The Aethiopis: Neo-Neoanalysis Reanalyzed

  Davies, Malcolm. 2016. The Aethiopis: Neo-Neoanalysis Reanalyzed. Hellenic Studies Series 71. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 4. Commentary on the “Fragments” of the Aethiopis


ὁ γὰρ τὴν Αἰθιοπίδα γράφων περὶ τὸν ὄρθρον φησὶ τὸν Αἴαντα ἑαυτὸν ἀνελεῖν.

The author of the Aethiopis says that Ajax killed himself around the time of dawn.

Σ Pindar Isthmian IV 58b

Severyns (1928:325) suggests that the ultimate source of this fragment is Aristar-chus himself, who seems elsewhere to have used the Epic Cycle to illustrate Pindar (compare his citation of Cypria F13 apropos of Nemean X).

It is rather piquant that the sole fragment of our poem which is more or less securely attested lies outside the limits of Proclus’ epitome. But there is nothing suspicious in that: Proclus’ summary is deliberately curtailed, and it is unthinkable that the original poem, having described the outbreak of the quarrel over Achilles’ arms, could have failed to show its sequel, the death of Ajax.

Bethe in his note on this fragment (1922:169) shrewdly observed that Pindar’s location of Ajax’s suicide ὀρθρίαι ἐν νυκτί would have corresponded to the meaning of ὄρθρος in his own time (and perhaps the time of Homer and the author of the Aethiopis), for it then referred to the last part of the night, when the illumination of lamps and torches was still required. At a later stage of the Greek language, however, ὄρθρος came to signify the early morning, the dawn. This is what the word will have meant for Aristarchus and the author of our scholion, hence the uncertainty of the latter’s gloss upon the relevant Pindaric phrase. [1] {83|84}

The first explicit mention of Ajax’s invulnerability is in Aeschylus’ Θρῆισσαι (TrGF 3 F83 [Radt] = Σ Sophocles Ajax 833 [p. 190 Christodoulou]). But for reasons already considered a propos of Achilles (page 68 above), it would be dangerous automatically to assume that the Iliad’s omission of this motif is due to ignorance rather than conscious suppression, or to suppose that Aeschylus invented this detail. The lateness of the feature is lengthily maintained by Berthold in his work on Die Unverwundbarkeit in Sage und Aberglauben der Griechen (Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten 11 [1911]) 6–17, which gives a full survey of the relevant references in ancient literature. A crucial pair of texts is Hesiod fr. 250 MW and Pindar Isthmian VI 36–38 (our source for the former is a scholion upon line 53 of the latter [3.255 Dr.]). Berthold argued in great detail (24) what Wilamowitz reasserted with characteristic pungency (Pindaros [Berlin 1922], 183); that Isthmian VI describes a visit by Heracles to Telamon before the birth of Ajax (see further P. Von der Mühll, “Bemerkungen zu Pindars Nemeen und Isthmien,” Museum Helveticum 14 [1957]: 130 = Ausgewählte kleine Schriften [Basel 1976] 198), so that the lionskin of Heracles as mentioned by Pindar has no connection with the tradition of Ajax’s invulnerability. The scholion, misinterpreting Pindar’s ἐν ῥιvῶι λέοντος (line 53) as referring to a Heracles mysteriously standing upon his {84|85} lionskin (rather than standing clad in it), not surprisingly fails to comprehend what is happening in the poem it is commenting upon. This mistake is so readily explicable in itself that we need not take seriously Berthold’s slightly divergent suggestion that the scholion was misled in its interpretation of Pindar’s words by what was related in the Μεγάλαi Ἠοῖαι. And indeed one further consideration provides an additional argument against this last idea. For when the scholion describes Hesiod’s Heracles as ἐμβαίνων what it really means (and perhaps once said) must be ἐμβά(λ)λων τῆι δoρᾶι, as J. Schwartz suggests (Pseudo-Hesiodeia [Leiden 1960] 391n6), comparing Σ AB Iliad XXIII 821 (ἀναλαβὼν τὸν παῖδα [scil. Ἡρακλῆς] περιέβαλε τῆι λεονῆι).

