A Californian Hymn to Homer

  Pepper, Timothy, ed. 2011. A Californian Hymn to Homer. Hellenic Studies Series 41. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_PepperT_ed.A_Californian_Hymn_to_Homer.2011.

4. Some Refractions of Homeric Anger in Athenian Drama

T. R. Walsh

Think of institutions and customs which have created … out of the enjoyment of anger perpetual vengeance.

Nietzsche 1997:27

In aeschylus’ Suppliants, a particular kind of anger is identified through formulaic language that directly continues Homeric usage. In this play, the noun κότος (‘anger’), when it indicates the anger of Zeus, is always accompanied by a term denoting suppliancy, a central theme of the play. A clear example of the relationship between κότος and the institution that is central to Aeschylus’ Suppliants comes early in the drama, at the very point when the chorus tries to persuade Pelasgus, the King of Argos, to accept its supplication.

To argue for asylum, the chorus members insist on their genealogical relation to the Argives (308–324). After sketching out their genealogy in order to claim kinship with Pelasgus, the Danaids provide reasons why he should grant them asylum (329–346). In the course of this explanation they invoke δίκη (343) and the relation of the political to the sacred (346). Both parts of their presentation come to a close with a reference to Zeus and, most importantly, to his anger (347), a specific kind of anger: βαρὺς γε μέντοι Ζηνὸς ἱκεσίου κότος (“Heavy indeed is the anger of Zeus of the suppliants”). Coming as it does at the end of a lengthy stichomythic passage, and thereby capping a series of arguments that are dramatically and rhetorically presented so as to acquire Pelasgus’ assistance, the chorus’s reference to Zeus and his κότος is worth our attention. I suggest that this reference to the κότος of Zeus is meant to focus the king’s attention on a crucial aspect of Zeus’ power, one that he dare not ignore as he weighs whether or not to help the suppliants.

The significance of this reference to Zeus’ κότος is underscored by three more citations of the Olympian’s κότος later in the play. These four instances, when taken together, present a formulaic phrase consisting of the anger word (κότος) followed by a genitive phrase consisting of the name of Zeus accompanied by a qualifying element (ἱκταίου, 385; ἱκεσίου, 347 and 616; ἱκτῆρος, 478) specifying Zeus’ role as the protector of suppliants. Whether one sees such formulaic features as an imitation of the Homeric banquet’s oral-traditional style or as responding to the immediate demands of Greek tragic poetics, these repetitions lead us to ask why κότος—precisely this kind of anger—is selected as the emotional driving force for the king of the gods. [1]

One way to answer this question regarding κότος in Aeschylus’ Suppliants is to inquire about how formulaic these four phrases from Suppliants actually are. Further, we must ask if κότος in Aeschylean poetic style functions in a way similar to or different from Homeric poetic style, with respect to either usage or semantics. Consider the four relevant formulaic phrases:

Ζηνὸς ἱκταίου κότος (385)
Ζηνὸς αἰδεῖσθαι κότον / ἱκτῆρος (478–479)
Ζηνὸς ἱκεσίου κότος (347)
Ζηνὸς ἱκεσίου κότον (616)

That is to say, for me, the requirements of the texts precede any examination of concepts, a difference in method that I hope makes my work complementary to and not competitive with those who find the emotions displayed in archaic literature worth pursuing. I believe the examination of Aeschylus’ use of κότος in the following pages will demonstrate the value of a focus grounded in particular texts.

Κότος in Suppliants

In Fighting Words, I argue that the internal evidence of Homeric diction pointed to a focused understanding of two words, κότος and χόλος. These two words are crucial to understanding the role of conflict and emotion in Homeric narrative; they are also significant elements for the plots of the Iliad and the Odyssey. I set Calchas’ definition in his speech at Iliad I 74–83 against the instances of κότος (and χόλος) in the Iliad and the Odyssey (see the introduction to Walsh 2005). The result is a confirmation of Calchas’ folk-definition. Also important for the method is the value given to “key terms” in a particular cultural context (Wierzbecka 1997). One conclusion that emerges is that κότος is connected with the type of social aggression identified as “feuding,” because that form of violence lasts over time, with a resolution found—at least ideologically—outside human political activity. Furthermore, in Homeric narrative κότος tends to be directed to the most dramatic and central events—for example, the fall of Troy. Moreover, κότος is associated with the early vocabulary of Greek ethics. For a Homeric example of this association between anger and ethics see Iliad XVI 386, where the κότος of Zeus is punishing an entire community for σκολιὰς θέμιστας (Walsh 2005, chapter 5).

Since I am arguing that the meaning of κότος depends on its Homeric significance, I will briefly review the “definition” of Calchas. The fundamental terms underlying this distinction are drawn by the prophet Calchas (Iliad I 78–82):

ἦ γὰρ ὀΐομαι ἄνδρα χολωσέμεν, ὃς μέγα πάντων
Ἀργείων κρατέει καί οἱ πείθονται Ἀχαιοί.
κρείσσων γὰρ βασιλεύς, ὅτε χώσεται ἀνδρὶ χέρηϊ·
εἴ περ γάρ τε χόλον γε καὶ αὐτῆμαρ καταπέψῃ,
ἀλλά τε καὶ μετόπισθεν ἔχει κότον, ὄφρα τελέσσῃ.

I expect to anger the man who rules powerfully over all the Argives and the Achaeans obey him. For a king is the more angry, when he rages against a lesser man; for if he swallow down his χόλος in a day, yet he will continue κότος into the future, until it is accomplished.

