speech and the institutions of a society. We can then approach the larger genres in their social settings, for, as Victor Turner reminds us, “the major genres of cultural performance (from ritual to theater and film) and narration (from myth to the novel) not only originate in the social drama but also continue to draw meaning and force from the social drama.” [3] One can go further, I believe, and assert that these “social” genres are in {43|44} fact primary, whereas literary genres can vary according to a given society’s ideas of performance. Just as one must reconstruct the total system to understand individual terms for speech-acts, we can only hope to evaluate a truly foreign literature, such as archaic Greek poetry, by reference to the society’s total performance system, including those conventional verbal activities which, perhaps, we might not think “literary” at all. A case in point: the Maori place great importance on ritual oratory and stylized greetings. The formulas of such verbal events are well known, but they are constantly undergoing change and recombination because this is a vital oral art form. One judges a leader by his ability to engage in this art, at the right time, in the most stylized yet topical way. Although the Maori do not have developed “drama” in the Western sense, these events, to some degree, take on the values and performance interest of plays. A student of the conventional “literature” would neglect them at great risk. [4] In the same way, prayer among the Navaho, verbal repartee among Antiguans, and joking, tantalisin, and busin in Guyana all represent socially grounded verbal genres to which attention and prestige are accorded, on a level with the prestige given poetry in the European tradition. [5]

Is Homer in the European tradition? In hindsight, surely, the poet is its progenitor. But it may be more effective for an investigation of the Iliad if we abandon the notion of “genre” as a literary term and train ourselves in the anthropologist’s working methods. If we examine the speeches within this poem, it can be seen that there are “genres”—conventional verbal organizations—for certain ways of speaking. The major rhetorical genres available for the heroic performers are prayer, lament, supplication, commanding, insulting, and narrating from memory. [6] We could, of course, argue that these {44|45} conventional ways of speaking are the poet’s convenient compositional shorthand. Fenik has well shown how Homer builds his narrative of battle in the same way that he builds the poetic line, by reuse in new combinations of traditional stock elements. [7] But I prefer to turn the issue around slightly: Homer would not have “traditional scenes” if it were not traditional for actual Greek warriors to arm, fight, eat, sleep, and die. In the same way, the rhetorical repertoire available to each hero must be rooted in the actual range of speaking strategies available to any Greek speaker. Although the speeches in the Iliad are without question highly stylized poetic versions of reality, they are nevertheless meant to be mimetic, as are the battle descriptions. This is what heroes would say. As with descriptions of battle, there is room in Homeric speechmaking for both traditional elements and innovations. The poetry of Homer at times finds difficulty in handling traditional elements; the role of the chariot, for example, seems unclear to the composer, resulting in the unlikely depiction of warriors who dismount to fight. It is even more likely that the speech portions of the poem are more freely composed, made up more from the poet’s knowledge of how his contemporaries argue and talk, since the poet presumably had no need to include archaic coloring in the speeches of his heroes. [8] In other words, although we see Mycenaean memories in the narrative of Iliadic fighting, there is no comparable body of material for the poet to recall when reporting what Agamemnon, Odysseus, or Achilles says. Composition is less subject to tradition here. Speech is qualitatively different; unlike diegesis, it is the arena for pure mimesis.

How different is this mimesis, the speeches of the Iliad? If its performance was actually of a different sort from that of the narrative portions, we get no indication in the text. Yet a performance distinction might well have existed: certainly rhapsodic performance, as we see from Plato’s Ion, indicates that the heroes’ speeches were acted out {45|46} in voice and character, like dramatic roles. Comparative evidence from the Kirghiz epics is also in favor of such a distinction: Radlov reported in the nineteenth century that the Central Asian bards shift to a slow-paced, aria-like performance when they come to the spoken parts in their compositions. [9]

It has long been recognized that Homeric speeches represent a unique area for research. Yet a suitable theoretical framework for analyzing them has not come readily to hand. Part of the problem lies in the sheer number of speeches: it has been estimated that nearly half of the Iliad is composed of direct speech, and slightly more of the Odyssey. In the former poem, there are approximately six hundred “speeches.” The term “speech” itself poses problems, since there is no uniform Greek designation for these instances of direct discourse, and the English equivalent carries associations with formal rhetoric that may not lie behind the poetic intent of the original. The scholarship on Homeric direct discourse, influenced by the entire rhetorical tradition of post-Homeric Greece, has neglected this fundamental distinction; it has not occurred to investigators that perhaps not all Homeric speeches are at the same level of importance. Consequently, the few thoroughgoing attempts by philologists to construct a typology of Homeric speeches have bogged down in constructing categories for every type of direct discourse found in the poem. At best—as in the sadly neglected work of Fingerle—this ambition results in dense lists of pragmatic information about speeches in the poems, detailing where they are spoken, when, and by whom, with little or no analysis of the actual content or poetic intent of the speech itself. Joachim Latacz has pointed out that this tendency vitiates even the most recent attempt at a typology of Iliadic discourse by Lohmann. [10]

Starting from a semantic field examination, we have seen that in fact a means exists for distinguishing more and less important speech-acts in the poetry of Homer. As I have shown in the previous chapter, the word muthos denotes an authoritative speech-act, as contrasted with the unmarked term epos, which designates any utterance. [11] “Winged words,” I contend, act as a periphrasis for a certain class of speech-acts named “directives” in speech-act theory. In this chapter, I {46|47} intend to use the “native” distinction thus outlined to construct a workable typology of Homeric speech-genres. The task is made easier than that faced by earlier philologists, because the number of speeches labeled muthoi is, at most, only one-sixth of the total number of direct discourses in the Iliad. When we consider this restricted number of significant speeches, with attention to the actual turns of phrase and rhetorical strategy involved in each discourse, the goal of reaching a poetics of Homeric speechmaking is not so distant. I cannot claim to have completed this task here. But from my investigation so far, surprising new angles of vision on the poem as a whole emerge. Not least among these is the realization that the heroes and gods of the Iliad engage in only three types of muthos discourses: commands, boast-and-insult contests (which I term “flyting”); and the recitation of remembered events. All three types are essentially “performances” both in a speech-act sense—insasmuch as the discourse itself of commanding, insulting, and recalling “does” something—and in a wider, social-poetic sense. For the speakers of muthos commit themselves to a full enactment of their words before an audience that can criticize these acts; they thus accomplish “performances” of verbal art, in a manner not different from that of poets and storytellers immersed in the performance situation. These “performances” embedded in the poem can in fact tell us more about the parameters of the Iliad‘s own performance, I believe, especially as it will be seen that the genres of “command” and “flyting” are ordered hierarchically beneath the third genre, that of the performance of memory: all important verbal art within the poem, as done by the poem’s speakers, depends on the creative manipulation of this ultimate genre, which matches the poet’s medium. [12]

The Authoritative Word: Commands

It is best to start with the gods. A sociolinguist mapping the lines of authoritative speech by charting the movement of commands among the Olympian gods might well conclude that the gods in their interactions with humans and with one another function as an archaic Mediterranean family. The father is never commanded to do anything. A closer look shows that the distribution of the word muthos mirrors the power situation exactly. In the range and frequency of the muthoi {47|48} attributed to him, Zeus emerges as the source of all authority in the poem: he directs such speeches to six different addressees, eight times in all, more than any other speaker divine or human. Thus the mimetic portion of the Iliad‘s narrative parallels the diegetic, which emphasizes Zeus’ supreme control, from the fifth line of the poem: “… and the will of Zeus was being accomplished.” [13] Zeus takes orders from no one; we know this from the poem’s plot. In accord with this, no speaker addresses a muthos of command to him. We have immediate confirmation that the word designates socially meaningful speech.

We discover by tracing the term that immediately below Zeus in authority rank Hera and Poseidon, his wife and his brother, both of whom are commanded by one other speaker (Hera by Zeus, Poseidon by Hera), but they also command several others, and furthermore, speak a muthos to the assembled gods, a privilege exclusive to them and Zeus. One step further down on the ladder of authority are Athena and Hermes, who play the role of children, not issuing muthos commands to other gods at all, although the daughter Athena (yet not the son Hermes) does receive such commands from her “parents” Zeus and Hera.

As if to compensate for their lack of speechmaking power among the gods, Hermes and Athena speak to men using muthoi of command. Now the frequent intervention of divinity in human affairs in this poem might lull us into thinking that they routinely give such commands to men; but, on closer inspection, this appears to be quite rare: the brothers Zeus and Poseidon are the only other gods to speak muthoi to men, and even then, Zeus does so indirectly, by means of Dream (to Agamemnon, 2.16) and through Iris (to Hektor, 11.186). Poseidon’s social position as male “outside” the house seems to put him in a status resembling Athena’s, with both taking orders from Hera. He appears, with Athena, in human guise, to encourage Achilles as he battles the river Skamandros (21.285-87). Their restricted sphere of influence in the muthoi contests of the immortals makes more ironic their words to the hero: “Son of Peleus, do not too much shirk or fear. For we are such allies for you, we two of the gods, with the approval of Zeus, I and Pallas Athena. ” Even in claiming that he and Athena are powerful helpers, Poseidon must bow to Zeus’ verbal precedence, embodied in his “approval” (epainēsantos). {48|49}

From this perspective, which we reach through tracing the distribution of the word muthos, Athena’s command (labeled with the term) to Achilles in Book 1 appears to be less the unfettered directive of a beneficent goddess and more a bargain struck among equals. The phrase used by Poseidon to Achilles in 21.293, “if you will obey,” takes on a new resonance here (1.207). Is it possible that Achilles, himself an authoritative speaker, might not listen to such a low-status divinity? After all, as Athena herself makes clear, she is merely the messenger of Hera; her rhetorical strategy relies on this higher authority (1.207-9): “I came to stop your strength, if you will obey, from the sky. Hera, goddess with white arms, sent me forth, feeling kindly and caring for both in her thumos. ” Note that Athena’s pronoun use slips into an authoritative plural at line 214, “obey us.” This phrase, raising the issue of persuasion again after only six lines, characterizes Athena’s lack of authority. The daughter of Zeus actually is portrayed through Homer’s phrasing as more like messengers of her father. Notice the similarities between this theophany and the messenger-arrival motif: a reason for coming is stated; the authority of the sender is cited; motivation and new information is given. [14] Athena announces the motivation of Hera in the manner that Dream describes Zeus’ motives in the next book (2.26-27): “I am the messenger of Zeus, who from afar cares greatly for you and has pity.” [15] If we regard Athena in this light, Achilles’ reply to her muthos sounds more relevant to the situation. For, in commenting on the superior nature of obedience to the gods (1.217-18), he alludes obliquely to his bargain with Athena. He signals to her that he realizes her dilemma and will contribute to boosting her status by deigning to obey now, at the price of being listened to later. The brief scene proceeds as if Achilles were the one demanding submission.

At first sight, Hermes seems different. Unlike Athena, he is never commanded with an explicit muthos by any other god. But far from being a freely acting agent, the god of communication functions when enacting his sole muthos of command as another emissary from Zeus. Speaking to Priam in the Achaean camp after Hektor’s ransom, he takes the pose that Dream assumed in an earlier message scene. Compare 24.682, “He stood over his head and spoke a muthos,” with 2.20, “He stood over his head looking like Nestor.” There are other {50} ironies in the presentation of Hermes’ command. It is introduced with the same “while others slept” motif as was Zeus’ decision to send Dream (cf. 2.1-4 and 24.677-81); but whereas Zeus plots the generating device for the entire poem, Hermes merely plans the logistics of Priam’s exit. Zeus’ decision and its execution occupies thirty-five lines, Hermes’ a dozen; Zeus can order Dream to repeat his commands, while Hermes must do his own work. Finally, Priam’s curtly described consent—”The old man feared and made the herald stand up” (24.689)—surely reminds an audience of the fuller formula, “the old man feared and obeyed the muthos,” which has been significantly used twice before, once shortly before this scene (24.571 = 1.33). The conspicuous absence here draws attention to Hermes’ lack of persuasive power; he is at the margin of powerful speech, as that is represented by Homer through the deployment of muthos commands.

