The Language of Heroes: Speech and Performance in the Iliad

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Chapter 3. Heroes as Performers

{89} “A work about death often modulates readily, if eerily, into a work about literature. For death inhabits texts.” [1] In the terms of the Iliad, death generates texts; it is the boundary that one tries to surmount by action in this world. A reputation enshrined in poetry, “unwithering fame” (9.413), is the goal for every hero; but to reach this, each must perform, both by arms and by words. In the previous chapters, I have correlated the performance of deeds with that of a particular sort of important speech, the realm of muthoi. Furthermore, I explored the correlation between these speeches and three “genres of discourse” that play social roles: commanding, flyting, and recollection. I sketched a poetics of each genre.

If we take these speech-genres as the primary types of “performance” by which Homer depicts his speakers, the next step is to ask how the important figures of the Iliad make use of the genres that are available to them. This question can be put in two ways, depending on whether one thinks that epic reports speech events or stylizes them as poetry. But I hope to have shown by now that the distinction cannot always be clearly drawn: commanding, flyting, and acts of memory, when we examine them as separable “genres,” already demand to be treated as “poetic” performances, in the sense that they require verbal artistry on the part of the speaker and a commitment to an audience, which in turn, judges the performance. When Homeric poetry portrays a neikos, therefore, it is modeling on the level of epic a {89|90} performance that already has been constructed — and must be judged on — an additional level, as a social act of self-presentation. The modern audience of the Iliad can thus ask, as a literary critic might: Does Homer depict one hero as a better speaker? If so, how can we tell? The answers would have to come from literary stylistics. Thus far, no method has been found to support an answer. But a naive audience, taking mimesis at face value, might ask: Is one hero a better speaker? I suggest that a traditional oral-poetic audience is “naive” inasmuch as it has internalized the conventions of the overarching genre (in this case, epic) to the extent that it can focus more than we can on the primary, subgeneric level, on what a hero says and does, and, most important, how he does it. I am adopting this “naive” view because I believe that the taxonomy of speech terms has given us a native, internal insight into what constitutes important heroic speech. And this view, I suggest, actually pays more attention to style than does a more “literary” analysis, as the “naive” listener of the Iliad assumes that individual speakers — in poems or in the world at large — have an inherent “style”; it is not (as criticism has often treated it) something imposed by an “author.” Heroes are their own authors, performers in every sense.

Three reasons impel me to this way of thinking about Homeric poetry: the findings of social anthropologists; the comparative material from other traditional literatures; and Homeric poetry itself. First, the work of Victor Turner can be cited for its interpretations of art and culture as coequal symbolic systems:

Each culture, each person within it, uses the entire sensory repertoire to convey messages: manual gesticulations, facial expressions, bodily postures, rapid, heavy, or light breathing, tears, at the individual level; stylized gestures, dance patterns, prescribed silences, synchronized movements such as marching, the moves and “plays” of games, sports, and rituals, at the cultural level. [2]

Michael Herzfeld’s fieldwork with modern Cretan hillsmen illustrates perfectly, in a cultural context familiar to Hellenists, the workings of the continuum that Turner describes. It is worth considering Herzfeld’s remarks on the importance of style in “performance” before we examine the heroic performers of muthoi in the Iliad. The anthropologist finds that speech and action equally define a “man” {91} among the inhabitants of “Glendi” (his pseudonym for the village in Rethymnon nome where he worked). In order to be “good at being a man” (kal’ andras), one must know “how to wield a knife; dance the acrobatic steps of the leader of the line (brostaris); respond in elegant, assonant verse to a singer’s mockery; eat meat conspicuously whenever he gets the chance; keep his word but get some profit from it at the same time; and stand up to anyone who dares to insult him. “ [3] Not only are words and deeds both judged, but they are evaluated precisely for style. That is to say, the audience of villagers makes aesthetic judgments, on the basis of a set of conventions (rarely explicit) — a “poetics of manhood. ” And the “performers” act on the same basis. Glendiot men are in

a constant struggle to gain a precarious and transitory advantage over each other. Each performance is an incident in that struggle, and the success or failure of each performance marks its progress. Since eghoismos {self-awareness} is paradoxically a canon of being different— whether as a person, or as a representative of kin group, village, or island—its projection is necessarily poetic: it is the projection of difference for its own sake. [4]

This notion of “style” as a social dynamic enables us to look at Homeric speeches anew, as so many variations by the individual hero on essential (and therefore, conventional) topics, rather than as a literary technique of variatio on the part of Homer. If we stress the role of the performers within the poem, furthermore, and take seriously the speeches as actual moves in a social game, we can perceive that Homer makes implicit indications regarding heroic status with each new “performance” he depicts. This is not to give Homer the role of ethnographer; nor do I claim that the Achaeans are just like Glendiot men. But neither do I think that the emphasis on speech in the Iliad is simply a poetic choice. Anthropology can also show us that some cultures are in fact more concerned with speech-performance than others: the Anang of Nigeria prize the ability to speak wittily and yet meaningfully on all occasions, we are told; the Rundi value eloquence and bragging; traditional Irish communities put great emphases {91|92} on verbal ability and “crack.” [5] In a traditional culture, such as Burundi, the power of speaking is so prized that training in it becomes an essential part of upbringing.

The ideal of good breeding and aristocracy, imfura, includes “speaking well” as one of its principal elements. From about the tenth year, boys in the upper strata are given formal speech-training. The “curriculum” includes composition of impromptu speeches appropriate in relations with superiors in age or status; formulas for petitioning superiors for a gift; composition of amazina, praise-poems; quick-witted, self-defensive rhetoric intended to deflect an accusation or the anger of a superior. Correct formulas for addressing social inferiors, for funeral orations, for rendering judgement in a dispute, or for serving as an intermediary between a petitioner and one’s feudal superior are learned in the course of time as, with increasing age and maturity, each type of activity becomes appropriate. Training includes mastery of a suitable, elegant vocabulary, of tone of voice and its modulation, of graceful gestures with hand and spear, of general posture and appropriate bodily movements, of control of eye-contacts, especially with inferiors, and above all, of speedy summoning of appropriate and effective verbal response in the dynamics of interpersonal relations. [6]

In the description of such a culture, much sounds familiar to the Homerist, who sees in it the Iliadic notion that a hero can and must be taught to be a “speaker of words (muthoi) and a “doer of deeds” (9.443).

We might also notice how the ethnographer is naturally drawn to describe such training in terms of “formulas.” It is essential that we keep in mind this cultural bias toward “formulaic” expression as we read the “poetic” formulas of the Homeric poems: only a deracinated, print culture would view Homeric formulas as devices to aid the composition of poetry. Rather, they belong to the “composition,” if you like, of personal identity in a traditional world. And just as it is obvious that different individuals “perform” their social roles in such cultures through various manners with different degrees of success, {92|93} we should assume that traditional poets have a corresponding freedom of expression, no matter how “formulaic” the medium in which they have been trained. Ćor Huso, the Montenegran epic singer, impressed his stamp on tradition; other singers might consciously choose to remain anonymous “classicists” in the performance of their traditions. [7] Homer certainly belongs in the former group. But the point is that both “formulaic” speech culture and the poetry arising from it allow—indeed require—the individual to have a distinct style. [8] We can juxtapose the remarks of investigators working at the temporal extremes of the Greek tradition and deduce the same conclusion. Herzfeld tells us: “In Glendiot idiom, there is less focus on ‘being a good man’ than on ‘being good at being a man’—a stance that stresses performative excellence, the ability to foreground manhood by means of deeds that strikingly ‘speak for themselves,'” Actions, in such a context, undergo “stylistic transfiguration.” [9] Such a sense of agonistic style structures heroic behavior in Homer, where “the most important value-terms . . . are agathos {good}, esthlos {noble}, aretē {excellence}, kakos, kakotēs {base; baseness}, aiskhron {ugly}, and elenkheiē {disgrace}. These commend successes or decry failures in the field of competitive excellences.” [10] And such a sense guides the poet, who “composes with formulae, and it is by his choice and combination of them that he is judged.” [11]

Comparative evidence from other literary traditions can also show us that it is worthwhile to regard heroes as style-conscious performers. Richard Bauman’s study of thirteenth-century Icelandic sagas leads him to the conclusion that “artistic verbal performance and the performance of honor were mutually interdependent elements of a larger performance complex of central moral significance in Icelandic society. ” Insouciant heroism showed itself, for example, in the way a man acted at the moment of his death; in turn, saga records the “performance.” The value system of shame, praise, and honor, called drengskapr, “was a performance domain par excellence, characterized by the display of signs of moral worth before an audience {93|94} with conscious attention to good form in the pursuit of honor and reputation.” [12] Good form in speaking is central in this quest for reputation, Bauman notes. It is not just what a hero does, but what he says, that catches the eye of the saga composer. [13]

In other traditions, heroes double as nonprofessional poets: witness the eighteenth-century Swahili epic Katirifu, which features a number of such heroic performers, engaged in songs of self-praise. A standard introduction for their compositions runs, “He declared a poem there in the middle of the battle.” [14] This skill is itself a subject for boasting; the hero AH responds to an insulting challenge to identify himself: “I am the miraculous knight, I who do not fear wars. I can compose poetry.” [15] We have already seen in Chapter 2 that the hero requires a memory for phrases and genealogies akin to that of the poet. Other epic traditions show that praise, blame, and lament songs within the narrative play a large role in the characterization of a hero. This is certainly true of Homeric poetry as well: we have only to consider the depiction of Hektor that occurs in the laments of Book 24 by Helen, Andromakhe, and Hekabe. [16] Now I would add that the very act of composing boasts, commands, insults, and stories from memory characterizes the speaker within the poem as a particular type of performer, since these discourse types constitute poetic “genres” outside epic that are subject to audience evaluation in traditional societies.

The system of praise and blame that operates within Homeric society conceivably might have remained implicit in the Iliad. Yet this did not happen. Instead, we see from the start that Homer’s Achaeans and Trojans refer to the system itself: they have a “metalanguage,” a system of terms about speech. Odysseus warns Diomedes, “Son of Tydeus, neither praise nor blame me very much. For you are speaking these things among the Argives, who know” (10.249-50). In his remark, the “performance” of Diomedes—ainos or neikos—is placed against Odysseus’ own understanding of his heroic worth with the {94|95} realization that an Achaean audience would be eager to notice discrepancies between the two. [17] Put another way, Odysseus is here concerned with Diomedes’ speech style. Not only are heroic performers their own “authors,” then, but they fill the role of “critic” as well, since all speech in Homer takes place in an agonistic context. The poet’s concern with ranking heroes emerges clearly in catalogues and invocations within the Iliad (see e.g. 2.577, 673, 760,). An elaborate system of judging heroic worth is explicitly foregrounded in the poem through such narrative devices; Irina Shtal’ has shown that the entire system of epithets for heroes fits within the context of critical praise. [18] I want to point out that the speeches that Homer gives his characters further this narrative strategy, as can be seen splendidly in the teikhoskopia in Book 3, a device designed to turn the narrator’s exposition of mundane fact into a dramatically persuasive scene. But at the same time, the speeches embody an assumption, often overlooked: that heroes themselves can evaluate one another’s “style,” particularly in the act of speaking. To return for a moment to the wall of Troy: we should notice that along with characterizing Agamemnon and the others in terms of physique and prowess, this scene serves to show us speech styles, through the reminiscences of Antenor. And the details he notices when recalling an earlier visit to Troy by Menelaos and Odysseus relate specifically to the “performance” of muthoi (3.212—23):

“But when they wove speeches (muthoi) and plans for all,
Then, you know, Menelaos discoursed in running fashion,
Speaking little, but very clearly (ligeōs), since he is not much with words (polumuthos)
nor one to cast words about (apharmatoepēs). And indeed he was younger.
But when indeed Odysseus much with wiles (polumētis) got up,
he’d stand, he’d look down fixing his eyes on the ground,
{96} the scepter— he would not move it back or forth,
but kept holding it still, looking like a witless man.
You would say he was some stricken, simply unintelligent person.
Yet when he let the great voice out of his chest,
and the words (epea), like winter flakes of snow,
that is when no other mortal could contend with Odysseus.”

Antenor assumes that there is a code of behavior for speakers in such situations, a set of performance conventions: one should move the scepter to make a point, for instance. It is worth noting that the conventions resemble in many ways the traditional speaking behavior taught in contemporary oral cultures, as we have seen in the example of Burundi culture. As it turns out, Odysseus employs an unconventional strategy for capturing his audience, a style that plays off the shared knowledge of conventions, and thereby foregrounds Odysseus’ rhetorical act. By creatively modifying traditional material (the way one holds the scepter), Odysseus brings about a memorable performance. He creates a contrast between his appearance and the reality of his oratorical power; he characterizes himself by a muthos, the perfect vehicle, as we have seen, for self-presentation. Precisely such regard for speech style has been taken by some as an indication of the sophistication and (by implication) the literary value of Homer. As Gotoff notes, “The distinction between the laconic style of Menelaos and the copiousness of Odysseus in Iliad 3, with the accompanying descriptions of their deliveries, bespeaks an author well aware both of stylistic variety and ēthopoiia. The three embassy speeches to Achilles in Iliad 9 demonstrate a sophisticated knowledge of kinds of argumentation and various effects they have on the psychology of Achilles.” [19] Given what we know about performance as a strategy of self-presentation, however, we must now recognize such stylistic awareness as a cultural, and not just a “sophisticated,” poetic process. The former may actually enable the latter to occur.

The heroes’ concern with speech style springs, then, from the need to differentiate oneself and to establish status, an imperative that we have found in ethnographic descriptions of competitive cultures. This relation between status and speech is also explicit in the words of heroic performers. That the status of a person is rated before the hero’s speech emerges from Diomedes’ remark, after he has given his genealogy in full, that the Achaeans cannot now devalue his performance {98|97} (muthon atimēsaite, 14.127) by calling him strengthless and ignoble. Similarly, Odysseus “pulls rank” on Achilles by explicitly contrasting their special strengths, then relying on his own status as elder to demand compliance to his own muthoi (19.216-20):

“Achilles, Peleus’ son, most powerful Achaean, you are stronger than I am, and, not a little, more powerful at the spear. In thought, at least, though, I could surpass you by far, since 1 was born earlier and I know more. Therefore let your heart endure my commands (muthoisin emoisin).”

So speech style, status, and ranking must be taken as related manifestations of the workings of the all-important concept of time (“honor, value, worth, recompense”). [20]

The notion of timē depends on a basic sense of structured inequalities, as can be seen in the instructions of Nestor at 1.278-79: “Never does a scepter-bearing king, to whom Zeus gave glory, have as portion (emmore) an equal value (timē),” “Portion” and “proportion” are inextricable, and it is not coincidental that heroes gauge each other’s speech by calling it kata moiran, “according to proper portion.” [21] The problem of the Iliad appears to be rooted in the clash of two systems: status-based timē and performance-based judgments, the latter an almost economically pragmatic “market-value.” [22] But, in a different view, this is really just one system, in which status must always be re-created anew by performance, while it is concurrently threatened by the performance of other heroes. (Thus, in Agamemnon’s view, Achilles’ offense is to wish to “speak as an equal” and “be likened openly” to the king: the first implies the second—1.186-87.) Speech, in the creative use of it that heroes make, puts the system in motion; the abuse of speech brings the system to a halt. Agamemnon’s gifts alone should not persuade Achilles, because he does not accompany them (despite Nestor’s warning) with the proper style, of “gentle words” (9.113), but allows Nestor to send a traditional enemy of Achilles in the place of the chief. Ironically, Odysseus is given his {97|98} charge with words that fit exactly Odysseus’ own speech strategy of status flaunting (9.160-61): “And let him submit to me inasmuch as I am kinglier and assert that I am more advanced in ancestry (geneēi progenesteros). [23] The strategy is proportionate with Odysseus’ fighting worth, so mere reference to status might carry some persuasive weight. In the case of Agamemnon, such rhetoric is overcharged and using it corrodes the heroic system.