As I argued in Fighting Words (Part I), a distinction is drawn here between χόλος and κότος based on the categories that can be examined across both the Iliad and the Odyssey. Those categories include a) time; b) power; and c) the body—such that, for a βασιλεύς [= power], κότος lasts into the future (μετόπισθεν) [= time], though χόλος is dealt with in short order (αὐτῆμαρ) [= time], and, finally, χόλος is associated with a bodily states such as digestion (καταπέψῃ) [= the body], in contrast to the end of κότος, labeled as belonging to concepts such as τέλος (ὄφρα τελέσσῃ) [= time].

The thematic focus of κότος emerges early in Aeschylus’ Suppliants, where King Pelasgus draws a distinction similar to the very one drawn by Calchas in Iliad I 74–83. That is to say that the distinction between χόλος and κότος points to a special meaning that highlights a vast depth of social conflict in the following passage from Aeschylus’ Suppliants.

When the suppliants approach King Pelasgus, he askes them why they have come (Suppliants 333–336):

Βα.: τί φῂς ἱκνεῖσθαι τῶνδ’ ἀγωνίων θεῶν,
λευκοστεφεῖς ἔχουσα νεοδρέπτους κλάδους;
Χο.: ὡς μὴ γένωμαι δμωὶς Αἰγύπτου γένει.
Βα.: πότερα κατ’ ἔχθραν, ἢ τὸ μὴ θέμις λέγεις;

King: Why do you claim suppliancy of these gods of the assembly, with these newly-cut, white-wreathed branches?

Chorus: That I not become a slave to the line of Aegyptus.

King: Which is it: do you refer to something having to do with hatred or to something unlawful?

The distinction is drawn between an instance of hatred and a violation of something deeper, here called themis. King Pelasgus sees a difference between a request from someone who has a particular grievance against Aegyptus (κατ’ ἔχθραν, 336), and a request from one asking to maintain a higher level of law (τὸ μὴ θέμις, 336) by accepting them as suppliants.

For a parallel to this situation, I refer to Chryses’ appeal for his daughter in Iliad I 11–32, where the priest asks that Agamemnon release his daughter (30), supporting his authority for the request through his position as priest of Apollo. The outward manifestation of this authority is clear from the presence of the fillets of the god (14) and the σκῆπτρον (15) paralleled by Aeschylus in the suppliant women’s λευκοστεφεῖς … νεοδρέπτους κλάδους; (334). That Agamemnon fails to acknowledge the role of the priest in representing Apollo is a crucial part of his refusal of the priest’s request.

It is just this kind of distinction that marks the difference between κότος and other forms of anger. Indeed, I am encouraged in pursuing this ethical meaning for Aeschylean κότος by a summation of the ethical focus of Suppliants offered by Friis Johanssen : “Throughout [the Danaids] express their aversion to the marriage … and also to the Aegyptids …; they further represent both as characterized by ὕβρις (30, 81, 104, 426, 528, 817, 845), Aegyptids as possessed by ἄτη (106–111), and the marriage as impious (9–10), contrary to θέμις (37), to αἶσα and to δίκη (82)” (Friis Johansen 1970:30). This flurry of ethical terms like ὕβρις, ἄτη, and θέμις brings to the fore the primary ethical concern of Suppliants. It will turn out that κότος is the kind of anger appropriate, given these ethical concerns, to the violations feared by the Danaids.

To review, forms of κότος are used in Suppliants [12] that involve a formula that indicates the wrath of Zeus, god of suppliants, a wrath that has to do with how well he protects their interests. Indeed, at the very beginning of this play, as the chorus is attempting to persuade the king to accept their suppliancy, Pelasgus counters that he must hesitate to enter into a risky war, with the result that the supplicants come to make their strongest argument for their plea, an argument from δίκη (343–344):

Χο.: ἀλλ’ ἡ δίκη γε συμμάχων ὑπερστατεῖ.·
Βα.: εἴπερ γ’ ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πραγμάτων κοινωνὸς ἦν

Chorus: But it is justice that stands as an ally protecting you.

King: Only if it had a share of the deeds from the start.

This usage of κότος, consistent with what occurs in Homer, is further underscored in the stasimon following the stichomythy that we have just seen capped by the reference to Zeus’ κότος. In this stasimon, the king’s worries, as presented in the stichomythic passage, are probed further for their consequences. After the king explains his concern that a conflict (νεῖκος, 358) might arise were he to receive them, the suppliant women once again invoke a higher power, this time Θέμις (360), linked to suppliancy (ἱκεσία Θέμις, 360). But Pelasgus points out that his public responsibility requires that he avoid doing anything that may bring pollution to his polis (365–369). While he considers this pollution, and as the chorus admonishes him that he might incur such pollution by not helping them (370–375), the issue of κότος comes up again in the following way.

No passage in early Greek literature more clearly shows the complexity of κότος as does the very next choral sequence of Suppliants (418–437), since the ethical vocabulary in which κότος is implicated comes here to be laid out in classic ring-structure form. I quote the passage at length, since so much of it is directly relevant to establishing the sense of κότος in this drama.

Now the Danaids make their strongest plea to persuade the king to do the right thing (418–437): [18]

Χο.: φρόντισον καὶ γενοῦ
πανδίκως εὐσεβὴς πρόξενος·
τὰν φυγάδα μὴ προδῷς,
τὰν ἕκαθεν ἐκβολαῖς
δυσθέοις ὀρομέναν·

Take thought and be, in all justice, our revered ally. Do not betray this refugee, one driven from afar by impious blows

μηδ’ ἴδῃς μ’ ἐξ ἑδρᾶν
πολυθέων ῥυσιασθεῖσαν, ὦ
πᾶν κράτος ἔχων χθονός·
γνῶθι δ’ ὕβριν ἀνέρων
καὶ φύλαξαι κότον.