This situation, then, is already more complex than Berthold allowed. No one will dispute that the Isthmian’s myth refers to an event before Heracles’ birth, or that the scholion has misunderstood Pindar’s reference to the hero’s lion pelt (facts accepted by, for instance, Thummer in his commentary on the relevant victory ode [p. 106] and Merkelbach–West on Hesiod fr. 250 [p. 122]). But it seems likely that the Hesiodic work already represented Heracles as wrapping the infant Ajax in his lion’s hide, and it is hard to see why he should have wished to do this unless from the motive not explicitly attested until Lycophron 455–456: to render the young hero invulnerable in every area touched by the beast’s pelt. Some such process is clearly presupposed by Aeschylus fr. 83 Radt = Σ Sophocles Ajax 833 (p. 190 Christodoulou): φησὶ δὲ περὶ αὐτοῦ Αἰσχύλος ὅτι καὶ τό ξίφος ἐκάμπτετο οὐδαμῆι ἐνδιδόντος τοῦ χρωτὸς τῆι σφαγήι. τόξον ὥς τις ἐντείνων, κτλ. It may even, indeed, be presupposed by the prayer which Pindar puts into Heracles’ mouth at Isthmian VI 47–48: τὸν μὲν ἄρρηκτον φυάν, ὥσπερ τόδε δέρμα με νῦν περίπλανᾶται | θηρός. As represented by Pindar, the story is not one of invulnerability magically conferred by this skin, but to say with Wilamowitz (Pindaros, 183) that the tradition of Ajax’ invulnerability “hat mit Pindar nichts zu tun” is to underestimate the degree to which that tradition seems to peep through the significant concept of the animal hide surrounding the hero and the significant and suggestive phrase ἄρρηκτον φυάν. It is also to overlook the frequency with which Pindar, when rewriting the contents of a myth, will allow one or two vestigial features of the original version to remain (the λέβης and ivory shoulder blade of Pelops in Olympian I 46–51, the σκόπος of Apollo in Pythian III 27, etc.).

In other words, Hesiod fr. 250 MW, when rightly understood, is valuable evidence that, far from Lycophron 455–456 being a derivation and development from Pindar’s sixth Isthmian (as Berthold and numerous others have supposed), Pindar’s poem presupposes the tradition preserved in Lycophron. This fits perfectly with the deductions which, quite independently, we drew above from Aeschylus’ Θρῆισσαι (TrGF 3 F83 Radt). {85|86}

These findings cast an interesting light on Berthold’s insistence that the apparent lateness of the lionskin story is fully in keeping with the actual lateness of the motif’s application to Ajax. If invulnerability is to be transferred by process of sympathetic magic from hide to child, the lion’s pelt must first have been impenetrable, and Berthold (Unverwundbarkeit, 2) supposes himself to have proved in turn that that tradition is later than the sixth century. Moreover, Heracles’ encounter with the infant Ajax occurs in the context of his expedition against Troy, and the lateness of the tradition of the first Trojan War has been strongly urged by several scholars in addition to Berthold. But the agreement between Pindar (Olympian VIII 45, Isthmian V 35–37, fr. 172 Sn.) and Euripides (Andromache 796) over the detail of Peleus’ participation in the first sack of Troy has suggested to Vian (on Quintus Smyrnaeus I 503–505 [Budé i.32n1]) that this tradition already appeared in the Aethiopis.

Turning from the general to the specific, we may first adduce an argument already advanced by Severyns (1928:326–327). Apollodorus Epitome 5.4 (considered page 71 above), with its picture of Ajax carrying back Achilles’ corpse to the ships under a hail of enemy darts (Αἴας βαλλόμενος βέλεσι μέσον τῶν πολεμίων), might be thought to indicate that the Aethiopis depicted this hero as invulnerable. Likewise, the evidence of art. At least an Etruscan statuette of bronze dateable to the second quarter of the fifth century (Basel Kä 531: LIMC I.1, s.v. “Aias I,” no. 133: see Figure 9) and a cup by the Brygos Painter from the first quarter (J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu 86.AE.286 [formerly New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art L.69-11.35]: Paralipomena 367.1; LIMC I.1, s.v. “Aias I,” {86|87} no. 140: see Figure 10) variously indicate a sword wound under the left armpit in a manner thoroughly compatible with Aeschylus fr. 83 Radt discussed above; see the discussions by M. I. Davies, “The Suicide of Ajax: A Bronze Etruscan Statuette from the Käppeli Collection,” Antike Kunst 14 (1971): 153–154 and pl. 48.2; and Davies, “Ajax and Tekmessa,” Antike Kunst 16 (1973): 60 and pl. 9.1.

