One Man Show: Poetics and Presence in the Iliad and Odyssey

  Kretler, Katherine. 2020. One Man Show: Poetics and Presence in the Iliad and Odyssey. Hellenic Studies Series 78. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

2. Marpessa, Kleopatra, and Phoenix

Perhaps it means that at the point where we are we have lost all touch with the true theater, since we confine it to the domain of what daily thought can reach, the familiar or unfamiliar domain of consciousness;—and if we address ourselves to the unconscious, it is merely to take from it what it has been able to collect (or conceal) of accessible everyday experience.

Artaud, The Theater and Its Double

The speech of Phoenix in the Embassy to Achilles (Iliad 9.434–605), in its sheer scope and intriguing triptych structure, is, on the level of poetics or composition, the most elaborate in the poem by far. But this structure, rather than forming a map or a design on a flat surface, like a piece of paper, rather plays out in the performance, forming layers within the space of performance and within the performer himself.

From one perspective, Phoenix’s speech is simply a more complex example of “becoming the character” than those examined in the previous chapter. On another level it transcends that kind of enactment by doubling it. While the performer is becoming Phoenix, Phoenix is becoming another character from the deep, “heroic” past: Kleopatra, wife of Meleager. Phoenix being taken over by Kleopatra is a re-staging within the world of the poem of the very process of becoming the character, rendering visible a process going on all the time in Homeric poetry.

Not to say that the speech thereby becomes a mise en abyme for the convenience of scholars. The possession of Phoenix by Kleopatra provides the audience with a view of the deep past of the world of the Iliad instead of one filtered through reporters of that past. To put this in terms of the audience’s experience, we gain—suddenly—access to a whole new realm, or rather realms, of the poem. The paradeigma of Meleager suddenly opens up and exposes the memory and the perspective of a minor character within it.

The ecplectic power of the speech comes in part from the fact that Kleopatra’s perspective does not harmonize with the paradeigma’s purpose, exhorting Achilles to stay and fight. Kleopatra expresses the view of a woman in a city under siege, and the climax of Phoenix’s speech is Kleopatra’s catalogue of the horrors of the sack of a city. It is as though Phoenix tells a story to shore up his exhortation, is sidetracked to another story-world, and encounters there a character who subverts that purpose and speaks through him. This produces atopia, not only in the sense of an objective inconsistency between words and intentions, [1] but in a concrete spatial, bodily sense of one person emerging from within another, one story bursting through another, one force disrupting another. Because Phoenix tells his own story of trauma to begin his speech, the audience sees and hears connections between his own past and the story he tells. The speech effects the emergence of a suppressed truth about war as well as an uncanny emergence of trauma, a repressed or suppressed event that forms the highly compressed core of the story.

In that the audience witnesses a strange, foreign force taking over Phoenix, not only truths residing in his own memory, but a dead woman with her own fueling traumas—traumas that exert magnetic force upon the speaker himself—there is here something akin to the uncanny in the sense of ghostly possession and involuntary repetition. The speech thus accords in a general way with images of the poet found in Plato (the poet as a dead hero himself, or as a necromancer of heroes). But, examined in detail as a script, this speech turns out to be a particularly virtuosic enactment of possession. Because of the concrete interplay between the inside and outside of various spaces, as well as of the speaker himself, atopia and unheimlich convey its sense of spatial confusion better than “uncanny.”

The atopia spills out, moreover, into the border between the inside and the outside of the poem. For as Phoenix is taken over by the past, he uncontrollably causes the future. Phoenix is taken over not only by Kleopatra and her mother Marpessa; in looking at his audience, Achilles and Patroklos, Phoenix lets them too leak into his story, with disastrous effects, as it were, upon the plot of the poem. This fusion of Phoenix as storyteller with the bard as plotter of the poem brings about the audience’s sense of the uncanny with respect to the figure in front of them: the bard appears to have lost control, and the plot to have been disrupted from within—one more level of the uncanny.

In the realm of poetics or poiēsis, the extensive web of background stories used in this speech requires a full exploration, first simply to lay out what traditions may be alluded to and what themes they have in common. I then show how these stories are bound up with presence and/or performance. I shall expand the traditional focus from the story of Meleager and the boar hunt to that of his wife Kleopatra and to the stories about Marpessa and Alkyone. These stories, brief as they are, are crucial to understand if one wishes to appreciate the dynamics of enactment, even more important than the story of Meleager.

Nevertheless, the Meleager story itself also holds keys not only to the speech’s (and the poem’s) composition, and its poetics, but also to the drama of the speech, and what it makes present.

The central question for these scholars involves Meleager’s death. In the usual version told throughout antiquity, his death is caused by a magical object. When Meleager is born, his mother overhears the Fates tracing out the story of the baby’s life; the last Fate declares that Meleager will die as soon as a piece of wood then burning in the hearth is destroyed. His mother snatches this brand (dalos) from the hearth, extinguishes it, and puts it in a chest for safekeeping. Time passes, and when Meleager is reaching maturity, the events of the Calydonian boar hunt unfold. Meleager’s father Oineus neglects Artemis in a sacrifice, and the angry goddess sends a boar to ravage the fields. Meleager gathers the best young men of the region and hunts down the boar. Meleager kills the boar, and he and his maternal uncles dispute over the boar’s head and skin. In the usual account, Meleager gives the spoils to fellow-hunter Atalanta as a love-gift, and the uncles object to giving them to a girl. Meleager kills one or more of his uncles. When his mother, Althaia, hears about this, she whips the dalos out of the chest and throws it into the fire, at which point Meleager, out in the field, drops dead.

By contrast, in Iliad 9 Meleager’s mother does not burn a magic firebrand but rather curses her son, summoning forces from the underworld in a dramatic gesture, thrashing the earth. This is the first major peculiarity in the Homeric account. The next is the blossoming of the family dispute over the spoils into a full-scale war. Meleager withdraws from the battlefield (for reasons initially opaque), and a series of supplicants comes to beg him to return to the fight, offering him gifts, paralleling the currently unfolding situation in Achilles’ tent. Finally, his wife, Kleopatra, whose name when reversed becomes Patroklos, [5] retails for him the horrors of a city being seized, and Meleager is stirred up and returns to the battlefield. His death is not mentioned, but Phoenix remarks that Meleager “did not receive the gifts.” This is an oblique way of hinting at Meleager’s death, though the obliquity does not lend Phoenix “tact.” Rather the line allows the fatal trajectory of the story, which dramatically undermines Phoenix’s entire speech, to leak through to its internal audience, Achilles, and to us. This is particularly apt because in some versions of the story Meleager is killed by Apollo, who is involved in both Patroklos’ and Achilles’ deaths. [6] By leaving out Meleager’s death, this death hovers in the air for the audience when the speech ends, for the audience to connect with the next party they “see”: Achilles. This is the third example we have seen so far of the speaker leaving off the end of the story, which countervenes the ostensible reason for the story. Recall Plato’s use of the opening of the Iliad, just before the banning of the priest of Apollo, and the story of the “Trojan Horse,” breaking off just before the atrocities in which Odysseus partook.

The Phoenix Speech


Kleopatra’s catalogue, standing out as it does from the speech of Phoenix, gives voice to these contradictions. Kleopatra is urging Meleager to defend their city against would-be sackers: sackers like Achilles. Only by a cynical distortion can the Achaean camp be considered a “city under siege” that needs to be “defended” from the Trojans. All this is transparent to Achilles, and to us listeners. But even if one willfully subscribes to the notion of the Achaeans as defenders, a plea to defend a city from its women being raped and its children dragged off can only truly apply to the Trojans. Kleopatra is particularly worried, we shall see, about rape. But it is precisely a stolen woman who has brought the Achaeans to their knees and forced the current mission to Achilles. Achilles has already seen through the problem. To paraphrase him: “Why are we here in the first place? Isn’t it for Helen? Oh, so the sons of Atreus are the only ones who love their wives?” (9.337–341). As though it were not already obvious that Agamemnon cannot make Achilles whole by returning Briseis and piling on seven more women, Phoenix’s voicing of Kleopatra’s impassioned plea demolishes Phoenix’s appeal (“take the gifts”) from within. Kleopatra’s speech is the culmination of the ironies of Phoenix’s rhetoric.

But the impact goes beyond irony and a sense of tragedy. What Kleopatra’s speech effects dramatically, and what Phoenix’s speech effects dramatically, has gone under the radar. That is strange, because its dramatic power comes in large part from the elaborate structure of the speech and its mythical background, the subject of much scholarly discussion. Within that cluster of background story, what has escaped proper attention is the tightly packed seed of story at the very center of the speech—the digression about Marpessa, Kleopatra’s mother.

Who Is Phoenix?

This resemblance between Phoenix and Nestor finds an echo in their pairing in visual art, which will be discussed in the following Interlude. But within the Homeric tradition Phoenix has another twin, as it were: Phoenix’s speech in Iliad 9 resembles in numerous ways that of Eumaeus in Odyssey 15.403–484. While Phoenix is foster-father to the protagonist of the Iliad, Eumaeus has taken on this role for Telemachus in the absence of Odysseus. The two speeches, delivered to the central hero of each poem, are akin, from structure down to details of allusion and dramatic technique. In Chapter 4, these parallels are presented and the ramifications for the Iliad and the Odyssey are discussed. The full significance of some details in the present chapter will be uncovered only in the light of that discussion.

Phoenix in the Tradition

Structure of the Speech

The Autobiography of Phoenix

First Panel: Autobiography of Phoenix

I. 434–445
          A. DO NOT LEAVE ME. 437–438
                   X. PELEUS SENT ME. 438–443
          A′. DO NOT LEAVE ME. 444–445
II. 445–484
          A. PHOENIX FLEES HIS FATHER. 447–448 φεύγων
                  X. WHY HE FLED. 449–477
          A′. PHOENIX FLEES HIS FATHER. 478–480 φεῦγον
III. 485–495
          A. I MADE YOU MY OWN. 485
                   X. ACHILLES AS A BABY. 486–494
          A′. I MADE YOU MY OWN. 494–495

          ὀψὲ δὲ δὴ μετέειπε γέρων ἱππηλάτα Φοῖνιξ
          δάκρυ’ ἀναπρήσας· περὶ γὰρ δίε νηυσὶν Ἀχαιῶν·
          εἰ μὲν δὴ νόστόν γε μετὰ φρεσὶ φαίδιμ’ Ἀχιλλεῦ
435    βάλλεαι, οὐδέ τι πάμπαν ἀμύνειν νηυσὶ θοῇσι
          πῦρ ἐθέλεις ἀΐδηλον, ἐπεὶ χόλος ἔμπεσε θυμῷ,
           πῶς ἂν ἔπειτ’ ἀπὸ σεῖο φίλον τέκος αὖθι λιποίμην           A DO NOT LEAVE ME
          οἶος; σοὶ δέ μ’ ἔπεμπε γέρων ἱππηλάτα Πηλεὺς
                  ἤματι τῷ ὅτε σ’ ἐκ Φθίης Ἀγαμέμνονι πέμπε
440            νήπιον οὔ πω εἰδόθ’ ὁμοιΐου πολέμοιο
                  οὐδ’ ἀγορέων, ἵνα τ’ ἄνδρες ἀριπρεπέες τελέθουσι.                        X CENTER
                  τοὔνεκά με προέηκε διδασκέμεναι τάδε πάντα,
                  μύθων τε ῥητῆρ’ ἔμεναι πρηκτῆρά τε ἔργων.
           ὡς ἂν ἔπειτ’ ἀπὸ σεῖο φίλον τέκος οὐκ ἐθέλοιμι               A DO NOT LEAVE ME
445     λείπεσθ’, οὐδ’ εἴ κέν μοι ὑποσταίη θεὸς αὐτὸς …

          After a time, though, the old horseman Phoenix spoke out at last,
          bursting with tears: so much did he fear for the ships of the Achaeans:
          “If it is homecoming that you, shining Achilles, are revolving in your mind,
          and you are unwilling to ward off from the swift ships
          annihilating fire, since anger has imbued your spirit,
          how then should I be left here, apart from you, dear child,  A DO NOT LEAVE ME
          alone? It was for you that the old man, horseman Peleus, was sending me
                  on that day when he was sending you from Phthia to Agamemnon,
                  naïve child, not yet knowing anything of leveling war
                  or assemblies, where men emerge resplendent.                                 X CENTER
                  That’s why he sent me, to teach you all these things,
                  to be a speaker of words and a doer of deeds.
          So I wouldn’t be willing, apart from you, dear child,             A DO NOT LEAVE ME
          to be abandoned, not even if the god himself should promise…”

Iliad 9.432–445

The center of the first ring (443–448) explains why Achilles should listen to Phoenix: because Achilles’ father Peleus sent Phoenix there himself. It also accounts for Phoenix’s presence at Troy, and so resembles the centerpiece of the second ring, which accounts for his presence, not at Troy, but in Phthia in Achilles’ house. [24] Thus, while the second ring backs up one step along the chain of causation, it too ends up with a center section accounting for the presence of Phoenix in a particular place. Note in the first ring ἵνα τ’ ἄνδρες ἀριπρεπέες τελέθουσι, “where men emerge resplendent,” the vivid coming-forth at the midpoint of the central (X) section of a ring. The audience for this speech is Achilles, and it is his presence before the speaker that anchors both locations: both rings account not so much for Phoenix’s movement from one place to another as for “why I came to you; why I am here with you.” The locations are layered on top of one another in space, while moving backward in time. Both these accounts of presence, Peleus’ sending him to Troy, and Amyntor’s wrath forcing him to Phthia, partially cover over the immediate issue of his presence in the here and now of Achilles’ tent—sent by Agamemnon. On the other hand, that fact leaks out indirectly by the wording of 438–439, “Peleus sent me to you, on that day, when Agamemnon was sending you out of Phthia …” Leak aside, these first two rings have the effect of replacing that here and now, the tent, with these prior times and locations, which are happier for the relationship of speaker and addressee, of the me and the you of the performer. The first story is only a displacement of time, not place, and so makes a wonderful elision: it is not, after all, Agamemnon that sent me here to you (on this unsavory mission), but Peleus. [25]

Notice too that the first ring’s outer sections beg Achilles not to leave, while the second ring’s outer sections recount how Phoenix did leave his family to become part of Achilles’ family. In performance, the very structure of the two rings focuses attention upon the space before the performer as a place where he has arrived, a space capable of “containing” several times and places within it, each with clear senses of a center or origo at which arrival or departure takes place.