Do not watch as I come to be driven as plunder from out of these holy seats, O you who have all the power of the land. Know mortals’ hubris and keep a watch out for κότος.

μή τι τλᾶις τὰν ἱκέτιν εἰσιδεῖν
ἀπὸ βρετέων βίαι δίκας ἀγομέναν
ἱππαδὸν ἀμπύκων,
πολυμίτων πέπλων τ’ ἐπιλαβὰς ἐμῶν.

Do not endure to merely look at the suppliant dragged from the gods’ images in violation of justice, dragged like a horse by the bridle, nor merely to look at the assaults on my many-threaded robes.

ἴσθι γάρ, παισὶ τάδε καὶ δόμοις,
ὁπότερ’ ἂν κτίσῃς, μένει Ἄρει ’κτίνειν
ὁμοίαν θέμιν.
τάδε φράσαι δίκαια Διόθεν κράτη.

Now take thought, these things remain for your children and your household, in whatever way you act, to pay in recompense that is the equal of θέμις. Consider these things to be the just power of Zeus.

Here I have underlined, besides κότος, words that are associated with the ethical field in which κότος can be found. Structurally, κότος is positioned at the exact center of this stasimon: that is to say, it is the center of a ring structure. That structure is framed with two verbs of knowing in the first and last stanza (φρόντισον and ἴσθι). The singular importance of κότος is secured with a cue from the stylistics of ring composition—that the center of the text contains the main point, namely to guard against the perfidy of mortals and to guard against divine κότος (γνῶθι δ’ ὕβριν ἀνέρων / καὶ φύλαξαι κότον, 426–427). Moreover, the notion of “guarding” against κότος associates this kind of anger with the notion of pollution cited above (for example, ἄγος φυλάσσου, 375).

This message is supported by assertive claims regarding justice, in the first strophe, for the one who saves the refugees (γενοῦ πανδίκως … πρόξενος, 418), and in the concluding antistrophe for Zeus (δίκαια Διόθεν κράτη, 437). With respect to the thematics of κότος, Aeschylus emphasizes both the length of time it takes to bring conflict to an end (434–435), and the price that the children will pay with the phrase μένει ἐκτίνειν (435), which resonates strongly with the earlier phrase μένει τοι … κότος (385).

In a sense, I have been reviewing the rhetoric of the term κότος in Aeschylus’ Suppliants because Aeschylus’ concern with conflict, aggression, and retribution makes his discourse contemplative (or perhaps “philosophical”) about the meaning of such terms. Aeschylus, that is, seems ready to explore the significance of ethical terms. Moreover, the force of κότος argued for here lends itself to such philosophical exploration. I will return to this matter at the end of this essay.

For this play, such exploration leads to a profound climax, when Pelasgus capitulates as he agrees to help the Danaids attain their asylum, even though he is still in the throes of the dilemma that faces him, namely, the expected attack of the sons of Aegyptus in response to that asylum (474–477).

εἰ δ’ αὖθ’ ὁμαίμοις παισὶν Αἰγύπτου σέθεν
σταθεὶς πρὸ τειχέων διὰ μάχης ἥξω τέλους,
πῶς οὐχὶ τἀνάλωμα γίγνεται πικρόν,
ἄνδρας γυναικῶν οὕνεχ’ αἱμάξαι πέδον;

But if, against your blood-kin and on your behalf, I have taken a stand before the city-walls to engage in battle against the sons of Aegyptus, how is there not a bitter price to pay, since men bloody the earth for women?

But it is κότος that forces Pelasgus to play his hand, after the Danaids’ winning argument (Suppliants 478–479):

ὅμως δ’ ἀνάγκη Ζηνὸς αἰδεῖσθαι κότον
ἱκτῆρος· ὕψιστος γὰρ ἐν βροτοῖς φόβος.

Nonetheless, it is necessary to honor the κότος of Zeus the god of suppliancy. For this fear is the most profound among mortals.

These words alone should give us pause. The greatest fear (ὕψιστος … φόβος, 479) has as its basis the κότος of Zeus. Under such circumstances, κότος persuades Pelasgus, ultimately, to receive the Danaids.

The following passage of Suppliants presents Danaus’ report of Pelasgus’ speech to his people, asking them to support his decision (Suppliants 615–618):

τοιάνδ’ ἔπειθε ῥῆσιν ἀμφ’ ἡμῶν λέγων
ἄναξ Πελασγῶν, ἱκεσίου Ζηνὸς κότον
μέγαν προφωνῶν μήποτ’ εἰσόπιν χρόνου
πόλιν παχῦναι …

Such a speech did the King of the Pelasgians use in persuading them on our behalf, that the city should not magnify hereafter the wrath of Zeus of the Suppliants

And it is a problem, to return to my epigraph from Nietzsche, rooted in the human capacity for enabling cultural continuity. Not only politically, through its mobilization of allegiance and coherence, as well as of force and destruction, but also poetically, in its long-lived productivity through formulaic language and poetic tradition, κότος is an instance of what a culture can do in the face of the seeming evanescence of existence. For it is the cultural memory, and those institutions that support it, that the suppliants in this play rely upon, so that by invoking the κότος of Zeus the characters make utterly clear how great the stakes really are.