Davies 2 fig9

Figure 9. Etruscan bronze figurine (cista handle): the suicide of Ajax, with sword piercing underneath his left arm. Second quarter of the 5th century BCE. Once on loan to the Antikenmuseum Basel, Kä 531; now reverted to private collection. Drawing by Valerie Woelfel.

Also, an Etruscan mirror in Boston (99.494: LIMC s.v. “Aias 1,” no. 135; biblio-graphy and illustration in M. I. Davies, “Suicide of Ajax,” 154n3 and pl. 48.3) dateable ca. 380, shows (to quote J. D. Beazley, “The World of the Etruscan Mirror,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 69 [1949]: 8), “a unique representation of the Death of Ajax,” who “kneels with a crumpled sword in his left hand and looks round wildly at Menerva, who hastens towards him.” The similarity to the Aeschylean fr. is patent, but Beazley concludes, “The design on the mirror is probably derived from the epic source which Aeschylus used; and in this it would seem to have been Athena who indicated the vulnerable place” (compare his remarks in Etruscan Vase Painting [Oxford 1947] 140 and n1). Furthermore, both the Iliadic scholia and Eustathius (cited page 84 above) presuppose an Aristarchean note (van Thiel 2014:2.508), contrasting the version of οἱ νεώτεροι (including the Aethiopis poet) with Homer’s presentation of a woundable Ajax: compare Σ Gen. Iliad XIV 406 (1.176 Nicole): παραδίδωσιν τρωτὸν αὐτὸν ὁ ποιητής, καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ νεώτεροι, αὐτὸν ἱστοροῦσιν ἄτρωτον. {87|88}

Davies 2 fig10

Figure 10. Red-figure cup: interior, death of Ajax, with sword peircing his left side. Attributed to the Brygos Painter, ca. first quarter of the 5th century BCE. Malibu, CA, J. Paul Getty Museum 86.AE.286. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

A new (and final) point to establish here is that there was surely never a version wherein Ajax was completely invulnerable and unkillable. By definition, all invulnerable heroes are invulnerable except in one spot. This is a feature essential to the significance of the motif (cf. J. Th. Kakridis, “Caeneus,” Classical Review 61 [1947]: 79–80), and the one vulnerable spot must always have formed part of the invulnerability tradition. Various sources variously locate this deadly region: the neck is mentioned by Σ A Iliad XIV 406 (3.661 Erbse); it was the armpit, according to Aeschylus fr. 83 Radt (ap. Σ Iliad loc. cit.) and the two artifacts considered above. Sophocles Ajax 834 has its hero plunge the sword into his πλευρά, without (as Σ ad loc. observes) saying why. Which if any of these possibilities the Aethiopis employed we can hardly know. But Severyns’ idea that Ajax was totally invulnerable is hardly reconcilable with F1’s statement that Ajax committed suicide in the poem.


[“τίς πόθεν εἰς] σύ, γύναι; τίνος ἔκγον[ος]
εὔχ[ε]αι εἶναι;”
“Who are you, lady, and from where, and whose offspring
do you claim to be?

P.Oxy. XIII 1611 fr. 4 ii 145

These fragments come from what Grenfell and Hunt in their editio princeps (Oxyrhynchus Papyri XIII (London 1919): 127–128) called “a work on literary criticism.” The same work is the source for Chamaeleon’s treatment of the disputed authorship of Stesichorus fr. 270 Davies and Finglass = Lamprocles fr. 735 P = Chamaeleon fr. 29c (92.56) Wehrli.

