Achilles Unbound: Multiformity and Tradition in the Homeric Epics

  Dué, Casey. 2018. Achilles Unbound: Multiformity and Tradition in the Homeric Epics. Hellenic Studies Series 81. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 4. The Lost Verses of the Iliad: Medieval Manuscripts and the Poetics of a Multiform Epic Tradition

In this chapter we skip ahead many centuries, to the medieval manuscript tradition. The medieval manuscripts are our best source of information about the texts known to the Hellenistic scholars who were in charge of the library of Alexandria, including Zenodotus, Aristophanes of Byzantium, and Aristarchus. The scholia in the margins of such manuscripts as the tenth-century CE Venetus A, the eleventh-century manuscripts Venetus B, Townley, Escorialensis Υ.1.1 and Ω.1.12, and the thirteenth-century Genavensis discuss a variety of grammatical and literary topics, and they record debates about the correct text of the Iliad, with reference to the texts of the poem that were circulating in the third and second centuries BCE. [1] The result is that even though they are preserved in much later documents, the disputes about the text being discussed in the scholia are in some cases as old as the Ptolemaic papyri. And like the papyri, they preserve a treasure trove of multiformity.

The five examples I will discuss here span the entire narrative arc of the Iliad, and so I will proceed through them in order of their place in the poem as we now know it. In each case, I will try to convey how the multiformity in question informs our understanding of the composition and the poetics of the system in which the Iliad was composed, especially if we take a diachronic view that appreciates the evolution of the poem over many centuries. We will see that our Iliad cannot be separated from or understood independently of the vibrant and dynamic mythological and poetic tradition that was, in its earliest phases, always in flux and evolving in performance even as it presented itself as fixed and authoritative. The Iliad certainly became at some point the essentially fixed poem we now know, but it was not always so, and as a result it must be appreciated differently if we want to recover any sense of the poetics of this oral-traditional work and its reception by ancient audiences.

“The daughter of Brises, whom the sons of the Achaeans gave me”

Because Achilles’ captive prize-woman Briseis speaks only ten verses in the Iliad, one might be tempted to think that she is not a traditional character or, to put it another way, that she does not have her own epic backstory. On the other hand, she plays a crucial role in the plot: it is the taking of Briseis that initiates Achilles’ mēnis, which is the first word and driving theme of the poem (Muellner 1996). I wrote my dissertation (which later became Dué 2002) on this very question of Briseis’ backstory, and during the course of my research, I discovered that not only does Briseis have a story, but there was more than one way to tell that story in epic. I propose to recap that research here, since it was greatly informed by evidence preserved in the scholia of medieval manuscripts.

Even within the Iliad there are detectable variations on Briseis’ history, but there are traces in other sources too (including the now-lost poems of the Epic Cycle) of narratives associated with her. Briseis’ role in the Iliad is indeed enormously compressed, to use a term of Albert Lord, in comparison to the more expanded narratives we can reconstruct using all available sources. As we will see both here in the case of Briseis and in my next example involving the Catalogue of Ships, it is important to understand that the Iliad, as expansive as it is (at over fifteen thousand verses), is far from being a totality of the epic poetry about Troy. It is a narrative about the anger of Achilles during a brief span in the tenth year of the Trojan War. Even though it might take as many as three days and nights to perform, the Iliad is nevertheless a compression of the full potential extent of epic poetry about Troy—what we might call the ultimate expansion of the Iliad. I have argued that one result of this compression is that the Iliad gives us only a glimpse of the figure of Briseis, whose role in the larger epic tradition must have been much greater at one time.

In the Iliad Briseis does not even really have a name—her name means, presumably, “daughter of Brises,” just as Chryseis (for whom she is interchanged as the prize of Agamemnon in Iliad 1) is the “daughter of Chryses.” Yet elsewhere there are hints that her name was Hippodameia, and that she was part of another story—or other stories. In Erbse’s edition of the Homeric scholia, we find this note at Iliad 1.392, where Achilles calls Briseis κούρην Βρισῆος (“daughter of Brises”):

ἔοικε πατρωνυμικῶς – δὲ Ἱπποδάμεια. | ὁ δὲ τρόπος ἀντωνομασία. A

The presence of a dash is an indication that Erbse has skipped over a section of the scholion. Because he chose not to include in his edition material in a category that he and others call the D-scholia, which often treat mythological subjects, he has abbreviated the scholion in his edition. But if we look at the full scholion in the Venetus A at 1.392 (folio 19v), we find this:

ἔοικε πατρωνυμικῶς τὰ ὀνόματα αὐτῶν σχηματίζειν ὁ ποιητής καὶ οὐ κυρίως. ὡς γὰρ ἄλλοι ἀρχαῖοι ἱστοροῦσι ἡ μὲν Ἀστυνόμη ἐκαλεῖτο, ἡ δὲ Ἱπποδάμεια. ὁ δὲ τρόπος ἀντωνομασία.

It is likely that the poet forms the names [of Briseis and Chryseis] patronymically and not by proper name. For as other ancient [poets] relate, Chryseis was called Astynome, and Briseis was called Hippodameia. And the figure of speech is antonomasia.

As I noted in my 2002 book, the term arkhaioi in the scholia refers to Homer and earlier poets in contrast with more recent poets (hoi neōteroi), who can include Hesiod, the Archaic poets, the tragedians, and Alexandrian poets like Callimachus. [
7] The scholion thus suggests that there were Archaic poetic traditions as old as or older than our Iliad in which Briseis had not only a name, but a greatly expanded story.

The lines that follow these are likewise extremely rich in traditional cross-references. In line 19.288 Briseis mentions her departure from the tent of Achilles, an event narrated at 1.345–348. It was Patroklos who led her from the tent. Patroklos, Briseis laments, was always kind to her (19.300). The kindness of Patroklos is important, as lines 19.291–294 go on to explain. Briseis is a captive woman in a foreign camp; she is the concubine of the man who killed her husband. Her brothers are also dead:

ἄνδρα μὲν ᾧ ἔδοσάν με πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
εἶδον πρὸ πτόλιος δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκᾠ,
τρεῖς τε κασιγνήτους, τούς μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ,
κηδείους, οἳ πάντες ὀλέθριον ἦμαρ ἐπέσπον.

Iliad 19.291–294

The husband to whom my father and mistress mother gave me
I saw torn by the sharp bronze before the city,
and my three brothers, whom one mother bore together with me,
beloved ones, all of whom met their day of destruction.

Patroklos proves to be an ally for a vulnerable woman who no longer has the protection of her father, husband, or brothers.

These lines not only refer us to epic traditions outside of the Iliad and to a raid that was narrated in the Cypria, but they also make a meaningful connection to another part of the Iliad itself. Lines 19.291–294 evoke Andromache’s words to Hektor in Iliad 6, in which she laments the death of her brothers:

οἳ δέ μοι ἑπτὰ κασίγνητοι ἔσαν ἐν μεγάροισιν
οἳ μὲν πάντες ἰᾠ κίον ἤματι Ἄϊδος εἴσω·
πάντας γὰρ κατέπεφνε ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς

Iliad 6.421–423

I had seven brothers in the palace
all of whom went to Hades in one day.
For the swift-footed Achilles slew all of them.

The sacks of Lyrnessos (the city in which Briseis was captured) and Thebe (in which the brothers of Andromache were killed) took place on a single campaign. In this same sack of Thebe Chryseis was taken and given as a prize to Agamemnon. [
10] Andromache was already living in Troy as Hektor’s wife at the time of the raid. She thus escapes capture, but only temporarily: through Chryseis and Briseis we are reminded that Andromache (and all of the Trojan women) will soon be captives. As J. W. Zarker notes in his study of allusions to the raid on Thebe in the Iliad: “The fate of both Hector and Andromache is the same, as is that of Thebe and Troy. What happened at Thebe and the other cities of the Troad will happen to Troy. What happened to Chryseis, Briseis, and other captive women will happen to Andromache.… Achilles’ taking of Thebe is the dramatic foreshadowing of the fall of Troy” (Zarker 1965–66:114).

From the standpoint of Homeric narrative, the past and future are joined and brought to life in Briseis’ lament. In the context of the broader epic tradition, these verses hint at other tales in which the given events traditionally took place, like the Cypria or the Aethiopis. In lines 19.295–299 we can see once again how Homeric poetry connects its own tale to other epic traditions:

οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδέ μ’ ἔασκες, ὅτ’ ἄνδρ’ ἐμὸν ὠκὺς ᾿Αχιλλεὺς
ἔκτεινεν, πέρσεν δὲ πόλιν θείοιο Μύνητος,
κλαίειν, ἀλλά μ’ ἔφασκες Ἀχιλλῆος θείοιο
κουριδίην ἄλοχον θήσειν, ἄξειν τ’ ἐνὶ νηυσὶν
ἐς Φθίην, δαίσειν δὲ γάμον μετὰ Μυρμιδόνεσσι.
κουριδίην ἄλοχον

Iliad 19.295–299

Nor did you allow me, when swift Achilles killed my husband,
and sacked the city of god-like Mynes,
to weep, but you claimed that you would make me the
wedded wife of god-like Achilles, and that you would bring me in the ships
to Phthia, and give me a wedding feast among the Myrmidons.

The allusion to Mynes raises the interesting possibility that Briseis was the queen of Lyrnessos, and that her husband was Mynes. [
11] If this interpretation is right, with this one detail the story of Briseis comes together and we can piece together the narrative of her life as it is implied in the Iliad. As I have reconstructed it, she was born in Brisa on Lesbos and married to King Mynes of Lyrnessos. When Achilles went on his series of raids in and around Lesbos, he sacked not only Briseis’ hometown, where presumably her brothers were killed, but also Lyrnessos. Achilles killed Mynes and enslaved the women of the town, winning Briseis as his prize. Because of the hypertext-like power of traditional poetry, in these few lines Briseis can allude elliptically to all of these events, indeed her entire life history up to the present moment. [12]

Moreover, in these same lines we hear the hopes Briseis has for the future. She says that Patroklos always promised she would be Achilles’ wife, his kouridiē alokhos, and that he would give a wedding feast for them in Phthia after the war. But a traditional audience knows that Achilles will never go back to Phthia. The death of Patroklos means the death of Hektor, which in turn, as Achilles hears from his mother, Thetis, in 18.96, means the death of Achilles. Briseis will become a widow once again and the captive of some other man. Briseis’ vain hopes for the future recall Achilles’ own speculation on a marriage back in Phthia: ἢν γὰρ δή με σαῶσι θεοὶ καὶ οἴκαδ’ ἵκωμαι, / Πηλεύς θήν μοι ἔπειτα γυναῖκά γε μάσσεται αὐτός, “For if the gods save me and I return home, then Peleus will get me a wife himself” (9.393–394). When Achilles makes that statement in Iliad 9, return is still a possibility, from the standpoint of the narrative. In Iliad 19, however, we know that Achilles will never marry.

