Homeric Imagery and the Natural Environment

  Brockliss, William. 2019. Homeric Imagery and the Natural Environment. Hellenic Studies Series 82. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BrocklissW.Homeric_Imagery_and_the_Natural_Environment.2019.

4. Stable Trees and Sudden Blooms: Images of Continuity and Change in the Cosmos

In this chapter, I will focus on the sorts of images that the Homeric poets associated with the concepts of order in the cosmos and of changes and challenges to that order—or to put it another way, with changes put into effect or merely threatened. As we shall see, these poets drew on the sturdy trees and pillars that listeners would have known from their own natural and built environments to illustrate the stability and permanence of cosmic order. But they also manipulated the characteristics of particular flowers, such as the narcissus of the Hymn to Demeter, or more general characteristics of flowers in the natural environment, such as the sudden blooms of the Greek spring, to explore changes and challenges to cosmic order. The Homeric hymns and epics, then, present two contrasting sets of images that helped audiences to conceptualize tensions between forces of change and stability in the cosmos.

Descriptions of Cosmic Order and Disorder in the Theogony

In Part I, we were able to gain a clearer sense of the ways in which Homeric images of erotic bodies responded to the characteristics of flowers in the Greek natural environment by comparing them with equivalent images from the corpus of archaic Greek lyric. Similarly, we can set in relief the choices of the Homeric poets in forming their images of cosmic order and of changes and challenges to that order if we take into account imagery from the Hesiodic Theogony that treats similar themes. The Theogony, however, offers only partial parallels for the relevant Homeric images. The Hesiodic poets associated the structure of the cosmos with the structure of plants, and such imagery can readily be compared with Homeric arboreal images of cosmic order. But the Theogony does not employ vegetal imagery in its explorations of changes and challenges to cosmic order.

If Hesiodic parallels existed for the sorts of Homeric images of flowers and changes or challenges to cosmic order that we shall discuss below, we would expect most of all to find such imagery in the poem’s succession myth, where a series of rulers of the cosmos is unseated by female guile and by the violence of the ruler’s son. Cronus castrates his father Uranus with a sickle, from a hiding place provided by his mother Ge; he thus becomes ruler of the gods in his father’s stead (Theogony 159–182). Cronus then swallows his own children in order to pre-empt potential challenges to his rule, but Rhea deceives him by substituting a stone for her last-born son, Zeus, who in this way survives to overpower his father (453–500). These two successions are reminiscent of two Homeric passages that, as we shall see, associate challenges to cosmic order with floral growths—the disabling of Zeus in the Διὸς ἀπάτη, which is achieved through Hera’s guile, and the potential threat that Zeus faces from his own son in the Hymn to Apollo. [1] In neither Hesiodic passage, however, is there any hint of floral imagery; [2] nor have I been able to find secure parallels for Homeric associations of flowers and cosmic disruption elsewhere in archaic Greek literature. [3]

We do, however, find comparanda in the Theogony for the Homeric associations of trees and cosmic order that we shall discuss below. Two passages from the poem describe the structure of the cosmos in terms of the structure of plants. Firstly, in lines 727–728, the “roots of the earth and the sea” are said to have grown above the “neck” of Tartarus:

                                        αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
γῆς ῥίζαι πεφύασι καὶ ἀτρυγέτοιο θαλάσσης.

Theogony 727–728

                                        But above [the neck]
The roots of the earth and of the harvestless sea have grown.

This passage incorporates two images, both of which would have helped audiences to understand the structure of the cosmos. On the one hand the allusion to a “neck” imagines Tartarus, the lowest region of the Hesiodic cosmos, in terms of a jar or a body. [
4] On the other hand, the image of roots explains the relationship of the earth and the sea with what lies beneath them. Archaic audiences would have been able to gain an appreciation of what is implied by the second image from their observation of roots in the natural environment, particularly the knotted roots of trees. As Martin West puts it, we should “perhaps imagin[e] the clear division between land and sea gradually disappearing in the underworld, as the two elements branch out in roots or veins that are inextricably intertwined with one another.” [5] Roots tangle with one another below ground but form distinct plants above the ground, just as land and sea are distinct on the earth but (in the Hesiodic conception) are confused with one another below it. [6]

Images of Trees, Pillars, and Cosmic Order in Homeric Poetry

With these images, then, the Hesiodic poets helped their audiences to imagine the permanent structure of the cosmos by describing it in terms of the plants that they were able to observe in their own environments. As we shall see, the Homeric poets likewise employed vegetal imagery in their descriptions of the cosmos; nevertheless, their use of such images clearly differs from that of their Hesiodic counterparts. In the Homeric poems, images of trees and pillars do not describe the actual structure of the cosmos, but rather evoke concepts associated with cosmic order, such as stability and permanence. Moreover, the Homeric poets associated challenges and changes to cosmic order with floral growths.

On the face of it, descriptions of Ogygia, island of Calypso, in Odyssey 1 and 5 offer the closest Homeric parallels for the Hesiodic images discussed above. Nevertheless, a careful study of the images in question reveals important differences from their Hesiodic equivalents that hold also for the other Homeric images of trees and pillars that we shall consider. Calypso’s island is first described at Odyssey 1.50–54:

νήσῳ ἐν ἀμφιρύτῃ, ὅθι τ’ ὀμφαλός ἐστι θαλάσσης.
νῆσος δενδρήεσσα, θεὰ δ’ ἐν δώματα ναίει,
Ἄτλαντος θυγάτηρ ὀλοόφρονος, ὅς τε θαλάσσης
πάσης βένθεα οἶδεν, ἔχει δέ τε κίονας αὐτὸς
μακράς, αἳ γαῖάν τε καὶ οὐρανὸν ἀμφὶς ἔχουσι.

Odyssey 1.50–54

… on a sea-girt isle, where is the navel of the sea.
It is a wooded isle, and a goddess dwells there,
daughter of Atlas of the baleful mind, who knows
the depths of all the sea, and he himself holds the long
pillars, which keep apart the earth and heaven.

But there is, in fact, a different way to construe the relationships between these images: rather than seeing them all as references to the axis mundi or, indeed, to some other aspect of cosmic architecture, we can understand them as more general evocations of concepts associated with cosmic order, such as stability and permanence. Such a reading of these images would accord with the analysis of metaphor proposed by George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and Mark Turner. [17] As Lakoff and his colleagues demonstrate, we draw on concrete constituents of our natural and built environments to help us grasp more abstract concepts. We might imagine rhetorical arguments in terms of architectural structures, or we might use the parts of plants to help us understand aspects of human lives: a plant’s shedding its leaves or flowers could illustrate the loss of youth, as in the elegiac poems discussed in Chapter 7. [18] And the insights of Lakoff et al. are readily applicable to Homeric images of trees and pillars, whether in Odyssey 1 and 5 or in the passages that we shall discuss below. Early audiences would have been able to observe the stability of trees in the natural world, which contrast starkly with the sudden growths of Greek flowers. And they would also have been familiar with the stabilizing function of pillars in buildings. Accordingly, when the Homeric poets juxtaposed images of trees and pillars with allusions to cosmic stability, listeners would have been able to draw on the former, more concrete concepts to understand the latter.

