The Captive Woman’s Lament in Greek Tragedy.

Chapter 2. Identifying with the Enemy: Love, Loss, and Longing in the Persians of Aeschylus

In the first two decades of the fifth century BC, the century in which Greek tragedy as we know it flourished, the Greeks were attacked twice by the vastly larger army and navy of the Persian Empire. Against all odds, they ultimately succeeded both times in fending them off. But the cost was high. In 480 BC the people of Athens abandoned their city to the Persians and retreated with their families and possessions to the nearby island of Salamis. Athens was thoroughly sacked and the acropolis largely destroyed, but the combined forces of the Greeks at Salamis managed to defeat the Persians in a decisive victory. Aeschylus’ Persians is a tragedy that narrates and laments the battle of Salamis from the perspective of the defeated Persians.

Aeschylus’ play is an extraordinary testament to the Athenians’ ability to explore the suffering of war through the eyes of their greatest enemy. In this chapter I argue that the laments of the Persian elders that make up the majority of the play are intensely Greek in their content and emotional force, thereby transcending distinctions between Greek and barbarian and in fact merging the two in the emotional experience of the audience. [1]


Anthos and Kleos

The Persians begins with the entrance song of the Persian elders, in which the warriors of the Persian army are listed by name and described in terms that evoke an epic catalogue, as in the following excerpt: {62|63}

οἷος Ἀμίστρης ἠδ’ Ἀρταφρένης
καὶ Μεγαβάτης ἠδ’ Ἀστάσπης,
ταγοὶ Περσῶν,
βασιλῆς βασιλέως ὕποχοι μεγάλου,
σοῦνται, στρατιᾶς πολλῆς ἔφοροι,
τοξοδάμαντές τ’ ἠδ’ ἱπποβάται,
φοβεροὶ μὲν ἰδεῖν, δεινοὶ δὲ μάχην
ψυχῆς εὐτλήμονι δόξῃ·

Persians 21-28

[Men] like Amistres and Artaphrenes
and Megabates and Astaspes,
commanders of the Persians,
kings and subjects of the Great King,
are set in motion, overseers of the multitude of the army,
men who subdue with the bow and drive horses,
frightening to look upon and terrible to fight against,
with steadfast determination of spirit.

The catalogue is focalized through the eyes of the Persian elders, who last saw the army departing in all of its glory. The list of fighting warriors and their attributes casts the Persian leaders as epic heroes, who are described as setting out for battle.

This metaphor world is evoked with particular resonance when the Persian elders bring their catalogue to a close:

τοιόνδ’ ἄνθος Περσίδος αἴας
οἴχεται ἀνδρῶν,
οὓς πέρι πᾶσα χθὼν Ἀσιῆτις
ρέψασα πόθῳ στένεται μαλερῷ,
τοκέης τ’ ἄλοχοί θ’ ἡμερολεγδὸν
τείνοντα χρόνον τρομέονται.

Persians 59-64

Such is the flower [anthos] of the Persian land,
such is the flower of men that has disappeared.
The entire land of Asia
laments the men she nourished with fierce longing [pothos].
Parents and wives, counting the days,
tremble at the increasing length of time.

The depiction of the Persian army here and elsewhere as the flower of the land is reminiscent of Athenian traditions in which soldiers who have died fighting for their city are consistently imagined to be at the peak of hêbê. [
23] The theme of hêbê as a flower or blossom (anthos) is an important and common one in Greek poetry, [24] but the metaphor of the anthos is especially connected with the death of heroes in war, as glorified {64|65} by epic poetry (kleos). [25] One of the primary metaphors for epic poetry in the Iliad is that of a flower that will never wilt:

μήτηρ γάρ τέ μέ φησι θεὰ Θέτις ἀργυρόπεζα
διχθαδίας κῆρας φερέμεν θανάτοιο τέλος δέ.
εἰ μέν κ’ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται·
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ’ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ’ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.

Iliad 9.410-416

My mother the goddess Thetis of the shining feet tells me
that there are two ways in which I may meet my end.
If I stay here and fight around the city of Troy,
my homecoming is lost, but my glory in song [kleos] will be unwilting [aphthiton]:
whereas if I reach home my kleos is lost, but my life will be long,
and the outcome of death will not soon take me.

Here Achilles reveals not only the crux of his choice but also the driving principle of Greek epic song. The unwilting flower of epic poetry is contrasted with the necessarily mortal hero, whose death comes all too quickly. [

The theme of the hero as a plant that blossoms beautifully and dies quickly is also an important theme in Greek lament traditions, including the laments for Achilles within the Iliad: [27]

ὤ μοι ἐγὼ δειλή, ὤ μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια,
ἥ τ’ ἐπεὶ ἂρ τέκον υἱὸν ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε {65|66}
ἔξοχον ἡρώων· ὃ δ’ ἀνέδραμεν ἔρνεϊ ἶσος·
τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ θρέψασα φυτὸν ὣς γουνῷ ἀλωῆς
νηυσὶν ἐπιπροέηκα κορωνίσιν Ἴλιον εἴσω
Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον· τὸν δ’ οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις
οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω.

Iliad 18.54-60

Alas how wretched I am, alas how unluckily I was the best child bearer
since I bore a son both faultless and powerful,
outstanding among heroes. He shot up like a sapling.
I nourished him like a plant on the hill of an orchard
and I sent him forth in the hollow ships to Ilion
to fight with the Trojans. But I will not receive him again
returning home to the house of Peleus.

The Iliad quotes within its narration of Achilles’ kleos many songs of lamentation that serve to highlight the mortality of the central hero as well as underscore the immortality of song. The traditional imagery of these quoted laments, as sung primarily by Thetis, spill over into epic diction itself, with the result that similes, metaphors, and other traditional descriptions of heroes are infused with themes drawn from the natural world.

The depiction of the death of the Trojan Euphorbus in the Iliad is one such place where epic diction draws on the plant imagery that pervades Greek laments for heroes. Euphorbus, like Achilles, is compared to a young tree: Euphorbus topples like a tree that is overcome by a storm. [28]

ἀντικρὺ δ’ ἁπαλοῖο δι’ αὐχένος ἤλυθ’ ἀκωκή,
δούπησεν δὲ πεσών, ἀράβησε δὲ τεύχε’ ἐπ’ αὐτῷ.
αἵματί οἱ δεύοντο κόμαι Χαρίτεσσιν ὁμοῖαι
πλοχμοί θ’, οἳ χρυσῷ τε καὶ ἀργύρῳ ἐσφήκωντο.
οἷον δὲ τρέφει ἔρνος ἀνὴρ ἐριθηλὲς ἐλαίης
χώρῳ ἐν οἰοπόλῳ, ὅθ’ ἅλις ἀναβέβροχεν ὕδωρ,
καλὸν τηλεθάον· τὸ δέ τε πνοιαὶ δονέουσι
παντοίων ἀνέμων, καί τε βρύει ἄνθεϊ λευκῷ·
ἐλθὼν δ’ ἐξαπίνης ἄνεμος σὺν λαίλαπι πολλῇ
βόθρου τ’ ἐξέστρεψε καὶ ἐξετάνυσσ’ ἐπὶ γαίῃ· {66|67}
τοῖον Πάνθου υἱὸν ἐϋμμελίην Εὔφορβον
Ἀτρεΐδης Μενέλαος ἐπεὶ κτάνε τεύχε’ ἐσύλα.