To sum up at this point: ethnography, other literatures, and the Iliad itself concur to convince us of the necessity and consciousness of individual style in traditional society. The heroes of the Homeric poems surely possess individual styles; furthermore, I suggest that these are not mere literary constructs, but are based on a deeper social reality. All this would perhaps seem too obvious to reiterate were it not for two trends affecting recent Homeric study. First, the influential works of Bruno Snell have accustomed critics to believe that the “individual” did not exist as a category of Homeric thought; personal style we are told is only “discovered” in the “lyric age. “ [24] This trend has combined with a second, found in a too-general application of Milman Parry’s work, which amounts to a type of behaviorism, a claim that neither Homer nor his creations could speak with individual style. [25] The first approach has begun to lose ground from one border thanks to careful studies showing the conventional nature of Greek lyric poetry. Rismag Gordesiani has challenged the second notion as it applies to Homeric characters, who are painstakingly depicted as individuals, however conventional the medium of Homeric poetry might be. [26] A full-scale critique of the second trend must await my analysis of formulaic poetry in the next chapters; for now, I point out that individual heroic “style” at some level has been recognized by readers of Homer from antiquity on. [27] Moreover, even {99} scholars who embrace oral-formulaic poetics in some form have recognized characteristic traits related to the speech behavior of certain Homeric figures. Norman Austin notices how Kalkhas cites precedent in his speech to establish reliability; Adam Parry sees Menelaos as always being persuaded by speech; Owen Cramer writes that Odysseus “is made to tailor rhetoric to an audience and situation but occasionally, to burst out with a characteristic, eccentric speech on some special topic. “ [28]

The work of finding characteristic style among Homeric heroes has not advanced beyond impressionistic asides, however, mainly because an acceptable method for working on the problem has not been devised. [29] In the study of style, more so than with any other feature, we require all that the original performance situation would give. An informed view about the style of the poet Homer is nearly impossible in the absence of other long epic productions from his time. Paradoxically, a determination of the style of individual speakers within the Iliad appears closer to attainment because we have a number of “performances” from each of the major heroes: 960 verses of Achilles’ speech, about 500 each for Hektor and Agamemnon, slightly less for Odysseus, Nestor, and Diomedes. In sheer length, the number of verses attributed to these men rivals some heroic poems in other verse traditions, such as the South Slavic. [30] Even if we take into consideration the “copying” phenomenon noticed by Lohmann (in paired speeches, replies tend to follow the structure of the first), the surface of discourse would seem to vary so that individual style might be detected. In [31] a model study of individual variation in traditional storytelling, the folklorist Daniel Crowley has shown the ways in which tellers of “old-story” in Bahamian communities leave their mark: unique phrases and motifs, special gestures, postures, or favorite sound combinations occur with consistency in the performances of the best tellers. [32] Although we cannot use the sociolinguists’ recorders or the folklorists’ fieldnotes, a few of these possible systems of {99|100} variation remain for us in the text of the Iliad and might be recoverable through microscopic philological study, not yet done, on individual phrases or sound sequences. I attempt this with a portion of Achilles’ language in the next chapters.

Meanwhile, we can consider the results of a few investigations into characterizing style in Homer and other traditions, to suggest where we might look for “individuality.” Because adjectives are emotive words, some stylistic contrasts might depend on their use. Gordesiani has demonstrated that Achilles, Agamemnon, and Hektor all use nearly the same percentage of adjectives (about 10 percent of the total number of words given each speaker). The specific adjectives used by these heroes tend to be quite individualized, however: 59 percent of Hektor’s adjectives are not used by Achilles, who has 74.7 percent unlike Hektor’s; Agamemnon’s adjectives match Achilles’ only in 40.8 percent of the occurrences, while Achilles has 71.9 percent that he does not share with Agamemnon. The conclusion must be that the epic consciously seeks to differentiate heroes by their speech in at least one way. [33] Glimmers of such characterization, at different levels of the discourse, come from other epic traditions. It is significant that the Cid in the Spanish epic “is the one most disposed to verbal play.” [34] On the level of formulaic language, Cynewulf’s Old English poems Juliana and Elene distinguish the direct speech of negative characters by making it noticeably less formulaic (in terms of repeated diction) than that of the protagonist. [35] And Bhīma in Sanskrit epic tradition can be distinguished from other characters on the level of speech-act: he performs almost exclusively curses, vows, and the granting of boons. [36]

Let us return once more to Homer’s Iliad. At what level do the heroes explicitly judge another’s discourse? This is not to exclude the possibility that Homer may be signaling heroic capacity at speaking through metrical, phonological, or morphological means. But do the speakers themselves ever refer to these means? No; heroic performance gains approval when it is persuasive, as we saw in the preceding chapter. And the sign of persuasion is that speech moves others to act in sympathy with the speaker. We have seen already that the {100|101} genres associated with the word muthos qualify as important speech types, designed specifically to persuade. The study of style should start with muthoi speeches and those discourses cognate to such speeches which happen to be introduced without the word. In brief, by analyzing these important speech-acts—the discourses of command, flyting, and memory—in the words of major Iliadic characters we will find material enough to make stylistic distinctions regarding the speech of individual heroes. Let us begin with two, the ideal speaker and the worst.

Nestor and Thersites

Nestor of Pylos enters the Iliad just when it seems all speech must fail: Achilles has attacked Agamemnon afresh with a stream of abuse (1.223—44) ending with a threat to the very notion of authority in the assembly, the symbolic casting down of the skēptron. But the arrival of the faintly preternatural Pylian, who has seen two previous generations perish (ephthiath’, 251), renews the dialogue of the contending speakers long enough for them to reach a rough agreement (1.285—303). Several features of this entrance catch our attention. To begin with, the very first effort of Nestor at persuasion succeeds. In a system that judges style by results, Nestor holds a preeminent place; this characteristic will mark all his speech in the poem. The speech he makes on arrival is highly inventive in attempting to appease three separate audiences, the two flyting heroes and the Achaeans in camp. [37] Moreover, the syntax and discourse structure of the speech enact, we might say, the notion of mutual support aimed at in Nestor’s words. Binary structures abound, presenting a rhetorical model, or icon, for two-sidedness. Consider the following only (1.254-84):

A great sorrow has come to Akhaia / There might rejoice
Priam / and Priam’s children
Other Trojans might be glad / if they hear of these two fighting
Who excel at counsel / and at fighting
Both are younger than me / I once consorted with better than you
I never saw such men / nor may I see
As Peirithoos / and Dryas . . .
They were boldest / and fought with boldest . . .
{102} And I fought on my own / But with them no one now might fight
And they understood my counsels / and obeyed my muthos
But you too obey / for obeying is better
You, do not take the girl / but let go
Nor should you, son of Peleus want to strive with kings / since
never a king had an equivalent value
If you are stronger / a goddess mother bore you
But he is more powerful / since he rules over more.

Agamemnon’s comment, that Nestor has spoken kata moiran, can be taken literally: the command to be reconciled is rigorously “proportionate” at the poetic level, down to the rhythm and structure of each verse, as it is at the rhetorical level, according praise and blame equally to Agamemnon and Achilles. In fact, Nestor resembles the perfect praise-poet in the ideology of the Indo-European tradition precisely because he enacts this equal distribution. It is worth noting in this connection that the epithet “having sweet words,” heduepēs, with which he is introduced in our Iliad (1.248), has a long heritage in this tradition, and furthermore, refers to divine speech within Greek archaic poetry. [38]

The application of gnomic precedents and the employment of recollection present two more speech-act-related features characteristic of Nestor in this speech and in all his performances. Not only does Nestor say “obey” two times, to frame his reminiscences about his early fighting career (259, 274—same metrical position); the second mention of the theme prompts a proverbial statement, “since to obey is better. ” This leads into a second generalizing statement, also proverbial in tone, about the privileges of a scepter-bearing king (278). The two strategies, proverbs and recollections, are related, in that both require the formal presentation of “memory,” one on the level of narrative, the other that of the phrase. Again, as with all speeches, we could view these devices as generally Homeric. Austin noted that “coherence, lucidity, prolixity, expansive reminiscences couched in a more elaborate, even Pindaric rhetoric of ring-composition, balance, antithesis . . . can mark the moment of despair or consternation in the Iliad as effectively as those stark silences (as when Achilles hears news of Patroklos’s death), which strike us with such force.” In other {102|103} words, “Nestorian” speech characteristics are used by the poet with effect, no matter who the speaker might be: Phoinix, for example, uses such devices. I would agree, but argue further that the Iliad gives such speech style the highest value in the composition, associates it in its fullest form with Nestor, and depicts other heroes as striving to achieve a Nestorian fluency, length, and authority. [39] Of equal significance, however, is our finding that the style of Nestor, which has struck many critics as a caricature of geriatric loquacity, in fact duplicates the most esteemed style in a number of oral cultures today. The Arab proverb, “Enough repetition will convince even a donkey,” encapsulates the value attached in one rhetorical tradition to syntactic parallels, lexical couplets, figures of etymology, and paraphrases. Such devices are highly prized in a tradition where presentation and not “proof” (in the Western sense) is persuasive. [40] A good speaker among the Haya is expected to “spice up” speech with “savory bits,” bilungo: proverbs, sayings, quotes, and tales. [41] And the Somali orator must possess “a good command of the seemingly endless store of Somali proverbs.” [42] The binary structures and gnomic sayings of Nestor’s orations, then, have a good chance of representing an actually preferred speech style among archaic Greeks—not just one Homer happened to use.

Nestor employs the gnomic statement in a variety of ways. He joins the present need for fighters with his own past heroic career, in Book 4, by contrasting in a binary pair the kouros he was with the gēras that now oppresses him, generalizing: “The gods did not give all to men all at once” (4.320). The statement effectively plays against the tenor of the rest of the speech, by suggesting that Nestor is still most knowledgeable even though he cannot fight as he used to. Sometimes, it is true, the gnomic quality of his speech borders on the obvious, as when he assures Agamemnon that “it is not possible for the wounded to battle.” (14.63). In context, however, we see that {103|104} even here the gnomic device is meant to soften Nestor’s commands, in a manner to be contrasted with Agamemnon’s directive strategies. At times, an entire command by Nestor depends on proverbial statement, as when he directs Diomedes to leave battle, “For now Zeus grants glory to this one, today; later, to us, if he wants, he will give it. A man could never draw out the intent of Zeus, even if he were very strong, since he is much more powerful” (8.141-44). Nestor is obeyed, then, because he defers to a higher authority, one he seems to know with intimate theological insight. No other hero reads the signs as well as he does. This authoritative force, when integrated in a longer discourse, gives to Nestor’s formulations not merely a constative but even performative force, in the terms of speech-act theory. When he says to the council before the embassy, “Without brotherhood, without tradition, without hearth is the one who desires cruel war within the people (ἀφρήτωρ ἀθέμιστος ἀνέστιός ἐστιν ἐκε͂ικνος / ὃς πολέμου/ἔραται ἐπιδημίου ὀκρυόεντος, 9.63-64), the statement is the equivalent of a pronouncement: “Let such a one be without any standing.” The archaic asyndeton reinforces our feeling that this is a traditional legal-religious phrase.

Twice Nestor’s gnomic statements allude to the use of speech. We have already seen the first saying, “To obey is better.” The second plays a pivotal role in the speech urging Patroklos to beseech Achilles: “Good is the encouraging speech (paraiphasis) of a companion” (11.793). This gnomic saying turns out to be ironically appropriate in the case of Patroklos, working at the price of his own death. But it also draws our attention to a further characteristic of Nestor’s words—the explicit concern with speech, speech style, and the effect of oratory. We see this in his rebukes, decrying the forgotten oaths, compacts, and counsels of the Achaeans when their morale is low (2.339-41). He frames his displeasure at the troops in terms of speech: not only are the Achaeans childlike, they “speak like infantile children” (2.337-38). He draws a contrast between battle and flyting words (epeess’ eridainomen, 2.342). The underlying dichotomy between effective speech and mere words is one we might pose in terms of epos and muthos. Note that Nestor confidently asserts his own speaking power by denying the former, “mere word”: οὔ τοι ἀπόβλητον ἔπος ἔσσεται, ὅττι κεν εἴπω (2.361; “Not a toss-away word will I speak”). He affirms instead the weight of his own muthoi: “They obeyed my command” (muthōi, 1.273); “I will order with counsel and commands” (muthois, 4.323). In this connection, we must {104|105} remember that Nestor is depicted as actually instructing other heroes in the use of speech within the Iliad at least twice, in the scene we analyzed earlier when he performs for Diomedes’ edification the proper way to enact a muthos (9.52—78), and later, when he instructs the embassy members on the technique to be used in persuading Achilles (9.179-81). The control of speech, furthermore, appears to rest with Nestor. In his function as repository of Achaean traditions, the old man specifically reports the duties of kings, and does so in terms of speech. [43] He reminds Agamemnon that the king “must both speak a word and listen, and give authority to another, whenever one’s thumos impels him to speak for the good” (9.100-103). [44] While thus preserving the ideology of the perfectly reciprocal speech situation, including both sides under the terms of his speech, he also excludes heroes from the arena of speech, by having pronounced “without themis” one who wars with the group: notice that the king has “scepter and traditions” (themistas, 9.99). The pairing implies that both are necessary for the authoritative enactment of speech.

Not only is he advisor to the king and instructor of heroes in speech; Nestor, in Homer’s description (10.212-14) of the night foray, actually promises kleos—fame as enshrined in oral tradition—to whoever undertakes the dangerous mission.

“Great would be his fame beneath the heaven
toward all men, and for him there would be fine gifting. “

The power to guarantee fame in the tradition would seem to put Nestor on a level with such divine speakers as the Muses, with whom the epithet heduepēs, “sweet-voiced,” has already associated him. It is less surprising, in this context, to hear the old hero introduce remarks later in this book with “shall I tell a falsehood or shall I speak truly?” (10.534). Like the Muses of Hesiod, who assert that they can tell truth or lies (Theogony 27-28), Nestor’s control of the medium is absolute. This adds a new dimension to his commands and rebukes in the Iliad.

It might be argued that we are veering away from the study of style and into “characterization” or narrative when we examine what Nestor {105|106} says about speech, rather than how he makes his speeches. But the line between style and other aspects of the poetry is difficult to draw exactly because Homeric ideology would conflate the two: style is the man. We can, however, be more specific about the level at which stylization occurs. Now that we have looked at some distinctive individual features, it is time to turn to Nestor’s repertoire of speeches as a whole. We find that the totality of his performances marks Nestor as a unique orator, a speaker whose rhetoric rests on eulogy. He makes thirty-two speeches in the poem, ranging in length from 2 to 147 lines. Eighteen different speech-introduction formulas accompany these, so it is impossible to say that the poet characterizes Nestor at this level; of these, only five contain the word muthos (2.433; 10.203, 81, 190; and 23.305). Yet, when analyzed in terms of genre of discourse, all but three of the speeches Nestor makes fall under the muthos categories we have previously identified. [45] Most important, the distribution among categories is unique: Nestor can make simple commands (e.g. 7.327, his instructions to build the wall); but he rarely does. He can use the language of fly ting; he does so with an idiosyncratic use of the conventions. The discourse of memory is what permeates the other two genres in his repertoire.

