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.

3. Half-Burnt: The Wife of Protesilaos In and Out of the Iliad

The most passionate advocacies for the art of poetry in sophisticated late periods, such as the period of Horace, turn upon the function of poetry as keeping alive, across the abysses of death and of the difference between persons, the human image. … Now I think you make a generational error … by viewing poetry as having as its function the continuity of the image of the poetic writer. Poetry traditionally, and in my view fundamentally, deals in the continuity of the image not of the poet but of the poet’s beloved.

Grossman and Halliday, “The Winter Conversations,” in The Sighted Singer, pp. 6 and 12

Just so at the sacramental drinking of the wine, unfamiliar, uncanny guests were present beside the friends and family who had been invited. … Thus, one encountered the sacred through that which is uncanny.

Burkert, Homo Necans, p. 230, on the Anthesteria

illic Phylacides iucundae coniugis heros
     non potuit caecis immemor esse locis,
sed cupidus falsis attingere gaudia palmis
     Thessalus antiquam venerat umbra domum.
illic quidquid ero, semper tua dicar imago:
     traicit et fati litora magnus amor. [1]

Propertius 1.19.7–12

We will deepen our understanding of this moment, along with the drama leading up to it and falling out from it, by analyzing it from the perspective of performance or presence. But it is not an instance of “becoming the character” like the speech of Phoenix; it is something more complex. Its kinesthetics are more dispersed, and grapple more directly with absence, longing, and action at a distance, instead of with bringing something buried into vigorous presence. Once again a background story, previously neglected, foments a set of poetic and performative effects. The background materials I excavate in this chapter are deployed even more delicately than those in play in the Phoenix speech, almost forming a meditation upon performance at the same time that they fuel it.

In this study I am concerned with what happens in the world of the poem insofar as it strikes against “presencing” to create a spark. There are, for example, moments when the bard draws a spark of “presence” or “becoming” from the flint of composition or poetics that prompt the audience to ask: Where is this action coming from? Is this performer inside or outside the poem?

But this scene is something beyond the emergence of a character: it is the orchestration of an uncanny space. At the juncture between Books 15 and 16, a more subtle space of transformation is created where the body of the performer is less central to that transformation, where characters from the past haunt the present in multiple ways without entirely taking it over. The focus of this process is the stern of a ship, which is transformed into a stage and a portal in time and space. And the dimensions of the created space expand outward.

Nevertheless, the poet-performer here draws on ingredients familiar from the previous chapter, elements we can use to get our bearings for this more complex histrionic path. This includes a background story that involves eros and death, the overlaying of the space of present action with an alternative space, the gradual approach to a “source of energy” for the emergence of a character, and characters who are taken over by figures from the past. As with the themes in Phoenix’s speech (e.g., the repeated cursing), the background material here provides especially fertile thematic ground for the “coming forth” of the character. In the Interlude following this chapter, I make the case for a connection between this background material and that in Phoenix’s speech, and speculate about a possible source for this connection.

The role of this background material—even its existence—has not been sufficiently recognized. I thus begin by showing how this story, the story of Protesilaos, works in the background of the poem in a general way, and then turn to how the story bodies itself forth. I shall first examine thematic resonances between the Protesilaos story and the unfolding drama. I then turn to the way space is reconceived as well as transformed in performance. This discussion of space in turn frames a closer examination of the theme of substitution and the way this theme surfaces into the level of performance. As the discussion proceeds, I bring the embodied performance into the argument more openly, suggesting how the “kinesthetics” of the background story operates in performance. In the light of this interpretation, one may detect stirrings of this performative impetus in the books leading up to Book 15.

The Leap

figure 16
Figure 16

Less well recognized is the way that Protesilaos’ leap and death continue to haunt the Iliad beyond the Catalogue. In Book 15, Protesilaos’ ship becomes the focal point of intense drama when Hektor is at last about to set fire to the ships. [11] Ajax with his long spear is striding from ship to ship (15.676, μακρὰ βιβάσθων), which is envisioned in the simile of the trick rider as a leaping (θρώσκων, 684). This leaping, taking place on the Achaean ships on the Trojan beach, and ending at Protesilaos’ ship, recalls Protesilaos’ initiatory leap (2.702, ἀποθρώσκοντα). To oppose him, Hektor makes straight for a single black-prowed ship (15.693). After presenting Hektor’s swoop with an eagle simile, the narrator reveals that Hektor was guided in this by a shove of Zeus’ big hand (694–695), an eerie intervention. The narrator pauses to describe what “you would say,” along with the thoughts of the opposing warriors:

φαίης κ’ ἀκμῆτας καὶ ἀτειρέας ἀλλήλοισιν
ἄντεσθ’ ἐν πολέμῳ, ὡς ἐσσυμένως ἐμάχοντο.
τοῖσι δὲ μαρναμένοισιν ὅδ’ ἦν νόος· ἤτοι Ἀχαιοὶ
οὐκ ἔφασαν φεύξεσθαι ὑπὲκ κακοῦ, ἀλλ’ ὀλέεσθαι,
Τρωσὶν δ’ ἤλπετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσιν ἑκάστου
νῆας ἐνιπρήσειν κτενέειν θ’ ἥρωας Ἀχαιούς.
οἳ μὲν τὰ φρονέοντες ἐφέστασαν ἀλλήλοισιν·

You would say that tireless and unwearied they opposed
one another in war, from how they rushed for each other in the fight.
And for those battling, here was the thinking: the Achaeans
said that they would not escape from under the evil, but would perish,
and the spirit in the chest of each Trojan expected
they would burn the ships and kill the Achaean heroes.
Thinking such things they stood up to one another …

Iliad 15.697–703

The Couple

Rising Up Again: Protesilaos And Achilles

That may be, but does the Iliad know of Protesilaos’ resurrection? The answer seems to be yes. An initial piece of evidence is found in the Catalogue of Ships.

Following Eumelos is the absent Philoctetes, whose catalogue entry closes with the refrain, τάχα δὲ μνήσεσθαι ἔμελλον, “but quickly they were going to remember him” (2.724), echoing closely the line in Achilles’ own catalogue entry, τάχα δ’ ἀνστήσεσθαι ἔμελλεν. Memory, the means by which Philoctetes is retrieved from Lemnos, often serves metaphorically as a kind of resurrection in Greek poetry, notably when the gods “remember” Odysseus and retrieve him from the death-realm called Calypso. In the Protesilaos story, too, it is Protesilaos’ inability to forget his wife that enables his return from the underworld. [33] The schema is then:

          Eumelos, son of Alcestis

—that is, two stories of actual resurrection framed by two metaphorical ones. Eustathius remarks (ad 695–710), [
34] καὶ ὅρα ὅτι μετὰ τὸν ὡσανεὶ κείμενον, ὡς προείρηται, Ἀχιλλέα τὸν ὡς ἀληθῶς κείμενον Πρωτεσίλαον ὁ ποιητὴς παρέθετο, “Observe that after the one who is ‘as-if’ lying down, as mentioned previously, Achilles, the poet puts next to him the one truly lying down, Protesilaos.” (There is more to say about the connection between Alcestis, dying in place of Admetus, and Patroklos, but in this chapter we are concerned with Protesilaos.) [35] So the Iliad not only incorporates the return of Protesilaos from Hades; it also links this return with the metaphorical reanimation of Achilles.

How should we formulate what happens when we hear the name of Protesilaos, see his ship, and then witness the tears of Patroklos, stepping into our shoes, and his conversation with Achilles? I would not wish to circumscribe the effects. Just as a simile would not be Homeric if tenor and vehicle were aligned in every detail, so too we should not press for tight analogy, but open ourselves to the resonances.

The theme of eros inducing resurrection and suicide—penetrations of the boundary of death from either side—figures in many ways into the presentation of Achilles’ return, and into what is here in its place, the substitute-death of Patroklos. Everything that follows, Patroklos’ quasi-sacrifice [40] and Achilles’ quasi-suicide [41] in response (expressing his wish to die, killing someone in his own armor, etc.), is compressed into this episode taking place under, and narratively framed by, Protesilaos’ ship. The stories of Protesilaos and his wife are part of this compression. I do not mean to suggest that the Protesilaos story contributed this or that element to the Iliad. Many of these likely stem from or are inspired by the “Memnonis” [42] —some version of the story of Memnon’s killing of Antilokhos, and Achilles’ death while avenging him. Here I am focused in the first place upon how framing the tragedy of Patroklos by allusion to Protesilaos affects the audience’s experience of Achilles and Patroklos. The story of Patroklos is strongly demarcated by the presence of Protesilaos’ ship; it comes right into the narrative, unlike (say) Memnon. On the other hand, the story of Protesilaos may not only frame the narrative but also suffuse the story in several ways. So although the Protesilaos story may not form the warp or weft for Book 16 in the way that the Memnon story does, it both frames the whole and complements the Memnon story. Textually speaking, the Protesilaos story could be thought of as an additional thread in the weave, or as an embroidery on top of a Memnonis subtext, or as a filter through which we experience the Memnon subtext as well as the main events of the Iliad. Insofar as the Neoanalysts have not accounted for the presence of Protesilaos in a satisfying way, I propose to bracket the Memnon theory to a large extent in exploring the way the Protesilaos story functions in the text and in the performance.