The words of Briseis in Iliad 19 therefore bring together a monumental sequence of events in one highly compressed and expressive song. This sequence of events may not have been narrated in full on any one occasion, but, as I have argued, the traditional mechanics of expansion and compression can incorporate—by way of allusion, reference, and even the resonance of formulaic diction—complex narratological relationships that span a vast continuum of poetic and artistic traditions. In this brief sketch, we have seen how any one performance of an Iliad can assume and refer to events of other songs in the Epic Cycle. A traditional system such as the one described here, moreover, contains a built-in poetic structure of stories within stories. As the narrative proceeds, these stories within stories are incorporated in more or less expanded form. The least expanded narrative—that is, the most compressed—could be as small as an epithet or a patronymic. The Iliad itself is an extreme example of expansion, but, as I have been arguing, it is not the ultimate expansion. We might think of the entire Epic Cycle, if it survived as fixed and complete poems, as an ultimate expansion of the poetry about Troy—or, better, as a variation on such an ultimate expansion.

“Of the Boeotians Peneleos and Leitos were the leaders”

In chapter 1 we saw that the Catalogue of Ships in book 2 of the Iliad contains information that would seem to reflect, at least in places, a Bronze Age Greek world, and hence it is likely to preserve some of the oldest material in the poem. But the Catalogue of Ships is missing entirely from several manuscripts of the Iliad, including a third-century papyrus, the eleventh-century Townley, and the thirteenth-century Genavensis. The Venetus A, the Venetus B, and the Escorial manuscripts Υ.1.1 and Ω.1.12 all include the Catalogue, but in every case it is formatted in such a way that sets it apart visually. [14] What does this formatting signify? Might it reflect, in some dim way, an ancient performance tradition, in which the Catalogue was performed on its own as a unit, as has been suggested for the individual books of the poem? [15] Consider, for example, Aelian, Varia Historia 13.14, where the Catalogue of Ships is named explicitly as one of the episodes that “the ancients” (οἱ παλαιοί) used to perform separately. Is it one of many genres of speech and song, like lament, that had their own independent occasions for performance, but whose form and poetics have been incorporated into those of epic? Could it be that the Catalogue was sometimes not performed in antiquity? Might it have required special skill that not all performers possessed? Or is its omission in some manuscripts the result of scholarly decisions in antiquity, debates that may have deemed the Catalogue un-Homeric or else not meant to be part of the Iliad? Surviving sources do not provide a definitive answer, and my questions are highly speculative.

What do we lose if we omit the Catalogue of Ships? Edzard Visser (1997) and Benjamin Sammons (2010) are two of the more recent scholars to explore the poetics of the Catalogue and its relationship to the larger poem. [17] Visser’s exhaustive work shows above all that while political geography is certainly an important component, myth is a driving force in the composition of the Catalogue as we now know it. That is to say, attached to the place names of the Catalogue is a host of poetic narratives and mythological associations whose importance came to outweigh geographical and political considerations for poets composing in performance. Sammons’s study examines the artistic principles at work within the Catalogue, and while his study is built on a different theoretical foundation from that of the Homer Multitext (he prefers to see the artistry he articulates as being the work of a master poet, whereas I and my collaborators view it as the result of an oral poetic system that developed organically over a very long period of time), it does important work in establishing catalogue poetry as a sophisticated genre in its own right, one that allows a poet to situate his own performance within the context of the much larger epic tradition. In other words, if we lose the Catalogue of Ships, we lose the multiplicity of connections outward to the larger tradition that are made possible by this remarkable assemblage of heroes and their highly compressed epic stories. Sammons would argue that we lose much more than that—we lose the poet’s personal commentary on his own poetic narrative by way of such outward-looking references.

I could not hope to replicate the monumental work of Visser or that of Sammons here in this brief chapter, but I think it is worth exploring in a bit more detail how the presence or absence of the Catalogue of Ships affects our understanding of the Iliad and the epic tradition as a whole, as I see it, from a multitextual perspective. In so doing, I hope to show, as I did in the case of Briseis, how some of the long-standing questions about the Catalogue (noted above in chapter 1), can be approached differently if we build on the work of Parry and Lord and those who have come after them. Once again we will see an evolving oral tradition at work, one that relies heavily on the poetics of compression and expansion within a traditional medium.

Let’s begin with the place of the Catalogue within the poem. Why narrate a roster of the combatants in the tenth year of the war? Indeed, the seeming inappropriateness of the Catalogue’s placement in the Iliad may well be what led to its omission in some texts. This is an objection that has been raised time and again in connection with a number of episodes in the Iliad, including the duel between Paris and Menelaos for Helen in book 3 and the teikhoskopia (“viewing from the walls,” also in book 3), in which Helen points out and describes, as if for the first time, the Greek soldiers fighting before the walls of Troy. Many scholars of prior eras (especially those of the Analyst and Neoanalyst schools of thought) have wanted to see such episodes as borrowings by the poet of our Iliad from the poems of the Epic Cycle. Mabel Lang (1995) has offered a different explanation for these seeming chronological inconsistencies. In her argument, the Iliad has its origins in a linear telling of the Trojan War. Over time it came to be a song about Achilles’ wrath, and parts of the earlier tradition were arranged to fit it. For example, the so-called teikhoskopia by Helen and Priam seems to belong more naturally to the beginning of the war than its tenth year, according to Lang, but this scene was then fitted to the “restart” of the fighting after Achilles’ withdrawal.

Lang’s arguments are more in keeping with my own understanding of the Iliad as a poem that evolved over the course of many centuries—one that is not the creation of one particular poet, who “borrows” material from other poems, but is rather the collective creation of the sum total of generations of singers, all composing in performance within the same traditional system. I would formulate the process slightly differently from Lang, in that I see the transformation of the linear narrative as being natural and organic, occurring gradually as the poem was recomposed in performance over the course of centuries, rather than an inorganic process by which earlier episodes were “made to fit.” (In saying this, I don’t mean to deny that certain cultural forces or institutions, such as the regulated performances of the Iliad at the Panathenaia, contributed to the shaping of the Iliad as we now have it.) I think we need to try to understand the Catalogue of Ships, regardless of how it may have functioned in an earlier stage of the tradition, as an organic component of the Iliad as we have it (and in this respect my views overlap very well with those of Sammons), one that developed as the poem evolved over the centuries.

As many have noted, our Catalogue is aware of what has come before and what will come after in the narrative. The entry for Achilles is a perfect example:

Νῦν, αὖ, τοὺς ὅσσοι, τὸ Πελασγικὸν Ἄργος ἔναιον
οἵ τ᾽ Ἄλον οἵ τ᾽ Ἀλόπην· οἵ τε Τρηχῖν’ ἐνέμοντο
οἵ τ᾽ εἶχον Φθίην ἠδ᾽ Ἑλλάδα καλλιγύναικα
Μυρμιδόνες δὲ καλεῦτο καὶ Ἕλληνες καὶ Ἀχαιοὶ.
τῶν αὖ πεντήκοντα νεῶν ἦν ἀρχὸς Ἀχιλλεύς.
ἀλλ᾽ οἵ γ᾽ οὐ πολέμοιο δυσηχέος ἐμνώοντο·
οὐ γὰρ ἔην ὅς τί σφιν ἐπὶ στίχας ἡγήσαιτο·
κεῖτο γὰρ ἐν νήεσσι ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς
κούρης χωόμενος Βρισηΐδος ἠϋκόμοιο
τὴν ἐκ Λυρνησσοῦ ἐξείλετο πολλὰ μογήσας
Λυρνησσὸν διαπορθήσας καὶ τείχεα Θήβης·
καδ δὲ Μύνητ᾽ ἔβαλεν καὶ Ἐπίστροφον ἐγχεσιμώρους
υἱέας Εὐηνοῖο, Σεληπιάδαο ἄνακτος·
τῆς ὅ γε κεῖτ᾽ ἀχέων. τάχα δ᾽ ἀνστήσεσθαι ἔμελλεν·

Iliad 2.681–694

Now however many inhabited Pelasgian Argos,
and those who possesed Alos and Alope and Trachis,
and those who held Phthia and Hellas of the beautiful women,
and were called Myrmidons and Hellenes and Achaeans,
of these Achilles was the leader of fifty ships.
But they did not have in mind grievous war.
For they did not have anyone to lead the troops.
For swift-footed radiant Achilles lay among his ships
furious over the girl Briseis with the beautiful hair,
whom he took from Lyrnessos with great toil,
when he sacked Lyrnessos and the walls of Thebe
and he slew the spear-fighters Mynes and Epistrophus,
the sons of the lord Euenus, who was the son of Selepius.
He lay grieving because of her, but he was soon to rise up.

I have written about these lines elsewhere as an illustration of the way that epic narratives can be greatly expanded (to a poem the scale of the Iliad) or highly compressed (as here) within an oral performance tradition (Dué 2002:8–9). If the Iliad did not survive and these lines were found in another epic about another warrior at Troy, today’s readers would find the references to Achilles’ anger and the capture of Briseis at Lyrnessos obscure. But for a traditional audience, the mēnis of Achilles would be called before their eyes and that compressed narrative would resonate within its context. Briseis’ own personal history is now largely lost to us, but as I have already argued, ancient audiences of the Iliad most likely knew at least one expanded version, and very possibly more than one version, of her story, and that story reverberates throughout the poem.

We can see that the entry for Achilles within the Catalogue of Ships connects both backwards and forwards and outwardly to the larger tradition. The Myrmidons are without a leader because of the events of Iliad 1. It is also noted that Achilles is going to return—an event that will not occur for another seventeen books. At the same time, events outside the scope of our Iliad are likewise referenced, namely the sack of Lyrnessos and the capture of Briseis. The sack of Lyrnessos (and/or Pedasos and Thebe) and the taking of Briseis were narrated in the Cypria, according to our ancient sources. The Iliad can refer to this poetic tradition and it can be assumed that the audience will be familiar with the expanded narrative.

As I have suggested already in chapter 1, I find it helpful to think of each entry in the Catalogue—and indeed all named figures in the Iliad—as being like an index entry, with the epic tradition as a whole being the work to which it refers. (Compare, for example, Milman Parry on traditional epithets such as πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεὺς: “δῖος and πολύμητις, for the audience, describe the Odysseus of all the epic poems which sang his deeds” [Parry 1928/1971:171].) The audience has, at least as a notional entity, read the entire “book.” Because we are so far removed from the historical performance contexts of the Iliad and the Odyssey—and all other epics that existed in antiquity—we modern readers of the epics have, in most cases, read only the index entry.

Keeping this notion of the index in mind, I would like to turn now to the first named characters in the Catalogue, the leaders of the Boiotians, Peneleos and Leitos (Βοιωτῶν μὲν Πηνέλεως καὶ Λήϊτος ἦρχον Iliad 2.494). These heroes play only a small role in the Iliad as a whole, meaning they are “walk-on characters,” so to speak. They appear again together in book 13 (91–125), where Poseidon, after first inspiring the two Ajaxes, exhorts Peneleos and Leitos to fight, along with Teucer, Thoas, Deipyros, Meriones, and Antilokhos, all of whom are resting near the ships. Their inclusion among some of the foremost fighters of the Achaeans is suggestive, but there is otherwise little to be learned about them in this passage.