What I have just described illustrates a basic principle of Homeric poetics; for performance time—the number of lines allotted to a given speech—is the single most important narrative “sign” in Homer’s system for marking the status of a hero or god. (We might contrast this with Athenian drama, which provides equal and even greater space to speeches by low-status characters—nurses, messengers, watchmen.) The portrayal of Achilles offers us the greatest example of this principle. For the moment, however, let me observe that the narrator’s granting of the “floor” to speakers in the poem is consistent with status: at a level of social status even lower than that of Athena and Hermes among the gods, the divinities Kharis and Iris, working on their own, give muthos commands that are the shortest of any such speeches (18.391-92, 23.204-11). The latter speech shows the features common to low-status behavior elsewhere. Iris, a metangelos, is careful to announce her sender’s demands (Achilles’ prayer for the winds to come); she uses an indirect directive, simply stating what Achilles wants and never using an imperative. The effect, like that of Athena’s epiphany in Book 1, is to increase the status of Achilles’ own speech. We should note that both scenes in which the minor goddesses give muthos commands are significant transition points in the narrative, yet they are not therefore given more consideration. Status and speech style override narrative needs. Meanwhile, Zeus’ words, even when they simply set up plot changes (e.g. 2.7-15) always merit fuller descriptive room.

In other ways, Zeus as characterized by muthos commands stands {50|51} supreme. Only he gives orders through intermediaries and only he can justify his ultimate authority among the other Olympians, although the challenging of this role by the others forms an important subplot to the poem. Zeus is above all the perfect rhetorician. His muthoi are precisely adjusted to his audience and, more remarkable, tend to vary in length depending on the distance they must travel, as if to compensate with increased detail for the greater potential of faulty transmission inherent in mediated messages. Amplification of the message size is the poetic equivalent of amplified volume in sound: that this is a quality peculiar to Zeus is well expressed in his epithet euruopa, “wide-voiced.” [16]

The three mediated commands of Zeus called muthoi occur at crucial moments in the Iliad‘s first half. All relate directly to the promise Zeus made to Thetis. Early in Book 2, the counsel of Zeus for fulfilling the plan to honor Achilles takes the form of a message from “baleful Dream” telling Agamemnon to arm for battle. The nature of this message is marked by the formula “winged words,” which, as we saw, introduces a directive, as also by the word Zeus uses to send the message “I order” (2.10). In clipped phrases, Zeus specifies a number of things: the exact destination (Agamemnon’s tent), the speed with which the arming is to be done, and an explanation (note the triple gar of lines 2.12-14). Agamemnon, he says, can now take Troy, since the Olympians, influenced by Hera’s entreaties, have reached accord. Is it not significant that, when Zeus speaks with what seems greatest accuracy, he is in fact contradicting what the audience knows? For we witnessed only one scene earlier complete discord. Zeus speaks ironically in saying that Hera “bent” all the gods to her will (epegnampsen hapantas, 2.14), for, in the earlier scene, this rare verb described Hera’s fearful submission to the will of Zeus (epignampsasa philon kēr 1.569). We shall see Diomedes and Glaukos use the same strategy of creative rearrangement later. Here, as if to mark Zeus’ deception all the more, Dream becomes creative on his own and modifies the message so as to persuade his audience of his impersonation. Zeus’ command does not include the line (2.24) “A counsel-bearing man must not sleep all night”; but this sort of gnomic utterance perfectly fits the character of Nestor, whose form the Dream has taken. Nestor himself is portrayed, in a small detail, as nearly calling Zeus’ bluff when Agamemnon finally reports his {51|52} dream: “If anyone else had told us this dream, we would call it a lie and turn away instead. But now the one who claims to be best of the Achaeans saw it” (2.80-83). The logical conclusion is never stated, and indeed Nestor never asserts that Agamemnon is right, only that he has more authority. We may well imagine that Dream’s persuasive disguise—as Nestor—restrains the self-regarding elder hero from dismissing the message entirely. Zeus’ authority, higher than Agamemnon’s, has been deconstructed neatly within the first few lines of this book when Homer demonstrates that muthos speech does not require truth so much as an effective representation.

It is particularly characteristic of Zeus’ commands that they combine several types of speech-act. In his commands, through Iris, to Hera and Athena (8.399-408) and Hektor (11.186), directives blend with explicit promises or threats. He orders Iris to tell Hektor to retreat a short way (11.189), then promises killing strength to the hero (11.192). Athena and Hera are told to turn back; if they do not, Zeus will lame their horses, cast them out, and wreck the chariot (8.402-3). In the chief divinity Homer draws a character whose speech-acts are consistent. As Searle observes, in certain speech-acts—statements, assertions, and explanations—the speaker makes his language describe his situation, producing a “word-to-world” fit. [17] Requests, commands, vows, and promises, on the other hand, involve the speaker in shaping the world to his own word: Zeus’ muthoi fall in the latter group.

One problem appears to arise in the framing of Zeus’ commands here. The words of Iris to Hera and Athena are described as a threat (ēpeilēse, 8.415), but have been introduced by Zeus with a line appropriate to a prediction (401, “Thus I will speak out and it will be completed”). Similarly, Zeus’ promise to Hektor at 11.191-94 contains elements of prediction: the strength will come “when struck by spear or hit by arrow he leaps to his horse.” Since in speech-act theory predictions are “constatives,” and commands are directives, this correlation in Zeus’ rhetoric appears puzzling at first. Is this a confusion of word to world and vice versa? Is Homer nodding? [18]

In human terms, yes, this is confusion. But Zeus’ language of gods transcends human speech categories. Searle’s remarks on the class of declaratives can help clarify the poetry here. Most declaratives—”I {52|53} find you guilty,” “I thee wed,” and so on—require that we assume the authority of an extra linguistic institution acting through the speaker. But a few escape this requirement. Individuals acting alone can declare the name for something, just as parents determine what a child is to be called in many cultures. Divinity exercises this right over everything in the world: as Searle notes: “When God says, ‘Let there be light,’ that is a declaration.” [19] In other words, in the language of Zeus, commands, threats, and predictions comprise one and the same category. It is this very use of language that makes Zeus supreme. Although humans must prove in the field their boasts and threats, the mere speaking of a threat by Zeus is effective, the equivalent of action. Homeric poetry respects this mystery of divine speech, at the same time that it surrounds the speech of gods with a clamor of competing words. As we shall see shortly, the primacy of Zeus’ divine speech is threatened by the speech-acts of heroes and by the rival demands of his “family.” These touches of realism, showing that even divine speech is subject to human limits, find vivid correlates in the narrative, which seems at times to circumvent the language of Zeus. Hektor, for example, does not receive strength to reach the ships on the day that Zeus promised. [20] His surge occurs later; the time-frame of divine speech thus differs radically from that of its divine addressees.

Because Zeus is set beyond the time and distance limits of humanity, his muthos speeches show an amount of verbal detail unparalleled in heroic discourse. The threat to Athena and Hera (8.399-408) lists the amount of damage Zeus intends; his promise at 11.186-94 specifies exactly the point at which power will be granted. Furthermore, at the conclusions of both commands, Zeus sets exact limitations on the action of the threat and promise. Hera he will not berate as much as Athena, seeing that she is an inveterate adversary. Hektor he will allow to win, but only until he reaches the Achaean ships (11.193-94). Zeus’ power to command, then, is matched by his power to create nuance and give verbal texture to his directives. This shows in the amplitude of his rhetoric, achieved by repetition and synonymity: “Turn back and do not allow them onward” (8.399); “I will throw them from the chariot box and break the chariot” (403); “I do not blame Hera so much nor am I angry” (407). It is the accumulation of {53|54} such parallel expressions rather than the mere single occurrence of this admittedly common Homeric syntactic pattern, that causes Zeus’ speech to stand out. Exaggeration is another form of the same urge for amplitude: Zeus’ boasts that it takes ten years to heal the wounds from his bolt (8.405) depend on a rhetoric of space and distance that only the most important speakers in the Iliad are privileged to use. As we shall see, Nestor, Agamemnon, and Achilles all have stylistic habits that echo those of Zeus; no one hero manages his entire repertoire (although Achilles comes closest).

The declarations that Zeus addresses to all the Olympians at the beginning of Book 8 can best illustrate all the characteristics of his muthos speech in the poem. This speech represents the ideal of the genre of commands. It shares with all muthoi, of command or other genres, a concentration on the act to be performed by words. As with other muthoi, the speech thus labeled is subject to public scrutiny before an audience. It is a performance, thus, in a second sense as well as in a speech-act view. As do other muthoi we have seen, it reaches for length and elaboration as an emblem of authoritative, important communication; it asserts the status of the speaker.

As we have come to expect, Zeus’ speech outdoes other muthoi by exaggeration. The rhetorical distancing accomplished by Zeus at 8.5— 27 finds expression in a powerful image that he chooses to boast of his status. Threatening to hurl to Tartaros any who disobey, he backs up his words by picturing the massed Olympians tugging at him by a golden chain: though he might yank them up, together with earth and sea, the gods who hear him could not pull him down. In turning the horizontal line of the actual communication among presumed equals into a vertical chain by this symbolic rhetoric, Zeus enacts the gods’ dependence on him and dramatizes his own rhetorical ability— the power of making convincing images—at the same time that he solidifies his political position. He is a master at the poetics of power. The muthos of what “might” happen is actually a projection of the current power configuration on Olympus. [21] It functions like “myth” in the wider sense that students of Greek society have come to recognize: a politically important act of symbolic discourse. [22] As I suggested in the previous chapter, the later extension of the word muthos to imaginative traditional narratives can be traced to an earlier {55} use in which it designated such authoritative speech-acts as that of Zeus in this passage. The best muthoi in this original sense would naturally involve the most powerful images, often resorting to genealogical recitation and claims about past status. It is only when such rhetoric is cut loose from its context of “political” antagonism that it takes on the appearance of harmless and pleasant fiction.

Before we turn to the anatomy of the struggle between Zeus and others over the right to speak with authority, one other feature of this important speech in Book 8 bears examining. It is characteristic of the greatest speakers in the poem that their muthoi often have a self-referential focus on the very act of speaking. Zeus, in prohibiting the gods from supporting the fighters in either side of the plain at Troy, verbally frames the linguistic situation on Olympus as a struggle by two sides, one in which his rivals wish to “cut” his utterance (diakersai emon epos), as if it resembled the chain that he mentions later in the speech. Along with the legalistically full prohibition, “Let neither female divinity nor male attempt to cut my word,” Zeus introduces a positive injunction: “But all together praise (aineit‘), so that I complete these deeds as quickly as possible” (8.7-9). This command, too, dwells on a verbal notion. If taken as parallel to the later imperative, “Come and attempt” (18), the order to “praise” makes more sense: Zeus highlights the physical superiority that underlies his authority; although joined paratactically, the first imperative expresses a thought actually subordinate to the second. In the image of the chain, then, are contained two views of communication. To “cut” Zeus’ word signifies an intolerable breakdown of relation, but to struggle with him is to provide a public acknowledgment of the “highest deviser’s” craft (8.22). Even the loss by the other gods in this divine tug-of-war becomes a kind of praise. We are reminded of the way in which the Funeral Games of Book 23 defuse conflict by providing a public ranking of Achaean competitors to produce a greater solidarity. It is not accidental that Zeus oversees this “contest” in Book 8, while Achilles, speaking at least five muthos commands, oversees the Games.

The critical need for the approval of Zeus’ Olympian audience, the “praise” alluded to at 8.9, shows most clearly how an oral culture’s notions of performance structure the distribution of power. In effect, only an acceptable “performance” of a proposal can enable the speaker to accomplish his will; only a counter performance, the actual voicing of “praise,” certifies the audience’s consent. It is explicitly during {55|56} a muthos performance that the other gods on several occasions express dissent by withholding praise. The formulaic line “Act, but we other gods will not all approve” (epaineomen) occurs three times (4.29, 16.443, 22.181). In each case, it marks those moments in the Iliad when the speaker, Zeus, has just suggested that the lives be saved. On two of these occasions, Hera identifies the proposal made by Zeus as a muthos, prefacing her reply to him with another formulaic line, “O most dread (ainotate) son of Kronos, what sort of muthos have you said?” (4.25 = 16.440). The third time, Zeus’ speech is introduced as the initial muthos in an exchange, with yet another formula (22.167): “To them Zeus father of men and gods began the muthoi.” In each case, the threat of implied public blame among the other gods seems to force Zeus to yield. We feel, however, that he is prepared for the outcome. For the three muthoi of Zeus which seek approval for his plan to intervene in the destinies of heroes are in complete contrast with the muthos he made in Book 8 when prohibiting the other gods from meddling. There, we saw him use the rhetoric of force. But when plotting something he knows to be contrary to the will of Athena and Hera, Zeus portrays himself as incapable of command, undecided as to which course to take. Such acting by Zeus can be taken as directive. It differs from more straightforward commands only in that the performer has already judged the outcome and adjusted his rhetoric accordingly. His proposal to stop the war in Book 4 is sheathed in neutral, unemphatic, and brief observations: Menelaos has two helpers, it seems; Aphrodite has saved one who thought he would die; victory belongs to Menelaos (4.7—12). Even when making an explicit proposal, Zeus phrases it in a gracious hortatory subjunctive (4.14, phrazōmetha). He offers alternatives as well: either to raise war or strike a peace. The audience is politely taken into consideration: “… if this might somehow be dear and sweet to all”(4.17).