The two sections are connected smoothly [26] by “I wouldn’t be willing to be left apart from you, dear child, not even if the god himself should promise to strip away my old age and set me in the bloom of youth, such as when I first left …” (444–447). The transition to the second section turns into a long run-on sentence that includes much of the trouble at Phoenix’s house in Hellas:

445    οὐδ’ εἴ κέν μοι ὑποσταίη θεὸς αὐτὸς
          γῆρας ἀποξύσας θήσειν νέον ἡβώοντα,
          οἷον ὅτε πρῶτον λίπον Ἑλλάδα καλλιγύναικα
          φεύγων νείκεα πατρὸς Ἀμύντορος Ὀρμενίδαο,
          ὅς μοι παλλακίδος περιχώσατο καλλικόμοιο,
450    τὴν αὐτὸς φιλέεσκεν, ἀτιμάζεσκε δ’ ἄκοιτιν
          μητέρ’ ἐμήν· ἣ δ’ αἰὲν ἐμὲ λισσέσκετο γούνων
          παλλακίδι προμιγῆναι, ἵν’ ἐχθήρειε γέροντα.
          τῇ πιθόμην καὶ ἔρεξα· πατὴρ δ’ ἐμὸς αὐτίκ’ ὀϊσθεὶς
          πολλὰ κατηρᾶτο, στυγερὰς δ’ ἐπεκέκλετ’ Ἐρινῦς,
455    μή ποτε γούνασιν οἷσιν ἐφέσσεσθαι φίλον υἱὸν
          ἐξ ἐμέθεν γεγαῶτα· θεοὶ δ’ ἐτέλειον ἐπαρὰς
          Ζεύς τε καταχθόνιος καὶ ἐπαινὴ Περσεφόνεια.

          Not even if the god himself should promise
          to smooth away my old age and set me back in blooming youth,
          as when I first left Hellas, with its beautiful women,
          fleeing the hatred of my father Amyntor, son of Ormenos,
          who got angry with me for his fair-haired concubine,
          whom he himself loved, and was dishonoring his own wife,
          my mother; who was always taking me by the knees, begging me
          to lie with the concubine, so that she would hate the old man.
          I yielded to her and did it. And my father immediately suspected,
          and called down many curses, and invoked the chill Erinyes,
          that never shall there sit on his knees a dear son
          begotten from me. And the gods fulfilled the curses,
          Zeus of the underworld and dread Persephone.

Iliad 9.445–457

Phoenix’s mother was angry that his father Amyntor had taken a concubine and begged her son to sleep with the concubine. Phoenix did the deed (ἔρεξα), incurring his father’s wrath. But that is not how the story is told. The poet is backing into the first cause, because he is taking Phoenix’s departure as his starting point, and relates first that Amyntor was angry on account of a lovely-haired concubine (449), whom he himself cherished, leaving the fact that Phoenix had slept with her for later, then proceeds to the involvement of the angry mother/wife. The anger of the father comes first, and is explained by events caused in turn by the anger of the mother. As in the opening of the Iliad, the explanation of one wrath yields to that of another, which in turn causes yet another, proceeding back up the chain: for the mother wants the concubine not just to despise Amyntor but to hate him (452), which will in turn cause the anger of Amyntor. The chain of hatred is traced back to its first cause—the taking of (or holding on to) a concubine, the same cause that triggers the events of the Iliad (Chryseis and then Briseis) and the war (Helen). Phoenix, in the midst of the storm of hatred and anger, is merely obeying. Amyntor goes so far as to curse his son with sterility: “he cursed many times and called upon the chill Erinyes, that never shall there sit on his knees a dear son, begotten from me” (455–456).

Now come the contested lines about Phoenix’s impulse to kill his father:

τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ βούλευσα κατακτάμεν ὀξέι χαλκῷ·
ἀλλά τις ἀθανάτων παῦσεν χόλον, ὅς ῥ’ ἐνὶ θυμῷ
δήμου θῆκε φάτιν καὶ ὀνείδεα πόλλ’ ἀνθρώπων,
ὡς μὴ πατροφόνος μετ’ Ἀχαιοῖσιν καλεοίμην.

As for him I planned to slay him with the sharp bronze.
But one of the immortals stopped my wrath, who
set the rumor of the people in my heart, and the many reproaches of men,
so that I not be called a patricide among the Achaeans.

Iliad 9.458–461

Phoenix’s relatives keep him under house arrest and “supplicating him there, were restraining him in the halls” (αὐτοῦ λισσόμενοι κατερήτυον ἐν μεγάροισι, line 465), slaughtering many animals of all sorts, until on the tenth day Phoenix finally breaks out of the “closely set doors of his chamber,” leaps over the courtyard fence, “easily,” and goes to Phthia. [

          ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ δεκάτη μοι ἐπήλυθε νὺξ ἐρεβεννή,
475    καὶ τότ’ ἐγὼ θαλάμοιο θύρας πυκινῶς ἀραρυίας
          ῥήξας ἐξῆλθον, καὶ ὑπέρθορον ἑρκίον αὐλῆς
          ῥεῖα, λαθὼν φύλακάς τ’ ἄνδρας δμῳάς τε γυναῖκας.
          φεῦγον ἔπειτ’ ἀπάνευθε δι’ Ἑλλάδος εὐρυχόροιο,
          Φθίην δ’ ἐξικόμην …

          But when the tenth black night came for me,
          just then I, bursting the close-fitted doors of the chamber,
          went out, and leapt over the fence of the courtyard,
          easily, slipping past the guards and the serving-women.
          I fled far away, through Hellas with broad dancing-floors,
          and came to Phthia …

Iliad 9.474–479

This house arrest has baffled many scholars. Why should his relatives keep the angry Phoenix in his house? We return to this question when we reach the story of Marpessa.

The first section of the autobiography centered on Peleus sending Phoenix with Achilles; in the second, Phoenix again comes to Achilles, fleeing from his own father. Thus we have a strophe and antistrophe structure, culminating in the epiphanic epode of the third section, which puts the weft of the rhetorical aim over the warp of these movements of the past and reveals the vivid, static tableau of Phoenix dandling baby Achilles. [28] Amyntor’s curse may have been fulfilled, but there has been a double substitution: Phoenix has got a foster father in Peleus (indeed, Peleus treats him as his “only child” [481–482]!), and a foster son in Achilles. In the center of the third ring, Phoenix fondly recalls Achilles sitting contentedly on his lap and burping up wine all over Phoenix’s chiton, “in infantile pain” (491). “Thus for you I suffered much, I toiled much, with this in mind—that the gods were not bringing any offspring to fruition out of me; but you, child, Achilles, like the gods, I made you, so you may some time ward off for me unseemly loigos. But, Achilles, tame your great thumos: it is not fit for you to have a heart without pity: even the gods are pliable …” (492–497)—with which he launches into the allegory of the Litai. The maximally vivid image of the infant Achilles on Phoenix’s knees serves on the face of it as the “cause” of Phoenix’s suffering. This third centerpiece deviates from the first two: where the first two account for Phoenix’s presence, first at Troy, then in Phthia, the third presents a sort of primal scene that trumps even the tragic melodrama of section two. A good part of its power lies in the way it corresponds to the actual scene unfolding during the delivery of the speech: the post-prandial talk in Achilles’ tent. Thus Phoenix invokes the scene at Peleus’ megaron and layers it on top of the scene in Achilles’ tent. The audience, Achilles, is asked to imagine himself once again on the speaker’s lap. [29] Thus the strophic structure of the speech gives way to a spatial play of musical chairs, a play ratcheted up as the speech proceeds. Insofar as the performer becomes Phoenix for this very long speech, and Phoenix’s words layer such a vivid picture of the past onto the present, the space inhabited by the performer is shaped into an origo or a point of arrival, and also a space for the emergence of people from the past.

The Litai

Following the autobiography is the rich allegory of the Litai (“Prayers”), the short central panel (9.496–523) forming a bridge between Phoenix’s autobiography and the story of Meleager. The Litai transparently stand in, substitute, for the three Achaeans sent to plead (λίσσεσθαι, 520) with Achilles. Phoenix warns Achilles not to dishonor them, even saying, “do not dishonor our speech / nor feet”[!] (522–523). This last recalls the Litai who, crippled, follow behind ἀρτίπος (solid on her feet) Atē (503–505). The simple interpretation of the passage is that Achilles should listen to the ambassadors, lest he be struck by atē and start the cycle all over again. But the allegory is not so circumscribed, and provides a map of the Meleager story to come.

The Litai are at first embodiments of prayers, following in the train of Atē as healing forces:

          … λισσόμενοι, ὅτε κέν τις ὑπερβήῃ καὶ ἁμάρτῃ.
          καὶ γάρ τε λιταί εἰσι Διὸς κοῦραι μεγάλοιο
          χωλαί τε ῥυσαί τε παραβλῶπές τ’ ὀφθαλμώ,
          αἵ ῥά τε καὶ μετόπισθ’ ἄτης ἀλέγουσι κιοῦσαι.
505     ἣ δ’ ἄτη σθεναρή τε καὶ ἀρτίπος, οὕνεκα πάσας
          πολλὸν ὑπεκπροθέει, φθάνει δέ τε πᾶσαν ἐπ’ αἶαν
          βλάπτουσ’ ἀνθρώπους· αἳ δ’ ἐξακέονται ὀπίσσω.
          ὃς μέν τ’ αἰδέσεται κούρας Διὸς ἆσσον ἰούσας,
          τὸν δὲ μέγ’ ὤνησαν καί τ’ ἔκλυον εὐχομένοιο·
510     ὃς δέ κ’ ἀνήνηται καί τε στερεῶς ἀποείπῃ,
          λίσσονται δ’ ἄρα ταί γε Δία Κρονίωνα κιοῦσαι
          τῷ ἄτην ἅμ’ ἕπεσθαι, ἵνα βλαφθεὶς ἀποτίσῃ.

          … supplicating, whenever someone oversteps or goes astray.
          For there are Prayers (Litai), daughters of great Zeus
          lame, wrinkled, eyes looking askance,
          who, you see, are heedful of Atē, coming up behind her.
          But she, Atē, is strong and solid on her feet, so she runs
          out ahead of them all by far, beats them into every land
          damaging human beings: and they go healing behind.
          Whoever reveres the daughters of Zeus as they come near
          him they help, and listen when he prays.
          But whoever refuses and stiffly says no,
          pray they do, yes they, coming to Kronian Zeus,
          for Atē to chase that one, so that, damaged, he may pay the price.

Iliad 9.501–512

At first the lame, cockeyed shufflers “represent” (embody) prayers and also “represent” someone else (just as the embassy represents Agamemnon); they are certainly not praying on their own behalf. So far, so simple. Then there is an antithesis; first, whoever reveres them when they come near, they help, and they hear him when he prays (ὃς μέν … τὸν δέ, 508–509). The allegorical sense opens out of strict one-to-one correspondence: do the Litai “come near him” in the sense that he reveres prayers enough to pray (εὐχομένοιο, 509), or in that he has accepted someone else’s prayer, such that whenever in future he has need of prayer they “hear” him?

In both panels II (Litai) and III (Meleager) there is a loss of control at the center; a sudden emergence of a new agent; an uncanny repetition of the same; the emergence of a female thought to be dormant. Kleopatra should neatly “represent” Patroklos allegorically; the Litai should represent prayers and the pray-ers; both spill out of their respective tales to take the helm and bring about Ruin. And this spilling out takes place within the body of the performer and the space of performance as well.

The Marpessa Story/ Meleager and Kleopatra in the Thalamos

Position in Ring Structure

Here is a hyper-literal translation of the Marpessa story (X) with its two proximate framing sections (B C — C′ B′):

                        ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ Μελέαγρον ἔδυ χόλος, ὅς τε καὶ ἄλλων
         B             οἰδάνει ἐν στήθεσσι νόον πύκα περ φρονεόντων,
                        ἤτοι ὃ μητρὶ φίλῃ Ἀλθαίῃ χωόμενος κῆρ
            C                    κεῖτο παρὰ μνηστῇ ἀλόχῳ καλῇ Κλεοπάτρῃ
                                            κούρῃ Μαρπήσσης καλλισφύρου Εὐηνίνης
                                            Ἴδεώ θ’, ὃς κάρτιστος ἐπιχθονίων γένετ’ ἀνδρῶν
                                            τῶν τότε· καί ῥα ἄνακτος ἐναντίον εἵλετο τόξον
560          X                         Φοίβου Ἀπόλλωνος καλλισφύρου εἵνεκα νύμφης,
                                             τὴν δὲ τότ’ ἐν μεγάροισι πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
                                            Ἀλκυόνην καλέεσκον ἐπώνυμον, οὕνεκ’ ἄρ’ αὐτῆς
                                            μήτηρ ἀλκυόνος πολυπενθέος οἶτον ἔχουσα
                                            κλαῖ’ ὅτε μιν ἑκάεργος ἀνήρπασε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων·
            C′                  τῇ ὅ γε παρκατέλεκτο χόλον θυμαλγέα πέσσων
                        ἐξ ἀρέων μητρὸς κεχολωμένος, ἥ ῥα θεοῖσι
                        πόλλ’ ἀχέουσ’ ἠρᾶτο κασιγνήτοιο φόνοιο,
                        πολλὰ δὲ καὶ γαῖαν πολυφόρβην χερσὶν ἀλοία
         B′            κικλήσκουσ’ Ἀΐδην καὶ ἐπαινὴν Περσεφόνειαν
570                  πρόχνυ καθεζομένη, δεύοντο δὲ δάκρυσι κόλποι,
                        παιδὶ δόμεν θάνατον· τῆς δ’ ἠεροφοῖτις Ἐρινὺς
                        ἔκλυεν ἐξ Ἐρέβεσφιν ἀμείλιχον ἦτορ ἔχουσα.