In 14.487–505, however, Peneleos avenges the death of the warrior Promakhos at the hands of Akamas. [18] Akamas retreats unharmed, but Peneleos kills the Trojan Ilioneus, an only son whose head Peneleos lifts up “like the head of a poppy,” boasting over it:

Πηνέλεῳ δὲ μάλιστα δαΐφρονι θυμὸν ὄρινεν·
ὁρμήθη δ᾽ Ἀκάμαντος· ὃ δ᾽ οὐχ ὑπέμεινεν ἐρωὴν
Πηνελέωο ἄνακτος· ὃ δ᾽ οὔτασεν Ἰλιονῆα
υἱὸν Φόρβαντος πολυμήλου, τόν ῥα μάλιστα
Ἑρμείας Τρώων ἐφίλει καὶ κτῆσιν ὄπασσε·
τῷ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὑπὸ μήτηρ μοῦνον τέκεν Ἰλιονῆα.
τὸν τόθ᾽ ὑπ᾽ ὀφρύος οὖτα κατ᾽ ὀφθαλμοῖο θέμεθλα,
ἐκ δ᾽ ὦσε γλήνην· δόρυ δ᾽ ὀφθαλμοῖο διὰ πρὸ
καὶ διὰ ἰνίου ἦλθεν, ὃ δ᾽ ἕζετο χεῖρε πετάσσας
ἄμφω· Πηνέλεως δὲ ἐρυσσάμενος ξίφος ὀξὺ
αὐχένα μέσσον ἔλασσεν, ἀπήραξεν δὲ χαμᾶζε
αὐτῇ σὺν πήληκι κάρη· ἔτι δ᾽ ὄβριμον ἔγχος
ἦεν ἐν ὀφθαλμῷ· ὃ δὲ φὴ κώδειαν ἀνασχὼν
πέφραδέ τε Τρώεσσι καὶ εὐχόμενος ἔπος ηὔδα·
εἰπέμεναί μοι Τρῶες ἀγαυοῦ Ἰλιονῆος
πατρὶ φίλῳ καὶ μητρὶ γοήμεναι ἐν μεγάροισιν·
οὐδὲ γὰρ ἣ Προμάχοιο δάμαρ Ἀλεγηνορίδαο
ἀνδρὶ φίλῳ ἐλθόντι γανύσσεται, ὁππότε κεν δὴ
ἐκ Τροίης σὺν νηυσὶ νεώμεθα κοῦροι Ἀχαιῶν.

Iliad 14.487–505

But he [Akamas] especially stirred the heart [thumos] in keen-spirited Peneleos
and he started for Akamas. But he [Akamas] did not wait for the onrush
of the lord Peneleos. And he [Peneleos] wounded Ilioneus,
the son of Phorbas of many flocks, whom especially
of the Trojans Hermes loved and granted property.
To him his mother had born Ilioneus as an only child,
and him at that moment he [Peneleos] wounded under the eyebrow in the roots of the eye
and he pushed the eyeball from it. Right through the eye came the spear
and it went through the occipital bone, and he [Ilioneus] sat down, stretching out his hands,
both of them, while Peneleos drew his sharp sword
and drove it in the middle of his neck, and to the ground he struck off
his head together with its helmet. The mighty spear still
was in his eye. And he [Peneleos], holding it up like the head of a poppy,
signaled to the Trojans and boasting spoke a word:
“Tell for me, Trojans, illustrious Ilioneus’
dear father and mother to lament in their halls.
For the wife of Promakhos the son of Alegenor
will not be gladdened by her dear husband coming home, whenever
the sons of the Achaeans return from Troy with their ships.”

Even though the account of Ilioneus’ death is followed by a boast, in which the grief of his parents is treated as just compensation for the grief of the widow of Promakhos, we see in it a kind of mourning for Ilioneus and great compassion for the suffering of his Trojan parents. This passage closely resembles others found throughout the Iliad that introduce warriors just before they die. As Mary Ebbott and I have argued elsewhere, these highly compressed biographies would likely have served a commemorative function, and, abbreviated though they are, often share themes and imagery (especially botanical imagery) with traditional laments performed by women, such as those sung by Andromache, Briseis, and Achilles’ mother, Thetis, in the Iliad (Dué and Ebbott 2010:322–323). Many of these compressed biographies seem to be focalized through the eyes of a mother or widow. In Iliad 11.221–228, we hear the story of Iphidamas, who leaves behind his bride and half-built house to “go after the kleos of the Achaeans.” In Iliad 4.473–489, we learn how Simoeisios comes to be named by his parents, and that he dies before he can repay their care in raising him. He is compared to a felled poplar, a use of plant imagery that is also common in lament.

The death of Gorgythion at Iliad 8.302–308 is another particularly beautiful example of this kind of passage, for which we may cite the evocative translation of Samuel Butler:

                              ὃ δ’ ἀμύμονα Γοργυθίωνα
υἱὸν ἐῢν Πριάμοιο κατὰ στῆθος βάλεν ἰῷ,
τόν ῥ’ ἐξ Αἰσύμηθεν ὀπυιομένη τέκε μήτηρ
καλὴ Καστιάνειρα δέμας ἐϊκυῖα θεῇσι.
μήκων δ’ ὡς ἑτέρωσε κάρη βάλεν, ἥ τ’ ἐνὶ κήπῳ
καρπῷ βριθομένη νοτίῃσί τε εἰαρινῇσιν,
ὣς ἑτέρωσ’ ἤμυσε κάρη πήληκι βαρυνθέν.

The arrow hit Priam’s brave son, faultless Gorgythion, in the chest. His mother, fair Kastianeira, lovely as a goddess, bore him after she had been married from Aisyme, and now he bowed his head as a garden poppy in full bloom when it is weighed down by showers in spring—even thus heavy bowed his head beneath the weight of his helmet.

We can easily imagine these words spoken in the first person by Kastianeira upon learning of the death of her son in battle. Indeed, epic poetry is infused with the imagery, themes, and language of lament, so much so that a number of scholars have speculated that women’s lament traditions played a crucial role in the development of epic. Epic poetry narrates the glory of heroes, the klea andrōn, but it also laments their untimely deaths and the suffering they cause. That these lament-filled passages are more often than not sung for the death of the Trojans and their allies is a testament to the remarkable parity of compassion that underlies the Iliad. Both sides are mourned equally. [

I have dwelled for so long on Peneleos’ killing of Ilioneus simply to point out that we have ample evidence for the traditionality of such passages, and that although his role is small, Peneleos (and for that matter, Ilioneus) is as integrated into the poetics of this system as any other warrior. We may compare Iliad 6.35–36, where this time Leitos kills Phylakos in the midst of a list of warriors who get their man (Φύλακον δ᾽ ἕλε Λήϊτος ἥρως / φεύγοντ᾽). Much as in the Ilioneus passage, in the lines just before the death of Phylakos we find yet another highly compressed biography for a fallen warrior:

        Ἔλατον δὲ ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων·
ναῖε δὲ Σατνιόεντος ἐϋρρείταο παρ᾽ ὄχθας
Πήδασον αἰπεινήν.

        And lord of men Agamemnon killed Elatos
who inhabited the banks of the wide-flowing river Satnioeis
sheer Pedasos.

Here we are not told anything about Elatos’ parents or any other details of his life (such as we find in the other passages cited), but his hometown is remembered along with some geographical details that connect him to a particular place and add to the sense of loss that accompanies his death.

In book 16 (335–344) Akamas and Peneleos are once again to be found in close proximity to one another on the battlefield. This time Peneleos kills Lykon, while Meriones chases down Akamas and kills him. In book 17 (597–621), however, Peneleos’ and Leitos’ role in the fighting comes to an end: both Peneleos and Leitos are wounded, one right after the other. Leitos, wounded at the wrist, is permanently disabled, while Peneleos is struck by Polydamas with a deep wound to the shoulder. Neither warrior is mentioned again in our Iliad.

As with the warriors they kill, I would argue that Peneleos’ and Leitos’ roles in the poem are typical, but they are not generic. Like Briseis, Peneleos and Leitos each has a story, one that is known to the larger epic tradition, from which the poet draws the details of his narrative. Neither is a major character in our Iliad, but that does not mean that they never were—or that they did not play a larger role in other epic narratives. And in fact, it seems very likely that these two did play such a role in another epic tradition: they are included in a list of the Argonauts at Apollodorus 1.9.16 (Lang 1995:161). If the early Argonautic epic tradition (referred to as “a concern for [i.e., known to] all” at Odyssey 12.70) survived for us today along with the Iliad and the Odyssey, we would no doubt have a much better understanding of their expanded story, and we would not have to wonder why these two of all the warriors who fought at Troy are named first in the Catalogue. And so once again I return to the idea of the index. A traditional audience, like the oral epic poet, has access to the notional totality of the epic tradition, and unconsciously connects to the expanded narrative each time that Peneleos and Leitos appear, however briefly. Without knowing more about their Argonautic exploits, it would be difficult for us modern readers to reconstruct how such knowledge on the part of the audience would have affected the poetics and the reception of the scenes in which they appear, but I submit that they are necessarily affected. [20]

Each entry in the Catalogue signals to the audience an awareness of and respect for a whole host of epic narratives associated with those names and places. As Lang has written (1995:161): “Speculative in the extreme? Yes, but sensible if one sees the Catalogue of Ships not as a survey of actual political geography, but as a poetic attempt to list as many famous heroes as might possibly have fought in the Trojan War, although in the Iliad at least, several have little or no part. These heroes must have been known to the bards, complete with epithets and epitheted place-names, from their local exploits.” Not every warrior named will play a major role in the epic, but the role they play in other traditions, be they local or more Panhellenic in nature, adds to the richness of the narrative and the poetic resonance of every scene in the Iliad in which they appear.

And what of the “epitheted place-names” to which Lang refers? How do they fit into the poetic system I have been describing? Let’s continue from where we left off, at Iliad 2.494:

Ἀρκεσίλαός τε Προθοήνωρ τε Κλονίος τε,
οἵ θ᾽ Ὑρίην ἐνέμοντο καὶ Αὐλίδα πετρήεσσαν
Σχοῖνόν τε Σκῶλόν τε πολύκνημόν τ᾽ Ἐτεωνόν,
Θέσπειαν Γραῖάν τε καὶ εὐρύχορον Μυκαλησσόν,
οἵ τ᾽ ἀμφ᾽ Ἅρμ᾽ ἐνέμοντο καὶ Εἰλέσιον καὶ Ἐρυθράς,
οἵ τ᾽ Ἐλεῶν᾽ εἶχον ἠδ᾽ Ὕλην καὶ Πετεῶνα,
Ὠκαλέην Μεδεῶνά τ᾽ ἐϋκτίμενον πτολίεθρον,
Κώπας Εὔτρησίν τε πολυτρήρωνά τε Θίσβην

Iliad 2.495–502

and Arkesilaos and Prothoenor and Klonios
who inhabited Hyria and rocky Aulis
and Skhoinos and Skolos and many-peaked Eteonos
and wondrous Graia and Mykalessos with its broad dancing places
and those who inhabited Harma and Eilesios and Erythrai
and those who held Eleon and Hyle and Peteon,
Okalea and Medeon the well-built citadel,
Kopai and Eutresis and Thisbe of the many doves

Was there a real place named Mykalessos and did it actually have broad dancing places? Why is Medeon a “well-built citadel” but Okalea is not described at all? Did Thisbe really have many doves, and if so how do we know? How did such places and epithets make it into the epic tradition to begin with? Again, it would be beyond the scope of this chapter to definitively answer these questions (and again I point to the very thorough work of Visser 1997 with additional bibliography ad loc.). But by exploring further the epithets used of Mykalessos and Thisbe in this passage, I believe we can once again gain an appreciation for why the Iliad must be understood as a multiform tradition that evolved dynamically over time. We will see once again that the Catalogue of Ships constantly draws upon a vast storehouse of epic material, centuries in the making, with the result that each entry becomes almost like an archaeological excavation, through which we must carefully sift to uncover other long-lost epics. In what follows I build on previous work in which I have discussed the poetics of various other kinds of noun-epithet combinations, and here as always I am much indebted to the work of Milman Parry, whose first doctoral thesis was entitled L’Épithète traditionelle dans Homère; Essaie sur un problème de style homérique (= The Traditional Epithet in Homer). [

Lang’s work suggests that the walk-on characters in the Iliad are in fact local heroes whose deeds in the Trojan War and/or other epic narratives would have been sung in particular places. At some point what had previously been local songs came to be performed more widely and by other, nonlocal singers, or at the very least, their heroes came to be incorporated into a wider narrative tradition that eventually resulted in our Iliad. By making it into the Iliad, these local heroes became part of a Panhellenic poetic tradition at some distance removed from the local songs in which they originated. If this conceptualization is correct, we have to understand that different singers and different audiences may have known more or less specific information about these heroes and the towns from which they hailed, depending on their familiarity with the local traditions that formed these characters’ backstories. And yet, as a notional totality at least, the full biography of these more local heroes was at some point known to the epic tradition as a whole.