Two considerations support the notion that these passages from the Odyssey do not offer literal depictions of cosmic architecture, but rather descriptions of cosmic stability in keeping with Lakoff’s, Johnson’s, and Turner’s understanding of metaphor. Firstly, if the lines quoted above were giving a cosmic geography lesson, they would be doing a remarkably poor job at it. Those lines would offer a very vague account of cosmic structure. It is not at all clear how the different elements of the description at 1.50–54—Atlas, the navel, the pillars—relate to one another. [19] Nor is it clear how they relate to other descriptions of the cosmos that would have been familiar to early audiences. It is possible for instance that the unusual image of the “navel of the sea” would have reminded listeners of the “navel” at Delphi—and, indeed, the Byzantine commentator Eustathius associates these two “navels” in his discussion of Odyssey 1.50–51. But if the image in our passage of the Odyssey put early audiences in mind of Delphi and thereby of the center of the earth, it is not immediately obvious how they would have understood the relationship between the two images: it is not possible that both Delphi and Ogygia are situated at the earth’s center. [20] It is more likely, then, that the image of the “navel of the sea” carries with it more general suggestions of cosmic order than that it offers a precise lesson in the structure of the cosmos. [21] At most, such imagery suggests the sorts of concepts associated with the axial images, such as cosmic stability. [22]

Secondly, early audiences would have construed the implications of the trees and pillars of Odyssey 1.50–54 not only on the basis of concepts from wider Greek culture, but also in the light of similar imagery from Homeric poetry, found in the sorts of passages we shall discuss below. [23] And such imagery would likewise have discouraged them from seeing the descriptions of Calypso’s island as precise references to the structure of the cosmos. In none of the relevant passages could the images of trees and pillars represent elements of cosmic architecture. Nevertheless, all of the other passages that we shall consider in this chapter juxtapose such imagery with evocations of cosmic order. The Hymn to Apollo, for instance, offers no indication that the pillar in Zeus’ house is part of the structure of the cosmos: we are not led to believe that it supports the heavens or acts as a conduit between the different levels of the cosmos. This stable feature of Zeus’ home is, however, juxtaposed with a description of the union of Zeus and Apollo on Olympus. A reading of the hymn after the fashion of Lakoff, Johnson, and Turner offers an economical explanation for this juxtaposition: audiences are being invited to draw on their experience of pillars in their built environments to understand the cosmic stability that Apollo’s alliance with Zeus guarantees. Similarly, it seems very unlikely that the tree on which Sleep comes to rest in Iliad 14 represents the axis mundi or, indeed, any other aspect of cosmic architecture. Nonetheless, the juxtaposition of this mighty tree with evocations of cosmic order in the relevant passage would have enabled audiences to use their knowledge of trees in the natural environment to understand the more abstract concepts involved in the story. As we shall see, Sleep’s settling on the tree would, in particular, have reminded listeners of the stable order that the god undermines by incapacitating Zeus, the ruler of the cosmos.

All this suggests that images of trees or pillars play very different roles in Homeric and Hesiodic poetry: the Hesiodic imagery studied above describes the actual structure of the cosmos, but the Homeric poets used images of trees and pillars to help their audiences understand the abstract concepts of cosmic order and stability. And as we shall see, we can apply a similar analysis also to the floral images in the relevant scenes. These latter images are juxtaposed with evocations of challenges and changes to cosmic order and would have helped audiences to understand those abstract concepts. Listeners would have been familiar with the sudden intrusions of flowers into Greek spring landscapes, and this phenomenon offered them a way to conceptualize the disruption of orderly structures in the relevant scenes. And in this way a tension is generated between the associations of flowers and the associations of trees and pillars, both in the passages that we shall study and in the Homeric corpus as a whole.

Homeric Floral and Arboreal Imagery: Change and Continuity in the Cosmos

The hymn offers a clear picture of the way in which the cosmos was structured prior to the events that it describes. The cosmos was neatly divided into three realms: Olympus, the earth and the Underworld. As we can infer from the final action of the poem (310–486), Zeus is the ruler of Olympus and, as Helios recalls in lines 85–87, Hades was allotted the world of the dead. What is more, Hades gained this privilege as part of a threefold division of the cosmos:

                                          ἀμφὶ δὲ τιμὴν
ἔλλαχεν ὡς τὰ πρῶτα διάτριχα δασμὸς ἐτύχθη·
τοῖς μεταναιετάει τῶν ἔλλαχε κοίρανος εἶναι.

Hymn to Demeter 85–87

                                          He was allotted
This honor when first the three-way division occurred;
He dwells with those whose king he is by lot.

Helios appears to be referring to the division of the world between Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon, to which the latter alludes in Iliad 15, as he asserts his claim to the sea and to honors equal to those of Zeus: [

τρεῖς γάρ τ’ ἐκ Κρόνου εἰμὲν ἀδελφεοί, οὓς τέκετο Ῥέα,
Ζεὺς καὶ ἐγώ, τρίτατος δ’ Ἀΐδης ἐνέροισιν ἀνάσσων·
τριχθὰ δὲ πάντα δέδασται, ἕκαστος δ’ ἔμμορε τιμῆς·

Iliad 15.187–189

We are three brothers from Cronus, whom Rhea bore,
Zeus and I, and third Hades, lord of the dead;
All things have been divided in three, and each has a share of honor.

The events of Iliad 15 show that Poseidon’s claim of equality is tendentious: it seems he ultimately has no choice but to accept Zeus’ will. Yet his description of three realms and three broad spheres of influence is not challenged; and we can draw on it to understand Helios’ statement at Hymn to Demeter 85–87.

The importance of the growth of the narcissus to Hades’ journey to the upper world is made clear in lines 15–17. The earth gapes immediately after Korē plucks the flower, and Hades leaps forth on the spot:

ἡ δ’ ἄρα θαμβήσασ’ ὠρέξατο χερσὶν ἅμ’ ἅμφω
καλὸν ἄθυρμα λαβεῖν· χάνε δὲ χθὼν εὐρυάγυια
Νύσιον ἂμ’ πεδίον τῇ ὄρουσεν ἄναξ πολυδέγμων …

Hymn to Demeter 15–17

Wondering at it she reached for it with both hands
To seize the lovely toy; the earth of the wide ways gaped
Along the Nysian Plain where the lord who welcomes many rose up …

The speed with which these actions follow one another suggests that Korē’s plucking the flower directly precipitates Hades’ emergence from the land of the dead. The flower creates the necessary passageway for him to travel to the upper world.

Audiences’ understanding of the importance of the narcissus to the ordering of the cosmos would have been enhanced by the description of the flower. The hymn’s depiction of the narcissus evokes the three compartments of the Homeric cosmos—the heavens, the earth, and the Underworld—and suggests its effect on all three:

τοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ ῥίζης ἑκατὸν κάρα ἐξεπεφύκει,
κὦζ’ ἥδιστ’ ὀδμή, πᾶς δ’ οὐρανὸς εὐρὺς ὕπερθε
γαῖά τε πᾶσ’ ἐγέλασσε καὶ ἁλμυρὸν οἶδμα θαλάσσης.

Hymn to Demeter 12–14

And from its root a hundred heads had grown,
And the sweetest smell arose, and all wide heaven above,
And all the earth and the salt swell of the sea laughed.