Κότος in the Oresteia

As with the examples noted above, the anger of κότος is appropriate to a publically ratified (δημοκράντου) curse and the duty (χρέος) that is attendant upon it; that is to say, it has to do with power. Consistent with the terms of Calchas’ definition, this passage shows that κότος involves the enforcement of public standards across time. What Fraenkel says about the compound δημοκράντου has explanatory power for κότος as well: “The κραίνειν-element brings out the idea that the curses are to be regarded as valid utterances, that they carry with them the guarantee of fulfillment. This is in fact an essential characteristic of ἀραί, so that they can be regarded in the light of legally binding obligations” (Fraenkel ad 457; emphasis added).

By now the themes typical of passages featuring κότος have become familiar. Here the notion of the binding fulfillment of a curse recalls Iliad I 82, (ὄφρα τελέσσῃ). In addition, immediately following the passage just quoted, Aeschylus highlights the long time that must pass in awaiting this fulfillment (μένει, 459, and χρόνοι, 463); moreover, παλιντυχεῖ (465) calls to mind the πάλιν of παλίγκοτος (Suppliants 376). Finally, these lines, as in other κότος passages, clearly focus on δίκη (464), thus continuing the association of κότος with the early Greek ethical lexicon.

Given these features of κότος, one can happily agree when Fraenkel correctly retains κότον in as vexed a passage as Agamemnon 767, where the notion of ὕβρις, persistence, and so forth are brought to bear on the ethical center of the play’s action (Agamemnon 763–771; translation and text after Fraenkel):

φιλεῖ δὲ τίκτειν ὕβρις μὲν παλαι-
νεάζουσαν ἐν κακοῖς βροτῶν
ὕβριν, τότ’ ἢ τόθ’ †ὅταν? ?? ?????? ????
?????? ????? τὸ κύριον μόλῃ
†νεαρὰ φάος? κότον
δαίμονά †τε τὸν? ?????? ????????, ???????
??????, ???????? ??????????? ????,
????????? ἄμαχον ἀπόλεμον, ἀνίερον
θράσος, μέλαιναν μελάθροισιν Ἄταν,
εἰδομέναν τοκεῦσιν.

An old hubris loves to engender a young hubris among the ills of mortals, right then when the appointed day has come, [?] a κότος, a daimon, a boldness not to be battled, not to be warred against, unholy, a dark Atē, in the likeness of her parents.

Once again, the textual problems should not blind us to the significance of this passage for understanding the term κότος. It would be odd, were κότος merely one synonym among many for ‘anger’, to have it so exalted among terms like ὕβρις and ἄτη, even to the extent perhaps of being itself a daimon. We have already seen in Suppliants that it is closely associated with ὕβρις; indeed it is here nearly identified as being the offspring of the aged ὕβρις. The fact that it is not susceptible to war, and that it crosses generations, also confirms the validity of the Homeric meaning of κότος within an Aeschylean context; this passage displays the notion of stability over time through a genealogical metaphor, with a striking emphasis on ἄτη and θράσος, ultimately to center—literally—on κότος. That κότος occupies the exact center of this stanza, once again, carries weight in the light of my earlier analysis of the choral ode at Suppliants 418–437.

In Libation Bearers, the nature of κότος continues the meanings just reviewed, especially in regard to the relation of κότος to δίκη and the ability of κότος to endure over time. For example, its semantic thrust can be seen in the following passage (Libation Bearers 32–41):

τορὸς γὰρ ὀρθόθριξ δόμων
ὀνειρόμαντις, ἐξ ὕπνου κότον πνέων,
ἀωρόνυκτον ἀμβόαμα
μυχόθεν ἔλακε περὶ φόβῳ
γυναικείοισιν ἐν δώμασιν βαρὺς πίτνων,
κριταί <τε> τῶνδε’ ὀνειράτων
θεόθεν ἔλακον ὑπέγγυοι
μέμφεσθαι τοὺς γᾶς νέρθεν περιθύμως
τοῖς κτανοῦσί τ’ ἐγκοτεῖν.

The shrill, hair-raising dream-prophet of the house, breathing κότος in her sleep, would cry out from the innermost parts of the house a cry in the night out of fear, falling heavily on the women’s quarters, and the judges of those dreams from the gods cried out, guaranteeing that those beneath the earth aggressively blame and have κότος against the killers.

The first stasimon of the play uses storm imagery (yet another passage to be referred to Iliad XVI 383–393), and in so doing displays a use of κότος appropriate for an ode that will conclude with Δίκη and subsequent punishment. In the first case, after κότος is used in the storm image (593), it should now not surprise us that in the third stasimon the chorus should associate the arrival of Δίκη with κότος (Libation Bearers 946–952):

ἔμολε δ’ ᾧ μέλει κρυπταδίου μάχας
δολιόφρων ποινά,
ἔθιγε δ’ ἐν μάχᾳ χερὸς ἐτήτυμος
Διὸς κόρα—Δίκαν δέ νιν
βροτοὶ τυχόντες καλῶς—
ὀλέθριον πνέουσ’ ἐν ἐχθροῖς κότον.

And he has arrived, the one concerned for the crafty vengeance of a treacherous battle; and she touched his hand surely in battle, did the daughter of Zeus—and Dikē is what we mortals aiming rightly call her—breathing as she does a fatal κότος among the enemy.

This stasimon is a victory song describing the result of the action that Orestes is performing, the murder of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. By citing κότος as the “anger” that accompanies the movement of Δίκη towards this action, Aeschylus draws our attention not only to the deceit involved in this particular act of revenge (δολιόφρων ποινά, 947), but also to the motivating force rooted in the anger of feud.

Nor is this relationship between δίκη and κότος adventitious, as can be shown from the striking evidence of fr. 148 (Smyth 1971):

τῷ μήτε χαίρειν μήτε λυπεῖσθαι φθιτούς.
ἡμῶν γε μέντοι Νέμεσίς ἐσθ’ ὑπερτέρα,
καὶ τοῦ θανόντος ἡ Δίκη πράσσει κότον.

