Equine Poetics

  Platte, Ryan. 2017. Equine Poetics. Hellenic Studies Series 74. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_PlatteR.Equine_Poetics.2017.

3. Lyric Horses

I believe that it is clear that the PIE horse sacrifice ritual and the depiction of the hero in Greek epic reveal an inherited Indo-European tendency toward the hippomorphizing of humans and the anthropomorphizing of horses which continued to exert influence into the Greek Archaic period. The examples of this phenomenon that have been considered so far have focused generally, although not exclusively, on the similarities that are to be found between horses and epic heroes. Yet this tendency, epitomized in the PIE kingly horse sacrifice ritual, exerted influence on the poetic landscape beyond the epic battlefield. This is clear from the fact that hippomorphic depictions of humans are especially common in Greek lyric. These depictions, however, are often of a very different tenor from those of epic and point up a different set of similarities in the ancient Greek conceptions of horses and humans. The points of coincidence in lyric depictions of horses and humans are largely erotic and present the beauty of horses as uniquely analogous to the beauty of humans, and also draw heavily from the symbology of sexual dominance inherent in horse-riding. These comparisons are especially important counterpoints to the description of horses examined in Chapter 2 because they often deal with women. As in the case of the heroic depictions of horses discussed in the previous chapter, aspects of these erotic depictions may have some precedent in the PIE horse sacrifice, in which the ability of the horse to stand as sexual substitute for a human is an essential component.

By looking at the ways in which horses function in depictions of human sexuality, both male and female, I hope to situate the previous discussion of horses and heroes within a broader understanding of the poetic role that horses played in ancient Greece and also to draw out a fuller range of the hippomorphizing IE tendency, of which that involving heroes is just one facet. Many of the sources to be considered here are quite famous, and their imagery is well studied. [1] Yet I hope that after a review of these sources I will be able to present new angles from which to view them and new contexts in which to understand them. This sexualizing element of the treatment of horses in early Greek poetic art will, in fact, ultimately be shown to play a significant role in the development and deployment of early Greek metapoetry, namely in the image of the charioteer, a subject which will both conclude this chapter and form the backdrop for the next.

Women and Horses

Equine metaphors and hippomorphic depictions of humans are especially common in Greek lyric, indicative not only of martial excellence but also of erotic impulse. Since the erotic object of Greek lyric can be a male human just as easily as it can be a female, it is only logical that hippological depictions of human sexuality would have both male and female subjects. As mentioned in the last chapter, the PIE horse sacrifice comprises our best evidence for hippomorphism in the parent culture and none of our evidence regarding that sacrifice suggests any reason to expect that the phenomenon was restricted to men. Although the slippage of identity between horse and king seems to have been the most important aspect of the ritual, there was a concomitant transformation of mare and queen. The ritual logic was seen to rest upon a general ontological similarity and even overlap of humans and horses generally, so it is not surprising that the Greek daughter culture displays vestiges of that phenomenon in its depiction of women and men. Yet the conventions of ancient Greek sexuality do not yield an identical treatment of male and female sexual objectification, and male and female hippomorphically eroticized subjects are accordingly treated somewhat differently. I will first highlight some examples dealing with female subjects, and then move to examples involving males.

The most extensive example of hippomorphic erotic imagery in Greek literature is probably Alcman’s Partheneion, which represents the most prolonged demonstration of this phenomenon in Greek lyric. This lyric is particularly interesting from the point of view of horses and gender because it is not only about women, but was also performed by women. It appears, in fact, to have been written for performance by a chorus of Spartan girls engaged in a choral competition. Although the lyric begins with the narration of local Spartan mythology, the ensuing dialogue is largely self-reflective, calling explicit attention to the qualities of the song and its performers, and contrasting those with the qualities of the opposing choruses. [2] The tone of these self-reflective moments is repeatedly erotic, and is probably also homoerotic, something not often attested between women in our ancient sources. [3] It is not perhaps surprising that the beauty of the girls in the competition is a frequent subject of the hymn, since Greek society would readily have allowed that the beauty of the performer justifiably influences the effectiveness of the performance, but it may be surprising that the beauty of the girls is repeatedly phrased in hippological terms:

That one seems to stand out as when someone sets among the grazing beasts a strong, victorious, loud-footed horse, from one of the dreams under a rock.

Alcman Partheneion 45–49

As Campbell points out, this is strongly reminiscent of Homeric dactylic hexa-meter, although not dactylic itself, and recalls the Homeric phrase ἵππους / πηγοὺς ἀθλοφόρους; “strong prize-winning horses,” Iliad IX 123–124. [

The competitive nature of the choral performance alone may seem enough to explain a hippological Homer reference, since the horses of the Iliad are readily indicative of combat, of which even nonviolent competition may be seen as a form. Yet soon after this line, the other of the chorus leaders is also compared to a horse:

ἦ οὐχ ὁρῃς; ὁ μὲν κέλης
Ἐνητικός· ἁ δὲ χαίτα
τᾶς ἐμᾶς ἀνεψιᾶς
Ἁγησιχόρας ἐπανθεῖ
χρυσὸς [ὡ]ς ἀκήρατος·

Alcman Partheneion 50–54

This comparison is, I believe, without Homeric precedent. The competitive import of the courser is still felt, of course, but the introductory “ἦ οὐχ ὁρῃς;” hints that the visual beauty of the horse is relevant in much the same way as its speed and that both qualities are meant to reflect the competitive preeminence of the chorus leader. This is followed by a similar comparison that makes the importance of the performers’ beauty explicit:

ἁ δὲ δευτέρα πεδ’ Ἀγιδὼ τὸ ϝεῖδος
ἵππος Ἰβηνῶι Κολαξαῖος δραμήται·

The second horse after Agido in beauty will run [like] a Kolaxian after an Ibenian.