                      But when cholos entered Meleager, which swells up too
          B          in the chests of others, even those thinking with close mind,
                      yes, he, angered in his heart with his dear mother Althaia,
              C                lay down next to his wedded wife, lovely Kleopatra,
                                          daughter of Marpessa of lovely ankles daughter of Euenos
                                          and of Idas, who was mightiest of men upon the earth—
                                          those of that time. And he took up his bow against the lord
                 X                       Phoebus Apollo, for the sake of a lovely-ankled bride,
                                          and her, then, in the halls her father and queenly mother
                                          called Alkyone as an eponym, seeing that her
                                          mother, with the lot of the mournful alkyōn, used to cry—
                                          that Phoebus Apollo who works from afar raped her:
              C′               by her he lay down, digesting his heart-rending cholos,
                      filled with cholos from the curses of his mother, who to the gods
                      many times prayed, in grief at the murder of her brother,
                      many times thrashed the much-nurturing earth with her hands,
          B′        invoking Hades and dread Persephone
                      sitting and kneeling, and her breasts were wet with tears,
                      to give her child death: and Erinys who treads the air
                      heard her out of Erebos with her unyielding heart.

Iliad 9.553–572

Phoenix leaves us hanging with the image of the couple in bed at 565 and backtracks to the mother’s lethal curse before moving forward again to the petitioners banging on Meleager’s door. So like Patroklos in Achilles’ tent, where her story is being told, Kleopatra is a powerful silent presence, until she finally sends Meleager out after all others have failed. As noted above, Phoenix elides the fact that Meleager will now die—a death the audience realizes is immanent, like the death of Achilles after the Iliad, and like the substitute death of Patroklos.

Merging: Three Women

Consider now the Marpessa digression with only its immediate frame:

C       κεῖτο παρὰ μνηστῇ ἀλόχῳ καλῇ Κλεοπάτρῃ
              κούρῃ Μαρπήσσης καλλισφύρου Εὐηνίνης
              Ἴδεώ θ’, ὃς κάρτιστος ἐπιχθονίων γένετ’ ἀνδρῶν
              τῶν τότε· καί ῥα ἄνακτος ἐναντίον εἵλετο τόξον
    X         Φοίβου Ἀπόλλωνος καλλισφύρου εἵνεκα νύμφης,
               τὴν δὲ τότ’ ἐν μεγάροισι πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
               Ἀλκυόνην καλέεσκον ἐπώνυμον, οὕνεκ’ ἄρ’ αὐτῆς
               μήτηρ ἀλκυόνος πολυπενθέος οἶτον ἔχουσα
               κλαῖ’ ὅτε μιν ἑκάεργος ἀνήρπασε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων·
C′     τῇ ὅ γε παρκατέλεκτο χόλον θυμαλγέα πέσσων

C       He lay down next to his wedded wife, lovely Kleopatra,
              daughter of Marpessa of lovely ankles daughter of Euenos
               and of Idas, who was mightiest of men upon the earth—
               those of that time. And he took up his bow against the lord
    X         Phoebus Apollo, for the sake of a lovely-ankled bride,
               and her, then, in the halls her father and queenly mother
               called Alkyone as an eponym, seeing that her
               mother, with the lot of the mournful alkyōn, used to cry-
               that Phoebus Apollo who works from afar raped her:
C′     by her he lay down, digesting his heart-rending cholos.

Iliad 9.556–565

She is called Alkyone by her father and mother, “because her mother used to cry with the lot of the mournful alkyōn. …” This shift of focus from “father and lady mother” (562) to the mother alone (563) implies that the mother of Alkyone has a particular involvement, perhaps even that she was the one raped, rather than Alkyone herself. This shift, that is, affects how we hear the next phrase, “… because Apollo raped her (μιν).” Is the woman who cries the same as the woman who was raped? In other words, does μιν refer to the subject of κλαῖ’ or not? It is not clear who is the victim, who is crying, and how many generations are involved.

Survey of the Marpessa Story

The story of Marpessa shares several basic elements with the story of Meleager and Kleopatra, and with the story of Phoenix and his erotically troubled family. In all three we find the wrath of a parent; erotic attachment in conflict with familial affection; confinement followed by dramatically leaving one’s home or chamber.

Merging and Layering

We move into this background story on the heels of a very startling line: “angry with his mother Althaia he lay down by his wedded wife” (555). This is one of the story’s notoriously bare references. We are given no cause for Meleager’s cholos until after this, his wife’s, background story, and even then it is the barest of hints: Althaia has cursed her son “in pain at the murder of her brother.” Of course, according to all attested versions of the story, Meleager has killed his mother’s brother(s); the audience could fill in the details. But since Meleager’s wrath is introduced so abruptly, the audience will expect an explanation to follow. They are then in fact presented with a hazy background story (557–564) which does involve causes for anger, rape, revenge, lament, a wrathful hero fighting Apollo on behalf of a woman, and something to do with a mother (indeed, an indefinite cascade of mothers): but any attempt by a listener to plug Meleager’s cholos into this background story is frustrated. The separateness of the two stories is broken down; they seem to be mingled somehow.

There is a masterful slippage at the end of the background story, when we finally are, it seems, exiting the story of Marpessa and entering once again into Meleager’s chamber. For since the story ends, “crying because Apollo raped her” (564), one has to do a double-take in order to realize that the next phrase, “by her he lay down” (565) refers not to Apollo and his victim (whoever she is) but to Meleager and his wife Kleopatra. Again, Apollo and his victim are layered on top of Meleager and Kleopatra.

Against this considerable phalanx of scholarship I suggest that the compression here, along with the temporal and syntactic ambiguities, has a special motivation. [56] As we have begun to see, one effect of the ambiguous pronouns and temporal oscillation is for two poignant figures, Marpessa and Alkyone, to merge into the figure of Kleopatra. The strange merging of these three women into one body effectively animates her, placed as it is just before the line that begins with the pronoun indicating her. In the line “her Meleager lay down next to, digesting his spirit-paining anger” (565), all that we have just learned about her is now packed into “her” (τῇ), which is to say into the body that we picture lying next to Meleager. The line now has the effect of: “that is precisely the woman in our hero’s [embodied by the performer?] force-field. He is down; what will raise him up?” Thus as he is digesting his cholos with his mother, he is lying next to a woman who is not merely an aid to cholos digestion (although there may be some sense of funneling off tensions from cholos into sex), but a person with a background and a foreground herself. When he first lies down by her in line 556, she is merely his wife. She then acquires a life, a potential life, by means of the backstory: an inner life. [57] She is a felt presence as the story proceeds, as her mother is a felt presence within Kleopatra’s mind. Thus does the solo bard populate his scenario with multiple presences.

The memory of rape informs her speech at the end of the Meleager story, when she lists the horrors that happen to a fallen city, the last of which is the rape of its women. The dramatic outburst, which finally rouses Meleager, is “fueled” by the memories of the rape of Marpessa: the story of Marpessa was inside her phrēn “all along.” (Recall Eris behind Agamemnon, and the widow in “Trojan Horse.”) Kleopatra, lying beside Meleager, acts as a container of the fuel that will spur her to speak and her husband to emerge.

The concentrated, violent eroticism of the passage—the way the rapacious Apollo usurps the place of Meleager in the bed via the juxtaposition of stories—adds to the sense that the closeness of Meleager to his wife has brought on this digression as a flood of memories. It is then more attractive to say that the memories, which one thinks will explain Meleager’s wrath, but which end up being in the past of his wife, stem not from one or the other character but give body and direction to their intimacy. As with their cholos, so with their memories.

So far, the interaction of themes between the innermost (Kleopatra/Marpessa) and the proximate (Kleopatra/Meleager) stories, and particularly the manner in which they are nested, prompts the audience to link Meleager’s cholos with some element in this story of Marpessa, and consequently produces a fusion between the phrenes of husband and wife. But there is a like intimacy between Marpessa’s story and the personal history of the speaker, Phoenix, himself. So far, the various levels, mergings, redirections, and usurpings have taken place entirely “within” the story-world or on the level of syntax connecting story-worlds. Therefore, although we have seen many features coinciding with the Chapter 1 examples, we have not been speaking explicitly of how this prepares for and pivots out into the performance dimension.

Marpessa and Phoenix

Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, Phoenix’s pathetic fears of abandonment in old age echo the choice of Marpessa, marrying the mortal Idas lest she be abandoned in old age by a god, Apollo. His plea to Achilles is, at its root, a plea that he not abandon him, aged as he is. Phoenix seems to be reaching as he speaks for stories about this fear deep in his heart. In the course of recounting the story of “a hero who could be persuaded,” Phoenix veers off to the story of the hero’s mother-in-law, to whom he is drawn by shared traumas and fears. At the same time, this story sets up Kleopatra’s speech expressing her fear of rape.


Now we turn from Kleopatra’s mother to the other figure in her background, recalled in her nickname “Alkyone.” The Iliad scholia rightly suggest that this name enters the poem via the Alkyone (daughter of Aiolos) who is the wife of Keux. [74] This Alkyone, like Marpessa, appears at the center of at least two stories of tragic eros, in both of which she is changed into the alkyōn, a mythical bird better known to us as the halcyon of “halcyon days.” In terms of early sources, one entire poem that would have been of great help, the Hesiodic Wedding of Keux, is lost. [75] Other early sources leave better traces. A relatively new papyrus fragment [76] states that the Catalogue of Women told the sad tale of Alkyone and Keux, and fragments of this tale are extant (Hesiod fr. 16 and possibly 19 M-W):

Hesiod fr. 10d M-W

In this version, [
78] she and Keux compare themselves to Zeus and Hera, explicitly because they are so in the thrall of eros; they are changed into birds as a punishment. The punishment fits the crime of over-happy, arrogating love: Ζεὺς δὲ ἀγανακτήσας μετέβαλεν αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρνεα χωρὶς ἀλλήλων βιοῦνταIliad 9.562), “Zeus, becoming angry, changed them into birds living apart from one another.”

Figure 3

Eros and Mortality

Alkyone’s and Marpessa’s stories work in counterpoint: each forges a connection between eros and mortality. In Marpessa’s case, this theme may already be sounded in the story of her imprisoned youth: Marpessa’s father keeps her to himself, perhaps thereby avoiding the idea of his own death. But it becomes more pointed in her dealings with the god and the mortal who carry her off. The Alkyone-Keux and the Marpessa-Idas stories are mirror images: Marpessa chooses the mortal husband because he will support her in old age; in the Keux-Alkyone story, it is the elderly female who supports the male. This makes it more plausible that the poet uses these stories because of their relation to Phoenix’s own fears.

Finally, we note that the myth of Demeter and Persephone is, like the Alkyon, a myth of the changing seasons and the return of fertility.

The abduction of Persephone leaves her as a conjurable force in the underworld; likewise with the tribulations of the Calydonians, who, as dead characters, are invoked by Phoenix. From this perspective, the story lays itself out on three levels: Phoenix, on the top, evokes the stories of Kleopatra and Meleager, and his own past, in an effort to sway Achilles. Within each of those two stories in turn, characters invoke Hades and Persephone. Once Phoenix enters into the Meleager story, he can tap into the deeper powers: Hades and Persephone, but also Marpessa and Euenos, Idas, and the sinister figure of Apollo.

Images of Containment and Bursting Out

The very compression of the Marpessa story contributes to its startling disruption of the story of Meleager. A whole world is glimpsed and suppressed again for an unstated reason. Since Kleopatra is lying next to Meleager even before the train of supplicants arrives, the audience knows her story has something to do with what will send him out. The allusiveness of the story seeds it as an unsolved riddle in the mind of the audience.

The Achaeans have two problems, the advance of the Trojans and the withdrawal of Achilles. Hektor is threatening to break through the wall and “fall upon” and set fire to the ships. The Achaeans are unable to contain the Trojans (234); not even, says Achilles, with the wall and the trench that they have built in his absence will they hold back (ἴσχειν, initial position) the force of Hektor (348–353).

A third cluster of images surrounds Agamemnon’s hoarding of loot and the piles of treasure being offered to Achilles. Nestor points out that Agamemnon’s tents are “full of wine,” a striking image (71), and that Agamemnon still holds the geras of Achilles (111). Achilles pushes this hoarding imagery into hyperbole when, with Odysseus’ catalogue of offerings hovering, awkwardly extravagant, in the air, he responds that Agamemnon would not persuade his thumos even if he offered as much as Orchomenos holds, or “Thebes, where the most possessions lie in its halls, Thebes which is hundred-gated, and two hundred men march out of each with horses and chariots, not even if he should give as much as the sand and the dust …” (381–384). After a few more thoughts Achilles tucks back into the image with relish:

          οὐ γὰρ ἐμοὶ ψυχῆς ἀντάξιον οὐδ’ ὅσα φασὶν
          Ἴλιον ἐκτῆσθαι εὖ ναιόμενον πτολίεθρον
          τὸ πρὶν ἐπ’ εἰρήνης, πρὶν ἐλθεῖν υἷας Ἀχαιῶν,
          οὐδ’ ὅσα λάϊνος οὐδὸς ἀφήτορος ἐντὸς ἐέργει
405    Φοίβου Ἀπόλλωνος Πυθοῖ ἔνι πετρηέσσῃ.
          ληϊστοὶ μὲν γάρ τε βόες καὶ ἴφια μῆλα,
          κτητοὶ δὲ τρίποδές τε καὶ ἵππων ξανθὰ κάρηνα,
          ἀνδρὸς δὲ ψυχὴ πάλιν ἐλθεῖν οὔτε λεϊστὴ
          οὔθ’ ἑλετή, ἐπεὶ ἄρ κεν ἀμείψεται ἕρκος ὀδόντων.