Notice that the passage that provided the last example in Chapter 1 (“Trojan Horse”), the wife “pouring” herself over her husband, comes to the mind of the scholiast. Later Achilles, laying his man-slaughtering hands on Patroklos’ corpse (23.18), speaks to him “even in Hades,” and then stretches out Hektor’s corpse beside the bier, the bed, of the dead Patroklos (23.25), as though trying to replace him. After the funeral, Achilles cannot sleep, but tosses and turns this way and that (24.5), crying, remembering his dear companion, longing for his manhood and his good μένος, every exploit they shared, all the pains he suffered with him. The memory of these things causes him to lie now on his side, his back, his front. Suddenly he stands upright and whirls around on the beach. He has still not satisfied himself with manipulating the bodies and drags Hektor’s corpse around Patroklos’ tomb, three rounds at a time, pausing to rest each time. It is this that draws the ire of the gods, and particularly Apollo, who complains (24.46–49) that Achilles’ grief has gone beyond standard operating procedure for mortals and that he should have done with it.

Of course, many of these motifs might be found in other stories of passionate grief, or stories connected with hero cult, in which lament figured prominently. Some may have appeared in both the Memnon story and that of Protesilaos and his wife. The point is not to collapse the two levels, background and foreground, via their similarities into some sort of single conglomeration of meaning, or to use one as the key to the other. The similarities between the stories of Protesilaos and his wife, and Achilles and Patroklos, should not be appreciated from afar as a table with two columns. Rather, the poem frames the shared motifs, and shapes how they are experienced, alerting the listener to similarities that would not come to mind without that framing. The ship of Protesilaos overhangs these motifs such that they all fall into one Protesilaian undercurrent [49] that runs through the rest of the poem but gushes to the surface here at the end of Book 15 and the beginning of Book 16 in a powerful set of images. Perhaps even the “torn cheeks” of Protesilaos’ wife may come to mind later, in the startling wish Achilles expresses to Thetis, not only that he win noble kleos, but also that he:

καί τινα Τρωϊάδων καὶ Δαρδανίδων βαθυκόλπων
ἀμφοτέρῃσιν χερσὶ παρειάων ἁπαλάων
δάκρυ’ ὀμορξαμένην ἁδινὸν στοναχῆσαι ἐφείην …

drive one of the Trojan women and the deep-bosomed Dardanians,
with both hands on her soft cheeks
wiping her tears, to wail in heaves …

Iliad 18.122–124

House and Ship

As I mentioned, when Patroklos finally emerges, his first encounter takes place at Protesilaos’ ship. The poetic choice to stage the action at that ship is accounted for well enough by the story of Protesilaos’ leap, as was the case with Ajax’s leap in Book 15. Patroklos sacrifices himself as did Protesilaos; Protesilaos’ initial leap corresponds to Patroklos initiating the return of the Myrmidons and eventually of Achilles.

But that explanation is incomplete, for a detail there strongly suggests the wife at home. When Patroklos puts out the fire, the poet comments:

ἡμιδαὴς δ’ ἄρα νηῦς λίπετ’ αὐτόθι

Half-burnt, you see, the ship was left on the spot.

Iliad 16.294

The Homeric hapax ἡμιδαής, “half-burnt,” along with the ship in the nominative being left behind, λίπετ’, echo (again) two details from the catalogue vignette:

τοῦ δὲ καὶ ἀμφιδρυφὴς ἄλοχος Φυλάκῃ ἐλέλειπτο
καὶ δόμος ἡμιτελής .

And his lacerated wife had been left in Phylake
and his house, half-complete.

Iliad 2.700–701


How does this connection between house and ship affect the episode that is framed by the ship? It is with the battle at Protesilaos’ ship hanging, and a reminder that Protesilaos would not return home again, that the poet suddenly shifts attention to Patroklos and Achilles. In Book 16, the audience is presented with Achilles and Patroklos as a “domestic” pair. This image of domesticity is enhanced in multiple ways, and it is far from straightforward: Aristotle might label it atopon.

But all of this is experienced not as a set of stories layered on top of one another, as in a series of friezes running atop another series, but rather as a transformation of the body of the bard. If Achilles’ simile reflects on the events to come, pondering them from a strange distance, what immediately follows this speech deepens this effect. For here is the first of the apostrophes to Patroklos in Book 16. The effect of this first apostrophe is manifold; but it is shaped and amplified by the shift from the ship of Protesilaos to the ship of Achilles. It is shaped by this shift just as powerfully as the last apostrophe is shaped by Patroklos’ imminent death. The bard, in becoming Achilles, ‘seeing’ Patroklos and using the simile, indicates not just the ‘special relationship’ between the bard and Achilles, as we see in Book 9, but also the special relationship between Achilles and Patroklos, and as it were the bard and Patroklos. The simile and the drawn-out attention to how Patroklos looks go so far in setting Patroklos before the performer that the apostrophe comes forth from the mouth of the narrator, who remains in Achilles’ shoes after his speech. This sudden transport of the bard into Achilles can also be experienced as a transport of Achilles forward into the time of the audience—forward into the body of the bard, in our time—since he addresses Patroklos in the past tense. So while in his speech Achilles intimately addresses a Patroklos who is in fact before him, the apostrophe in effect means that “he can’t really be there”: it is the dead Achilles recalling this episode. So the apostrophe puts Achilles in the underworld, as we remarked in Chapter 1: but he is also being reanimated. He is, then, already a ghost: the apostrophe, set in the context of the Protesilaos imagery and the other poetic effects we have noted, crowns these effects and puts Achilles forward as haunted and haunting at that moment. [61] Yet just prior to this he is querying Patroklos as though he were the one with instant access to news from over the sea. Here Protesilaos appears not only to frame the ongoing action, indicating its meaning through the “sign” of his ship, and to steer its plot, but to enter into the body of the performer-as-Achilles. [62]


The replacement of Protesilaos and his wife by Achilles and Patroklos is part of a complex web of substitutions of one character for another or for a group. Some are part of the mythic background, some are part of the action of the poem. Even those that seem tamely informative, however, come out into the dramatic proceedings in Book 16.

From Source of the Poem to Source of Action

Already it is clear that Achilles and Patroklos “become” Protesilaos and—let us call her by her more popular name—Laodameia. This is true not necessarily in the sense that their story has been woven, tailored, or embroidered to resemble that tale; it could be true in the minimal sense that the action in Book 16 is framed by this outlandish love story. However, it is possible that the Achilles-Patroklos story was altered to fit with Protesilaos. The ship’s epithet “half-burnt” might be the most striking example of this, but we have considered other themes above, such as the creation of a substitute and reanimation, that begin to make their way into the performance. If we had the Cypria, we would have a better idea of precisely what our text owes to the Memnon story, as opposed to the Protesilaos story.

These questions of Quellen are pertinent, as in the case of Marpessa and Phoenix, and they are indeed related to the workings of presence and performance. So now that we have cleaned up the grammatical situation—that is, the background story along with some of its implications for the audience’s experience of the performance—we can examine the virtues of the passage as a script more freely. The question is how the script deploys background myth in tandem with other techniques to produce certain effects of presence: the sense of the bard taken over by a character, or, as with Phoenix, a character animated “from elsewhere.” In other words, we are concerned not so much with the source of the text as, in this chapter as with the previous one, the (as-if) source of action—though for a performing poet these are not really separable.

Having the Protesilaos story in the background, and as a tangible backdrop (the ship), the unfolding tragedy of Achilles and Patroklos seems to be psychagogically “being run from elsewhere.” Achilles and Patroklos are not moving under their own volition, or from motives bound up with the plot; they are playing out roles in a different story.

This is different from, but related to, their reprising of roles from earlier stories about Achilles, Memnon, and Antilokhos, or for that matter Achilles and Thetis. The Protesilaos story bears the theme of the visiting ghost and magic substitution right in the heart of the story. While an audience who knows the story of Memnon and Antilokhos can experience the events in Book 16 and following as a replay in advance, the ship of Protesilaos touches off the theme of the ghost and configures the events to follow as a ghostly replay. But there is a more directly performative way in which the Protesilaos story “ghosts” the Iliad. The first apostrophe to Patroklos was one glimpse of this. But these eerie kinesthetics are set up much earlier: to this we now turn.