Allen’s supplements were quoted in the editio princeps. The derivation from the Aethiopis has been found plausible by, for instance, Vian on Quintus Smyrnaeus I 551–562 (i.33n3), although the editio princeps itself admits that “the colour of frg. 3 and 4 is different, so that a connexion between them is unlikely” (p. 145).

On the principle of word-division that makes the introduction of Arctinus’ name in fr. 4ii.149 even more difficult see E. G. Turner, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (Oxford 1971) 19–20 and n3.

On Allen’s interpretation, the hexameter σύ, γύναι, etc., will be spoken to Penthesileia by Achilles (see Grenfell–Hunt, p. 146), a possibility which Vian takes to entail that Achilles spoke first in their encounter, the reverse of what happens in Quintus Smyrnaeus I 551–562. For ἔκγονος as the correct spelling see Barrett on Euripides Hippolytus 447; West, “Miscellaneous Notes on the Works and Days,” Philologus 108 (1964): 167. West (2013:139) notes Priam’s initial greeting to Penthesileia as another possibility. {89|90}

Fragmentum Spurium

The only scholar to have seriously argued it is Eduard Meyer, “Die Rhapsoden und die Homerischen Epen,” Hermes 53 (1918): 333, who supposes that the two hexameters at issue represent the original ending of the poem. For the “superficial transition” from one subject to another he compares the start of Iliad XXIII (ὣς οἱ μὲν στενάχοντο κατὰ πτόλιν· αὐτὰρ Ἀχαιοὶ) with the following passages:

ὣς οἱ μὲν τοιαῦτα πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἀγόρευον,
δαιτυμόνες δ᾽ ἐς δώματ᾽ ἴσαν θείου βασιλῆος….
ὣς οἱ μὲν περὶ δεῖπνον ἐνὶ μεγάροισι πένοντο.
μνηστῆρες δὲ πάροιθεν Ὀδυσσῆος μεγάροιο …

Odyssey iv 620–625 {90|91}

ὥς οἱ μὲν Tρῶες φυλακὰς ἔχον· αὐτὰρ Ἀχαιούς
θεσπεσίη ἔχε φύζα …

Iliad IX 1–2

ὥς ὁ μὲν ἐν κλισίηισι Μενοιτίου ἄλκιμος υἱός
ἰᾶτ’ Εὐρύπυλον βεβλημένον· οἱ δ’ ἐμάχοντο
Ἀργεῖοι, καὶ Τρῶες ὁμιλαδόν.

Iliad XII 1–3

ὥς ὁ μὲν ἔνθα καθεῦδε πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς
ὕπνωι καὶ καμάτωι ἀρημένος· αὐτὰρ Ἀθήνη
βῆ ῥ’ ές Φαιήκων ἀνδρῶν δῆμόν τε πόλιν τε.

Odyssey vi 1–3

ὥς ὁ μὲν ἔvθ’ ἠρᾶτο πολύτλας δῖoς Ὀδυσσεύς,
κούρην δὲ προτὶ ἄστυ φέρεν μένος ἡμιόνοιϊν.

Odyssey vii 1–2

οἱ μέν ῥ᾽ εὔχοντο Ποσειδάωνι ἄνακτι,
δήμου Φαιήκων ἡγήτορες ἠδὲ μέδοντες,
ἑσταότες περὶ βωμόν· ὁ δ’ ἔγρετο δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς.

Odyssey xiii 185–187

Even if these parallels worked on the merely formal level, we would have to conclude that some of them are singularly ill-chosen. Odyssey iv 620–625 has often been taken to show signs of textual mutilation (see, for instance, D. L. Page, The Homeric Odyssey [Oxford 1955] 69 and 80n15) and on Odyssey xiii 187 Focke 1951:272–274.

And as we shall see, the phrase Ἄρηος … μεγαλήτορος in the allegedly original ending is in truth indicative of a post-Homeric origin for these lines, as is the singularly abrupt rhythm of ἦλθε δ’ Ἀμάζων (see my commentary ad loc. in each case). Not that we need go as far as August Fick (Die Homerische Ilias [Göttingen 1886] 235; followed by West [2013:136–137], with references to his earlier expositions of this view), who deleted line 804 as it stands in our manuscripts on the ground that it came from the continuation into the Aethiopis. No: it looks rather as if, on the contrary, the alleged continuation derives from line 804, which occurs in all of our manuscripts and in its undoctored form has nothing to do with the Aethiopis.