To take several examples from Nestor’s range of command speeches: the imperatives directed at Agamemnon and Achilles in Nestor’s first intervention are clear enough (1.259, 274, 282, and indirect command at 283-84); but the medium in which these speech-acts float is of a different nature, a long recollection of his fight against the Centaurs. Again, a straightforward command to keep the horses together becomes, in Nestor’s rendition, a reminiscence, and he gives the background motivations for his own commands, in a way no other hero attempts, saying, “That is the way the men of old (proteroi) sacked cities and walls” (4.308). The command at 15.661—”be men”— is filled out by Nestor in a manner unparalleled in the other occurrences of this formula, as he calls for the Achaeans to remember, not “raging strength,” the usual phrase (e.g. 8.174), but “children and wives and estate and parents” (15.663). In other words, his employment of recollection differs markedly, whether it be of other times or other places and persons. Of course, the best illustration of memory in the service of an order is Nestor’s long and persuasive performance {106|107} to Patroklos in Book 11, in which the story of the Pylian and Epeian raids is recounted. I discussed this speech at some length in Chapter 2; here we need only point out that Nestor’s recollection has the authority of a poetic performance as well as a personal experience. That is, the poetic narrator’s control over battle description here and here only in the composition passes to Nestor: his “speech” is an Iliadic narrative of a neikos (see 11.671). [46]

Agamemnon responds after one early speech by Nestor, “Again you defeat the sons of Achaeans in speaking, old man” (2.370), an outright indication that Nestor is unmatched when it comes to the contest of words in which every hero is involved in the Iliad. Although he practices rebukes, his style in this genre is also characteristic for its tonal nuances. The strategy that we have seen Agamemnon and Odysseus use, of mentioning status to enforce orders, occurs in Nestor’s speech but with a different orientation. In a gently instructive turn, he tells Diomedes: “You talk intelligently to the kings, since you spoke in proportion” (kata moiran, 9.59). “But come, I, who claim I am more honored/older than you (geraiteros) will speak out and narrate everything.” When he does begin a neikos with Diomedes (10.158, neikese), Nestor changes his tone after the younger hero calls him “hard to deal with” (amēkhanos, 167). He pauses and recollects: yes, there are other, less elderly Achaeans who could rouse the camp, but the crisis requires him, says Nestor. The merest hint of flyting rhetoric comes just at the end of this speech, when he hurls back the topic of old age that Diomedes brought up and twists it into pointed reason for Diomedes to follow his own command: “for you are younger” (10.176). A similar deflection of criticism had already occurred earlier in the scene, when Nestor, speaking to Agamemnon, declares he will rebuke (neikesō, 10.114) Menelaos for not being awake, “even though he is close in affection and respectful” (philon … aidoion). Both the indirect nature of this rebuke (which Agamemnon assures him is not needed) and the hesitant phrasing show Nestor’s reluctance to practice this genre of discourse. Only a regard for fairness and for {107|108} proportionate speech impels him to mention the subject (cf. “I will not conceal” at line 10. 115, a verb used in other formulas to introduce full disclosures). As with the category of command, so too in “flyting” speeches, one long performance that is explicitly in the genre turns out to be an exercise in creative recollection. The story of a single combat with Ereuthalion occupies the bulk of Nestor’s speech before the duel in Book 7; yet the performance is summed up by the poet with the words hōs neikess’ ho gerōn (7.161) and the effect is clearly that of a speech of rebuke, as the chief Achaeans spring up to compete for the event.

The style of Nestor, then, as we define it with the help of the “native” categories of genre, is a coherent system of styles: his commands are supported by gnomic utterance and the authority of recollection; rebukes are backed up by his status as keeper of traditions and overseer of poetic memory. And memory, I suggest, is active throughout Nestor’s rhetoric at yet another level, that of praise: he is continually “memorializing” his audience, in a manner akin to the poet’s. This process enters many of the speeches by Nestor at their opening or close. A particularly striking example comes in his directions to his son before the chariot race in Book 23, which aim at reminding Antilokhos of the role of “cunning intelligence” in driving. [47] The speech begins with praise: “Zeus and Poseidon have loved you and taught all types of horsemanship, so I do not have to teach you very much” (23.306—7). The disclaimer of speaking seriously is a well-known device, a sign that this is to be an extended and important performance by Nestor. This is confirmed by the next lines, taken up by the longest block of gnomic utterances in any speech in the Iliad (315-25). At the end, an allusion to loss of general praise (“there will be shame for you,” 342) forms the transition between the exact instructions of Nestor and the closure, another warning by reference to famous examples (346—48). As we reread Nestor’s speeches, the repetitions that may have seemed gratuitous, at best obvious instances of captatio benevolentiae, now make sense as reflexes of Nestor’s consistent praise function in the poem. His confident assurance about Agamemnon’s veracity arises from his traditional role as king’s praiser (2.79-83). His role of instructor overlaps with this, so that praise accompanies his mild corrections of Diomedes (9.53-54—Diomedes is best in counsel—among his peers). {108|109} The stronger correction of Agamemnon requires fuller praise, so Nestor accords it seven verses before speaking his own mind (9.96-102). Nestor’s praise after an exploit—as his words to Odysseus after the Doloneia—resembles a poetic eulogy of a heroic deed from the past. He uses phrasing reserved for his own distant career: compare 10.550, ἀλλ’ οὔ πω τοίους ἵππους ἴδον οὐδ’ ἐνόησα, with 1.262, οὐ γάρ πω τοίους ἴδον ἀνέρας οὐδὲ ἴδωμαι. So we see the speaker who promises kleos bestowing it as well. This function of Nestor sums up his style; it also brings us to his opposite in the realm of Iliadic speech, Thersites.

Both the ideal speaker Nestor and the pointy-headed, bandy-legged “worst of the Achaeans,” Thersites, are described with the same phrase, “clear speaker” (ligus …. agorētēs, 1.248, 2.246). Our first instinct is to call sarcastic the application of the phrase to Thersites. [48] After all, it occurs in Odysseus’ neikos speech (2.245-47):

And looking darkly he rebuked him with a harsh muthos,
“Thersites akritomuthe, even though you are a clear speaker,
restrain yourself, and do not strive against the kings on your own (oios erizemenai).”

Yet there is some reason for taking the description seriously. As Kirk observes, Thersites is good at what he does, delivering “a polished piece of invective.” [49] Moreover, the arguments Thersites makes have long been recognized as recapitulating the very points Achilles has made in Book 1. [50] And his strategy at times appears simply to make use of arguments available in any aggrieved hero’s traditional stock. For the tack of toting up one’s opponents’ goods, compare 2.226— 27—”the huts are full of bronze, many select women are in the huts” with Antilokhos’s sharp words to Achilles (23.549-50): “Much gold you have in the hut, much bronze and movable goods, women-slaves and single-hoofed horses.” If we are meant to think of Thersites’ speech as flawed in some way, at what level does it fail, and is it related to the style of the speech?

Thersites’ speech is overdetermined to look bad by a number of criteria, at least two of which I would call stylistic. Perhaps less stylebound {109|110} is his role as a standard buffoon, which may have deeper ritual or folkloric associations. [51] Also more immediately relevant to traditional theme than to style is Thersites’ function as “blame” figure. As Nagy has demonstrated, through the ignominious defeat of Thersites, “epos is here actually presenting itself as parallel to praise poetry by being an institutional opposite of blame poetry.” [52] This is an important point, because it explains also why Nestor is the ideal speaker in the view of the Iliad. We have seen that Nestor always gains consent and that he uses the style of praise to structure his speech. In our earlier discussions, we did not connect these features; now I suggest that it is exactly his role as praise-poet—therefore, as one who practices the craft of the epic itself—that gains Nestor the most explicitly favorable depiction of any speaker in the poem.

To return to Thersites: other indicators of his flawed performance may have to do with his class (perhaps nonaristocratic); his demagogic tendency to generalize and speak for the entire contingent, whereas Achilles had spoken for himself alone; and his misrepresentation of the true tradition surrounding Achilles’ anger. [53] But I should like to focus on the more stylistically determined traits, using the distinction I have found between epos and muthos. The first critical term to examine is the insult Odysseus throws at Thersites: akritomuthos (2.246). I have argued that the level of muthos, of significant self-presentational speech, is a relevant stylistic category for Homeric speakers. We should recall the admiring description of Menelaos’ style, ou polumuthos (3.214). This was correlated, in the case of Menelaos, with a style that did not miss the mark by tossing words about aimlessly: oud’ apharmatoepēs (3.215). When we see Thersites for the first time, the poet draws attention to qualities in his speech that directly oppose the good style of Menelaos: he speaks a great deal and he does not put his words in good order (epea . . . akosma . . . polla, 2.213). The implication that Thersites misses the mark of proportionate speech comes in Homer’s observation that the blamer says whatever he thinks will get a laugh (2.215). In other words, he is just an entertainer, not a “performer” in the heroic sense. In this connection, {110|111} we should pay more attention to the nearly untranslatable epithet akritomuthos. Thersites’ style deserves no respect because he does not have the heroic martial performance record needed to back up his words: again, style for the hero is a total notion, a proportion of words and deeds. We can contrast Nestor once again: because Thersites does not have a valid poetic memory for his own career, the audience (of Achaean heroes and epic hearers) cannot perform the critical judgment necessary to validate his muthos. It remains “indeterminate” or “undiscriminated.” The verbal idea contained in the first part of the compound adjective is one of careful selection, what a commander must exercise to pick out the best troops (2.362, krin’), the opposite of massing things together (as in a common tomb: 7.337, akriton)—in a word, critical ability. The term, then, underscores a performance value, the capacity to judge one’s own acts and be judged for them. In the other passage where muthoi are called “undiscriminated,” we can see the lack of connection between verbal behavior and martial performance prominently foregrounded. Iris rebukes Priam (2.796-97):

“Old man, to you unjudged words are always dear
as once during peace. But war inescapable has arisen.”

“Unjudged muthoi” is a contradiction in terms; such words would be a masquerade of martial speech in the context of peace. Real muthoi require action. [54] That Homer pictures the Trojan elders, including Priam, as spectators to this action, rather than participants, emerges later in the famous scene on the wall, where they are described as “stopped by old age from warring, but fine public speakers (agorētai), like cicadas” (3.150-51). Their style is not more harshly judged only because the Trojan elders are innocuous. By heroic standards, it is certainly as distasteful as Thersites’ style. In contrast, those who perform earn the right to talk, because deeds enacted automatically offer a defense against blame: Nestor tells Diomedes as much in 8.152-56 (Trojan widows will not believe it if Hektor ever calls Diomedes a coward).

Commentators do not draw out the nuances of akritomuthos as a stylistic term, but treat it together with the other derogatory epithets {111|112} applied to Thersites; we are told it means the same as ametroepēs, literally, “having unmeasured utterance.” My findings about the precision of Homeric speech words make easy synonymity suspect, so, while I acknowledge that this second epithet comes out of the same view of Thersites’ speech (that it goes too far without a limit imposed by proportionate heroic deeds), I believe that the word highlights even more radically the surface features of Thersites’ style. We recall that epos refers to the product of speaking. What does one hear in Thersites’ speech? If performed aloud, the speech strikes us as containing massive correption, the reduction of long vowels and diphthongs from their usual metrical value forming a “heavy” syllable in the hexameter, to a “light, ” short value. In addition, synizesis ( the combining of normally separate vowel sounds to produce one) produces the same auditory effect: Thersites slurs his words. Consider the underlined words:

“Ἀτρεῖδη, τέο δὴ αὖτ’ ἐπιμέμφεαι ἠδὲ χατίζεις;
πλεῖαί toi χαλκοῦ κλισίαι, πολλαὶ δὲ γυναῖκες
εἰσὶν ἐνὶ κλισίης ἐξαίρετοι, ἃς τοι Ἀχαιοὶ
πρωτίστψ δίδομεν, εὖτ’ ἂν πτολίεθρον ἕλωμεν.
ἦ ἔτι καὶ χρυσοῦ ἐπιδεύεαι, ὅν κέ τις οἴσει
Τρώων ἱπποδάμων ἐξ Ἰλίου υἷος ἄποινα,
ὅν κεν ἐγὼ δήσας ἀγάγω ἢ ἄλλος Ἀχαιῶν,
ἠὲ γυναῖκα νέην, ἵνα μίσγεαι ἐν φιλότητι,
ἥν τ’ αυτὸς ἀπονόσφι κατίσχεαι; οὐ μὲν ἔοικεν
ἀρχὸν ἐόντα κακῶν ἐπιβασκέμεν υἷας Ἀχαιῶν.
ὦ πέπονες, κάκ’ ἐλέγχε’, Ἀχαιῖδες, οὐκέτ’ Ἀχαιοί,
οἴκαδέ περ σὺν νηυσὶ νεώμεθα, τόνδε δ’ ἐῶμεν
αὐτοῦ ἐνὶ Τροίῃ γέρα πεσσέμεν, ὄφρα ἴδηται
ἤ ῥά τί οἱ χἠμεῖς προσαμύνομεν, ἦε και οὐκί˙
ὃς καὶ νῦν Ἀχιλῆα, ἕο μέγ’ ἀμείνονα φῶτα,
ἠτίμησεν˙ ἑλὼν γὰρ ἔχει γέρας, αὐτὸς ἀπούρας.
ἀλλὰ μάλ’ οὐκ Ἀχιλῆϊ χόλος φρεαίν, ἀλλὰ μεθήμων˙
ἤ γὰρ ἄν, Ἀτρείδη, νῦν ὕστατα λωβήσαιο.”


A count of correptions per number of lines shows that Thersites’ eighteen verses contain this feature ten times. We can contrast this 55 percent rate with a 30 percent occurrence rate in the speech of Nestor (nine times in thirty lines, 1.254-84): I choose this for comparison because the two are so explicitly juxtaposed as speakers by Homer in {112|113} other ways. Of course, these figures only make full sense with the background of statistics for correption in the rest of the Iliad. Stephen Kelly’s work indicates that the average rate of correption for narrative verses in the poem is 20 percent; for speeches, it is 40 percent. I conclude from this, therefore, that Nestor, “of sweet speech,” sounds like Homer as we first hear him. Thersites, on the other hand, is quite literally “without meter” in his performance, markedly more so than the average hero. [55]


Because the chief commander of the Achaeans is by definition not the ideal speaker, Nestor, we might expect Homer to characterize Agamemnon’s style as somehow less fluent than Nestor’s. Agamemnon himself acknowledges Nestor’s superiority at speaking in the assembly, as we saw earlier (2.370, agorēi nikas) but this tells us only that he regards Nestor as a successful persuader of heroes. Though we remain aware of the many levels of “style” on which Homer operates, including meter, I will continue in the rest of this chapter to dwell on only a few notable features, using the analysis of Nestor as a paradigm for the investigation. I find that Agamemnon’s style is indeed different from other major heroic performance techniques: conscious of his lack of skill, and threatened by others’ speech, he attempts to compensate by two strategies: adding the themes and diction of the flyting genre to as many discourses as he can, even those explicitly framed as commands; and indulging in a poetics of excess, as shown in hyperbolic expressive devices.