Patroklos’ Circuit and Reemergence

Although Phoenix’s speech had inspired or anticipated the tragedy of Patroklos, this plot is actually set in motion when Achilles, standing on his ship (11.600), notices the Achaean rout and calls Patroklos from the tent. This is where Patroklos gives his chilling reply, “What do you need from me?” [83] (his first words in the entire poem), and Achilles sends him out to see what is happening (anticipating his later dispatch in Book 16). When we return to Achilles in Book 16, it is possible that the audience is to think of him as still standing on his ship, waiting for the news. (This can also be simply indicated by gesture and eye-direction. [84] ) This spatial orientation, however embodied, is of a piece with the notion that “the battleground … is but a stage on which Zeus and Achilles himself witness the rapid and inexorable unfolding of the latter’s destiny (11.597–604),” as Nagler puts it, [85] except that Achilles’ role in this unfolding is far from clear, in part because the plot is invaded by other persons from other plots. In any case, the action in Book 16 does follow close upon a speech by a man standing on a ship—Ajax, alone on Protesilaos’ ship, lamenting the fact that there are no nearby allies. Patroklos’ interaction with Achilles in Book 16, the prelude to his aristeia, is framed on both ends by Protesilaos’ ship, as we saw. But his Book 11–16 circuit, in which he visits Nestor, receives the suggestion to don Achilles’ armor, and encounters Eurypylos, is also framed by a man standing on a ship: Achilles in Book 11, and Ajax at the end of Book 15 (followed by Achilles in 16).

The Protesilaos story lends itself to such concrete expression; there is a “kinesthetics” to the story just as there is for Eris, as discussed in Chapter 1. [86] The hero’s most striking aspect is his leap, which appears on the cult statue and from there on coins and visual art. The Vatican Protesilaos sarcophagus (see Figure 17, next page), [87] though late and heavily influenced by Euripides, provides unexpected help in seeing what the Iliad has done in its own, minimalist, medium. The sarcophagus is framed at both ends by ships: Protesilaos first leaping off his ship to his death on the left, and finally boarding the boat of Charon at the extreme right. For Protesilaos, his ship was the boundary between life and death, and this is what makes his cult statue so powerful. His ship’s edge represents death as well as the initiation of action, and makes an ideal beginning and ending for a quasi-ring composition—as appears on the sarcophagus and also in the Iliad when Hektor reaches it—as well as an evocative cult statue pedestal. While on the sarcophagus the ship at one end is echoed by the boat of Charon at the other, here in the Iliad the ship of Protesilaos is replaced by the ship of that lord of the dead manqué, Achilles, who will reprise this role more explicitly in Book 24. (On the Alcestis sarcophagus, Museo Chiaramonti, the place of Charon is taken by Hades on his throne.) The pairing of the ship of Protesilaos with Charon’s boat and the house of Hades on the sarcophagi spreads out in linear space a transformation embodied in space and time by a solo performer in the Iliad.

Figure 17

Both a sarcophagus and a Homeric bard are ideal media for representing the boundary between life and death, or rather, for mediating that crossing. The house on the tragic stage often represents the House of Death. But the sarcophagus and the Homeric bard are by nature containers of the dead, and they each exploit this nature in various concrete ways. We have seen that the performer uses his own body as a kind of gateway for the dead to emerge. This emergence operates hand in hand with other kinds of emergence at other levels of the text, such as the emergence of Patroklos and/or Achilles from their tent or their camp.

The circuit that Patroklos completes between being dispatched by Achilles in Book 11 and his second dispatch, to his death, in Book 16, is so full of imagery of the death realm, not to speak of the carnage of the Battle Books, that it might be called a katabasis in the same sense as Priam’s visit to Achilles. Now it is virtually impossible to map the various spaces of the Iliad in terms of a life vs. death dichotomy, and so such readings will not convince those who require a one-to-one allegorical reading. [88] For example, if the gates of the Achaean wall manned by Lapiths in Book 11 function as gates of Hades, [89] a skeptic may well wonder whether the gates of Troy can equally well serve this function. [90] The answer is yes: “the connection between Hades and its gates was so strong that the mere mention of gates could evoke associations of death,” [91] and in each case the impending death (of Asios and Patroklos, respectively) and other contextual details complete the picture. Again, if Achilles’ withdrawal and return are bound up in the symbolism of a katabasis, how is it that, when he returns to the battle, he is “already dead” and the Nereids perform a quasi-funeral for him? The answer is that this is simply how this poem is: using traditional patterns, but not subject to systematic “this is that” allegorical reading. Similarly, only in Book 24 does Achilles’ tent transmogrify into the house of Hades, but, as we have seen, the Achaeans make a procession to supplicate him in Book 9 somewhat as though he were a (dead) hero of cult.

It is strange to find that Patroklos has been at the hut of Eurypylos so long, as though frozen in time, but stranger still that even when he is not with Eurypylos he spends most of his time in doorways (or tent-openings). Thus in Book 11 he runs out of the tent, “like Ares, and this was the beginning of his evil” (11.604), only to appear suddenly at Nestor’s tent and stand impressively in the doorway, “a mortal equal to a god” (θύρῃσιν ἐφίστατο ἰσόθεος φώς, 11.644). Nestor leads him in by the hand and bids him to be seated (ἐς δ’ ἄγε χειρὸς ἑλών, κατὰ δ’ ἑδριάασθαι ἄνωγε, 11.646). He refuses a seat (11.648), and thus stands frozen in (or near) the doorway throughout Nestor’s entire speech (11.656–803). In the course of this (lengthy as usual) speech, Nestor tells a story about when he went with Odysseus to recruit Achilles and Patroklos, and Peleus poured wine and prepared the meat. Within this embarrassingly contrived mise en abyme of the present situation, some musical chairs takes place, and Nestor himself makes a sudden appearance in the doorway (11.776, note the half-line break):

σφῶϊ μὲν ἀμφὶ βοὸς ἕπετον κρέα, νῶϊ δ’ ἔπειτα
στῆμεν ἐνὶ προθύροισι· ταφὼν δ’ ἀνόρουσεν Ἀχιλλεύς,
ἐς δ’ ἄγε χειρὸς ἑλών, κατὰ δ’ ἑδριάασθαι ἄνωγε … [= 11.646]

You two were round the ox, tending to it, and we two then
stood in the doorway: and amazed, Achilles rose up
and led us in by the hand, and bid us be seated …

Iliad 11.776–778

It is in the context of this rehearsal of the previous visit to Peleus that Nestor delivers the fatal recommendation that Achilles send Patroklos out in Achilles’ armor (11.794–803).

This striking spatial configuration could be interpreted as some sort of “liminal” condition prior to his death, such that he spends Books 11–15 at the gates of Hades before going to this death—sent by Nes-tor, playing his ironic role as with his son in Book 23. [95] When Patroklos finally speaks his fateful speech, he ends with the words of Nestor (16.36–45 , 11.794–803), words that provoke from the narrator the observation that, great childlike fool, he was begging for his own death. These words are “ghosting,” as it were, words that Nestor already framed by rehearsing an earlier scene in which he takes up a pose in imitation of Patroklos, framed by a doorway. Pylian Nestor himself has a strong traditional association with gates, and perhaps this scene takes its inspiration from that—after all, it is in this same scene that Nestor tells the story of leading the Pylians, as Frame argues, not simply to victory but back to life. [96] Later, in fact, when Patroklos is actually in this liminal state between life and death, as a ghost, he complains to Achilles that he is trying to pass through the gates of Hades (23.71) and is wandering through the wide-gated house of Hades, ἀν’ εὐρυπυλὲς Ἄιδος δῶ (23.74), the only instance of this epithet in the Iliad. [97] (Note too the doubling of this image in Iris’ visit to the winds, standing on their stone threshold, 23.201–202, and especially her refusal to take a seat, οὐχ ἕδος, a unique echo of Patroklos’ refusal at 11.648.)

Figure 18

Figure 19

The Ship: Action at a Distance

When Hektor then lays hold of the ship, I do not see how any performer would not embody this gesture, whether subtly or broadly. This concrete gesture would breathe new life into the following lines about Protesilaos and his own doomed journey, which come as Janko says “as if by sudden inspiration.” The very proximity, the physical contact in performance with this invisible object, primed by moments when he seems to stand upon it as someone else, seems to give birth in the performer-narrator to the memory of Protesilaos and his sad fate.

At that moment there is a slippage in the chain of causation, as things unfold somewhat as if Protesilaos’ ship were the ship of Achilles. But let us not resort to the level of the text and speak of a slippage of the signified under the signifier, or some such thing. It is rather more concrete and enjoyable than that. Once the performer as-if lays hands on the ship, gesture or no, he ‘receives’ this new story, as registered by speaking the lines about the ship (15.704–708) that did not take Protesilaos home again: lines apropos of Achilles, and, we soon find, of Patroklos too. Now, shunted suddenly to that ship as the leaping Ajax, he speaks Ajax’s speech, with its reference to the polis and its odd use of heteralkea, putting us on the lookout for a “home front.” Then, suddenly, the performer as narrator informs us that Patroklos was standing by Achilles crying, and utters the simile of the dark spring (16.3–4).