But if these hexameters do not, in their reported form, belong to the end of the Iliad, neither do they come from the start of the Aethiopis. It is inconceivable that the latter epic should have begun so abruptly, without benefit of introductory proem or appeal to the Muses, and burdened with an indeterminate and irrelevant reference to the funeral of Hector: ὣς οἵ γ᾽ hardly compares, for vivacity or point, with the first words of the Iliad and the Odyssey, or even the Ilias Parva, and will have provided a very eccentric substitute for a title (see Davies and Finglass on Stesichorus fr. 99). Allen’s apparently unobjectionable comment ad loc. (p. 126)—“his versibus incepisse Aethiopidem ut veri simile sit ita incertum est”—proceeds, in fact, far beyond—and in the opposite direction to—the available evidence, as does Focke’s verdict that “der Eingangsverse der Amazonie ist bekanntlich in den leteten Iliasvers eingehakt” (1951:226).

Kopff (ANRW II.31.2:930–931) deduces from the Homeric cups considered above (page 41) that the Aethiopis contained near its start Priam’s supplication of “an Achilles who was mutilating Hector’s corpse by dragging it around the walls of Troy” and suggests that the poem’s transition from this topic to Penthesileia’s arrival was accomplished in the two verses that are causing us so much trouble. But he himself confesses that “this reconstruction is not based on much evidence” (930), and this remark in fact constitutes an understatement.

The hypothesis that our distich represents an attempt to link the Aethiopis to the Iliad is often bolstered up by appeals to allegedly parallel cases. Thus M. L. West, in his discussion of the end of Hesiod’s Theogony (p. 48 and note on Theogony 1019–1022), places on the same level the concluding section of that poem (which effects a smooth run into the Κατάλογος γυναικῶν), the last line of the Works and Days (alleged by Σ ad loc. = Hesiod T p. 157 MW to be an introduction to the Ὀρνιθομαντεία), and our troublesome passage. By the time he came to comment upon the relevant part of the Works and Days he was rightly more circumspect, distinguishing more clearly between the large portion (901 onward) which he supposes to have been added at a late date to the end of the Theogony, the single hexameter which he now believes to be an integral part of the Works and Days, and our own enigmatic distich. Each instance does indeed seem to be sui generis. In the Theogony, a sizeable chunk has been attached to the end of the poem without any noticeable distortion of the original text. If West is now right to defend the authenticity of Works and Days 828, it obviously has no business in our discussion. And even if it (or, indeed, all of 826–828) were added to create a transition to the work on bird omens, a fixed and certain parallel with our own two lines would still not exist: we saw above that the interpolation of the whole of Iliad XXIV 804 is a completely implausible hypothesis; it is far more likely that the second part of that line has been rewritten and a further line appended to continue the sense created by this reworking. This process has no real analogy in either of the Hesiodic cases considered above.

Finally, the alternative (allegedly “cyclic”) proem to the Iliad, which substitutes for that epic’s original invocation a briefer and more business-like appeal to the Muses (see West’s app. crit. ad loc.) cannot really be compared·, this {93|94} prelude merely replaces the original passage with a more summary version of the same ideas. No rewriting is involved.

The appearance of a variant version of the second line in the superficial outline of events leading to the Trojan War contained on the papyrus cited ad loc. merely strengthens one’s skepticism.

ἦλθε δ’ Ἀμαζών |

On the abrupt rhythm see Griffin 1980:159n29.

Any abruptness in similar line-end phrases elsewhere in Homer is mitigated either by the commencement of the relevant clause earlier on in the hexameter (e.g. Odyxssey xiii 221: σχεδόθεν δέ οἱ ἦλθεν Ἀθήνη) or by close runover of sense (e.g. Iliad I 194–195: ἦλθε δ’ Ἀθήνη | οὐρανόθεν) with which the present example of opposition in enjambment (Ἀμαζών | Ἄρηος θυγάτηρ) does not really compare.