In Book 16, Zeus again poses alternatives, dramatizing his doubts about whether to whisk Sarpedon off to Lykia or let him die at Troy. Instead of commands, we hear from Zeus now the language of lament, reinforced by the sound pattern of the lines, a repeated cry of grief (16.433-35):

ὤ μ οι ἐγών, ὅ tέ μ οι Σαρπηδόνα, φίλτατον ἀνδρών, μ ο͂ι ρ’ ὑπό Πατρόκλ οιο Μεν οι τιάδαο δαμῆναι. διχθὰ δέ μ οι κραδίη μέμονε φρεσὶν ὁρμ αί νοντι. {56|57}

In the third passage where Zeus is deterred by the threat of blame from the gods, he reverts to a cooler rhetoric, calling Hektor merely “dear” (contrast Sarpedon as “most dear”). The possibility of saving Hektor is suggested in more rational language of exchange: Zeus’ grief arises not from a familial bond with the hero but because Hektor was a good provider of sacrificial offerings (22.170-72). As in Zeus’ muthos in Book 4, constative acts cushion the more emotional language (cf. 168, “a dear man is pursued,” and 172, “Achilles pursues him”). Even though Zeus uses imperatives this time (cf. 22.174 and 4.14), his suggestion is once more put as a choice, to save or crush Hektor.

In sum, Zeus represents the ideally powerful speaker of muthos commands, but even he cannot escape the demands of his audience of gods. Although the other gods do not range as far in their few examples of muthoi of command, their capacity to withhold praise inhibits Zeus’ performance.

The function of Hera in the Iliad has largely to do with the affirmation (by contest) of Zeus’ power to issue muthoi. As the divinity who speaks the next greatest number of such speeches, after Zeus, she seems a natural challenger to his status. [23] The divine couple engage in verbal agonistics from the row over Zeus’ interview with Thetis in Book 1 to the quarrel over the ransoming of Hektor in Book 24. We should recognize that this is posed explicitly in terms of muthoi. To Hera’s needling questions in Book 1, Zeus retorts, “Do not expect to know all my muthoi” (1.545). In context, the term appears to be synonymous with decisions (cf. boulas, 540). But the verbal quality of these counsels is alluded to in Zeus’ promise that Hera will hear whatever thing is appropriate for her. Zeus’ command is in turn identified as a muthos itself by Hera as she yields (552). Her concession nevertheless insinuates that Zeus has been bested at rhetoric by {57|58} Thetis (555): “Now I terribly fear in my mind that silver-footed Thetis, the daughter of the old man of the sea, may sway you (pareipēi).” This prompts Zeus to reassert his verbal powers, and he insists that Hera obey his muthos (565). The remaining verses enact the power of his word, as Hera sits silent, succumbing to suasive speech by her son Hephaistos (paraphēmi, 577). Although the goddess does not completely follow her son’s advice to use soft words to Zeus, the poet intervenes to drown out the verbal dueling with a higher language, in the responsive voices of the Muses led by Apollo (602-4).

The matching scene at the end of the poem shows that Apollo’s capacity as harmonizer is found lacking. Hera exposes Apollo’s perfidy, by oblique reference to his earlier attendance and performance at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (24.61-63), at which, the tradition says, he foretold a glorious future life for their son. Thus, his proposal to steal Hektor’s corpse away from Achilles is undercut effectively. Apolline music being discredited, only the word of Zeus is able to solve the neikos besetting the gods (24.107). The initial cause that has led to this strife has been foregrounded by Homer at the beginning of Book 24 in such a way that we surely must be meant to see the juxtaposition. Human blame has tainted the gods: Paris “blamed” (neikesse, 29) goddesses (we are not told which) but “praised” (ēinēs‘ aorist tense of aineō) the one goddess who gave him “lust” (makhlosunē). [24] Zeus resolves the present conflict by an affirmation of inequality: Achilles and Hektor will not be given the same honor rating (timē, 66). As we shall see in the next chapter, the recognition of an inequality of styles goes along with heroic striving to speak well in the Iliad. Zeus’ divine rhetoric shows itself fully in the next speech he makes, a muthos (24.104) to Thetis. The subservience of the other Olympians emerges in details that contrast with the scene in Book 1. Hera serves Thetis now, instead of being a distant dissenter (contrast Hephaistos’ service to her at 1.585-94). Zeus begins gently, recalling Thetis’ anguish, something he himself knows (105)— presumably from seeing Sarpedon killed, although the poet does not state this. If we have been prepared by Homer to accept Zeus’ sympathy as authentic, we have also been privileged to hear his earlier motives for summoning Thetis: he cannot let Hermes steal the corpse because the nymph is night and day beside her son (24.71—73), so he {58|59} must convince her to persuade Achilles. When Zeus faces Thetis, he explains his motives much differently: “They urge the keen-sighted slayer of Argos to steal, but I grant this glory to Achilles, keeping safe your respect and affection in later time” (24.109-10). We are left wondering which version is more like the truth. Who is being kept in the dark, Hera or Thetis? Given the theme of the contest for speech mastery between Hera and Zeus, I would like to think that he has led her on here. In any event, through the depiction of muthos speeches among the gods Homer illustrates for his audience the role of politic fiction in the poetics of power. This is a paradigm for heroic rhetoric, too.

Heroic Commands

On the battlefield, the performance of muthos commands follows the Olympian pattern in exhibiting a hierarchy of performers, and a frankly antagonistic relationship among peers, especially at the top echelon. Those with the highest status, like Zeus, direct and enact muthoi to the largest audiences, all Trojans or Achaeans. The praise of the group, an important mark of approval, is reserved for the leading speakers in the contest of command. Whereas “praise” arose as a topic among the Olympians most often when there was a threat to withhold it from Zeus, in Homer’s depiction of the Achaean camp, this subject of group approbation is described positively. Three times the poet says that the Achaeans “approve” a speech: when Odysseus urges the troops to remain at Troy (2.284-332; cf. 335, muthon epainēsantes); when Agamemnon declares that his brother won the duel with Paris (3.455-60; cf. 461, epi d’ēneon alloi); and when Achilles awards a special prize to Eumelos, loser of the chariot race (23.539, epēineon). The audience ratification of their proposals defines the triad of the Iliad’s most important speakers—with the exception of Nestor. While Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Achilles jockey for position, Nestor remains unchallenged as a commander. As with Zeus on Olympus, he directs the greatest number of muthoi to others, but is himself never the recipient of such commands. A further mark of his status appears when we consider the addressees of the muthoi. Whereas Agamemnon gives muthos commands to Menelaos, Khryses, and Teucer (three figures with lower status in the poem), Nestor in this hierarchy commands Agamemnon, and moreover, can enact a muthos {59|60} before all the Achaeans. Agamemnon never does this. Achilles repeatedly does, at the Funeral Games. Odysseus only commands a segment of the Achaean audience one time with a muthos, the men of the dēmos (2.199), and once the entire group (2.282). This depiction in which status coincides with the number of persons able to be successfully addressed must reflect a social context in which political power is chiefly a product of oratorical power. We should also observe that the small group of speakers who address muthoi to the aggregate can further be divided on the basis of the speaker’s interaction with divinity. Achilles, among the Greeks, and Priam on the Trojan side are the only speakers who both make a muthos command to the group and receive such a command from a god or goddess. To express the significance of this deployment in another way: one who commands the group with muthoi need not be on speaking terms with the gods, but those who do have such encounters in the poem are also depicted as being able to address the group. Again, Homer or his tradition acknowledges indirectly the special character of deific speech. [25]

From the distinctions just outlined, we might expect the commands of Nestor to be distinguished from those of the younger Achaeans. They are prominent in the flow of the narrative: five of his six muthoi of command occur between Books 9 and 11, the poem’s core, and all mark significant junctures. His first such speech in the poem stands out, though brief, because Agamemnon grants Nestor instant obedience (2.434-41). In light of our observation that muthos commanders have a channel to the divine, it is interesting that Nestor’s explicit motivation for telling Agamemnon to advance the troops is that “a god grants” the present work (436). The audience should recall that the “god” is Zeus, whose messenger, Dream, took the form of Nestor in appearing to Agamemnon (2.21). The old hero, then, is both the distant and immediate catalyst for the assault, and his muthos (2.433) depends on the muthos of Zeus (2.16).

This function of Nestor to regulate the pace of the plot appears clearly in the other muthos speeches he makes. In his first speech in Book 9, he can control three segments of an audience at once: Diomedes, whom he instructs in the art of speech; the kouroi whom he orders to take guard duty; and finally Agamemnon. Again, there is {60|61} some irony. Nestor commands Agamemnon to give orders, “for you are most kingly” (9.69), a status clearly cast in doubt by the old hero’s leading position. His elaborate praise of Agamemnon here (73-75) in a triplex polyptoton is, of course, self-serving, too, as Nestor is undoubtedly the nameless “one who plans the best counsel” whom Agamemnon is said to obey. Similar cueing of Agamemnon occurs in Nestor’s second muthos in this book. After cautiously praising the proposed gifts for Achilles (164), Nestor pointedly proceeds to stage-manage the embassy details. Praise and control—the Nestorian strategy—continue through Book 10, in which Nestor regularly upstages the younger hero by directing the guards and proposing the night mission to spy on the Trojan camp (10.203-17). We should contrast the offer whereby Nestor attracts volunteers for this exploit. Unlike Agamemnon’s faulty promise of gifts alone, in the preceding book, Nestor’s proposition explicitly involves the winning of kleos. Economic gain (dosis, 213) is just part of the bargain.

Even in his long reminiscence during his final muthos of command, Nestor depicts himself as an authority. Not only does he frame the speech to Patroklos on the basis of his own biography, but within the speech he alludes to a previous rhetorical success on his part—the original recruitment of Patroklos and Achilles for the war. There are signs of agonistic speaking in this remembrance. Although Odysseus was also present in Phthia that day, it was Nestor (so he says) who “began the muthos” (11.781). The formulaic variation here, to the rarer use of the singular of the word for speech, might imply that Nestor’s performance did not face any counter speeches. We are also reminded by this detail that Odysseus, who had begun the embassy speeches in Book 9, failed. Phoinix, who resembles Nestor, would have made the better opening speech, and may have been intended to do so (9.223—Ajax nods to him). The parallel is strengthened by the resemblance between the scene in Phthia that Nestor recalls and that which has just occurred in the tent of Achilles.

We may well think that Nestor constructs these resemblances for persuasive purposes. It is only with effort that we remember that Homer in this scene mimes Nestor as making up a speech—not necessarily recounting “what happened. ” So we should place more emphasis on the differences between the words that he recalls Peleus saying to Achilles (to “excel and be best,” 11.783-84) and Odysseus’ recollection in a similar rhetorical gambit (Peleus tells Achilles to avoid strife with his peers, 9.254-58). Nestor selects the one detail {61|62} from the alleged “instructions” of Peleus that will contrast most with his own recapitulation of another speech of advice, that made by Patroklos’ father, suggesting the companion of Achilles should instruct and guide him (11.786-90). In brief, the older man uses his muthos to praise Patroklos, thereby constructing an image of the role he is supposed to play. As with Zeus’ speeches to Hera and Thetis in Book 24, Homer here has supplied enough detail to make us appreciate the possibilities for fictional presentation within authoritative speechmaking.

It helps that Nestor’s age makes him an appropriate stand-in for Menoitios, so that this speech is truly a “performance” by a seasoned actor. His advice to Patroklos is described in the same terms as Menoitios’ instructions (compare 11.783 and 785, epetelle with the same verb in 840, used by Patroklos). This fatherly instruction is meant to replicate itself when Patroklos next returns to Achilles. But Patroklos improvises his performance rather than copying Nestor’s. Instead of reminding Achilles about Peleus, he denies the hero’s parentage (16.33-35) and weeps ominously “like a black-watered stream.” In the poet’s image system, the performance of Patroklos thus resembles that of the Iliad‘s weakest rhetorician, Agamemnon, the only other speaker who resorts to such an act (16.3-4 = 9-14-15)·

So far we have seen that the distribution of muthos speeches among heroic speakers accurately predicts their success at persuasion within the poem. In what follows, I want to explore the distinctions in the power relations thus sketched. This is not a formal poetics, since it will be seen that the seemingly simple act of issuing a command becomes so variable as to resist reduction to a schema. Questions of individual style arise, which in turn are inseparable from notions of the proper convention for commanding or enacting other types of speech-act. If we keep in mind the example of Zeus—in which long, detailed, and self-assertive rhetoric represents the best command form—it soon appears that only one Iliadic speaker comes closest to this ideal, Achilles. Other commands bear a kind of family resemblance one to the other, and offer less noticeable similarities to divine speech.