The dead neither rejoice nor suffer.
It’s for us that Nemesis has the greater weight,
and Δίκη accomplishes the κότος of the dead man.

This fragment, from the lost Ransom of Hector, is anchored to the oldest meaning of κότος, namely the wrath associated with the institution of the feud. In such a context, the wrath can live beyond the lifetime of the one who claims to have been injured. For Aeschylus, following Homer, κότος is not a personal emotion, to be acted upon by a living person, but more like a social drive, which can affect the world by means of a force like ἡ Δίκη. In these words, then, this play re-asserts Calchas’ implied point that κότος is most dangerous precisely because it reaches its τέλος even beyond death.

It is no wonder then that κότος should pose a particular problem for Orestes as the Oresteia progresses. For it is precisely that κότος lacks a τέλος until it finds satisfaction that dogs him through to the end of the trilogy. The importance of a correct understanding of κότος becomes clear when we try to interpret Orestes’ dilemma at Libation Bearers 1024–1026: πρὸς δὲ καρδίᾳ φόβος / ᾄδειν ἕτοιμος ἠδ’ ὑπορχεῖσθαι κότῳ (“At my heart fear is ready to sing and dance with κότος”). This grim metaphor anticipates the part played by the drama’s enforcers of κότος, the Furies. Thus, the victory revel that should accompany his “defeat” of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra cannot be performed, because of the logic of the feud that is moving through the drama. It is no wonder that his defense consists of declaring that it is οὐκ ἄνευ δίκης (1027) that he acted. This is a desperate assertion that he needs in order to ground his act in some kind of ethical universe.

The contrast between the Furies and Athena is built on the kind of justice each one is seeking. In the one case, Apollo claims that κότος does not attend their action toward Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, while in the case of Orestes, their anger is an unswerving κότος. The parallelism (ἐποπτεύειν, ἐποπτεύσει; ἐνδίκως, δίκας) is clear; even clearer is the association of κότος with retribution and the oversight of the Furies (220).

The dilemma is put even more starkly when Athena and the Eumenides engage in this exchange (Eumenides 425–426):

Χο.: φονεὺς γὰρ εἶναι μητρὸς ἠξιώσατο.
Αθ.: ἀλλ’ ἦ ’ξ ἀνάγκης, ἤ τινος τρέων κότον;

Chorus: Yes, for he has deemed it worthy to be the murderer of his mother.

Athena: But was it out of necessity or fearing someone’s κότος?

Passages like these show what is at stake in the close study of κότος. For now that we know that κότος is not merely an old word for anger, but one that carries with it a heavy cultural charge, it is clear that Athena’s question to the Eumenides is crucial. This kind of κότος has a complex relationship with necessity, as was evident already in Calchas’ definition. This kind of anger, having been identified with that of the Furies against Orestes, is now called into service to defend him as well. It is possible for it to play this double role, since, as in the Iliad, κότος lies at the heart of the ethical point of the trilogy, and here that point has to do with the institution that drives the curse of the house of Atreus: the feud.

This survey of Aeschylus’ use of κότος has affirmed the high value that Homer’s prophet, Calchas, placed on this form of anger and shows that its force extends beyond the Homeric epics. Κότος is, in fact, associated with the most powerful of terms in the early Greek lexicon of power and ethics: ὕβρις, ἀνάγκη, and δίκη, Fundamentally it is located, as an ethical construct, not with ordinary conflict and ordinary violence, but with something the early Greeks were very much concerned with: intractable violence that could extend across generations; it can be associated with either side of the feuding parties, and, to end, it must reach some kind of τέλος.

Other Tragedy

A word needs to be said about the virtual absence of κότος from the rest of the surviving corpus of Athenian theater. Aeschylus, because of his concern with δίκη, draws out clearly what we suspected in the Iliad: the anger styled κότος has more to do with deeply rooted cultural matters than with immediate emotional reaction to a violation of a personal kind.

While it would be facile to say that the relationship of δίκη to human action in the rest of Athenian tragedy is wholly different in Sophocles and Euripides, it remains a fact that κότος all but entirely drops from their poetic lexicon, in both lyric and non-lyric passages. Thus in Sophocles, we only find one-word fragments, ἐνεκότουν (fr. 1042 Pearson), and another, ἐπίκοτα (fr. 428 Pearson).

For the early Greeks, the understanding of anger as “perpetual,” as taking its place among the obligations and loyalties that appear fundamental to human experience, participates both in the fictiveness of human culture and in its “elevation.” We do well to acknowledge the specific words that mark these “institutions and customs.”


Aly, W. 1906. De Aeschyli Copia Verborum Capita Selecta. Berlin.

Anderson, C. 2002. “No Fixed Point: Gender and Blood Feuds in Njals’s Saga.” Philological Quarterly 81:421–440.

Black-Michaud, J. 1975. Cohesive Force. Oxford.

Bowie, A. M. 1993. “Religion and Politics in Aeschylus’ Oresteia.” Classical Quarterly 43:10–31.

Braund, S. and Most, Glenn. 2003. Ancient Anger: Perspectives from Homer to Galen. Yale Classical Studies 32. Cambridge.

Byock, J. 1982. Feud in Icelandic Saga. Berkeley.

Clover, C. 1993. “Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe.” Speculum 68:363–387.

Cohen, David. 1993. “The Theodicy of Aeschylus: Justice and Tyranny in the Oresteia.” Greek Tragedy (ed. Ian McAuslan and Peter Walcot) 45–57. Oxford. Originally published in Greece and Rome 33 (1986):129–140.