If we continue with the notion that heroic speeches, no matter what the context in the Iliad, exhibit a “dominant” genre, then the presence of such a genre in Agamemnon’s speeches shows up, first, by a simple contrast with Nestor’s speech. Agamemnon’s forty-six speeches are introduced by thirty-one different formulaic phrases, and so they would seem to be somewhat more varied in nature, at first sight. But, whereas only one speech by Nestor is introduced as a neikos, no fewer than seven by Agamemnon are described on introduction with diction {113|114} appropriate to rebuke and dispute. [56] Furthermore, when we categorize each speech according to its genre of discourse, it emerges that only one of the forty-six originates primarily as a discourse of memory. What is more, this speech remains a highly ambiguous recollection, not of personal heroism (unlike Nestor’s) but of a story about Ate’s influence over Zeus during the time of Herakles’ birth (19.91-133), and it is told not to persuade his audience (again compare Nestor’s recollections) but to excuse himself. Even then, the story seems ironically to put Agamemnon in a bad light, as many have noticed. Instead of the authority of memory, Agamemnon more often than not employs the threat of violence to achieve his way.

As with Nestor, the poet characterizes Agamemnon deftly in his very first speech. The “hard muthos” (1.25) falls under our heading of “command,” but the illocutionary force of the directive is clothed here in the diction of a threat: “Do not let me meet you lingering by the ships, old man . . . lest the god’s staff and fillet not do you any good.” Agamemnon, like any speaker, has the option of making directives in a number of ways, as we saw in Chapter 1; that Homer chooses to give him this tonal range is a significant sign of style. The other seemingly straightforward commands that Agamemnon makes strike us as distinctive, and even deficient, although on the surface they may not rely on rough language. This is the poet’s doing: Homer shows us Agamemnon basing his orders on a false dream (2.55-75), or constructing a plausible command to retreat, but under false pretenses (2.109—41), or even denying that he is giving a directive (as when he tells the two Ajaxes, “I do not command you two—for it is not fit to urge you on,” 4.286), all the while using his limited praise ability to do precisely that. Homer calls Agamemnon’s bluff; here, the speech is introduced with the marked phrase “winged words,” so that the audience, at least, realizes it is a directive. And again, when Agamemnon seems to give Diomedes a free hand in picking a companion for the night foray, the command—to pick the best even if he is not the more kingly—does not mean what it says; Homer observes the real motivation after quoting this last line: “He feared for Menelaos” (10.240).

A certain curtness of address and an abrupt style characterize these speeches of Agamemnon; we get the impression that any added {114|115} words would only be threats or abuse. The declaration that Menelaos has won the duel, for example (3.455-60), reduces what the audience knows was a case of divine intervention to the level of a simple breach of contract, justifying a legal payment. The simplification of facts, juxtaposed with the poet’s rich interpretation of the action, works to characterize Agamemnon as a distorting abuser, closer in his speech behavior to Thersites than to Nestor. [57]

It could be argued that the preceding effects are functions of the interplay between speech and narrative, not “stylistic” traits so much as tricks of narrative. I still wish to argue that such poetic strategies on the part of Homer are coordinated with the representation of Agamemnon in speech alone; if we examine only the direct discourse of the hero, it becomes clear that the tactics of neikos speech permeate his language. We have already seen the workings of Agamemnon’s extended neikos in the scenes from Book 4 analyzed in Chapter 2. Now we might turn to those speeches that pose themselves primarily as another sort of discourse, commands, in order to get a closer look at Agamemnon’s style. Our sense of Agamemnon’s character is shaped by two related characteristics in these: the intrusive gibe and the insulting blunder. It is the unexpected change of voice in the first that puts one off balance, creating the impression that Agamemnon is a dangerously unstable character. His first address to Achilles in the poem begins with a mild warning against trying to trick him verbally, and the tone of “good though you are” at this point need not be sarcastic (1.131-32). But a few lines later, Agamemnon envisions the possibility that the Achaeans will not obey him, and he resorts to threats (137-39): “If they do not give, I myself will go and take your prize or that of Ajax or Odysseus.” This said, he shifts tack again rapidly: “But we will think these things over later” (140); instructions for returning Khryseis follow. Just when the audience thinks that the explosive Agamemnon has calmed down, the instructions turn from a distant third-person imperative to a direct address, and the gibe sputters out: “Let there be one leading counsel-bearing man, Ajax or Idomeneus or glorious Odysseus … or you, son of Peleus, most amazing of all men, so you can propititate the far-worker for us, by sacrifice” (1.144-47). That the epithet (again ambiguous) is here {116|117} meant maliciously we can be sure, since the final words of Agamemnon must be taken as an allusion to Achilles’ role thus far—his divinely prompted undertaking to discover the reason for Apollo’s wrath (1.53-67), which Agamemnon must interpret as a grab for power by one pretending piety. [58] The gibe at the end of a speech comes also in Agamemnon’s most noticeable rhetorical miscalculation, his instructions to the embassy: “Let him be subdued—Hades you know is unappeasable and unconquerable—for which reason it is most hateful of gods to men. And let him be subservient to me, inasmuch as I am more kingly and claim to be more advanced in ancestry” (9.158-61).

Because such intrusive swipes are hardly creditable, we might wish to excuse them as thoughtless blunders. Indeed in some passages, it appears that Agamemnon uses the tactics of neikos to the wrong audience. In a speech meant to save the life of Menelaos (we assume), he reminds his brother that “even Achilles feared to meet this one {Hektor} in glorifying battle, and he is far better than you” (7.113-14). The fly ting rhetoric here cuts two victims at once, the absent Achilles and Menelaos, called second-rate to his face. In another brief address, where we assume that Agamemnon is friendly toward Teucer, the words of encouragement and promise of gifts do not hide the underlying insult: Teucer is to shoot well in order to glorify his father “Telamon, who raised you when small, and even though you were illegitimate took you into his household” (8.283—84). This is the strategy of shaming the hearer, a well-known device from neikos but disconcerting in this context. We should note that the context itself is typical of Agamemnon’s speech. Instead of promising kleos (compare Nestor’s offer before the Doloneia, earlier), the faulty speaker must hold out material reward only. Teucer is not even to get “glory” in this scenario; instead, he will give it to his father (eukleies epibēson, 285). To sum up: an audience is never quite sure what the illocutionary force of Agamemnon’s speech is meant to be. [59] He walks the line between praise and blame, never handing out either effectively. The same motif—attendance at the dais, the communal heroic meal {116|117} becomes in his mouth a way to praise Idomeneus (4.257-64) but a means of insulting Odysseus (4.343-46), and when we hear the latter application, we must rethink the former: Agamemnon could easily have transformed that, too, into an insult. Agamemnon’s audience, aware of the flyting conventions and his trigger-happy employment of them, does not dare step out of line.

The general resort to the language of neikos by Agamemnon betrays an uncertainty about his power at speech which, in circular fashion, only makes his rhetoric more nervous and deficient. The poet explicitly refers to Agamemnon’s failure of nerve in terms meant to contrast him with Nestor once again. Compare, for instance, the confident old man: “No one will plan a plan better than the one I have in mind, either of the men of old or now” (9.104-5) with the doubting commander: “Now there may be one to tell a better cunning plan (mētin) than this {his own} either a young man or one from of old. I would welcome it” (14.107-8). In this connection, it is even more ironic that the story Agamemnon recounts in Book 19 begins with Hera’s determination to frustrate the public performance of Zeus: “You will speak falsely nor will you bring completion to the muthos” (19.107). Agamemnon has the same problem with bringing his muthoi to fruition. A further reference to this topic, in Achilles’ ostensibly commendatory speech during the funeral, may then be a concealed insult: he calls on Agamemnon to give the simple order for dispersal, “For the troop of Achaeans will most obey you and your muthoi” (23.156—57)—an assertion thus far not proven in the Iliad.

A good indication of Agamemnon’s lack of confidence in speech comes from Homer’s deployment of the epithet “clear speaker,” ligus agorētēs. The poet used it of Nestor; Thersites earns it in Odysseus’ portrayal of him; but Agamemnon seems to say this as a way of explaining his own lack of forcefulness after hearing Achilles: “In a great crowd of men, how could anyone hear or speak? Even a clear speaker is hindered” (19.81-82). It is clear from context that Agamemnon is not even as effective as Thersites in being a ligus agorētēs. Perhaps it is this mistrust of his own power that brings Agamemnon to be more explicit about just what speech-act he claims to be performing, as if the audience might not be able to read his language, or to clear the channel of communication. He says, “I will threaten you like this” (1.181); he states outright, “I am not beseeching you” (1.174); he identifies the quarrel involving him as a Zeus- {117|118} given neikos (2.375); and he later recalls both his destructive order and the resentful speech it caused as examples of muthos (19.84-85). At the same time, he fears what other people will say and even questions their right to speak. [60] “If the gods have made him a spearman . . . for that do they allow him to speak formal reproaches?” (oneidea muthēsasthai, 1.291-92), Agamemnon asks rhetorically. The poetics of heroic performance would require an affirmative answer; Agamemnon, however, seems untutored in these poetics.

The final characteristic of his negative self-projection when it comes to performance shows in Agamemnon’s repeated anxiety about receiving a bad reputation. So vivid is this threat that he can imagine the future vaunts of Trojans (4.178-81) over Menelaos’ tomb. The topic intrudes in an otherwise conventional troop-urging speech, when he gnomically says that fleeing men get no kleos (5.532). Before sending the embassy, he reiterates his horror of returning home “with bad reputation” (dusklea, 9.22), and in the thick of attack he declares that Zeus wants his troops to perish “without name” (14.70). It is significant that the only positive fame we hear Agamemnon imagining is that related to the punitive damages he will extract from Troy, the repayment “which will exist even among men to come” (3.459-60).

With this attitude toward speech and performance in mind, we can now understand better the motives for what I have called Agamemnon’s “poetics of excess.” For, while it is true that he may be called “illiterate because of his insensitivity to speech, thought, and their relation to action,” he still attempts to speak. [61] One cannot bow out of the arena of speech. The speeches offer us more, in terms of details and emotive expression, because Agamemnon knows he has less to give. Thus the vehemence of his words to Kalkhas, making three denials in as many lines, all to the effect that the seer has nothing good to say (1.106-8). Here, too, we might recall his complicated computations of the relative strengths of Trojan against Achaean forces (2.123—31); again, the technique is used to construct an excuse. This is not Nestorian “full” style, but a less intelligent heaping up of detail for the sake of sounding knowledgeable. At the level of the phrase, {118|119} the technique shows itself in needless parallelism and repetition. Line 2.380, for example, is echoed in the same speech by 2.386:

Τρωσὶν ἀνάβλησις κακοῦ ἔσσεται, οὐδ’ ἠβαιόν.
οὐ γὰρ παυσωλή γε μετέσσεται, οὐδ’ ἠβαιόν.

There is no point to the repeating of the final phrase, though. This pair encloses four imperatives, each phrase starting with eu. The excessive character of the performance turns nearly comical, however, since the martial advice—to hold the shield well and guide the chariot—sits alongside an injunction to “give well the swift horses dinner” (2.383). Agamemnon’s attempt at a Nestorian balanced phrasing is equally trivial in this speech: “One’s sword belt will make for sweat around the chest . . . one’s horse will sweat straining at the polished chariot,” he says (388, 390). Such overwrought surface effects are not convincing. His self-presentation occurs in these terms as well, as Agamemnon describes his travails (to Nestor, it should be noted) with detail hovering between the clinical and the poetic: he wanders around with insomnia, sleep does not “sit on the eyes,” his heart “leaps out of my chest,” and his limbs are atremble (10.91—95). No other hero describes himself in this way.

The rhetoric of excess is, of course, the underlying strategy of Agamemnon’s endless offer of gifts to Achilles in Book 9; Agamemnon acts as if merely listing things without thinking about the effects of his earlier speech is a sufficient performance of goodwill. Given this consistently overblown style, an audience might well begin to ignore the speaker’s actual words or suspect his intent. As Pindar later put it, there is satiety even in praise. Agamemnon, to sum up, is a deficient rhetorician because he violates proportions. He tells his brother,

I never saw or heard someone mention one man having devised so many destructive deeds in a day as Hektor, the one dear to gods, has done to the Achaeans, on his own, neither a god’s son nor a goddess’s. Deeds he has done so many as will upset the Argives, I say, long and for a long time (dētha te kai dolikhon). For he devised so many evils for the Achaeans (10.47-52)

Contrast with this hysterical accumulation the laconic style that begins Nestor’s battle description: “I never saw such men nor may I see” (1.262-65).

Odysseus and Diomedes

{119|120} The best emblem for Odysseus’ speaking style is the description of his ship, drawn up on the beach at Troy halfway between those of Ajax and Achilles, with both extremes within earshot (8.223). For the key to Odyssean rhetoric is positioning, the stance the hero takes toward his audience and his aptitude at varying this alignment. If Nestor succeeds as a speaker because he has authority and knows how to praise, and Agamemnon fails because he doubts his own ability, Odysseus gets along and survives through a Hermes-like shiftiness. He has no brilliant moment, but neither does he lose face entirely. The shifting stance he assumes expresses itself primarily in two characteristics of style: a fluency resembling that of Nestor; and a fascination with the act of communication itself, which shapes his muthos genres of commanding, flyting, and recalling, and foregrounds the act of speech rather than the performance of an action by the hero. The latter feature allows Odysseus to put himself in the position of the audience, as he understands that communication is a two-way process. This in turn lets him succeed where Agamemnon’s style has failed.

As Adam Parry once pointed out, Odysseus manages to overcome the divide between word and deed that proves daunting to others. [62] Our first glimpse of this comes in Book 1: Agamemnon may have made good on his word, to take Briseis, but the audience sees this act in juxtaposition with a disjunction (he has refused the entreating speech of Khryses) and a more compelling example of threats in action (Zeus to the gods). In addition, the excessive style of Agamemnon fails to persuade us that he can undertake action to equal his language. Nestor’s speech has some effect, but it remains unsupported by any action on his part. Achilles has rejected both speech and action by the time Book 1 ends. But Odysseus, in a simple speech, accomplishes the healing restitution of Khryseis with an utterance that matches exactly the act he is performing at the moment: placing the girl in her father’s hands, he says, “Khryses, the lord of men Agamemnon has sent me to bring you the child and sacrifice a holy hecatomb to Phoibos for the Danaans” (1.442-44), The narrative confirms the efficacy of this speech, as sacrifice is made and the mission departs.