Likewise, this notional totality that I am invoking possessed a broad knowledge of the geography of Greece, although it is clear that much as the dialect of the Homeric epics evolved to incorporate Aeolic and Ionic and even Attic elements, so too did new places come into the system, sometimes (no doubt) at the expense of other places, which had fallen out of circulation. Just as in the case of a character like Briseis, a place like Mykalessos or Thisbe may had syntagmatic associations, that is, details that were true and specific to the actual towns, as well as paradigmatic associations (characteristics that they share with other epic places, details that may or may not have had anything to do with their “real” geographical features). Each place may have had at one time a set of particular epithets and formulas used of it by bards familiar with the locale. Some or all of that formulaic language may have at one point become a part of the larger, more Panhellenic epic tradition, but not all of what came into the system stayed in the system. As the tradition and its formulaic diction evolved, so too did the poets’ and audiences’ conception of those places evolve.

The work of E. S. Sherratt discussed in chapter 1 suggests that we should not be looking for a single political reality reflected in the Catalogue of Ships, and that it would be fruitless to attempt to separate Bronze Age geographical details from later ones. Elements from more than one reality entered the system of formulaic diction and were seamlessly integrated over time. At the same time, as this process was ongoing, the reality of any particular location (its particular natural features, precise geographical location, etc.) faded in importance, and instead its poetic/epic identity superseded it. A place like Mykalessos was understood within the tradition to have broad dancing places, and it may well have had them at one time, but poets of later eras need not have known whether or not this was this was the case. Within the poetic tradition, Mykalessos had broad dancing places.

I have been suggesting that places—like heroes and, at a more basic level, formulas—had to enter the system of Homeric diction at some point, and that the formulaic diction associated with those places changed as the system evolved. Some formulas persisted and may have retained something of their original meaning for centuries, until the epics crystallized into the form in which we now have them, while most other formulas evolved to become more generic, in that they were associated with cities in general. Mykalessos and Thisbe are just two examples of places whose traditional epithets underwent this evolution. Singers from those regions or the towns themselves may have indeed known them to have particular characteristics, but later singers and later audiences from other places most likely only knew them by their poetic identities, which may or may not have maintained characteristics particular to them. The fact that only a handful of places are described as εὐρύχορον and πολυτρήρωνά in our surviving evidence suggests that the formulas were created and used because they were indeed true of those places, but we must be aware of the limitations of our evidence. As Mary Ebbott and I note with reference to βοὴν ἀγαθὸς, if the Iliad did not survive and we had only the Odyssey, we might think that only Menelaos was ever so described. If more epic poetry survived, and especially if more catalogue poetry survived, we might find many such cities described as having dancing places and being full of doves. Even so, as I have tried to argue here and elsewhere, the fact that multiple cities are described as εὐρύχορον and πολυτρήρωνά does not make these traditional descriptions devoid of meaning, it just gives them meaning of a different kind, a kind that is quite typical of oral poetry. [30]

The questions I have explored here are just a few out of many. I offer these arguments because I think they help us to conceptualize the Catalogue of Ships as a dynamic document within a multiform tradition. Such a document would naturally have raised many questions for later, literate editors and scholars in antiquity, just as it has for modern ones. We can understand how the difficulties encountered by these editors, who were working within a different paradigm from the one in which the Iliad was actually created, led to the omission of the Catalogue altogether from some editions. The result might be a more logical and concise poem—qualities that seem to have been prized by Alexandrian critics, as we saw in chapter 2 and as we will see again in my concluding chapter. Even though we don’t know the Catalogue to have been athetized by Zenodotus or Aristarchus or anyone else, we can easily imagine them doing so, and, as I say, this preference for concision and logic might explain the Catalogue’s omission and special treatment in various manuscripts.

What is less clear is whether the Catalogue was ever omitted in earlier stages of the transmission, that is to say, in performance. The loss or omission of the Catalogue of Ships from a full performance of the Iliad would be a tremendous loss indeed. The Catalogue offers countless points of entry into a thousand years or more of epic tales. As Sammons shows us, the Catalogue allows us to understand the Iliad against the backdrop of the tradition from which it has emerged. How we understand the Iliad’s relationship to that tradition may be a matter of debate, but that there is a vital and dynamic relationship is not in doubt.

“A better mētis

At the beginning of book 10 in the Townley manuscript of the Iliad, the first scholion reads:

φασὶ τὴν ῥαψῳδίαν ὑφ’ Ὁμήρου ἰδίᾳ τετάχθαι καὶ μὴ εἶναι μέρος τῆς Ἰλιάδος, ὑπὸ δὲ Πεισιστράτου τετάχθαι εἰς τὴν ποίησιν

They say that this epic composition was arranged separately by Homer and not to be part of the Iliad, but it was arranged into that poem by Peisistratos.

Once again we are confronted with the possibility of a considerably shorter, and perhaps more logical Iliad. Iliad 10, also commonly referred to as the Doloneia, [
32] has long been felt to be different from the rest of the Iliad somehow, and many modern editors reject it as un-Homeric. The book narrates—using unusual diction that sometimes feels more Odyssean than Iliadic—a night expedition undertaken by Odysseus and Diomedes, in which the two heroes capture and kill the Trojan spy Dolon and then go on to kill the newly arrived Trojan ally Rhesos and his companions and steal Rhesos’ famed horses. Even though ambushes, cattle raids, and other forms of alternative warfare abound in the epic tradition, modern discomfort with the actions narrated in Iliad 10 have caused the book’s place in the Iliad to be questioned again and again. That the book at times exhibits unusual diction and oddities of language, special items of clothing, and other unusual features, has cemented the feeling among many critics that the Doloneia does not belong in our Iliad.

Analyst scholars in the nineteenth century in particular seized upon the scholion quoted above from the Townley as proof of Iliad 10’s inauthenticity. Walter Leaf was one such scholar, who sought in his commentary on the Iliad to separate the earlier and later strata of the poem, and thereby explain aspects of the work that seemed to him incongruous or inelegant. Although Leaf understood the various songs of the Iliad to be orally composed and transmitted (Leaf 1900:xvi), his commentary connects the songs to individual authors, some of whom he judges to be more skilled than others. Iliad 10 receives much of Leaf’s harshest criticism. Arguing that Iliad 10 (like Iliad 9) “can never have existed independent of the Μῆνις [the song of Achilles’ wrath]” (Leaf 1900:423), he summarizes the place of the book in the epic tradition this way: “Everything points, in fact, to as late a date as this [the second half of the seventh century BCE] for the composition of the book. It must, however, have been composed before the Iliad had reached its present form, for it cannot have been meant to follow on I [Iliad 9]. It is rather another case of a parallel rival to that book, coupled with it only in the final literary redaction” (Leaf 1900:424). Leaf’s audience would have been well aware of the near-universal condemnation of the book in his day, and of the perceived structural problems that Leaf alludes to here. Iliad 9 takes up too much of the night, it had been argued, to allow for another episode. The reference to Achilles at 10.106–107, Leaf suggests, also seems out of place immediately after the failed embassy. Rhesos and the capture of his horses are not mentioned anywhere else in the epic, much as the embassy to Achilles goes unmentioned in places where it seems logical (to us) to do so.

In his brief introduction to Iliad 10, Leaf gives, in addition to these structural objections, three primary reasons for believing the book to be a late composition. He says that it has a “mannered style” that is at odds with the “harmony and symmetrical repose of the Epic style,” and he finds the length of preparations that begin the book out of proportion with the length of the narration of the night mission itself (Leaf 1900:423–424). He next offers linguistic evidence, consisting of unusual word forms and other forms that come from later stages of the Greek language. And, finally, he cites “pseudo-archaisms,” words that he argues are deliberately used by the poet to create the illusion of antiquity. Such objections have been largely countered by the work of later scholars (Dué and Ebbott:8–12 and passim). But although much of his introduction is devoted to these three points, they may not have been what influenced Leaf’s thinking the most. Leaf’s introduction to the book in fact begins with a quotation of the Townley scholion, which seems to reveal that already in antiquity Iliad 10 was thought at least by some to be a separate composition. He adds: “These noteworthy words … correspond too closely with the probabilities of the case to allow us to treat them as a mere empty guess.” For Leaf, the scholion confirms a generally understood feeling about the book—one that does not need extensive argumentation.

Modern scholars cite the Townley scholion as evidence that Iliad 10 is not genuine in some way, but in so doing they seem to ignore that the scholion does posit “Homer” as the composer, which suggests that book 10 is indeed traditional. In fact, the comment is evidence neither that Iliad 10 is “un-Homeric” nor that it is by a later author who fit his composition to the Iliad, as some would have it. Mary Ebbott and I have published a set of essays and a commentary on Iliad 10 that takes a different approach to the questions raised by the book, one that allows for the book’s inclusion in our Iliad as we now know it, but also acknowledges the possibility that Iliad 10 was not always included in every performance (Dué and Ebbott 2010).

Mary Ebbott and I understand Iliad 10 to have been composed and performed within a long oral tradition of such poetry, and we argue that book 10 is an example of a very ancient theme, the lokhos (ambush and related alternative warfare). As I noted already in chapter 1, for us, the theme of lokhos, with its traditional structure and diction, long predates our received text of the Iliad. Iliad 10, we argue, gives us our best look at an alternative type of warfare poetics, namely the poetics of ambush. Using comparative evidence as well as what we know of the Epic Cycle and the epic tradition as a whole, we assert that such warfare was not construed as unheroic and should not be viewed as un-Homeric in some way (however “Homer” is conceived), but is in fact simply a traditional theme (as defined by Albert Lord), the lokhos, with its own traditional language, subthemes, conventions, and poetics (Dué and Ebbott 2010:31–87). The polemos (what we frequently refer to as “conventional battle”) too is a theme, and the two are not entirely antithetical to one another. The best heroes star in both kinds of warfare. Some overlap of diction is therefore inevitable, but polemos and lokhos each represent a distinct narrative tradition that is recognizably different from the other.