Iliad 17.49-60

The point went straight through his soft neck.
He fell with a thud, and the armor clattered on top of him.
His hair was soaked with blood, and it was like the Graces [Kharites],
as were his braids, which were tightly bound with gold and silver.
Just like a flourishing sapling of an olive tree that a man nourishes
in a solitary place where water gushes up in abundance,
a beautiful sapling growing luxuriantly—blasts
of every kind of wind shake it and it is full of white blossoms [anthos],
but suddenly a wind comes together with a furious storm
and uproots the tree so that it is stretched out on the ground—
even so did the son of Atreus Menelaus strip
the son of Panthos, Euphorbus with the ash spear, of his armor after he had slain him.

The plant imagery in this passage is intensified by two references to blossoms. In the simile, the tree to which Euphorbus is compared blossoms with white flowers. Moreover, the D scholia to the Iliad reveal that this comparison between Euphorbus and the tree with its blossoms is even closer than might appear at first glance. According to the scholia, kharites, translated here as “the Graces,” means in the Cypriote dialect of Greek “myrtle blossoms.” [
29] The flecks of blood in Euphorbus’ hair look like myrtle blossoms. Since the Arcado-Cypriote dialect layer of Homeric diction contains some of the oldest elements of the poetic system in which the Iliad and Odyssey were composed, it is likely that in the most ancient phases of the Iliad tradition Euphorbus’ hair was understood to look like myrtle blossoms. [30] Thus we find that the comparison of a dying warrior to a flower is an ancient theme at the core of the Greek epic tradition.

An important part of the Adonia was the singing of laments, traces of which survive in literature ranging from Sappho to late antiquity. The Epitaph for Adonis (Ἀδώνιδος ἐπιτάφιος) by the Hellenistic poet Bion—possibly composed for performance at the Adonia [32] —is a lament and a love song for the beautiful youth, who died in a hunting accident. [33] The poem brings together a variety of traditions concerning Adonis and his transformation after death into a species of flower. [34] A common version of the myth has Adonis transformed into the anemone. In Bion’s poem, Adonis’ blood brings forth the rose, and Aphrodite’s tears produce the anemone:

῾αἰαῖ τὰν Κυθέρειαν, ἀπώλετο καλὸς Ἄδωνις.᾿
δάκρυον ἁ Παφία τόσσον χέει ὅσσον Ἄδωνις
αἷμα χέει, τὰ δὲ πάντα ποτὶ χθονὶ γίνεται ἄνθη·
αἷμα ῥόδον τίκτει, τὰ δὲ δάκρυα τὰν ἀνεμώναν.

Epitaph for Adonis, 63-66

“Alas, Cytherean goddess, beautiful Adonis is dead.”
The Paphian pours forth as many tears as Adonis
does blood. All become blossoms on the earth.
The blood produces a rose, the tears the anemone.

The narrator of the poem (a female mourner) then instructs Aphrodite to lay Adonis on her own bed for the prothesis, [
35] strewn with flowers and garlands: {68|69}

παγχρυσέῳ κλιντῆρι πόθες καὶ στυγνὸν Ἄδωνιν,
βάλλε δέ νιν στεφάνοισι καὶ ἄνθεσι· πάντα σὺν αὐτῷ·
ὡς τῆνος τέθνακε καὶ ἄνθεα πάντ’ ἐμαράνθη.

Epitaph for Adonis, 74-81

On the all-golden couch lay out Adonis, even though he is repellent in death,
and heap him with garlands and flowers. Since he died,
everything died with him, and all the flowers have wilted.

In this poem, which reenacts the very moment of Aphrodite’s discovery of Adonis’ death and her lament over his body, the wilted flower is already the symbol of Adonis. It is even said that the fact of Adonis’ death causes all flowers to wilt, as if by metonymy with his own dead corpse. Thus the death of Adonis is connected with both the creation and the premature death of plant life.


Bion’s poem was composed centuries after the Persians (and Aeschylus’ play was itself composed centuries after the Iliad), but I have chosen to focus on it because it extends in a beautiful way an important constellation of traditional themes and imagery connected with the heroes of archaic Greek epic and cult. The Persians are described as the flower (anthos) of the Persian land as they march in glory towards battle—the very battle in which they will meet their deaths: τοιόνδ’ ἄνθος Περσίδος αἴας/οἴχεται ἀνδρῶν (Persians 59-60, cited above). The phrase is invoked a second time when the messenger arrives to announce the devastating defeat: τὸ Περσῶν δ’ ἄνθος οἴχεται πεσόν “the flower of the Persians has fallen and disappeared” (Persians 252). The Persians are in this way fundamentally linked with the warrior heroes of Greek epic traditions, in which Greek and non-Greek alike are singled out at the moment of the death by similes and metaphors drawn from the world of plants and flowers.

A third time the warriors are called the anthos of Persia, again in conjunction with death in battle: πολλοὶ φῶτες, χώρας ἄνθος,/τοξοδάμαντες, πάνυ ταρφύς τις/μυριὰς ἀνδρῶν, ἐξέφθινται “many men, the flower of the land, archers, a densely crowded myriad of men has perished” (Persians 925-927). The preceding lines (922-924) too pick up on an epic theme:

γᾶ δ’ αἰάζει τὰν ἐγγαίαν
ἥβαν Ξέρξᾳ κταμέναν ᾍδου
σάκτορι Περσᾶν {69|70}
Earth cries ‘aiai’ for the youth [hêbê]
born of her, cut down by Xerxes,
the one who has crammed Hades full with Persians.

Here the young Persian warriors are imagined to have filled Hades—the Greek underworld—to the point of overflowing. Such an image recalls the opening lines of the Iliad, in which Achilles’ anger is said to have sent many steadfast lives of heroes down to Hades (πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν/ἡρώων Iliad 1.3-4). Just as striking in these lines is the association of the Persians with the earth, here personified as lamenting the Persian dead. [
36] Athenians believed that they themselves were autochthonous, born from the earth according to the Athenian charter myth. [37] The distinction between Athenian and Persian is here so nonexistent that the Persians themselves can be described as native to the earth (ἐγγαίαν 922). [38] Their connection to the earth reinforces the imagery of the wilted anthos, which is born from the earth and soon returns to it. [39]

Habros and Hubris

The image of the anthos however is only one of a cluster of related themes of Greek lament that Aeschylus applies to the Persian warriors. Let us return briefly to Bion’s lament for Adonis, and the lines immediately following the passage just discussed.

ῥαῖνε δέ νιν Συρίοισιν ἀλείφασι, ῥαῖνε μύροισιν·
ὀλλύσθω μύρα πάντα· τὸ σὸν μύρον ὤλετ’ Ἄδωνις. {70|71}
κέκλιται ἁβρὸς Ἄδωνις ἐν εἵμασι πορφυρέοισιν,
ἀμφὶ δέ νιν κλαίοντες ἀναστενάχουσιν Ἔρωτες
κειράμενοι χαίτας ἐπ’ Ἀδώνιδι·

Epitaph for Adonis, 77-81

Sprinkle him with Syrian oils, sprinkle him with perfume.
All perfumes have perished. Your perfume has perished, Adonis.
Luxuriant [habros] Adonis lies on crimson cloths,
and around him the Erotes wail in lamentation
cutting off their hair for Adonis.

Just as Adonis’ death has caused all flowers to wilt, so now all perfumes have perished, as if perfume too were a living thing. In this context, his dead body lying on crimson fabric on a golden couch, Adonis is described as habros (ἁβρός)—“luxuriant.” And as with the image of the anthos, we will see that a theme rooted in the lament traditions of heroes links the Persian warriors with both the death of heroes and the kleos of Greek song.