The vividness and studied quality of the simile brings about a shift: the bard now stands before the weeping Patroklos, gazing upon his face, his body thus in the position of Achilles. As the performer becomes Achilles, he is strangely distant, as though he had not seen anything that we just saw, gently (or in whatever tone) asking Patroklos about whether there is any “news from Phthia.” This violently wrenches us out of the previous violent action, which we have left so abruptly. At once the encounter at Protesilaos’ ship seems to cause the appearance of Achilles and Patroklos—and to have nothing to do with it. Hektor’s grasp fills the bard with the memory of Protesilaos, which induces the becoming, the reanimating, of Achilles, both in terms of his partial emergence (through a substitute) into battle, returning through an image of himself, and in terms of his occupation of the performer’s body. The performer has already set Achilles up as standing on his own ship (11.600). Touching Protesilaos’ ship, however enacted, induces the becoming of Achilles, the inhabitant of a space that has now been set up as the equivalent to Protesilaos’ ship, the pivot point for the action, and its initiating source. But now as Achilles, he suddenly slips into the role of the dead occupier of that ship (Protesilaos). [100] They are at the same time transported into an oddly removed “home.” Patroklos’ tears, at once seemingly caused by the action at the ship and utterly unconnected with it, convey to the audience the effect of action at a distance. But this is just what the performer does in touching his invisible object: as he does so, the space around him shifts.

It would be ham-handed to force this orchestration of objects and characters in space into the rubric of “becoming the character.” But it does use some of the same ingredients, and isolating these helps to grasp the complex play with presence. When the bard grasps the ship as Hektor, as with Menelaos and the helmet (see Chapter 1), an object in the world of the poem induces a “becoming” in the performer (along with other effects). The ship, like the helmet, is empty of its former inhabitant. Hektor has reached the apogee of his heroic action, and the bard embodies the intensity of Hektor’s contact by remembering Protesilaos, bringing on a total recall of the beginning of the war as well as the beginning of the Iliad. Hektor’s heroic reach pierces through the world of the battlefield to the world of domestic suffering and also to the unfolding performance.

Seeing the animation of Achilles as a reaction to Hektor’s broaching reach brings out an unexpected parallel to the appearance of Eris flanking both sides of the “becoming” of Agamemnon (11.1–73; see Chapter 1 above). Recall that Eris appears at the beginning, in a relation of “musical chairs” with Agamemnon, to animate him, and then oddly reappears afterward to oversee with pleasure the work that was after all inspired by her. Remarkably, this sequence too is centered on a ship, as Eris stands on Odysseus’ ship to shout. She is, both at the beginning, on the ship, and at the end, taking the place of the ἀνὴρ μάκαρος ‘blessed/wealthy man’ of the farming simile, an overseer, standing above the action. So too is Achilles. Like Eris, atop his ship in 11.600, he sets Patroklos’ circuit in motion. At the end of the cycle, there is an eerie sense that Achilles is “behind” Patroklos as Eris is Agamemnon, but here the analogy’s crudeness starts to become obvious.

What is this space that is constructed for the ship of Protesilaos? A character, laying hands on the ship, gives birth to bardic memory, and also induces a virtuosic presencing. This performance effect is in keeping with the kind of space in which the stern is thematically a boundary between life and death: that is, for Protesilaos, dying as he leaps off of it. So the life/death boundary coincides with the “becoming” boundary, as in the first examples of Chapter 1, the aristeiai. The performer reaches into the beyond for a new motivation and a new plot, but involuntarily. He is induced to become Achilles and Patroklos; they are induced to play out their suicidal roles. This is registered in the apostrophes, first when a half-present Achilles reacts on his own and through the narrator to Patroklos’ strange, disconnected weeping, and then, as Book 16 proceeds, when the narrator, focalizing Patroklos’ imminent death through the absent Achilles, reacts to that death as though he has inadvertently let it happen.

Like the sēma in the chariot-race speech of Nestor, and like Kleopatra in Phoenix’s speech, the ship of Protesilaos is also an end-point for action, a goal that, when reached, ignites new ideas and a new presencing effect in the performer. (Recall too Aristotle’s ring-compositional image, where thought backs up to a certain point, and then gives way to action.) Unlike those moments, however, this one does not take place at the center of a speech. Instead Protesilaos’ ship forms the turning point of the action of the entire Iliad. It is also the furthest point reached by Hektor, the turning point in his “chariot race” ending in his death. The bard uses Hektor as the vehicle for his own processes of memory and enactment.


Like the ship, these substitutions are made of the warp of poetics, or poiēsis, and the weft of presence, or genesis in the sense of becoming. Some of them seem tamely “poietic”: the mere information, for example, that Menesthios substituted for Achilles. Others are entirely on the level of presencing or becoming: the poet “substitutes for” Achilles. But for most of these substitutions it is not easy to separate the two dimensions. And this is because substitution is the very business of the Homeric performer.


[ back ] 1. “There the hero Phylacides could not be unmindful of his lovely wife in the blind places, but wanting to touch his bliss with illusory palms, the Thessalian came, a shade, to his old home. There, whatever I will be, I will always be called your image: even the shores of death great love thrusts through.”

[ back ] 2. Redfield (1994:59): “We can thus define fiction as the outcome of a hypothetical inquiry into the intermediate causes of action …” and p. 106: “Surely Achilles makes errors, and surely Achilles suffers; but the poet has not been at pains to construct a clear relation of cause and effect.” Nimis (1987:40): “Achilles’ actions in Book 16 are, in fact, quite inexplicable in terms of his stated ‘intentions.’ It is difficult to see how sending out Patroklos will profit Achilles at all in reestablishing his lost honor. If Patroklos beats back Hector, how will the Greeks be forced to give Achilles back his due honor? If Achilles now feels that his ends have been accomplished, why does he not return himself? We could state the problem in Riffaterre’s terms by saying that in Book 16, the significance of the poem, which can be identified thematically with the Dios boulē, the ‘plan of Zeus’ to honor Achilles, begins to contradict the meaning of Achilles’ actions; that is, the portrayal of Achilles begins to become ‘ungrammatical.’ ” See also Scott 2009:156–157.

[ back ] 3. Taplin (1992:291) sees the book division between 15 and 16 as arbitrarily disruptive: “The thinking behind the far less telling division at 16.1 is not hard to see: ‘Aristarchos’ wanted to turn a single book into a ‘Patrokleia’ (as with Diomedes in book 5).” One would not want to end a performance session after Book 15; the reason, however, is that one would miss the transmogrification of space and consciousness that does in fact occur at the book division. On this book division, see also Heiden 1996, Nagy 2002:62–65.

[ back ] 4. Nagler 1974:135–138.

[ back ] 5. A. Lord 2000: Ch. 9; M. L. Lord 1967; Nagler 1974: Ch. 5 (who describes three interlocking withdrawal-devastation-return cycles); Nagy 1979:69–93.

[ back ] 6. M. L. Lord 1967:247. On the shout, see Griffin 1980:38–39. They die “by their own chariots and weapons,” but the superhuman is there, even if muted compared with warriors’ shouts in other epics; cf. A. Lord 2000:196.

[ back ] 7. See the Introduction above, p. 13n35 and n36.

[ back ] 8. Nagy 2001a:xxvi n18; Nagy 1979:70; Eustathius ad Iliad 2.700–702 (van der Valk 1971–1987:I.506).

[ back ] 9. Van der Valk 1971–1987:I.508.

[ back ] 10. Richter 1928–1929. See also n24 below.

[ back ] 11. As has been repeatedly forecast since Book 9. Nagy (1979:335–336) links Hektor’s firing of the ships to Zeus’ flash (selas) of lightning at 8.76 (Zeus looks forward to Hektor’s fire using the same word at 15.600); cf. Whitman 1958:133. Hektor’s firing completes the loop that is the Will of Zeus: a deviation from the steady onward march of the plot. The loops and rings I discuss here are thus inscribed within this larger circle. The firing of Protesilaos’ ship has been made the nexus of many threads. On the fire as accomplishing the ἐξαίσιον (extraordinary) prayer of Thetis to Zeus (15.598), see Slatkin 1991:104.

[ back ] 12. Leaf (1902:1) complains about “the great retardation of action” beginning with Book 13 and continuing to the end of Book 15. For an appreciation of this dramatic retardation, see Taplin 1992:18; Scott 2009:130–145.

[ back ] 13. “By a sudden inspiration,” as Janko 1994:304 remarks ad 693–695.

[ back ] 14. The sense of this phrase is echoed (Schibli 1983, at line 5 in his text) in what appears to be a parody of the Protesilaos story (Schibli 1983:2), the Galeomuomachia.

[ back ] 15. In Philostratus’ Heroikos 47, we hear that Patroklos died “grasping [ἁπτόμενον] the wall,” perhaps an intertextual thickening of these two layered moments; there is a shared kinesthetics between Hektor at his apogee, having penetrated the Achaean wall, grasping Protesilaos’ ship and facing Ajax, and a moment later Patroklos facing Achilles (perhaps on his own ship), only to be sent out to Protesilaos’ ship, and thence to the apogee of his own success, short of the Trojan Wall.

[ back ] 16. West 2011:314. West (2011:315) also notes that 16.120 repeats 15.467, “where the castration metaphor is especially apt to the severed sinew of the bowstring.”

[ back ] 17. Notice the construction ὣς τὴν μὲν πρυμνὴν πῦρ ἄμφεπεν· αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς, bringing out the quasi-magical effect of the fire on the stern, which as it were transfers its energy to Achilles, and from Achilles to Patroklos. Only after Achilles’ first line does he acknowledge (16.127) that he sees the fire.