The narcissus grows from a root (ἀπὸ ῥίζης), i.e., from the realm of Hades below the ground; it blooms above the ground with a hundred heads (ἑκατὸν κάρα ἐξεπεφύκει); its sweet scent (κὦζ’ ἥδιστ’ ὀδμή) causes all heaven, the earth, and the sea to smile. These details suggest the change that has occurred in the relationships between the three realms of the cosmos. The very structure of the flower, which connects roots below the ground to blooms above it, mirrors the new connections that it creates between the upper and lower worlds. And the flower’s growth from beneath the ground suggests the new possibility of movement from the Underworld to the upper world. [

The growth of the narcissus not only causes the first breach in the boundary between the Underworld and the upper world but, as we see from floral imagery later in the hymn, is also reenacted in subsequent breaches. Such breaches are associated in the hymn with the annual returns of Korē, which solve the problem of Demeter described above. As a result of Demeter’s actions in the second half of the hymn, Zeus grants Korē the ability to pass between the upper and lower worlds. In order to force Zeus’ hand, Demeter starves mortals and animals of grain and thereby deprives the gods of sacrifices (305–332). And her plan succeeds: a compromise is eventually struck, whereby Persephone will spend two thirds of each year above ground but one third below it (398–400, 463–465). In every subsequent year, she will pass from the lower to the upper world and back again.

We saw in Chapter 2 that Korē is a double of the narcissus—a “flower-faced girl” who sees an image of herself in the flower. [34] When she re-appears from the Underworld every year, then, it is as if the narcissus blooms afresh. That we should interpret her re-emergence in this way is suggested by the following words of Demeter:

ὁππότε δ’ ἄνθεσι γαῖ’ εὐώδε[σιν] ἠαρινο[ῖσι]
παντοδαποῖς θάλλει, τότ’ ἀπὸ ζόφου ἠερόεντος
αὖτις ἄνει μέγα θαῦμα θεοῖς θνητοῖς τ’ ἀνθρώποις.

Hymn to Demeter 401–403

When the earth blooms with all kinds of fragr[ant]
Spr[ing] flowers, then again you will rise up
A great wonder to the gods and mortal men.

Korē will rise up like a flower, along with the other blooms of the earth. With this prediction Demeter associates her daughter’s annual re-birth with the annual re-appearance of flowers in the spring. Audiences were thus encouraged to imagine the puncturing of the barrier between the upper and lower worlds that is described in the hymn in terms of the blooming of spring flowers. The change to the cosmos was as great as the change from the winter landscape to that of the spring—a particularly sudden change in Greece. [
35] Conversely, audiences would also have gained a new perspective on the blooms they saw every spring: these sudden irruptions into the Greek landscape reenacted and confirmed the original breach in the structure of the cosmos.

We have seen, then, that the floral images of the Hymn to Demeter are associated with changes in the structure of the cosmos. Floral imagery in the Delian half of the Hymn to Apollo carries similar associations. The sudden growth of flowers on Delos suggests the changes to the cosmic order either threatened or actualized by the birth of Apollo. The arrival of Apollo carries with it a potential threat to Zeus’ supremacy; nevertheless Apollo declares his allegiance to his father. Apollo claims new prerogatives and thus effects a change in cosmic order; but in so doing he strengthens rather than undermines Zeus’ divine dispensation. Conversely, images of a pillar and a tree suggest the stability and endurance of the cosmic order guaranteed by Zeus and Apollo. In this way, the imagery of the hymn would have helped audiences to understand the tensions between forces of change and continuity in the poem.

The following lines however create a more positive impression of Apollo’s relationship with Zeus and with the other gods:

5       Λητὼ δ’ οἴη μίμνε παραὶ Διὶ τερπικεραύνῳ,
          ἥ ῥα βιόν τ’ ἐχάλασσε καὶ ἐκλήϊσε φαρέτρην,
          καί οἱ ἀπ’ ἰφθίμων ὤμων χείρεσσιν ἑλοῦσα
          τόξον ἀνεκρέμασε πρὸς κίονα πατρὸς ἑοῖο
          πασσάλου ἐκ χρυσέου· τὸν δ’ εἰς θρόνον εἷσεν ἄγουσα.
10      τῷ δ’ ἄρα νέκταρ ἔδωκε πατὴρ δέπαϊ χρυσείῳ
          δεικνύμενος φίλον υἱόν, ἔπειτα δὲ δαίμονες ἄλλοι
          ἔνθα καθίζουσιν· χαίρει δέ τε πότνια Λητώ,
          οὕνεκα τοξοφόρον καὶ καρτερὸν υἱὸν ἔτικτεν.

Hymn to Apollo 5–13

5       Leto alone remained beside Zeus who delights in thunder;
          She slackened [Apollo’s] bow and closed his quiver,
          And taking his weapon from his mighty shoulders
          With her hands she hung it on the pillar of his father
          From a golden peg; and leading him she sat him down on a chair.
10      Father Zeus gave Apollo nectar in a golden cup,
          And offered a pledge to his dear son; then the other gods
          Resume their seats; lady Leto rejoices,
          Because she bore a bow-wielding, mighty son.

While the other gods are alarmed and quite literally forced from their proper places, Zeus is unperturbed by Apollo’s arrival. The calmness also of Leto, the only other god to keep her composure, associates her with Zeus and shows her confidence that her son does not, in fact, intend to attack Zeus and the other gods. And Apollo’s menace is finally dissipated when Leto takes his bow and hangs it on a pillar of Zeus’ house (8).

Audiences’ familiarity with the stabilizing function of pillars in buildings would have helped them to understand the implications of this image. The description of Apollo’s disorderly arrival on Olympus in the opening lines has now given way to an image of stability associated with Zeus and Apollo and with the relationship between the two gods. Leto places Apollo’s bow on the pillar of Zeus’ house and at that moment Zeus is described as Apollo’s father (line 8). Further emphasis is placed on their relationship in lines 10–11, which describe how “Father Zeus gave Apollo nectar in a golden cup, / And offered a pledge to his dear son.” The demonstration of their bond serves as the signal for the other Olympians to resume their seats (11–12). While the opening lines depict a challenge to order on Olympus, the image of a pillar—a stable architectural element—associates the relationship between Zeus and Apollo with the concept of stability. As we shall see, these elements of the scene anticipate Apollo’s adoption of positive roles within Zeus’ Olympian regime later in the poem: father and son will work together in support of the same cosmic order.

Firstly, the account of Leto’s search for a place to give birth to the new god echoes the description of Apollo’s threatening behavior in the first four lines and gives a clearer indication of the threat that the new god poses. The pregnant Leto tours the Greek world, trying to find a land willing to host her son, but all the islands and cities take fright at the thought of the new god (30–47). Like the gods in the opening scene, who “tremble” at Apollo’s fearsome appearance (τρομέουσιν, 2), these different places “were trembling” (ἐτρόμεον, 47) at the thought of Apollo’s birth. And when Leto appeals last of all to Delos, the island likewise “tremble[s]” (τρομέω, 66). For it has heard that Apollo will be “exceedingly reckless” (λίην … ἀτάσθαλον, 67) and that “he will rule greatly over gods and mortals” (μέγα δὲ πρυτανευσέμεν ἀθανάτοισι / καὶ θνητοῖσι βροτοῖσιν, 68–69). Similarly, the unruly Typhoeus at Theogony 820–880 attempts to overthrow Zeus, “and would have ruled mortals and immortals” (καί κεν ὅ γε θνητοῖσι καὶ ἀθανάτοισιν ἄναξεν, 837). Delos, then, expects Apollo to seize power from his father in the same way that—as we learn from the Theogony and are reminded later in this hymn (Hymn to Apollo 339)—Zeus himself had displaced Cronus. If Delos’ fears are in any way justified, the birth of Apollo brings with it the potential for an epochal shift in the rulership of the cosmos.