But before we examine the habrosunê that characterizes the Persians in Aeschylus, it is important to explore further the range of meaning that the word habros encompasses. As Nagy’s work on the word shows, habros has both positive and negative connotations that are fundamentally intertwined in early Greek poetry. In the victory odes of Pindar, habros can be applied to both athletic victory and the glory of song: [45]

ὃς δ’ ἀμφ’ ἀέθλοις ἢ πολεμίζων ἄρηται κῦδος ἁβρόν

Pindar, Isthmian 1.50

He who strives to win luxuriant [habros] glory in athletic competition or in battle…
τιμὰ δὲ γίνεται ὧν θεὸς ἁβρὸν αὔξει λόγον τεθνακότων

Nemean 7.31-32

Honor comes to those whose reputation the god increases when they have died, so that it is luxuriant [habros].

Just as the figure of Adonis combines the theme of luxuriance with the metaphor of the anthos that blooms brightly only to wither very quickly, {72|73} a third example of the use of habros in Pindar reveals how interconnected the two ideas are:

τις ἁβρὸν ἀμφὶ παγκρατίου Κλεάνδρῳ πλεκέτω μυρσίνας στέφανον

Pindar Isthmian 8.65-66

Let someone weave for Kleandros a luxuriant [habros] crown of myrtle for his victory in the pankration.

Kleandros’ crown is luxuriant both because of its metonymical and metaphorical connections with victory and because of the delicate myrtle blossoms that form its substance. In Pindar’s ode, the man whose crown is habros has achieved a place in song because of his victory in athletics; this moment of victory becomes parallel to the moment of death in battle (or in Adonis’ case, hunting), where the heroes of the past achieved their place in the kleos of song. It is particularly appropriate then that the subject of Pindar’s song is named Kleandros—the man of kleos. As we have seen, this name already carries with it a host of associations, including the mortality of the hero—symbolized by the anthos—and the unwilting immortality of song. Pindar takes the implicit associations already built into the name of Kleandros and visualizes them as a concrete object, the habros crown of myrtle blossoms. [

As Nagy has shown, the word habros is not in itself a necessarily negative idea, but it does inherently allude to a related concept in Greek thought, and that is hubris. Hubris is in fact a botanical term, referring to excessive leaf and wood production. [47] It is unregulated growth, which can ultimately result in sterility. In Theognis and other early Greek poets, hubris comes to connote excessive luxury combined with savagery. [48] In Herodotus and elsewhere, the habrosunê of the Lydians (and later the Persians) is directly related to the hubris of tyranny. [49] The luxuriance of a habros lifestyle runs the risk of fostering an environment in which tyranny can arise. I now propose to apply Nagy’s work on habros and hubris in the poetry of Theognis and in Herodotus to an analysis of habros and hubris in Aeschylus’ {73|74} Persians. The Persians has in fact been interpreted by several critics as a tragedy that is essentially about the hubris of Xerxes and its consequences. [50] As we shall see, the Persians of Aeschylus display the full range of meaning for habros, exemplifying both the luxuriance of the myrtle blossom of victory and the savage overgrowth of hubris. I argue that the word habros in Aeschylus’ Persians evokes primarily the sensual and erotic aspects of this word, as it is applied to such figures as Adonis in Sappho and both earlier and later Greek laments for heroes. Secondarily, however, the word habros prepares us for an explanation of the Persians’ downfall that centers around the hubris of Xerxes, the Persian king.

As with the figure of Adonis, the luxuriance of lament is erotic. The word pothos “longing” is now yet another theme closely associated with and evoked by the word habros. In Bion’s Epitaph for Adonis, Aphrodite laments that as a consequence of Adonis’ death “pothos has flown away like a dream”: πόθος δέ μοι ὡς ὄναρ ἔπτα (58). Earlier in the Persian entrance song, the themes of lamentation and sexual desire were similarly juxtaposed:

οὓς πέρι πᾶσα χθὼν Ἀσιῆτις
ρέψασα πόθῳ στένεται μαλερῷ

Persians 61-62

The entire land of Asia
laments the men she nourished with fierce longing [pothos].

Pothos is another charged word that, like habros, can have both sensual and religious overtones when applied to heroes. Perhaps the earliest manifestation of this combination of meaning can be found in Achilles’ declaration of Iliad 1, in which he officially withdraws from fighting and foretells the disastrous consequences of this act:

ἦ ποτ’ Ἀχιλλῆος ποθὴ ἵξεται υἷας Ἀχαιῶν
σύμπαντας· τότε δ’ οὔ τι δυνήσεαι ἀχνύμενός περ
χραισμεῖν, εὖτ’ ἂν πολλοὶ ὑφ’ Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο
θνήσκοντες πίπτωσι· σὺ δ’ ἔνδοθι θυμὸν ἀμύξεις
χωόμενος ὅ τ’ ἄριστον Ἀχαιῶν οὐδὲν ἔτισας.

Iliad 1.240-244

Some day a longing [pothê] for Achilles will come upon the sons of the Achaeans,
all of them together. But at that point you will not be able, even though in great sorrow,
to help it, when many men at the hand of man-slaying Hektor
fall dying. And you will tear your heart out inside,
angry because you did not honor the best of the Achaeans. {75|76}

Throughout the laments of the Persians the Greek concepts of habros, pothos, and penthos are constantly combined to express the grief of the Persian women for the absent warriors:

πολλαὶ δ’ ἁπαλαῖς χερσὶ καλύπτρας
διαμυδαλέους δάκρυσι κόλπους
τέγγουσ’, ἄλγους μετέχουσαι.
αἱ δ’ ἁβρόγοοι Περσίδες ἀνδρῶν
ποθέουσαι ἰδεῖν ἀρτιζυγίαν,
λέκτρων [τ’] εὐνὰς ἁβροχίτωνας,
χλιδανῆς ἥβης τέρψιν, ἀφεῖσαι,
πενθοῦσι γόοις ἀκορεστοτάτοις.
κἀγὼ δὲ μόρον τῶν οἰχομένων
αἴρω δοκίμως πολυπενθῆ. {76|77}
νῦν γὰρ δὴ πρόπασα μὲν στένει
γαῖ’ Ἀσὶς ἐκκενουμένα.

Persians 537-549

But here again the realm of women’s laments is fused with that of epic kleos, as I will now go on to show. The work of Richard Martin has explored Homeric poetry as an overarching system that incorporates within its own formal conventions many other genres of speech and song. [58] Elsewhere I have suggested that the most pervasive of these genres is lament, as voiced primarily by such women as Andromache, Briseis, Hecuba, and Penelope. [59] The laments of Aeschylus’ Persians are infused with traditional themes of women’s song-making, but they are also highly allusive and inseparable from the epic traditions that showcase women’s song making. In the passage cited immediately above, for example, the Persian women are said to tear their veils in a traditional gesture of grief. For Aeschylus’ audience such a gesture may well have called to mind the actions of a paradigmatic epic figure like Andromache, when she learns of Hektor’s death:

τῆλε δ’ ἀπὸ κρατὸς βάλε δέσματα σιγαλόεντα,
ἄμπυκα κεκρύφαλόν τε ἰδὲ πλεκτὴν ἀναδέσμην
κρήδεμνόν θ’, ὅ ῥά οἱ δῶκε χρυσῆ Ἀφροδίτη
ἤματι τᾠ ὅτε μιν κορυθαίολος ἠγάγεθ’ Ἕκτωρ
ἐκ δόμου Ἠετίωνος.

Iliad 22.468-472

Even if Andromache is not imagined to be the paradigm for the Persian wives, other aspects of Aeschylus’ passage resonate with the laments of the Iliad. In addition to tearing their clothing, the Persian women “soak their bosoms so that they are drenched with tears” (διαμυδαλέους δάκρυσι κόλπους τέγγουσ’ 539-540). This too is a traditional depiction of grief, but {78|79} the traditional diction is particularly evocative of epic. Compare the following two passages from the Iliad with the verses of Aeschylus: [

δεύοντο δὲ δάκρυσι κόλποι

Iliad 9.570

Her bosom was soaked with tears.
δάκρυσιν εἵματ’ ἔφυρον

Iliad 24.162

They stained their clothes with tears.