———. 1995. Law, Violence, and Community in Classical Athens. Cambridge.

de Romilly, Jacqueline. 1970. “Vengeance humaine et vengeance divine: Remarques sur l’Orestie d’Eschyle.” Altertum und jedes neue Gute für Wolfgang Schadewalt (ed. Konrad Gaiser) 65–77. Stuttgart.

Dindorf, W. 1876. Lexicon Aeschyleum. Leipzig.

Fraenkel, E. 1950. Aeschylus: Agamemnon. 3 vols. Oxford.

Franklin, S. B. 1895. Traces of Epic Influence in the Tragedies of Aeschylus . Baltimore.

Friis Johansen, H. 1970. Aeschylus: The Suppliants. Copenhagen.

Garson, R. W. 1985. “Aspects of Homeric Usages.” Phoenix 39:1–5.

Garvie, A. F. 1969. Aeschylus’ Supplices: Play and Trilogy. Cambridge.

Gould, J. 1973. “ΗΙΚΕΤΕΙΑ.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 93:74–103.

Griffith, Mark. 1995. “Brilliant Dynasts: Power and Politics in the Oresteia.” Classical Antiquity 14:62–129.

Harris, William V. 2001. Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge, MA.

Konstan, D. 2006. The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature . Toronto.

Lloyd-Jones, H. 1979. The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

———. 1990. “The Supplices of Aeschylus: New Date and Old Problems.” Greek Epic, Lyric, and Tragedy: The Academic Papers of Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones, 274–275. Oxford.

Miller, I. M. 1990. Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland. Chicago.

Muellner, L. C. 1976. The Meaning of Homeric εὐχόμαι through Its Formulas. Innsbruck.

———. 1996. The Anger of Achilles: mēnis in Greek Epic. Ithaca.

Nagy, Gregory. 2000. “ ‘Dream of a Shade’: Refractions of Epic Vision in Pindar’s Pythian 8 and Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 100:97–118.

Nietzsche, F. W. 1997. Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge.

Page, D. L. 1957. Aeschylus: Agamemnon. Oxford.

Pearson, A. C. 1917. The Fragments of Sophocles. Cambridge.

Podlecki, A. J. 1986. The Political Background of Aeschylean Tragedy. Ann Arbor.

Saïd, Suzanne. 1984. “La tragédie de la vengeance.” In Verdier 1984:4.47–90.

Sidaras, A. 1971. Aeschylus Homericus. Göttingen.

Smyth, H. W. 1971. Aeschylus. Vol. 2. Cambridge, MA.

Stanford, W. B. 1983. Greek Tragedy and the Emotions. London.

Sullivan, Shirley Darcus. 1997. Aeschylus’ Use of Psychological Terminology: Traditional and New. Montreal.

Svenbro, Jesper. 1984. “Vengeance et société en Grèce archaïque. A propos de la fin de l’Odyssée.” In Verdier 1984:3.47–64.

Thalmann, William G. 1986. “Aeschylus’ Physiology of the Emotions.” American Journal of Philology 107:489–511.

———. 2004. “ ‘The Most Divinely Approved and Political Discord’: Thinking about Conflict in the Developing Polis’.” Classical Antiquity 23:359–99.

Verdier, Raymond. 1980–1984. La Vengeance: Études d’ethnologie, d’histoire et de philosophie. 4 vols. Paris.

Walsh, Thomas R. 2005. Fighting Words and Feuding Words. Lanham, MD.

Wilson, D. F. 2002. Ransom, Revenge, and Heroic Identity in the Iliad. Cambridge.

Watkins, C. 1977. “A propos de μῆνις.” Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris 72:187–209. Reprinted in Selected Writings (Innsbruck, 1980) 565–87. Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft 80.

West, M. L. 1990. Aeschyli Tragoediae. Stuttgart.

Wierzbicka, Anna. 1997. Understanding Cultures through Their Key Words. Oxford.

Winnington-Ingram, R. P. 1983. “The Danaid Trilogy.” Studies in Aeschylus 55–72. Cambridge. Updated version of “The Danaid Trilogy of Aeschylus.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 81 (1961):141–152.

Zeitlin, F. 1992. “The Politics of Eros in the Danaid Trilogy of Aeschylus.” Innovations of Antiquity (eds. R. Hexter and D. Selden) 203–252. New York.


[ back ] 1. Other words for anger occur in this play, but this formula is consistent only with κότος. Cf., for contrast, μῆνις μάστειρ’ (163), μηνιταῖ’ ἄχη (206); ὠμῇ ξὺν ὀργῇ (187), ὀργάς (763); and μένει (dative of μένος, 756). On the word μῆνις, see Muellner 1996. I note in passing that, metrically, χόλος is the exact equivalent of κότος and so could be used in any of these passages. As I argued in Walsh 2005, chapter 1, a consistent use of one word instead of the other in distinctive verbal contexts indicates that these words are not synonymous in Aeschylus any more than they are in Homer. In this light, it is understandable that the scholiast at 385–386, perhaps long separated from the linguistic context that kept the formally identical words κότος and χόλος functionally distinct, silently refers us to the χόλος of Zeus as he explicates Aeschylus’ Ζηνὸς … κότος (Friis Johansen 1970:160). So too Harris collapses κότος with the other anger words in his brief discussion of this play (Harris 2001:161n10). This confusion reflects the history of the word, for which Dindorf long ago noted “nusquam hoc vocabulo usus est Sophocles, semel legitur apud Euripidem Rhes. 827 … saepissime apud Aeschylum” (Dindorf 1876:186). The Homeric context of the passage from the Rhesus should be flagged. In a fuller study of the post-Homeric uses of κότος, I will suggest that in later literature it is one indicator of an archaizing style.