[ back ] 18. Recall the use of τὴν and αὐτῆς in Phoenix’s speech to layer one character over another. Recall too the “fate” line within “Trojan Horse” (Chapter 1 above), τῇ περ δὴ καὶ ἔπειτα τελευτήσεσθαι ἔμελλεν, Odyssey 8.510. The Trojan Horse’s entrance into Troy is the point diametrically opposed to Hektor reaching the ship of Protesilaos: the nadir and peak of Trojan fortunes.

[ back ] 19. Ajax is also stepping into a reenactment of his own duel with Hektor (Book 7). This duel in turn is part of a cluster of reenactments of the beginning of the war (Finkelberg 2002). Finkelberg convincingly links Hektor’s invocation of a tomb that will soon cover his opponent with the tomb and shrine of Protesilaos. She further links the Hektor–Ajax duel with the Achilles–Kyknos encounter in the Cypria; but in the Cypria, of course, Hektor kills Protesilaos. The repetitions proliferate.

[ back ] 20. The Catalogue entry mentions only a “Dardanian man,” which led Aristarchus to condemn the “Neoteroi” who, not understanding that “Dardanian” is different from “Trojan,” filled in Hektor as the killer (Severyns 1928:19–20, 118, 303). But as Currie (2015:292) remarks, this description’s vagueness “may be attributable to the focalization” in lines 700–702: “all that matters to Protesilaus’ widow left in Phylace is that a Dardanian man killed him.” Kullmann (1960:111 with n4, 184–185) sets out the case against Hektor being the killer of Protesilaos in the Cypria, despite Proclus’ summary (p. 105.1 ed. Allen). In doing so Kullmann points to the phrase “Dardanian man” at 16.807 being the “transparent source” of the phrase in the Catalogue. This is, if anything, backwards. This very phrase at 16.807, moreover, confuses the distinction between “Dardanian” and “Trojan,” since the “Dardanian” Euphorbos’ father Panthoos is one of the Trojan elders at 3.146 (West 2011:327). On this question see further Stanley 1993:290; Burgess 2001:64.

[ back ] 21. With Protesilaos’ leap compare Odysseus’ leap, Odyssey 24.538: another “end which is also a beginning” (Purves 2019: Ch. 3).

[ back ] 22. Grossardt 2001:49; Jouan 1966:330.

[ back ] 23. For a full reconstruction of Euripides’ Protesilaos, see Jouan 1966:317–366. This play was familiar to the makers of Roman sarcophagi and their clients. One can understand the appeal, for the dead couple inhabiting the Velletri or Protesilaos sarcophagus, of posthumously fleshing out the plum roles projected around them.

[ back ] 24. Pausanius 4.2.7: full discussion below. Jouan (1966:330) doubts Séchan’s view that the Cypria told a full version of the story, but agrees that it told of the widow’s suicide, at least. The resurrection might have appeared in the Cypria, but is “in any case ancient,” derived probably from ritual (Jouan 1966:332). For Burkert, Herodotus’ story of Artauktes using the Protesilaos sanctuary for orgies “presupposes some kind of custom or at least a fantasy of a sacred marriage in the temple of Protesilaos. In that case, Protesilaos’ tomb and Laodameia’s fatal night of love would not merely stand within a novelistic context”; these stories and Laodameia’s relation to her statue presuppose a ritual such as is reflected in the Lenaia-vases where a woman dances before a statue until the statue comes to life (Burkert 1983:245). The orgies themselves are not evidence that Herodotus (or Artauktes) knew the love story, but the “miracle that confronted the sinner,” as Burkert puts it, the pickled fish come back to life, combined with the sexual activity, does suggest the story. See Boedeker 1988:39. On the fish as a sign indicating Protesilaos’ power to exact retribution, see Nagy 1987:210, 212. In inscribed works, Protesilaos appears alone on coins from the early fifth century BCE (in his canonical pose on his ship), and in the company of other warriors, including Achilles, beginning with a late-Corinthian pyxis, 575–550 BCE. Burkert puts the orgy story in the context of Bacchic rituals, which he believes to be very ancient. The earliest inscribed work associated with the couple may be a fifth-century Etruscan gem (LIMC “Protesilaos” 9), inscribed “Laor” or “Laod.” Canciani (LIMC) disputes the view that this inscription is modern. Figures on uninscribed works have been tentatively identified as Protesilaos, including (highly doubtful) a late geometric crater fragment at Athens (LIMC 12).

[ back ] 25. On the development of the story, Fulkerson 2002 and Lyne 1998 are essential; Maclean and Aitken (2001:l–lvi) provide a concise treatment. Sarcophagi: 1) Vatican, Galleria dei Candelabri, inv. 2465: Zanker and Ewald 2004:94, 393–396 with bibliography; 2) Santa Chiara in Naples: Zanker and Ewald 2004:95, figs. 85 and 86; 3) Velletri, Archaeological Museum: Lawrence 1965; Zanker and Ewald 2004:23, fig. 21.

[ back ] 26. See, e.g., Griffin 1977. On love stories as “latently present throughout” early Greek poetry, see Redfield 1995:159.

[ back ] 27. See, e.g., Figure 17 below (= Lawrence 1965:plate 47 fig. 6).

[ back ] 28. Usually the gods of the underworld are specified. Protesilaos does the praying (or lawyering) according to, e.g., Lucian and the Aristides scholia; his wife does so in Hyginus. The gods are in some versions moved to act by the wife’s pitiful caressing of the statue, rather than by any articulate supplication.

[ back ] 29. Propertius 1.19.

[ back ] 30. Ovid Heroides 13; Jouan (1966:320–321) suggests the presence of this motif, in addition to that of the ghost, in Euripides’ Protesilaos. Jouan also compares Propertius 1.19.9–10 (see epigraph to this chapter), where Protesilaos comes as an umbra with falsis palmis.

[ back ] 31. See esp. 18.304–305 and 18.358; also 15.235, where Zeus declares the Achaeans will ἀναπνεύσωσι πόνοιο. ἀνίστημι is used of “raising the dead” (24.551). Cf. also n5 above.

[ back ] 32. Once it is accepted that the Iliad knew of Protesilaos’ resurrection stories, it is interesting to compare a line from Protesilaos’ catalogue entry, 2.699, τότε δ’ ἤδη ἔχεν κάτα γαῖα μέλαινα, “by that time the black earth already held him down,” with 3.243, τοὺς δ’ ἤδη κάτεχεν φυσίζοος αἶα, “the life-nourishing earth already held them down,” describing the Dioskouroi. The phrase is also used of the Dioskouroi at Odyssey 11.301, along with the story of their alternating life-death state. The earth “holds down” others besides those who come up again, but not with ἤδη and the past tense. It does so in Homer mostly in the future tense, in predictions about the enemy (16.629) or Achilles about himself (18.332); cf. Athena on the suitors (Odyssey 13.427, 15.31). The exception is Ajax (Odyssey 11.549).

[ back ] 33. For example, the poem quoted at the beginning of the present chapter, coniugis heros / non potuit caecis immemor esse locis (“The hero could not be unmindful of his wife in the blind places”), Propertius 1.19.7–8. The Protesilaos and Philoctetes entries are linked also by the lines:

οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδ’ οἳ ἄναρχοι ἔσαν, πόθεόν γε μὲν ἀρχόν·
ἀλλά σφεας κόσμησε Ποδάρκης ὄζος Ἄρηος

Nor were they leaderless, longing as they were for their leader:
But Podarkes, scion of Ares, marshalled them (2.703–704; cf. 726–727)

Since this “longing for the leader” occurs in both, one hesitates to attribute specifically erotic longing to the phrase, but the presence of Protesilaos’ love story in the Iliad makes plausible an allusion to the erotic aspect of his story in his catalogue entry. Nagy (2001a:xxvii n20) links the connotations here to the conventional eroticism of the cult hero more generally: “On a deeper level … the reference implies the emotional response of native worshippers who are ‘yearning’ for their local cult hero in all his immanent beauty; we may compare the application of ποθέω to Patroklos at his funeral, Iliad 23.16.” Cf. Vernant (1991:102): “Funereal pothos and erotic pothos correspond exactly.”

[ back ] 34. Van der Valk 1971–1987:I.503.

[ back ] 35. The very associations among the various couples crossing the barrier of death were themselves a traditional trope (e.g., Phaedrus’ speech in the Symposium linking Achilles-Patroklos, Orpheus-Eurydice, and Alcestis-Admetus); the Catalogue sequence would be the first extant instance. Lucian, at Dialogues of the Dead 23, puts these associations into the mouth of Protesilaos, using the precedents of Alcestis and Orpheus to justify his own reanimation. Depictions of the reanimated spouse in visual art are subject to debate as to which story they represent: the couple on the front left of the Velletri sarcophagus (LIMC Protesilaos 21; good reproductions in Lawrence 1965), usually identified as Protesilaus and Laodamia [using the Latin spellings here], has also been seen as Alcestis and Admetus (who certainly appear on the right, with Heracles). Both couples reunite through a door, which for Lawrence represents the gate of Hades (and which would give access to the actual dead). These two couples flank the enthroned Pluto and Persephone, another death-spanning couple (cf. pages 142–143 above on the superimposition of Marpessa, Kleopatra, and Persephone). This is inverted in the Catalogue, where these two human couples are “flanked” by Philoctetes and Achilles. On these four catalogue entries as a unit, see Stanley 1993:20–21.