          It does not compensate my life—as much as they say
          Ilion possessed, well-seated citadel,
          before, in peacetime—before the sons of Achaeans came,
          not even as much as the stone threshold of the archer
          Phoebus Apollo contains within, in rocky Pytho.
          For the rustling are cattle and fat flocks,
          for the getting are tripods and tawny heads of horses,
          but as for a man, his life cannot be rustled back again
          nor captured, once, look you, it’s passed through the fence of teeth.

Iliad 9.401–409

Thus Achilles transforms the gates of Thebes into the fence of the teeth via the threshold of prophecy. No matter how many hordes of men stream out with horses they cannot balance the one soul pent up behind one’s own teeth, he says, explaining to Odysseus that the world is not made up exclusively of loot. [
96] This is one of several instances in Book 9 where a physical, external restraint and rupture is transformed into the confinement and eruption of speech and emotion (or, here, the soul itself).

Hundred-gated Thebes itself expands Achilles’ famous complaint, releasing the flood of his reply to Odysseus: “I hate like the gates of Hades that man who hides one thing in his phrēn and utters another …” (312–313). The gates of Hades are one-way trap doors. Likewise Odysseus’ mouth. Souls escape the fence of the teeth to pass the gates that never open again; but so too do surprising words “escape the fence of teeth” (4.350). This layers the caginess of Odysseus onto the hoarding of Agamemnon, and of Hades. Achilles for his part will not hold any words back but speak them all out (309).

Already at the opening of Book 9, a wind simile, these being normally sublime, abruptly ends with the sea vomiting seaweed up onto the beach where the Achaeans are in turmoil. A black wave pours (ἔχευεν, 7) seaweed onto the beach; the simile is meant to describe the divided thumos (8) of the Achaeans (cf. Achilles, “stop trying to σύγχει my thumos,” 612). But they themselves are on the beach, so there is a slight sloshing between tenor and vehicle; the seaweed slops up into their midst to divulge their mucky thumos within. This image then flows into the following scene, when Agamemnon sheds (χέων, 14) a tear like a black-watered spring, which pours forth (χέει, 15) its dusky water.

Phoenix, we recall, “broke out” from his house arrest. I mentioned this above in conjunction with other escapes from domiciles; but this one intertwines architecture with body and passion:

          ἔνθ’ ἐμοὶ οὐκέτι πάμπαν ἐρητύετ’ ἐν φρεσὶ θυμὸς
          πατρὸς χωομένοιο κατὰ μέγαρα στρωφᾶσθαι
          ἦ μὲν πολλά ἔται καὶ ἀνεψιοὶ ἀμφὶς ἐόντες
465    αὐτοῦ λισσόμενοι κατερήτυον ἐν μεγάροισι

          There my thumos in my phrenes could no longer be completely constrained
          to reel about the halls of my angry father.
          But my kinsmen and cousins surrounding me
          pleaded and tried to restrain me in the halls

Iliad 9.462–465

With his thumos as the subject of ἐρητύετ’, and ἐν φρεσὶ θυμὸς in between, the additional sense that it is no longer restrained in his phrenes is possible. In line 462, ἐν φρεσὶ θυμὸς appears to complete the sense of ἐρητύετ’ such that line 463 only adds an additional sense. The thumos appears to be constrained both in the phrenes and in the halls. The above translation takes ἐρητύετ’ with the infinitive as “was constrained to,” a sense it has elsewhere in Homer: it would be the thumos that is no longer constrained to twist itself in the confines of the halls. But later epic authors use this verb with an infinitive in the sense “restrained from,” which sits well with ἐν φρεσὶ θυμὸς: the thumos is no longer restrained, in the phrenes, from roaming the halls at large, where Phoenix is restrained in turn. Only in line 465 does the picture simplify into constraint within the halls: notice -ερήτυ- occupying the same metrical slot as in 462, and the replacement of the phrenes with the halls. Finally, he breaks out of the tightly set doors and leaps over the fence to freedom and a loving family.

This coalescence of walls and phrenes artfully gears up for the culmination of this series, on the brink of the Marpessa digression. Phoenix brings in Meleager as great-souled but persuadable. The cholos that enters Meleager (553) swells in the chests even of men whose noos is compact (πύκα, 554). Even here the cholos enters Meleager at the same time that he enters the city and retires to his chamber with his wife:

550   ὄφρα μὲν οὖν Μελέαγρος ἀρηΐφιλος πολέμιζε,
          τόφρα δὲ Κουρήτεσσι κακῶς ἦν, οὐδὲ δύναντο
          τείχεος ἔκτοσθεν μίμνειν πολέες περ ἐόντες·
          ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ Μελέαγρον ἔδυ χόλος, ὅς τε καὶ ἄλλων
          οἰδάνει ἐν στήθεσσι νόον πύκα περ φρονεόντων,
555   ἤτοι ὃ μητρὶ φίλῃ Ἀλθαίῃ χωόμενος κῆρ
          κεῖτο παρὰ μνηστῇ ἀλόχῳ καλῇ Κλεοπάτρῃ …

          As long as Ares-loving Meleager was in the fight,
          so long it went badly for the Kouretes, and they could not
          stay outside the wall, many though they were.
          But when cholos entered Meleager, which swells up too
          in the chests of others, even those thinking with close mind,
          yes, he, angered in his heart with his dear mother Althaia,
          lay down next to his wedded wife, lovely Kleopatra …

Iliad 9.550–556

(Note especially ἔκτοσθεν … ἔδυ …) The fact that his actual entrance into the city is assumed but elided helps draw the body and the city together.

At the end of the sequence of suppliants, the body and the chamber are superimposed: “not even thus could they persuade the thumos in his chest, until when finally the chamber was struck thickly (πύκ’, cf. 554 πύκα), and onto the towers the Kouretes were climbing, and they were igniting the great city …” (587–589). Just after this, Meleager’s thumos springs up, in response to Kleopatra’s speech. But in the passage just quoted the thumos seems to respond to the missiles themselves.

We said above that the Achaeans need to contain Achilles’ cholos and his thumos. But it is actually not clear whether their mission is to rouse or to contain his thumos, and this ambivalence is manifested in Phoenix’s speech. Phoenix tells Achilles, “tame your thumos” (δάμασον θυμὸν μέγαν, 496), echoing Peleus’ parting advice to Achilles, as just recalled by Odysseus, σὺ δὲ μεγαλήτορα θυμὸν / ἴσχειν ἐν στήθεσσι (255–256). Meleager is supposedly one of the heroes of old who, although angry, are subject to persuasion and gifts (524–526), but when he finally does the right thing, it is because he “yields to his thumos” (598) which has been “roused” (595) by Kleopatra’s catalogue of horrors. Phoenix has undone his own rhetoric. Achilles’ thumos is not going to be roused against the Trojans, who have, he now sees, never (yet) done him any wrong. Nor will his thumos be roused by the sack of a city; the Achaean wall is only the façade of a city, and Achilles does not care about the Achaeans, whose mission he has come to despise. This very ambivalence about the Achaeans’ situation—that one cannot appeal to Achilles to defend them—is mirrored in the description of the battle at Calydon just cited:

550    ὄφρα μὲν οὖν Μελέαγρος ἀρηΐφιλος πολέμιζε,
          τόφρα δὲ Κουρήτεσσι κακῶς ἦν, οὐδὲ δύναντο
          τείχεος ἔκτοσθεν μίμνειν πολέες περ ἐόντες …

          As long as Ares-loving Meleager was in the fight,
          so long it went badly for the Kouretes, and they could not
          stay outside the wall, many though they were.

Iliad 9.550–552

This makes no sense. [
98] The Kouretes are attacking the Aetolians’ city wall (Calydon), not the reverse. Remaining outside their wall is what is difficult for the Trojans (e.g., 21.608–609). The description of the Kouretes outside the walls of Calydon, together with all of the other slips and ambiguities, works toward a breaking-point of disorientation, atopia. Are the Kouretes attackers or defenders? What about the Achaeans? [99] Does the performer-as-Phoenix aim to restrain Achilles’ thumos, or to unleash it? Where exactly are we, the audience, in this scenario, and whose side are we on?

This thoroughgoing interplay between physical constraint and the constraint of speech and emotion, between the boundary of a wall and that of the body, primes the audience for another kind of interplay, that between theme and performance, through the body of the performer.

Cursing/Transfert du mal

The act of cursing, of invoking powers normally contained within the underworld, is one image of containment and eruption that lends itself particularly well to gestures. But, I repeat, the performer need not use any particular gesture to bring the act of cursing into the realm of presence. This emergence of the curse into the space of performance is but the end of a process begun on the level of poetics.

On the simplest level of theme, Hades and Persephone, along with Erinys, are literally otherworldly forces wreaking havoc on the earth. They are, one might say, uncanny. But as Freud said, ghosts are almost never uncanny in literature, just as talking animals are completely normal in fairy tales. The most “Erinys” can do in narrative, or poetics, is to denote an effect or experience that, in real life, would be terrifying. Here is one instance where the literary/poetic and the performative uncanny is built upon a straightforwardly uncanny thematic base.

Althaia thrashes the ground to curse her son, kneeling and weeping:

565    τῇ ὅ γε παρκατέλεκτο χόλον θυμαλγέα πέσσων
          ἐξ ἀρέων μητρὸς κεχολωμένος, ἥ ῥα θεοῖσι
          πόλλ’ ἀχέουσ’ ἠρᾶτο κασιγνήτοιο φόνοιο,
          πολλὰ δὲ καὶ γαῖαν πολυφόρβην χερσὶν ἀλοία
          κικλήσκουσ’ Ἀΐδην καὶ ἐπαινὴν Περσεφόνειαν
570     πρόχνυ καθεζομένη, δεύοντο δὲ δάκρυσι κόλποι,
          παιδὶ δόμεν θάνατον …

          by her, he lay down, digesting his heart-rending cholos.
          filled with cholos from the curses of his mother, who (you see) to the gods
          many times prayed, in grief at the murder of her brother,
          many times thrashed the much-nurturing earth with her hands,
          invoking Hades and dread Persephone
          sitting and kneeling, and her breasts were wet with tears,
          to give her child death—

Iliad 9.565–571

Althaia’s curse, directed toward Hades and Persephone, is immediately (note the mid-verse shift in 571) heard (atopically) down in Erebos by Air-Stalking Erinys. Erinys merely “hears”:

But something strange happens. The ὅμαδος and δοῦπος that immediately (τάχ’) arise (ὀρώρει) around the gates spring from an ambiguous plural source; the towers are being hit (574), we are not told by whom. The way the narrative unfolds, the pounding on the doors in 573 seems to emanate from Erinys in Erebos, no matter how logically it “must” be the enemy warriors’ missiles.

This beating on the gates then slides over seamlessly into the old men and then the catalogue of others coming to supplicate Meleager. Here again (line 574) a half-line shift transforms the enemy’s missiles into the supplications (which will end, in fact, in Meleager’s death).

His father, the hapless Oineus, actually shakes the doors.

He supplicates his young son with a violent gesture, [
103] and the line-initial πολλά recurs, echoing Althaia’s cursing and beating the earth. Althaia herself, as scholars have noticed with dismay, is among the suppliants. [104] And it is her pounding that becomes the missiles that become the more metaphorical beating in which she takes part. The mother’s beating uncannily becomes the enemy’s pounding becomes the father’s shaking, via the unseen (and unembodied) intervention of Erinys. Note how σείων κολλητὰς σανίδας recalls 573 ἀμφὶ πύλας, an otherwise puzzling detail.

The poet insists upon this repetition by how he situates all of these parental scenes: Phoenix’s mother and then father, Phoenix as Achilles’ foster father, and Meleager’s mother and then father. All of these curse/supplication scenes emphasize the knees beyond the natural association of supplication with the knees. Phoenix’s mother supplicates him grasping his knees (451). His father Amyntor does not get down on his knees, but curses Phoenix, praying that no son may sit on his knee. Phoenix again mentions knees when he recalls how Achilles would not go into the feast in the hall (compare 487 to 463, the angry Phoenix; the infant Achilles has taken Phoenix’s place) “until I, Phoenix, had seated you on my knees and satisfied you with meat and holding the wine.” Althaia kneels for her curse (570), and Oineus supplicates (γουνούμενος, 583) his son, not grasping his knees, but taking hold of the doors (doorposts?) in place of his son’s legs. Then Althaia, back on stage, reprises her cursing role but shifts it to supplication (584–585).

Embodying the Curse/Lament

This effect would be heightened in performance. The performer, engaged in speaking this consummately histrionic speech for quite a long time, embodies Phoenix no matter what he does. But in particular, by repeating or continuing the same gesture, in whatever way, the performer would bring the curse forward, from the various pasts of the story-world to the presently unfolding story-world and into the space of performance. Althaia’s, and the performer’s, ground-thrashing gesture and its noise can be continued, flipping immediately to another space: from Althaia’s thrashing-space to the chamber of Meleager. The gesture itself may even appear to effect such sudden shifts in space, since what this particular gesture does is puncture the ground of one world to effect the emergence of another. One action does not so much cause another as repeat it or echo it uncontrollably; the lines of causation are tangled.

When the performer enacts this cursing and supplication, he does so for an imagined Achilles seated in the position of the audience. From time to time he addresses Achilles; it is thus Achilles who is in the “you” seat for all of these curses and supplications and any embodiments thereof. In terms of the story as paradeigma, the curses and supplications are only leading up to the final act that Achilles is (ostensibly) supposed to emulate: Meleager’s being persuaded to “go out.” But there is a strange fit between that act and the curses and supplications. Achilles is being beseeched (besieged) by Phoenix and the rest of the embassy to emerge like a demonic force to the rescue. [109] The embassy wants to unleash Achilles’ otherworldly power upon the Trojans. In this, he is very much like an angry hero being solicited from his tomb. The ritual approach to Achilles by the embassy encourages this interpretation. The trick is to deflect the anger of the hero onto the proper object. The separateness of realms occupied by Phoenix and his audience is instantiated in the curse itself, but it is given further body by the image of the doorway.