In this way, the arboreal image in line 117 interacts with important themes of the hymn. The Delian hymn as a whole explores notions of change and stability, of (potential) insurrection and maintenance of order: Apollo’s violent intrusion at the start of the hymn is balanced by Zeus’ and Leto’s calm reactions; Delos’ alarm at the thought of the new god is answered by Apollo’s declaration of allegiance to Zeus’ will (line 132). The date-palm contributes to the poem’s explorations of stability and counteracts the impression that Apollo will be a source of disorder. And as with the pillar in the opening scene, this stable object is closely associated with Leto and Apollo: she places his bow on the pillar; at line 117–119 he “leaps forth” as she braces herself against the tree. Unlike the pillar, the date-palm is not explicitly associated with Zeus. Rather, given its importance to Delian cult it suggests the stability that Apollo’s presence on Delos will bring. But with both images, the Homeric poets helped their audiences to understand the abstract concept of stability through concrete concepts drawn from their environments—the pillars that they would have seen in buildings and the trees of Delos and elsewhere.

By contrast, floral imagery in lines 135–139 emphasizes the changes wrought by the coming of the god. [49] The relevant lines mark the moment when, shortly after his birth, Apollo first strides onto Delos. As he does so, golden blooms cover the island:

                                         With gold all Delos
Was burgeoning as it saw the offspring of Zeus and Leto,
In its joy that the god chose it of the islands and mainland
To make his home, and that in his heart he liked it more.
It bloomed as a mountain headland blooms with flowers of the forest.

As scholars have noted, the description of these golden blooms marks the island’s response to Apollo’s divine presence—much as, for instance, the floral growths of Odyssey 5 or the Hymn to Pan respond to the presence of Calypso and Pan (see Chapters 5 and 6 below). [
51] But more remains to be said about this floral image. In particular, we need to take into account its interactions with the natural environments familiar to early audiences and with the hymn’s depiction of change and continuity. We have already seen how the hymn’s descriptions of the date-palm respond to characteristics of the Delian natural environment and interact with allusions in the hymn to the barrenness of Delos. Likewise, in order to get a full understanding of the floral imagery from lines 135–139 we need to consider its relationship with the other vegetation of the hymn and with the Delian landscapes that would have been familiar to early audiences. Unlike the descriptions of flowers in Odyssey 5 and Hymn to Pan, which portray them as constant features of the landscapes inhabited by Calypso and Pan (Chapter 5 below), Hymn to Apollo 135–139 places emphasis on the change that has occurred in the Delian flora. What is more, when we consider the relationship of the golden flowers with their immediate context and with the wider themes of the Delian half of the hymn, it becomes clear that this floral image echoes and reinforces the idea of the significant changes to the Olympian order threatened or actualized by the coming of Apollo.

The floral imagery in lines 135–139, then, associates Apollo’s presence on Delos with a significant change in the natural environment. And this depiction of a significant change in the natural world accompanies a change in the cosmic order, as we see from its immediate context and from the wider narrative of the Delian half of the hymn.

To understand the sort of change that has occurred we should consider, in particular, Apollo’s claim of new prerogatives, which he makes immediately before the description of golden flowers. The first line of Apollo’s speech has mixed connotations: “May I possess the dear cithara and the bent bow” (εἴη μοι κίθαρίς τε φίλη καὶ καμπύλα τόξα, 131). Apollo’s patronage of music will benefit both gods and men. Shortly afterwards the hymn describes the music-making of the Delian maidens, who sing of the gods and of men and women of the past (157–161). In lines 182–206 Apollo himself is depicted as he makes music with the other gods. And this new association of Apollo with the sphere of music represents a change to the benefit of gods and men: both will delight in musical performances; and the gods will derive additional pleasure from the hymns of mankind.

The reference in line 131 to Apollo’s “bent bow,” however, would have reminded audiences of his violent entrance into the house of Zeus in the first four lines of the hymn. The description of Leto’s joy at her “mighty, bow-wielding son” (125–126) also recalls the opening scene. The relevant phrases echo the language of lines 12–13, which as we have seen strike a discordant note at the end of the opening sequence: χαίρει δὲ πότνια Λητὼ / οὕνεκα τοξοφόρον καὶ καρτερὸν υἱὸν ἔτικτεν, 12–13; χαῖρε δὲ Λητὼ, οὕνεκα τοξοφόρον καὶ καρτερὸν υἱὸν ἔτικτεν, 125–126 (“lady Leto rejoices [Leto was rejoicing, 125] because she bore a mighty, bow-wielding son”). As is clear by this point in the hymn, Apollo will not challenge Zeus’ rule. And in fact, he later uses his bow in service of Zeus: he slays the Pytho, the foster-mother of Typhaon (357–358), whom Hera brings into the world in defiance of Zeus. But the echo of the opening scene in line 131 reminds us that Apollo had to choose not to use his potentially dangerous power against the Olympian order. In the light of these later events, we understand the significance of Leto’s actions in lines 6–9: by hanging his bow on the stable pillar of his father’s house, Leto suggests the stability that the alliance between Apollo and Zeus brings to the cosmos.

The floral imagery of Hymn to Apollo 135–139 works in tandem with the surrounding lines to give a sense of the changes that have occurred, or that might have occurred, if Apollo had chosen to use his strength against the Olympian order. Apollo’s words at 132–133 describe two kinds of change, one threatened and one actualized. The references to his archery in lines 125–126 and 132 remind us of his potentially dangerous power, with which he might have chosen to challenge the existing order of things. But greater emphasis is placed on the positive change that, in fact, takes place: he claims new prerogatives that support rather than undermine Zeus’ Olympian order. And the floral images of lines 135–139, which describe a significant change in the natural environment, underline the significance of the change that has occurred in the cosmic order as Apollo assumes his new roles. In this way, concrete concepts of floral growth drawn from the sorts of natural environments familiar to early audiences would have helped them to understand the more abstract notion of changes to cosmic order and the part played by such concepts in this scene.

As we saw in Chapter 3, Book 14 tells the story of Hera’s seduction of Zeus in order to further her own aims in the Trojan War. Hera is angry at her husband for favoring the Trojans; she therefore plots to divert his attention from the battlefield so that their brother, Poseidon, can rally the Greeks. She decides to seduce her husband and therefore asks Aphrodite for the Girdle of Desire. She also appeals to the god Sleep, who is to lull Zeus into a post-coital slumber (232–279). As a result, Zeus is overcome with sleep and Hera’s seductive wiles: he acknowledges that desire has conquered his mind (ἔρος … ἐδάμασσεν, 315–316), and at lines 352–353 he lies prostrate, “conquered by love and sleep” (ὕπνῳ καὶ φιλότητι δαμείς, 353).

If we focused on these details alone, we would read this purely as a seduction scene. But a second theme that we have not yet explored runs through the whole episode alongside these erotic elements: there are a number of allusions to order and disorder in the cosmos. In Book 14, the most striking of these allusions are found in the speeches of Hera. She is obliged to explain her actions both to Aphrodite and to Zeus; and she gives pretty much the same excuse in both cases (14.200–202, 205–207 ≈ 301–306). And the justifications that she presents mingle the theme of seduction with broader cosmic themes.