{120|121} Even in such a small introductory performance, the fluency of Odysseus is hinted at. He extends the description of his task slightly, with a graceful but strictly unnecessary clause: “Phoibos, who now has set much-lamented griefs on the Achaeans.” [63] Homer as narrator did not need to have Odysseus append this relative clause to accomplish the speech-act of the directive in these lines; besides, the speech-act alone would tell us something about Odysseus—that he is trusted with command by Agamemnon, that he has a significant social role, and so on. After all, it is by the assignment of illocutions that novelists and poets alike create a character, as theorists tell us. [64] Yet it is precisely this space between the bare minimum required to accomplish an act, and the actual performance, in which style inheres. The seemingly insignificant relative clause is then a sign that Odysseus gives his audience more than it needs, for its own sake. This is not the same as Agamemnon’s cumulative style, which adds detail only to shore up his own sagging rhetoric or to sting his audience with taunts, as when he pictures to Khryses the future of Khryseis, “In our house, in Argos, far from the fatherland, going about the loom and coming to my bed.” Beneath the similar citations of seemingly gratuitous detail lie opposed visions of the audience’s need.

The style of giving more information by adding clauses can best be seen in longer stretches of Odysseus’ speech. His reply to Agamemnon’s proposal in Book 14 features at least one such clause in nearly every sentence: “Nor should you rule us, to whom Zeus granted . . . the raveling of wars” (14.85); “You wish to abandon Troy . . . for which we suffer many evils” (89); “Silence, lest another Achaean hear the muthos which a man, at least, might not draw all through the mouth, a man who knew to speak close-fitting things” (91, 92). Compare these eight lines, containing four relative clauses, with the immediately preceding speech of Agamemnon, in which only two occur over a space of seventeen lines (67, 81). The difference in their preferred syntactic strategies explains a good deal of the tone of each hero’s speech, curt and hard-bitten for Agamemnon, fluid and accommodating for Odysseus.

In style, then, Odysseus resembles the ideal of Nestor. It is worth pointing out some characteristic differences, however, since the two {121|122} famous “survivors” of heroic tradition are represented in the Iliad as distinct personalities, even if we might imagine the Ithacan hero as a younger version of the old warrior. In self-presentation this difference may be a function of the narrative: Nestor’s exploits are removed in time, and so he can expatiate, using the past epic combats as paradigms for his audience; Odysseus, on the other hand, is in the process of making a reputation. It does not seem accidental that Nestor is the audience for his most extended exploit in the poem, the Doloneia escapade, for the old man can appreciate style, and praises the deed well. Yet Odysseus narrates his adventure in a deliberately low key. The gods could give better horses than the ones he and Diomedes took, Odysseus says. [65] The horses are Thracian; Diomedes killed their master and twelve companions. A thirteenth they both took, the spy (10.555-64). Nowhere does Odysseus assert an individual role, unlike Nestor in his reminiscences. Another contrast must be meant here, given the positioning of Odysseus’ speech at the end of this episode, because we recall the very opening of the book, with Agamemnon on the way to tell his story to Nestor, in the most exaggerated manner.

Further contrasts with Nestor’s style come in Odysseus’ association with divine speech and his use of repetition. The former strikes us in Book 2, when Hera dispatches Athena to calm the troops “with your mild words” (sois aganois epeessin, 164) and Athena transmits the message to Odysseus (2.180), in effect equating her language with his. Elsewhere, Homer can change personal and possessive pronouns to match the new situation of a repeated speech; that he does not do so here is telling. Nestor, as we saw, merits an epithet given the Muses elsewhere in the hexameter tradition, but we never see such a direct link between his speech and the language of gods. When we turn to repetition, the difference in styles is subtle. We saw that Nestor (e.g. in 1.254-84) repeats words quite close to one another to emphasize the binary structure of his speech. Odysseus, however, repeats at measured intervals; his pace is slower: consider the repetition at line-end of neesthai (2.88, 290, 291, 296) and tekna (2.311, 313, 315) within one speech. [66] Irony, like Odysseus’ use of the honorific “leader of {122|123} men” to address Agamemnon after he has shown up the leader’s inability at speech (14.102), is not in Nestor’s repertoire, nor is punning, something Odysseus does at least twice (at 4.354, Tēlemakhoio . . . promakhoisi, and at 11.450, Hippasou . . . hippodamoio). Perhaps we can define Odysseus’ “double vision” as synchronic, seeing linguistic possibilities coexisting, whereas Nestor utilizes a diachronic rhetoric of tradition versus contemporary situation.

The realization that speech can be good or bad prompts Odysseus’ remark that Diomedes should neither praise nor blame too much among a knowing audience (10.249). The urge for proportionate speech explains his criticism of Agamemnon’s style, also, since he contrasts the commander’s muthos with that of a man who knows “how to talk fitting things” (artia bazein, 14.92), and Agamemnon’s call to retreat is out of all proportion with the heroic ethos. This is why it is, to Odysseus, a muthos that one can hardly pronounce, the opposite of an act of speech: the heroic ideal calls for sustained and unrelenting performance at war, “until we each perish” (14.87) and speech-performance should abet this, not prevent it.

The tension between Agamemnon’s style and that of Odysseus becomes evident in the hybrid plea during the embassy, embedding Agamemnon’s massive list within Odysseus’ subtler reasoning. Although there are many reasons why this speech should not persuade Achilles, one feature related to Odysseus’ grasp of speech notions deserves mention here. That is, Odysseus assumes the stance of a distant narrator in focusing his introduction on several significant speech-acts: Zeus is showing signs (9.236), Hektor prays (240) for dawn to come and boasts (241) that he will burn the ships, while Odysseus fears that the threats (244) will come true. Once again, we must remember that the description need not have been this way, as a look at Agamemnon’s narration of the same crisis reveals (10.46—52, discussed earlier). [67] We already saw the strategy of memory involved in Odysseus’ quotation of direct speech allegedly from Peleus (9.254— 58), and now we can add that this fits his style in its regard for the actual fact of communication.

How does this respect for speech show itself in Odysseus’ employment of the genres of discourse called muthos? In commands, it means he is inclusive, using a first-person plural—”What has happened to us that we forget raging strength, Diomedes?” (11.313)—{123|124} where others use an imperative, “remember strength.” The plural allies him with his audience: “Did we not all hear what he said in the council?” (2.194). It also acts to praise and create solidarity with the high-status men he addresses. And the same strategy forms a common ground even between Odysseus and the common men he commands: “We Achaeans cannot all act as king here” (2.2O3). [68]

In flyting speeches, this concern with communication and style means he can face down Thersites, by exposing the disjunction between that speaker’s deeds and words. It is Odysseus who produces the damning epithet akritomuthe (2.246). [69]

The style of Diomedes might best be discussed in conjunction with that of Odysseus because the two heroes are closely associated in the Iliad as also in the rest of Greek tradition about the Trojan War. Yet the association only reinforces our sense of their stylistic individuality, which can be seen on the level of heroic performance and in speech. Fenik remarks about Odysseus’ combat with Sokos (11.441-45): “No other exchange between enemies in the entire Iliad carries this high tone. Odysseus is free of the excess and frenzy that disfigure the accomplishment of Agamemnon and Diomedes.” [70] I have already suggested that the “excess” in Agamemnon’s rhetoric is related to a lack of confidence in his speaking ability. Does the same hold for Diomedes? The analysis of several features in his speeches tends to confirm this: he is unsure of his language, but his lack of confidence is explicitly associated with his youth, so Diomedes can be excused for stylistic faults. In fact, within the Iliad we are given a picture of Diomedes’ education in heroic style and, as we shall see, he emulates Odysseus in at least one important encounter.

Statistics can help clarify the difference in style between Diomedes and other heroes. When we calculate the number of speeches attributed {124|125} to each character which cannot be categorized as one of the three genres called muthos (even those speeches not labeled as such), it emerges that Nestor, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Hektor, and Achilles are on an equal footing, each having at most a few speeches that are not “performances” of this type. Odysseus, for instance, speaks only three, all prayers (10.277, 461; 23.769), out of a total of twenty-six speeches. By contrast, Diomedes, who is given direct quotation twenty-six times in the poem, speaks nine times in a nonmuthos genre, much more than any other major hero. Twice he prays to Athena (5.114 and 10.283), one time he volunteers (10.219), another time he makes a simple declaration of intent (5.286), and five times he offers what amount to gestures of solidarity, speech-acts concentrated not so much on message as on the channel of communication between speaker and addressee. He tells Athena that he remembers her commands (5.815-24); agrees with Nestor to leave battle, despite his fears of getting a bad reputation (8.145—50); praises Odysseus upon selecting him as companion (10.242-47); and affirms to Odysseus his determination to stand fast in battle (11.316-19). Even the most famous episode involving Diomedes shows him engaged in this establishment of communication, when he declares formally that Glaukos and he are “ancestral guest-friends” (xeinoi patroioi, 6.215—31). In brief, Diomedes is the exception that proves our interpretation of the meaning of muthos for Homeric heroes. Demonstrably inexperienced, needing tutorials by Nestor to make a proper self-presentation in the assembly (9.31-49), he is represented even on the level of discourse genres as one who has not yet mastered the repertoire of commanding, flyting, and feats of memory. Two of his commands consist of just two verses (5.109, 11.346) and one of only four (10.162), a negative feature in a poem where magniloquence counts. His assembly speeches are introduced as “late” interjections (7.399, 9.31, 9.696), a trait never noted with older heroes. And he seems to bungle his first such speech by using the tactics of neikos speeches when he really just wants to dissent from what Agamemnon is saying: “Son of Atreus, I will fight first with you, mindless as you are, as tradition has it (hē themis estin), in the speaking assembly” (agorē, 9.31-33).

There are hints that he is learning the tradition—note the rather clumsy gnomic utterance, for example, which he enthusiastically trots out to impress Nestor when he volunteers, and which rather conspicuously highlights a theme we know is dear to Nestor: “Two {125|126} going together, the one notes before the other how there may be gain. One alone may notice, but his attention is shorter and his cunning intelligence thin” (10.224—26). [71] Or consider the command, again to Nestor, when he rescues the old warrior with his chariot and briefly boasts how he took the horses from Aeneas (8.102-11). His artful silence, too, in the face of Agamemnon’s flyting insult (4.401) can be viewed as a stylistic victory over a king with whom he has a traditional enmity. [72] These attempts at developing a style must be seen, first of all, as complementing the Iliad‘s portrayal of Diomedes’ developing fighting skill, especially in Book 5. In turn, the roots of Homer’s concern with Diomedes probably lead back to pre-Homeric traditions that surface later and independently in the Cyclic epics. [73] Yet these traditional associations of the hero, particularly with the role of Nestor’s son Antilokhos, support my contention that the speech style of Diomedes, as well as his characterization, is consciously shaped.

The encounter between Glaukos and Diomedes in Book 6 must be considered in this light. It is the turning point in Diomedes’ education in performance, as that affects his speech to enemies. After this, the hero delivers several quite good flyting attacks, against Dolon (10.369 and 446), Hektor (11.361), and Paris (11.384). The last is particularly inventive, with its consistent feminizing: Paris is called a “girl-watcher” (parthenopipa, 385); his spear cast is like a woman’s or a child’s, but the women and children of Diomedes’ opponents end up lamenting (393); and there are more scavenger birds than women around the foe’s rotting corpse. Before his encounter with Glaukos, however, Diomedes manages to assault with words only his charioteer Sthenelos (5.251-73) and the unwarlike Aphrodite (5.347), despite the opportunity to confront Aeneas, to whom he addresses only a curt “you missed” and a short threat (5.287-89). If the exchange with his enemy is such an empowering experience for Diomedes, can we say that the dialogue itself represents a mastery of a genre of muthos, the usual mark of such authority?

I am inclined to affirm this by the prominence within Diomedes’ {126|127} speech of genealogical talk. In Chapter 2, I pointed out the prevalence of this topic both in recollections and flyting speeches. It is worth recalling that Homer in Iliad Book 5, not long before this episode, shows us how the topic can be used for assault: Tlepolemos says to Sarpedon, “They tell lies saying you are the offspring of Zeus.” He compares the Lykian hero unfavorably with his own father, Herakles, also a son of Zeus, who sacked Troy previously (5.632—54). That encounter led to Sarpedon’s wounding and Tlepolemos’ death; the physical outcome fits the verbal, since Sarpedon cunningly managed to imply that Herakles won by default, aided by the “mindlessness” (aphradiē) of Laomedon (649); thus his words undercut Tlepolemos’ boast. Similarly, we can work backward from the “physical” outcome of the encounter with Glaukos in order to confirm that Diomedes engages in and wins a verbal contest. Zeus “took away the wits of Glaukos, who exchanged golden armor for bronze, 100-cows’-worth for that of nine” (6.234-36). Glaukos, then, resembles Laomedon, involved as he is in a shamefully bad exchange; Diomedes is analogous to Sarpedon, since he induced his enemy to switch armor.

One school of ancient Homeric criticism held that Diomedes tricks Glaukos to get the golden armor for himself. [74] Although moderns, following Eustathius, reject the idea, I want to suggest that this best fits the context of a flyting exchange. If there is any doubt that Diomedes intends everything he addresses to Glaukos in his first speech as insult, a closer examination should reveal the maliciousness of his words. The demand to know Glaukos’ genealogy makes sense in the context of flyting, since it gives the speaker a hold with which to throw his opponent. The implication of Diomedes’ remark that Glaukos has not appeared before in “man-glorifying” battle is that Glaukos has no ability to be glorified; and the reference to the “boldness” of Glaukos has to be read with an eye to the negative connotations of “boldness” when a speaker’s deeds do not authorize this—as in the case of Thersites, the “bold.” In sum, Diomedes is obliquely challenging Glaukos to prove himself in word and in deed. The apparent digression into the story of Dionysos furthers this strategy in an essential way. Diomedes admittedly introduces the tale as an exemplum that constrains his habit of attacking all: he will not fight the gods. But the real focus of the story is not on Lykourgos, who was blinded for challenging the divinity, but rather on the scene of Dionysos’ flight. Scared women (the nurses); a comforting mother-figure {127|128} (Thetis); a threatening male who engages in rough language (Lykourgos—cf 6.137, homoklē, a synonym for flyting words)— these figures in Diomedes’ miniature dramatization of “myth” are in fact projections of the participants in the very muthos of flyting in which he is engaged. For Dionysos and the nurses, read Glaukos; for Lykourgos, Diomedes; and for Thetis, compare the women of Troy, so deftly portrayed as consoling figures later in this very book of the Iliad. Diomedes’ myth, then, is a version of his victory, a wish fulfillment, if you like, of the threatening physical encounter.

The sarcastic veneer falls away when he addresses Glaukos directly at the end of the story: “If you are a mortal . . . come closer, to reach destruction’s bounds the quicker.” The tale thus functions not only as self-presentation but as mockery, to remind Glaukos that he is, of course, not an immortal, something Diomedes knows all along.

We should not assume that Glaukos is naive. Indeed, the long genealogical defense he gives confirms that he knows precisely what conventions Diomedes is using in this verbal assault. His first strategy—to question the value of genealogy—contains the often-quoted image of the “generations of leaves.” But Glaukos is using the language of elegy for darker purposes: this is also a coded threat; in the language of Homer, falling to the ground connotes the end of human as well as vegetal life (cf. the images of warriors as trees). Even the invitation to learn Glaukos’ genealogy from him contains a veiled insult: the reply, “Many men know it” (6.151), implies that Diomedes, who professes not to, is unpracticed in feats of memory, an essential genre for the performing hero to perfect. Again, compare Sarpedon in Book 5, who knew the story of Herakles’ involvement at Troy and was able to use it as an effective counteroffensive device. Now Glaukos moves into the past. He did not need to select the details he includes here, when a simple list of ancestors would suffice. In his “myth,” the hero Bellerophon defeats two types of monstrous females (Khimaira and Amazons) and resists the inducements of a third (Anteia). This narrative segment counters the attack by Diomedes, who implied (as he later states explicitly to Paris) that his opponent resembled a woman; Glaukos instead presents himself as Bellerophon. Furthermore, Bellerophon is able to overcome an ambush (lokhos, 189). I have read Diomedes’ first speech as just such a covert strategy, usually associated with his role-model Odysseus. [75] It {128|129} appears Glaukos has read him the same way, and calls his bluff. The fate of Bellerophon, wandering apart from men as he “devours his own thumos” (200-202), remains puzzling, but perhaps its role in this narrative is the conventional function of establishing the claim to be better than one’s ancestors (cf. Sthenelos’ speech at 4.405). Glaukos’ portrayal of the collateral branches of his house as failures (6.203-5) accomplishes the same status-raising function, as he can thereby focus attention on himself, product of the surviving line.