In this case the allusive power of Aeschylus’ depiction of grief for the Persian warriors is almost certainly not in a specific reference, but rather in the force of tradition. [

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Persians passage (and the play as a whole) is the way that it eroticizes the death of young warriors by means of constant reference to the marriages (and sexual unions) that have been left behind:

ὡς πολλὰς Περσίδων μάταν
ἔκτισαν εὐνῖδας ἠδ’ ἀνάνδρους.

Persians 288-289

But this too is a crucial epic theme. The Odyssey is at its core the story of a marriage bed left behind; the Iliad narrates the death of countless bride- {79|80} grooms—most notably Hektor’s. The Panhellenic poetry of the Iliad generally avoids sex and romance of any kind, but there is an erotic subtext in many passages of lamentation. [
64] Andromache is metonymically connected to Aphrodite as she begins her lament for Hektor in Iliad 22.470; when she realizes that Hektor is dead, she throws down from her head the adornments that “golden Aphrodite” had given her on her wedding day. Likewise Briseis is compared to golden Aphrodite when she begins her lament for Patroklos in Iliad 19. [65] In Andromache’s lament of Iliad 24, she complains that Hektor did not leave her with an “intimate phrase” or embrace her one last time:

ἐμοὶ δὲ μάλιστα λελείψεται ἄλγεα λυγρά.
οὐ γάρ μοι θνῄσκων λεχέων ἐκ χεῖρας ὄρεξας,
οὐδέ τί μοι εἶπες πυκινὸν ἔπος, οὗ τέ κεν αἰεὶ
μεμνῄμην νύκτάς τε καὶ ἤματα δάκρυ χέουσα.

Iliad 24.742-745

But for me especially you have left behind grievous pain.
For when you died you did not stretch out your arms to me from our marriage bed,
nor did you speak to me an intimate phrase, which I could always
remember when I weep for you day and night.

The pothos of the Persian women depicted in the passage under discussion is specifically that of “newlyweds” (ἀρτιζυγίαν 542). As I have already begun to suggest, the Iliad too is full of the deaths of bridegrooms, some barely mentioned, others with elaborate death scenes. [67] The Trojan ally Iphidamas is one such bridegroom:

ἔσπετε νῦν μοι Μοῦσαι Ὀλύμπια δώματ’ ἔχουσαι
ὅς τις δὴ πρῶτος Ἀγαμέμνονος ἀντίον ἦλθεν
ἢ αὐτῶν Τρώων ἠὲ κλειτῶν ἐπικούρων.
Ἰφιδάμας Ἀντηνορίδης ἠΰς τε μέγας τε
ὃς τράφη ἐν Θρῄκῃ ἐριβώλακι μητέρι μήλων·
Κισσῆς τόν γ’ ἔθρεψε δόμοις ἔνι τυτθὸν ἐόντα
μητροπάτωρ, ὃς τίκτε Θεανὼ καλλιπάρῃον·
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ’ ἥβης ἐρικυδέος ἵκετο μέτρον,
αὐτοῦ μιν κατέρυκε, δίδου δ’ ὅ γε θυγατέρα ἥν·
γήμας δ’ ἐκ θαλάμοιο μετὰ κλέος ἵκετ’ Ἀχαιῶν
σὺν δυοκαίδεκα νηυσὶ κορωνίσιν, αἵ οἱ ἕποντο.

Iliad 11.218-228

Tell me now you Muses that have homes on Olympus,
who was first to face Agamemnon,
whether of the Trojans themselves or of their renowned allies?
It was Iphidamas son of Antenor, a man both brave and of great stature,
who was raised in fertile Thrace the mother of sheep.
Cisses brought him up in his own house when he was a child—
Cisses, his mother’s father, the man who begot beautiful cheeked Theano.
When he reached the full measure of glorious manhood [hêbê],
Cisses would have kept him there, and wanted to give him his daughter in marriage.
But as soon as he had married he left the bridal chamber and went off to seek the kleos of the Achaeans
with twelve ships that followed him. {81|82}

Epic knows Achilles as a killing machine, Sappho knows Achilles as a bridegroom. But as we have seen, the dichotomy between men’s and women’s songs about Achilles is not cut and dried. Homeric poetry alludes to traditions in which Achilles is above all a lover, and I would argue that, as with the figure of Adonis, it is in fact Achilles’ premature death and failure to mature and marry that makes him such an erotic figure. Another fragment of Sappho unites the imagery of the lamented warrior and the bridegroom that we have been exploring:

τίωι σ’, ὦ φίλε γάμβρε, κάλως ἐικάσδω;
ὄρπακι βραδίνωι σε μάλιστ’ ἐικάσδω.

fr. 115 V

To what, dear bridegroom, can I best compare you?
To a slender shoot, I most liken you.

Here the metaphor of the dead warrior as a plant cut down before reaching maturity is combined with erotic image of the warrior as a bridegroom (and vice versa). Heroes like Iphidamas, Protesilaos, Hektor, and Achilles are all prototypes for the warrior as bridegroom. Sappho then compares the beautiful potential of the young bridegroom to the anthos and hêbê of a young warrior, an image that as we have seen is full of pothos (as befits a wedding song) but also penthos (as befits a lament). A final passage from the Iliad suggests once again that the idea of a bridegroom in the prime of youth is potentially and perhaps even inherently a theme of lament. The image of the bridegroom is poignantly conjured when Achilles laments Patroklos in Iliad 23. This time, however, Achilles is in the role of a father:

ὡς δὲ πατὴρ οὗ παιδὸς ὀδύρεται ὀστέα καίων
νυμφίου, ὅς τε θανὼν δειλοὺς ἀκάχησε τοκῆας,
ὣς Ἀχιλεὺς ἑτάροιο ὀδύρετο ὀστέα καίων.

Iliad 23.222-224 {84|85}

As when a father mourns while burning the bones of his son
who is a bridegroom, and in death he brings sorrow to his miserable parents,
so did Achilles mourn while burning the bones of his comrade.

This simile, because it is applied to Patroklos, should perhaps suggest that the death of a young bridegroom is the saddest death of all, and such a death necessarily occurs whenever a warrior is cut down in the prime of hêbê.


In the preceding argument I have tried to show that the death of heroes in battle is a focal point of ancient Greek women’s song traditions, encompassing both love and loss. These women’s traditions about figures like Achilles and Hektor likewise suffuse the Iliad and Odyssey, revealing that such essential themes as the mortality of the hero and immortality in song have their origins in the lament poetry of women. These same themes form the core of the laments of Aeschylus’ Persians. The Persian dead are lamented as flowers prematurely cut down and as doomed bridegrooms. Both themes come together in the word habros, merging the semantic and conceptual realms of death in battle and athletic victory, the everlasting glory of kleos and the luxuriance of lamentation.

Secondarily, however, the word habros in the Persians evokes hubris. When the Persian queen and elders conjure the ghost of Xerxes’ father Darius (the Persian king who attacked Greece in 490), he informs them that the Persian disaster is retribution for the hubris of Xerxes and his army. This hubris is two-fold. It begins when Xerxes dares to bridge the Hellespont, a famous story that is also narrated in Herodotus: [75]

νῦν κακῶν ἔοικε πηγὴ πᾶσιν ηὑρῆσθαι φίλοις.
παῖς δ’ ἐμὸς τάδ’ οὐ κατειδὼς ἤνυσεν νέῳ θράσει·
ὅστις Ἑλλήσποντον ἱρὸν δοῦλον ὣς δεσμώμασιν
ἤλπισε σχήσειν ῥέοντα, Βόσπορον ῥόον θεοῦ,
καὶ πόρον μετερρύθμιζε, καὶ πέδαις σφυρηλάτοις
περιβαλὼν πολλὴν κέλευθον ἤνυσεν πολλῷ στρατῷ,
θνητὸς ὢν θεῶν τε πάντων ᾤετ’, οὐκ εὐβουλίᾳ,
καὶ Ποσειδῶνος κρατήσειν.