Ἄρηος … μεγαλήτορος

As Dihle has observed (1970:43n54) this epithet is not applied to Ares in either the Iliad or the Odyssey. {94|95}

Ἄρηος θυγάτηρ

Cf. Vergil Aeneid XI 661–662: Martia … Penthesileia.

Ἄρηος … ἀνδροφόνοιο

Cf. Iliad IV 441. where we find Ἄρεος ἀνδροφόνοιο at the start of an hexameter (as we do in Sibylline Oracles 12.17 Rzach). For the same two words together at the end of a line see [Hesiod] Shield 98. Ares has the epithet again at Nonnus Dionysiaca II 308–309 (cf. XXIX 346).

θυγάτηρ μεγαλήτορος

This formula occurs in this metrical position (θ. μ. – ˘ ˘ – – | ) of various heroines in Iliad VI 395, VIII 187; Odyssey vi 17, 196, 213, vii 58, xi 85.

μεγαλήτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο

Ἕκτoρoς ἀνδροφόνοιο is used eight times as a line ending in the Iliad. Compare Odyssey x 200 (of the Cyclops) μεγαλήτορος ἀνδροφάγοιο. {95|}


[ back ] 1. For a fuller account of this shift in the meaning of ὄρθρος see J. Wackernagel, Sprachliche Untersuchungen zu Homer (Göttingen 1916) 193. Cf. S D. Olsen’s commentary on Aristophanes Achar-nians, lines 254–256.

[ back ] 2. For artistic depictions of this see LIMC I.1, s.v. “Aias I,” 274–276 and S. Laser, Medizin und Körperpflege (Archaeologia Homerica 20 [1983]) 78–84. See further I. Jenkins, “The Earliest Representation in Greek Art of the Death of Ajax,” in Essays in Honor of Dietrich von Bothmer (ed. A. J. Clark and J. Gaunt) (Amsterdam 2005) 1:133–136.

[ back ] 3. As appropriate for a giant-like being as the other main version of Ajax’s decease, which we find in Σ Iliad XIV 405 (3.662 Erbse) and hypothesis, Sophocles Ajax (pp. 10.54–55 Christodoulou; cf. Sophron fr. 31 KA). See my remarks in Crime and Punishment in Homeric and Archaic Epic (Ithaca 2014) 224–225.

[ back ] 4. It is followed by, for instance, Vian in his Budé text of Quintus Smyrnaeus (i.163).

[ back ] 5. Wilamowitz, Homerische Untersuchungen (Berlin 1884) 373 on the relevant verse: “den keine überlieferung, sondern nur moderne willkür für den anfang der Aithiopis ausgibt.” This assumption was given respectability by Welcker (1:199) and is taken seriously as recently as Solmsen, “The Conclusion to the Odyssey,” in Poetry and Poetics from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance, ed. G. M. Kirkwood (Ithaca, NY 1975) 15 = Kleine Schriften 3.3.

[ back ] 6. For such forward-looking references in Iliad XXIII, see, for instance, Willcock 1973; for the like in Iliad XXIV, P. Von der Mühll, Kritisches Hypomnema zur Ilias (Basil 1952) 370.

[ back ] 7. Similarly K. Schefold in Wort und Bild (Munich 1979) 309: “The verse leads directly on to the Aethiopis.”

[ back ] 8. So A. Kirchhoff, Die homerische Odyssee (Berlin 1879).

[ back ] 9. The very uniqueness of this alleged link between two originally separate poems makes it difficult to decide just when the artificial connection was forged. The “cyclic” edition is one conceivable explanation, although we have already seen that no real formal parallel obtains between our problem and the allegedly “cyclic opening of the Iliad.” Having so rigorously excluded a host of false parallels, I must not introduce any of my own. I will merely remark that a feature such as the false opening of Vergil’s Aeneid (R. G. Austin, “Ille ego qui quondam …,” Classical Quarterly 18 [1968]: 107–115) offers a potential parallel. Monro (Odyssey commentary 2.357) suggests an origin for the verses not inconsistent with such a line of thought.