Glaukos’ tale of ancestry, then, may have factual information, but, like any tale in an oral tradition, it makes sense only in performance. The spontaneous details here gain an air of authority because one assumes that the speaker has privileged information about his own “local” tradition. But they are symbols instead in a game of dueling narratives, important moves of muthos in the new sense I have proposed, an act of self-presentation that attempts to wrest authority.

If this were a conventional scene of flyting before fìghting, the exchange of speeches would have ended in a mutual casting of spears. [76] This “duel” remains on the verbal plane; moreover, Diomedes gets an extra shot. If we think of his reply to Glaukos as another attempt at lethal speech, we can now reinterpret the story that he tells in this second performance, how Oineus, his grandfather, played host to Bellerophon and the two became guest-friends (6.215-31). As Julia Gaisser notes, this tale is shaped to fit the situation, as are most Homeric paradigmatic stories: “Bellerophon and Oineus must exchange gifts because Diomedes and Glaukos are to exchange armor. “ [77] Her view, taking the Homeric narrator’s design as its starting point, could be sharpened somewhat if we consider the internal dynamics of Diomedes’ rhetorical ploy. This is the only passage in which such a “myth” of Oineus’ meeting with Bellerophon is ever mentioned because Diomedes has just invented the “tradition” in order to force Glaukos into the socially correct ritual exchange. He speaks to win, and does. There are enough hints in the text to make an audience attuned to the conventions suspect his veracity and admire his cunning. It is not accidental, first, that Glaukos had brought up the theme of xenia in mentioning the nine-day hosting of Bellerophon (6.174); Diomedes retorts with a tale of a twenty-day hosting, putting Bellerophon into his grandfather’s debt (and so Glaukos in his). We can see his creative expansion of “tradition” at work; the mention of {129|130} the theme by Glaukos opens a narrative chink at which Diomedes has thrust successfully. Aside from this, we should suspect Diomedes anyway, given that he claims to avoid gods in battle (6.129), whereas the privileged audience of the poem has just heard of his fights with Aphrodite and Ares in Book 5. Rather than being a contradiction for Analysts to seize on and Unitarians to explain away, this is a sophisticated piece of characterization, on the part of Homer, of a hero’s growing style. [78]

Hektor and Achilles

The Iliad offers us, in the character of Diomedes, a depiction of the very process of learning a tradition and the growth of creative ability at performance. Had we little other evidence, this depiction alone would encourage us to imagine that the poet in such a medium composed as he performed, moved by the exigencies and inspirations of an audience. As it happens, of course, we have additional evidence, in the form of Homeric morphology and phraseology, that leads us to believe a traditional performance situation produced the Iliad. But, more than this, we have evidence in Homer’s characterization of Hektor and Achilles that creativity within traditional forms and the use of memory are the highest values in speechmaking. These two heroes are unquestionably, to an audience, the most sympathetic figures in the poem. At the same time, they are the closest to the poet, and it shows in their style of speaking. Both Hektor and Achilles use language well. Once again, to appreciate the meaning of this technique, we must remember that it was possible for the narrator to have produced sympathy in any number of ways, as any study of fictional technique can show: a composer might have intruded more direct narratorial comment, surrounded the heroes with positive symbols {130|131} and images, characterized them by another system of signs, such as attire (as the poet of the Nibelungenlied does). Instead, two complementary systems, fighting and speaking, delineate his heroes. Both are stages for performance of individual style, the latter the more important. That the two leading characters are given a particular sort of style tells us something about the poet’s own art.

That there are two “creative” heroes at the pinnacle of the Iliad‘s stylistic hierarchy lends unusual resonance to the poem, giving it the complexity of musical counterpoint. In social terms, it also foregrounds once more the agonistic nature of performance in this tradition, which in turn highlights the symbiotic roles of enemies. Hektor dead, Achilles cannot live on, because the heroes only exist as a pair, shaping and defining one another through performance, much as Diomedes and Glaukos determine each other’s heroic worth, in consort, by exchange. Like detective and homicide, the opposed heroes come to resemble one another more than the rest of the world. The poet expresses this in the transfer of Achilles’ armor (17.213-14), a trope praised for its psychological insight, but one with unnoticed stylistic reference as well. For we can expect Hektor and Achilles to “look” alike. The problem for a stylistician becomes how to differentiate the pair. I suggest that this can be done, if we return to the performative genres discovered through the study of muthos. [79]

Both Hektor and Achilles give commands, but Hektor’s are unusually ingrown while Achilles’ negate themselves. Both heroes engage in flyting with riveting inventiveness. And (unlike Agamemnon), both have control of the genre of memories—and here they differ widely. Hektor’s recollections are of human speech. More than any hero, he quotes others. Achilles, on the other hand, calls to mind grief. If Hektor’s memory-genre is praise, Achilles’ is lament.

Oddly enough, the poetic ability of Hektor may occlude his capacity for command. I refer to Hektor’s inwardness. This quality emerges from his own words in a remarkable testimony by the hero himself about his ability as a performer. When Ajax challenges him to {133|132} fight the “best of the Achaeans” after Achilles, Hektor responds (7.235-41):

“Do not try me like a simple child,
or a woman, who does not know war-work.
I know well fights and man-slayings,
I know to the right, I know to the left how to move my ox-hide shield
that I own for warring.
I know how to leap into the moil of swift horses,
I know how to dance to hostile Ares in the close fighting. “

The convergence of fighting and dancing in Hektor’s words puts the two activities on the same level of stylized action. We recall the similar relation that these acts play in the poetic system of Glendiot men, as allied forms of self-presentation. It is worth noting here that the mention of the performance theme by Hektor is itself a well-crafted musical performance, “an old, pre-epic lyric sword-dance song,” as one scholar heard it. [80] The anaphora of “I know” (oida, lines 237, 238, 240, 241) marks off metrical cola that strongly resemble later-attested Greek lyric metrical segments. Consider the following:

οἶδ’ ἐπί δεξιά
οἶδ’ ἐπ’ ἀριστερὰ
νωμῆσαι βῶν


Segmented this way, the “poem” of Hektor could be read as an “Aeolic” lyric, with an adonic closing. [81]

But the concentration on his own performance is like that of the dancer so concerned with the criticism of the audience that he or she limits expressiveness by paying too much attention to footwork. [82] {132|133} We might relate Hektor’s self-awareness as an “expert” warrior to his particular slant on the workings of speech in society: he is more constantly preoccupied with the winning of reputation than any other hero in the poem. When others mention kleos, it is to assume that one has lost it (as Agamemnon often does) or that one will gain it ultimately (Achilles’ knowledge). Only Hektor must concentrate on the process of wresting “unwithering fame” from an audience always threatening to broadcast blame. His concern shows in the exchanges he has with Paris, in which he tries to shame his brother by reference to his bad repute, the “disgrace” (3.51, katēpheiē), and “ugly things” (6.524, aiskhea) that attend him. It also provides the single answer that he can give to Andromakhe’s urgent request for him to stay within Troy (6.441-46):

“Woman, all this affects me, but I terribly
fear (aideomai) the Trojans, and Trojan women with trailing gown,
if, like a bad man (kakos), I avoid war from afar.
Nor does inner desire (thumos) impel me, since I have learned to be excellent
always, and fight with the Trojan front-lines,
winning my father’s good repute (kleos) and my own.”

We might even see Hektor’s determination to perform before his local audience as the reason for his much-noticed “secularization” of bird-signs and other prophetic speech. The performer on the stage of Troy knows that the gods cannot help him execute his moves, so he cares nothing about whether the birds “go rightwards to sun and dawn or to the left, to misty dusk” (12.239-40) as he says to Polydamas. His interest is in making the correct motions in the same directions on the ground of war (see 7.23S). [83]

Polydamas voices the doubts about Hektor’s mastery of command that we ourselves feel on examining his use of this genre. Using language similar to that Agamemnon employed toward Achilles (1.290-91), Polydamas says that Hektor neglects the principle of uneven distribution of gifts by the gods in his wish to excel in counsel to match his preeminence in war-work (13.726—28). Agamemnon misinterprets the stylistic code, as we saw: Achilles’ prowess in fact does {133|134} entitle him to practice flyting. But Polydamas is right: commanding and killing are modes of action more distantly connected. And Hektor, when he commands, seems to order primarily himself. No other speaker makes explicit so consistently the next moves he intends to make. Hektor’s return to Troy shows him always talking about directions. His trip to city from plain is framed this way (6.113); he must instruct the Trojan women. In his meeting with Hekabe, next, he lets the sense of direction block out unwarlike emotion; he gives her the directions to make dedications to Athena, then tells her he intends to visit the house of Paris. There, his reply to Helen’s beautifully elegiac lines (6.344-58) is a dry description of where Paris should meet him, where he intends to go now, and an afterthought— that he might not return (6.360-68). Then, he asks the maid his wife’s whereabouts with an inappropriate formal command to “make a muthos unerringly” (nēmertea muthēsasthe, 6.376). He specifies the three spots where she might be. We could explain away these speeches by saying Homer needed such scaffolding to guide his own construction of the episode in Book 6. But, in fact, Hektor’s speech elsewhere shows the same concern; and the absence of this style from other heroes’ speech shows that Homer could have omitted it here, if he wished. That it remains makes it an indicator of characterization. [84] The character thus shaped is that of a hero concerned with the moves one must make in battle, one whose style is so rigidified by public opinion that he moves only along a series of inexpressive, ultimately exhausting tracks. The race around Troy is a fitting image for Hektor’s death.

If his commands are cramped in style by his sense of an ineluctable direction guiding himself and Troy, Hektor’s flyting speeches are wider in scope, a creative release from his anxiety. After his death, we learn from Helen that he was far from malicious in speech, restraining the mean abuse from her female relations by his own gentle words and disposition (24.767—72). This sense of when blame is proper, and when not, marks its best practitioners; even Paris, who takes the brunt of his attack, acknowledges Hektor’s sense of proportion, twice (3.59 = 6.333, κατ’ αἶσαν ἐνείκεσας οὐδ’ ὑπὲρ αἶσαν).

Once again, Hektor’s ability would seem to be related to his extreme self-consciousness when it conies to reputation. This enables him to rebuke his brother so effectively after Paris has avoided confronting {134|135} Menelaos. Like Odysseus rebuking Thersites, Hektor takes his cue from the appearance of his addressee, but varies the attack in an interesting way. Unlike Thersites, whose looks matched his ugly speech, Paris’ fine appearance does not carry with it graceful linguistic ability. Just the opposite: he himself generates blame, lōbē (3.42), and laughter (kagkhaloōsi. . . Akhaioi, 3.43), just as Thersites had for the Achaeans (2.270, 275). [85] Hektor himself provides the “ugly” speech that ironically fits Paris, when he deforms his brother’s name (Duspari, “evil-Paris,” 39); alliterates with k-sounds to imitate Achaean laughter (43) and p-sounds (patri te soi mega pēma polēi te panti te dēmōi, 50) as if to spit out the object of his abuse; and distorts meaning in cruel wordplay. The shame of “mingling” with foreigners (48) is transferred into the image of Paris “mingling” with the dust (55), and Hektor mocks him for not awaiting (meineias, 52) the attack of Menelaos. In brief, Hektor’s first rebuke shows him to be an accomplished poetic performer. [86] Other signs of his good flyting abilities come later. His insults to Diomedes (8.161-66), finely tuned to confront a novice warrior with the threatening themes of being like a woman and unable to get women, show that Hektor knows his audience. And the speech to his horses (8.185) features a sustained elaboration of the theme found in Agamemnon’s flyting in Book 4, which we might call the motif of sustenance earned. The heroic template for this motif explains why Andromakhe is said to feed the horses wine (see 8.189 and compare 4.259, 346). But we should not read this unlikely diet as a compositional blunder on Homer’s part. Instead, it fits perfectly Hektor’s mood at the moment, an exultant confidence that expresses itself poetically in a playful reuse of a traditional warrior’s speaking strategy.

An observance of the role of speech in combat marks the later flyting speeches of Hektor. He vows that Achilles will not complete his words (muthois, 20.365), and later attempts to insult his opponent with the conventional “words not deeds” tactic: “You were somewhat glib with words (artiepēs) and thieving about speeches (epiklopos muthōn),” he says when Achilles has missed him with the spear (22.281). The insult makes a global stylistic comment because it implies that Achilles’ form was good, at the level of utterance (epos), but {135|136} his authority to speak, based on warring skill, was lacking—he only stole others’ muthoi. Yet Hektor is upstaged as a critic of flyting language by Aeneas at this point in the poem. We have already looked at the long discourse on insults delivered to Achilles by this hero (20.200-58). It is enough to note here that Hektor can only manage a fraction of this analysis, and it strikes us as a borrowing from his cousin, at that (20.431-33 = 20.200-202). [87] As he nears his death, then, Hektor begins to lose confidence not only as a fighter but as one who creatively manipulates the language of war.

It is in the discourse of recollection that Hektor shows the clearest differences with other heroic speakers. As in commands and rebukes, so here we might trace his distinctive style to a basic anxiety about exactitude in executing performances. This results in a remarkable trait of his style, the use of direct quotation by Hektor to dramatize for his audience what he imagines will happen. More than this, the quotations are actually representations of what already has taken place. In other words, Hektor displaces memory onto an anonymous voice that speaks the language of praise or blame. This is to say that his discourse of recollection is ordered in the hierarchy of three genres beneath flyting; his rhetoric is still constrained by the imagined speech-acts of others.

Two clear examples occur in his meeting with his wife. The first passage quotes an unnamed speaker’s comment on seeing Andromakhe as a prize of war after the fall of Troy: “And sometime someone may say, ‘Here is the wife of Hektor, he who excelled at fighting, of the horse-taming Trojans, when they fought about Ilion’ ” (6.459— 61). The dramatic realism increases our sympathy for Andromakhe as it convinces us of Hektor’s affection. But the actual content of the quote constitutes a snatch of praise-poetry concerning Hektor himself; in an oblique manner, Hektor is creating the exact format of his own reputation, like a poet writing his own epitaph. [88] The second quotation in the scene works in the same way. Dandling his son, Hektor prays that Astyanax be outstanding so that “sometime someone might say ‘This one is much better than his father'” (6.479). Although the quotation is even briefer, an audience can recognize in it a motif already encountered in Agamemnon’s flyting speech to Diomedes {136|137}, the comparison of heroic son with father (4.400). As we observed in the preceding chapter, the scene in Book 4 implies an oral tradition concerning the father, Tydeus (4.374-75), whom Agamemnon never met. In Book 6, Hektor implies that oral traditions concerning his own exploits in the battle at Troy will be in the public domain, but that his son will be the object of praise-speeches, not blame. Again, Hektor shows a close familiarity with the repertoire of his community.