We can gauge the distance between Nestor, Agamemnon, and the others in several ways. In terms of the narrative progression, Agamemnon drops out of sight as a source of muthos commands by Book 14. Odysseus appears in this role up to Book 19, at which point we see Agamemnon deferring to his judgment. As Agamemnon’s speaking power wanes, Achilles’ waxes: it is he who gives the muthos {61|63} commands on the Achaean side all through the last two books of the Iliad. Thus, the control of authoritative speech passes like the Achaean scepter from the “owner,” Agamemnon, to his young competitor.

A second gauge of difference comes in the rhetorical form and effectiveness of commands. Here, the same hierarchy is reaffirmed. Agamemnon is less powerful as a speaker than Odysseus, and he, in turn, must defer to Achilles. We shall see the differences on the level of individual stylistic choices in the next chapter. But some of the broader signs of these distinctions should be noted here. An important preliminary strike against Agamemnon comes in the detail that tells us he speaks against the wishes of his audience: “The other Achaeans all approved . . . but it did not please Agamemnon” (1.23-24). His threat to Khryses, that the skēptron of the god will not do him any good should he return, turns out to have ironic appropriateness for himself, when his authority sinks. In contrast to Zeus, whose similar threat silences Hera at the end of Book 1 (1.566), Agamemnon’s language works destruction, turning the priest to seek divine intervention with deadly effect. Like the fault of Paris in blaming the goddesses, Agamemnon’s improper speech-act has disastrous consequences.

Another sign of Agamemnon’s rhetorical ineffectiveness comes in his dialogue with Menelaos in Book 10. His brother has not even been commanded, yet comes (10.25) with as much sympathy as Agamemnon for the Argive sufferings, only to find that Agamemnon himself is ceding authority to Nestor over the guards, “for they might obey him most.” In this context, the muthos that Agamemnon makes to Menelaos shrinks in consequence. In fact, Menelaos has to elicit the command on his own, since Agamemnon has given no clear directions in his rambling talk (10.43-59). “How do you instruct and order me with a muthos?” Menelaos asks. Agamemnon’s reply is a weak warning to stay in place lest the brothers lose one another in camp (65-71), and a suggestion to “glorify” the other commanders on waking them up—a rather obvious rhetorical strategy.

Finally, there is Agamemnon’s yielding to Odysseus’ criticism. “You very much reached my heart with your tough rebuke,” he tells him, after Odysseus has demolished Agamemnon’s graceless proposal to flee (14.105—5). Odysseus demands silence from him; Agamemnon’s only defense is another weak rhetorical excuse, that he was only fulfilling what his audience wanted (14.90, 105).

Odysseus, the speaker to whom control passes at this point, first {63|64} enters the spotlight as the enforcer of Agamemnon’s proposals. The introductory scene characterizes him already: whereas Agamemnon’s testing speech has stampeded the Achaeans, Odysseus’ speech (and battering) turn them back. If we are in doubt at this point, an additional speech by Odysseus further solidifies his reputation as the more powerful speaker. Athena herself restrains the audience so that he may speak the elaborate muthos at 2.284-332. We shall return to this masterpiece of recollection and dramatization later; note for now that the speech is artfully juxtaposed so as to diminish even the words of Nestor’s less ornate recounting that follows it (2.337-68). [26]

The other muthos commands by Odysseus in the poem feature significant variations on the injunctions of Agamemnon that they are supposedly supporting, so we see Odysseus as superior at rhetoric every time. The well-known omission by Odysseus of Agamemnon’s crass snub in the promise to Achilles (9.115-19) is just one sign of Odysseus’ skill. Another in the same speech is in the prefatory remarks which he did not take from Agamemnon. Just as he had recalled the divine sēma in his remembrance of Aulis in Book 2, to urge on the troops, he carefully points out the heavenly signs here (9.236-37—Zeus sends his bolt). The parallel between Achaean despair at Aulis and the present crisis also underlies, I suggest, the use of a unique phrase in line 232 of Odysseus’ speech to Achilles, “the Trojans have made a bivouac” (aulin ethento Trōes). His pun on the place-name can be read either as a message to Achilles by Odysseus or to the audience by Homer. In either case, the association of Aulis and the death of Iphigeneia (a tale suppressed in the Iliad) should be read into the scene as well: yet again, someone near to Achilles must be sacrificed to heal Achaean helplessness. [27]

The final contest between the rivals Odysseus and Achilles takes place in Book 19. Agamemnon has yielded again, this time accepting Odysseus’ procedural suggestions for recompensing Achilles (19.185-86). But Odysseus’ subsequent elaborate speeches on the necessity of eating fail to move Achilles. Instead, he overcomes Odysseus by taking over his opponent’s rhetorical strategy while refusing to acknowledge his presence. Odysseus had spoken of hunger (19.155-83); so does Achilles, in a reply directed to Agamemnon ostensibly, but he turns it into a metaphor for his desire to avenge Patroklos’ {64|65} death. He rejects the simple twofold “food and drink” of Odysseus (161 versus 210) in favor of a more complex triad, “murder, blood, and the rough moan of men” (214). [28] When Odysseus attempts to overcome Achilles once more, this time by sheer authority (217-20), Achilles replies by rising into another level of performance. Instead of arguing, he refuses food outright, as if too much has yet to come out of his mouth—a poetic lament, in which even the texture of speech resembles song more than oratory, as can be seen from alliterations: [29]

321, pothē . . . pathoimi
322, patros apophthimenoio puthoimēn
323, hos pou nun Phthiēphi
325, polemizō
327, Neoptolemos
329, phthisesthai
330, Phthiënde
334, Pēlea . . . pampan
337, apophthimenoio puthētai

Odysseus gives no more muthos orders after this performance by Achilles.

The Contested Word

We are led by the study of muthos as command to look at opposing speakers; this easily takes us into larger problems of characterization and theme in the poem. But I must stress another implication of the view of speech developed thus far in our analysis: the agonistic context still depends on a notion of speech as performance, and this, in turn, can be highly stylized. Rather than overemphasize the sociolinguistic realism of Homer, as a study of commands might tempt us to do, I suggest instead that we consider this genre to be a developed traditional form of social discourse. The two other genres of muthos speeches that I have uncovered are recognized poetic genres as well in both Greek and other traditions. This strengthens the suggestion that {65|66} “commands” constitute an equally conventional genre. Modern political oratory, seemingly wide-ranging and unbound by formal constraints, might make the proposition seem counterintuitive. But a study of traditional oratory can show how the act of giving orders and proposing directives deserves recognition as a separate formal genre (albeit rarely in a versified form). The work of Raymond Firth on oratory of the Tikopia in the western Pacific, and Anne Salmond’s studies of Maori oratory in New Zealand, demonstrate that the issuing of directives in public is a highly formalized verbal affair. [30] Learners of such traditional command discourse must memorize innumerable proverbs and genealogies to make their words effective. The formal nature of such directives is recognized in some cultures within the taxonomy of speech names. Rosaldo points out that the Ilongot consider tuydek, the command, to be “the exemplary act of speech,” because it organizes social life, being used by men in authority to control and tame women and children. [31] I submit that the Greek equivalent for “important speech of social control” is muthos.

The political nature of rhetoric within the Iliad deserves more recognition. [32] Homerists have concentrated more, however, on speech and persuasion in the poem as they relate to later oratory. [33] It has been noticed that a speaker’s success is measured in part by the degree of persuasion he or she elicits. I would add that this is not merely Homeric technique, but a social value to be seen in many cultures. “Among the Araucanians of Chile, the head of a band was its best orator and his power depended upon his ability to sway others through oratory,” notes Hymes. [34]

Although commands might seem less familiar as an institutionalized genre, the second category of muthos speeches, to which I turn now, should offer no such barrier. The work of Walter Ong, in particular Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness, has drawn attention to the agonistic nature of discourse in oral-traditional societies, and to the remnants of this outlook in our own. [35] The formalized verbal contests of several contemporary cultures range from events enacted by adolescents on street corners, like the black {66|67} American genres of the “dozens” and “sounding,” to more organized events (Maltese, Sardinian, and Turkish verbal duels), to highly structured “bardic” duels, like those among Kirghiz and Kazakh poets. [36] Such dueling clearly has a number of social functions; for one, it is “the oral equivalent of ritual physical combat among males, formalized, serious, and bantering at the same time.” [37] Avoiding physical violence, the participants engage in gamelike moves, often running counter to the culture’s norms—lying, for example, may be expected in such situations. [38] Such activity can be described in speech-act terms with reference to the “rules of conversation” developed by H. P. Grice; “noncooperation counts as cooperation for the duration of the ritual.” [39] That is, telling more or less than one would in normal conversation, telling what one knows to be an untruth, and generally breaking the contract of social discourse are all permitted in such verbal contests.

The best performers in such contests, even if they never claim to be “poets,” are in fact, masters of verbal art. Herzfeld notes from his fieldwork that “often a clever riposte serves to restrain physical violence. To respond with knife or fist would demean the assailant by suggesting that he was incapable of responding with some witty line of his own.” [40] A similar high regard for subtlety is regularized within Haya speech terms: one phrase, “to hit inside,” characterizes the type of allusive verbal strategies used by members of one in-group to challenge and rebuke each other; another term, ebijumi, denotes direct verbal abuse—the less prestigious type hurled at commoners and children. This distinction is relevant to the representation, within the Iliad, of Thersites and other practitioners of abuse. In a more general way, the existence of such socially grounded genre conventions requires us to exercise more caution in criticizing speech within the poem. As we shall see, some instances of direct speech may have no plot-advancing function whatsoever, but appear so that an audience familiar with everyday speech-genres can evaluate a character qua speaker, finding significance where those outside the system would not. [41]

Agonistic speech within the Iliad has attracted more notice than has {67|68} “political” discourse of the type I examined in the last section. In terms of poetic diction, A. W. H. Adkins has observed that many types of agonistic talk in Homer—for example, threats, rebukes, insults, quarrels, and judicial proceedings—are categorized with the noun neikos and the verb neikeo. This classification, in Adkins’s view, relates to the similar role that all such speech plays in a shame- or “results-culture.” [42] More recently, Gregory Nagy has drawn attention to the thematic importance of the neikos within the Iliad; in his view this type of discourse can be understood as a reflex of the poetic traditions of praise and blame that we see attested so frequently elsewhere in Greek poetry, and which have a good claim to be inherited Indo-European poetic genres. [43] Building on his convincing demonstration of the traditional poetic nature of the neikos, I shall suggest here that this also carries with it a set of rhetorical conventions in its enactment, as it does dictional conventions for the description of the activity within epic. Following a more general comparatist trend that would equate the genre of neikos with the depictions of similar verbal contests in Germanic traditional poetry, I use the term “flyting” (native to the Germanic genre) to refer to this phenomenon within the Iliad. I hope thereby to indicate that it shares features with other traditional contest genres, but also to avoid any counterargument based on whether or not neikos and related words actually appear in the epic to describe the scenes I discuss. The central point is that an audience would not necessarily require dictional sign-posting for the occurrence of this genre at every turn: at times the dispute language might be called neikos or “cutting words,” at other times it may be introduced, as I contend, simply as muthos, and again, it might even be unmarked completely, when the poet allows the dramatic setting of the speeches itself to cue the audience to the genre involved. [44]

The agonistic nature of muthoi has been clear to us as we examined the commands heroes make. A few narrative phrases also allude to this quality: as we saw in the last chapter, Thoas is described as a good speaker “whenever young men engage in strife (erisseian) concerning speech-acts (muthoi)” (15.284-85). Not only are such muthoi the various proposals brought forward by potential commanders; they {68|69} are also the counterarguments that denigrate others’ commands; and one can “engage in strife” about them not only in terms of content, but, as we shall see, in the matter of their style. The difference between a muthos command and a flyting speech may at times be minimal, since every instance of the former, as we saw, even those by Zeus, is open to challenge. The two genres, then, complement one another.