When the performer embodies Phoenix-as-Oineus (in whatever fashion) he sets up a doorway between himself and his audience, between himself and his foster-son/son: a barrier he desperately wishes to breach. [

Outside of the immediate context in Book 9, another tradition may bolster this interpretation of Phoenix’s speech as an appeal to the dead. As mentioned above, Phoenix performs a lament for Achilles according to Quintus Smyrnaeus (3.463–489), and the iconographic evidence leads us to suppose that he did so in the Aethiopis and its tradition. [112] We saw that Phoenix appeals to Achilles not so much to fight the Trojans as not to abandon him. The reproach of the dead for abandoning the living is a common motif of lament throughout the Greek tradition. [113] In particular, Phoenix’s reproach for abandoning him and his recalling that he cared for him as a baby in order to have support are traditional motifs in laments of parents for children. To take just one example, from the Life of Saint Euphrosyne:

His appeal to Achilles to “return” would also fall into place in this scheme; this is a highly traditional part of Greek lamentation. [
115] An audience accustomed to hearing a lament by Phoenix for the dead Achilles would no doubt be reminded of such a scene while hearing his speech in Book 9, and the gestures of beating the earth would take on even richer significance as drawing Achilles out of the underworld.

Patroklos in the Audience

But Achilles is not the only person in the audience. There is more than one person in the room. Patroklos, particularly as the parallel with Kleopatra plays out, becomes a more salient presence. The audience, in fact, as “overhearers” of Phoenix’s speech who never speak, is rather in the position of Patroklos.

As was Kleopatra’s, Patroklos’ felt presence in the audience is concretely planted earlier, in the well-known passage describing the initial scene at Achilles’ tent. Achilles and Patroklos are sitting outside of the tent or perhaps in the entrance. The visitors

found him delighting his heart in the clear phorminx,
beautiful, intricate, on it a silver bar—
this he took from the spoils of Eetion he destroyed.
With it he was delighting his thumos, and was singing, ἄρα, the κλέα ἀνδρῶν.
And Patroklos, alone, opposite him, was sitting in silence,
awaiting Aiakides, when he would leave off singing.
And the two stepped forward, and Odysseus was leading,
and they stood before him; and astonished, Achilles leapt up
phorminx and all, leaving the seat where he was sitting.
In just this way Patroklos, when he saw the men, arose.

Iliad 9.186–195

Attention to Book 9 as a script yields other insights into the inhabiting of performance space. The script layers several times and places on top of one another and invites embodiment in gestures, as we have seen. The bard may not only embody characters’ gestures but also flesh out the space he inhabits, by for instance giving spatial recognition by his sightline to the incoming missiles hitting the thalamos. Thus any crescendo in gestures can enact the performer’s being enclosed in a space threatened from the outside. This enclosing space “represents” spaces in the poem’s present (Achilles’ tent) and in the mythical past (the thalamos of Phoenix, Marpessa, Kleopatra, and Meleager), but it also situates the performer within his own dramatic present. The performer has created for himself a space of transformation, wherein his embodiment of one character is squeezed to the breaking point, and out of the compression comes another.

In enacting the curses bodily, the performer brought forth that mysterious force one more plane outward into the space of performance, into his body. But in doing so he creates there a space for the surfacing of a new force. That is what a curse does. All of these invocations, syntactic shifts, images, gestures, and embodiments culminate in the emergence on the scene of the true Erinys, Kleopatra.

Kleopatra’s Catalogue

The performer, already channeling one body, Phoenix, has set up before himself a space for the emergence of further forces. This space he struggles to control through curses, curses he seems uncannily drawn to reenact. Meanwhile, within the story-world there has been a glimpse of this mysterious, compressed history of Kleopatra’s family, followed by its immediate suppression, just at the time when Meleager’s own emergence is being urged. This history remains compressed within the woman who herself embodies the innermost point of Meleager’s withdrawal and return—compressed in her phrēn—and forms the spring from which Kleopatra finally speaks out. As Kleopatra acts as the still point at the center of Meleager’s world, so Marpessa does for Kleopatra. The center of the ring is reached, and a tidal wave of memory and causality begins to form. Kleopatra becomes present, silent but with a full phrēn. The compressed digression ‘primes the pump’ for Kleopatra’s catalogue (591) of the miseries of war (593–594):

Now Kleopatra supplicates her husband, but she does so “mourning,” λίσσετ’ ὀδυρομένη (591). In this she would be reduplicating Phoenix’s “lament” for Achilles that may be being reenacted here. As Nagy notes, the compressed catalogue of Kleopatra contains the same themes as the lamentation of Andromache in Iliad 24.725–745. Andromache is actually lamenting Hektor while Kleopatra is only “conjur[ing]” up grief in a “stance of lamentation.” [139] But both are, in effect, prospective lamentations for an entire city, not only an individual. In this respect too Kleopatra’s nickname Alkyone fits the situation, for birds, including the halycon, are traditionally associated with laments for cities. [140] Although Kleopatra’s catalogue may seem too bare to resemble a lament generically, it resembles (especially if one hears the children and women as a single item, resulting in a tripartite scheme) a traditional ballad lamenting the sale of Parga by the British to the Turks in 1817–1819, quoted by Alexiou:

Alexiou also notes, in a ballad from the Pontos, “the sense of tragedy imparted by the sympathetic reaction of nature, and the tension of the dialogue, which is maintained not, as in the literary thrēnoi, by sententious appeals, but by the concentrated ellipse of every superfluous fact [
142] (my emphasis). This is precisely the quality of Kleopatra’s speech noted by the scholiast. In the Pontos ballad, as in other traditional laments, the speaker is a bird (a turtle-dove). The singer of such a ballad does not only allude to birds as lamenting, he or she reenacts the bird’s lament.

Reanimation: Image, Structure, and Performance

We have sounded out the dynamics in performance of the story of Meleager, focusing on the inner story of Marpessa in the phrēn of Kleopatra, which bursts out of the speaking character, Phoenix. We have seen how the story Phoenix tells about his youth orchestrates how we see, hear, and experience the Marpessa story. To say Phoenix’s autobiography ‘frames’ the Marpessa story is too static and textual to capture the dynamics centered in the performer’s body. Once the performer has become Phoenix and told us his own story, the Marpessa story is being told by someone with that particular story of his own in his memory, in his phrēn. The combined persona spins out one story against the background of the other. He may perform his personal story as coming from his memory, with much material spilling out that is not relevant to his alleged rhetorical goals (“Do not abandon me; you are my son”).

Likewise when he begins the Meleager story, much spills out that is irrelevant to the message (“Do/Don’t be like Meleager”), but is not irrelevant to him. Thus it seems to spill out from his own phrēn. The performer deepens his embodiment of Phoenix, suddenly solidifying the audience’s sense that the person before us truly is Phoenix, because the chaotic element flows directly from the memory of the speaker: not the memory of the bard, but that of Phoenix.

Marpessa’s story forms the center of a ring composition comprising the entire Meleager story; it is most immediately framed by Meleager and Kleopatra lying down together and by Althaia’s curse. The Phoenix autobiography frames the Marpessa story as well as the Meleager story as a whole. Framing the entire Embassy is the scene outside Achilles’ tent. But the middle panel, the Litai, has its own way of steering the experience of all of these stories as well.

We saw above that Althaia’s curse transforms into the missiles striking Meleager’s room and the suppliants arriving at his door: curses activated through a final suppliant, Kleopatra. The Litai (Prayers) likewise transform themselves into curses by doing what they do: by supplicating. Curse and supplication wrap around one another like a Möbius strip.

Likewise, Phoenix represents or imitates people who curse and supplicate, and they bleed through his performance, such that Phoenix himself curses/supplicates Achilles. As with the Litai, who move from representing to performing the prayer/curse, there is an uncanny movement from representation to action.

Like the Litai, Phoenix approaches his supplicandus at the behest of someone else. Quickly, however, once he has established “contact” with Achilles (panel I, “how I came to you”/  “you are my son”), he moves from representing Agamemnon to acting on his own initiative with his own agenda (= “do not abandon me”).

The cycle of the Litai (see Figure 4) anticipates and maps out the structure of Meleager story. Phoenix approaches the center of the Meleager story, as Meleager approaches Kleopatra, and there taps into a source of energy, the Marpessa digression. This font of energy is something he is drawn to personally and also fuels Kleopatra’s outburst.

Figure 4

As the Litai spring to life, so too does Kleopatra. As she is animated, she moves from “representing” someone (Kleopatra/Patroklos) to acting through the storyteller to determine that someone’s fate, while pivoting out to speak directly to the audience. In both cases a supplication is turned on its head. The Litai now pray for Atē, Ruin; Phoenix now bespeaks the horrors of sacking a city.

Ring composition in the Meleager story, as in the Litai, involves: a) arriving at the center and tapping it as a source; b) “coming to life” at that center. At the center of the Meleager story is Marpessa. Embedded within her story is a reference to the myth of Alkyone, and the halcyon days, the period of rest and fertility at the winter solstice, in the midst of winter storm. At the solstice the sun turns around from its deathward course and returns to bring life to the world again. There is at that turning point a moment of quickening that brings about the reversal.

The Meleager story is at first an ordinary paradeigma with terms prearranged to correspond with the situation at hand and dictate a course of action. It then “comes to life” and overthrows its speaker. The Litai parable is a compressed map of its workings, not only its plot but also its drama. The Prayers’ animation enacts in small the animation of hero by woman, and bard by hero. Representation becomes action; lines of causality are reversed; spaces and times interfere with one another; plotting is derailed by performance.


[ back ] 1. This, again, in a triple sense: Phoenix’s words taken over by Kleopatra (being run by Marpessa, who is the one drawing Phoenix toward Kleopatra), and the bard being taken over by Phoenix (plot-derailment). This sense of atopia goes back to the sophists and is used by Socrates in the (cf. Turner 1993).

[ back ] 2. Gaisser 1969; Lohmann 1970:245–265.

[ back ] 3. On the Meleager story’s development see Bremmer 1988 as well as Grossardt’s exhaustive study (2001).

[ back ] 4. Kakridis 1949 was of course not the first to use “folklore” in connection with Meleager: Heubeck 1984 (orig. pub. 1943) looks back on a long tradition of peeling away the layers to uncover the Ur-form of the (“folk”) story and to trace the transformation of old mythical material into an “epic atmosphere,” an enterprise that he notes often had contradictory results. Heubeck himself still speaks of an Ur-form.

[ back ] 5. Howald 1924.

[ back ] 6. Contra: Oehler’s view (1925:14) that Phoenix simply cannot mention the death because “he would have reminded Achilles of his own early death” is followed by many. For Petzold (1976:156 with n37a) Meleager’s death is simply not important: the curse is only relevant in instigating the wrath.

[ back ] 7. There is not universal agreement. Sachs 1933 argued that a previous epic “Meleagris” included both motifs. Kakridis himself, though he thinks the brand version is older, also posited an earlier epic that included both brand and wrath. Likewise Swain (1988:272) takes the fragments from the Ehoiai and Minyad, where Meleager is killed by Apollo, as evidence that this mode of death was “as old as Homer, if not older.” The problem is obviated by allowing more than one version as source material for the Iliad. See Burgess 2017.

[ back ] 8. When scholars refer to the Iliad poet as Ionian, they mean to inscribe him in a world of rational (anti-magical, anti-mythical) thought, by evoking the Ionian “pre-Socratics.”

[ back ] 9. Griffin 1995:135. The aesthetics here and in Griffin 1980 are fleshed out in his remark that “Homer also prefers to get rid of so peasant-like a notion as that of Fates who can be eavesdropped on, filling the story as far as possible with chivalrous warrior motivations.” It is a commonplace that Homer avoids magic, but Griffin equates magic and uncanniness, where I distinguish them. Griffin disregards the possibility that Meleager’s death is meant to hang over the end of the story, only to fall back down into the plot in Achilles’ and Patroklos’ own deaths orchestrated by Apollo. Cf. Bannert 1981:69n4. Nagy (1990b:72; cf. Nagy 1979:8) attributes the lack of fantastic elements in Homer, as opposed to the Cyclic epics, to the Panhellenic nature of the Homeric poems.

[ back ] 10. See Carpenter 1946: Ch. 4.

[ back ] 11. Kakridis notes (1949:13) Meleager would not have lived to enjoy the gifts since he had already been cursed, and links this with the fact that the example “which appears exhortative at first, turns out to be dissuasive in the end.” Not only is it not dissuasive (from its ostensible recommendations), it provides the model Achilles chooses to follow. For Kakridis Phoenix is fudging it: “What undoubtedly urges Phoenix to this hardly suitable introduction is his desire to influence Achilles strongly at the outset, while preparing him to listen to the story of another hero who was persuaded to abandon his wrath” (my emphasis). This is unsatisfactory; we are meant to see the incoherence.

[ back ] 12. Lowenstam (1993:94) comments that even Phoenix’s autobiography “counteracts the old man’s message, for, in narrating his own story Phoinix shows that he did not follow the very advice he is giving: as a young man he had refused to yield to his relatives, who were begging him to restore harmony in his family. Although Phoinix certainly does not intend to point out this contradiction, his own story indicates that wisdom comes from experience and not instruction.” Scodel (1982:133), agreeing with Bassett that the autobiography is “as close to the sordid and ignominious” as epic can permit, says Phoenix deprecates Achilles’ departure by self-parody.

[ back ] 13. Cf. Cavell (2003:187–188) on Hamlet’s sense of being improvised and his sense of theater. For Bouvier (2002:353), nothing warrants the claim that the audience would be bothered by the contradictions in Phoenix’s story.

[ back ] 14. Whitman 1958:191. In the present discussion, the focus is not so much on what happens in the mind of Achilles (though this is relevant) as on what happens to the figure of the poet-performer and his implied control of the plot.