Two more times we hear Hektor practicing this brand of eulogistic dramatization, when he sets the terms for his single combat with an Achaean and when he calls a formal halt to the duel. Again, he uses the figure of his addressee as the starting point for a quotation that ultimately returns praise to himself: if he kills his enemy, in future time someone sailing past the man’s burial mound at the Hellespont will say, “This is the marker of a man who died long ago, whom once shining Hektor slew as he was excelling” (7.89—90). In this imagined eulogy, which echoes the diction of attested epitaphs, the dead hero remains nameless, obliterated by Hektor’s reputation. As it happens, the duel with Ajax grants neither hero a decisive edge. Hektor’s quotation strategy as it ends should be contrasted with the strategy of Diomedes in the Book 6 scene examined earlier. If Diomedes has fabricated a past, Hektor fictionalizes a future, and then, just as Diomedes had, makes the fiction affect the present. Hektor suggests an exchange of gifts “in order that someone of both Achaeans and Trojans may say ‘They fought over spirit-devouring strife, then in amity joined they parted’ ” (7.301-2). The effect in characterization presents us not with a portrait of the developing hero, this time, but with a man already living in the poetic tradition that is to overtake him.

The two remaining examples of Hektor’s habit of quoting are not imagined praises. Instead, at the death of Patroklos, he re-creates the immediate past. We have seen Odysseus recall events from years back, in Aulis (2.323) and Phthia (9.254-58); Nestor, too, embellishes his speech to Patroklos through quotation of this sort. But no other character is shown “quoting” what he believes was said to another— Hektor’s poetic imagination outreaches the truth here. Because the narrator has taken care to cite Achilles’ wish, in the prayer to Zeus at 16.233-48 as also his speech to Patroklos (16.80-96), Hektor’s “recollection” is demonstrated to be wrong and our view of his style changes accordingly. By the final quotation he makes, just before his death, even Hektor can see that he has prematurely placed himself {137|138} within the wrong poetic tradition: he now imagines a snippet of blame-discourse that will make him infamous: “Hektor trusting in his strength destroyed the fighting-troop (laon)” (22.107). In an ironic touch, soon after this Homer quotes, in the style of Hektor, anonymous Achaeans as they take turns stabbing his corpse: “Much softer to handle, really, is Hektor, indeed, than when he burnt the ships with fire” (22.374).

I have tried to show that Hektor’s performance in all genres is psychologically consistent. It remains to suggest that his concentration on form surfaces even at the level of the flow of words in his speech. As he nears death, Hektor twice uses the rare figure of epanastrophe, as he does in his last long monologue (22.126—28):

οὐ μέν πως νῦν ἔστιν ἀπὸ δρυὸς οὐδ’ ἀπὸ πέτρης
τῷ ὀαριζέμεναι, ἅ τε παρθένος ἠῑθεός τε
παρθένος ἠῑθεός τ’ὀαρίζετον ἀλλήλοιιν.

The immediate repetition of a phrase sounds either like hesitancy in the speaker or an attempt to test out the appropriateness of his own formulation, to get it right. In Hektor’s case, these amount to the same thing: his concern with style is ultimately too involuted to win him the universal fame—among Greeks and Trojans—that he envisioned (7.300). He is bested by a hero capable of the most expansive expression. [89]

The most obvious difference between the speeches of Hektor and those of Achilles lies in the space afforded them. Achilles, with 86 speeches, introduced by 40 different phrases, overshadows Hektor’s 49 speeches in the poem, and Achilles has nearly 400 more lines of verse. Nor is this a minor consideration: size and importance are correlated in the ethos of the Iliad in many scenes (consider, for example, Achilles’ shield); length is a positive speech value. The assignment of length in speech by the narrator Homer produces our impressions about the importance of a given episode and also of a speaker. In this regard, it is worth noting that Homer leaves out direct quotation of Hektor’s words at many places where it would seem appropriate in terms of narrative convention elsewhere, as at 6.104-5, when we learn only that the hero urged on his men, but not what he said. [90] As we have seen, this narrative handling of speech {138|139} accords well with the inner structure of Hektor’s speech repertoire: his style is epigrammatic, as if pressure from having less “space” in either the poem or the epic tradition has condensed his very means of expression, forcing him to produce his own tradition in the form of quotation. With Achilles, the opposite style emerges; we shall study it in detail in Chapter 5. At this point, I wish to place the phenomenon of Achilles’ style in the perspective of the genres that I have been delineating. From this angle, it appears his style is itself epic in ambition and scope. Moreover, it is unique within the Iliad for its formality and range, as we can see from a comparison of his speeches of command, flyting, and memory. [91]

Our introduction to Achilles in the poem pinpoints the central quality of his commanding style. Achilles directs the Achaeans to ask a seer, priest, or dream-interpreter the cause of Apollo’s anger (1.62-67). He authorizes speech by his command, and defends the speaker, Kalkhas. The plot unfolds, we recall, because Achilles has taken the initiative to call an assembly, another indication of his respect for speech. In the course of Book 1 we see him rely on words rather than the sword to face down Agamemnon; cast down the scepter, a gesture of impatience with the degraded state of discourse; narrate his own story to Thetis; and even coach her in techniques of argumentation to win him honor from Zeus. [92] His style is open, communicative, adaptable. This bears saying because we may tend to think of Achilles as somehow sullen. But the withdrawal to his quarters by the hero only opens up the possibility for the embassy, which is, in turn, the occasion for the most sustained piece of rhetoric in the poem. It is more important to recognize that the very act of removing himself from the action depends on the characteristic of Achilles’ style generally—sympathetic imagination. Achilles can forecast, not the words, but the feeling for him that the Achaeans will experience after he is gone: “Sometime longing for Achilles will come on the Achaeans’ sons, all of them” (1.240). We can contrast Hektor’s imagination of future discourse; Hektor, too, can say that his companions have longing, pothē, for him, but he refers to the immediate situation {139|140} that he has just left on the plain (6.362). Again, Achilles’ perspective is larger. [93]

How does sympathetic imagination prove itself in commands, then? One technique, as we saw with Odysseus, consists in the use of first-person pronouns. Although Achilles makes use of this from the start (1.59, 62), he makes deeper changes in the structure of his speeches in order to accommodate the addressee in the act. It is not unusual for him to explain to his audience why they should obey; when he urges the Achaeans to fight, he adds that “it is difficult to me, though powerful, to follow up on so many and battle all” (20.356-57). A simple order to the Myrmidons carefully includes Achilles himself—”Let us not loose the horses yet … but let us weep over Patroklos”—and cites, as explanation, “for this is the traditional honor (geras) of the dead” (23.6-9). Another mark of Achilles’ consideration for the persons he commands is his use of indirect directives, a strategy we examined in Chapter 1 (e.g. 19.20 to Thetis and 1.201 to Athena), and one unexplored by other heroes in the poem. The device of directing another to speak, “so that we may both know” (16.19), also gives us the impression that Achilles cares about what his listener thinks.

Nor is this approach simply the Odyssean attitude, a way of swaying his audience by adjusting his speech to fit the hearers. Instead, Achilles’ commands are remarkable in that they seem to “negate” the notion of the speaker’s authority to order. Achilles uses command to pass on that authority to others, as when he validates Kalkhas’ speech in Book 1. In speech-act terms, it would appear that one “felicity” condition for a directive—that the speaker be in a position to issue the order—is actually jeopardized by the directives themselves. The denial of authority comes out clearly in the command to Phoinix, “Be king equally with me and share half the honor” (9.616); in the granting of power to Patroklos to “rule the Myrmidons in battle” (16.65); in Achilles’ later commitment to obey all commands of Patroklos (23.95-96); and in his directive—really an entreaty—that his companion’s spirit “not be angered with me” (24.592) for having released Hektor’s corpse. There is a slightly odd sound to these at first, as if Achilles were telling his audience not to regard him as worth listening to. But this self-deprecating strategy fits with Achilles’ preference for two-way communication between speaker and addressee. And of {140|141} course, the denial of command only increases respect for the hero who can risk such apparent undercutting: it is a sign of higher authority. It gives substance to Achilles’ assertion that he does not need the timē given by Agamemnon, since Zeus (the symbol of effortless authority) honors him (9.607-8).

It is not surprising, then, that Achilles’ style in commanding should appear more formal as the poem ends. His role in the narrative, as the manager of his companion’s funeral, demands this, but Achilles’ speech did not have to be dramatized; that it is formalized reinforces our earliest idea of Achilles’ style, gained from seeing him follow convention in proposing the various traditional causes for the plague (1.65—67) and calling for an official interpretation. The authoritative quality of Achilles’ speech strikes us as a refrain in Book 23. Five times the poet introduces Achilles’ speech with the line “He stood up and spoke a muthos among the Argives” (23.657, 706, 752, 801, 830). The performances thus prefaced are official proclamations of contest and prize, often no more than a line or two. Through these speeches, which seem generic enough to be spoken by anyone, we finally hear a voice that accords with Achilles’ status. For the fact remains that no one else does say such things in the Iliad. Only Achilles rates high enough to be able to evaluate and reward the competitive style of his peers. What I have attempted to do thus far in this chapter is effectively carried out, explicitly, by Achilles himself in the Games.

It is possible to discuss the remaining two genres of discourse as one, when we speak of Achilles’ style, because his flyting speeches are distinctive through their use of recollection, and his memory feats are uniquely antagonistic. What remain separable modes of speaking for other heroes are for him two sides of the same experience. We hear Achilles recalling past events or distant places more than any other hero in the poem, Nestor included. Yet recollection for him always has a sharp edge. His speech to Thetis in Book 1 provides a good example. [94] The speech recaps in a miniature narrative the first episode in the poem with Achilles’ slight reshaping. Noteworthy here is the neutral tone, the diction at times converging with Homer’s actual words from the first narration. Only at two points does Achilles intrude as narrator: when he sums up Agamemnon’s muthos as a “threat” (ēpeilēsen, 1.388); and when he concludes with the wish that Agamemnon may realize “his own destructive act, that he did not {141|142} honor the best of the Achaeans” (1.411-12). At this point we see that the narrative is indirectly blaming Agamemnon; its framework is the discourse of flyting. But it is an even more convincing rebuke precisely because Achilles restrains himself from indulging in name-calling throughout the narrative. Given the characterization of Agamemnon, it is difficult to imagine him delivering such an invective-free account. We cannot but feel that Achilles has better style.

The same technique is used by Achilles in his third reply to the embassy. Although Ajax has spoken “according to your heart” (kata thumon, 9.645—pointedly, not “in proportion,” kata moiran, which would also fit the meter but not Achilles’ view), Achilles’ heart still swells with anger. He expresses this in terms of memory: “Whenever I recall how the son of Atreus degraded me among the Argives, like some worthless itinerant” (9.646-47). [95] This special strategy of Achilles, rebuking by recollection, also might explain a problem that has long puzzled readers of Homer and delighted Analyst critics: that the words of Achilles at 16.72-73, describing the Trojans’ flight should “Agamemnon act mildly towards me” (ēpia eideiē), contradict the entire embassy scene. To cite only one recent evaluation, by a non-Analyst critic at that,

The silence of Achilles about the offer of Agamemnon does not yield to any interpretation that is compatible with the conventions of Iliadic narrative, and we may conclude that his silence is not an intentional and interprétable aspect of the narrative but a by-product of the cumulative process of composition. [96]

I suggest instead that, just as Achilles rebukes Agamemnon indirectly by recollection, he does so even more markedly by refusing to recollect. Achilles’ audience, Patroklos, knows what occurred during the embassy; Homer’s audience is meant to compare this scene with that. And Achilles, whose entire style relies on recollection, who is shown recalling the exact words of his own men’s complaints in this same book (16.203-6)—surely he remembers. By refusing to acknowledge the existence of Agamemnon’s malicious buy-out, Achilles engages {143} in a quite recognizable Iliadic convention, if not of narrative then of heroic rhetoric: recall the effective silent reply of Diomedes to Agamemnon when the commander tried to lower that hero’s status (4.401). Ethnographers point out that we cannot understand the role of speaking in any society until we know what silence signifies. We know what it means for the world of the Iliad. Achilles has played the poetic equivalent of damnatio memoriae. Thus, in the terms of heroic style, he has effectively outdone the rhetoric of Agamemnon, whose excessive style could only cause competitors to enter an escalating spiral if they choose to speak against him. Achilles’ great speech in Book 9 is as effective a reply as he could give, verbally. This “forgetful” silence in Book 16, however, is an even more damning statement. It deserves notice, inasmuch as “a successful act of revenge is one that so appropriately caps the original injury that it draws attention to its own significance” in a society that values heroic style. [97]

Silence proves an effective weapon elsewhere as Achilles performs on the battlefield. In the light of the speech conventions we have been analyzing, Achilles’ flyting remarks are often characterized by brevity, which we can now view as itself an insult, conveying to the victim Achilles’ sense that his addressee is not worth a waste of words. To Aeneas he accords a reasonably full and damaging recollection, citing his successful rout of that hero in an earlier encounter (20.188-95); Iphition, however, rates only a perfunctory four verses on being killed, yet in these Achilles states exactly where his victim’s ancestral home lay and who his father was (20.389-92). The brevity may strike us as epigrammatic, but compared to other examples of this genre it means that Achilles knows all that is worth knowing about the dead hero and finds nothing notable. At times, this refusal to speak at length produces the impression that Achilles simply wants to be done with the inevitable killing. Unlike Diomedes, who could spend twenty lines on the topic (6.123-43), Achilles employs just two conventional verses asking where his next victim came from (21.150— 51) and saves his breath for a lengthier boast, a feat of genealogical memory, after the killing of Asteropaios (21.184-99). He convinces the audience that he needs no softening up of his enemies with verbal thrusts, unlike other warriors.

The final characteristic that deserves mention in the analysis of {143|144} Achilles’ genre mixing has to do with a specific form of memory discourse, the lament. Even before hearing of Patroklos’ death, Achilles recalls his mother’s words in language that comes from the poetry of grief: “She said that the best of the Myrmidons, while I still live, would leave the sunlight at Trojan hands” (18.10-11). As we saw in Hektor’s imagined discourses, praise and lament are intertwined. One difference between Homer’s representation of Hektor and of Achilles is that the former imagines himself praised in the future, while the latter expends his rhetoric on a companion, showing once again a sympathetic imagination. Patroklos’ death prompts grieving recollection that turns to self-rebuke for Achilles (as in his words to Thetis at 18.80-84), but it also opens gates of memory to other stories—his parents’ wedding (18.84—87), Herakles’ labors (18.115-19), the conversation he had with Patroklos’ father (18.325)—and to memories of other persons, especially Achilles’ father and son (19.315—37). The act of imagination that enabled him to act out his anger also haunts Achilles with these distant figures, now that the Achaeans’ “longing” for him (pothē, 1.240) has turned into his longing for his companion (19.321). But the sharp overtone to Achilles’ voice does not get muffled amid his memories. Most convincing about his performance even to the end of the poem is the manner in which Achilles manages to combine lamentation with a consciousness of speaking in competition. When he recalls Peleus’ vow to the river Sperkheios for a safe return, Achilles uses the language with which others have tried and failed to shame him into action. “Thus prayed the old man,” says Achilles, “but you did not fulfill the intention” (23.149). The words indirectly blame the local god of Phthia as Achilles cuts the hair originally intended for him. Compare the line with Odysseus’ pointed recollection of Peleus’ words (9.259): “Thus the old man enjoined, but you forget.”