Book 4 of the poem is a good place to begin observing the poetics of flyting. The “game” nature of the genre is nowhere more evident than in Agamemnon’s ritualized encouragement of the troops, called by later critics the epipōlēsis or “review.” His technique consists of verbal assault. It is most often described with the language of “blaming” (see forms of the verb neikeō at 4.241, 336, 359, 368). The key lines for my interpretation that this activity is part of the authoritative speech of muthos are 4.356-57: “Smiling at him {Odysseus} Agamemnon addressed him, as he knew of his anger, and took back the muthos.” The speech thus referred to on its retraction was labeled in line 336 with the verb neikessen. We can extrapolate from this co-occurrence that each speech Agamemnon makes in the episode is in fact an instantiation of muthos discourse. Another co-occurrence worth noting here: twice (337, 369) the introduction to Agamemnon’s speech couples the verb neikeō with the formula “he spoke winged words.” Since “winged words” are also a regular introduction to directives, this is further confirmation that flyting speeches represent a form of muthos.

Not only is the diction of the speech introductions standardized, but Agamemnon’s rhetorical tacks also follow a pattern. He begins the three neikos speeches (but not the “gentle words” to Idomeneus, the two Ajaxes and Nestor—4.256, 285, 313) with questions.

“Argives . . . disgraces, are you not ashamed?” (242)

“Why do you stand off shrinking in fear and wait for others?” (340)

“Why do you cower, why do you steal glances at the banks of war?” (371)

Next, Agamemnon compares his addressees to scared animals. His general rebuke to the Argives pictures them as fawns whose motion across the plain is halted by fear (243-45). To Odysseus and Diomedes {69|70}, he uses the verb (kata)ptōssō (340, 371) a verb related to the word for “rabbit” that still exhibits an active association with the animal’s behavior (cf. the image in 17.676 of an eagle capturing the cowering creature). The final strategy in these speeches relies on privileging another place, thereby implying that the addressee occupies a position of no importance. Thus, to the Argives, Agamemnon contrasts their stilled movement with the preferable alternative of engagement in battle. Waiting by the ships is equivalent, in his words, to the vague hope that Zeus will protect them at some future time (4.249). The “other place” hurled at Odysseus and Menestheus as an insult is the dais, which, says Agamemnon, they prefer instead of battle (343-46). Diomedes is provoked by Agamemnon with the mention of another place and time, the heroic exploits of Tydeus, his father, at Thebes.

It is not coincidental that Agamemnon finally selects Odysseus and Diomedes as targets for his abuse in Book 4. The investigation of the command genre of muthoi shows us that these two heroes pose the greatest threat, next to Achilles, in their verbal abilities. [45] Idomeneus and the two Ajaxes, whom he praises, are conspicuously absent from the rolls of active muthos speakers in the poem. Nestor, on the other hand, is too good a speaker for abuse. But even when he has chosen the right competitors, Agamemnon loses to them in the flyting that follows, bested by different but equally effective performances.

Odysseus feels himself to be the real target of Agamemnon’s blame, and rightly, since only he (not Menestheus) is called names— “pre-eminent in evil tricks, mind on gain” (4.339). Instead of denying these epithets, Odysseus deftly parries the accusation of laxness with a rhetorical question: “What word has escaped the fence of teeth on you? How can you talk about neglecting war?” (350—52). Then he switches to speak of the future: “You will see … the father of Telemakhos mixing in the front lines” (promakhoisi, 354). Finally, he criticizes Agamemnon’s style of speech: “You are talking idly” (anemōlia bazeis, 355). Odysseus gains forcefulness from his manipulation of poetic devices. The paronomasia using his son’s name allows Odysseus to allude subtly to his own status as an archer, or “far fighter. ” The pun furthermore becomes a subtle boast: not only will he fulfill his traditional epic function, but he will go beyond this, to fight even in the front lines: he can play any role you like. And this implicit {70|71} boast contrasts with the message behind his criticism of Agamemnon’s style: we could paraphrase, “I know how to perform, but you cannot even talk appropriately.”

Agamemnon’s response certifies what the audience has already garnered by this time, that Odysseus defeated him verbally. He takes back the neikos speech just made by denying that he was even attempting to blame Odysseus (4.359). In an effort to save face, he associates himself with the victorious speaker, claiming to share his thoughts (360—61). The speech is an apology for “bad style” in all senses of the phrase; significantly, Agamemnon adopts Odysseus’ own poetic formulation to waft away his previous speech: “May the gods make all these things like the winds” (metamōnia—cf. anemōlia earlier, both from the noun anemos, “wind”).

If Odysseus resists Agamemnon by clever riposte, Diomedes’ strategy is cunning silence. This response is indeed the only possibility, for Agamemnon has baited a trap in the final words of his neikos speech about Diomedes’ father: “Such was Tydeus. But the son he begat is worse in war—better in speaking” (399-400). Under these terms, were Diomedes even to attempt an Odyssean reply, he would simply affirm Agamemnon’s accusation that he is a better talker then fighter. The insult, of course, reflects back badly on Agamemnon himself, since branding one’s opponent as a slick speaker is the last resort of bankrupt rhetoricians and demagogues. We are reminded of Thucydides’ portrayal of Kleon in the Mytilene debate (3.382-7). In contrast, the “silent” answer works with complete effect here because it constitutes an ambiguous sign. The poet reads it for us at face value, as Agamemnon might: “Strong Diomedes did not address him at all, ashamed of the rebuke of the respected king.” But the rules of the genre of flyting discourses allow of another interpretation. Walter Edwards, writing about insult duels in Guyana, notes: “The silence of the addressee can be interpreted … as incompetence in busin {the genre of insults} or as a strategic aloofness which asserts social superiority over the buser.” [46] Diomedes’ ploy looks like defeat but it is actually such an assertion. And Diomedes knows the rules well enough to rebuke his companion Sthenelos, who has tried to counteract the insults of Agamemnon (4.404-110). The charioteer decries the knowing lies of the abuser (404) but Diomedes replies, in effect, that Agamemnon is simply playing his role correctly (413-14). The {71|72} apparent gesture of support for the chief, by reference to the way the game is played, reinforces the agonistic intention of Diomedes’ silence. By directing his reply to Sthenelos and then getting him to consent to a muthos of command (412), he acknowledges that he knows the ambiguous import of his silence in the duel. Then, singling out Agamemnon for responsibility in the success of the war, Diomedes has also posed the unspeakable possibility of defeat (417— 18). This effectively silences the abuser. With a grand gesture, Diomedes leaps full-armed from his chariot, his armor crashing about him so that “fear would have seized even a stout-hearted one,” as Homer says (421). The audience for this gesture is Agamemnon, however, and he is neatly put in his place by the poet with this phrase.

The ability to conduct a fly ting match forms an essential part of the hero’s strategic repertoire. We shall return in the next chapter to a consideration of various styles in flyting. For now, it will be useful to examine three varieties of such speeches—those between comrades, gods, and enemies—to sketch some salient aspects of the poetics of abuse.

A reference to other authoritative speech is a recurring feature of flyting speeches among companions. The powerful muthos performed by Achilles as he marshals the Myrmidons begins in this way, with an injunction to recall their previous threats (apeilai) against the Trojans: “Myrmidons, let no one forget on me the threats with which you threatened the Trojans at the ships all during the time of anger” (16.200-201). Adkins has described the conditions under which the semantic range of apeilai can include threats, boasts, vows, promises, and magniloquent speech. [47] All can be classed together as efforts to make oneself felt in a hostile environment. I would add that Homeric diction once more proves attentive to the category of speech-act (as we noticed in the case of winged words). For all senses of apeilai can be subsumed under the head of assertives or commissives. And the latter can actually fit under the former category, because, in context, vows and promises are made in order to announce a social assertion of alliance or opposition. [48] Achilles’ reference to this category of speech is at one remove from its original force. Although he mentions threats, he does so not to threaten anyone himself, but {72|73} to challenge the Myrmidons. The rhetorical strategy of recalling past speech-acts to shame the present hearers into action had been displayed by Nestor early in the poem, in a speech berating the Achaeans: “You speak in the assembly like infantile children, who are not affected by war works. To what end will come the agreements and oaths we have?” (sunthesiai te kai horkia, 2.349). Because the challenges that both heroes make are not defied, we see as it were only the first half of a neikos episode. But the intent of both Achilles’ muthos and Nestor’s challenge is unmistakably akin to Agamemnon’s motives in the epipōlēsis.

Achilles’ challenge is the more effective because he not only recalls one speech-act (the threats) but uses a direct quotation to mimic another, one the Myrmidons had employed. Like Odysseus to Agamemnon in Book 4, Achilles dismisses these earlier grumbling speeches as mere talk (ebazete, 16.207). In familiar flyting fashion, he contrasts “then” with “now”: the Myrmidons used to talk of going home because Achilles was angered, “but now has appeared the great work of strife, of which you were previously enamored” (16.207-8).

This flyting strategy is not limited to Achaean heroes. Sarpedon rebukes Hektor in Book 5 in a neikos speech that is later labeled a muthos (see 5.471 and 5.493). The then/now contrast opens his attack, followed immediately by a reference to Hektor’s earlier boasts: “Hektor, where has your strength gone, which you previously used to have? You used to say at some point that you would hold the city alone, without troops and allies, with your brothers and brothers-in -law. I cannot see any of them now or notice any, but they all cower like dogs around a lion” (5.471—76). Sarpedon’s speech is noteworthy for its insistent criticism of Hektor’s verbal behavior, charging him with failing to give orders (485) and advising him to supplicate the allied leaders (lissomenōi, 491) for help in order to deflect verbal abuse (kraterēn apothesthai enipēn, 492).

The recalled-speech strategy recurs, finally, within Agamemnon’s speech about Atē in Book 19. Here the framework is a speech designed to ratify the renewed solidarity among the Achaeans; it is the opposite of a flyting speech. Appropriately, therefore, the speech-act which Agamemnon recalls to open his discourse was a neikos event, now over—the muthos which the Achaeans spoke to Agamemnon many times (19.85-86), apparently in voicing their dissatisfaction with his treatment of Achilles. From this brief reference to the past, Agamemnon shifts to the present: “But I am not responsible” (86). {73|74}

Such a denial of guilt would have been an appropriate response to a flyting speech in the past. Compare the exchange between the disguised Poseidon and Idomeneus. To the god’s challenge, “Where are now the threats gone, with which the sons of the Achaeans threatened Trojans?” (13.219—20), the Cretan chief replies, “No man is now responsible, as much as I know. For we all know how to war” (13.222-23). The first speech fits the pattern we have already seen (cf. Achilles’ speech, quoted earlier) and the reply attempts to answer the implied contrast between former boasts and present immobility, as if Idomeneus knows the full pattern of such flyting speeches, even though it is not explicit here. In comparison, Agamemnon’s speech answers a past rebuke (not simply a rebuke in the present that refers to the past). This variation on the conventional pattern shows that the neikos words still rankle in Agamemnon’s mind, as he even now finds it necessary to shift responsibility. Once again, Homer draws our attention to Agamemnon’s inept use of patterns.

A second tactic evident in flyting muthoi again uses contrast as an operating principle, but depends on the juxtaposition of praiseworthy foil with blameworthy addressee. Glaukos applies this to Hektor, rebuking him with a harsh speech (kraterōi ēnipape muthōi, 17.141). He first praises three different heroic alternatives: Sarpedon, whose corpse they must fight for, was a great benefit to all when alive (17.152); Achilles, whose companion is dead, is “best by far of the Argives by the ships” (165); but Hektor, he asserts, could not face even Ajax (implied to be weaker than Achilles), “since he is stronger than you. ” The rebuke is all the more stinging to an audience that has heard Sarpedon himself use the same foil technique to Hektor, previously, posing his own heroic career as the contrast to Hektor’s passivity (5.483-86), Hektor has not learned.