In the history of Homeric scholarship Iliad 10 has often been asserted to be “Odyssean,” and that assessment has been used to maintain a variety of theories about the book (including that it is a “late” composition). In the model that we propose, Iliad 10 need only be viewed as related to the Odyssey in that it shares the theme of ambush and has Odysseus as a central character. In other words, Iliad 10 and the Odyssey seem similar in terms of language because they partake of the same theme. [35] Other examples of the theme in the wider epic tradition, to the extent that we can reconstruct it, include the ambushes of Tydeus and Bellerophon (these stories are referred to at Iliad 4.376–400 and 6.187–190). In Iliad 13.276–287 Idomeneus praises Meriones’ abilities as an ambush fighter and describes the qualities of the good versus the bad ambush warrior, calling the lokhos the place “where the merit of men most shines through” (λόχον, ἔνθα μάλιστ᾽ ἀρετὴ διαείδεται ἀνδρῶν 10.277). On the shield of Achilles (Iliad 18.509–540), a group of men from the city at war form an ambush party (see λόχῳ in 513 and λοχῆσαι in 520), which is led by Athena and Ares. The use of the word ἐννύχιος at Iliad 21.37 strongly suggests that Lykaon was ambushed by Achilles, as does the description by Andromache of Achilles’ killing of her brothers (Iliad 6.421–424). In Iliad 11 (101–106) we are told the story of Antiphos and Isos, two sons of Priam, whom Achilles ambushed while they watched their sheep on Mount Ida and then sold for ransom. In Iliad 20 both Aeneas and Achilles refer to a time when Achilles ambushed Aeneas while he was working alone as a shepherd on Mount Ida. [36] These episodes should not surprise us, given the prominence of the ambush of Troilos by Achilles in other Archaic sources, including early vase paintings (see Plate 7b) and the Cypria. In Iliad 1, Achilles castigates Agamemnon for not going into ambush with the “best of the Achaeans.” In the Odyssey, the episode of the wooden horse and the capture of Troy is referred to three times as an ambush (Odyssey 4.277, 8.515, 11.525). Several ambushes are featured in Odysseus’ Cretan lies. Menelaos ambushes Proteus, the suitors set an unsuccessful ambush for Telemakhos, and both the killing of the Cyclops and the slaughter of the suitors are structured as ambushes. This last episode has been explored in great detail by Anthony Edwards, whose 1985 work Achilles in the Odyssey devotes a lengthy chapter to the ambush theme. Episodes from the Epic Cycle include not only the ambush of Troilos by Achilles and possibly the death of Achilles himself at the hands of Paris and Apollo but also the ambushes of Palamedes and Helenos in episodes that featured Odysseus and Diomedes. In Hesiodic epic, the castration of Ouranos by Kronos is called an ambush (λόχῳ, Theogony 174).

These numerous examples show us that the ambush of Dolon (and later, Rhesos) that takes place in Iliad 10 is in no way an unusual plot line. A poet composing this story would have made use of the same traditional diction and narrative patterns that are used for these other ambushes, and we demonstrate this for our Iliad 10 throughout our commentary. In this sense we respectfully disagree with the analyses of Leaf and of Fenik (1964), who ultimately concludes that a later, inferior (oral) poet, whom he calls “the K[appa] poet,” has only semi-successfully adapted earlier mythological material to this place in the Iliad. Georg Danek took a similar stance in an important 1988 monograph on book 10, differing from Fenik, however, in that he stresses the poet’s skill as an oral poet and his individual style. By approaching ambush as a theme in strict accordance with the way Albert Lord used that term, we can view Iliad 10 not as an idiosyncratic work that does not belong in our Iliad, but rather as our only extended example in that epic poem of what was once a common, traditional theme. An episode like the Doloneia then might well be very old, with its own set of very old, traditional formulas.

Why might an ancient poet have wanted to include an ambush episode like the Doloneia in the Iliad? Dan Petegorsky has argued that instead of misapplying conceptions about authorship, relationships between “texts,” or the idea of “lateness” with respect to the Doloneia, we should focus on the Doloneia’s thematic importance within the Iliad. [37] His examination of the presence and function of the Doloneia in the Iliad, he asserts, shows “how important the episode is in contributing to the thematic coherence of the poem as a whole” (Petegorsky 1982:177). The Doloneia, Petegorsky persuasively argues, far from being “separate” or divorced from the rest of the Iliad, serves the epic’s overall momentum as it builds towards Achilles’ return as the only way to overcome Hektor. His discussion is complex and compelling, especially as concerns the role of mētis in the Iliad, but I will attempt to summarize the thrust of the argument here. In the previous episode on this night, the embassy to Achilles, Achilles has refused to return to battle to face the threat Hektor poses and, noting the wall that the Achaeans have built, has advised them that the wall will not hold Hektor back (Iliad 9.346–355). Later, Achilles says that the Achaean leaders will need to come up with a “better mētis” (μῆτιν ἀμείνω Iliad 9.421–426). This challenge, Petegorsky argues, evokes a theme of mētis, or, looking at it thematically, his challenge “demands that they make use of essentially Odyssean skills in an Iliadic context” (Petegorsky 1982:177–178). Unlike all the other plans that the Achaeans attempt in Achilles’ absence, however, this one does succeed—but not in turning back Hektor. Instead, its success actually highlights that the only way to succeed against Hektor is through Achilles’ strength, which is the programmatic message of the Iliad, with its focus on Achilles.

To sum up, Petegorsky argues that Achilles’ challenge to the Achaeans in Iliad 9—to seek a better mētis to save the ships—evokes a particular kind of episode, an Odyssean one, in which Odysseus is the star, mētis prevails, and nostos is achieved. Recalling the arguments Mary Ebbott and I have made that intersect with Petegorsky’s examination of these thematic elements, we would rephrase the thematic evocation he reveals—namely, that Achilles’ challenge evokes an ambush theme. We can build on Petegorsky’s arguments by saying that the plan and ambush in Iliad 10 show how mētis succeeds when the force used in the polemos does not. Or, with the ambush of Rhesos understood in its larger tradition, we can extend Petegorsky’s reasoning and say that the ambush reveals how mētis overcomes an enemy who cannot otherwise be beaten in the polemos. In the Iliadic tradition, Hektor can only be overcome in the polemos—and by Achilles only. So, although Rhesos is explicitly only an indirect threat and is a greater threat implicitly, his ambush nevertheless reveals the important role of mētis and ambush in the overall epic tradition about Troy and the general suppression of that importance in the Iliad. That general suppression may also account for the dearth of direct references to the events of the Doloneia in the subsequent books of the Iliad.

Parry and Lord’s fieldwork and the resulting thesis that the Iliad was composed within a multiform and dynamic oral-traditional system likewise encourage us to take a fundamentally different starting point in attempting to answer the questions surrounding the Doloneia. Rather than begin with the question of authorship or authenticity, a Parry-Lord approach would seek to understand how Iliad 10 relates to the larger system of oral composition in performance in which the Iliad was composed. For example, because of certain duplications in the plots of books 9 and 10 of the Iliad, as well as the time elapsed during the course of the night on which these events take place, we have seen that it has been argued that Iliad 10 is a clumsy forgery (by someone other than “Homer”) meant to replace Iliad 9. (Note, however, that Iliad 9 was also suspected throughout the nineteenth century of not being composed by “Homer.”)

Instead of relying on such an unsatisfactory avoidance of the issues noted by scholars, a Parry-Lord approach might be as follows. First, we can make an analogy with the South Slavic tradition, where Parry and Lord documented the fact that the most accomplished singers could expand their songs indefinitely by adding episodes paratactically, as the mood of the audience or occasion required. The events of the night in question highlight the effects of Achilles’ wrath and withdrawal, which constitute the central theme of the poem. It is in keeping with the poetics of an oral tradition to add additional episodes to this particular night. Second, Iliad 10 is the only surviving example of an extended narrative about a night raid in Homeric poetry, even though we know there were many such episodes in the larger epic tradition. The night raid/ambush is a traditional theme, with its own traditional language, subthemes, conventions, and poetics, but nonetheless part of the same system of oral poetry to which the entire Iliad belongs.

Finally, as Albert Lord himself suggested (Lord 1960:194), just because the theme of ambush is a very old one, this does not mean that the Doloneia would have been included in every performance of the Iliad. Iliad 10 may be a legitimate multiform of Iliad 9, both books orally composed within the same traditional poetic system and therefore both equally “Homeric.” Much as I suggested above in connection with the Catalogue of Ships, it is possible to imagine there being performed in antiquity a shorter Iliad that did not include the Doloneia, or one that included the Doloneia but not the embassy to Achilles. It is also possible to imagine the Doloneia as a song performed on its own. The scholion with which I began this discussion is compatible with all of these scenarios. The system was flexible and designed to meet the needs of the performer, who responded to the mood of the audience and the occasion as he composed. The fact that Iliad 9 or 10 or the Catalogue of Ships could be omitted in performance or performed as an independent song makes them no less authentic; rather, they are evidence for the flexibility of a poem that only came to life in performance.

“And on it he wrought the earth, and heaven, and the sea”

We have now seen two examples of a phenomenon whereby large sections of our Iliad might be perceived as “separate” or at least capable of being performed independently. I have attempted to show that their detachability does not make these passages any less Homeric (however we define that term); rather, their inclusion or not is one of the many choices a composer would make in the course of composition in performance. This flexibility seems to have led, as in the case of the Catalogue of Ships, to a multiform textual transmission. Many papyri and manuscripts contain the Catalogue, but some do not, and others format it in a special way. The passage that describes the decoration of the shield of Achilles made by Hephaistos in Iliad 18 is a third example of this phenomenon. Martin Revermann, noting that this passage is referred to as the Ὁπλοποιία in the scholia and in Athenaeus, has argued that the shield could be performed separately (Revermann 1998:37).

The scholia tell us explicitly that the description of the making of the shield was athetized by Zenodotus:

ὅτι Ζηνόδοτος ἠθέτηκεν ἀπὸ τούτου τοῦ στίχου τὰ λοιπά, ἀρκεσθεὶς τῇ κεφαλαιώδει προεκθέσει. Ὅμηρος δὲ οὐκ ἂν προετραγῴδησεν τὰ κατὰ τὰς φύσας, εἰ μὴ καὶ τὴν τῆς ποικιλίας κατασκευὴν ἔμελλε διατίθεσθαι. (A scholia at 18.483)

[There is a sign] because Zenodotus athetized the rest after this verse, satisfied with the summary preface. But Homer would not have narrated in tragic style the things in the bellows, if he was not intending to incorporate the preparation of the decoration.

As we saw in chapter 2, Zenodotus seems to have in many if not most places preferred a considerably shorter Iliad than the one we know. [
39] We are fortunate that it was evidently Alexandrian practice to comment on a received text but not to alter that text beyond adding annotations such as critical signs. The commentaries keyed to such signs were published in separate scrolls. [40] If Zenodotus had made an edition that excised all athetized verses from the text, and subsequent scholars commented only on that edition, we would know much less Homeric poetry than we do now. The editors of the Homer Multitext have a very different approach to the text than that of Zenodotus, but the result is similar. We don’t throw anything away, and thereby preserve the evidence for others to discover.