[ back ] 36. West 2011:312.

[ back ] 37. Taplin 1992:178.

[ back ] 38. Cf. Chapter 2 above, page 157.

[ back ] 39. See, for example, Nagler 1974:184–185; Crane 1988:35–38; Stanley 1993:237–239.

[ back ] 40. Lord 2000:197; Nagy 1979:292; Sinos 1980:55; Lowenstam 1981.

[ back ] 41. Or, as Lowenstam (1981:175–176) would have it, self-sacrifice.

[ back ] 42. Kakridis 1949; Schoeck 1961; Schadewaldt 1965; Slatkin 1991. Useful brief discussions of Neoanalysis include Schein 1984:25–28, Edwards 1991:15–19, and Edmunds 2016:4–8. Edwards’ (1991) commentary on Books 17–18 makes generous use of the “Memnon-theory”—briefly, the theory that the death of Antilokhos in the Aethiopis (e.g. Schadewaldt) or its tradition (most later scholars) is the model for Patroklos’ death in the Iliad—throughout; for Book 16 a brief summary appears at Janko 1994:312–313. Bouvier helpfully surveys Neoanalytic theory focused on Patroklos and Book 16 and adds his own convincing argument about Antilokhos and Patroklos (especially Bouvier 2002:379–401). I myself find the theory compelling, and compatible with the present argument. The role of many other traditions, such as that found in Gilgamesh (e.g. Lord 2000:197; West 1997:336–347), would also have to be considered for a fuller account of the workings of this episode.

[ back ] 43. On Achilles’ mourning as a miming of Patroklos’ death, see for example Pucci 1995:169–172; Kakridis 1949:65–75; Sinos 1980:71–73. As Burgess (2001:92) notes, the painter of a sixth-century Corinthian vase and a hydria has “also linked the story of the Iliad to myth about the death of Achilles” and “evokes the death of Achilles while he is still alive.”

[ back ] 44. West 2013:344. The idea that Achilles’ lament for Patroklos is in effect a ghostly replay of his own death is, then, not dependent on embracing any version of the Memnon-theory. For Burgess (1997), the lack of a one-to-one mapping of the story of Achilles, Memnon, and Antilokhos onto the story of Achilles, Hektor, and Patroklos (the fact that Patroklos “plays” both Antilokhos and Achilles) undermines the theory. It is true that the theory is complex—see for example Schoeck 1961:16—but understanding the ways that the characters mirror and “play” one another only adds to the pleasure. The lack of a one-to-one mapping contributes to the frenzy of substitutions that reaches its climax at 16.173–178; see below.

[ back ] 45. Erbse 1969–1988:4.573.

[ back ] 46. On all of these fragments, see Jouan 1966:323.

[ back ] 47. Fulkerson (2002) argues that Ovid Heroides 13 innovates in having the wife forge a statue (here of wax) of Protesilaus before, rather than after, his death, and that the poem is thereby suggesting that the wax statue acts as a magic effigy, which when burned will kill Protesilaus: in making the statue the wife causes, rather than compensates herself for, her husband’s death. It is unclear whether Ovid’s is the only version to order the events in this way (Jouan 1966 on Euripides Protesilaos puts the building of the statue at least before the visitation of the ghost, if not before the death). Of course Achilles makes an image out of Patroklos—an image of himself—while he is still alive, and so causes his death and in essence his own. This could be influenced by a prior version in which Protesilaos’ wife made her image while her husband was still alive. Alternatively, the voodoo-doll coincidence between Ovid and the Iliad is simply due to both drawing upon a finite set of actions belonging to the same themes. It is also conceivable that the demonically clever Ovid has altered the story to mirror the Iliad’s use of it.

[ back ] 48. 23.91–92.

[ back ] 49. Cf. Kullmann 1984 on the wounding of Diomedes in the foot by Paris (11.369–400), a passage using motifs appearing in other battle scenes but fundamentally inspired by Achilles’ death. I stress that, in the case under discussion, Protesilaos’ name is mentioned, and his ship forms a turning point of the action of the poem, whereas other Neoanalytic arguments depend on the similarity of motifs. The objection, that is, raised to some Neoanalytic claims (that similarities are a matter of multiforms rather than the use or echo of a particular story) does not apply. Again, that is not to say that any given motif is imported from a story of Protesilaos.

[ back ] 50. Kullmann (1960:274): “Über die Frau des Protesilaos berichtet die Ilias naturgemäß nichts: das liegt für sie zu weit vom Thema ab.” Kullmann seems to have excluded the story in part because he did not consider it part of the Trojan War cycle. The Neoanalytic Memnon-theory may also have obstructed his view. In any case, Kullmann’s view that Protesilaos’ wife “liegt zu weit vom Thema ab,” I suggest, prevented his recognition of a key to the Iliad’s structure and narrative background—even though the wife appears in the Cypria.

[ back ] 51. Again, I.503 van der Valk. Di Benedetto (1998:111–112), in a list of phrases found only in connection with a given character, notes that these words referring to Protesilaos, ἡμιτελής 2.701 and ἡμιδαής 16.294, are the only two adjectives in archaic Greek epic composed of ἡμι- and a bisyllabic element ending in -ης with the accent on the last syllable, and notes that they are both found with λείπω in the passive, but does not pursue the matter. Is it possible the half-finished house is also alluded to at 13.679–683, where Hektor drives on “where he first leapt at the gates and the wall … where the ships of Ajax and Protesilaos were … and over them the wall had been built lowest to the ground”? That way both the vulnerable spot of the wall and the ship reached by Hektor would be linked directly to the Protesilaos story.

[ back ] 52. In the Galeomuomachia’s parody, the line about the wife with her torn cheeks (Iliad 2.700) is precisely echoed (Schibli 1983, restored text line 7, τοῦ δὲ καὶ ἀμφιδρυφὴς ἄλοχ<ος> οἴκο`ι´ ἐλέλειπτο). It is immediately followed with a description of their thalamos (line 8), in a phrase Schibli restores as [τρ]ωγ̣ι̣δ̣ίωι ἐν θαλάμωι, “in their nibbled (half-nibbled?) thalamos.” Schibli remarks, “In sum, τρωγίδιος, jestingly preceding the lofty and dignified sounding θάλαμος, describes the mousehole of Squeaky’s wife as a ‘little-nibble chamber’ (θάλαμος may at the same time correspond to the δόμος ἡμιτελής of Protesilaos’ wife in Β 701 …).” For a mouse, nibbling may be building or destroying, so perhaps this parodist, so enmeshed in Homeric diction and the Protesilaos story, has made the connection. This is reinforced by the fact that these lines of the parody, echoing the catalogue, follow closely upon the line about his fatherland not welcoming him home again (line 5), the line found in the Iliad in Book 15. The Galeomuomachia brings together these symbolon-like pieces that are set at a distance in the Iliad. At any rate, this shows what an impression these Homeric lines made on the parodist, and they are intriguingly combined with other aspects of the story. For a different application of the notion of symbola to Homeric poetry (in particular similes), see Bergren 1980a.

[ back ] 53. Slatkin (1991:7) speaks of the Iliad’s “superbly overdetermined economy” in its shaping and being shaped by the mythology of Thetis.

[ back ] 54. Taplin (1992:177): “In extreme contrast [to the battle scene ending Book 15], an intimate and emotional atmosphere is immediately established (reinforced by the mother–daughter simile at 16.7ff.), unlike anything yet encountered in the poem, except perhaps Hektor and Andromache.” Gaca 2008 sees the simile as depicting the plight of, note, a city being sacked; see also the response by Porter (2010). In contrast, for Scott (2009:169) this is the first of three similes that “remove any note of threat and create a picture of normal, day-to-day life.” For what it is worth, Maximus of Tyre was capable of describing (however facetiously) this weeping as itself “erotic”: ἐρωτικὸν δὲ καὶ τὸ τυχεῖν ἐθέλοντα ἐξουσίας πρὸς μάχην δακρῦσαι ὡς οὐκ ἀνεξομένου τοῦ ἐραστοῦ: “It is a lover’s ploy too to win the permission to fight that he so desires by crying in a way that his lover won’t be able to resist” (Oration 18.8.34–36; trans. Trapp 1997:167). Is there also a play on Achilles’ simile in Maximus’ ἀνεξομένου?

[ back ] 55. Still another thread in the nexus of the opening here is the echo of this question about fathers within Achilles’ lament for Patroklos in Iliad 19. There Achilles pointedly contrasts the death of Patroklos with that of his father: “I would not suffer any greater evil, not even if I were to learn of my father’s death” (19.321–322). As Pucci (1993:270) writes, “This devaluation of his family ties before Patroclos seems to feminize Achilles and make of him a mirror image of Briseis,” whose lament Achilles follows. Achilles then pictures the aged Peleus waiting for the news of Achilles’ own death and shedding a tear, echoing the tear shed by the girl in Achilles’ simile (τέρεν κατὰ δάκρυον εἴβει, 16.11, 19.323) and elsewhere used of female characters. “We could read in that feminine transfer the sign of his fully emotional suspension to his unique destiny of death” (Pucci 1993:270).