At first sight, Hera’s excuses seem to focus only on the theme of eroticism and to have purely innocent implications: she plans to reconcile two divine lovers, Oceanus and Tethys, who have fallen into strife. And she has a ready explanation for why she would want to help the couple: she owes them a debt of gratitude, since they raised her (14.202, 303). In this way she justifies her request for “affection and desire” (φιλότητα καὶ ἵμερον, 14.198), which Aphrodite honors by lending her the Girdle of Desire. Presumably, Hera wants Aphrodite to believe that she will use the girdle’s powers to renew the divine couple’s affections for one another (φιλότητος, φιλότητι, 207, 209). Hera’s story also helps allay Zeus’ suspicions regarding her presence on Mount Ida: she is on the way from Olympus to visit the home of Oceanus and Tethys.

Other elements of Hera’s speeches, however, allude to cosmic structure and to cosmic disruption and thereby hint at the more subversive intentions that she harbors in her interactions with Zeus. In conversation with Aphrodite, she mentions the reason why she was cared for by Oceanus and Tethys: they received her from her mother Rhea “when wide-seeing Zeus / settled Cronus beneath the earth and the harvestless sea” (ὅτε τε Κρόνον εὐρύοπα Ζεὺς / γαίης νέρθε καθεῖσε καὶ ἀτρυγέτοιο θαλάσσης, 203–204). She thus refers to the structure of the cosmos (the earth and sea, the realm below) and also to a significant change in the cosmic order—Zeus’ overthrow of his father Cronus. As mentioned above, this is one of the major upheavals that occur in the cosmos of the Hesiodic Theogony (492–500).

Hera prudently omits this last detail from her speech to Zeus. But in her speeches both to Aphrodite and to Zeus, the language that she uses to describe Oceanus and Tethys introduces further allusions to cosmic structure and disruption. She claims that she is planning to visit the ends of the earth (πείρατα γαίης, 200), a second reference to the structure of the cosmos. There she will visit “Oceanus, origin of the gods, and mother Tethys” (Ωκεανόν τε, θεῶν γένεσιν, καὶ μητέρα Τηθύν, 201) and “resolve their indiscriminate quarrels” (σφ’ ἄκριτα νείκεα λύσω, 205, 304). The two gods are described in terms reminiscent of the kinds of theogonic poetry that would have been familiar to at least some early listeners. The description of Oceanus as the “origin of the gods” departs from the Hesiodic tradition, which traces the genealogy of the gods back to Earth and Heaven. But it is reminiscent of an Orphic fragment, which Socrates cites at Plato Cratylus 402B, shortly after quoting Iliad 14.201: [56]

Ὠκεανὸς πρῶτος καλλίρροος ἦρξε γάμοιο,
ὃς ῥα κασιγνήτην ὁμομήτορα Τηθὺν ὄπυιεν.

Plato Cratylus 402B = Orphica fr. 15 Kern

Beautifully flowing Oceanus first began marriage,
He who wedded Tethys, offspring of the same mother.

What is more, as Richard Janko points out, the reference at Iliad 14.205 and 305 to the “indiscriminate quarrels” (ἄκριτα νείκεα) of these primordial gods suggests a first stage in a theogony. Such a theogony imagines the original chaotic state of the cosmos in anthropomorphic terms, as a quarrel between two lovers. The introduction of order to the cosmos is then conceptualized as the separation of the squabbling lovers. Perhaps, then, if Hera were somehow able to reconcile these primordial parents, she would return the cosmos to its primeval, undifferentiated state. [

Hera’s words would have invited ancient audiences to view the events of Book 14 in terms not only of seduction but also of cosmic disruption. Granted, it is not likely that they would have expected a complete overthrow of cosmic order of the sort hinted at by Hera’s talk of reconciling Oceanus and Tethys. As with audiences of the Hymn to Apollo, who were aware that Apollo would not, in fact, overthrow his father, they would have known that Hera’s actions would not reconstitute primal chaos, since the cosmos retained its good order in their own day. Nevertheless, Hera’s allusions to Oceanus and Tethys cast her actions against her husband in Iliad 14 as a challenge to cosmic order. And indeed, her disabling Zeus will undermine his control of the cosmos.

The tree of 14.287–289 is also, like the date-palm and pillar of the Hymn to Apollo, suggestive of the stability of Zeus’ rulership, which Hera hopes to undermine. As we have noted, trees were strong and stable constituents of the natural environments familiar to early audiences; the Homeric poets were therefore able to use arboreal images to help their audiences to conceptualize more abstract kinds of stability. Given the association of Sleep’s tree with Zeus’ realm, our passage from Iliad 14 suggests specifically the stability guaranteed by Zeus’ rule. But when Sleep settles on this tree that reaches the clear air, his action prefigures his conquest of Zeus at 14.352–353, which offers a challenge to such stability. The image of Sleep settling on this tree would, then, have suggested to archaic audiences the potential significance of Hera’s betrayal: her disabling of Zeus will (albeit temporarily) neutralize his control of the cosmos.

The floral imagery that we find later in the scene likewise suggests the cosmic implications of the events of the Διὸς ἀπάτη. At the moment when Zeus takes Hera in his arms, flowers begin to bloom beneath the divine lovers:

ἦ ῥα, καὶ ἀγκὰς ἔμαρπτε Κρόνου παῖς ἣν παράκοιτιν·
τοῖσι δ’ ὑπὸ χθὼν δῖα φύεν νεοθηλέα ποίην,
λωτόν θ’ ἑρσήεντα ἰδὲ κρόκον ἠδ’ ὑάκινθον
πυκνὸν καὶ μαλακόν, ὃς ἀπὸ χθονὸς ὑψόσ’ ἔεργε.

Iliad 14.346–349

He spoke, and the son of Cronus seized his wife in his arms;
And the bright earth was sending up fresh grass under them,
Dewy lotus, saffron and hyacinth,
Thick and soft, which kept them on high, away from the ground.

On one level, this floral imagery reflects the erotic themes explored in Iliad 14. While the floral images that we discussed in Chapter 2 are associated with erotic bodies prepared for seduction and deception, the imagery of Iliad 14.346–349 marks the climax of a story of seduction and deception. Αnd it does so with suitably striking imagery: the floral term ὑάκινθος is found nowhere else in the Iliad, and the formula χθὼν δῖα, which evokes the gleam of the fecund earth, is not attested in the nominative in any other passage of Homeric poetry. But these lines also interact with the sorts of cosmic themes introduced by Hera’s speeches. As in the Hymn to Apollo, we have an image of change in the natural environment that helps to illustrate a cosmic change. As in the hymn, an annual phenomenon—the blooming of spring flowers on Mount Ida—is here imagined not as a recurring event but as a unique response to the events of the Διὸς ἀπάτη. The bloom is sudden and miraculous: flowers appear where previously there were none. [
60] This remarkable effusion of flowers suggests the potentially serious implications of the disabling of Zeus at Iliad 14.346–353. At line 353, he lies prostrate, conquered by love and sleep; and his governorship of the cosmos sleeps with him. [61]

In this and the other Homeric passages that we have studied, the Homeric poets drew on vegetal imagery to help their audiences understand the abstract notion of order in the cosmos. Cosmic order and in particular the order guaranteed by Zeus’ divine dispensation was as strong and enduring as great trees. The Homeric poets also employed floral imagery to illustrate the challenges and changes to the established order of the cosmos—whether the revolutionary challenge imagined by Hera or changes in accordance with Zeus’ plans. In so doing, they drew on the changes that occurred in landscapes every year with the blooming of spring flowers but concentrated them into one-off, miraculous events.