Persians 743-750 {85|86}

Now it seems that a fountain of evils has been found for all those near and dear to me.
My son unknowingly accomplished these things in youthful boldness.
He thought he could hold the flowing sacred Hellespont
with chains as though it were a slave, the Bosporus, the channel of the god,
and also he made a new kind of road, and casting fetters fashioned with hammers
he built a great path for a great army.
Although he is mortal he thought—and he did not reason well—
that he could overpower all the gods, including Poseidon.

Xerxes thought he could overpower Poseidon and cross the Hellespont to invade Greece. This is an act of more than human boldness and reckless audacity. The hubris of Xerxes moreover spreads to his army, who, after crossing the Hellespont, show no restraint in their initial success. They go too far in victory:

οὗ σφιν κακῶν ὕψιστ’ ἐπαμμένει παθεῖν,
ὕβρεως ἄποινα κἀθέων φρονημάτων·
οἳ γῆν μολόντες Ἑλλάδ’ οὐ θεῶν βρέτη
ᾐδοῦντο συλᾶν οὐδὲ πιμπράναι νεώς·
βωμοὶ δ’ ἄιστοι, δαιμόνων θ’ ἱδρύματα
πρόρριζα φύρδην ἐξανέστραπται βάθρων.
τοιγὰρ κακῶς δράσαντες οὐκ ἐλάσσονα
πάσχουσι, τὰ δὲ μέλλουσι, κοὐδέπω κακῶν
κρηνὶς ἀπέσβηκ’ ἀλλ’ ἔτ’ ἐκπιδύεται.

Persians 807-15

The greatest of evils is in store for them to suffer,
retribution for hubris and godless thoughts.
Going to the Greek land they were not ashamed
to despoil wooden images of the gods or burn temples;
altars disappeared, and the buildings of the divinities
were toppled root and branch in utter chaos.
Therefore having committed evil deeds they will suffer
nothing less, and they will continue to suffer, nor is the spring
of evils yet quenched; it still gushes forth. {86|87}

Here we see the savage side of hubris, a hubris that likewise characterizes the Persians in Herodotus when they sack the Lydian city of Sardis. [
76] As I will argue in future chapters, the plundering of a defeated city is one of the primary contexts in which hubris manifests itself.

Praise of the War Dead and the Lamentation of Elders

But while Darius’ speech certainly sets up the defeat of the Persians as punishment for a wrongful attack on the part of Xerxes, the Persian war dead, as we have seen, are consistently lamented in terms that humanize and glorify {87|88} the fallen warriors. And while the predominant song medium of the play is the Greek woman’s lament, with perhaps special reference to the laments of Greek epic, Mary Ebbott has recently shown that a specifically Athenian kind of praise of war dead is employed as well.

Here we come to the heart of Aeschylus’ Persians. The play is not a victory song in celebration of the Persian defeat, nor is it a universalization of the experience of defeat, such that the Athenians and Persians are all one in their humanity and mortality. Rather the Athenians are asked to see their enemy with all of its foreignness and otherness, and witness not only the commonalities between them, but also the injustices in which the Athenians themselves have taken part. Tragedy allows the Athenians to reenact and reexperience the events of Salamis from the perspective of the defeated. In this way the Persians, the earliest tragedy that has come down to us, perfectly illustrates a principle that operates in many tragedies still to come, in which the plight of the defeated is a central preoccupation.

I have argued throughout this chapter that the Persians is remarkable in that it narrates the battle of Salamis from the perspective of those left behind. From the entrance song of the Persian elders to the final extended antiphonal lament between the chorus and Xerxes, the focus of the play is on the emotions and experiences of the bereaved widows and parents of the deceased warriors. It is not surprising then that the laments of the Persians have a great deal in common with the laments of captive women that I will be examining in future chapters. In this case the Persians were the invading army. Because Persia was the aggressor, the Persian widows are not in the same precarious position as, for example, the Trojan women are. They have not been abandoned to the enemy, they do not face immediate enslavement, and their young sons have not been systematically killed. Nevertheless, {88|89} the similarities are many, and suggest once again that the Persians is not an exultant play, but one which is keenly attuned to the suffering of the defeated.

What is at first glance surprising about the Persian laments is that they are not sung by the widowed Persian women, as the laments evidently were in Phrynichus’ play four years earlier. Instead the Persian elders and Xerxes himself take center stage as the voice of Persia’s grief. In this way the Persians might be said to be effeminized by Aeschylus, made to perform actions far more characteristic of Greek women than men. As I have already suggested in my introduction to this chapter, the effeminization of the Persians may be a device whereby Aeschylus casts them as an other. That is, he portrays them as recognizably Persian, by making them recognizably not Greek, and the dichotomy between male and female is an obvious way to achieve this polarization. But even this hypothesis goes too far in its separation of Greeks and Persians and male and female. Structurally, the Persians resembles Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, in which the chorus of Argive elders express their fears and anxiously await news of the youth who have been in Troy for ten years. [79] We might also compare to the Persian elders the chorus of old men in Euripides’ Herakles, who likewise anxiously await the return of Herakles at the beginning of the play, and express their fears for Herakles’ family in terms that evoke a lament:

ὦ τέκεα, τέκεα πατρὸς ἀπάτορ’,
ὦ γεραιὲ σύ τε τάλαινα μᾶ-
τερ, ἃ τὸν Ἀίδα δόμοις
πόσιν ἀναστενάζεις.

Euripides, Herakles 115-118

Oh children, children without a father,
Oh poor old man, and you afflicted
mother, you who lament the husband that is
now in Hades’ house! {89|90}


The vast majority of Aeschylus’ play then collapses the barriers between the constructions of male, female, Greek, and non-Greek. Despite elaborate costuming, exotic Persian movements, and foreign sounding music, the Persians are shown, at least at the moment of death in battle, to be as Greek as any Athenian. {90|}


[ back ] 1. For a similar reading of the overall effect of the Persians as a tragedy see Loraux 2002, 42-53.

[ back ] 2. Hall 1989 and 1996. See discussion below.

[ back ] 3. A particularly striking example can be found at lines 465-468, where Xerxes, upon witnessing the defeat of his army, ritually tears his clothing and laments in the manner of Greek women.

[ back ] 4. Cf. Loraux 1995, 4, in considering the oppositions between male and female that operate in Greek tragedy: “It is likely that more than one discriminating factor differentiates the citizen from his other, or others. But if one does not regard the opposition between likeness and difference—even if it is “radical”—as the last word in Greek thinking (after all, Plato knew better than anyone else that the Same participates in the Other), one is forced to admit that the richest of discriminating factors is the feminine, the operator par excellence that makes it possible to conceive of identity as fashioned, in practical terms, by otherness. This means that a Greek man, or anyone who wishes to read the Greeks, must perform mental operations that are more complex than merely verifying a table of antithetical categories again and again.” [ back ] Recent work on Herodotus likewise has a more subtle view of the Greek construction of the other than is generally found in modern interpretations of the Persians. See especially Pelling 1997c and Munson 2001, 3-5 and 132-133, building on the work of such scholars as Fornara 1971a and 1971b, Corcella 1984, Raaflaub 1987, Hartog 1988, and Moles 1996. These scholars interpret Herodotus’ narrative about the Persian Wars in light of its composition during the Peloponnesian Wars. Munson 2001 notes the many similarities that Herodotus draws between the Greeks and foreign peoples in communicating to the Greeks, in the words of Munson, “things they should learn about themselves” (Munson 2001, 4).