The foil strategy can be seen on a smaller scale in the less serious flyting speech by Andlokhos during the Funeral Games. After losing the foot race, the young hero generalizes that the gods honor the older generation. The specific hit at Odysseus’ age is tempered slightly: “They say he is a raw old man” (23.791). But one can discern a more serious allusion, to the theme of enmity between Odysseus and Achilles, in the next line: “But he is difficult for the Achaeans to compete with, except for Achilles. ” The effect of Antilokhos’ slightly denigratory remark is to praise Achilles (793, kudēnen), who responds, like a patron to a praise-poet, with a gift and muthoi to bestow it formally (793-96). {74|75}

This exchange brings us to a third aspect of flyting speeches: because the figure of the laudandus is often created at the expense of another character, praise and blame are inextricable in this genre. Reading the Iliad with this in mind helps to explicate several speeches in which the muthos ends rather than begins a neikos. One example comes after Hektor’s direct insults to his brother Paris (3.38-57). In response to Hektor’s stream of abuse, full of every flyting device, Paris states his approval of Hektor’s performance, in a muthos. (We hear it called this at 3.76 and 3.87.) Paris’ proposal to stage a duel thus produces a temporary harmony within Trojan ranks, as it opens the possibility of ending the larger neikos of the war. Yet the muthos of Paris, set as it is in the context of a fraternal dispute, still bears the marks of flyting discourse. It includes a strong prohibitive—”Do not bring up against me the lovely gifts of Aphrodite”—which is the rhetorical equivalent of a denial of responsibility, since Paris could not throw away such bestowals. Another mark is the comparison of Hektor’s heart and mind to a woodsman’s unwearied axe (61-64). Suggestive metaphor in some traditions is one way to start a quarrel. [49] The adjective that Paris uses to describe the axe might be this type of suggestion, for in the diction of Homer, ateirēs either describes a bronze weapon, usually when it injures a warrior (5.292, 7.247, 14.25), or a voice raised in rough encouragement mixed with rebuke (13.45, 22.227). Athena in the guise of Phoinix uses an ateirea phōnēn (17.555) to remind Menelaos of the disgrace to come should Patroklos’ corpse be abandoned, and Hektor has used the same rare word (katēpheiē, 3.51) in his flyting speech to which Paris responds here. In sum, Paris’ retort, “your heart is like an ‘unwearied’ axe,” can be read to mean “I register your tone of voice; your remarks cut me.” The negative implications may also be encoded in Paris’ description of the axe as an aid to man’s strength (62), for this is to say that Hektor requires flyting language as compensation for lack of power in arms. Rather than showing an “incomplete apprehension of character” on Paris’ part, his manipulation of poetic simile is a dexterous face-saving performance that proves to be an accurate prediction of Hektor’s ultimate dilemma. [50]

Another scene from the Games shows us a muthos that silences flyting: Achilles’ intervention between the quarreling Ajax and Idomeneus {75|76} (23.491-98). This dispute erupts over an informal contest to see who can name the winners of the chariot race, from a distance. Idomeneus’ muthos is an attempt to gain authority by its suggestion that he alone has the ability to discern the race results before it is over (457-72); the speech also gives him an opportunity to single out one hero for praise, Diomedes (471-73). Ajax recognizes the move for what it is, an attempt to upstage the rightful judge of the race, and criticizes the older hero’s style: “Why are you blustering beforehand? (474, labreueai). [51] The disposition to begin a fly ting match first becomes in the words of Ajax a cause for blame; then, a way of denigrating Idomeneus, through the implication that he is not very proficient even in this abased speech form: “But you are always blustering with muthoi. You musn’t be a blustering speaker. There are better ones present” (23.479—80). This last insult gives Idomeneus the opportunity for a brilliant counterthrust. He implicitly concedes that he is not the best at insulting by awarding that honor to Ajax: “neikos ariste” (483). But prowess in flyting is accompanied by incompetence at all else, by this logic (483—84). Thus Idomeneus springs on Ajax the same rhetorical trap that we saw another older hero use (Agamemnon at 4.399-400). Unlike Agamemnon, Idomeneus leaves an apparent escape, in the form of a proposed wager (23.485-87); we might be suspicious when he names Agamemnon to be the judge. Given their similar methods, one expects that Agamemnon would take his Cretan friend’s side. With a touch of psychological realism, then, Homer makes Achilles interrupt the escalating flyting match with a command to focus attention on nikē rather than neikos (496). He deflects blame onto those who would use the genre: “Get angry at another, whoever would do such things” (494).

In the preceding chapter, I examined the rhetoric of “words and deeds,” suggesting that this trope could be expressed either as conjunction (best at both) or disjunction (better in words than deeds). In the poetics of flyting which we have sketched by analyzing solely muthos speeches, both functions emerge. A hero’s status as warrior requires him to value fighting over flyting; to speak, if at all, laconically. [52] Yet, to draw attention to his martial ability, the hero must {76|77} use language well, and be criticized on his performance. The paradox is embodied in Patroklos’ words to Meriones. His companion has responded well to Hektor’s flyting words by capping Hektor’s lines. Compare Hektor’s “My spear would have stopped you … dancer though you are” (16.617) with Meriones’ “It is hard for you to quench the strength of all .… strong though you are.” The latter mimics Hektor’s style exactly, down to the coincidence of metrical segment and subordinate clause at line-end (cf. 618 and 621). Meriones has performed a poetic coup. And although Patroklos halts this neikos by reference to the lesser importance of extended speech, we cannot help but notice that his own warning is itself a finished performance, with a polished gnomic chiasmus, “For in hands is the end of war, of words in the council” (650), and a juxtaposition marked by alliteration: “Therefore it is not necessary to increase the muthos, but to fight (makhesthai)” (631). We may conclude that flyting by its very nature leads to the enactment of a performance with a focus on style, even more so than in the genre of commands. This emphasis becomes even more marked in the formal representation of memories, to which I turn now. [53]

Feats of Memory

“Great narrative artists are drawn to abuses of narrative. Homer is interested in lies and boasts, Virgil in lies and rumor, Shakespeare in slander, Milton in temptations, George Eliot and D. H. Lawrence in gossip.” [54] But are “lies and boasts” really “abuses of narrative” to the archaic Greek poet? Or are we confusing “narrative” with “factual account”? I believe that in such things as lies and boasts—but most of all in three speech genres which are named muthoi—epic depicts the very essence of narrative. So far we have examined Homeric commands and flyting speeches; the third genre of discourse designated muthos within the Iliad cannot be readily identified with small, embedded genres such as these, but embraces a type underlying both of the others: performances of memory. Furthermore, this third genre {77|78} can be compared with the overarching medium of Homeric poetry itself. As the act of recall which elicits from the Muse the story of the Iliad carries with it the memory of commands and disputes, so the muthos of memory holds a place in the hierarchy of Homeric speeches higher than the others. Yet we shall see that even the acts of recalling and reminding are not isolated in the Iliad from something of speechmaking’s agonistic clash. And as with the other genres we have seen, in “feats of memory, ” too, there are better and worse performers.

The vocabulary of memory in early Greek literature has attracted attention since Milman Parry’s studies linking Homer with oral traditions. [55] Only one scholar has, to my knowledge, approached the problem of words for memory and remembering in the Iliad. W. S. Moran has shown that the verb mimnēskomai covers a range of activities involving memory: in particular, Homeric diction often uses this term to denote the singing of epic tales within the poem, stories that we can find in other, non-Homeric attestations. [56] Moran’s interest is chiefly in demonstrating that the method of Homeric composition is mirrored within Homeric poetry, making the verb “to remember” into nearly a technical term for “singing.”

With this relation between “memory” and poetic performance in mind, I wish to expand the investigation of memory by setting it in the context of other sorts of performance within the poem, especially the analogous acts of fighting and speaking. My reason for attempting this comes from our investigation of muthos, for that term leads us to look at speeches of certain types. One of these types is clearly centered on a speaker’s recollection and re-presentation of past events. As with the analysis of flyting and commands, it will be most helpful if we examine the larger notion of memory behind such speeches, as well as look at the dozen or so performances that are based mainly on this act.

The formulaic use of the verb mimnēskomai (“recall, remember”) provides a good place to start. (Although the semantics of this verb {78|79} cover a range of meanings, from “call to mind” to “keep in mind,” I shall argue that formulaic usage assimilates the several denotations.) We can observe three areas in which these formulas are deployed: to speak of battle; to recall a personality; and to remind divinities of past favors. The last class is the smallest, and we shall not spend time on it here, as the function of the reminding (hypomnēsis) in early Greek prayers is generally well known. As I have noted before, prayer is one important genre never designated muthos by the Iliad. The diction surrounding the memory of persons will be examined later in this section; first we will consider the largest class, the use of this verb in formulas that involve battle.

Here, the tendency in Homer toward an economy of dictional elements is well attested. One half-line formula is standard for the narrator’s observation that fighters “remembered” battle (mnēsanto de kharmēs). It occurs when Homer has just described a shift in the war’s fortunes as a result of a retreat or a sign from Zeus. [57] Another formulaic full line occurs in the direct speech of the fighters on either side as they urge on their companions at the height of battle: “Be men, friends, remember rushing power” (aneres este, philoi, mnēsasthe de thouridos alkēs). [58] Twice the narrative phrase is transformed into a hortatory subjunctive in direct speech, “Let us be mindful of the battle” (15.477, I9.I48) and once into a potential optative (17.103, still in first-person plural). Only once does the reverse transformation occur, at 11.566: “Ajax at times remembered rushing power.” [59]

By means of these formulas the poet crystallizes two steps in the process of remembering battle. The act itself of “remembering” is rarely dramatized, although interior monologues and the speaker’s own assertions can be used to enact this part of the process. More often, the act of reminding is depicted. At times, a speaker makes an explicit reference to memory without using the formulas we have {79|80} seen. Achilles in his speech upon return (19.146-53) uses both strategies, conventional and otherwise:

The gifts, if you wish, offer, as is fit, Agamemnon lord of men, most glorious son of Atreus, or keep them by you. But now let us remember the battle (mnēsōmetha kharmēs), right away. For it is necessary not to chatter nor waste time here, for a great deed is still undone. In this way, one may see Achilles again with the front-lines, killing rows of Trojans with a bronze spear. And in this way let any one of you, remembering, fight a man (memnēmenos andri makhesthō).

Glaukos, urging Hektor to fight over Sarpedon’s corpse, begins his speech by saying that Hektor has “forgotten the allies who die for your sake far from friends and fatherland” (16.538-40). In this rhetoric, memory is the mechanism for affirming social bonds and challenging the listener to uphold them. In addition, the topic of memory can be used with rhetorical effect over large stretches of discourse even when there is no overt lexical reference. Furthermore, the act of reminding blends into that of a third enactment, recalling. But even here, as in the scenes just reviewed, memory has a purpose: as a general rule, characters in the Iliad do not remember anything simply for the pleasure of memory. Recall has an exterior goal.

The master of this genre is of course Nestor. In his first intervention in the poem, the old hero uses the device of recalling the past in order to legitimate his claim on authority in the present (1.259—74): “But obey. You are both younger than I. Already I have been with men better than you and they never slighted me. ” The act of recalling here focuses precisely on Nestor’s ability to command: “And they understood my counsels and obeyed the muthos” (1.273). We can see that the ability to command—mastery of the first muthos genre— is enhanced when the speaker has the ability to foreground his own directives by retrojecting the act of command through another rhetorical genre, recollection. This latter genre, apart from commands and fly ting, is the only other one to be labeled muthos.