Alcman Partheneion 58–59

Although the metaphor here is clearly of a horse race and the competition among the girls is likened to that between competing horses, the beauty of the girls is the central point and the inferiority of this girl’s beauty to Agido’s seems to imply that she is inferior as chorus leader. The girls’ capacity as choral performers is at least partially dependent on their sexual attractiveness, and horses are apparently fitting representatives of beauty that functions as an element of their competitive excellence.

The erotic connotations of horses may help to explain a certain point of interpretive controversy regarding the phrase ὑποπετριδίων ὀνείρων (49). I have translated this as “from one of the dreams under a rock,” just as the text reads, but this understanding of the text is not universally shared. It is common to read ὑποπετριδίων as if it were ὑποπτεριδίων and thus the phrase would be understood to mean “from one of those winged dreams.” Page, for example, translates the passage this way, but he does not alter the text, and cites the authority of the Etymologicum Magnum. [7] Page and the compiler of the lexicon presumably both prefer this interpretation for the same reason: ὑποπετριδίων ὀνείρων does not make clear sense. ὑποπτεριδίων ὀνείρων could be less problematic because dreams are occasionally described as having wings. [8] This conclusion requires, however, that one accept that an unexpected metathesis of the consonantal tau sound and the vocalic sound of the epsilon has occurred in this word in the Spartan dialect. Even if this phonetic development is acceptable, it is still not clear what these winged dreams have to do with horses. The reading “from one of those winged dreams” does not actually make significantly better sense than the obvious reading and is also linguistically problematic. Nagy, however, suggests a way of avoiding these pitfalls by demonstrating that the obvious reading may, in fact, have made perfect sense, by citing scholia that attest to a myth of Poseidon fathering the first horse through a nocturnal emission that occurred while he was sleeping under a rock. His emission then became the first horse: [9]

Having fallen asleep on a rock, he ejaculated, and the earth, having received the semen, produced the first horse.

Scholia to Pindar Pythian IV 246

Thus, there is mythological precedent for translating the phrase as it appears. Furthermore this clearly reveals an association between horses and sexuality which would make very good sense in this lyric. If this reading is correct, it makes this association an explicit part of the symbology of the lyric. The inherent association of horses with sexuality is an important motivating force in the hippological comparisons used throughout this lyric.

Such hippomorphic depictions of attractive girls are not confined to Sparta, although the horse-raising culture of Sparta makes their use especially sensible there. Similar poetic tropes are recognizable elsewhere, as in a famous poem by Anacreon:

Thracian filly, why do you look at me askance and run away pitilessly? Do I seem a fool to you? Well know this, I would skillfully throw the bridle on you and grabbing your reins turn you around the racetrack. Now you graze in the meadows and nimbly skip around in your play, for you do not yet have a skillful rider.

Anacreon 417

Clearly there is much more at work here than simply comparing the girl to a horse because of their shared beauty. The metaphor of the man’s role in courtship as horse tamer is the dominant idea, yet this depends on, and in turn reinforces, the association between horses and sexuality and is surely also reliant on the beauty of young horses as emblematic of the beauty of young girls. In fact, the power dynamic assumed in ancient Greek erotic relationships is presumably an important part of the logic of the erotic hippomorphic comparisons. A significant part of taming a horse was and is “breaking” it for riding, and the metaphor of riding as sexual intercourse was common in Greek antiquity as it is contemporary culture. [
16] The fact that a young horse required breaking is not an alternative explanation for the hippomorphic depictions of young girls but a complementary one. The breaking of the horse and the nature of its relationship to men cooperate in the phenomenon of hippomorphic imagery.

I suggest that there is a sort of poetic humor at work here, based on a tradition of which we are unaware, in which this foal-breaking metaphor meets the intransparency of the epithet κλυτόπωλος and yields a solution that makes Persephone herself the πῶλος of the epithet. Persephone is, of course, the eternal bride, the ever-youthful κόρη, so she would be a perfectly logical subject of this equine metaphor. If this is true it would not be hard to see here a clever reinterpretation of κλυτόπωλος. As discussed earlier, Hades is not famous for his horses generally, and when his horses are described they are ἵπποι rather than πῶλοι, in fact, yet he is famous for his bride, who is herself imaginable as a πῶλος. The prevalence of the horse-breaking metaphor, therefore, allows this lyric to humorously recast the Homeric epithet κλυτόπωλος so that it does not mean “of famous foals” but rather “of the famous foal,” that is, Persephone.

Another fine example of the use of hippomorphic imagery in depicting sexually attractive women is furnished by Semonides, in his well-known iambic catalogue poem. He compares women to different sorts of animals, or rather states that different sorts of women descend from different sorts of animals, although there are two women who do not descend from animals, but from the sea and the earth, respectively. The various women are all said to descend from something whose characteristics can be observed in the woman herself: the shameless woman descends from a dog (12–20), the fickle woman descends from the sea (27–42), and the reluctantly hardworking woman descends from a donkey (43–49). The most beautiful, yet least helpful, woman comes from a horse:

τὴν δ’ ἵππος ἁβρὴ χαιτέεσσ’ ἐγείνατο,
ἣ δούλι’ ἔργα καὶ δύην περιτρέπει,
κοὔτ’ ἂν μύλης ψαύσειεν, οὔτε κόσκινον
ἄρειεν, οὔτε κόπρον ἐξ οἴκου βάλοι,
οὔτε πρὸς ἰπνὸν ἀσβόλην ἀλμένη
ἵζοιτ’. ἀνάγκηι δ’ ἄνδρα ποιεῖται φίλον·
λοῦται δὲ πάσης ἡμέρης ἄπο ῥύπον
δίς, ἄλλοτε τρίς, καὶ μύροις ἀλείφεται,
αἰεὶ δὲ χαίτην ἐκτενισμένην φορεῖ
βαθεῖαν, ἀνθέμοισιν ἐσκιασμένην.
καλὸν μὲν ὦν θέημα τοιαύτη γυνὴ
ἄλλοισι, τῶι δ’ ἔχοντι γίνεται κακόν

The delicate long-maned mare begat this woman, who turns away from slavish tasks and toil. She would not touch a mill nor lift a sieve. She wouldn’t throw the shit out of the house nor sit near the oven for fear of soot. She makes her man familiar with necessity. She washes herself two or three times a day and anoints herself with perfumes. She constantly keeps her thick hair brushed out and shaded with flowers. Such a woman is a beautiful sight to other men, but brings evil for the man who has her.

Semonides 57–68

The point here is the stereotyping of the beautiful woman as useless, and thus less desirable than she may initially seem. As Egoscozábal points out, a significant contributing factor in the logic of the horse representing this woman lies in the role that horses played in large parts of ancient Greece: they were symbols of wealth and affluence, but did not actually do much labor. [
20] The horse is presumably also fit for contrasting this woman with the woman who descends from a donkey, who is said to do all of her work, albeit grudgingly (43–45). Additionally, Gregory has shown that comparisons of horses and donkeys in ancient Greek are frequently coded as discussions of social and economic hierarchy. [21] So the use of a mare here may function to denigrate wealthy women, in order to suggest to the listener, who may not be able to marry a rich woman, that he is better off without one. [22]

In addition to literary comparisons of women to horses, Greece actually provides a wonderful example of literal female hippomorphism in the myth of the rape of Demeter by Poseidon. Although it is Poseidon who bore the title Hippios, and to whom horses were sacrificed, it was Demeter who was worshiped in hippomorphic form. Pausanias tells us that during his tour of Arcadia Demeter was still worshiped in the cave in which she was supposed to have taken refuge after the attack. The cult image of the goddess which was set up there is described thus:

ἄγαλμα ἀναθεῖναι ξύλου. πεποιῆσθαι δὲ οὕτω σφίσι τὸ ἄγαλμα· καθέζεσθαι μὲν ἐπὶ πέτρᾳ, γυναικὶ δὲ ἐοικέναι τἄλλα πλὴν κεφαλήν· κεφαλὴν δὲ καὶ κόμην εἶχεν ἵππου.

They dedicated a statue of wood. They made it thus: it sat on a rock, and resembled a woman except for the head. It had the head and hair of a horse.

Pausanias VIII 42.3–4

We see sex, hippomorphism, and male power linked even more clearly and explicitly than in the literary passages, but this same assemblage of themes can be documented throughout these texts, and they are the same themes that are joined in the PIE horse sacrifice.

To return to that horse sacrifice, then, it was seen there that the principal unifying theme of the various descendant traditions was an overlap of human and equine identity, exemplified in hippomorphism. Furthermore it was clear that the parent culture found this ontological coincidence to be especially useful in thinking about sex and demonstrated a nexus whereby hippomorphic sex was symbolically linked to expressions of male power and authority. This nexus of ideas is culturally unique, and the fact that the exact same nexus exists in Greece means that its presence there is best understood as one of inheritance, not of coincidence. To be clear, what I am suggesting is not that erotically tinged depictions of horses originate in the PIE horse sacrifice but simply that the parent culture used horses and their connection to humans as a means for thinking about sex and power and that the Greeks inherited elements of this tendency, as expressed in depictions both of women and of men, as we will now see.

Men and Horses

Despite the apparent ease with which the Semonides poem asserts the relationship between horses and female sexual attractiveness, this phenomenon is not entirely restricted to women, or to mares, as this passage by Ibycus readily documents:

Ἔρος αὖτέ με κυανέοισιν ὑπὸ
βλεφάροις τακέρ’ ὄμμασι δερκόμενος
κηλήμασι παντοδαποῖς ἐς ἄπει-
ρα δίκτυα Κύπριδος ἐσβάλλει·
ἦ μὰν τρομέω νιν ἐπερχόμενον,
ὥστε φερέζυγος ἵππος ἀεθλοφόρος ποτὶ γήραι
ἀέκων σὺν ὄχεσφι θοοῖς ἐς ἅμιλλαν ἔβα.

Eros, glancing tenderly at me again from beneath his dark brows, with all sorts of enticements casts me into the inescapable nets of Aphrodite. Indeed I tremble at his approach, like a once prize-winning race horse now beset with old age that unwillingly goes to the track with the swift chariots.

Ibycus 287

In this case the man is apparently aging and presumably not as attractive as he once was, so he is merely an old stallion. Yet his earlier beauty is vouchsafed by his status as an ἀεθλοφόρος, “prize-winning,” horse. This work imports the symbology of epic with its equation of the horse and hero, thereby activating the metaphor of courtship as competition, and hence war, so conventional in amatory poetry. It is important to note that we cannot know the gender of the love-object here and the erotic hippomorphism is articulated in terms not of sexual subjugation but of sexual agency: the lover is the horse, not the beloved. The narrator races with other men in pursuit of a common erotic object. There is still a differential of power operative here, certainly, but it works along a different axis. The horse is controlled not by a lover, as the Thracian girl by the ἱπποπείρης ἐμβάτης, but by Eros and Aphrodite. By casting himself as a horse the narrator engages in a pretense of powerlessness and reluctance by exploiting the relationship between horses, sexuality, and dominance, which, as the πῶλοι of Anacreon make clear, is integral to hippomorphic representations of humans.