[ back ] 5. The distinction between historical and mythical tragedies is somewhat misleading, because what we call myth was believed to be history by the Greeks themselves. On the other hand, the Persian Wars achieved a kind of legendary status almost as soon as they occurred. (See Herington 1985, 129.)

[ back ] 6. Herodotus 6.114.

[ back ] 7. In 409 BC, Phoenician women could still be emblematic of the suffering caused by war. In Euripides’ Phoenician Women, which takes as its plot the Seven Against Thebes tradition, the chorus of captive Phoenician women, whose presence in Thebes is otherwise tangential to the plot of the play, laments the horrors that war brings upon a city.

[ back ] 8. This definition of tragedy derives ultimately from Aristotle who argues in his Poetics that the essential emotions of tragedy are pity and fear. (See Aristotle, Poetics 1449b24-28). For more on the emotions of tragedy and pity in particular see the edition of Janko 1987 ad 1453a4, Konstan 2001, and the Conclusion. On this passage from the Poetics and the emotional dynamic of katharsis, see Janko 1987, xvi-xx and Segal 1993, 25-29. (The bibliography on katharsis is of course very large indeed. See the bibliography published by Schrier 1998 and the continuation by Heath at

[ back ] 9. Herodotus 6.18.

[ back ] 10. Herodotus 6.21. On the Capture of Miletus and this anecdote’s relationship to the central emotions of tragedy see Rosenbloom 1995, 101-102. Loraux 2002 notes that in Herodotus the weeping of the Athenians upon viewing the tragedy is a substitute for an authentic funeral rite, and is linked directly with the evolution of tragedy as a vehicle for lamentation, which was otherwise restricted by law in the Athenian state beginning in the sixth century BC. Loraux argues that after Phrynichus’ play, lamentation in tragedy came to be restricted to heroes of the distant past, and thus distanced from the spectators. See also Alexiou 1974, 14-23, Loraux 1998, 9-28, and discussion below.

[ back ] 11. Loraux 2002, 42-44 argues that Phrynichus “learned his lesson” from the experience of the Capture of Miletus, and thus presents the more acceptable sufferings of the Persians in his Phoenician Women. On this point see also Meier 1993, 63.

[ back ] 12. See also Goldhill 1988, 193 and Meier 1993, 71.

[ back ] 13. Loraux 2002, 45. (Loraux is of course not the first to interpret the Persians as sympathetic to the defeated enemy. See, e.g., Murray 1940, 127-28, Goldhill 1988, and Segal 1996, 165. See also Rosenbloom 1995 and Pelling 1997b for subtle and cautious discussions of several of the issues raised here.) For Anti-Persian readings, see especially Hall 1989, 56-100. In her 1996 edition of the play Hall notes the extreme example of Ridgeway 1910: “[The Persians] is no true drama; it is rather a glorious epinician poem infinitely superior to those… [of] Pindar” (Hall 1996, 17n104). The Persians has been interpreted even more recently as a celebration of Athenian superiority over Persia by Harrison 2000 and 2002.

[ back ] 14. Hall 1989.

[ back ] 15. Hall 1989, 1-2. On the relationship of Hall’s work to the analogous work of Hartog 1988 on Herodotus, see Pelling 1997c and note 000, above.

[ back ] 16. See, e.g., Goldhill 1988, Hall 1989, 56-100, and Harrison 2000 and 2002.

[ back ] 17. See Pickard-Cambridge 1968, 201-202, Taplin 1977, 61-128, Meier 1993, 70-71, and Hall 1996, 19-25.

[ back ] 18. See especially Hall 1989, 1, where it is stated that there was a great difference in the portrayal of Trojans in epic and tragedy. In support of Hall’s line of argument, I note that the use of the term barbarian in the plural as a reference to the non-Greek collective does not appear until the fifth century (Hall 1989, 9). I question, however, the inclusion of the Trojans of Athenian tragedy in the term barbarian. The Trojans are a special case. Moreover I do not find the Trojans of tragedy to be radically different from those of epic. See discussion further below in Chapter 3.

[ back ] 19. See e.g. Hall 1989, 57: “Aeschylus’ Persae, which celebrates the victories over Persia, is the earliest testimony to the absolute polarization in Greek thought of Hellene and barbarian.”

[ back ] 20. On Homeric diction in Aeschylus see especially Judet de la Combe 1995, as well as Sideras 1971, 198-200 and 212-15. To be fair, Hall’s 1996 commentary on the Persians notes most of the points of continuity that I discuss here, and I cite her work wherever our citations and/or ideas converge. The question is one of emphasis and interpretation. While Hall is careful to note Homeric reminiscences wherever they occur, the significance of the whole is not discussed. Hall’s analysis of the themes of the Persians as a play instead focuses on the way that the Persians are portrayed (for the first time in Greek literature) as foreign, feminine, and inferior. Nevertheless, Hall 1996, 24 suggests that there is still a great deal of work to be done on the transformation of epic diction by Aeschylus. She notes, “the point is usually not what he has borrowed, but the way in which he has adapted or altered it.”

[ back ] 21. Hall’s translation “gold-bedecked” I think captures the meaning well. Many editors prefer the emendation πολυάνδρου but I agree with Hall that πολυχρύσου requires no emendation, given the persistent imagery of luxury applied to the Persians throughout the play. Euphorbus (discussed below) is a Trojan ally in the Iliad who wears gold and silver in his hair.

[ back ] 22. See Hall 1996, ad loc.

[ back ] 23. For the lamented hêbê of the Persians, see Persians 512 and 926. On this point I benefited greatly from the presentation of Vincent Rosivach at the 2003 American Philological Association annual meeting, entitled “Military’ Lekythoi: Private vs. Public Mourning of Athenian War Dead.” Cf. Meiggs-Lewis 48, an Athenian casualty list from ca. 447 BC: οἵδε παρ᾿ ἑλλέσποντον ἀπόλεσαν ἀγλαὸν ἕβεν/βαρνάμενοι, σφετέραν δ᾿ εὐκλέϊσαμ πατρίδα/ὅστ᾿ ἐχθρὸς στενάχεμ πολέμο θέρος ἐκκομίσαντας,/αὐτοῖς δ᾿ ἀθάνατον μνεμ᾿ ἀρετες ἔθεσαν. (“These beside the Hellespont lost their splendid youth/fighting, but bestowed fame on their fatherland,/so that their enemies groan, having carried away the harvest of war,/but for themselves they set a deathless reminder of excellence.” Translation is Rosivach’s, used by permission.)

[ back ] 24. See, e.g., Iliad 13.484 where Idomeneus fears Aeneas, who is in the bloom of youth (ἥβης ἄνθος). The Greek word hêbê “youth” does not connote childhood, as the English word youth might imply, but rather the peak of young adulthood, which for the Greeks meant approximately age 16-18. Below, I translate hêbê as “manhood,” where it refers to the time when a young man reaches the age of marriage. See also Borthwick 1976 for the full range of meaning for anthos in Greek literature.

[ back ] 25. See, e.g., Iliad 4.473-89, 8.306-308, 17.53-58 (discussed below), 18.56-57 and 436-440, and 22.86-87 and 423. For kleos as the glory conveyed by epic song see Nagy 1979, 16-18. On the vegetal imagery that describes the deaths of warriors in the Iliad see also Schein 1984, 69-76 and 96-97.

[ back ] 26. See especially Nagy 1979, 174-184. Nagy shows that the root phthi– is inherently connected with vegetal imagery, and means “wilt.”