[ back ] 15. Edmunds 1997:426. For Alden (2000:249) the parallels, including the ascending scale of affection, are a “false trail” that mislead the audience’s expectations for the plot and heighten “the impact of what happens instead.”

[ back ] 16. Cf. Chapter 1, n118 above, on Vermeule. A variation of this is to make Phoenix stand in for tradition. For Rose (1992:69), the very fact that Phoenix draws a “simpleminded moral” indicates the unlikelihood that traditional treatments of heroic wrath were critical of “heroic ideology.”

[ back ] 17. A plus-line at Iliad 14.136 attests to the similar place occupied by the two men in the mind of ancient performers or editors. There Poseidon has disguised himself as an old man, and in such cases the god always becomes a specific character. Simply on the basis of, e.g., the dream in Book 2, one expects the old man to be Nestor, but the context prevents this, since the real Nestor is already present. Thus, in most MSS, Poseidon’s mortal guise is not named at all, except in the plus-line found in Zenodotus, where the name is Phoenix. Cf. 17.556, where Athena disguises herself as Phoenix.

[ back ] 18. On Phoenix and Nestor, especially Nestor’s speech to Patroklos (Iliad 11.656–803), see Lohmann 1970:263–271.

[ back ] 19. Or cursing and castrating, as S. West 2001 has it. Cf. Lycophron Alexandra 417–423, where Phoenix is blinded by Amyntor but later healed by Cheiron. See Bannert 1981:73n10.

[ back ] 20. Proclus’ summary of the Aethiopis, which recounted Achilles’ funeral, does not mention Phoenix, but that does not mean he did not appear; Proclus’ summary of the Cypria neglects to mention Phoenix, but he did appear in that poem (Pausanius 10.26.4). For visual depictions of Phoenix mourning Achilles, see Achilles 866, 867, 883 (all sixth century BCE).

[ back ] 21. Sachs 1933:24.

[ back ] 22. Gaisser 1969:16–17, which includes further details on the echoes in diction.

[ back ] 23. Including Phoenix in the embassy rather than having him quartered with Achilles “allows him to overlook Achilles’ belief that if he stays and fights at Troy his life, though glorious, will be short (9.412ff.)” (S. West 2001:14). Transferring him into the embassy for this reason, for West, explains the problematic duals in the episode.

[ back ] 24. Gaisser rightly begins section “X,” the centerpiece, after line 438. Peleus “sends” Phoenix in line 438, but the phrase ἤματι τῷ ‘on that day’ in 439 effectively restarts our vision at a day and a scene unto itself, lending the center section a characteristic flash of vividness.

[ back ] 25. Compare this to the “arrival” of many men on the battlefield: the story of how they came to Troy is told as though they have just arrived, not only at the battlefield on this particular occasion, but also at Troy; the two moments are conflated.

[ back ] 26. On how the style here reveals the tight connection, within Phoenix’s thought process, between his own youth and his role in Achilles’ life, see Bannert 1981:72.

[ back ] 27. A thematic web connects Phoenix, Peleus (cf. Mühlestein 1981:85–91, and on the allusion to Akastos on the François Vase, see Stewart 1983), Bellerophon, Euenos/Marpessa, Oinomaos/Hippodameia, and especially Laodameia and Protesilaos. Outside the Greek tradition, Phoenix’s story may be compared with the Biblical Reuben, who slept with his father Jacob’s concubine and was denied his first-born privileges: see M. West 1997:373.

[ back ] 28. See Mullen (1982:90–142) on “epodic arrest” in Pindaric choreography. Section 3 of Phoenix’s speech includes many of the features Mullen discusses: a static image, an address to a dead ancestor as “you” (see below on the approach to Achilles as a hero), the arrival at the archē of a story, and epiphany. See Gentili (1988:15) on the “strophic structure” of Demodokos’ song, “as is clear from the presence of the chorus of dancers”: a form that “antedates purely recitational performances in the normalized hexameter form in which the Homeric poems have come down to us.”

[ back ] 29. This placement of the baby Achilles, conjured from the past, tangibly in the intimate space of the speaker, prepares for Phoenix’s “lamentation” and “cursing” of Achilles; see below.

[ back ] 30. The first full-form ἄρα of Phoenix’s speech (cf. 459, 504).

[ back ] 31. Cf. Freud 1955:243: “an uncanny effect is often and easily produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality, or when a symbol takes over the full functions of the thing it symbolizes, and so on.”

[ back ] 32. Kakridis 1949:43–64.

[ back ] 33. Gaisser 1969:18–19.

[ back ] 34. For another instance of ring composition beginning and ending with a verb meaning “to lie down,” this time κεῖμαι, see Odyssey 21.10–14 (Nagler 1993:4n8).

[ back ] 35. We return to the position of the Marpessa story within the ring composition below, page 164.

[ back ] 36. Hainsworth 1993:135–137; Levaniouk 1999:119; Scodel 2002:137–138; Bouvier 2002:364n25. Gaisser (1969:19) summarizes: “As a whole … the section is difficult to follow. This is particularly true in the story of Kleopatra’s mother and in the reason for Meleager’s wrath against Althaea. In the story of Marpessa and Kleopatra it is difficult for the modern reader to discriminate between the mother and daughter, to determine which was kidnapped and which was called Alkyone. Meleager’s wrath against his mother is introduced in 553, but not accounted for until the story of the curse which begins in 565. Furthermore, the reason for Althaea’s anger is itself almost unintelligible. She is grieved at the murder of her brother (567), but it is not mentioned that Meleager killed him, or why.” Cf. Leaf 1900–1902:1.413 ad Iliad 9.563, while defending the single-MS reading οἶκτον against the “very feeble” vulgate reading οἶτον: “But it must be admitted that do what we may it is impossible to make anything but a most confused and clumsy piece of narration out of all this. It has all the air of a fragment of an old Epic interspersed with lines taken from other portions of the original story—aids to the memory, perhaps, of hearers who partly knew a not very common legend, but to us only darkening the obscurity.” True, the listeners must have known the legend(s). The question is why the poet would spark these stories in his listeners, and what effects he produces by sparking them in this fashion.

[ back ] 37. On μιν, see Chantraine Grammaire Homerique II.154. μιν is primarily anaphoric, but is also used as an indirect reflexive. As Leaf 1900–1902 notes, αὐτῆς in 562 is “used in the weakest possible sense, ‘her mother,’ a use which can hardly be paralleled in Homer.” It does demand a stronger sense. This demand is accentuated by the line-end echo between 560, εἵνεκα νύμφης, and 562 οὕνεκ’ ἄρ’ αὐτῆς. Students do in fact become exceptionally confused. The pronominal confusion continues outside of the Marpessa digression; see below. Scodel (2002:171) makes somewhat similar sense of the notorious duals of Book 9: “They increase the mystification around Phoenix.” Fish (1980) describes a similar process of progressive disorientation induced in a reader by indefinite pronouns.

[ back ] 38. The confusion is not limited to moderns: the Etymologicum genuinum informs us that Alkyone is a φερώνυμον τῆς Μαρπήσσης γυναικὸς τοῦ Μελεάγρου, “eponym of Marpessa, wife of Meleager”—“wrong” on not one but two counts. Cf. Ebel (1972:94–95) wrongly but profoundly: “Marpessa wailing over the daughter whom Apollo has made away with reminds us that when Patroclus meets his doom it is Apollo who strikes him from behind and stuns him for the slaughter, and that when Achilles learns his companion has been killed ‘he cried out / terribly, aloud, and the lady his mother heard him, / as she sat in the depths of the sea’” (my emphasis). Edmunds (1997:432) speaks of “the excursus on the abduction of Alcyone,” though he realizes (pp. 430–431) that it is Marpessa who is abducted and Kleopatra who is named Alkyone. Likewise Levaniouk 2011:316: “When Idas abducts Alkyone from her father…”

[ back ] 39. Chapman: “Since he had ravisht her, his joy, whom her friends after gave / The surname of Alcyone, because they could not save / Their daughter from Alcyone’s Fate.” Fitzgerald: “He drew the bow against the Lord Phoibos Apollo over his love, Marpesse, whom her father and gentle mother called Alkyone, since for her sake her mother gave that seabird’s forlorn cry when Apollo ravished her.” Cf. Gresseth 1964:89–90 on the ambiguous τὴν δὲ in various translators.

[ back ] 40. See esp. Bacchylides fr. 20 and 20a, with Maehler’s (2004) commentary, Simonides 563 PMG (apud Σ Bb Iliad 9.557), Σ Pindar Isthmian 4.92a, Apollodorus 1.7.7–8. Cf. “Marpessa.”

[ back ] 41. Σ BT on 9.557.

[ back ] 42. Σ D 9.557; Dositheos apud Plutarch Parallela minora 40a (Moralia 315e).

[ back ] 43. Euenos, “good with the reins,” not tamed (well-reined) himself (εὐήνιος), but in the sense that he bridles his daughter, and defeats her suitors in the chariot race (until he fails to catch Idas).

[ back ] 44. Cf. Redfield (1995:156): “In one version, Oenomaus wished to marry Hippodameia himself, and this incestuous theme must be seen as latent in all the versions. To marry the daughter is like killing the son, a refusal to let go, to let the next generation take one’s place.”

[ back ] 45. Perhaps in some pre-Homeric version, Kleopatra was the product of the rape, i.e. Apollo’s daughter. Cf. Heyne 1834 ad 9.552–560: “Iam in poeta ambiguum est, quo tempore rapta fit Marpessa; utrum ante nuptias, an iam Idae coniugio habita; nam vs. 557… videri potest declarare hoc: filiam iam tum, cum mater ab Apolline raperetur, natam esse. Potest tamen illud τότε minus accurate et laxius dictum esse et est communis narratio, Marpessam puellam ab Ida et Apolline amatam, raptam et recuperatam esse” (“In the poet it is ambiguous at what point Marpessa was raped; whether before marriage, or already with Idas as her husband; for vs. 557… might seem to state this: that the daughter already at that time, when the mother was raped by Apollo, was born. But it is possible that that τότε is said less accurately and more loosely and it is a common story that Marpessa as a girl was loved by Idas and Apollo, and was raped and was recovered”). That would make sense of the odd use of αὐτῆς noted above. It would also create a sinister angle on Meleager’s death, as it is she who sends Meleager out, and Apollo who kills him (in the epic version glimpsed in Hesiod fr. 25 M-W).

[ back ] 46. “Marpessa,” regardless of etymology, may have struck the Greek ear roughly like the now thankfully passé American slang “rapable.” Eustathius ad Iliad 9.557 (van der Valk 1971–1987:2.809) would extend this to Helen, though the link is less vivid: ὥσπερ Ἑλένη παρὰ τὸ ἑλεῖν διὰ κάλλους, οὕτω καὶ Μάρπησσα παρὰ τὸ μάρπτειν, ταὐτὸν δέ πως τὸ μάρψειν καὶ τὸ ἑλεῖν, “just as Helen, from ‘to seize’ on account of beauty, so too Marpessa from ‘to seize,’ and marpsein and helein are somewhat the same.”

[ back ] 47. See “Marpessa” and “Helene.”

[ back ] 48. Simonides 563 PMG (bT schol.); Σ D 9.557; Apollodorus 1.7.7. Unlike her father, Marpessa accepts her mortality and chooses the mortal. The iconography neatly folds together her choice with the rape motif. While the two men fight or try to drag her off, a figure arrives to intervene and offer her the choice. Sometimes that figure (Iris, Hermes) simply replaces Marpessa on the vase, producing a new trio representing not rape but the decision, the mortal on one side, the god on the other, like a balance of scales weighed by the central figure.

[ back ] 49. See, e.g., Lowenstam 1993 on the wrath theme in the Iliad.

[ back ] 50. “Marpessa is viewed as a maiden (νύμφη 560) and as a mother (μήτηρ 561) almost simultaneously” (Levaniouk 1999:119).

[ back ] 51. Edmunds 1997:431. Swain (1988:272) writes: “Since the lifeblood of these genealogies [Aetolian=Elean-Pylian and other cycles] lies in the traditions which inform them, it is likely that the traditions themselves had been fixed by the same period and existed earlier. Support for this is offered by the Athenian heroes: with the Attic kings, for example, we know that already existing traditions were harmonized with genealogies which were invented later from the time of the sixth to fourth centuries. Thus Meleager’s death in battle at the hands of Apollo in [Hesiod] Eoiai fr. 25.12, Katabasis of Peirithoos fr. 280.2 M-W, and the Minyad (Pausanias 10.31.3 = Minyas fr. 5 Kinkel) will not be an extension of the Iliad designed to fill in the parallels between Meleager and Achilles which Homer neglected, but part of an already existing epic tradition, that is as old as Homer, if not older.” This is sound, though I would caution against Swain’s “Thus” and would modify “already existing epic tradition” to “already existing tradition,” because the killing of Meleager by Apollo may have been recounted in any number of genres. Kakridis among others believes the story to be post-Homeric. If so, the invention of the motif is perhaps responding to the very superimposing of scenes in this digression.

[ back ] 52. Marpessa’s story was told in choral song, particularly women’s or girls’. Cf. Bacchylides Ode 20: “Spartan maidens sang the song” of Idas and Marpessa. Willcock 1978–1984 (ad Iliad 9.557–564) notes that her story is akin to those comprising the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women and the catalogue of heroines in the Odyssey 11.235–327. The significance of this will become apparent in “Interlude 1” below. Even if the story was told in catalogue poetry, rather than the “lyric” modes of Bacchylides, it may have been danced out.