[ back ] 2. On stylistic variation in Homeric style, see Muellner 1976:25.

[ back ] 3. I have borrowed the term “refracted” from Gregory Nagy, who uses it to accommodate the complexities of the relationships between genres as they utilize the store of culture in differing but intrinsically related ways. For an exemplary use of the concept of refraction to track the differing ways in which traditional material is handled across epic, drama, and lyric, see Nagy 2000.

[ back ] 4. I regret that I was not able to use Konstan’s important 2006 book on Greek emotions for this article.

[ back ] 5. Harris assigns this kind of anger to an “old Greek tradition” (Harris 2001:161; see 137).

[ back ] 6. For a brief review of the data, see Sidaras 1971:32, where Aeschylus’ special use of the term is noted; I think more is involved than whether one word or another is a “favorite word” of Aeschylus. For Homeric usage, see Garson 1985. Cairns in Braund and Most 2003:31 thoughtfully refers to my work; I regret that my argument was not available for his use in this important article.

[ back ] 7. See Walsh 2005:97–104. On feuding in a Greek context see Cohen 1995:87–118. Miller (1990:178–220) presents insights into the way a society (here Old Norse) constructs itself around its institutions of feuding, vengeance, and the law. It is common to suggest that feuding is not relevant to the early Greeks: e.g. Harris 2001:135. Yet, it is possible for feuding structures to be “refracted” into a state-based legal system; see Cohen 1995:87–118. We in classics are still far from a thorough analysis of the way feuding-structures survive into archaic and classical cultural contexts, despite the fact that weighty historical issues such as the relationship between gender and violence are implicated in such relationships. Once again, Old Norse studies present an exemplary model; cf., besides Miller, Anderson 2002, Clover 1993, Byock 1982. The institution of the feud and the concept of vengeance need to be distinguished; see on vengeance de Romilly 1970 for Aeschylus, and Saïd 1984 for the tragedy of vengeance, along with Svenbro 1984, both in Verdier 1980–1984, a four-volume collection of articles on vengeance. I distinguish vengeance from “the feud,” since the feud is an institution that emerges under specific social circumstances (such as warfare), whereas vengeance emerges as a response to human conditions in varying social circumstances.

[ back ] 8. Again, see Walsh 2005 for a full discussion of these two terms, and see the introduction to that book for further argumentation. On key-words as a useful tool for cultural analysis, see Wierzbicka 1997, and see the discussion of the “folk-definition” in Walsh 2005:14.

[ back ] 9. Already noticed in Dindorf 1876, s.v. κότος. See also Franklin 1895:49.

[ back ] 10. The Iliad, in contrast, tends not to focus on feuding vengeance, as it sees issues of violence and aggression through a warrior’s eyes; the Odyssey associates the vengeance of Odysseus with the feud whenever possible in order to justify Odysseus’ revenge on the suitors. On the issue of Odysseus, anger, and vengeance, see Walsh 2005:85 and Svenbro 1984.

[ back ] 11. It may be significant that οἱ ἀγώνιοι θεοί include Apollo, beside Zeus, Hermes, and Poseidon; see LSJ s.v. ἀγώνιος.

[ back ] 12. Including παλίγκοτος at 376; κότον occurs at 427, with κότῳ at 744; the remaining instances are at 347 and 385 (nominative); 67 (genitive); 478 and 616 (accusative).

[ back ] 13. Winnington-Ingram strikingly links the wrath of violated suppliancy and that of violated guest-friendship: “‘Heavy is the wrath of Zeus Hikesios’, said the chorus leader in Supplices [347]. No less heavy is the wrath of Zeus Xenios; and it is this wrath, together with an intolerable pollution, which Danaus will have brought upon himself and upon his daughters. But he will also have brought it upon the city of which he is now king” (Winnington-Ingram 1983:64). Moreover, the wrath that links suppliancy, guest-friendship, and the political consequences of their violation continues to have the same name for Aeschylus as it had for Homer, and that name is κότος. On the dilemma posed by violence and the wrath of Zeus see also Lloyd-Jones 1990:274: “Pelasgus is simply a good and conscientious king, confronted with a grim dilemma: either he must receive the suppliants, thus risking war with all its horrors, or he must bring down on himself and his people the wrath of Zeus, protector of suppliants.”

[ back ] 14. For a discussion of this derivative and its use in lyric and drama, as well as its remarkable survival in the Greek medical terminology of Hippocrates and Galen, see Aly 1906:48–49.

[ back ] 15. On κότος and its relation to the concept of the enemy see Aly 1906:48–49, where it is clear that the notion of a longstanding wrath and enmity are continued in this compound long after κότος the noun falls away from use as a typical word for anger. The lemma meaning “enemy” also resonates with the Sanskrit cognate of Greek κότος, śatru, ‘enemy’ (Walsh 2005:90; cf. 91; for the (Cuneiform) Luwian cognate kattawatnalli as an “attribute of the word for enemy,” see Walsh 2005:92).

[ back ] 16. δυσπαράθελκτος is Schütz’s conjecture, for M’s ὦ δυσπαραθέλκτοις. Page prints the conjecture, which is consistent with the meaning developed here, as does West 1990. On μένει in 385, see line 435, discussed below.

[ back ] 17. On force as integral to Zeus’s justice, see Cohen 1993.

[ back ] 18. The textual problems in this ode do not affect the argument.