[ back ] 56. On the unfolding drama of this speech in performance, as Achilles responds to the reacting face of Patroklos, see Bölte 1907:574–575.

[ back ] 57. Janko 1994:317 ad 16.19: Demeter uses a variant of it with Persephone (Homeric Hymn to Demeter 394).

[ back ] 58. Ledbetter 1993; cf. Bouvier 2002:408–409.

[ back ] 59. Or as Schoeck would have it, the opening of Book 16 is a new beginning of a phase for those parts of the Iliad that “stand under the aspect of the mother-warning” (Schoeck 1961:89).

[ back ] 60. Such flagging is similar to the exchange of armor, as characterized by Schoeck (1961:16: “It is as if Homer wanted to clarify his procedure with the exchange of arms”), or the echoing of language between Patroklos and Antilokhos that points out the permutation of roles (Bouvier 2002:397) rather than simply enacting it. One should also mention, as Bouvier (2002:398) points out, that Patroklos’ tears at 16.2–3 are echoed in Antilokhos’ tears at 18.16–17, as each arrives to give bad news to Achilles; Antilokhos is here stepping into the role of Patroklos in more ways than one, as Patroklos’ death has just replayed in advance his own. This is one more loop in the knot that is the opening of Book 16.

[ back ] 61. The moment takes its place beside Achilles’ conversation with the already-dead Patroklos (22.381–390) wherein “Achilles speaks as if he were already among the dead, alone with the dead Patroclus” (Redfield 1994:108).

[ back ] 62. The bard then takes over the action of the cult-hero himself, entering into the action of the poem rather than, as Protesilaos does in Herodotus, intervening in reality to take vengeance on Artauktes and indicate a message to Herodotus’ audience (Nagy 1987; Nagy 1990a:268–273). Insofar, however, as the action in Book 16 is the turn in the tragedy, perhaps Protesilaos can be seen here too as exacting a kind of retribution.

[ back ] 63. This chest is full of wind-protecting cloaks and blankets (16.221–224), as though what is to be faced, for both the then-departing Achilles and the now-departing Patroklos, is the chill of the winds. Achilles for an instant is lent the fond naivete of a mother—or a new wife.

[ back ] 64. On this simile, see Nagy 1979:338–343. Nagy (1979:340) links the simile to the tomb that encloses Achilles and Patroklos (Odyssey 24.80–84).

[ back ] 65. Some scholiasts on this passage try to explain the literal meaning of ἑτεραλκέα; another remarks simply (and movingly) πάντα δὲ εἰρωνικῶς.

[ back ] 66. Iliad 7.26, 8.171, 16.362, 17.627.

[ back ] 67. Cf. Lynn-George (1988:140–152) on “the heimlich/unheimlich structure of this homeless home which is the tent of Achilles” in Book 9 (p. 145), a “tent of words” or “chamber of echoes” (146). Within the imagery connecting the camp to a polis one should include the simile, describing the Trojans attacking the Achaean wall, of the ship overcome by waves at Iliad 15.381–384. Martin (1997:158–159) connects the unusual diction used of the ship’s hull (τοίχων, which in Homer normally means “walls”) to Theognis’ lines (673–676) on the ship of state: “it could be that the simile makes use of an emotionally intense song-moment in which one can lament the total loss of civil order in a polis.” The ship simile is followed, as Martin says, by its reification, when the Trojans pour over the wall to threaten the actual Achaean ships. There is a loose analogy here to the action in Book 9, when Phoenix’s conceit finds embodiment in the conflation of Meleager’s chamber and city with Achilles’ tent and the space of performance, and Kleopatra’s speech laments a city now to some extent shared by the audience, internal and external.

[ back ] 68. See Janko 1994:134 ad 13.698. His swiftness is known to the Iliad: 23.636.

[ back ] 69. So Jouan (1966:317), comparing Protesilaos with Iphigeneia. Protesilaos may also be compared with such heroes as Archemoros. See Burkert 1983:40, on διαβατήρια, and 245, on Protesilaos.

[ back ] 70. Slatkin 1991.

[ back ] 71. This story of the prophecy is not attested until Apollodorus Epitome 3.29, but may have appeared in the Cypria (West 2013:114). That Protesilaos is first to land and to die we have already seen is pre-Homeric. If the prophecy Patroklos, echoing Nestor at 11.794–795, inquires about at 16.36–37 were to allude to that story, rather than to some other warning by Thetis or to her general tendency to give these warnings, this would add to the ongoing echoes of Protesilaos’ story. Notice the diction of Patroklos’ inquiry: “But if you are keeping clear of some prophecy in your mind, one your mother has explained to you from Zeus, then send me forth at once [πρόες], and send the rest of the army [λαὸν] with me”: there may be a reminiscence of Protesilaos’ name, as Patroklos takes the place of Protesilaos. Rather than any individual story carrying weight here, the sheer number of examples lends credence to the idea that this substitution pattern is part of what goes into any myth about Protesilaos (and Podarkes).

[ back ] 72. Boedeker 1988:36.

[ back ] 73. He is a Phoenician. But he is never given another name. Cf. Chapters 2 and 4 on Phoenix and Phoenissa.

[ back ] 74. At 16.807. These are the only two instances of this phrase. Meanwhile Euphorbos is described in the same terms as Achilles (16.808–809): Lowenstam 1981:121; Nickel 2002. In the Cypria, it is Hektor who kills Protesilaos; I suggested above that the Iliad knew such a story and restages it. See above n19. Janko (1994:414) explains how Euphorbos and Paris can be both Dardan and noble Trojan: “Euphorbos” is a pastoral name; Paris was exposed and reared as a shepherd on Ida. That would perhaps not apply to Hektor. On Euphorbus as a double of Paris, such that his role in the killing of Patroklos recalls Paris’ in the killing of Achilles, see Mühlestein 1987:78–89. Contra Mühlestein: Nickel 2002.

[ back ] 75. It may be relevant to the development of the myth that Achilles’ father Peleus narrowly escapes sleeping with the wife of Akastos.

[ back ] 76. 16.173–178.

[ back ] 77. This orgy is adumbrated in a geographical musical chairs (13.693–700) involving the two substitute leaders, Podarkes (in for Protesilaos) and Medon (in for Philoctetes: 2.727). (Thoas is in for Meleager, but Meleager never went to Troy, and Achilles’ troops led by Patroklos will form the fourth.) There Podarkes and Medon are leading the Phthioi, whom one would assume are from Phthia, Achilles’ kingdom (though the matter is complicated: see Janko 1994:133 ad 13.685–688, including the observation that “here the Phthioi are ruled by Podarkes, Akhilleus’ epithet”). Even more puzzling, Medon, the Philoctetes substitute, bastard son of Oileus so half-brother of Ajax, is now said to live “in Phylake,” land of Protesilaos and Podarkes, because he had killed a man (a story repeated in 15.335, where Phylake is also mentioned: cf. the “prison” or “safeguarding” implications of the name). In this Book 13 passage, then, three of the four “resurrection” entries in the catalogue of ships have shifted properties. Protesilaos’ substitute Podarkes and Philoctetes’ substitute Medon “move” to Achilles’ territory (Phthioi), while Medon in a subsidiary clause occupies the seat of Protesilaos and Podarkes (Phylake). On the proliferation of doubles in tragedy, including in Euripides’ Protesilaos, see Steiner 2001:193. For Briseis as substitute, see Dué 2002: chs. 2 and 3.

[ back ] 78. Bruce M. King, “Iliad 11.668–762 and Beyond: The Cattle-Raid and the Genre of the Iliad” (unpublished manuscript, 2001), PDF file.

[ back ] 79. She also appears in Catalogue of Women fr. 213 M-W.

[ back ] 80. Nagler (1974:135) links Patroklos’ stepping into this suppliant role, Kleopatra’s role, to the Achilles’ simile likening him to a girl. It is probably too nice to connect this to Kleopatra’s daughter, but this would be one reason for why the simile presents a mother and a daughter rather than a mother and a boy (as would suit Ledbetter’s argument).

[ back ] 81. This reversal redoubles, or overlaps, the reversal in which Achilles comforting Patroklos plays the role of Thetis comforting Achilles (Ledbetter 1993). Compare the reversal of roles noted by Schein (1984:107) in Achilles’ four parent–child similes, in which he positions himself as a parent to Patroklos (older) and Agamemnon (higher status). The silent Patroklos of Book 9 is reminiscent of the curiously evocative “palinopt” figure in vase painting identified by Mackay, Harrison, and Masters (1999), where “the perception of one margin of a traditional scene already predicts the arrangement of the other in more or less of mirror-image” (Mackay et al. 1999:141).

[ back ] 82. Schoeck (1961:49–52) argues that Protesilaos’ ship represents the corpse of Achilles as though the scene around the ship in Books 15 and 16 is somehow a variation of the traditional battle over Achilles’ corpse. This particular argument seems to rest on weak evidence.