Ibycus also reveals the latent erotic character of the comparison of epic heroes to horses. Although horses in the Iliad are primarily prized for their martial excellence, as are the men whom they aid in battle, physical beauty is conceived of in ancient Greece as attendant on other physical and moral excellence for men as well as women. Thus the Homeric heroes are not only brave, strong, and fast, but also exceptionally beautiful, as are their horses. For example, when Priam has come to terms with Achilles, the slayer of his son, the two men marvel at each other’s physical beauty:

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ πόσιος καὶ ἐδητύος ἐξ ἔρον ἕντο,
ἤτοι Δαρδανίδης Πρίαμος θαύμαζ’ Ἀχιλῆα
ὅσσος ἔην οἷός τε· θεοῖσι γὰρ ἄντα ἐῴκει·
αὐτὰρ ὃ Δαρδανίδην Πρίαμον θαύμαζεν Ἀχιλλεὺς
εἰσορόων ὄψίν τ’ ἀγαθὴν καὶ μῦθον ἀκούων.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ τάρπησαν ἐς ἀλλήλους ὁρόωντες,
τὸν πρότερος προσέειπε γέρων Πρίαμος θεοειδής·

But when they had had their fill of food and drink, then Priam the son of Dardanus marveled at Achilles, how tall he was, and how good-looking; for he appeared like a god. But Achilles was marveling at Priam the son of Dardanus, gazing at his handsome face and hearing his noble speech. But after they enjoyed looking at one another, god-like Priam, the old man, spoke first.

Iliad XXIV 628–634

In this moment of daring and noble humility, Priam, despite his age, is still beautiful, and Achilles is fittingly as handsome as he is heroic. Achilles’ beauty may lie in the background in the Ibycus lyric, since it recalls a moment in book XXII of the Iliad when Achilles himself is likened to a horse:

Ὣς εἰπὼν προτὶ ἄστυ μέγα φρονέων ἐβεβήκει,
σευάμενος ὥς θ’ ἵππος ἀεθλοφόρος σὺν ὄχεσφιν,
ὅς ῥά τε ῥεῖα θέῃσι τιταινόμενος πεδίοιο·
ὣς Ἀχιλεὺς λαιψηρὰ πόδας καὶ γούνατ’ ἐνώμα.

Iliad XXII 21–24

As discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, Achilles’ epithets and his connection to his chariot team make clear his horse-like qualities, so this comparison is completely logical. The similarity between Achilles and his horses, as discussed thus far, has primarily involved the overlap in martial prowess and ontology, the fact that he, like his chariot-team, is partly mortal and partly divine. The erotic import of this similarity has not yet been addressed, nor, Ι admit, is it obvious here.

Yet one character, Paris, is especially noted for his physical beauty, and as such it is particularly fitting that his prideful displays are compared to the prancing of a stallion. As he returns to the battlefield after having sex with Helen, Paris is described thus:

Οὐδὲ Πάρις δήθυνεν ἐν ὑψηλοῖσι δόμοισιν,
ἀλλ’ ὅ γ’, ἐπεὶ κατέδυ κλυτὰ τεύχεα ποικίλα χαλκῷ,
σεύατ’ ἔπειτ’ ἀνὰ ἄστυ ποσὶ κραιπνοῖσι πεποιθώς.
ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις στατὸς ἵππος ἀκοστήσας ἐπὶ φάτνῃ
δεσμὸν ἀπορρήξας θείῃ πεδίοιο κροαίνων
εἰωθὼς λούεσθαι ἐϋρρεῖος ποταμοῖο
κυδιόων· ὑψοῦ δὲ κάρη ἔχει, ἀμφὶ δὲ χαῖται
ὤμοις ἀΐσσονται· ὃ δ’ ἀγλαΐηφι πεποιθὼς
ῥίμφά ἑ γοῦνα φέρει μετά τ’ ἤθεα καὶ νομὸν ἵππων·
ὣς υἱὸς Πριάμοιο Πάρις κατὰ Περγάμου ἄκρης
τεύχεσι παμφαίνων ὥς τ’ ἠλέκτωρ ἐβεβήκει

Nor did Paris delay long in the lofty halls, but when he had donned his glorious armor, ornate with bronze, he rushed through the city trusting to his quick feet, just as a stable horse having eaten his fill at the manger breaks free of his bonds and rushes stamping over the plain, accustomed to bathing in the fair-flowing river. He holds his head high and lets his mane run down his shoulders. Reveling in his splendor, quickly his knees bear him to the haunts and pasture of the horses [or perhaps mares]. Thus did Paris, the son of Priam, come down from high Pergamum gleaming in his arms like the bright beaming sun.

Iliad VI 503–513

The comparison certainly rests to some extent on shared martial capacity, as the emphasis on feet and legs indicates, but the dominant theme is one of splendor.

