The Theban Epics

  Davies, Malcolm. 2015. The Theban Epics. Hellenic Studies Series 69. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 5. Alcmaeonis

Our sources variously report the epic’s title as Ἀλκμαιονίς, Ἀλκμαιωνίς, and Ἀλκμεωνίς. Ἀλκμέων is the Attic form of the hero’s name (cf. Radt, TrGF 4 p. 149). The briefest comparison of its title with its fragments (especially F1, F5, and F7: see pages 146–148 below for texts) will confirm that the Alcmaeonis, in Huxley’s words, “was wide in scope and diffuse in content” (1969:52). Indeed, it is quite impossible to relate any of the directly quoted fragments to the legend that gave the poem its name, and the relevance of the remaining fragments is only marginally more obvious.

Clearly the poem must have covered a great deal of the same ground as that other epic, the Epigoni, and several scholars have tried to derive the variant mythographic traditions from the two respective works. We shall cast a skeptical eye upon their efforts in Appendix 1 (pages 123–131 below). Here let it suffice to remind ourselves that Prinz (1979:187) has readvanced the bracing hypothesis that Alcmaeonis and Epigoni are merely different names for one poem. [1] But this conclusion does not necessarily follow from Prinz’s effective demolition of Bethe’s idea that our late sources and mythographers preserve traces of two separate epic traditions about the Epigoni’s expedition and Alcmaeon’s act of matricide. Prinz may well have established that in fact these late authors only convey a single epic tradition on these matters. A second epic may have existed nonetheless, which happens not to have left its trace in later writers.

The epic is generally dated ca. 600 in the wake of Wilamowitz (1884:73n2 and 214n13), who based his conclusion on the evidence of F5 (see page 122). For a bibliography of scholars who subscribe to this see Prinz 1979:39n13. {115|116}


F1 (see page 146 for text)

We cannot say how the poem came to mention the incident of Phocus’ murder by his brothers: but it would be rash, with, for instance, Stoneman (1981:52n50), to suspect misattribution. Such treacherous acts are one of the features which distinguish non-Homeric from Homeric epics: see Griffin 1977:46 = 2001:378–379. On Phocus in general see West’s note on Hesiod Theogony 1004; J. Fontenrose, “The Cult and Myth of Pyrros at Delphi,” California Studies in Classical Antiquity 2 (1969): 115–116 and n20. On the story of his murder and Peleus’ consequent exile see K. Wesselmann, Mythische Erzählstrukturen in Herodots Historien” (Berlin 2011) 229–230. For similar stories of fratricide see Fontenrose, 247. For the specific pattern of two murderous brothers envious of a third half-brother, who is “different” and often “the child of an alien mother,” cf. the fate of Erpr in Norse literature’s Hamðismal: see U. Dronke, The Poetic Edda I (Oxford 1969) 164 (text) and 196–197 (discussion and parallels).

1 2: on the phraseology in general see M. Campbell, Echoes and Imitations of Early Epic in Apoll onius Rhodius (Mnemosyne suppl. 72 [1981]) 8.

1. τροχοειδέϊ: this instance of the adj. should be added to LSJ s.v. as perhaps the earliest and certainly the only genuinely literal use (elsewhere of Delos’ oval lake vel sim.).

2. ἀνὰ χεῖρα τανύσσας: Schwartz’s correction in his edition of the Euripidean scholia ἐνὶ χεῖρι τινάξας is not necessary, though the instances cited by LSJ s.v. ἀνα-τανύω are late (Callimachus Hymn 1.30 ἀντανύσασα θεὴ μέγαν ὑψόθι πῆχυν, IG 14.4–5 ὅταν ζωαλ[κέα χεῖρα | ἀντανύσηις; Apollonius of Rhodes I 344 δεξιτερὴν ἀνὰ χεῖρα τανύσσατο; Anth. Planud. 101.3 (‘Hρακλῆα) ἀντανύοντα κορύνην). The present instance is absent from both LSJ and LfrgE s.v.

3. |ἀξίνηι ἐϋχάλκωι: cf. Iliad XIII 612 | ἀξίνην ἐΰχαλκον ἐλαΐνωι ἀμφὶ πελέκκωι. µέσα νῶτα: μέσα νώτων Kinkel sine adnotatione. R. Peppmüller, “Zu den Fragmenten der griechischen Epiker,” Neue Jahrbücher für Philologie und Pädogogik 133 (1886): 466 noted that we would expect, in the light of Odyssey x 161–162 κατ’ ἄκνηστιν μέσα νῶτα | πλῆξα, what Schwartz then revealed as the paradosis. (Kinkel’s text was still quoted by Renehan, Greek Lexicographical Notes: Second Series [Hypomnemata 74 (1982)] 99). {117|118}

F2 (see page 146 for text)

The fragment also shows us an attitude to the dead as distant as can be conceived from what prevails in the Homeric epics. There, because, in Jasper Griffin’s words (Homer on Life and Death 3), the poet is “anxious … to underline the absolute separation of the world of the dead from that of the living,” the ψυχή of the dead warrior flees immediately to Hades and there is no regular communication between the living and the deceased to blur the sharp distinction between their two states. In our fragment, on the contrary, the corpses are treated with care and consideration, and offered food, drink, and garlands.