[ back ] 27. For plant imagery in ancient, Byzantine, and modern Greek laments see Alexiou 1974, 195-97. In Longus’ novel Daphnis and Chloe there is a stunning passage in which this central metaphor of Greek laments becomes literal. Flowers that have been cut down by an enemy (who is in this case a rival suitor for the hand of Chloe) are themselves ritually lamented. (See Longus 4.7-8.) On the erotic associations of meadows and gardens see Calame 1999, 151-174.

[ back ] 28. Comparison of the dead to a tree is one of the most common and ancient themes in the Greek lament tradition. See Alexiou 1974, 198-201, Danforth 1982, 96-99, and Sultan 1999, 70-71.

[ back ] 29. Μακεδόνες δὲ καὶ̣ Κύπριοι χάριτας λέγουσιν τὰς συνεστραμμένας καὶ̣ οὔλας μυρσίνας, ἃς φαμὲ̣ν στεφανίτιδας. See the forthcoming publication of the 2002 Sather Lectures by Gregory Nagy.

[ back ] 30. For the best account of the dialectic layers that form the Homeric system see Parry 1971, 325-364 [= Parry 1932]. See also Householder and Nagy 1972, 58-70.

[ back ] 31. See Plato, Phaedrus 276B. On the festival of Adonis, celebrated throughout the Greek world in antiquity, see Atallah 1966, Alexiou 1974, 55-57, Nagy, 1984, 60-63, Winkler 1990(a), 188-193, Detienne 1994, and Reed 1995. See also note 000, below.

[ back ] 32. See Alexiou 1974, 56 and Reed 1997, 21.

[ back ] 33. On the combination of lament and love song in Bion’s poem see Alexiou 1974, 56, as well as Reed 1997, ad 42-61.

[ back ] 34. For the testimonia regarding Adonis’ transformation see Reed 1997 ad 66. Reed sees flower metamorphoses as a Hellenistic literary device. Although our sources are late, I submit that the theme is extremely old (see discussion of the death of Euphorbus, above), and that Bion’s poem taps into a rich tradition of laments for heroes in which the central metaphor is that of a flower or young tree.

[ back ] 35. For the ritual elements of a Greek funeral see Alexiou 1974, 4-10.

[ back ] 36. For the personification of mother earth in the Persians see also Hall 1996 ad 61-62.

[ back ] 37. See, e.g., Euripides, Ion 29, Isocrates 4.24 and 12.124, and Pausanias 2.14 with Loraux 2000.

[ back ] 38. In fact the Persians and Athenians become related, albeit distantly. Cf. 185-186, in which Persia and Greece are said to be “sisters of the same race” (κασιγνήτα γένους ταὐτοῦ).

[ back ] 39. As Alexiou has shown, the idea of the earth as the giver of life is fundamentally connected with the offering of fruit, grain, and flowers when burying the dead. (Cf. Persians 611-618, where spring water, honey, wine, oil, and garlands of flowers are offered to the tomb of Darius.) Alexiou cites two funerary inscriptions that illustrate this theme (Alexiou 1974, 9; translations are Alexiou’s): θρεφθὲς δ᾿ ἐν χθονὶ τῆιδε θάνεν (Peek 697.5), “He died in the earth where he was nourished”; ἐκ γαίας βλαστὼν γαῖα πάλιν γέγονα (Peek 1702.2) “Having sprung from the earth, earth I have become once more.”

[ back ] 40. I am heavily indebted in the discussion that follows to Nagy’s analysis of hubris and habros in Nagy 1990a, 263-290, as well as Nagy 1985, 60-63. See also the thorough and illuminating discussion of Kurke 1992, who focuses on the political dimension of the word and its associations with an aristocratic lifestyle. Most recently, see Reed 1995, 343, who notes that poets describe Adonis as habros “to celebrate his ephebic gorgeousness.” Although I have disagreements with Reed’s 1995 article that are too extensive to be synthesized in a single footnote, in general I concur with Reed’s interpretation of Adonis’ habrosunê as both sexual in nature and connected with the excesses of lamentation. Reed argues that the festival of the Adonia allowed women to express themselves sexually and to lament. These two kinds of expression (which are intricately connected on the level of formula and theme) were normally forbidden to Greek women, except in certain ritualized circumstances. My disagreements with Reed’s study are mainly concerned with the interpretation of the so-called “gardens of Adonis,” which I see (along with many other scholars) as symbolic of Adonis’ extraordinary beauty and all too sudden death before reaching maturity. Accelerated growth and premature death is also the dominant theme in Thetis’ lament for Achilles, discussed above.

[ back ] 41. The other is Sappho 168: ὦ τὸν Ἄδωνιν. For other erotic/sensual contexts of the word habros in Sappho (applied to Aphrodite and her attendants, the Kharites), see also fr. 2.13-16, 58.25-26, 128.

[ back ] 42. The beating of the breast and tearing of clothing are two aspects of ritual lamentation. See Alexiou 1974, 6.

[ back ] 43. Nagy 1990a, 285.

[ back ] 44. Herodotus 1.71: Πέρσῃσι γάρ, πρὶν Λυδοὺς καταστρέψασθαι, ἦν οὔτε ἁβρὸν οὔτε ἀγαθὸν οὐδέν “For the Persians had nothing either luxurious or good before the Lydians conquered them.”

[ back ] 45. See Nagy 1990a, 283: “In epinician song the word habros and its derivatives can in fact be so positive as to characterize the luxuriance that a victor earns and deserves as the fruit of his struggles, either in athletics or in war.” For the negative associations of habros, see discussion below.

[ back ] 46. On the connections between habrosunê, flowers, headbands, and athletic victory in the poetry of Pindar, see also Kurke 1992.

[ back ] 47. Michelini 1978. In the remainder of this chapter I will be focusing o this aspect of hubris. On hubris as a legal term denoting violence and aggressive behavior (which I submit is fundamentally connected to the botanical aspect of hubris), see, e.g., Fisher 1990 and Cohen 1995.

[ back ] 48. Nagy 1990a, 267.

[ back ] 49. See especially Nagy 1990a, 266 and 286-287. The Greek word turannos “tyrant” is apparently borrowed from Lydian.

[ back ] 50. See, e.g., Adams 1952, Kitto 1961, 33-45, Jones 1962, Conacher 1974, 163-8, Gagarin 1976, 46-50, Michelini 1982, 86-98, Winnington-Ingram 1983, 1-15, and Fisher 1992, 256-263.

[ back ] 51. Penthos “grief” is also an essential epic theme; it suffuses both the Iliad and Odyssey at every point. See Nagy 1979, 94-117, Greene 1999, and Dué 2002, 78-81.

[ back ] 52. Heroikos 7.1 and 23.2. For more on the hero cults of antiquity and Philostratus’ Heroikos, see Dué and Nagy 2003.

[ back ] 53. For the word pothos as the longing of a widow for her husband in Greek literature, as well as the importance of the word in Greek lament traditions, see Vermeule 1979, 154-55, 165, and 177.

[ back ] 54. See also lines 511-512, 547-548, and 730.

[ back ] 55. See note on hêbê above.

[ back ] 56. Cf. a similar juxtaposition at Persians 1073, one of the final lines of the play: γοᾶσθ’ ἁβροβάται (“lament, you who walk in a habros manner”).

[ back ] 57. γόος is usually applied to the laments of nonprofessional female relatives, while θρῆνος is used of lament “especially composed and performed at the funeral by nonkinsmen” (Alexiou 1974, 12). In tragedy, however, there is little distinction between the two terms. See Dué 2002, 69 with citations there.

[ back ] 58. Martin 1989.

[ back ] 59. Dué 2002, 78.