It should be noted that parts of these two similes are combined in book XV, in a description of Hector in lines 263–269. Lines 263–268 are the same as those used to describe Paris, while line 269 ends with the final words of the simile that described Achilles:

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις στατὸς ἵππος ἀκοστήσας ἐπὶ φάτνῃ
δεσμὸν ἀπορρήξας θείῃ πεδίοιο κροαίνων
εἰωθὼς λούεσθαι ἐϋρρεῖος ποταμοῖο
κυδιόων· ὑψοῦ δὲ κάρη ἔχει, ἀμφὶ δὲ χαῖται
ὤμοις ἀΐσσονται· ὃ δ’ ἀγλαΐηφι πεποιθὼς
ῥίμφά ἑ γοῦνα φέρει μετά τ’ ἤθεα καὶ νομὸν ἵππων·
ὣς Ἕκτωρ λαιψηρὰ πόδας καὶ γούνατ’ ἐνώμα

… just as a stable horse having eaten his fill at the manger breaks free of his bonds and rushes stamping over the plain, accustomed to bathing in the fair-flowing river. He holds his head high and lets his mane run down his shoulders. Reveling in his splendor, quickly his knees bear him to the haunts and pasture of the horses [or perhaps mares]. Thus did Hector nimbly deploy his feet and knees.

Iliad XV 263–269

The reference to Paris’ hair in XV 266–267 is especially noteworthy since it recalls the depictions of hair seen in previous passages that dealt with women. Hair is, in fact, a frequent and almost universal focus of hippomorphizing passages. In Alcman’s Partheneion it was the hair of the girl that demonstrated her superiority over her competition, at the very moment that she was compared to a beautiful horse:

ἦ οὐχ ὁρῃς; ὁ μὲν κέλης
Ἐνητικός· ἁ δὲ χαίτα
τᾶς ἐμᾶς ἀνεψιᾶς
Ἁγησιχόρας ἐπανθεῖ
χρυσὸς [ὡ]ς ἀκήρατος·

Don’t you see? The courser is Venetic, but my cousin Hegesichora’s hair blooms like unmixed gold.

Alcman Partheneion 50–54

The woman in Semonides’ iambic poem was not like any mare but a long-maned mare (χαιτέεσσα, 57), and her self-absorbing beauty was typified by the fact that she constantly brushed and decorated her hair with flowers (αἰεὶ δὲ χαίτην ἐκτενισμένην φορεῖ | βαθεῖαν, ἀνθέμοισιν ἐσκιασμένην, 65–66).

The importance of the horse’s hair as the focal point of hippomorphic comparisons can be seen nowhere more clearly than in the story of Pelopidas, discussed in Chapter 2 for its significance in regard to human sacrifice and the ease with which human sacrifice becomes or resembles horse sacrifice. I requote it here for convenience:

Ὁ δὲ Πελοπίδας ἐν τῷ στρατοπέδῳ κατακοιμηθεὶς ἔδοξε τάς τε παῖδας ὁρᾶν περὶ τὰ μνήματα θρηνούσας καὶ καταρωμένας τοῖς Σπαρτιάταις, τόν τε Σκέδασον κελεύοντα ταῖς κόραις σφαγιάσαι παρθένον ξανθήν, εἰ βούλοιτο τῶν πολεμίων ἐπικρατῆσαι … πῶλος ἐξ ἀγέλης ἀποφυγοῦσα καὶ φερομένη διὰ τῶν ὅπλων, ὡς ἦν θέουσα κατ’ αὐτοὺς ἐκείνους, ἐπέστη· καὶ τοῖς μὲν ἄλλοις θέαν παρεῖχεν ἥ τε χρόα στίλβουσα τῆς χαίτης πυρσότατον, ἥ τε γαυρότης καὶ τὸ σοβαρὸν καὶ τεθαρρηκὸς τῆς φωνῆς· Θεόκριτος δ’ ὁ μάντις συμφρονήσας ἀνεβόησε πρὸς τὸν Πελοπίδαν· ἥκει σοι τὸ ἱερεῖον ὦ δαιμόνιε, καὶ παρθένον ἄλλην μὴ περιμένωμεν, ἀλλὰ χρῶ δεξάμενος ἣν ὁ θεὸς δίδωσιν.

When Pelopidas lay down to sleep in the camp he seemed to behold these girls weeping over their tombs and cursing the Spartans. He also saw Skedasos, their father, commanding him to sacrifice to the girls a red-haired maiden, if he desired victory over his enemies … a filly broke away from a herd of horses and ran through the camp, and when it had run right up to them, it stood still. While the rest of the men were admiring the shining fiery color of her mane, and her exultant nature, as well as the vehemence and boldness of her voice, Theokritos, the seer, reflected and cried out to Pelopidas, “Your sacrifice has come, sir. Let us not wait for another maiden, but accept and use the one that the gods offer.”

Plutarch Life of Pelopidas 21–22

It is the similarity in hair that confirms that this mare can be a ritual substitute for the girl: a red-haired mare can apparently be sacrificed in the place of a red-haired girl. This story also is not without sexual implications. The young women who were avenged in the defeat of the Spartans were the victims of sexual assault. The sacrificing of another young woman to them, or a young mare that can stand in for such a young woman, is evidently motivated by a desire for a sacrificial victim that reflects the identity of these Leuktridai, whose identity in this context is bound up in their position as sexual object. Note that the youth of the girls is made quite explicit: they are referred to as παῖδας, children, and κόραις, girls, and the horse that is sacrificed for them is a πῶλος, a word which imparts the notion of sexual inexperience and reluctance when used in application to humans. This sacrifice, the depictions of Paris returning to battle, Alcman’s chorus, and Semonides’ extravagant woman, all have roots in the equine capacity for near-human identity, as well as the symbolic utility of horses in reflecting human sexual attractiveness, which is frequently expressed through the similarity of horse and human hair. [