The Iliad seems to leave a gap. Having been shown the persuasive power of Nestor, based on his ability to remember and remind, the audience might well expect him to be the only hero capable of convincing Achilles to rejoin the battle. But this ideal confrontation of generations never occurs. Instead, Odysseus, the speaker whom we have already recognized to be in contention with Achilles for command {80|81} of the muthos takes on the job, and fails. Nestor does succeed—but with what seems to us to be the wrong audience, Patroklos. I observed earlier that Odysseus and Nestor practice similar rhetorical tacks in their commanding muthoi to Achilles and Patroklos. Indeed, the central trope in these speeches is explicitly an act of memory. Odysseus had said (of Peleus’ speech): “Thus the old man instructed, but you forget” (9.259). Compare Nestor’s words to Patroklos, in which the same line recurs (11.790). Nor is the strategy of dramatic memory limited to these two speakers. Phoinix, who seems to stand in for Nestor in the embassy scene, uses a long discourse from memory as the centerpiece of his attempt to induce Achilles to come back. “I recall this deed from of old, nothing new indeed, how it was. I will tell it among you, friends all” (9.527). [60] The epic tale he proceeds to recount does refer to a past event, but clearly has been shaped in performance to address the present audience for the composition, Achilles, with hints embedded in such things as the name of the older hero’s wife, Kleo-patra (reminding Achilles of his companion’s name, Patro-klos). [61]

Alongside the presentation of Nestor as ideal speaker in the Iliad is that of Odysseus as another effective performer from memory. It is not, then, inauthentic for Odysseus to be selected as one who tries to persuade Achilles. An earlier episode, however, shows us the differences between the rhetoric of Odysseus and Nestor and may provide more insight on why Odysseus’ rhetoric is not quite as good. He performs a muthos to spur the Achaeans into battle in Book 2, just before a similar speech by Nestor. Again, command is combined with memory, and pointed up nearly to the sharpness of a flyting discourse. One could score the speech by noting the shifts in genres of muthos within it. Odysseus begins with flyting: “The Achaeans want to make you {Agamemnon} most shameful of mortal men, ” he says, comparing the troops to children or women anxious to get home. Now memory takes over: “It is the tenth year at Troy, so I do not blame the Achaeans for chafing.” A command intrudes: “Bear up, friends, until we know if Kalkhas is prophesying truth” (2.299-300). This in turn triggers a long rendition by Odysseus of an earlier {82} prophecy by Kalkhas, at Aulis, when there appeared the sign of the snake who ate the swallows. Precise details—the altar and the springs near it, the snake’s color, the number of birds and their cries—these are remembered in the service of dramatic rhetoric intended to convince the Achaeans of the authenticity of the event, but also to raise the status of the one who remembers it. For Odysseus, in recalling the words of Kalkhas, himself exhibits a seerlike ability to describe and interpret what is not present. Memory bestows a mantle on its practitioners. [62]

The crucial difference between this type of performance and that of Nestor, as we see it in his long narrative in Book 2 (656-803) has to do with the self-presentation of the speaker. Although both talk for the same purpose, Odysseus foregrounds himself as performer, explicitly quoting another authority (Kalkhas), whom he then can be seen to overcome in the contest of speaking: Kalkhas, as we saw in Book 1, does not even cite his own previous acts, whereas Odysseus remembers all, apparently. Nestor, on the other hand, presents himself not as a speaker, but as a heroic performer of both words and deeds. His narrative of personal experience is convincing because it calls for emulation, even challenge. It becomes the mainspring of memory that powers the entire second half of the poem’s action.

As with commands, memory speeches provoke challenge. They can easily lead to fly ting duels. Another speech by Nestor illustrates this shift. We are familiar with his habit of self-citation, to authorize his present speech. His first speech in the Iliad revolves around this and, furthermore, begins with a particularly Nestorian tactic to indicate his dismay: “A great sorrow has come to Akhaia; Priam and his children might rejoice” (1.245-46). Nestor reuses this strategy in his speech at 7.124-60: “A great sorrow has come to Akhaia. Peleus, the honored horse-driver, would groan.” As earlier, he shifts into the mode of recollection, but here, three separate items are recalled, and his memory is thickly layered. He recalls that Peleus once questioned him about Argive genealogy (1.127-28); he wishes he were young as when he fought the Arkadians (1.133-57); and embedded in the latter ring-composition is a third memory, the heritage of the armor of Ereuthalion, whom he defeated long ago. This last recollection sounds like antiquarian trivia, unless we realize the importance of {82|83} armor as a signifier of heroism in the poem (consider, for example, Achilles’ equipment), and further place this narrative sign in the context of genealogical lore, a topic I shall take up shortly. For now, the important point is that all three “memories” described are set in terms appropriate to flyting as the speech ends. “Thus did Nestor make a neikos” (7.161). It becomes clear that he has used himself as foil to shame the Achaeans into volunteering for the duel.

When we examine the role of memory in fly ting, a cluster of varied rhetorical functions emerges. The technique of contrasting one’s own career with the addressee’s cowardice or immobility has been analyzed previously in our discussion. A more generally used strategy is the one that Agamemnon tries in urging the defense of the ships: “Shame, Argives, evil disgraces, admirable in form only” (8.228). Abusive language is the lowest skill. But after this line, Agamemnon more skillfully shifts to a rhetorical question: “Where have the boasts gone, when we said we were best, the oaths you idly spoke on Lemnos?” (229—30). In elaborating this tack, Agamemnon dwells on the early scene of free-flowing wine and talk: this topic of food forms a bridge with his second act of recollection, as he remembers the cattle thighs he burnt in sacrifice when he piously honored Zeus at every altar en route to Troy (238-41). The juxtaposition of these memories shames his hearers, but also serves Agamemnon’s purposes for characterizing himself as a consistent personality. The Achaeans have stopped boasting, he implies, but Agamemnon, as the very form of his words show, has not stopped praying to Zeus even now (236, Zeu pater).

Three exchanges between gods can illustrate the versatile social function of remembering and reminding within the context of rebukes. Spoken in a tone of defiance, the words “Don’t you remember” introduce a threat. Ares, in a flyting muthos (21.393), asks Athena, “Don’t you recall when you drove Diomedes, son of Tydeus, to wounding, and yourself thrust at me, grasping the spear all could see?” (396-98). Ares turns his earlier injury into a cause for action, in language resembling a legal formulation: “Therefore I now think you will repay me as much as you have done” (399).

A short while later, Poseidon rebukes Apollo with this phrase, in a gentler manner, for supporting the Trojans: “Don’t you recall all the ills we suffered, we two alone of the gods, about Troy, we who slaved for Laomedon at a set pay for a year?” (21.441-45). Instead of spurring him to fight, this leads Apollo, by the reminder of Laomedon’s {84} treachery, to offer an elegiac dismissal of the value of fighting for humankind. But Apollo’s twin takes up the neikos (471) and in a third deployment of the discourse of memory says threateningly, “May I never hear you boasting—as you did before among immortal gods—that you fight face-to-face Poseidon.” The success of Artemis’ abuse becomes a moot point as Hera intervenes to box her ears, but, in view of the rhetorical tack she took, we can gather that having refused a fight would be considered a cause for blame in future boasting events. To deny that an addressee has been consistently heroic is to constrain his further fame.

A slightly different strategy for the flyting hero’s use of memory comes in Achilles’ words to Hektor not long before he kills him. In view of the genre rules elicted thus far, Hektor has already made a false step even before casting his weapon, because he recalls his own lack of courage. It is a performance foreign to the heroic ethic to say, “I will not flee you as I did before” (22.250—51). Moving aggressively into this rhetorical opening, Achilles brushes aside the proposed treaty to respect one another’s corpses (which also goes against the conventional vow to defile another). He uses the rhetoric of repayment and recalls the injury that provokes him, the death of his friend (see 22.271-72 and compare 21.399). Before making this threat, Achilles orders Hektor to “remember every sort of excellence: now you must be spearman and intrepid fighter” (22.268-69). If this sounds like the formulaic “remember strength” formula, we must not overlook the radical change wrought here. For, as we observed, it is always the commander urging on his own troops who uses this turn of phrase. By throwing this familiar encouragement at Hektor, Achilles violates a linguistic constraint, with precisely the same tonal effect as when he uses “winged words” to an enemy. [63] The ultimate rhetorical insult to a warrior is to be infantilized or feminized. If Achilles can “remind” Hektor how to fight, he has already negated Hektor’s ability to win. [64] This is a strategy Hektor knows as well, since he used a direct “quotation” to Patroklos (the alleged “order” of Achilles, 16.838—41) in order to reduce his adversary to the status of an unthinking, obedient follower of directions. {84|85}

Here the rhetoric of recollection comes full circle. A commander’s persuasive power, as we saw, depends on an ability to construct memories; so does a warrior’s attack on the enemy. The “truth” value of such memories is not an issue; epic “deconstructs,” if you like, the very act of memory by showing us its pragmatic underpinnings in such situations. At the same time, there is in the poem an appreciation for the abilities of fictive creation that accords such imaginative use of recollection full quotation—a fascination with the source of narrative, it seems.

That the hero’s ability to command or engage in dispute is “poetic” in the widest sense has been my contention throughout this chapter. But I have also tried to show that, from the viewpoint of comparative studies both in Greek and other traditions, giving commands and conducting verbal contests are in fact “poetic” talents even on the more narrowly defined basis, relating to stylized verbal art forms. Even if there is no overt genre label for two of the three genres (the exception being neikos), the rule-bound nature of the discourses within the poem, coupled with the comparative evidence for such poetic genres, should lead us to believe that the construction of the massive epic draws on actually existing social-poetic genres. Memory, for the poet, is not just diachronic but synchronic—the recollection of the way contemporary men and women speak. Or, put another way, the diction of such embedded genres is most likely inherited and traditional; the rhetoric, on the other hand, is the locus of spontaneous composition in performance. As we saw earlier and will find in the next chapter, the way in which heroes speak to one another foregrounds for us this phenomenon of performing to fit the audience.

The last and most crucial strategy in the warrior’s repertoire can show us that the genre of memory, like the others, has a poetic congener. For the recitation of genealogy in poetic form is recognized throughout Africa as an essential social genre, and moreover it holds a good claim to be one of the oldest Indo-European genres, attested in Irish, Welsh, Avestan, Old English, Norse, and non-Homeric Greek poetry. [65] Homer’s own genealogical interests as narrator hardly need illustration: the system of patronymics enshrines this, as do the vignettes in the Catalogue of Ships and more extensive passages such as {85|86} the story of Agamemnon’s scepter (2.101-9). The last-mentioned passage holds clues as to the relevance of such genealogical performance as a mechanism for creating social cohesion. The role of genealogical memories within Iliadic speeches is slightly different in orientation: the hero uses it to mark his own deeds, as does Achilles after killing Asteropaios (21.187-91) or to shame another to act (as do Agamemnon and others with Diomedes: 4.375, 5.813). Aeneas’ use of the genre is ambiguous, since he is clearly characterized as a “master of poetic skills in the language of praise and blame, ” as his very name asserts, yet seems to spend an inordinate amount of time recounting his genealogy so as to face down Achilles before a duel (20.200-258), compared with Achilles, who can afford to wait until after the victim is dead. [66] Diomedes’ employment of genealogical recitation is more obviously a device for accomplishing his entrée into the world of heroic speakers (14.110-27).

If this formal poetic genre within the discourse of memory earns its performers a place in the world of men, another related genre eases them from that world and into fame: I refer to the poetry of lament. Aided by the work of Margaret Alexiou, we are able to recognize a remarkably unbroken poetic tradition in Greece perpetuating this socially important genre. [67] The theme and diction of lament appear to have shaped the Iliad and can even be found embedded in the name of Achilles, “grief of the fighting-men.” [68] Typologically, such a blending of lament themes within epic would not be surprising, as the genre of epic seems in some traditions to have arisen from panegyric of the type performed at aristocratic funerals. Certainly, many non-Greek epics feature extended laments, sometimes in another poetic meter and form, embedded in the narrative. [69] In terms of my emphasis on performance, it is significant that the best speaker in the course of the action of Iliad (not just in the ideology of the poem) is Achilles, who happens to be the one hero most practiced in the genre of lament, as we see in his speeches from Book 18 on. It is, as well, the genre of lament in the context of larger memories that finally unites Achilles in thought with Priam and effects the closure of the Iliad, both men remembering their losses. [70] But I wish to conclude this chapter with a slight shift of focus, namely the speech of women, the traditional performers of formal lament in Greek tradition.

The poem’s final scene presents a full-scale lamentation with performances by women close to Hektor. His wife Andrornakhe mourns for his early death, praises his protection of the city, and predicts the suffering she will face as a widow with a young child (24.725-45). Hekabe, his mother, dwells on the fine condition of his corpse, as sign of divine favor (748—59). Helen makes a dramatically fitting third mourner, as she has unwittingly caused Hektor’s death. This implicit fact structures her lament: even though she may have expected abuse, Hektor never reviled her, and in fact protected her from the remarks of others (762-75).

With this scene in mind, as well as the genre classification of muthos that I have presented thus far, we can finally understand two seemingly anomalous passages in which women at Troy answer back to men by using a muthos. Given the male, heroic in-group orientation of the word muthos, and its association with powerful self-presentation, it would seem to be a social taboo for women to employ this kind of speech. But it turns out that Helen and Hekabe, both of whom address Priam with a muthos at other points in the poem, are actually enacting laments in the speeches labeled with this word. That is to say, they fulfill an expected performance role, using a recognized genre of muthos as memory—but they are presented as doing so at unexpected times, to create dramatic effect.

The address that Hekabe makes to Priam as he leaves for Achilles’ tent is explicitly presented in the language of lament (“she wailed [kōkusen], and answered with a muthos,” 24.200). The speech starts with desperate rebukes of Priam’s folly in going—we can compare the tone of Andromakhe’s lament at 24.743-45, chiding Hektor for not consoling her. Even more explicit is the call for others to join in her mourning, a theme found still in Greek lament. [71] Hekabe concludes with a dramatization of her anger and grief: she could eat the {87|88} liver of Achilles; only such violence would offer requital. In sum, the speech laments both her son, now dead, and her husband, whom she does not expect to see again alive.