Achilles never forgets, though. It has often been observed that memory plays the pivotal role in the final scene of the poem, as Achilles recalls Peleus on seeing Priam, and joins the old man in weeping (24.518-51). The jars of Zeus and Niobe’s grief arise in his recollection as transparent myths, nor do we feel (as with Diomedes) that these are stories meant to sway Priam. Memory bonds them, rather—except in one disturbing moment. Priam, hurrying Achilles to bring the corpse of Hektor, mentions the many gifts brought as ransom. If we need another piece of evidence to convince us that Achilles had ever heard Agamemnon’s offer in Book 9, it is here. For {144|145} the words of Priam spark a dangerous shift in Achilles’ mood; they do so precisely because Agamemnon had made the same mistake, as if mere goods could persuade Achilles. Adding insult, Priam has mentioned Achilles’ return home, a detail offensive to Achilles’ sense of the epic tradition he is destined to enter. Achilles responds in language ironically echoing Agamemnon’s original refusal to honor another old man’s request (compare 24.560 and 1.32, mēketi m’erethize/mē m’erethize). Unlike Agamemnon, he relents. But this final touch of characterization by discourse style goes far to tell an audience that Achilles has full mastery of the genre of recollections, whether of injury or grief. The further subtleties in the construction of this emphatic style will concern us in the two remaining chapters. [98]


[ back ] 1. Ong 1977:238.

[ back ] 2. Turner 1982.

[ back ] 3. Herzfeld 1985:124. On the reciprocal nature of word and deed, see also Herzfeld 1985:140 (an insignificant deed “dhe lei prama”—does not “say” anything).

[ back ] 4. On the resultant rhetorical poses adopted by Glendiots, see Herzfeld 1985:16.

[ back ] 5. On Anang, see Hymes 1974:33-34; on Rundi, Saville-Troike 1982:172. Both offer counterexamples of cultures that do not have these values, for example, the Navaho and Gbeya. I have experienced the Irish situation firsthand in Cois Fhairrge, Connemara.

[ back ] 6. Albert 1972:77. For a full-length study of such training in expressive speech in West Indian society, and its role in the community, see Abrahams 1983.

[ back ] 7. See Lord 1960:5, 63, 93, and Vesterholt 1973:32-37.

[ back ] 8. In this context, compare Crowley 1983:136 on the apparent paradox that the folklorist encounters: “We find that to be a traditional Bahamian storyteller, one is required to create.”

[ back ] 9. Herzfeld 1985:16.

[ back ] 10. Adkins 1960:23.

[ back ] 11. Bowra 1972:29.

[ back ] 12. Bauman 1986:146, 143.

[ back ] 13. Bauman 1986 143. The mutually reinforcing nature of poetic and heroic performances is further shown by the existence of sagas about poets, detailing their employment of the art during adventures of a heroic type. This tradition bears a strong resemblance to the Lives of Homer and Contest of Homer and Hesiod narratives.

[ back ] 14. Knappert 1983:104-5.

[ back ] 15. Ibid. 120. On boasts and wagers in epic, see Bowra 1952:51.

[ back ] 16. On eulogy especially, see Başgöz 1978:31.

[ back ] 17. On this passage, see Nagy 1979:34-35. Nagy 1986:89-102 examines the interrelation of the attested genre of praise-poetry, as in Pindar, with Homeric epic.

[ back ] 18. On ranking, see especially Kōtopoulos 1977. Shtal’ 1983:97-105 examines epithets; on the implications for characterization, see Shtal’ 1983:175-90. See also, on ranking, Letoublon 1983: 43-44. The gods are shown engaging in rating one another’s worth (20.122-23). For an illustration of the rhetorical use of rating, see Idomeneus’ speech at 13.310-27.

[ back ] 19. Gotoff 1982:57.

[ back ] 20. On the semantics of this concept, see Adkins 1960 and Nagy 1979:149.

[ back ] 21. For a similar interpretation of this phrase with different application, see Nagy 1979:134. Proportionality, rather than factual accuracy or detail, is uppermost in this view, pace Finkelberg 1987.

[ back ] 22. Note the verb in description of a woman/prize, “She knew many works and they rated her at four-cow worth” (tion de he tessaraboion, 23.705).

[ back ] 23. For the ambiguity of Agamemnon’s last phrase, which can be translated either “older” or “of older stock,” compare 9.58 and 23.789-90 (justifying the former) with 11.786 (where geneē refers to ancestry). Zeus makes a similar threat at 15.166-67, which seems to require the former meaning.

[ back ] 24. See the critique of this view by Calarne 1983:253-58. I have elsewhere attempted to refute the “rise of the individual” school of thought: see Martin 1983.

[ back ] 25. On this trend, see Cramer 1976:300.

[ back ] 26. Gordesiani 1978:291-307 has a critique and bibliography.

[ back ] 27. See in particular Dionysius Hal. Comp. 24 and Eustathius, edit, van der Valk, vol. 2, li-lxx.

[ back ] 28. Austin 1966:304, A. Parry 1972:17, Cramer 1976:303.

[ back ] 29. Griffin 1986 reviews the few works written, and offers some valuable remarks regarding diction and morphology.

[ back ] 30. For the figures, see Gordesiani 1986:93-94.

[ back ] 31. Lohmann 1970.

[ back ] 32. Crowley 1983:45-128. On isolating contextual styles, see Labov 1972:70-109; on the privileging of certain grammatical constructions in various narrative styles, see Pike 1981.

[ back ] 33. Gordesiani 1986:91-93.

[ back ] 34. Read 1983:15.

[ back ] 35. Olsen 1984:88.

[ back ] 36. Smith 1980:70.

[ back ] 37. On this speech as an example of good political rhetoric, see White 1984:37.

[ back ] 38. On the heritage, see Schmitt 1967:255, who cites Rig Veda 1.114.6 for the cognate phrase, and Hymn. Hom 32.2, Hesiod Theogony 965, 1021 (= Muses’ phrase).

[ back ] 39. Austin 1966:301-3 sees all Nestor’s “digressions” as essential hortatory paradigms. For his remarks on the use of this style, see p. 307. Quintilian 12.10.64 recognized Nestor’s style as summa facundia. M. Edwards 1987:5 observes that Nestor is “prolix not because he is old but because what he has to say is always important.” Because style is a sign of importance, it becomes something of a prize object in the agonistic speeches of the poem.

[ back ] 40. See Koch 1983:48-56.

[ back ] 41. Seitel 1974:54.

[ back ] 42. Lewis 1986:139.

[ back ] 43. For this role of the instructor of princes in the cognate traditions of Old Irish literature, see Martin 1984.

[ back ] 44. On the last phrase, which is a characteristic of Nestor’s idiom, compare 11.789, his quoting of Menoitios, and 23.305, the phrase introducing his instructions for Antilokhos.

[ back ] 45. The exceptions are 10.128-30 (simple statement), 15.370-76 (prayer), and 10.532-39 (prediction).

[ back ] 46. Compare for instance the turn of phrase at 11.750-51, “Now … I would have taken . . . had not . . .” with Homer’s narrative at 8.131-32. On Homer’s technnique of appositional expansion as like Nestor’s speech, see Thornton 1984:106-7. Stories of raiding are an identifiable genre in the “poetics of manhood”; see Herzfeld 1985:163-205, who notes the initiatory character of such raids and recountings.

[ back ] 47. On the speech, see Detienne and Vernant 1974:18-19.

[ back ] 48. As Kirk 1985 does, 142.

[ back ] 49. Kirk 1985:140 points to the elaborate syntax and expansive style of his lines.

[ back ] 50. The fullest demonstration is by Freidenberg 1930:243-44. Whitman 1958:161 and Kirk 1985: 141 also notice parallels.

[ back ] 51. Freidenberg 1930 would associate him with wider patterns of ritual clowning. Chantraine 1963 examines the implication of his name, “bold, intrepid,” which also occurs as, for example, an epithet of Ares in Laconian cult.

[ back ] 52. Nagy 1979:260. See in general his discussion at 253-64.

[ back ] 53. See, in order, Kirk 1985:138-39; Freidenberg 1930:247; Nagy 1979:263.

[ back ] 54. I cannot agree with Kirk 1985:245 who translates the epithet at 2.796 simply to mean “numberless.”

[ back ] 55. Kelly 1974:7. It may be that such slurring indicates another genre of speech; vowel elision, prefixation, and other linguistic markers can function in this way: see Sherzer 1978:136-37.

[ back ] 56. 1.25 (harsh speech); 1.105 (spoke looking evilly); 4.241, 336, 368 (form of the verb neikeō used); 6.54 (rebuke); 11.137 (ungentle voice).

[ back ] 57. As an example of this curt style, Bassett 1934:143 cites the juxtaposition of 1.322, Agamemnon’s address to the heralds, without any vocative, and 1.334, Achilles’ reception of the same heralds, with full titles of praise.

[ back ] 58. On the semantics of ekpaglotat’ see Kirk 1985:68.

[ back ] 59. Lynn-George 1988:83 points to the shift in mood even when Agamemnon says the same things, as at 2.110-41 and 9.17-28: “What was a feint in II is now a strong recommendation of flight and return.”

[ back ] 60. A good example is 14.44-51, his fear that Hektor will complete a boast and the Achaeans will lose confidence in him.

[ back ] 61. Pattison 1982:16 makes the quoted observation in the course of examining Agamemnon’s blunders.

[ back ] 62. A. Parry 1981:24.

[ back ] 63. The line before is also grammatically superfluous, and so was athetized by Aristarchus: see Kirk 1985:100.

[ back ] 64. Ohmann 1973:98-99.

[ back ] 65. Note that this apparent modesty (10.555-59) makes it seem that he had no divine help, when in fact Athena figured prominently in the raid—a fact he omits telling.

[ back ] 66. Again, contrast a neighboring speech: Nestor only repeats once a word at lined-end that is not an epithet:2.354, 357.

[ back ] 67. On this technique of “diegetic summary,” naming speech-acts to make a narrative, see Rimmon-Kenan 1983:109.

[ back ] 68. On the etiquette of inclusive pronominal usage, see Wackernagel 1926:43.

[ back ] 69. In this connection, his threat to strip Thersites bare and beat him, later, is more a description of what he actually is doing verbally, and physically with the scepter. It bears noting that Odysseus in the Odyssey defines himself as a rhetorician par excellence: see Martin 1984, Walsh 1984:7, 113, and Austin 1975:198-99. To contrast with Odysseus’ unique audience-adjusted style: the two Ajaxes accost men in battle, some with sweet words, some with harsh (12.267-68); but it takes two men speaking as one to do this. Agamemnon’s epipōlēsis in Book 4 is a dramatization of this strategy, but, as we saw in Chapter 2, Odysseus thwarts him at it (4.350-55).

[ back ] 70. Fenik 1986:18.

[ back ] 71. On Nestor and “cunning intelligence” (mētis), see 23.315-18. Nestor’s son uses the same half-line at 23.590.

[ back ] 72. See Brillante 1980 on ancient traditions that feature competing claims to rule Argos by Diomedes and Agamemnon.

[ back ] 73. For a summary and bibliography on this problem in Neo-analytic studies, see Fenik 1986:15 and Whitman 1958:166-67.

[ back ] 74. See Maftei 1976:52-53.

[ back ] 75. See A. Edwards 1985:15-38 on Odysseus as master of ambush in speech and martial style.

[ back ] 76. See Fingerle 1939:133 on the unconventional nature of the exchange here.

[ back ] 77. Gaisser 1969:175.

[ back ] 78. Gaisser 1969:166 takes seriously Diomedes’ exemplum about Lykourgos, and so tries to explain his declaration at 6.129 as the result of changed circumstances. Yet she acknowledges that Glaukos suppresses lurid details of his family past that the audience might have known (Gaisser 1969:172). I contend that in both speeches the selection of detail is meant to characterize the internal narrators.

[ back ] 79. Of interest but less important for overall contrast are Hektor’s use of picturesque language (Bassett 1938:78-79); and his use of characteristic phrases, such as “Trojan women with trailing gowns” (Gordesiani 1986:78-80). Similar traits have been observed in Achilles’ speeches: see discussion later in this chapter and in Chapters 4 and 5.

[ back ] 80. Finhgerle 1939:148.

[ back ] 81. I use the traditional metrical terms only to suggest a relation to lyric, not to imply anything about the chronological ordering of attested Greek meters. I am persuaded by Nagy’s demonstration (1974) that the epic hexameter actually arises from earlier and shorter “lyric” meters in the tradition. For the fullest explanation of this thesis, and an examination of all it implies, see the forthcoming book by Nagy, Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past. I wish to thank the author for allowing me to read this work in advance of its publication by Johns Hopkins University Press.

[ back ] 82. On the pervasiveness of the theme of “knowing, ” especially knowing technique, in the speeches of Hektor, see Duban 1981: esp. 106-7.

[ back ] 83. On Hektor’s reinterpretation of bird-signs, and general status as “reader” in the text, see Bushnell 1982:6-8, and note his reply to Patroklos (16.859): “Why do you prophesy death to me?”

[ back ] 84. The other occurrences are at 7.296-98; 13.751-53; 17.186-87.

[ back ] 85. On Paris as a traditional figure of blame-poetry, see Suter 1984.

[ back ] 86. Another flyting speech shows similar acuity at the sound-shape of language: see 15.557-58: kataktamen . . . kat’ akrēs/. . . ktasthai.

[ back ] 87. Duban 1981:116-17 sees it as independent use of the same words by the two heroes, without any diminishing effect.

[ back ] 88. On this line, see Gentili and Giannini 1977:22-25.

[ back ] 89. The other example is at 20.371-72.

[ back ] 90. For similar instances of bare summary or minimal direct quotation of Hektor, see 5.689, 7.54, 11.288, 12.80, 12.407, 15.346.

[ back ] 91. A dozen of Achilles’ speeches do not fall under one of these categories. Two are prayers (1.351, 16.231); two promises (1.121, 24.668); three simple declarations (23.102, 617, 734); two questions (18.181, 187); two expressions of solidarity (1.215, 9.196); and one simple threat (21.222).

[ back ] 92. On the scepter and sword scenes, see Lynn-George 1988: esp. 48—50; on the meeting with Thetis, de Jong 1985:11.

[ back ] 93. On this quality in his use of place-names, see Griffin 1986:54-55.

[ back ] 94. For a narratologist’s analysis of this speech, see de Jong 1985.

[ back ] 95. For other rebukes in the course of recollection by Achilles, see 21.276 and 24.649-54. In the latter, the indirect hit at the Achaeans has been raised, in the introductory phrase (649) to characterize the whole speech, although Achilles talks mildly, in fact, to Priam.

[ back ] 96. Mueller 1984:172.

[ back ] 97. Herzfeld 1985:205, speaking of the poetics of Cretan revenge. On silence in a society’s speech economy, see Bauman 1974:145.

[ back ] 98. On the similarities between 23.559 and Book 1, see Minchin 1986:15-17.