It is of course true that use of hippological erotic imagery is not entirely confined to the world of ancient Greek literature, and slang term terms such as “stallion” and “filly” are common enough even in recent English parlance. There are hippological phrases for actual sexual acts in English as well. One only has to reflect upon the tenacity of the rumors about the proclivities of Catherine the Great to recognize that the association between horses and human sexuality has some currency, yet I know of no culture in which the tendency is quite so pronounced or quite so consistent with the PIE model as the early Greek. A tradition that is as long-lived as the one that I am postulating in the case of horses and sexuality would not be very plausible if were not also logical, and even if something very similar to this phenomenon occurs elsewhere, it is unlikely that all of the behaviors that the phenomenon demonstrates in ancient Greece occur elsewhere in precisely the same form. Additionally, the fact that such an association can occur in multiple cultures independently does not mean that it cannot be inherited as well. If the phenomenon can be identified in the culture of the PIE speakers and in ancient Greece, then the fact that the phenomenon is sensible or logical makes it all the more likely that it was operative in the intervening stages between the culture of the PIE speakers and that of the ancient Greeks and so represents a genuine inheritance.

*Men-, Men, and Μένος—The Origins of the Metapoetic Charioteer

One facet of the erotic equine imagery that presents unique challenges to comparatists is the figure of the charioteer, because of the difficulty of identifying physical evidence of chariots in the parent culture. Although Greek chariots are deployed in erotic lyric, their treatment is one that grows quite naturally out of the inherent erotic function of the horse. Anacreon 417, already discussed, makes clear how easily sexual hierarchies are mapped onto human–horse relationships, and how the lover may be positioned as rider and horse-breaker. Anacreon 360, however, presents a horse that is not ridden but driven and the object of desire is positioned as the charioteer:

ὦ παῖ παρθένιον βλέπων
δίζημαί σε, σὺ δ’ οὐ κοεῖς,
οὺκ εἰδὼς ὅτι τῆς ἐμῆς
                    ψυχῆς ἡνιοχεύεις.

Oh boy with the girlish glances, I’m pursuing you but you don’t even notice, not knowing that you are the charioteer of my soul.

Anacreon 360

Comparable examples also occur elsewhere:

οὐδ’ οἵδ’ αἰνὸν ἔρωτος ἀπεστρέψαντο κυδοιμὸν
                    μαινομένου, δεινὸν δ’ ἦλθον ὑφ’ ἡνίοχον.

Nor did they escape the dreadful battle noise of raging Eros, but came under the terrible charioteer.

Hermesianax 7.83–84

οὔτ’ ἀθείαστον ὁ τῶν ἐρώντων ἐνθουσιασμός ἐστιν οὔτ’ ἄλλον ἔχει θεὸν ἐπιστάτην καὶ ἡνίοχον ἢ τοῦτον, ᾧ νῦν ἑορτάζομεν καὶ θύομεν.

The enthusiasm of lovers is not without divine inspiration and has no other god as driver and charioteer than that one for whom we now celebrate and offer sacrifice.

Plutarch Amatorius 759D5

A particularly interesting extension of this metaphor is the Athenian marriage ritual, in which the best-man is known as the πάροχος, the companion of a chariot rider:

πάροχος καλεῖται διὰ τὸ μόνος αὐτὸς συναναβαίνειν καὶ ὀχουμένῳ τῷ νυμφίῳ παροχεῖσθαι.

Eustathius Commentarii ad Homeri Iliadem II 351.6–7

Although our data are limited, it seems perhaps that while women are depicted as horses, men may be depicted as horses or charioteers. In any case, the inherent connections between horses and sex seen elsewhere make this particular development quite natural.

What is particularly exciting here is that recognition of the deep connection between horses and poetic depictions of human sexuality in Greece and the further IE world may provide a key to understanding one of the most fascinating figures in Greek poetry, the metapoetic charioteer. The depiction of poetry as a chariot in Greece is relatively common, especially in Pindar. For example:

ὦ Φίντις, ἀλλὰ ζεῦξον ἤδη
μοι σθένος ἡμιόνων,
ᾇ τάχος, ὄφρα κελεύθῳ τ’ ἐν καθαρᾷ
βάσομεν ὄκχον, ἵκωμαί τε πρὸς ἀνδρῶν
καὶ γένος·

But Phintis, come now yoke for me the strength of the mules, quickly, so that I may mount the chariot on a clean path and arrive at the lineage of the heroes.

Olympian VI 22–25

The method by which he comes to and details the lineage of heroes is, of course, his song, and that song is here a chariot. He concludes Olympian I

γλυκυτέραν κεν ἔλπομαι
σὺν ἅρματι θοῷ κλεΐ-
ξειν ἐπίκουρον εὑρὼν ὁδὸν λόγων

I hope to celebrate a sweeter [victory] still, with the swift chariot, finding the helpful path of words.

Olympian I 109–110

Here, just as in Olympian VI, the metaphor of the chariot of song is combined with the metaphor of the path of song, an image that may also be of IE or Greco-Indo-Iranian origin. In Isthmian VIII we are told that the chariot of the Muses is rushing ahead to celebrate the memory of Nikokles the boxer.

συταί τε Μοισαῖον ἅρμα Νικοκλέος

And the chariot of the Muses rushes to the memory of Nikokles

Isthmian VIII 61–62

Olympian IX and Pythian X have similar images:

εἴην εὑρησιεπὴς ἀναγεῖσθαι
πρόσφορος ἐν Μοισᾶν δίφρῳ

I wish to be a finder of words as I move forward as gift bearer in the Muses’ chariot.

Olympian IX 80–81

τόδ’ ἔζευξεν ἅρμα Πιερίδων τετράορον

yoked this four-horse chariot of the Muses.