Nagy argues (following Lessing) that the shield passage should not be read solely in its linear position within the Iliad as we now know it. It is not frozen rigidly in place, with a fixed and static significance, like the decoration on a real, humanly made shield, but it is a dynamic, living, work-in-progress (1997a:204):

From the standpoint of the Iliad as a linear progression, there is a sense of closure as the main narrative comes to an end in Book 24. From the standpoint of the Shield passage, however, the Iliad is open-ended. In other words, the vehicle re-opens the tenor. In order to make this argument, I must first confront a paradox: the world as represented on the Shield seems to be closed and unchanging, as opposed to the openness of the Iliad to changes that happen to the figures in the story while the story is in progress. The question is, however, what happens when the story draws to a close? Now the figures inside the Iliad become frozen into their actions by the finality of what has been narrated. This freezing is completed once all is said and done, at the precise moment when the whole story has been told. This moment, which is purely notional from the standpoint of Iliadic composition, gets captured by the frozen motion picture of the Shield. Time has now stopped still, and the open-endedness of contemplating the artistic creation can begin.

The open-endedness that Nagy describes means that it is possible to make connections forwards and backwards to events that precede and follow the creation of the shield in the larger epic tradition. The entire Iliad, from book 1 all the way through the ransom and funeral of Hektor in book 24, can be more fully appreciated with reference to the images on the shield. This is the kind of meaning made possible by an oral traditional system, in which the audience is as familiar with the shield when listening to a performer performing book 1 or book 9 or book 16 as they are when they come at last to book 18 or when they come to the end of the poem.

Nagy, building on the analysis of Muellner, zeroes in on the litigation scene at 18.490–508 as a case in point for the open-endedness of the shield. Arguing that ultimately, Achilles himself can be understood to be the plaintiff (i.e., the one attempting to pay compensation for a wrongful death), the defendant (the one refusing to accept any compensation), and even the man who is dead, Nagy highlights a multiform attested in 18.499. I will quote the passage (using the translation of Nagy) here before continuing:

λαοὶ δ᾽ εἰν ἀγορῇ ἔσαν ἀθρόοι· ἔνθα δὲ νεῖκος
ὠρώρει, δύο δ᾽ ἄνδρες ἐνείκεον εἵνεκα ποινῆς
ἀνδρὸς ἀποφθιμένου· ὃ μὲν εὔχετο πάντ᾽ ἀποδοῦναι
δήμῳ πιφαύσκων, ὃ δ᾽ ἀναίνετο μηδὲν ἑλέσθαι

Iliad 18.497–500

The people were gathered together in the assembly place, and there a dispute
had arisen, and two men were disputing about the blood-price
for a man who had died [apo-phthi-]. The one made a claim to pay back in full,
declaring publicly to the district, but the other was refusing to accept anything.

Zenodotus athetized the entire description of the shield, but he did not omit it from his edition of the poem. And so while the Venetus A reads ἀποφθιμένου in 18.499 (“a man who had died”), a scholion in the Venetus A is able to tell us that Zenodotus knew the reading ἀποκταμένου (“a man who was killed”):

παρὰ Ζηνοδότῳ “ἀποκταμένου” καὶ ἐν ταῖς πλείσταις· καὶ ἔστιν οὐκ ἀπίθανος ἡ γραφή

In Zenodotus [the reading is] “ἀποκταμένου” and also in most [editions]. And the reading is not unlikely.

I will now quote the key paragraphs, for the purposes of this book, of Nagy’s article (1997a:204–205):

Our case in point is the scene of the litigants in the City at Peace.… In order to pursue this point, I focus on an instance of textual variation at Iliad 18.499 between apophthimenou ‘a man who died’ and apoktamenou ‘a man who was killed’. The second variant, as we learn from the scholia, was noted by Zenodotus. If indeed the Shield passage, as a vehicle, can refer to the main narrative of the Iliad as the tenor, then the referent of this variant apoktamenou can be Patroklos, as suggested by Iliad 24 where Achilles accepts the apoina or compensation from Hektor’s father Priam for the death of Patroklos. If Patroklos is the referent, this variant can also bring an ulterior meaning into the Ajax speech in Iliad 9: Achilles is justified in refusing compensation or apoina in the Embassy Scene of Iliad 9 because, in the long run, the compensation in question concerns the death of Patroklos, not the loss of Briseis. In the long run, Agamemnon has a share in causing the death of Patroklos and is therefore justified in offering compensation for it.

In the longer run, however, it was Achilles himself who caused the death of Patroklos, since he could not in good conscience accept the compensation of Agamemnon for Briseis—and since Patroklos consequently took his place in battle. In the longer run, then, Achilles can be a defendant as well as a plaintiff in a litigation over the death of Patroklos. In the longest run, though, Achilles can even be the victim himself, since the Iliad makes his own death a direct consequence of the death of Patroklos. No wonder the plaintiff of the Shield scene will not accept compensation: potentially, he is also the defendant and even the victim! In this light, it becomes hard for the narrative to say that anyone is liable for killing Achilles. It becomes easier now to think of the hero not as apoktamenou ‘a man who was killed’ but as apophthimenou ‘a man who died’.

Unlike an Alexandrian editor, Nagy is not advocating that we choose one reading over the other. Instead we can appreciate both readings as generated and having meaning within the system of Homeric poetry. The case of apoktamenou and apophthimenou is just one example of multiformity within the textual tradition of the shield, a choice to be made by the performer. Revermann, whose thesis about the detachability of the shield I cited above, argues that such separate performances made the shield even more subject to the kinds of expansion and compression that are natural to oral poetry. [
42] But, as I have suggested already in chapter 3, this kind of multiformity should not be viewed as problematic or something to explain away. Rather it is an opportunity for those who are willing to see the Homeric text as being open-ended. If we are unbound by the limitations of a literate mindset that insists on freezing the text in a fixed state, we can not only appreciate the array of Iliads that were known to audiences in antiquity but also better understand the poetics of the Iliad that has come down to us.

Fortunately, no one in antiquity besides Zenodotus seems to have questioned the place of the shield of Achilles in our Iliad—or at least, if they did, it has not affected its secure place in the manuscripts. But I hope this very brief discussion of the poetics of the litigation scene on the shield make clear what is at stake when we try to apply literate and scholarly aesthetics to a poem that was composed and received within a tradition that assigned meaning very differently from those of the Hellenistic and later eras. Again, we are fortunate that the Alexandrian editors used athetesis marks and did not in most cases remove verses judged to be “not by Homer” from their editions. The loss of this passage would have changed the course of Western literature. But the shield is also incredibly vibrant within its own tradition. Whether the Shield of Achilles was ever a song in its own right, or was always meant to be part of the Iliad, it is a passage that immensely deepens our understanding of the larger themes of the Iliad, particularly as they intersect with the brief but intense life cycle of its central hero, Achilles. Nagy’s and Muellner’s arguments about the ramifications of the litigation scene provide just one snapshot view of the layers of meaning that have been worked into the shield description over the long history of its composition. Its many other scenes of war and peace have far more ramifications still. In this way the shield becomes a grand example of what we stand to lose, when we screen out attested multiforms. Some attested multiforms, as we have seen in chapter 2, are as minute as a single letter. Others involve entire books and sweeping segments of text. All have the power to contribute to a far deeper understanding of the epic tradition within which the Iliad was composed.

“He stood before the gates, insatiably eager to do battle with Achilles”

We have been examining different choices a performer might make in performance—whether to include the Doloneia or not, or the shield of Achilles or not—as well as the natural multiformity that any one of those episodes might exhibit. The poetics of expansion and compression happen primarily on a horizontal axis: episodes are included or not, particular verses are included or not, objects are described in detail or not, a character’s backstory is told explicitly or left unsung. For my final example in this chapter I would like to consider a different kind of multiformity, one that operates on a vertical axis, and one that gets at the heart of my opening questions in the introduction to this book. How might the story of the Iliad be told differently? Are there attested variations that actually change the story?

The short answer is no. The inherent conservatism of a tradition that claims to channel the eyewitness account of the Muses (Iliad 2.484–487) means that we should not expect shocking differences of plot, even after a thousand years of composition in performance, especially in the carefully regulated Panathenaic tradition. But the long answer is far more nuanced. The Iliad itself seems preoccupied in places with this very question. I opened this book with the passage in Iliad 20 in which Zeus fears that now that Achilles has returned to battle Troy will be sacked too soon, “beyond fate.” And as I noted there, book 20 is fixated on the possibility that various events and encounters will happen at the wrong time. It as if the Iliad is signaling its awareness of other ways of telling the tale, but at the same time making it clear that it would be incorrect—that is, untraditional—to do so.

At the start of book 15, Zeus wakes from his seduction-induced slumber only to realize that Hera has tricked him and that the plot of the narrative is spinning out of his control. Hektor is down, the Trojans are being routed, and the Greeks are winning. His reaction is one of violent anger, and he quickly reestablishes with Hera how the story will go: [43]

ἔρχεο νῦν μετὰ φῦλα θεῶν, καὶ δεῦρο κάλεσσον
Ἶρίν τ᾽ ἐλθέμεναι καὶ Ἀπόλλωνα κλυτότοξον,
ὄφρ᾽ ἣ μὲν μετὰ λαὸν Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων
ἔλθῃ, καὶ εἴπῃσι Ποσειδάωνι ἄνακτι
παυσάμενον πολέμοιο τὰ ἃ πρὸς δώμαθ᾽ ἱκέσθαι,
Ἕκτορα δ᾽ ὀτρύνῃσι μάχην ἐς Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων,
αὖτις δ᾽ ἐμπνεύσῃσι μένος, λελάθῃ δ᾽ ὀδυνάων
αἳ νῦν μιν τείρουσι κατὰ φρένας, αὐτὰρ Ἀχαιοὺς
αὖτις ἀποστρέψῃσιν ἀνάλκιδα φύζαν ἐνόρσας,
φεύγοντες δ᾽ ἐν νηυσὶ πολυκλήϊσι πέσωσι
Πηλεΐδεω Ἀχιλῆος· ὃ δ᾽ ἀνστήσει ὃν ἑταῖρον
Πάτροκλον· τὸν δὲ κτενεῖ ἔγχεϊ φαίδιμος Ἕκτωρ
Ἰλίου προπάροιθε πολέας ὀλέσαντ᾽ αἰζηοὺς
τοὺς ἄλλους, μετὰ δ᾽ υἱὸν ἐμὸν Σαρπηδόνα δῖον.
τοῦ δὲ χολωσάμενος κτενεῖ Ἕκτορα δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.
ἐκ τοῦ δ᾽ ἄν τοι ἔπειτα παλίωξιν παρὰ νηῶν
αἰὲν ἐγὼ τεύχοιμι διαμπερὲς εἰς ὅ κ᾽ Ἀχαιοὶ
Ἴλιον αἰπὺ ἕλοιεν Ἀθηναίης διὰ βουλάς.