When we first hear Helen in Book 3 of the Iliad, she has come to see her husband duel, having been persuaded by Iris and overcome with “sweet desire” for Menelaos and her past (3.139). Priam on the wall overlooking the plain asks her for an exact declaration concerning the name of a hero below (3.166, exonomēnēis). That this sort of a speech requires a muthos on the part of Helen is confirmed by the formula she uses later (ounoma muthēsaimēn, 3.235) in making the statement Priam wants. But at this point, her naming of the hero is delayed in the first speech. Instead, in this reply and only this one, she uses the language of lament, recalling her former home and wishing that she herself had died when she followed Paris to Troy (171-80). Alive, she is wasted with grieving (klaiousa, 176, cf. this verb in Hekabe’s lament, 24.208). And she refers to Menelaos as if he were no longer alive (3.180). Rather than being a random variation on a speech-introductory formula, the poet’s use here of the line Τὸν δ’ Ελένη μύθοισιν ἀμείβετο, δῖα γυναικῶν keys an audience by the use of the word muthos to a graceful enactment of desire in the context of lament. [72]

These lamentations, by Helen and Hekabe, fulfill the conditions for performance that we have seen elsewhere: they are acts of self-presentation with an emphasis on extension and detail, in a public setting. The genius of the Iliad lies in having captured such acts within the medium of epic, and used them to humanize archaic figures of myth. We turn next to these performers of muthoi. [73]


[ back ] 1. Rosmarin 1985:39.

[ back ] 2. Fowler 1982:1-53 is a good summary of the issues involved.

[ back ] 3. Turner 1979:89. For another view, with reference to oral poetics, see Caraveli-Chaves 1980:156. Bakhtin was able to demonstrate the links between literary and social genres, especially in his work on Rabelais. For a summary and bibliography see Bakhtin 1986:60-100. Stewart 1986:46, compares Bakhtin’s insights with those of Searle and Austin on speech-acts. Todorov, working from the Formalists and Bakhtin, illustrates the relationship between the types of genres in Les genres du discours (1978). I have applied his insights to archaic Greek poetry in my work on the Theogony proem (Martin 1984). A selection of essays on folklore genres can be found in Ben-Amos 1976.

[ back ] 4. See Salmond 1974:196-212.

[ back ] 5. On Navaho: Gill 1981, esp. 9-34; Antigua: Reisman 1974; Guyana: Edwards 1979.

[ back ] 6. See Bassett 1938:70-71, who estimates that these occupy 90 percent of the Iliad’s speeches. Bauman 1978:27 observes that the distinction between speech-acts and speech-genres is often not significant in oral cultures: I suggest this is the Homeric situation.

[ back ] 7. A summary is in Fenik 1986:3. Thornton 1984:73-92 discusses other narrative type-scenes and has a bibliography.

[ back ] 8. I know of no evidence that the phonology, morphology, or syntax of speeches in Homer changes from narrative to nonnarrative portions; in my experience, the poetic language is consistent over both parts. The important preliminary study by Jasper Griffin 1986 of vocabulary differences between speech and narrative seems to indicate that certain categories, such as abstract nouns, are virtually restricted to speeches. Is this poetic stylization or Homeric mimesis of actual Ionian speech habits in the eighth or seventh centuries? Bauman 1986:134 remarks on Icelandic sagas: “Oral tradition may have preserved some features of earlier verbal behavior patterns for extended periods, but the literary representation of ways of speaking . . . more likely reflects the usage of the period in which the sagas were written. “

[ back ] 9. See the discussion at BaŞgöz 1978:317.

[ back ] 10. Latacz 1975:417-18. Kirk 1976:108 criticizes the work on similar grounds.

[ back ] 11. This is not uncommon typologically: Bauman 1978:27 notes that “a particular performance system may well be organized … in terms of speech-acts that conventionally involve performance, others that may or may not, and still others for which performance is not a relevant consideration. “

[ back ] 12. See Notopoulos 1938 on the relation between memory and Homeric art.

[ back ] 13. On the plan of Zeus as imperfective but determined from the start, see Lynn-George (1988) 38-41.

[ back ] 14. M. Edwards 1980:13-15 reads this as a divine visitation type-scene, with slightly different results.

[ back ] 15. Compare also Iris to Priam, 24.173-75.

[ back ] 16. On this meaning of the epithet (in preference to the alternative “wide-seeing”) see Chantraine 1968-80:387. [ back ]

[ back ] 17. Searle 1976:4.

[ back ] 18. On the types of speech-act, see Bach and Harnish 1979:39-59.

[ back ] 19. Searle 1976:15n3.

[ back ] 20. See Leaf 1900-1902 on 11.194

[ back ] 21. Connor 1987 illustrates the usefulness of this new approach.

[ back ] 22. Detienne 1986:44-62 discusses politics in the “creation” of myth.

[ back ] 23. One sign of this challenge is the formulaic line “What sort of muthos have you said,” which is attributed to Hera, speaking to Zeus, six of the seven times it occurs (1.552, 4.25, 8.462, 14.330, 16.440, and 18.361). The seventh use of the phrase (8.209) is by Poseidon to Hera — interestingly, in light of the slight edge she holds over him in number of muthoi spoken. The contrast in rhetorical strategies between Hera and Poseidon is a fascinating study in its own right. Suffice it to say that Homer flanks Zeus, as on a pediment, with portrayals of wife and brother enacting muthos commands that do not equal his. The order of portrayal is chiastic: Poseidon (7.445-53), Hera (8.201-7), Hera (20.114-31), Poseidon (20.292). These speeches further show the poetry’s capacity for characterization through style and sociolinguistic distinctions.

[ back ] 24. On the significance for the poem’s theme of these concepts, see Nagy 1979:130.

[ back ] 25. On political power as a product of oratorical power, in classical Athens and a number of other traditional societies, see Bloch 1975. Later we shall see that the number or style of prayers by a hero does not qualify as important for characterizing any hero.

[ back ] 26. Kirk 1985:145 offers stylistic comments on Odysseus’ words here.

[ back ] 27. On this theme in the Iliad see Martin 1983:59-65.

[ back ] 28. On this important Odyssean theme, see Pucci 1987:165-72.

[ back ] 29. On the puns involved here, see Macleod 1982:52.

[ back ] 30. See Bloch 1975:29-63.

[ back ] 31. Rosaldo 1982:209.

[ back ] 32. A start is made by political scientist J.B. White 1984:34.

[ back ] 33. Karp 1977:241 recognizes the central place of persuasion in the movement of the poem’s plot, but his article is mostly an attempt to locate the forerunners of later notions about rhetoric.

[ back ] 34. Hymes 1974:34.

[ back ] 35. See Ong 1981:esp. 26, 29, 108-29.

[ back ] 36. For a survey, see Brenneis 1978. On Turkish rhyming duels, see Dundes et al. 1972. Cf. Winner 1958:30-34 on poetic competitions.

[ back ] 37. Ong 1981:110.

[ back ] 38. On lying in traditional tale-trading, see Bauman 1986b.

[ back ] 39. Pratt 1977:217.

[ back ] 40. Herzfeld 1985:143.

[ back ] 41. See Larson 1978:58-66 for the distinction between direct speech which functions to move a story along, and that which is meant to represent certain speech-acts.

[ back ] 42. Adkins 1969:esp. 7-10, 20-21.

[ back ] 43. Nagy 1979:222-42, and see references therein to studies of cognate traditions.

[ back ] 44. On the suggestion that Homeric disputes, as typical scenes, be compared with Germanic flyting, and for bibliography on the latter, see now Parks 1986. F. Clark 1981 offers a broader typological view in oral-poetic terms.

[ back ] 45. On the clash with Diomedes, see Chapter 3.

[ back ] 46. W. Edwards 1979:24.

[ back ] 47. Adkins 1969:10-12 and 18-20.

[ back ] 48. On assertives, see Searle 1976 and on social value in the performance of such acts see Rosaldo 1982:214.

[ back ] 49. See Herzefeld 1985b:209.

[ back ] 50. The negative assessment of Paris is by Moulton 1977:91.

[ back ] 51. The verb here relies on the same image of rushing wind that we saw in other speech criticisms: cf. 2.148, in which the related adjective labros describes the west wind and cf. anemōlia used of talk at 4.355.

[ back ] 52. See Letoublon 1983:40-48 on the “rite du défi” as a conventional part of the fight description.

[ back ] 53. On verbatim repetition as a valued element in contest poetry, see Herzfeld 1985:142-43 on Cretan mandinadhes.

[ back ] 54. Hardy 1975:103.

[ back ] 55. Notopoulos 1938:465 cites Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, as “the personification of an important and vital force in oral composition.” J.-P. Vernant 1965 and Marcel Detienne 1973 have investigated the interactions among Greek notions of memory, persuasion, truth, and time. For further bibliography, see Svenbro 1976:31n88.

[ back ] 56. See Moran 1975, esp. 196, 199.

[ back ] 57. See 4.222 and 14.441 (return of Achaeans after wounding of Menelaos, retreat of Hektor); 8.252 and 15.380 (return to battle after sign of eagle, sign of thunder). Once, the formula is varied to make a negation (13.722: the Trojans did not remember the fight).

[ back ] 58. At 6.112, 8.174, 11.287, 15.734, 15.487, 16.270, 17.185. A variant of the direct speech formula, noteworthy for being in the speech of a god, is 13.48, alkēs mnesamenō.

[ back ] 59. At 16.357, the formula is broken up and merged with another: “They remembered flight and forgot rushing strength.” The “forgetting strength” formula occurs elsewhere at 6.265, 11.313, and so on.

[ back ] 60. On this speech in its setting, see Rosner 1976 who has full bibliography of previous studies; and see Nagy 1979:111-15 on the semantics of the names, which embody the theme of ancestral poetic glory.

[ back ] 61. On the introduction of non-Homeric epic with the verb memnēmai see Moran 1975:204.

[ back ] 62. At the same time, Odysseus resembles the poet that we see in the Odyssey. He uses a quotation formula, in the way that Homer frames speech (see 11.2.330, keines tōs agoreue).

[ back ] 63. On this, see Chapter 1.

[ back ] 64. For yet another variation on the genre of memory in flyting, see Achilles’ words to Lykaon. Instead of recalling past incidents of violence (for example, the way Zeus threatens Hera at 15.31), Achilles recalls earlier moments of pity, only to contrast them with his determination to kill his victim now (21.100-106).

[ back ] 65. On the African examples, see Finnegan 1977:189; on Indo-European, Campanile 1981.

[ back ] 66. On this important scene at 20.200-258, see Nagy 1979:270-75, esp. 274, on his mastery and on the name of Aeneas. It is worth noting that Agamemnon explicitly refers to an oral tradition combining genealogy and epic treatment, in his speech to Diomedes, since he says that he has only heard of Tydeus, never seen his heroic deeds (4· 374-75).

[ back ] 67. Alexiou 1974.

[ back ] 68. See Nagy 1979:69-71 for the theme and details of the etymology.

[ back ] 69. See Chadwick and Zhirmunsky 1969:72 on Central Asian examples, and, on lament in Beowulf, the work of Upland 1980:32-38 and Frank 1982. Bowra 1952:8-10 surveys epic traditions that may have arisen from panegyric.

[ back ] 70. The verb minmēskomai occurs -with increasing urgency from the death of Patroklos on; lament usually accompanies it: see 17.671; 19.314, 339; 24.4, 9, 129, 167,486, 504, 509, 602, 613, 475.

[ back ] 71. Caraveli-Chaves 1980:135.

[ back ] 72. For himeros applied to a longing for lamentation, see 24.507 and compare with [ back ] 3.139.

[ back ] 73. Two other speeches of Helen are prefaced with a formula featuring the word muthos. At 6.343 she begins a conversation with Hektor using “gentle muthoi.” The speech fits the criteria of her performance at 3.171-80, containing as it does the same themes of lament and regret; it also foregrounds the very notion of performance, indicating that Helen appreciates the conventions of the epic tradition: 358. At 3.427, she also begins the dialogue, but her speech is explicitly flyting toward Paris (ēnipape muthōi), whose response is framed in similar terms (437). Again, the audience must judge Helen to have a knowledge of genre, but she is seen to misuse the flyting conventions in a significant way, switching from abuse to a lament theme in mid-course (see 433-36 on her fears that Paris will be killed if he confronts Menelaos). Of course, the other possibility is that she is being sarcastic here, and so resembles more conventional warriors in her abuse.