Pythian X 65

Non-Pindaric instances exist as well, of course. Parmenides is also an obvious example, from outside of epinician poetry. The Greek applications of this metaphor are rather diverse in fact, but its origins are pre-Greek.

This is clear because the metaphor is quite common in early Iranian and Indian poetry, two of the earliest literatures from cultures that share a common ancestor with the Greek. Our earliest poetic texts from Iran are the Gathas. Composed perhaps as early as 1000 BCE, the Gathas represent a very small assortment of hymns written in the Old Avestan language and embedded in broader Zoroastrian liturgy, which is generally written in a later form of the language. In these hymns the words of the poet, Zarathustra, are imagined as proceeding from the poet’s mouth upwards to heaven in the form of a chariot. They are, in fact, occasionally imagined as engaged in a great chariot race, competing with the hymns of other singers, in a competition to reach heaven and achieve fulfillment. For example the poet asks

hizuuō raiθim
mahiiā rāzəng vahū sāhīt manaŋhā

May the giver of intellect instruct with good thought the chariot horse of my tongue.

Yasna 50.6

Also the singer proclaims his talent by asserting

vaēda xuaraiθiiā vaintiia srauua

I know victorious songs conducted by their own charioteer.

Yasna 28.10

In predicting the culmination of his prayer he says that

at asištā yaojante ā hušitōiš vaŋhəuš manaŋhō
mazdā ašaxiiācā yōi zazənti vaŋhāu srauuahī

The swiftest horses will be yoked for a race to the dwelling of good thought, and of Mazda, and of Truth, those which will win good fame

Yasna 30.10

Good fame is that which is attained through song. The search for fame then is expressed as a chariot race of songs. In this regard it is not unlike the epinicians of Pindar. In both cases the song is imagined as a chariot.

There are perhaps less obvious reasons as well and one of them, I suggest, has its roots in the connection between horses and sex. I speak here of a particular sort of force embodied by the horse, a force that itself had special connections to horses and to poetry. What I mean by this is an extension of an idea described by Max Latona in his article comparing Parmenides to one of the Indian Upanishads. [40] He points out that when early IE poets describe the curbing of passions they often describe it in ways that are hippological. In Homer, in fact, the checking of one’s own strong internal desires is often described as “taming, checking, and bridling,” all hippological vocabulary in which the human’s emotional and psychological forces are likened to the physi-cal force of the horse. [41] There was then, even in early IE times, a traditional metaphor linking horses and human emotional forces. This emotional force is, however, also an intellectual and poetic force and is signaled by one of the Homeric horse’s most salient and, I think, characteristic possessions, that is, its μένος. Μένος is, of course, associated with Homeric heroes themselves but is also regularly possessed by and placed in horses:

Ὣς εἰπὼν ἵπποισιν ἐνέπνευσεν μένος ἠΰ.

So speaking he breathed great μένος into the horses

Iliad XVII 456

τίς γάρ τοι Ἀχαιῶν ἄλλος ὁμοῖος
ἵππων ἀθανάτων ἐχέμεν δμῆσίν τε μένος τε

Iliad XVII 475–476

                                               ἐν γὰρ Ἀθήνη
ἵπποις ἧκε μένος καὶ ἐπ’ αὐτῷ κῦδος ἔθηκε.

For Athena sent μένος into his horses and gave glory to him.

Iliad XXIII 399–400

The root *men-, then, deals with thought, emotion, memory, and sex. Perhaps then it should not be translated as “to think” but rather as “to direct one’s life force,” or something similar. The direction of this force could result in a sexual and reproductive act, a valorous act, or even an intellectual and poetic act. I suggest that the horse may have embodied the force expressed by this root, even in early IE times. This would not be surprising considering the unique function of the horse in early IE society, both practically and sacrificially. Given the associations of such a force it would not be hard to imagine that it played a significant part in the development of this metapoetic image.

The PIE horse sacrifice helps to show that Greece was the inheritor of an ideology that uniquely linked horses and humans, and that made use of horses to think about sex and power. This inherited ideology exerted influence over depictions of sacrifice, as seen in Chapter 2, but also seems to have colored Greek erotic depictions of humans generally, both male and female. The linkage between sex and horses, preserved in the ritual, also helps to explain the image of the metaphor of the metapoetic charioteer, common in Greece, India, and in Iran, since the horse seems to have had a special connection to μένος and the PIE verbal root *men-, to which poets also have a special connection. This root and its derivative μένος encapsulate an ancient concept of life force that expressed itself in both poetic acts and sexual acts.


[ back ] 1. An excellent analysis of the erotic associations of horses has been produced by Griffith (2006); for an extensive treatment of these themes from a non-IE perspective see esp. part II. In part because the erotic associations of horses in Greek poetry have been detailed elsewhere, my own documentation of the phenomenon will not be exhaustive. I will instead analyze prominent passages that are at once reflective of broad phenomena and most relevant to the comparative arguments advanced throughout this work.

[ back ] 2. This is the most common understanding of the circumstances of the performance, but there are others. Several possibilities are discussed by Page (1951:52–57). Robbins (1994) has argued that there is, in fact, no other chorus and that the competitive imagery here only works to oppose the leaders of this one chorus to each other as well as to differentiate them from the girls whom they are leading.

[ back ] 3. See Brooten 1996; Dover 1977:171–184.

[ back ] 4. It should be noted that the epithet καναχάποδα, although not attested in the Iliad, is of some Homeric precedent in that it appears, in Ionic form, καναχήποδα, in the Certamen, 100. This resembles the phonetically related Homeric horse formulas discussed in Chapter 1. Although beyond the scope of that study, it is possible that the phenomenon studied there has reach beyond Homer and influenced non-Homeric equine poetic vocabulary.