[ back ] 83. Taplin 1992:175: answer = “your life.” See Lynn-George 1988:128–129; Bouvier 2002:371–372.

[ back ] 84. Cf. 16.8, 10: Achilles addresses the just-arrived Patroklos as a girl wanting to be picked up.

[ back ] 85. Nagler 1974:134–135.

[ back ] 86. I find suggestive along similar lines Muellner’s argument that a series of vase paintings portraying Achilles veiled is evidence for a traditional multiform in the representation of Achilles, a representation that would not necessarily be limited to a particular genre (Muellner 2012).

[ back ] 87. Figure 17 (Vatican sarcophagus) photo by Flickr user Egisto Sani; see also Lawrence 1965: fig. 6.

[ back ] 88. Cf. the objections to the Memnon-theory expressed by Burgess (n44 above).

[ back ] 89. Lowenstam (1981:42–43), on the five references to gates in the Asios episode: “These references may not appear to be surprising since the battle is, of course, taking place around the Achaean Wall. On the other hand, Asios’ attack may have been situated at the gates by the poet (and his tradition) precisely because of the connotations of gates. The collocation of references to gates and the theme of impending death suggests that the gates through which Asios will enter to meet his death provide an emotional coloring reminiscent of the gates of Hades.”

[ back ] 90. Lowenstam (1981:68n1): “A particularized epithet of Hades is πυλάρταο (Θ 367, Ν 415, λ 277). When Pylartes (“Gate-closer”) is disposed of (Π 696), the gates of Troy (mentioned in Π 698) appear highly vulnerable. When Patroklos reaches the gates of Troy, he enters the gates of Hades.”

[ back ] 91. Lowenstam 1981:36; bibliography on Pylos-gates-death at 43n29.

[ back ] 92. Kirk 1990:279. Having explained the complex historical and textual problems here, Kirk seems to assume in his note on lines 336–337 that the corpses are to be read as collected, as in the later echo of this passage at 436, but then also that the mound is “undiscriminated” (ἄκριτον) “in relation to individual corpses.”

[ back ] 93. Lowenstam 1981:36, 66n72. He shows, moreover, that the details of Patroklos’ treatment of Eurypylos (cutting his thigh with a machaira, etc.) suggest sacrifice. Lowenstam posits an early version of the Patroklos story as a literal human sacrifice, in keeping with therapōn as stemming from human sacrifice in Hittite tradition.

[ back ] 94. Recall again the palinopt figure in vase painting described by Mackay, Harrison, and Masters 1999. The marginal makes his way to the focal point.

[ back ] 95. See Interlude 1. As King remarks, “it is with the wounding of Makhaon and with Akhilleus’ consequent sending-forth of Patroklos that the Iliad ventures into previously unexplored and unexpected complexities of plot and signification” (Bruce M. King, “Iliad 11.668–762 and Beyond: The Cattle-Raid and the Genre of the Iliad” [unpublished manuscript, 2001], PDF file). The strange kinesthetics of the performance here and Patroklos’ ghosting of Nestor’s words are bound up with these complexities and, I think, reinforce King’s larger point about the poem’s distancing itself from Nestor.

[ back ] 96. Frame 1978:92–94. Nestor is in that story enacting his traditional role, as explicated by Frame. The fact that he is sending Patroklos to his death here is again part of the poem’s distancing itself from the ideal that Nestor represents, as King argues.

[ back ] 97. Richardson 1993:173 ad 23.74 notes the contradiction between these two descriptions. Could this be furthering the sense of disorientation?

[ back ] 98. Figure 18 (Velletri sarcophagus) photo, detail of Gibon Art /Alamy Stock Photo.

[ back ] 99. The “anchoring” of the plot at these pivotal ships, which then are harnessed into a space of transformation, would perhaps be enhanced in a performance in which the performer stood on a raised platform, as rhapsodes do in vase painting. Or rather, it might occur to a poet who performed on a platform to use it to draw a connection to certain characters and to use them for presencing effects.

[ back ] 100. Thus, though the performer may be orchestrating the action using a full picture of the Achaean camp as with a memory palace, as Clay (2011) convincingly argues, he simultaneously manipulates his own surroundings in a way more directly instantiated in performance. In the present instance, while Clay (2011:84–87) shows how the poet tracks the action around Protesilaos’ and Achilles’ ships within the camp, I am discussing a transformation of one space into another around the body of the performer.

[ back ] 101. Semusti cineres (half-burnt ashes [of human corpses, most commentators have it]) were found in the walls of the dying Germanicus’ room along with curse-tablets and other items “by which it is believed that souls are consigned to the lower spirits” (Tacitus Annales 2.69). Noy (2000:193) connects the magical use of half-burnt corpses here and elsewhere to the ambiguous status of the soul of the half-burnt deceased. The obscurity of Tacitus’ wording here, along with the fact that human remains appear earlier on the list of things discovered, is pointed out by Goodyear (1981:410), who tentatively refers to “partially burnt animal/human remains.” Did half-burnt sacrifices, or other half-burnt objects, have such a power? Most animal sacrifices to the gods were after all half, or partially, burnt before the rest was eaten. For wooden objects, recall Althaia’s use of a firebrand, seized from the fire and stored away for years, to kill her son Meleager (in the more popular version of the story). This seems to be a perversion of the usual use of half-burnt wood, in the form of an ember, to revivify a fire the next day. Perhaps cases such as the Derveni papyrus, found “half-burnt over a grave around 330 B.C.” (Kirk, Raven, and Schofield 1983:30) belong somewhere in this category, unless it is simply “luck” (Papadopoulou 2014:ix) that it was not completely burnt. Graf (2014:75n31) suggests that the unburnt part of the papyrus was perhaps protected by the hand of the deceased on the pyre. A suggestive analogy is Theocritus Idyll 2.132–133, following the use of fire in love-magic. In Hippocrates’ Epidemics 2.6.29 a half-burnt substance sparks animation in the form of pregnancy.

[ back ] 102. ἡμιτελὴς γὰρ ὁ δόμος καταλέλειπται, “For the house is left behind half-complete” (Lucian Cataplus 8).

[ back ] 103. Notice that it is a half-built living space, a container for a wandering psyche, which operates in this animating fashion. Likewise the ship, the vehicle containing the wandering living, reaches the faraway shore. In its half-burnt state it spans the distance to death as well as back to the other shore and the wife. Cf. Superman’s need for a phone booth.

[ back ] 104. Taplin 1992:177. For a similar evocation of the action of Achilles being partially begun see Nagler 1974:136 with n8.

[ back ] 105. Nisbet and Hubbard 1970:48.

[ back ] 106. Janko (1994:305) explains, “οἵ γ’ denotes both sides, but ἕνα θυμὸν ἔχοντες … means that each side is ‘of one mind’.” But the oneness is startling.

[ back ] 107. If some statue portraying Protesilaos leaping from his ship were present in his shrine at Elaious already in the Homeric period, it is striking that he already “leaps” across the Hellespont, in that the ship is placed on the other side of the Hellespont from the site of his landing and death. The trees in his shrine, according to late evidence (Pliny Natural History 16.88, Quintus of Smyrna Posthomerica 7.408; Boedeker 1988:37) grow until they can “look” across the sea—to Troy, rather than his wife—and then wither and die. His shrine accomplishes something like what his ghost does: so when Hektor touches his ship, if the poet has in mind the ship-statue, that statue provides an extra ‘model’ for the casting through space that occurs when Protesilaos dies and returns to his wife.

[ back ] 108. Ring composition in the limited sense of beginning and ending a poem with similar elements is “extraordinarily widespread” in Indo-European poetry (Watkins 1995:34). It structures many books of the Hebrew Bible, and a broad spectrum of ancient literature, in a thoroughgoing manner (Douglas 2007). Douglas (1999) found a different, but analogous, pattern in Leviticus, where the structure of the book reenacts the structure of the Tabernacle. Rather than picturing a static structure, though, Leviticus gives the reader a “virtual tour” (Rendsburg 2008:177) of the tabernacle, following a path into the Holy of Holies and back out again. Cf. Nagy’s (1990a:209) “semiotic” treatment of the chariot race, and his diagram there. One can imagine such processions and other movements (on dance, see David 2006:168) shaping Homeric composition as they do choral composition (only less directly). Other spatial paradigms such as weaving (which has already been linked with archaic poetics), or a scroll with episodes painted on it (as with Pabuji epic from Rajasthan: Smith 1991) may also play a role. On the analogies between narrative and painted ring composition, see Mackay, Harrison, and Masters 1999.

[ back ] 109. If ring composition as it occurs in Homeric poetry has been influenced by choral strophic turns and returns, solar imagery such as Alcman’s association of the sun with the choral leader Agido (PMG 1 lines 40–41) is relevant.

[ back ] 110. It even involves a substitute self-object containing the “life” of the hero: the statue of Protesilaos, both in cult and in his desperate widow’s bed, bears comparison with the brand containing the life of Meleager (though this is in turn replaced by the curse in the Iliad version).