There is more to be said about these images and about their interactions with the natural environments familiar to the Homeric poets and their audiences. In particular, we need to explain not only why flowers and trees carried different associations from one another, but also why they should be associated with antithetical notions of the established order of the cosmos and of changes and challenges to that order. As we shall see in Chapter 6, such an antithesis can be explained if we bear in mind Greek perceptions of contrasting modes of vegetal reproduction.

But before doing so we need to explore other Homeric vegetal images that form a complement to the sorts of cosmic images that we have considered in this chapter, and which will aid in our study of the modes of vegetal reproduction in Chapter 6. As will become clear, the depiction of an ongoing tension between the established order of the cosmos and forces of change is echoed in Homeric representations of civilization and wilderness—of good order and its opposite as those concepts relate to humankind. And again, the Homeric poets employed arboreal and floral imagery to illustrate these abstract concepts.


[ back ] 1. Catalogue of Women frr. 51–54(c) MW offer another possible Hesiodic parallel for Apollo’s threat to Zeus in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. When Zeus kills Apollo’s son Asclepius, Apollo slays the Cyclopes in retaliation. This insubordinate riposte realizes Apollo’s potential for violence, which is suggested in the Hymn to Apollo; however, there is no floral imagery in what remains of the Hesiodic story. For discussion of this fragment, see also n38 below and my Conclusion. On similarities between Homeric and Hesiodic depictions of challenges to Zeus’ supremacy, see Yasumura (2011).

[ back ] 2. We do, in fact, find floral imagery following the final challenge to Zeus’ rule in the Theogony: at line 878, winds from Typhoeus blow κατὰ γαῖαν ἀπείριτον ἀνθεμόεσσαν (“throughout the boundless, flowery earth”). By this stage, however, the monster has been defeated. If the Hesiodic episode echoed the Homeric associations of floral imagery with challenges to cosmic order, we would expect flowers to be associated not with Typhoeus’ defeat but with his assault on Zeus. For further reflections on this image, see Chapter 5 n5 below.

[ back ] 3. The earliest parallel that I have been able to identify for such Homeric imagery is offered by Pindar’s Seventh Olympian from early in the classical period (464 BCE). As we shall see, at Iliad 15.187–193 Poseidon describes the division of the cosmos between himself, Zeus, and Hades. In Pindar’s ode such a division of the world is shown to be problematic: Zeus realizes that Helios has been excluded from the sortition (Olympian 7.61). The problem is solved by the growth from the seabed of the island Rhodes, which will be assigned to Helios. This reorganization of the cosmos is accompanied by floral imagery: Rhodes is only ever referred to in oblique cases, where the word Ῥόδος has forms identical with the noun ῥόδον, “rose”; the island’s emergence is described, moreover, in terms of a flower growing (αὐξομέναν, 62) and sprouting (βλάστε). Cf. Young 1968 on the vegetal imagery of the ode.

[ back ] 4. See West 1966 on Theogony 727 (δειρήν).

[ back ] 5. West 1966 on Theogony 728 (ῥίζα).

[ back ] 6. For the image of the “roots of the sea,” cf. Orphic Hymn 23.1, where Nereus is described as the possessor of πόντου ῥίζας, or Orphica fr. 21a.6 Kern, where Zeus is identified as πόντου ῥίζα. Compare also the image of the “navel of the sea” at Odyssey 1.50, discussed below.

[ back ] 7. See Vernant 1965:148. The Presocratic philosophers likewise describe the structure of the cosmos in terms of the structure of plants. See, for instance, Xenophanes’ statement that the earth is ἐπ’ ἄπειρον … ἐρριζῶσθαι (A47 Diels-Kranz 1954), perhaps “rooted up to boundlessness.” (For the translation of ἐπί + accusative as “up to” cf. LSJ s.v. C.I.2.b.) With this phrase, like the Hesiodic poets at Theogony 727–728, Xenophanes offers an explanation for the stability of the earth (cf. Aristotle De Caelo 294a). By describing the earth as “rooted up to boundlessness,” Xenophanes implies that there is no point below the earth’s roots to which they could sink; hence, neither could the earth sink, since it rests on these infinite roots. See also Anaximander A10.33–36 DK, which describes the cosmos as surrounded by “a ball of flame … like bark on a tree” (φλογὸς σφαῖραν … ὡς τῶι δένδρωι φλοιόν). According to Hahn (2001, esp. 192–194), Anaximander’s cosmos shows close structural similarities with a tree. It is cylindrical, and from an aerial view it would have the appearance of concentric circles, like the concentric rings of a tree trunk. On the use of metaphor by the Presocratics and later philosophers, see Lakoff and Johnson 1999.

[ back ] 8. For further discussion of the lexical root φυ- in images of order and disorder, see Chapter 6 below.

[ back ] 9. I quote Historia Plantarum from Amigues 1988–2006. Cf. Aristotle’s comparisons of the root of a plant to the mouth of an animal, e.g., De Vita et Morte 468a.9–12.

[ back ] 10. See Eliade 1963:265–300, 1988:269–274 (the Cosmic Tree), 1959:32–36, 53–54, 1988:259–266 (cosmic pillars), 1963:231–235, 374–379 (cosmic imagery of navels), 1963:367–385 (the axis mundi). For the interconnections between these four sets of images, see also Butterworth 1970.

[ back ] 11. See Hahn 2001, esp. 192–194 on the equivalence of images of trees and pillars in Anaximander’s descriptions of the cosmos: according to Hahn, this reflects the fact that in Anaximander’s time stone columns had recently replaced trees in the construction of temples. For Anaximander’s cosmic imagery, see also n7 above.

[ back ] 12. For Delphi as the center of the world, see Eustathius on Odyssey 1.50. On the cosmic significance of the “navel” at Delphi, see Butterworth 1970:32–37.

[ back ] 13. Nagler 1996, Bakker 2001.

[ back ] 14. Bakker 2001:345, Nagler 1996:145.

[ back ] 15. Relative to their treatments of Odyssean allusions to pillars and navels, Bakker and Nagler express less certainty over the axial associations of Calypso’s tree. Nagler (1996:146n13) wonders whether “the fir tree on Calypso’s island is ‘heaven-reaching’… in more than a figurative sense.” Bakker (2001:345) observes that “it might … be repeating the axial nature of Calypso and her father [Atlas], with the trees acting as the symbol for the ‘pillars of heaven’ or the ‘navel of the sea.’”

[ back ] 16. We might also note that at 1.50–54 the trees of Calypso’s island—it is a “wooded island” (νῆσος δενδρήεσσα, 51)—are juxtaposed with the imagery of Atlas’ pillars and the navel of the sea.

[ back ] 17. Lakoff and Johnson 2003; Lakoff and Turner 1989. For the work of Lakoff et al., see my Introduction.

[ back ] 18. Lakoff and Johnson 2003:98–114 (arguments), Lakoff and Turner 1989:41 (parts of a plant).

[ back ] 19. Equivalent imagery in the Hesiodic Theogony is somewhat more precise: at Theogony 517–519, Atlas is situated at the edges of the earth, near the Hesperides, and he supports heaven (οὐρανόν) with his shoulders. In another passage silver pillars reach to heaven from the home of Styx, likewise situated at the ends of the earth (777–779). A little later the water of the Styx, likewise situated at the end of the earth, receives the epithet ὠγύγιον, “primeval,” which is reminiscent of Ogygia, the name of Calypso’s island (806). We are still left to figure out how the silver pillars of line 779 might relate to the labor of Atlas or, indeed, to the vegetal imagery explored above. But the individual passages are at least clear in their implications.