Iliad 15.54–71

Go now among the ranks of the gods and summon
to come here Iris and Apollo famed for his bow,
in order that Iris among the warriors of the bronze-wearing Achaeans
may go, and tell lord Poseidon
to cease from battle and go home,
and in order that Apollo may urge Hektor to battle,
and breathe rage [menos] into him again, and he may forget his pains,
which now wear out his senses, and then the Achaeans
he may turn back, stirring up the headlong flight that is lacking in battle resolve,
and they, fleeing, will fall among the ships with many benches
of Achilles the son of Peleus. And he will cause his companion to rise up,
Patroklos. And him radiant Hektor will kill with his spear
before Troy after he [Patroklos] has killed many other flourishing young men,
and among them my son, brilliant Sarpedon.
Furious about this, brilliant Achilles will kill Hektor.
And from this point forward I will continuously make
a pursuit [of the Trojans] from the ships until the Achaeans
take steep Troy through the counsels of Athena.

Here we have the remainder of the Iliad (and beyond), more than nine books’ worth of material, compressed into only eighteen verses, not unlike the compressed story of Achilles in the Catalogue of Ships, or Proklos’ summaries of the poems of the Epic Cycle. Zeus’ anger suggests that it was in theory possible for the story of Troy to turn out another way, if he hadn’t woken up and regained control of the narrative. As I see it, such concerns about getting the story right point to a flourishing world of song in which there were rival versions of tradition (as paradoxical as that sounds). My work on the character of Briseis, for example, leads me to believe that rival traditions about her life history were in circulation at some early stage in the crystallization of the Iliad.

Is it possible to reconstruct any of these rivals for our Iliad? Unfortunately, our evidence for the system I have been attempting to describe is very limited. As we have seen, the vast majority of the evidence that we can assemble primarily falls within periods 4 and 5 of Nagy’s evolutionary model, discussed in chapter 1, by which point the text had largely crystallized into the form in which we now know it. Our knowledge of local, non-Panathenaic versions of the Iliad is far more limited still. Sherratt’s arguments about “generative” periods and periods of “maintenance” (also discussed in chapter 1) are helpful for theorizing about far earlier and far more fluid phases of the Homeric tradition, but it would be difficult to assert with any confidence what those earlier Iliads (or, earlier songs about Troy) were like. Presumably the heroes wore boar’s tusk helmets and used long thrusting spears and carried tower shields; just possibly the deaths of Achilles, Patroklos, and Hektor were closely interconnected just as in our Iliad. Perhaps, as I have speculated at various points in this book, earlier Iliads were not so tightly focused around the anger of Achilles in the tenth year of the war, and could incorporate chronologically earlier or later episodes in a more linear fashion, if the singer chose to do so.

Perhaps, as suggested by the Theran frescoes, and as is implied by Achilles’ boasts about sacking twenty-three cities on land and sea (Iliad 19.328–329), in earlier Iliads Achaean heroes went on raids of various sorts and regularly engaged in ambush. [44] A speech of the Second Sophistic writer Dio Chrysostom states explicitly (although, admittedly, as part an extended clever critique of Homer) that Achilles did indeed fill his time this way:

τὸν δὲ λοιπὸν χρόνον τὰ μὲν ἐποίουν κακῶς, τὰ δ᾽ ἔπασχον, καὶ μάχαι μὲν οὐ πολλαὶ ἐγένοντο ἐκ παρατάξεως· οὐ γὰρ ἐθάρρουν προσιέναι πρὸς τὴν πόλιν διὰ τὸ πλῆθος καὶ τὴν ἀνδρείαν τῶν ἔνδοθεν· ἀκροβολισμοὶ δὲ καὶ κλωπεῖαι τῶν Ἑλλήνων· καὶ Τρωίλος τε οὕτως ἀποθνῄσκει παῖς ὢν ἔτι καὶ Μήστωρ καὶ ἄλλοι πλείους. ἦν γὰρ ὁ Ἀχιλλεὺς ἐνεδρεῦσαι δεινότατος καὶ νυκτὸς ἐπιθέσθαι. ὅθεν Αἰνείαν τε οὕτως ἐπελθὼν ὀλίγου ἀπέκτεινεν ἐν τῇ Ἴδῃ καὶ πολλοὺς ἄλλους κατὰ τὴν χώραν, καὶ τῶν φρουρίων ᾕρει τὰ κακῶς φυλαττόμενα.

Dio Chrysostom 11.77–78

It would be easy to dismiss Dio as a late author playing a literary game with the Iliad, much as Dares and Dictys of Crete and Philostratus’ Heroikos are not typically seen as reliable guides to early epic tradition. And perhaps, in an abundance of caution, we really should not try to use Dio as a clue to what the Iliad was like fifteen hundred years before his time.

It could be argued that Dictys and Dio are making use of Cyclic epic traditions here, particularly the Cypria, and that in no way should these accounts be seen as reflective of the Iliadic tradition. And again I will concede that they may not be. But I would point out that Achilles’ ambush exploits (highlighted by Dio) are alluded to repeatedly throughout the Iliad. As we have seen, Achilles castigates Agamemnon for not going into ambush with the “best of the Achaeans” in the opening episode of the poem. An ambush is featured on the shield of Achilles, and formulaic language indicates that Achilles ambushed Andromache’s brothers, Aeneas, Antiphos, Isos, and Lykaon. These are in addition to Achilles’ ambush of Troilos, which is featured prominently in other non-Homeric Archaic sources.

In fact, Achilles seems to be exceedingly good at ambush. Virtually every other example of ambush in the epic tradition that Mary Ebbott and I located features two ambushers, or two leaders of a much larger ambush (Dué and Ebbott 2010:70–71). [47] But Achilles in every case ambushes solo. I am even tempted to interpret Achilles’ traditional epithet “swift-footed” (ποδάρκης, πόδας ὠκύς, and ποδώκης) as referring to his ambush skills. [48] Ambush requires speed because the ambusher typically lies in wait, surprises his victim, and then chases him as he flees. When Achilles taunts Aeneas in book 20 about the time he ambushed him on Mount Ida, he explicitly refers to chasing after him with his swift feet:

ἦ οὐ μέμνῃ ὅτε πέρ σε βοῶν ἄπο μοῦνον ἐόντα
σεῦα κατ᾽ Ἰδαίων ὀρέων ταχέεσσι πόδεσσι
καρπαλίμως; τότε δ᾽ οὔ τι μετατροπαλίζεο φεύγων.

Iliad 20.188–190

Don’t you remember when you, being alone from your cattle,
I chased down from the peaks of Ida with swift feet,
speedily? At that time you did not look back as you fled.

The chase takes Achilles all the way to Lyrnessos, which he then proceeds to sack (taking Briseis as his prize), while Aeneas makes his escape. Aeneas, earlier in book 20, recounts this exact same episode when Apollo (disguised as Lykaon) urges him to fight Achilles. Aeneas too refers to Achilles’ swift feet when invoking this prior encounter (οὐ μὲν γὰρ νῦν πρῶτα ποδώκεος ἄντ᾽ Ἀχιλῆος / στήσομαι 89–90).

This brings me at last to a curious scholion in the Venetus A manuscript at line 22.188:

σημειῶδες ὅτι μόνος Ὅμηρός φησι μονομαχῆσαι τὸν Ἕκτορα, οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ πάντες ἐνεδρευθῆναι ὑπὸ Ἀχιλλέως.

It is significant that only Homer says that Achilles fought Hektor in man-to-man combat. All the rest say that Hektor was ambushed by Achilles.

Unlike the scholion about Briseis’ name, we are not told anything about who οἱ λοιποὶ are. “Homer” is not compared or contrasted with other “arkhaioi” or “neōteroi” in this comment, as we find elsewhere in the scholia. A search of the full corpus of Greek in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae database turns up no other place where “only Homer” says or does anything. A survey of uses of the phrase οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ πάντες turns up no meaningful pattern for deducing who οἱ λοιποί might be in this context. But the very fact that Homer is frequently contrasted with other poets (including those of the Epic Cycle) in the Venetus A scholia means we should at least consider the possibility that οἱ λοιποί are other epic poets. In the Panhellenic Iliadic tradition, Achilles kills Hektor in man-to-man combat. But there was another way to tell the story in the larger epic tradition: Achilles could have used his solo ambusher skills to take down Hektor.

This alternative tradition is not necessarily a later, inferior one. It is simply not the canonical one. By the standards of the Iliad we know, it would almost certainly be deemed ὑπερ μόρον. But although our sources for Achilles’ ambush exploits are varied and in some cases quite late, they may well point to the existence of far earlier phases of the poetic tradition about Achilles and his activities over the course of the Trojan War. For the scholars working in the library of Alexandria, whose work is excerpted in the Venetus A, Homer was clearly the poet par excellence, and they were not particularly interested in this earlier or noncanonical material that had not made it into the Panhellenic Iliad, unless it somehow provided support for their conception of Homer and the correct Homeric text. Modern editors likewise are typically dismissive of deviation from the medievally transmitted Iliad and Odyssey, whether that be in the form of plus verses, weakly attested variations within the text, or alternative mythological and poetic traditions not featured in “Homer.”

But those of us working on the Homer Multitext, informed as we are by the research and fieldwork of Milman Parry and Albert Lord on oral poetry, are interested in this material. We do want to know about the raw data, so to speak, of epic tradition, out of which the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the poems of the Epic Cycle took shape, with which ancient poets and audiences were familiar. If we know, for example, that an epic poem about the Trojan War could have narrated the death of Hektor as an ambush, it then becomes meaningful that our Iliad does not do it that way. As we have seen with reference to the Doloneia, our Iliad is not primarily composed within the poetics of ambush, but rather within the poetics of what we might call the polemos (or conventional battle). Iliad 10 can best be understood by way of its thematic contrast with the rest of the poem. The choice by the poets of the Iliad tradition to depict Achilles as primarily a promakhos anēr, in contrast to Odysseus, who is primarily the hero of mētis within his poem, surely explains why the version of Hektor’s death that we know won out over that of “all the rest,” who told it differently.


[ back ] 1. For more information about these manuscripts, please see the Homer Multitext website at, where there is a page devoted to each and images can be accessed.

[ back ] 2. The examples discussed in this chapter offer a “big picture” view of multiformity. For a sustained analysis involving more typical examples of the multiformity that survives in the medieval transmission of the Iliad see Dué and Ebbott 2010:208–221 and Dué 2012.

[ back ] 3. Modern editors make the same mistake. See chapter 2 above, pp. 80–81.

[ back ] 4. See chapter 3 above, p. 87.

[ back ] 5. See above, p. 88. In the Iliad, Agamemnon does not come in person to take Briseis, but sends two heralds. On the relationship between vase paintings and epic narratives see Dué 2002:29–36 (with further references ad loc.) and Lowenstam 2008.

[ back ] 6. On the love story, see now Fantuzzi 2012 and chapter 3 above. For more on these earlier and later components of the Achilles and Briseis story, see Dué 2002, where later literary sources that do narrate some of this material are explored for their possible relationship to the earlier epic tradition.

[ back ] 7. For hoi arkhaioi vs. hoi neōteroi in the scholia see Henrichs 1993:189n44. For the poets of the Epic Cycle as neōteroi see Davies 1989:4.

[ back ] 8. Cf. the Townley scholia at Iliad 16.57: τὴν Πήδασον οἱ τῶν Κυπρίων ποιηταί, αὐτὸς δὲ Λυρνησ‹σ›όν (“The poets of the Cypria say [that she was taken from] Pedasos, but Homer says Lyrnessos”). For more on the Pedasos version of Briseis’ story, see my reconstruction at Dué 2002:49–65. Note that in Iliad 9.665 the daughter of Phorbas is called Diomedē, while in Dictys of Crete she is called Diomedea.