[ back ] 53. There is something of a prototype here of the dynamics of the male and the female in the house in tragedy: “If tragedy … can be defined as the epistemological genre, which continually calls into question what we know and how we think we know it, it often does so by confronting the assumptions of rational thought with those psychological necessities that cannot be denied. … The house has many kinds of secrets that men do not know, and the challenge to male authority over it takes place on several levels—social, cognitive, and psychological. If men enter this domain, assuming their legitimate rights to its custody, only to meet with a welcome they had not foreseen, at the same time they also inevitably fail to lock up, to repress those powerful forces hidden in the recesses of the house. Quite the contrary: tragic process, for the most part conveyed through the catalyzing person and actions of the feminine, puts insistent pressure on the façade of the masculine self in order to bring outside that which resides unacknowledged and unrecognized within…” (Zeitlin 1996:355–356).

[ back ] 54. Sachs (1933:24) in her classic account names the Meleager story and other Homeric digressions “Hintergrunderzählungen,” “um ihrer nicht spannend erzählten, unplastischen Form.” Stylistic features of these stories include “der Mangel an Einheit der Handlung, richtiger an Handlung überhaupt, die nicht-szenische Anordnung, das seltsame zeitliche Hinundherspringen, Umkehrung der zeitlichen Folge, der Mangel an kontinuierlichem Zusammenhang, an Zentrierheit und Plastik; Kürze, Unverhältnismässigkeit, (die nicht affektiv bedingt ist, wie etwa in dem Bericht Achills an Thetis im A 365ff.); Unverständlichkeit, ‘abrupte Schlüsse’.” She compares these stories to Pindaric poetry; intriguingly, she singles out the “subjective” quality they share with Pindar, as opposed to the “objective” quality of epic—despite their “unexciting” narration and their failure to achieve a “three-dimensional form.” The kinship between Homeric passages and lyric is elucidated by Friedrich (2001), who focuses not on digressions but rather on sections of “phonic density” manifesting the possession of the poet by a character in “Lyric Epiphany.” Kakridis (1949:11n1) notes that in paradeigmata “the stages of the story are told not in chronological order but according to the importance they have for the narrator” but does not speak of the confusion that often results. Cf. Kirk 1962:164–169.

[ back ] 55. If anything is aesthetically motivated, according to scholarly accounting, it is expansion, not compression (Austin 1966): scenes or speeches are expanded in order to emphasize that what is at stake in the scene is significant.

[ back ] 56. The allusion here is more compressed than the allusions to the story of Thetis, traced by Slatkin (1991), but it has a similar resonant quality; both, one might say, form, or are arranged so as to seem to form, fonts for the Iliad’s plot, as well as its tragic quality. Dué (2002:4) writes of the “strikingly evocative” compression in the case of Briseis’ story, compression that many readers find frustrating. Scodel (2002:127) writes: “compression can itself be a creative force.”

[ back ] 57. This is subtly accentuated by the digression being framed by the mother’s curse, her invocation of underworld forces. Kleopatra too is haunted.

[ back ] 58. This clinical word prunes the lively sense I am trying to get at.

[ back ] 59. If the performer in any way embodies the motion of Meleager lying down or reaching for his wife (by simply looking aside or closing his eyes; I don’t suggest he actually lie down!), or has been embodying Meleager before the digression, the audience may more fully experience the digression as the effect of Meleager’s drawing near her.

[ back ] 60. See Lowenstam (1993:23) on “wife” epithets. ἐΰζωνος in his chart is unique, but Lowenstam does not count γυνή as one of his “wife” words. The epithet seems to lend an erotic sense elsewhere (Iliad 23.760), and it is used of women as objects of longing (Iliad 1.429, Achilles for Briseis; Aspis 31) or as abducted into (potentially sexual) slavery.

[ back ] 61. Again recall the digression’s framing by the curse. The digression is dead material to be tapped, like a dead hero’s anger or like Erinys. Cf. below, pages 229–230, on Hektor’s touching the ship of Protesilaos.

[ back ] 62. At Odyssey 12.34–35, Circe lies down next to Odysseus, προσέλεκτο, and “asks him about each thing.” The hero dutifully lays it all down for her in order (κατὰ μοῖραν κατέλεξα). Helen regales his son with a similar fraught incident of disrobing and cataloguing with Odysseus at Odyssey 4.251–256. At Odyssey 23.225, Penelope says to Odysseus, νῦν δ᾽, ἐπεὶ ἤδη σήματ᾽ ἀριφραδέα κατέλεξας / εὐνῆς ἡμετέρης, τὴν οὐ βροτὸς ἄλλος ὀπώπει …. Even when it is not this suggestive, extreme disclosure is in the offing: cf. Odyssey 15.393–394 (Eumaeus beginning his tale): οὐδέ τί σε χρή, πρὶν ὥρη, καταλέχθαι· ἀνίη καὶ πολὺς ὕπνος, on which see Chapter 4. Is this wordplay at work in the title, of contested date, of the Catalogue of Women—the laying out of the lying down of women with gods?

[ back ] 63. Scholars have noticed how Phoenix’s autobiography resonates with the Meleager story (Heubeck 1984; Scodel 1982b), but not how it may relate to the Marpessa digression. Though few would agree with Leaf 1900–1902:1.412 (ad Iliad 9.557) that it “grievously interferes with the narrative,” some find it barely or vaguely appropriate (Jensen 2002; Rosner 1976).

[ back ] 64. E.g. Willcock 1978–1984 ad 9.445–477; Hainsworth 1993 ad 9.447–477; Edwards 1987a:225; Carpenter 1946:171; see S. West 2001:6–7. For Carpenter (p. 172) this detail brings Phoenix into the orbit of the Salmoxis story.

[ back ] 65. Edwards 1987a:225.

[ back ] 66. Snell 1952 and Maehler 2004 suggest that the first few lines refer to a different father/daughter pair, perhaps real-life acquaintances of Bacchylides, but the fragment is in such a lacunose state that this is sheer speculation.

[ back ] 67. Most editors (following Wolf) insert those lines in Book 9 as lines 458–461, just after Amyntor utters his curse and Hades and Persephone fulfill it. But the lines are in fact found only in Plutarch, who states that Aristarchus excised them “φοβηθείς.” Some modern editors follow Aristarchus in doing so: for example, Monro omits them from his OCT.

[ back ] 68. S. West (2001:11) suggests that the patricide lines could come from one of the Cyclic epics, the Aethiopis being perhaps more likely than the Cypria, since it recounted the funeral of Achilles, in which episode Quintus of Smyrna included Phoenix’s autobiographical material.

[ back ] 69. S. West (2001:12): “If the purposes of Amyntor’s friends and relations (464–477) seem unclear, that might correspond to some uncertainty as to whether Phoenix should be regarded as an accident victim or as a continuing threat to his father’s welfare. In the immediate aftermath of his injury sympathy might be divided, but while he recovers a decision about his future can be postponed, and (as Penelope’s suitors knew) feasting is a good way to pass the time (and wine, for the injured man, the best available painkiller).”

[ back ] 70. A student in my Iliad seminar, Peter Heraty, independently offered this interpretation.

[ back ] 71. Thus Ebel 1972:87–88.

[ back ] 72. Lang 1983:140.

[ back ] 73. Even apart from Marpessa, these stories form four interlaced inner and outer stories: the memories of Phoenix told in the tent of Achilles, with his own unfolding drama, and the memories of Kleopatra, which come to a head in the chamber of the tortured Meleager.

[ back ] 74. See also Grossardt 2001:38n129; Hainsworth 1993:136 ad 9.563.

[ back ] 75. Merkelbach and West (1965) present what little can be gleaned of the contents of this poem. It is known to have contained riddles, perhaps told as entertainment at the wedding feast. Merkelbach and West propose that the poem’s focus was actually Herakles, adducing the Hesiodic Shield, which is only partly about a shield.

[ back ] 76. Hesiod fr. 10d M-W=Anon. P. Michigan inv. 1447 ii 14–19, ed. Renner. See also fr. 100a, 83–98.

[ back ] 77. Numerous commentators are struck by the iterative καλέεσκον in the phrase πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ / Ἀλκυόνην καλέεσκον ἐπώνυμον (9.561–562). Could it be an echo of the habitual naming in the story of the legendary figure, Alkyone?

[ back ] 78. Cf. Hesiod fr. 15 M-W (test. from Julian on Hesiod); Apollodorus I.vii.3–4; Σ D Iliad 9.562. The Iliad here shows familiarity with the mournful quality of the alkyōn, and the Odyssey with the kēux (15.478). On the relation between Alkyone/Keux and Penelope/Odysseus, see Levaniouk 1999. We return to this story in Chapter 4.

[ back ] 79. Euripides Iphigenia in Tauris 1089–1093; Ovid Metamorphoses 11.410 –748; Lucian Halcyon; Hyginus fab. 65; Σ Aristophanes Birds 250.

[ back ] 80. As Levaniouk (1999:121) notes, the central elements in Ovid’s version are paralleled in Lucian’s Halcyon.

[ back ] 81. I refer again to Levaniouk 1999; for more on Keux in the Odyssey see below, Chapter 4, “Eumaeus’ Autobiography.”

[ back ] 82. Seven in Ovid and other sources.

[ back ] 83. Thompson 1936 s.v. Ἀλκυών connects the halcyon days to the Pleiades, one of whom is named Alkyone. He points to a gem and coins that show a bird sitting on a kneeling bull, which he proposes represent the Pleiades, next to Taurus. Thus both Alkyones, the Pleiad and the wife of Keux, are birds. (Cf. peleiades, doves.) Aristotle too seems to connect the halcyon days at solstice with the Pleiades in the sky (History of Animals 542b). The Pleiades are crucial calendrical markers for the Greeks (Hesiod Works and Days 383–387) and for cultures all over the world. Their heliacal and cosmical risings and settings do not coincide with the solstice circa 750 BCE. But there may have been a correspondence much earlier, when the myth came about; that is Thompson’s argument. But that does not explain why Aristotle still associates the solstice with the Pleiades. Somewhere in the Cyclic poems (West [2003:150] suggests the Sack of Ilion, Bernabé the Titanomachy) a connection was drawn between the Pleiades and the sack of a city: the Pleiad Elektra, refusing to watch the sack of Troy, left her place in the sky, making the Pleiads six instead of seven (Σ D Iliad 18.486a).

[ back ] 84. Alkman 26; Antigonus of Carystus Historiae Mirabiles 23 (27); Aelian On the Nature of Animals 7.17; Suda s.v. κηρύλος.

[ back ] 85. On the compressed use of solar bird myths, including the halcyon, in Odyssey 19, see once again Levaniouk 1999 and 2011: ch. 17.

[ back ] 86. I return to the season of the halcyon days below, Interlude 1. Further evidence that this allusion can bear all of the weight I am putting on it is presented in Chapter 4; cf. Levaniouk 2011.

[ back ] 87. Kleopatra’s character in the Iliad is almost an amalgam of these figures.

[ back ] 88. Contrast Petzold (1976:156–159), who believes the fact that Kleopatra is sending Meleager to his death undermines the notion of the “ascending scale of affections” altogether.

[ back ] 89. The contrast between the mythical (direct influence of gods) and the less mythical stories figures into Petzold’s (1976) quasi-Hegelian attempt to see the beginnings of historical thinking in the Meleager story. That aside, it is true that the stories are of three different types, moving out toward greater involvement of the gods and magic.

[ back ] 90. As for Idas’ abduction of Marpessa, in at least one version he is her great-uncle, and the chariot-abduction image is in play as with Hades and Persephone.

[ back ] 91. A. Lord (2000: Ch. 9, esp. 186): “The rape of Persephone in all its forms as a fertility myth underlies all epic tales of this sort [bride-stealing and rescue]”; M. L. Lord 1967; Nagy 1979:80, 84–85. Here we see the collapse of all the levels of story.

[ back ] 92. An amphora by Exekias (Vatican 344) shows a depth-of-field layering where figures arranged left-to-right in a modified ring-composition occupy different planes; this is shown by the way they make contact with one another (closer versus further hand, etc.). See Mackay, Harrison, and Masters (1999:138–139).

[ back ] 93. Cf. Goldhill 1984 on the use of ἐκ in the Oedipus Tyrannus.

[ back ] 94. As usual, no specific “stage directions” need be assumed. The imagery works by constructing the performer as preoccupied by the theme and image, or simply by focusing the audience’s mind upon it. In performed poetry, nothing is simply textual. Gradually, however, the various containers are more concretely instantiated in the space around the performer.

[ back ] 95. On the spatial importance of these ideas in tragedy, see Padel 1992 and 1995.

[ back ] 96. For the relation between performance and Odysseus counting embarrassing amounts of treasure as equal to a life, see Chapter 4.

[ back ] 97. On the ethos here, see Martin 1989:24–25.

[ back ] 98. Hainsworth 1993:134 ad 9.552; Willcock 1978–1984:282 ad 9.550–552: “Whose wall were the Kouretes unable to stay outside of? They are certainly attacking Kalydon in Phoenix’s story … Does 552 mean that they were previously unable to sustain their position outside the walls of that city? … It seems most likely that the usual story had Meleagros drive the Kouretes within the walls of their own city (so at least Bacchylides V 150); and that Homer had introduced (invented) the attack on Kalydon in order to get the parallel with Achilleus’ and the Greeks’ present situation. In consequence, he now has two cities successively besieged—a strangely mobile war in Aitolia.” Oehler (1925:14–15) proposed that the situation has simply switched in order to better reflect Achilles; he is followed by Willcock and Hainsworth.

[ back ] 99. Cf. Chapter 3 below on the status of Achilles’ tent as a “home.”

[ back ] 100. Notice the thicket of paradoxes. He is digesting his thumos-paining cholos; she threshes the fodder-rich earth, preventing it from putting forth its fodder so that one could thresh it. Her breasts are wet (δεύοντο), with tears instead of milk which could nurture her son, then “to give her son”—not milk/life (cf. δεύω of milk at 2.471 and 16.643) but death. Erinys who “stalks the air” hears her pleas directed underground. Erinys hears her pleas although she has an unyielding heart.

[ back ] 101. 13.187. On this and other “abrupt, large-scale shifts of scene,” see Peradotto 1990:81. Cf. in Chapter 1 above, “Noemon, son of Phronios.”