[ back ] 20. Butterworth (1970:32–37) proposes that the two images both suggest “a navelstring between earth and heaven” (p. 37), rather than strictly the center of the earth. But if the phrase ὀμφαλός θαλάσσης carries such a significance, this is far from clear in our passage from Odyssey 1.

[ back ] 21. Associations of the “navel of the sea” at Odyssey 1.50 with cosmic order would have particular salience from a divine perspective (see Chapter 5 below).

[ back ] 22. Other Homeric usages of the lexeme ὀμφαλός, however, would have encouraged audiences to construe the phrase “the navel of the sea” not as an allusion to cosmic imagery but as a description of the geographical position of Calypso’s island relative to the sea: it is like a nub surrounded by water on all sides: see chapter 5 n29 below. Such an interpretation of the phrase is particularly relevant to Odysseus’ perspective on Ogygia.

[ back ] 23. Cf. J. M. Foley’s (1999, 2002) notion of “traditional referentiality” in oral poetics.

[ back ] 24. For such changes in the hymn, see also Rudhardt 1994 and Clay 2006:202–266.

[ back ] 25. Cf. Richardson 1974 and H. P. Foley 1994 on Hymn to Demeter 85–86; Clay 2006:220n66.

[ back ] 26. Rudhardt 1994:203: “Unless we accept this impermeability, the myth of Demeter, Hades, and Persephone is incomprehensible.”

[ back ] 27. For Hermes’ role as guide of the dead in Homeric poetry, see Hymn to Hermes 572 and Odyssey 24.1–14. See also Chapter 8 n54 below.

[ back ] 28. If Rudhardt (1994) and Clay (2006:202–266) are correct, the strict division between the upper and lower world also causes a problem for mortals, who are condemned after death to a wretched existence below the earth. But Persephone’s annual journeys to the Underworld (mentioned below) will allow her to intercede with Hades on behalf of those initiated into her Eleusinian cult and thereby to secure them a special status in the Underworld: they will be “blessed” after death (Hymn to Demeter 480–482). See also Chapter 9 n22 below.

[ back ] 29. Rudhardt 1994:205.

[ back ] 30. Cf. Chirassi (1968:102) on flowers in Greek culture more generally: “Il fiore affondando nella terra la sua parte essenziale, vitale (radice, rizoma o bulbo) appartiene fonadmentalmente al mondo ipogeo, rappresenta quasi un tramite, un passaggio dall’una all’altra sfera.”

[ back ] 31. Theophrastus Historia Plantarum 7.13.6.

[ back ] 32. Cf. Theophrastus Historia Plantarum 7.13.2.

[ back ] 33. Cf. Huxley and Taylor 1977:153 and Polunin 1980:502 on narcissi in the Greek natural environment.

[ back ] 34. As mentioned in Chapter 2, Korē is described as καλυκῶπις, “flower-faced,” at the moment she picks the narcissus (line 8).

[ back ] 35. On the suddenness of the Greek spring blooms, see Introduction; Motte 1971:10, Braudel 1972:233, Huxley and Taylor 1977:21, 24, Polunin 1980:30–31. See also Höhfeld 2009:39 on the Troad.

[ back ] 36. See Rudhardt 1994:207–208. Clay (2006:255–256), arguing against the idea that Korē’s return coincides with the first spring, draws on two pieces of evidence from the hymn. She points out that Korē’s mother Demeter is described as ὠρηφόρος, “bringer of seasons,” not only after the description of Korē’s annual returns (line 492), but also on two occasions earlier in the hymn (54, 192). And she argues that “[t]he presence of agriculture, upon which the hymn insists from its outset, presupposes the existence of seasons” (p. 255). But it is unclear whether the epithet ὠρηφόρος refers to Demeter’s role before the narrative time of the hymn or in the present time of hymnic performance—that is, a time after the changes described in the hymn. Moreover, the concept of agricultural labor does not require seasonal change, any more than the flowery meadow of the opening lines has to be a spring meadow. Audiences were free to assume that the agricultural labor prior to the action of the hymn took place all year round.

[ back ] 37. The mixture of tenses in the opening thirteen lines (present, aorist, imperfect) leaves it unclear whether the hymn is describing one particular occasion or Apollo’s habitual actions on arriving at Zeus’ house: see n39 below.

[ back ] 38. And this suggestion might not have appeared far-fetched. Audiences acquainted with the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women would have heard how Apollo slew the Cyclopes after Zeus killed Apollo’s son Asclepius (frr. 51–54(c) MW). Though this is not an all-out insurrection, it is at the very least a violent riposte to Zeus. See above on challenges to Zeus in Hesiodic poetry and n1 of this chapter on Catalogue of Women frr. 51–54(c) MW; see also my Conclusion. For Apollo’s potential to challenge Zeus’ rule in the hymn, see also Clay 2006:17–94 and Felson 2011:271–279. On the drama of this opening scene, cf. Martin 2000:422.

[ back ] 39. Cf. Clay 2006:22. What is more, the mixed verb tenses of these lines leave it unclear whether Apollo’s threat has been contained once and for all. The first thirteen lines of the hymn mix present, imperfect, and aorist tenses, and thus leave open whether a single event (aorist) or a repeated event (present, imperfect) is being described. The aorist tenses that describe Leto’s actions in lines 6–9—ἐχάλασσε, ἐκλήϊσε, ἀνεκρέμασε, εἷσεν (“slackened, closed, hung, sat … down”)—seem to describe a decisive resolution to the threat posed by Apollo. But the present tenses, particularly those in the first four lines (τρομέουσιν, ἀναΐσσουσιν, τιταίνει—“they tremble,” “they leap up,” “he draws”), suggest a repetition of Apollo’s threatening arrival—this is what happens whenever Apollo appears on Olympus. Bakker’s (2005:139–146) reading of these verbs, however, gives us more reason to be confident in the reconciliation of Zeus and Apollo. If he is correct, it is not so much the action of the god that is repeated but the performance of his action in the presence of the audience, once that action has been brought forth from memory by the poet.

[ back ] 40. And it is not just Apollo’s power of prophecy that benefits Zeus’ cosmic regime. Despite the threat suggested in the opening scene, Apollo employs his bow to positive ends in the Pythian half of the hymn, when he slays the Pytho (see below). For Apollo’s use of his powers in support of Zeus, see in general Clay 2006:17–94.

[ back ] 41. Burkert 1979.

[ back ] 42. For the Hymn to Apollo as a composite of two originally separate compositions, see Janko 1982:99–115, who dates the Delian hymn to ca. 650 BCE.

[ back ] 43. Allen, Halliday, and Sikes 1963 on Hymn to Apollo 117.

[ back ] 44. Deonna 1946:156–157.

[ back ] 45. See Stehle 1997:180–181 on the interaction of the hymn with such a tree and with other elements of its performance setting on Delos. On the antiquity of palm-trees in Delian cult, see Gallet de Santerre 1958, esp. 193–195.

[ back ] 46. See Deonna’s (1946:154) description of modern Delos: “Elle est resolument hostile à la végétation.” This is a little extreme but does capture the barrenness of the island relative to other Greek landscapes.

[ back ] 47. Similarly, the Pythian half of the hymn alludes to groves that would presumably have been present at Delphi in archaic times (lines 221 and 384).