[ back ] 19. And note that the terms are reversed. Homer presents the violation of Helen leading to a κότος that sends armies against Troy. Here Pelasgus’ position seems more like Priam’s, in that his acceptance of the fleeing women, as he avoids the κότος of Zeus, leads to the attack of an invasion force. For a good examination of the way the idea of the “feud” can explicate Athenian practice, see Cohen 1995, especially chapter 5; and Walsh 2005, chapters 3–6. It is exactly the reciprocal nature of feuding that makes κότος so potent as an argument on either side of the feuding relationship. For comparative and cross-cultural overviews of vengeance see Verdier 1980 and 1984.

[ back ] 20. See Lloyd-Jones 1990:264–265 for a discussion of the supposed political anachronisms in the play.

[ back ] 21. For a probing of the issues involved in these kinds of tensions in Aeschylean artistry, see Griffith 1995.

[ back ] 22. On reciprocity and anger see Watkins 1977[1994] and Muellner 1996.

[ back ] 23. See n3 above.

[ back ] 24. I am translating here in accordance with a conjecture that itself “hits the mark,” so far as κότος is concerned. I follow Turnebus’ ἐπιτυχεῖ at 744 instead of M.’s ἐπεὶ τάχει, the text leading to Page’s reading, which I reject. Turnebus’ reading is strikingly consistent with the meaning of κότος that I have been arguing for, namely, that κότος lasts until it reaches its τέλος. On the importance of τέλος in this play see Zeitlin 1992:222.

[ back ] 25. Note here that the κότος is that of the suitors. Just as Paris and Menelaus, in the depths of their κότος, are said to be engaged κοτέοντε (Iliad III 345), so too here κότος is reciprocal. These questions reach deeply into the issues of the play. For our immediate purposes it need only be acknowledged that κότος here involves fundamental questions of the narrative, and that those questions include issues of δίκη, etc. See Walsh 2005:24–25.

[ back ] 26. After Fraenkel’s translation: “Dangerous is the people’s talk, with anger in it; it pays the debt arising out of a curse pronounced by the people.” For the meaning of δημοκράντου see Fraenkel 1950 ad 369, with Page 1957:110–111. I thank Timothy Pepper for encouraging me to clarify the difficulties presented by this passage.

[ back ] 27. The translation follows Fraenkel’s note to 635, though Fraenkel’s point about the “addition” of τελευτῆσαι needs to be modified now that we know that forms of τέλος are thematically linked to κότος. The chorus is asking about the “whole story” from beginning to end, a good pro-öimial gesture. Moreover, as Fraenkel stresses in his note to 634, γάρ is “a reference to a point farther back” in time. Note that the herald picks up the wrath theme with μῆνις at 649.

[ back ] 28. See Walsh 2005, chapter 5. And note the expected association with díkē in the Homeric passage.

[ back ] 29. Both remaining instances of κότος in the Agamemnon (1261, 1641) engage textual problems that do not affect the present argument.

[ back ] 30. Though others maintain it is ambiguous, see Garvie ad loc. Here the reference is to the same cry of Clytemnestra as mentioned at 535 (see Lloyd-Jones 1979:12).

[ back ] 31. Such as the ὀνειρόμαντις and τοὺς γᾶς νέρθεν. See Walsh 2005, chapter 5.

[ back ] 32. LSJ gives ‘punish’ for ἐποπτεύειν here, citing only this passage in that meaning (I 2). The sense of κότῳ is perfectly consistent with the usual meaning of ‘oversee’ or ‘watch over’ (I 1), where the dative shows the means by which the Furies guard their prey. This sense is also in play below at line 224, δίκας δὲ Παλλὰς τῶνδ’ ἐποπτεύσει θεά, where the contrast in manner of overseeing could not be more stark. It is precisely κότος that will mark the difference between the watchfulness of Athena and Apollo and that of the Furies.

[ back ] 33. I cite here the title of the classic study of the feud by J. Black-Michaud, Cohesive Force (1975). The point is that in a feuding culture the acts surrounding feuding violence provide a social cohesion that is otherwise lacking. In other words, such violence is not seen as a negative but a positive thing. See my discussion in Walsh 2005, chapter 5.

[ back ] 34. Note the parallel to this formulation at Eumenides 314, where the Furies claim that to someone with clean hands, their μῆνις will not approach (ἐφέρπει); see μηδ’. . . ἐφερπέτω νόσος, at 942.

[ back ] 35. A few passages have been left out of this discussion. I have omitted Prometheus, given the current consensus as to its authorship, though the relevant passages are consistent with my findings: Prometheus 163 (100–167 choral—Zeus’ anger keeping the οὐρανίαν γένναν [165–66] in subjugation), and 602, referring to Hera’s κότος. The other instances of Aeschylean κότος—Eumenides 800 (Athena warning the Eumenides not to let their κότος free upon Athens) and (similarly) 889—are all also in keeping with Calchas’ definition. Moreover, the Eumenides’ threat to end κότος mirrors Achilles’ wish that χόλος die (Iliad XVIII 107–110). Here κότος is linked only to its own destruction, while in Achilles’ wish, the end of a different kind of anger (χόλος, Iliad XVIII 108, linked to ἔρις, Iliad XVIII 107) is tied, powerfully, to Achilles’ wish for his own death (Iliad XVIII 98). See Walsh 2005:217–219.

[ back ] 36. For a parody of Aeschylean usage see Frogs 844 and Stanford’s note. Note the pun in Frogs 846.

[ back ] 37. Yes, I am resisting, somewhat reluctantly, Nietzsche’s evaluation of cultural permanence as “hypocrisy and lying.”