[ back ] 102. οὐδοῦ ἐπεμβεβαὼς in conjunction with ἱππηλάτα may play on δίφρου ἐπεμβεβαώς (Shield of Herakles 195, 324); see next note.

[ back ] 103. The drink-aspect of his character (note his name) might manifest itself here. A skilled performer could pull it off without sinking into pointless bathos; the drunkenness fuels a full gestural emergence. (For play on a name involving wine, see Iliad 13.506–508 where Idomeneus “draws a draft” of Oinomaos’ innards: ἤφυσ᾽.) This would not be the only Homeric example of such a thing: Bowie (2013:223) comments that Odysseus’ “Cloak Story” “well characterises one who has been drinking”; see his comments on the entire passage (Bowie 2013:223–230).

[ back ] 104. Émile Signol uses these dynamics in his painting Meleager Taking Up Arms (1830). Signol collapses the various time-frames: the suppliants are in Meleager’s chamber, but he, though still deep in thought, is already armed and ready; Althaia, ostensibly one of the suppliants, lurks in the corner with a sinister glare, next to a barely visible firebrand (which is cut off in some reproductions of the painting).

[ back ] 105. Hainsworth 1993:137; cf. Bouvier 2002:343. Cf. Ebel 1972:94–95: “Althaia beating the ground and summoning the vengeance of the chthonic powers instantly recalls the father of Phoenix who ‘called down his curses, and invoked against me the dreaded furies …’”

[ back ] 106. This resembles, in small within the story-world, what happens to Phoenix’s replication of these gestures with Achilles (see below); rather than being narrated, they spill out to cause something “in the room.” Yet saying this is already too simple, because Meleager’s Calydon and Achilles’ tent are both dimensions of the story-world, and both are “brought forth” into performance.

[ back ] 107. Recall (page 54n15 above) McNeill’s concept of the catchment for the unity of gestures that accompanies unity of thought and discourse (e.g. McNeill 2001; McNeill 2005; McCullough 2005).

[ back ] 108. The uncontrolled gestures of supplication and curse, which both repeat and are disjointed from one another, are a more intensely dramatized version of the kind of repetition noted by Nagy 2004, the crescendo of instruction and then the offering to Athena in Iliad 6. The “idea of performance as a speech act is especially relevant to cases where we can identify a ritual as the overt referent in a set of reformulated repetitions” (Nagy 2004:145). In the gestures under consideration, ritual is not only the referent, it is as it were leaking into the performance, having an uncanny effect on its addressee and the plot of the poem, and as it were on the performer-as-Phoenix.

[ back ] 109. An analogous phenomenon occurs in Pompeian wall painting. In an elaborate triclinium discussed in the Interlude below, episodes from the Iliad are depicted. All are in sequence, except for the Book 9 embassy. Phoenix thus appears in close, ingeniously awkward, proximity to the scene of Priam supplicating Achilles, a scene framed in the poem as a katabasis, with Achilles as Hades hoarding the dead son. Both old men are kneeling before Achilles in very similar compositions. Here too Phoenix is “just repeating” the gesture of another infernal pair. Lateiner (1995:38) sees Phoenix, in his own gestures and in those of the Prayers, as an “anticipatory echo” of Priam.

[ back ] 110. Lynn-George (1988:139), who goes on to compare this with how Achilles and Priam “overcome their insurmountable separation from each other” (140). The door by then transforms into the door on Achilles’ tent (which is now a mansion), with its huge bolt. Lynn-George is here speaking of the separation of father and son, but the huge bolt brings home the fact that the mansion is like Hades.

[ back ] 111. See below, Chapter 3, p. 228, for the development of this “kinesthetic” use of doorways and gates, in terms of the character of Patroklos. There too the suggestion is that Patroklos has been in another realm; in that case the gates are symbolically linked with the gates of Hades.

[ back ] 112. See page 115n20, above.

[ back ] 113. Alexiou 2002:183; cf. Andromache’s lament, Iliad 24.725–726, καδ’ δέ με χήρην/ λείπεις ἐν μεγάροισι. In fact, Quintus has Phoenix say “you have left me [κάλλιπες, 3.464] un-defended pain” and that he had not had any worse pain, even when he left [λιπόμην, 3.467] his fatherland and his parents. Thus, as in his Iliad 9 speech, he uses the verb twice at the beginning of his lamentation, though not with the meaning “abandon.” In his lamentation he also recalls the baby Achilles sitting on his lap and wetting his tunic (3.473–475).

[ back ] 114. Alexiou’s translation (2002:163) of Jacques Paul Migne 114.316A. Alexiou next quotes a similar, non-literary, example of a mother’s lament for her son.

[ back ] 115. Alexiou 2002:46 and passim.

[ back ] 116. Bryony Lavery’s 2004 play Frozen, concerning a serial child-murderer/rapist, provides a vivid analogy. In his first appearance, the actor playing the killer speaks to the audience as though to one of his child victims. Looking directly at a person in the front row, he repeatedly says “Hello” as though speaking to a child, luring the child to respond with “It’s rude not to say hello,” etc. This goes on at excruciating length, forcing the person through sheer terror to respond with “Hello.” This was terrifying not only for that audience member but for the person seated next to him.

[ back ] 117. Curses are a frequent motif in laments and inscribed epitaphs (Alexiou 2002:178–179). Alexiou notes the example of the kommos at Agamemnon’s tomb in the Libation Bearers, where the wishes of Orestes and the chorus are suddenly joined by the curse of Elektra. “The remote wish has become a curse,” Alexiou writes (p. 179). If not only curses, but a sudden shift to a curse, were traditional for the Homeric audience, this would strengthen the connection to Phoenix’s lament for Achilles. It would also bolster the idea of the curses within the speech transforming into, in effect, a curse of Achilles, i.e. the speech act itself becoming a curse rather than merely telling about curses. Ebel (1972:95) captures the situation well: “In these passages [the curses of Althaia and Amyntor] Homer turns from the Olympians to the dark gods of the underworld. They cast over the supplication of Phoenix a baleful sense of automatism and vengeance, and in the parable of Meleager suggest a doom that extends beyond the parable itself and that Meleager cannot avert.”

[ back ] 118. Sinos 1980.

[ back ] 119. Nagy (2002:60) compares this with the technical terms for rhapsodes picking up from one another.

[ back ] 120. Segal 1994:115.

[ back ] 121. See Bakker 1997a:173.

[ back ] 122. On the question of Atalanta’s pre-Homeric status, see Felson and Sale 1983; Most 1983.

[ back ] 123. See Bruce M. King, “Iliad 11.668–762 and Beyond: The Cattle-Raid and the Genre of the Iliad” (unpublished manuscript, 2001), PDF file, pp. 12–13.

[ back ] 124. I owe this analogy and the phrase “collateral damage” to Paul Mathai. Cf. Eurydice’s silent response to the news of her son’s death and her suicide in the Antigone. See below, Chapter 4, on the “seat” occupied by Eumaeus during the second Cretan Tale.

[ back ] 125. On transfert du mal in the story of Patroklos, see Nagy 1979:79–81; Sinos 1980:68.

[ back ] 126. After Meleager’s death, Kleopatra commits suicide. See Interlude 2, below.

[ back ] 127. I have translated this “and his,” but the situation is similar to the line-initial τῶν δέ above (line 573). His thumos arises “out of this [speech/thought]” or “out of him.”

[ back ] 128. Note how different this is, however, from other such moments: e.g. Agamemnon’s speech about Atē (Iliad 19.95–133), where the poet uses the paradigm “behind Agamemnon’s back to signal to us certain comparisons to which Agamemnon remains oblivious” (Austin 1975:125).

[ back ] 129. It is possible to perform Althaia’s curse too as direct discourse (line 571, παιδὶ δόμεν θάνατον, “give/to give the boy death”), since the infinitive could be construed, i.e. performed, as an infinitive-for-imperative: “give the boy death” instead of “[called on them] to give the boy death.” One might be more inclined to do so since the introductory verb is separated from the infinitive clause by descriptions of the mother’s gestures and tears, gestures that the performer may enact, thus ‘becoming’ Althaia just before bringing forth the “give the boy death” clause. This very question of whether to take the infinitive as “infinitive for imperative” (that is, to perform it as the character) or not lies behind Longinus’ (27.1) illustration of how the poet suddenly turns and changes into the character for emotional effect (ὅτε περὶ προσώπου διηγούμενος ὁ συγγραφεὺς ἐξαίφνης παρενεχθεὶς εἰς τὸ αὐτὸ πρόσωπον ἀντιμεθίσταται, καὶ ἔστι τὸ τοιοῦτον εἶδος ἐκβολή τις πάθους). Longinus takes Iliad 15.346–349, a speech of Hektor, to be un-introduced direct discourse. (Modern editions tend to punctuate the passage such that the speech is introduced.) So too the scholiast on Iliad 1.23 interprets an infinitive construction “to revere the priest” as focalized through the Achaeans. Nünlist (2003:65) notes this example as evidence for an ancient awareness of “embedded focalization,” but this case is tricky because of the infinitive: i.e. this line too could be performed as direct discourse, dis-embedding the focalization.

[ back ] 130. An excellent parallel to this moment is “Trojan Horse” (Chapter 1). Compare also when Briseis—the very woman at issue in Book 9, the present raped woman, compared with the past rape of Marpessa and the rape threatening Kleopatra’s future—finally speaks at 19.287. See Redfield, “Briseis as a Speaking Sign” (unpublished manuscript, 2004), Microsoft Word file. The emergent, unconcealing, demystifying quality of the speech is deepened when the other women join in: “and with her did th’ other Ladies mone, Patroclus’ fortunes in pretext, but in sad truth their owne” (Chapman).

[ back ] 131. On the ritual of pounding the ground to summon underworld forces, see Ferrari 2004:250. Ferrari situates the ritual summoning of Persephone within the rubric of the “anodos of the bride.” Repeated summonings of underworld forces culminate in the bodying-forth of the bride, Kleopatra. But I do not want to speculate further about a specific link between ritual and the text.

[ back ] 132. Oehler (1925:13–14) simply states that this is direct discourse, as the climax of the tension: “Das anaphorische πολλά … verstärkt den Eindruck der unablässigen Bitten, die doch alle wirkungslos sind. Wieder tritt die Kampsituation, der Augenblick der grössten Gefahr, in 2 Versen kurz hervor (588f), worauf Kleopatras letzter Versuch, den Meleager zur Hilfe zu bewegen, erzählt wird. Die entscheidenden Worte sind in direkter Rede angeführt: (593f).”

[ back ] 133. One might fruitfully compare Odyssey 9.39–40, with Pazdernik’s sensitive reading of the formulaic resonances therein. Odysseus’ “terse and dismissive” account (Pazdernik 1995:350) of his destruction of the Cicones (of course, he and his crew also took the “wives” for distribution, 9.41, so that “no one would be without a fair share,” 9.42; whatever happens to them?) turns out to be extraordinarily suggestive of the ethical ambiguities of Odysseus’ role as sacker of cities.

[ back ] 134. ἐναργῶς πέφρακε τὰ τῶν πορθήσεων, ὡς καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις· “ἄνδρας μὲν κτείνουσι, πόλιν δέ τε” (Ι 593). καὶ μὴ γράψας δὲ τὴν Ἰλίου πόρθησιν ὅμως ἐδήλωσεν αὐτῆς τὰ παθήματα, πᾶσαν ἡλικίαν τὴν ἐν πολέμῳ τι πάσχουσαν παραλαβών· ταῖς δὲ γυναιξὶν ἡ εἰς τὸ σῶμα ὕβρις μείζων. δαιμονίως δὲ ταῦτα ὑπ’ ὄψιν ἤγαγεν ἐν βραχεῖ, χρησάμενος ἅμα καὶ ἀπεριέργως ταῖς λέξεσιν· οὐ γὰρ ὑψορόφους ἢ δαιδαλέους θαλάμους λέγει οὐδὲ θύγατρας καλλικόμους ἢ καλλισφύρους, ἀλλ’ ἀπήλλακται τῶν ἐπιθέτων αὐτῷ τὰ δυστυχοῦντα τῶν σωμάτων (Σ bT Iliad 22.61–65). On this and other ancient comments on enargeia, see Meijering 1987:40–41.

[ back ] 135. Bouvier 2002:350 argues that Kleopatra here introduces a variation on ἐύζωνοι to stress, rather than the beauty of the belts, the quality of their fastening.

[ back ] 136. The pattern of a truth revealed in direct discourse is seen also in Herodotus, e.g. 3.14.9–10, on which see Gray 2005:301. Gray remarks (p. 294) that Homer’s “techniques could usefully be compared with those of Herodotus.” Cf. p. 299: it is an “apparent rule” that “stories mainly in narrative mark their crises in direct speech (the revenge of Hermotimus, the revenge of Artayctes, and many others).”

[ back ] 137. Vermeule 1979:112–113.

[ back ] 138. In fact, performers of epic do sometimes veer off from one tale (or “song pattern”) into another by mistake: Lord 2000:120; Foley 1990:359–387; Scodel 2002:17. This feature of Phoenix’s speech would seem to harness such a “mistake” for dramatic purposes, somewhat as the Cretan Tales (Chapter 4 below) dramatize the process of developing a tale. This constitutes another way in which Book 9 gives us “a glimpse into the workshop of Homer” (Hainsworth 1993:57).

[ back ] 139. Nagy 1999:111.

[ back ] 140. Alexiou 2002:97; Nagy 1999:111n2.

[ back ] 141. Alexiou 2002:96.

[ back ] 142. Alexiou 2002:94.

[ back ] 143. Compare the effect of Chryses’ prayer to Apollo in Iliad 1, discussed above, pages 33–34, which vividly places the performer-as-priest back in his home, Chryse, drawing over himself and his people the protection of Apollo’s roofed temple and Apollo himself while performing his speech act.

[ back ] 144. Compare the predominant configuration of Eumaeus’ hut in the dialogue between Odysseus and Eumaeus, discussed in Chapter 4 below, page 319.