Ankle and Ankle Epithets in Archaic Greek Verse

3. καλλίσφυρος in the Iliad and the Odyssey

In light of the symbolic associations that σφυρόν bears in the Iliad, it is difficult to believe that an epithet deriving from this noun, and that occurs in the same poetic tradition, has no specific meaning and no pertinence to its context. καλλίσφυρος is the only such epithet that appears in the Homeric poems. It occurs twice in the Iliad and twice in the Odyssey. And the pattern of its appearances is significant.

καλλίσφυρος appears for the first time in the Iliad in Book IX, in the story of Meleager, an elaborate mythological digression from the narrative. In this passage Meleager returns from battle and lies with his wife Kleapatra, the daughter of Marpessa. In a short account of Marpessa’s history she appears as καλλίσφυρος:

κούρῃ Μαρπήσσης καλλισφύρου Εὐηνίνης
Ἴδεώ θ’, ὃς κάρτιστος ἐπιχθονίων γένετ’ ἀνδρῶν
τῶν τότε· καί ῥα ἄνακτος ἐναντίον εἵλετο τόξον
Φοίβου Ἀπόλλωνος καλλισφύρου εἵνεκα νύμφης

Iliad IX 557–560

A story of Apollo raping a maiden is not uncommon. But this story involves more than a rape; it is a capture and abduction, as the use of the verb ἀνήρπασε (564) indicates. Her mother, in fact, believes her dead and laments for her, as the verb κλαίω signifies. This verb appears in Homer almost exclusively for mourning the dead or for lamenting an anticipated or desired death. [1] So Marpessa’s abduction by Apollo has morbid overtones.

It is in reference to another maiden raped by a god that καλλίσφυρος appears for the second time in the Iliad. In Book XIV, when Zeus seduces Hera, he lists some of the women he raped in the past. He says:

οὐ γάρ πώ ποτέ μ’ ὧδε θεᾶς ἔρος οὐδὲ γυναικὸς
θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι περιπροχυθεὶς ἐδάμασσεν,
οὐδ’ ὁπότ’ ἠρασάμην Ἰξιονίης ἀλόχοιο,
ἣ τέκε Πειρίθοον θεόφιν μήστωρ’ ἀτάλαντον·
οὐδ’ ὅτε περ Δανάης καλλισφύρου Ἀκρισιώνης.

Iliad XIV 315–319

Danae appears only in the context of her relationship with Zeus. She is described simply as the mother of Perseos and as being καλλίσφυρος. The full story about her is clearly assumed to be familiar to the reader. She is not abducted by a god, as Marpessa is, but only raped. Nevertheless her mingling with Zeus has nearly fatal consequences. For Danae’s father Akrisios locks his daughter and new-born grandson into a larnax and puts them out to sea to die, out of fear of Perseos’ eventual power. The story is certainly archaic and was well known to Simonides who used it in a lyric poem about Danae’s lament when she is put out to sea. [
4] The method used for her disposal is particularly striking, for the larnax served as a coffin in the Minoan civilization, and was put out to sea with the corpse in it. [5] The story of Danae is probably a mythical remnant of this early funerary practice. Like Marpessa, Danae suffers disappearance and a threat of death after mingling with a god, and, like Marpessa, she avoids death in the end. The details of her story that are not included here are perhaps symbolically inferred in her description as καλλίσφυρος.

It is striking, and perhaps not coincidental, that of the seven women Zeus mentions as his conquests—Dia, Danae, Europa, Semele, Alcmene, Demeter and Leto—five of them receive this epithet, or some variant of it, within even the small body of archaic poetry that is extant. The recurrence of the epithet with parallel characters indicates that its use might be primarily thematically generated.