[ back ] 60. Hektor’s mother Hecuba likewise tears off her veil when she learns of her son’s death at the hands of Achilles (Iliad 22.405-407): ἣ δέ νυ μήτηρ/τίλλε κόμην, ἀπὸ δὲ λιπαρὴν ἔρριψε καλύπτρην/τηλόσε, κώκυσεν δὲ μάλα μέγα παῖδ’ ἐσιδοῦσα· (“But now Hektor’s mother/tore her hair out, and threw off her shining veil/far away from her, and she wailed especially loudly when she looked upon her son.”)

[ back ] 61. I am indebted to the commentary of Hall 1996 (ad 539-540) for these references.

[ back ] 62. In the case of Iliad 9.570, the woman referred to is Althaea, who actually prays for the death of her son Meleager.

[ back ] 63. This is how the passage is usually translated. Given the themes I have been tracing, however, I am very much inclined (as is Hall) to translate the word εὐνῖδας as something like “bedmate,” taking it as cognate with εὐνή (“marriage bed”). The translation would then read: “how many of the Persian women Athens has made bedmates in vain and husbandless.” The idea is that the sexual unions were rendered fruitless, since there was no opportunity for a proper marriage or children to result from it.

[ back ] 64. Nagy has shown that the Iliad and Odyssey, as Panhellenic poetry that must appeal to all Greeks, screens out distinctly local features—particularly elements of romance and fantasy. (See especially Nagy 1990a, 70-73 and note 99, as well as Dué 2002, 21-26 and 57-64.) On the general avoidance of fantasy and elements of folk tale in the Iliad and Odyssey (in contrast with the Epic Cycle) see Griffin 1977, Davies 1989, 9-10, and Burgess 2001, 157-171.

[ back ] 65. Iliad 19.282. See Dué 2002, 74.

[ back ] 66. See also the work of Loraux and Vernant on “the beautiful death” in Loraux 1975 and 1986 and Vernant 1991, 50-74 (with further references there.). Also very relevant to this discussion is the work of Monsacré 1984, especially pp. 69-72, in which she discusses the way that hand to hand combat is portrayed or referred to as a wedding at several points in the Iliad.

[ back ] 67. Compare Odysseus’ words at Hecuba 322-325: εἰσὶν παρ’ ἡμῖν οὐδὲν ἧσσον… νύμφαι τ’ ἀρίστων νυμφίων τητώμεναι,/ὧν ἥδε κεύθει σώματ’ Ἰδαία κόνις (“Among us are… brides bereft of excellent bridegrooms, whose bodies this Trojan dust has covered.” Hecuba 322-325).

[ back ] 68. Cf. as well the lines that mark Iphidamas’ death, shortly thereafter (Iliad 11.241-243): ὣς ὃ μὲν αὖθι πεσὼν κοιμήσατο χάλκεον ὕπνον/οἰκτρὸς ἀπὸ μνηστῆς ἀλόχου, ἀστοῖσιν ἀρήγων,/κουριδίης, ἧς οὔ τι χάριν ἴδε, πολλὰ δ’ ἔδωκε· (“Thus he fell and slept a bronze sleep [of death], pitiful, since he had just come as a helper for his people straight from the wooing of his wife, the bride of his youth, of whom he did not have any pleasure, although he had given much for her”). On the death of the Trojan warrior Simoeisios, who is described as a blooming unmarried youth (ᾐίθεον θαλερόν 4.474), see Schein 1984, 73-76.

[ back ] 69. For more on Protesilaos and Laodameia see Dué and Nagy 2003, with reference to the myths about the couple narrated in Philostratus’ Heroikos.

[ back ] 70. Dué 2002. See especially pp. 14, 39, and 67-81.

[ back ] 71. For the phrase “eternal bridegroom” I am again indebted to Greg Nagy, who uses the term in teaching to explain the appeal of Achilles for the Greek song culture. (See also Aitken and Maclean 2001, lvii.) Achilles did of course have a son, Neoptolemus/Pyrrhus, by Deidameia, whom he impregnated while posing as a girl on the island of Scyros. (For sources, see Gantz 1993, 580-82.) In the Cypria tradition, according to the summary of Proclus, Achilles marries Deidameia and begets Neoptolemus after landing on Scyros on the way to Troy, following the Achaeans’ attack on the Mysians. (See Anderson 1997, 43.) Despite this episode in what is apparently imagined to be Achilles’ childhood, in the Iliad and elsewhere Achilles is portrayed as a youthful and eligible bachelor. (See Dué 2002, 14 and 74-76, with note 27.) Cf. Pausanias 10.26.4: τοῦ δὲ Ἀχιλλέως τῷ παιδὶ Ὅμηρος μὲν Νεοπτόλεμον ὄνομα ἐν ἁπάσῃ οἱ τίθεται τῇ ποιήσει· τὰ δὲ Κύπρια ἔπη φησὶν ὑπὸ Λυκομήδους μὲν Πύρρον, Νεοπτόλεμον δὲ ὄνομα ὑπὸ Φοίνικος αὐτῷ τεθῆναι, ὅτι Ἀχιλλεὺς ἡλικίᾳ ἔτι νέος πολεμεῖν ἤρξατο (“Homer gives the name Neoptolemus to the son of Achilles in all of his poetry, but the Cypria says that Lykomedes named him Pyrrhus, while Phoenix gave him the name of Neoptolemus—young warrior—because Achilles was young when he first went to war”). It is common in epic for the names of children to reflect the attributes of their parents.

[ back ] 72. For local myths about Achilles’ romantic encounters in the Troad see Dué 2002, 33-34 and 60-64. For archaic vase paintings that suggest a romance between Achilles and Polyxena in Cyclic traditions see Scaife 1995. For Achilles in the afterlife see Nagy 1979, chapters 9-10, Hedreen 1991, Gantz 1993, 133-135, and Dué 2002, 41-42.

[ back ] 73. Himerius Or. 1.16.

[ back ] 74. See Nagy 1974, 134-139 and 1999, 28-29.

[ back ] 75. See Herodotus 7.10-7.57.

[ back ] 76. See Nagy 1990a, 267 and Herodotus 1.89.2 (spoken by the Lydian king Croesus): Πέρσαι φύσιν ἐόντες ὑβρισταὶ (“the Persians [are] by nature men of hubris”).

[ back ] 77. Cf. Ferrari 2000, 148, who compares these lines to Agamemnon 659-660: ἀνθοῦν πέλαγος Αἰγαῖον νεκροῖς /ἀνδρῶν Ἀχαιῶν ναυτικοῖς τ’ ἐρειπίοις “We saw the Aegean sea blossoming with the corpses / Of Achaean men and wreckage of ships” [trans. Ferrari]). Ferrari notes: “The focal image here [in Persians 821-822] is established by the word ἐξαμᾷ, referring to mowing or reaping. Hubris blossoms into ate as stalks of grain flower into ears of corn, but its crop is death. Similarly, in the Agamemnon the corpses strewn over the sea are the flowering of hubris, producing blooms of ate.” See also below, where the significance of this parallel between the atê of the two armies is discussed further.

[ back ] 78. Ebbott 2000, 83.

[ back ] 79. The similarities between the Persians and Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy are many. To cite just two obvious examples, the dream of Atossa and her exchange with the chorus of elders may be compared to Clytemnestra’s interaction with the Argive elders in the Agamemnon, and Electra’s and Orestes’ conjuring of their dead father in the Libation Bearers is reminiscent of the consultation of the ghost of Darius in the Persians. For more parallels of structure and theme, see Ferarri 2000, 143-150, as well as Anderson 1997, 107 and 111.

[ back ] 80. These plays have affinities with the nostos (“homecoming”) traditions of epic. For the Persians as a homecoming drama see Hall 1996, 18. Ferrari 2000, 144-147, discusses the allusive relationships between the nostos themes of the Persians, the Agame mnon, and the Epic Cycle. See also Anderson 1997, 114-127.