[ back ] 48. In its immediate context, the firm date-palm contrasts with an image of softness from the natural environment: Leto throws her arms around the tree, but presses her knees into a soft meadow (γοῦνα δ’ ἔρεισε / λειμῶνι μαλακῷ, 107–108).

[ back ] 49. Other vegetal images reflect an awareness of actual changes to the Delian flora wrought by the coming of the cult of Apollo. As mentioned above, Delos, when not subject to cultivation, presents a relatively barren terrain. In ancient times, however, extensive plantations of fruit trees and vines along with sacred groves and gardens were cultivated in honor of the god, both on Delos and on nearby islands: see Deonna 1946. And such plantations are recognized explicitly in the hymn. At line 55, Leto alludes to the vines that will grow on Delos if it accepts Apollo, and the island itself, expressing its fear that the god will establish them on another island, anticipates the planting of sacred groves (76).

[ back ] 50. Lines 136–138 are preserved in the margins of manuscripts. Some critics have concluded that they belong alongside lines 135 and 139 in the main text, whether in the order that we find them in our manuscripts or in an alternative order. Other critics have regarded them as interpolations. With the exception of Càssola (1975), however, all retain line 139 and thereby the floral elements of these lines. And given that 136–138 are preserved as marginalia and 139 in the main text, the retention of line 139 is, indeed, reasonable. For the scholarly debate over the text of Hymn to Apollo 135–139, see also Clay 2006:45n88 with bibliography. I have printed the lines as they appear in Allen’s 1912–1920 vol. V—that is, with symbols indicating main text and marginalia, but with 136–138 and 139 printed as a continuous text.

[ back ] 51. For the flowers of Hymn to Apollo 134–139 as a response to Apollo’s divine presence, see Richardson 2010 ad loc. Richardson compares this imagery to responses to divine epiphanies elsewhere in Homeric poetry—as for instance in Hymn 7, where a vine grows under the influence of Dionysus.

[ back ] 52. Polunin 1980:65n4 on the spring flowers of Delos, and Bruneau 1970:89: “chaque année le printemps répand des millions de fleurs sur Délos et la Grèce entière … .” See also Allen, Halliday, and Sikes 1963 on Hymn to Apollo 135: “the island is suddenly covered with golden scrub, i.e. the natural scrub burst into flower.”

[ back ] 53. Bruneau 1970:89 suggests that the description of flowers at Hymn to Apollo 135–139 anticipates the spring blooms that would accompany festivals of Apollo every year.

[ back ] 54. See Clay 2006:43–44.

[ back ] 55. Since we find (a) common floral associations in these poems but (b) considerable differences in the details of their floral imagery, these passages would seem to draw on an underlying archetype of traditional Homeric poetics rather than on one another. If, for instance, the Iliadic poets were drawing directly on the hymns, we would expect the floral imagery of the Διὸς ἀπάτη to resemble more closely the imagery from one or more of the hymns. For this reason, I would agree with Schein’s rather than Clay’s assessment of the similarities between these passages. Clay (2011:248–249) sees thematic parallels between the stories of the hymns and the Διὸς ἀπάτη as “an instance of the epic’s appropriation of hymnic material.” Schein however (2012:300) regards such similarities as reflections of a common poetic system. Yasumura (2011) for her part observes that a story-pattern of challenges to Zeus’ supremacy is to be found in both Homeric and Hesiodic poetry. Nevertheless, the lack of floral imagery in the relevant Hesiodic passages suggests that the challenges depicted in Homeric poetry form a class of their own. See Chapter 5 below, the opening pages of this chapter, the Preamble to Part II, and my Conclusion for comparisons of Homeric and Hesiodic explorations of order and disorder.

[ back ] 56. For intersections between the Orphic and Homeric traditions, see Martin 2001 and Nagy 2010.

[ back ] 57. Janko 1994 on Iliad 14.200–207. For the use of the term ἄκριτος to suggest disorder, see Hymn to Pan 26, discussed in Chapter 5 below. The description of Hera’s interaction with Sleep explores similar themes to those that we have identified in her speeches to Aphrodite and to Zeus. Hera, by this stage not only decked out in her finery (14.170–186) but also wearing the Girdle of Desire, offers Sleep one of the Graces as his wife (267–268). Her tactics are, then, similar to those of Aphrodite in Cypria fr. 4 Bernabé, which we discussed in Chapter 2: like Aphrodite, Hera appears in her finery and wins over her interlocutor with the offer of another’s hand. It is this offer that convinces Sleep to aid Hera: he asks her to swear that she will grant him the particular object of his desire, the Grace Pasithea (271–276). But the language of his speech recalls our theme of the structure of the cosmos: he asks Hera to lay her hands on the earth and the sea, and to swear by the river Styx, with the Titans and Cronus beneath the earth as witnesses. He thus refers both to the upper and to the lower worlds as the basis for her oath. Cf. Hera’s oath to Zeus by Earth, Heaven, and the Styx at 15.36–38, as she tries to deny responsibility for Poseidon’s actions on the battlefield—that is, precisely those actions that she facilitated by disabling Zeus (14.153–165).

[ back ] 58. For this interpretation of ἀήρ and αἰθήρ in Iliad 14.288, see Schmidt 1976:75–81 and Janko 1994 on Iliad 14.286–288.

[ back ] 59. For the positioning of Sleep’s tree, see Janko 1994 on Iliad 14.286–288. Pace Vermeule, who appears to imagine the tree as a kind of axis mundi, connecting two compartments of the cosmos: “The tree’s branches stick through the skin of air into heaven, joining the two worlds” (1979:147).

[ back ] 60. Motte 1971:218: this is a “prairie miraculeuse.”

[ back ] 61. As we shall see in Chapter 5, the flowers that bloom at Hymn to Aphrodite 169 carry similar associations: they mark both the climax of Aphrodite’s seduction of Anchises and the disruption of his control over the spaces of Mount Ida.

[ back ] 62. In addition, the language used by Zeus at 15.225 (οἵ περ ἐνέρτεροί εἰσι θεοί, Κρόνον ἀμφὶς ἐόντες) closely resembles that of Sleep at 14.274 (οἱ ἔνερθε θεοὶ Κρόνον ἀμφὶς ἐόντες), when he requests that Hera swears to grant him the hand of Pasithea. With these phrases, Sleep and Zeus allude to the structure of the cosmos. For Sleep’s speech, see n57 above.

[ back ] 63. For themes of cosmic order and disruption in the Διὸς ἀπάτη, see Fenno 2005:495–497. See also Enright and Papalas 2002, who explore the implications of the punishment with which Zeus threatens Hera early in Book 15. When Zeus wakes up he reminds Hera of the last time she disabled him with sleep, in order to disrupt Heracles’ return from Troy. He punished her by hanging her from heaven on a golden chain with anvils at her feet (Iliad 15.16–28). Enright and Papalas argue that Zeus is describing a plumb line, a cosmic symbol of truth. With Hera suspended in this way, Zeus would have been able to use her own body to measure her deviation from justice. His threat to repeat this punishment casts her actions in Book 14 as a challenge to the just ordering of the cosmos.

[ back ] 64. Zeus moreover asserts control over mortal affairs in a manner unprecedented in the Iliad. He describes his plan for the remainder of the Trojan War: the Achaeans will retreat to the ships; Achilles will send Patroclus; Hector will kill Patroclus; Achilles will kill Hector; the Achaeans will take Troy (15.61–71).