But what Parry fails to discuss is the appearance of καλλίσφυρος in the Odyssey. In this poem the epithet also occurs twice, to describe Ino and Hebe. In these instances καλλίσφυρος does not appear in the genitive case; it does not occur before the bucolic diaeresis, but in the end of the fourth foot and in the fifth foot; and it combines with names of different metrical value from those in the Iliad. The figures of Ino and Hebe are not mortals but goddesses, and so do not fall under the heading of “heroine.” But to claim that one epithet is used in different metrical positions depending on the nature of the noun it accompanies would contradict the very assertions Parry is making.

There are, then, reasons why the passages about Heracles and Ino should have this distinctive epithet in common. καλλίσφυρος appears in each case in a description of the transformation from mortal to immortal. Ino’s immortal persona is Leukothea, a significant and symbolic name with many mythological resonances that suggest an erotic experience as well as a death and rebirth. And the identification of her mortal persona as καλλίσφυρος is emblematic of the same miracle. Heracles’ union with Hebe similarly symbolizes his new existence and his entrance into the realm of the gods. The nature of this initiation also lends erotic connotations to the experience. Hebe is καλλίσφυρος because she is a reflection of his qualities, an allegory for his transformation.

The coincidence of the two appearances of καλλίσφυρος in the Odyssey with the only two instances of the immortalization of humans in Homer establishes specific symbolic connotations for the epithet, ones not inconsistent with the appearances of the word in the Iliad. In the Odyssey the epithet occurs in passages about death and rebirth that have sexual overtones; while in the Iliad it occurs in passages about violent rape, abduction and return that have overtones of death. All the examples share basic themes of sexuality, death, renewal and the tension between the mortal and immortal realms. The symbolism of the epithet is consistent, but not rigid, adapting itself to the specific context and work in which it appears.

The use of καλλίσφυρος in the Iliad and in the Odyssey is significant and explicable, although not on the basis of its metrical function. The epithet occupies one metrical position in the Iliad, but a different one in the Odyssey, and the names they modify differ metrically in the two poems. The connotations of the epithet are, however, constant in both poems and consistent with the symbolism of its root noun. It is the meaning rather than the meter of the word that best explains its use.


[ back ] 1. In the Iliad, κλαίω appears most frequently in the laments for the deaths of Patroklos and Hektor: XXII 90, 427, 429, 437, 515; XXIV 208, 619, 712, 746, 760, 773, 776. For Patroklos: XVIII 5, 286, 297, 300, 301; XXII 9, 252. For Achilles: I 362; XVII.73.

[ back ] 2. Apollodorus I 60-61; Pausanias V 18.2: Pausanias writes that Idas appears on the Kypselos chest retrieving Marpessa. He quotes a hexameter which, he claims, is inscribed on the chest. Here the epithet appears again: Ἴδας Μάρπησσαν καλλίσφυρον, ἃν οἱ Ἀπόλλων / ἅρπασε, τὰν Εὐανοῦ ἄγει πάλιν οὐκ ἀέκουσαν. [ back ] These are not the same lines as appear in the Iliad. They may be based on the Iliad, but they nevertheless represent an independent version. It is striking that the same epithet appears although she is called by a different name. (In the Iliad the epithet combines with her patronymic.) This use of the epithet in a thematically parallel passage leads to the conclusion that it is associated with the theme of her abduction and return and not simply metrically with the patronymic.

[ back ] 3. Rohde 1928:81.

[ back ] 4. Simonides 543A (as numbered in Campbell 1972).

[ back ] 5. Rutkowski 1968:226.

[ back ] 6. Parry 1928a:118–119.

[ back ] 7. Pausanias I 447; Apollodorus III 4.3.

[ back ] 8. Scholia ad Iliad I 38.

[ back ] 9. Pindar Olympian II 30–34.

[ back ] 10. Pindar Pythian XI 2.

[ back ] 11. Farnell 1921:36.

[ back ] 12. For Sappho: Menander, fragment 258K. For Aphrodite: Chennos fragment. In Gregory 1973:137–178.

[ back ] 13. Strabo, for example, describes this rock and mentions the leap from it as a cure for love: 10.2.8–9.