[ back ] 5. Campbell 1967:203.

[ back ] 6. It should be noted that the word χαίτα can refer both to human hair and to equine hair. This word is a prominent feature of human/horse comparisons and will be discussed shortly. For the fame of the Venetic horses in the ancient classical world, see Beaumont 1936.

[ back ] 7. Page 1951:87; Etymologicum Magnum 783.21.

[ back ] 8. Page 1951:87.

[ back ] 9. Although this story seems odd, it is not without parallel. Cf. the birth of Erechtheus from Hephaistos, Apollodorus Library III 14.6; Pausanias I 2.6.

[ back ] 10. For further discussion of this and similar evidence, see Nagy 1990a:224–234; esp. 232.

[ back ] 11. Dawkins 1926.

[ back ] 12. Dawkins 1926:146.

[ back ] 13. For an extensive treatment of this and its ramifications in Greece see Frame 2009.

[ back ] 14. Pomeroy 1975:19–24.

[ back ] 15. Recall the sexual double entendre of the verb ἐπιβαίνω discussed in Chapter 1, page 18.

[ back ] 16. See Griffith 2006:324–325; Aristophanes Lysistrata 60.

[ back ] 17. Cf. Homeric Hymn to Demeter 18.

[ back ] 18. It is not strictly necessary that this be an actual allusion to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, but could draw on poetic type-scenes dealing with sexual abduction generally. The fact that this scene recalled the abduction of Persephone is likely in either case.

[ back ] 19. Περὶ Ἱππικῆς, 2.1.

[ back ] 20. Egoscozábal 2003:17. See also Aristophanes Clouds 1–87.

[ back ] 21. Gregory 2007.

[ back ] 22. See Griffith 2006:311–312 on the economic associations of hair, both human and equine.

[ back ] 23. Egoscozábal 2003:17.

[ back ] 24. See Griffith 2006:314–317 for further examples of the way that equine hair is imagined as reflecting human.

[ back ] 25. ὄχεσφιν, here and in Ibycus, displays the instrumental plural case ending, -φι(ν), which had lost much of its semantic distinctness in Homer. It is used to express instrumental, locatival, and ablative functions in both the singular and the plural. Hence, I have translated it as singular in one instance and plural in another as seemed most befitting the context.

[ back ] 26. The flowers and hair here reflect jointly on womanhood here just as in Semonides.

[ back ] 27. Kirk 1990:226–7.

[ back ] 28. See Griffith 2006:313.

[ back ] 29. Moulton 1977:94.

[ back ] 30. See Janko 1994:256.

[ back ] 31. Janko also points out that similes often mark the opening of battle scenes and that equine similes are typical of this use (1994:256). In the Iliad, however, there are only these three equine similes, and although this is true of the simile involving Hector and the simile involving Achilles, it is not quite as true of the simile involving Paris. Although a battle does follow this simile, it is not a battle in which Paris features prominently.

[ back ] 32. This concept is not, perhaps, entirely lost in modern society. In the mid 1990s it was fashionable for young women to use horse shampoo to wash their hair. The children’s toys sold under the name “My Little Pony” exploit the similarity between human and equine hair quite consistently. These hippomorphic dolls, which are produced in commercially feminizing color schemes, have long, full manes and are sold with brushes. These brushes, however, are oversized and the ad campaigns which promote the dolls encourage the children who own these dolls to brush their own hair with the brushes as well as the hair of the hippomorphic toy. The toys essentially function as avatars for the child and the communicating of identity is localized in the hair. See Rutherford 2007. The Indian horse sacrifice, incidentally, involves special care paid to the preparation of the horse’s hair, which is adorned for the ceremony, but I know of no parallel treatment of the hair of the king.

[ back ] 33. Latte 1996:372.

[ back ] 34. Egoscozábal 2003:19.

[ back ] 35. Latte 1966:718.

[ back ] 36. A survey of the general deployments of chariot based imagery in the Vedas, including metapoetic deployments, can be found in Sparreboom 1985:13–27.

[ back ] 37. Several examples of this phenomenon are also discussed by West (2007:42–43).

[ back ] 38. See Introduction, pages 4–5.

[ back ] 39. It is, of course, possible that new archaeological evidence will emerge and the date of this development will be pushed back so far that it may be seen a common inheritance after all. Even if this were to happen, however, the inheritance of ideology and imagery described here would not cease to be meaningful.

[ back ] 40. Latona 2008.

[ back ] 41. Latona 2008:224.

[ back ] 42. My translation is influenced by Edwards 1991:110.

[ back ] 43. gveda IX.97.28; of the chariot drawn by the horses and, therefore, the horses themselves gveda I.117.2, I.118.1, I.181.3, I.183.1, X.39.12, X.112.2.

[ back ] 44. gveda I.14.6, I.51.10, IV.48.4.

[ back ] 45. gveda VIII.13.26, IX.100.3.

[ back ] 46. gveda VIII.5.2.

[ back ] 47. Rix defines it as “einen Gedanken fassen” (2001:435), Pokorny as “denken” (1959:725), and Meillet as mentem moueri (1897:10).

[ back ] 48. On the etymology of μῆνις see Muellner 1996:177–194.

[ back ] 49. Martin 1989:78–79.

[ back ] 50. ἀφῆκα μένος, ξανθῆς ἐπιψαύ[ων τριχός]. See Sickle 1975.

[ back ] 51. Nagy 1974:265.

[ back ] 52. Doniger O’Flaherty 1980:174–175, 184.

[ back ] 53. Vājasaneyi-Saṃhitā XXIII.20.