[ back ] 9. See Bakker 2013:157–169.

[ back ] 10. On the connection between Chryseis and Andromache and her mother in this passage see Taplin 1986 and Robbins 1990. Lyrnessos, Pedasos, and Thebe are thought to be located very close to one another, near Mount Ida, not far from the Gulf of Adramyttium. All of these cities are located near the coast opposite Lesbos. Lyrnessos and Thebe in particular are closely related in the ancient sources. Aeschylus’ Phrygians (as cited in the scholia to Euripides’ Andromache) refers to Lyrnessos as the birthplace of Andromache, even though everywhere else in Greek literature she is said to come from Thebe (fragment 267). For a complete compendium of all ancient testimonia regarding the location of Lyrnessos, Pedasos, and Thebe, see Stauber 1996:91–175.

[ back ] 11. The syntax of 19.295–296 seems to express paratactically what in English prose would be subordinated: that Achilles killed Briseis’ husband Mynes, who was the ruler of the city (Lyrnessos). This is the interpretation of the scholia in the Venetus B and the Townley. It is possible, however, that her husband was a man of Lyrnessos other than Mynes. See also Leaf 1912:246; Edwards 1991, ad loc.; and Pucci 1993:263–264.

[ back ] 12. For the Homeric tradition as a “hypertext,” see Tsagalis 2010a and below, p. 155. On this dyna-mic interplay between the current performance and the broader tradition see also Scodel 2002.

[ back ] 13. Cf. Graziosi and Haubold 2005:9 on the “resonance” of epic, that is, epic poetry’s “ability to evoke a web of associations and implications by referring to the wider epic tradition.” The poetics I attempt to describe in this chapter by way of examples are very much in accordance with the work of Graziosi and Haubold, though their focus is not on the multiformity of the epic tradition, as mine is here.

[ back ] 14. Images of these manuscripts can be accessed at http:/ See, for example, folio 34r of the Venetus A.

[ back ] 15. See further below on the shield of Achilles as another such unit.

[ back ] 16. For more on the special treatment of the Catalogue of Ships in our surviving manuscripts see the Homer Multitext research blog at

[ back ] 17. See also Tsagalis 2010b.

[ back ] 18. It would appear that Promakhos and Peneleos are related, on which see the scholia of the Venetus B ad 2.494 and Kirk’s commentary ad 14.449.

[ back ] 19. See Dué and Ebbott 2010:323 for additional bibliography on the relationship between lament and epic, women’s songs and men’s songs, the mortality of the hero as a central theme of epic, and passages that lament the death of heroes in a highly compressed form, such as the one quoted from Iliad 8 here. See also Tsagalis 2004:179–187.

[ back ] 20. Cf. Tsagalis (2010b:323), who writes: “By selecting a name the bard opens a path to the hypertextual web of myth.” Tsagalis concludes: “catalogues have no end, only ‘endings,’ whose plurality is an invitation to the audience to go on in their own mind, to conjure up more information from other traditions or sources, to be alert to the existence of a totality that song can never fully achieve” (2010b:347). A nice example of this phenomenon outside of the Catalogue of Ships can be found in the Venetus A scholia at 7.9, where Menesthios the son of Areithoos is killed by Paris. The scholia provide a history of Areithoos’ exploits and explain the origins of Areithoos’ epithet κορυνήτης (7.9). The Venetus A scholia include many such backstories. The one at 7.9 is attributed to Pherecydes.

[ back ] 21. See Dué and Ebbott 2010 ad 10.3 and 10.283 for definitions and the history of scholarship on epithets.

[ back ] 22. Eutresis was reoccupied beginning in the sixth century BCE; see Simpson and Lazenby 1970:27.

[ back ] 23. Sparta seems to have displaced the Bronze Age Therapne completely; see Dickinson 2011.

[ back ] 24. An example would be Pylos, whose territory as revealed by the Linear B tablets does not match what is described in the Catalogue (Dickinson 2011).

[ back ] 25. For the use of the epithet in lyric poetry see Visser 1997:125n40.

[ back ] 26. For more on Bronze Age connections to the dancing place for Ariadne see Lonsdale 1995.

[ back ] 27. See also Visser 1997:112–146. εὐρύχορος is discussed at 124–125, and πολυτρήρων at 139–140.

[ back ] 28. Including James Frazer in his edition of Pausanias (vol. 5, p. 162) and Michael Wood in his book and documentary In Search of the Trojan War.

[ back ] 29. See also Strabo 9.411, who observed them near the city’s port.

[ back ] 30. For more on the identification of Mykalessos and Thisbe and other named towns with actual historical places see Simpson and Lazenby (1970), although not all identifications of places mentioned in the Catalogue are universally accepted. On Mykalessos and Thisbe see also Visser 1997:302–311 and 316–324.

[ back ] 31. See Martin 2005:171–172, citing Revermann 1998, with reference to the shield of Achilles, discussed in chapter 3 as well as further below. See also Slings 2000:70.

[ back ] 32. In the scholia and elsewhere it is referred to as the νυκτεγερσία (see e.g. the A scholia ad 10.1). In Aelian 13.14 it is called the Doloneia (Δολώνειάν).

[ back ] 33. Two major exceptions are Shewan 1911 and Danek 1988. (See now Elmer 2018.) Danek offers a spirited defense of Iliad 10 as an orally composed, traditional piece of poetry. But rather than emphasize its shared features with Homeric poetry, Danek emphasizes the book’s unusual features. Much like Shewan before him, Danek argues that the Doloneia is good poetry composed by a good poet, but for Danek that poet is not Homer. He is instead a poet working in the same tradition, somewhat later than the composer of the Iliad. This poet strives for a personal style that is lively. He makes clever use of convention, deliberately alludes to the Iliad, tries to introduce colloquial words, attempts to make scenes more visually stimulating, and intentionally varies formulaic language. The fieldwork of Parry and Lord, however, is at odds with Danek’s hypothesis. Danek assumes that his poet of the Doloneia could both be traditional and seek to create a personal style. But poets in a traditional process like that which Parry and Lord describe do not seek to innovate. Parry asserted that such a poet “would not think of trying to express ideas outside the traditional field of thought of the poetry” and “make[s] his verses easily by means of a diction which time has proved to be the best” (Parry 1932:7–8 [= Parry 1971:330]). Other more positive assessments of Iliad 10 include Petegorsky 1982:175–254, Thornton 1984:164–169, and Stanley 1993:118–128. But Stanley’s concluding remarks about the book reveal an essentially negative view of the actions of Odysseus and Diomedes in Iliad 10: “Their achievement, now and later, is based not on heroic honor but on clever exploitation; and its rewards are merely a surplus of things, not tokens of glory” (1993:128). Mary Ebbott and I make precisely the opposite argument in Dué and Ebbott 2010, namely, that mētis and biē are complementary paths to achieving glory and distinction (kleos and kudos) in Homeric epic and that both mētis and biē are prized as being characteristic of the “best” of the Achaeans.

[ back ] 34. The translator Stephen Mitchell is not the same Stephen Mitchell who is a curator of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature and who coauthored (with Gregory Nagy) the introduction to the second edition (2000) of Albert Lord’s The Singer of Tales.

[ back ] 35. On this point see also Petegorsky 1982:176.

[ back ] 36. See 20.89–96 and 188–193 and cf. Odyssey 15.386–387. For more on this episode and Achilles as an ambusher see below, p. 143.

[ back ] 37. Petegorsky 1982:175–254.

[ back ] 38. Petegorsky (1982:209–211) refutes Fenik’s assertion that the Doloneia cannot portray the night mission as an assassination attempt against Hektor, showing that it is not the attempt that the Iliad excludes, but rather the success of such an attempt, since Achilles must be the killer of Hektor. Fenik (1964:20) also makes the (in our view, baseless) argument that an assassination attempt would be an unacceptable portrayal of Odysseus and Diomedes (whereas a “negative” portrayal of Odysseus and Diomedes is consistent in the Rhesos). Fenik here seems to ascribe his own understanding of ambush as “negative” to an epic tradition that includes many such episodes.

[ back ] 39. Zenodotus’ athetesis in no way jeopardized the passage’s place in the textual transmission, and the wealth of scholia suggest that, like the Catalogue of Ships, it was an intensely studied passage in antiquity.

[ back ] 40. See above, chapter 1, note 54.

[ back ] 41. In-depth treatments include Atchity 1978, Taplin 1980, Edwards 1997:269–286, Rabel 1989, Nagy 1990a:250–255 and 2015d (part 4), Stanley 1993, and Becker 1995, but of course these are only the tip of the iceberg.

[ back ] 42. Revermann terms the kind of variation to which he refers “rhapsodic intervention” and explicitly rejects attested multiforms for the passage on the shield addressed by his article. His assumptions and methodology differ considerably from my own, but I find his thesis helpful to think with about the transmission of the shield.

[ back ] 43. See also Slatkin 1991:111 and above, p. 3, note 3.

[ back ] 44. Leaf in fact attempts to reconstruct such a tradition, which he calls “The Tale of the Great Foray.” See Dué 2002:61–62. See alao Lambrou 2018.

[ back ] 45. The translation is that of Cohoon (1932).

[ back ] 46. Dictys of Crete survives only in a Latin translation of the fourth century CE, although internal evidence and a papyrus fragment of the Greek text date Dictys considerably earlier, to between 66 and roughly 200 CE. To what extent we may use the Latin text of Dictys to reconstruct earlier traditions is a difficult but potentially productive question. In my 2002 book (ch. 3) I show that although Dictys’ fictional retelling of the Trojan War makes substantial departures from the Homeric account, he is sometimes in agreement with very old sources against the Iliad. For a survey of the relationship between the text of the Iliad and that of Dictys see Venini 1981.

[ back ] 47. Cf: Iliad 10.224–225: σύν τε δύ᾽ ἐρχομένω καί τε πρὸ ὃ τοῦ ἐνόησεν / ὅππως κέρδος ἔῃ “When two men go together, one perceives even before the other / what is the best strategy”).

[ back ] 48. On these three epithets for Achilles and their connections to ambush see also Dué and Ebott 2010 ad 10.316, which I expand upon here. Dunkle (1997) notes that Achilles’ speed is not what brings down Hektor in Iliad 22.

[ back ] 49. It is worth noting, however, as Mary Ebbott points out to me, that Dolon is overcome not purely by speed, but a combination of mētis and speed. The same is true for Orsilokhos and indeed Achilles, in the variations in which he is killed by ambush (discussed below).

[ back ] 50. The ancient evidence is collected in Burgess 2009:38–39; see also Burgess 1995.

[ back ] 51. See Dictys of Crete 3.2ff., Dares 27, Hyginus 110, and Philostratus, Heroikos 51.1, with Burgess 1995.

[ back ] 52. For extended demonstrations of how the poetics of Homeric poetry work differently and must be approached differently, see Muellner 2006 and forthcoming and Dué and Ebbott 2010.

[ back ] 53. See, e.g., Roughan, Blackwell, and Smith 2016; Wauke, Schufreider, and Smith (forthcoming); and Churik, Smith, and Blackwell (forthcoming).