[ back ] 14. Odyssey x 508–509, 512–515: ἀλλ’ ὁπότ’ ἂν δὴ νηῒ δι’ Ὠκεανοῖο περήσῃς, / ἔνθ’ ἀκτή τε λάχεια καὶ ἄλσεα Περσεφονείης … / ἔνθα μὲν εἰς Ἀχέροντα Πυριφλεγέθων τε ῥέουσι / Κώκυτός θ’, ὃς δὴ Στυγὸς ὕδατός ἐστιν ἀπορρώξ, / πέτρη τε ξύνεσίς τε δύω ποταμῶν ἐριδούπων· / ἔνθα δ’ ἔπειθ’, ἥρως, χριμφθεὶς πέλας, ὥς σε κελεύω. [ back ] It is also reflected in the opening passage of xxiv, when Hermes escorts the souls of the dead (11): πὰρ δ’ ἴσαν Ὠκεανοῦ τε ῥοὰς καὶ Λευκάδα πέτρην.

[ back ] 15. Proclus Aithiopis: καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐκ τῆς πυρᾶς ἡ Θέτις / ἀναρπάσασα τὸν παῖδα εἰς τὴν Λευκὴν νῆσον διακομίζει. [Line 199 – not in DW script]

[ back ] 16. Nagy 1973:137–138.

[ back ] 17. Nagler 1967:299.

[ back ] 18. It is significant that Odysseus sheds Kalypso’s cloak only in order to don Ino’s veil. The gift and the powers of one replace those of the other. Also the description of Ion as βροτὸς αὐδήεσσα in line 334 parallels the description both of Kirke and of Kalypso as θεὸς αὐδήεσσα in the Odyssey.

[ back ] 19. Whether or not this passage is an interpolation is irrelevant to this study, for the concern here is with the diction of the passage and not with the authorship.

[ back ] 20. Certainly there are other examples of gods capturing mortals and keeping them in an immortal world. Such examples are Eos’ capture of Kleitos (Odyssey xv 250), her capture of Tithonys (v 1) and her capture of Orion (v 121), or Zeus’ capture of Ganymede (Iliad XXI 223). But these figures are not independently transformed into gods.

[ back ] 21. Hebe bears no epithet, for example, in Iliad V 905. Some common epithets she bears are πότνια (IV 2) or πρέσβα θεὰ (V 722).

[ back ] 22. Hesiod Theogony 950; Hesiod fragment 25.28 in Merkelbach and West 1967.

[ back ] 23. Theocritus XVII 32.

[ back ] 24. This phenomenon is evident in the Iliad, where several of the principal female characters—such as Helen and Andromache—reflect the qualities of the male characters around them.

[ back ] 25. Pindar Nemean I 69–72: αὐτὸν μὰν ἐν εἰρή- / νᾳ τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον̄ <ἐν> σχερῷ / 70 ἡσυχίαν καμάτων μεγάλων / ποινὰν λαχόντ’ ἐξαίρετον / ὀλβίοις ἐν δώμασι, δεξάμενον / 71 θαλερὰν Ἥβαν ἄκοιτιν καὶ γάμον / δαίσαντα πὰρ Δὶ Κρονίδᾳ, / 72 σεμνὸν αἰνήσειν νόμον.

[ back ] 26. Farnell 1921:95–145.

[ back ] 27. Pausanias II 10.1.

[ back ] 28. Herodotos II 44.

[ back ] 29. Consider Sappho 31.15–16: … τεθνάκην δ’ ὀλίγω ‘πιδεύης / φαίνομ’ ἔμ’ αὔται· Or Anacreon 413: μεγάλωι δηὖτέ μ’ Ἔρως ἔκοψεν ὥστε χαλκεὺς / πελέκει, χειμερίηι δ’ ἔλουσεν ἐν χαράδρηι. Or Ibycus 286: ἀζαλέ- / αις μανίαισιν ἐρεμνὸς ἀθαμβὴς / ἐγκρατέως πεδόθεν †φυλάσσει† / ἡμετέρας φρένας.