For introductions to Greek funeral rites see e.g. Boardman and Kurtz, Greek Burial Customs (London 1971) esp. 142–162; R. Garland, The Greek Way of Death (London 1985); K. Meuli’s Gesammelte Schriften (Basel 1975) 2 index I s.v. “Tod und Trauer” (1240–1242). Cf. Burkert, Griechische Religion 293–300 = Engl. trans. 190–193. For analysis of the mental or emotional states that led the Greeks to treat the dead as if they were still alive see, for instance, Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational 136 and 157n6; Nilsson, “Letter to Professor Arthur D. Nock on Some Fundamental Concepts in the Science of Religion,” Harvard Theological Review 42 (1949): 85–86 = Opuscula Selecta 3.359–361 and GGR 13 40–41 and 182; A. Schnaufer, Frühgriechischer Totenglaube (Spudasmata 20 [1970]) 8–9, etc.

1. χαµαιστρώτου … στιβάδος: cf. Euripides Trojan Women 507 στιβάδα πρὸς χαμαιπετῆ, which confirms Welcker’s correction (1865:2.554). LSJ ignores the present (and earliest) attestation of the noun and still interprets the adjective (ἀπ. λεγ.) as applying to νέκυς. στιβάς is not used by Homer. The considerate treatment of the corpses here contrasts strongly with the state of affairs in the Iliad, where (see Griffin as cited, index s.v. “Corpse, fate of”) the mistreatment and mutilation of dead bodies on the battlefield is often described or imagined in order to suggest the antithesis “alive, a hero; dead, a mindless ghost and a corpse not even recognizable, unless the gods will miraculously intervene” (Griffin 138). On the nature of the leaves from which such beds were constructed see J. Köchling, De coronarum apud antiquos vi atque usu (Giessen 1914) 49.

2 3. θάλειαν δαῖτα |: the same phrase at line-end in Iliad VII 475, Odyssey iii 420, Homeric Hymn to Hermes 480, ἐν δαιτὶ θαλείηι | at Odyssey viii 76 (δαιτὶ … θαλείηι |, {118|119} ibid. 99). For the offering of food to the dead see in particular Meuli, Phyllobolia (von der Mühll Festschrift [1946]) 189–201 = Gesammelte Schriften 2.911–924; R. N. Thönges-Stringaris, “Das griechische Totenmahl,” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Athenische Abteilung 80 (1965): 1–91, esp. 65–68; Boardman and Kuntz (as cited in the introduction to this fragment) 40, 66, 75–76, 214–215, and Garland (as there cited), general index s.v. “feeding the dead”; J.-M. Dentzer, Le motif du banquet couché dans le proche-orient et le monde grec du VIIc au IVc siècle avant J.-C. (Rome 1982) 529–556, esp. 534–536. Most recently, E. P. Baughan, Couched in Death: Klinai and Identity in Anatolia and Beyond (Madison 2013) 182–192, with bibliography 392n48.

3. ποτήρια: the word does not occur in Homer, but is early, being attested on the famous “Nestor’s cup” (750–700 BC: cf. Meiggs-Lewis, Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions, p. 1). The use to which the object is here put is even less Homeric. “The dead are always thirsty” (Boardman and Kurtz, 209; cf. W. K. C. Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion [London 1935] 192n14; G. Zuntz, Persephone [Oxford 1971] 373–374). See further Garland, general index s.v. “drink offerings”; and Meuli, Thönges-Stringaris, and Dentzer as cited above on lines 2–3. στεφάνους τ’ ἐπὶ κρασὶν ἔθηκεν: again, the picture is doubly un-Homeric: Homer does not mention the use of garlands by the living (see Severyns and Schmidt as cited in n6; G. Murray, Rise of the Greek Epic 4 [Oxford 1934] 122; M. Blech, Studien zum Kranz bei den Griechen [Berlin 1982] 390–391). Besides, in funeral ceremonies “the head of the dead person was generally decked with garlands and fillets, in a manner unknown to the Homeric age, as a sign, it appears, of respect for the higher sanctity of the departed” (Rohde 1.220 = Engl. trans. 164). In view of our discussion above, we may doubt whether Homer’s silence was due to ignorance, but it certainly exists and contrasts with the present explicitness. For ancient evidence as to the crowning of the dead with garlands see Köchling, as cited, in 1n, 48–52; Rohde 1.220n2 = Engl. trans. 189n40; M. Blech 81–108. For a survey of the archeological data see Boardman and Kurtz; Index s.v. “Wreaths”; and Blech as cited.

F3 (see page 146 for text)

On the constitution of the Etymologicum Gudianum, our source for this fragment, see F. Schironi, I frammenti di Aristarco di Samotracia negli etimologici bizantini (Hypomnemata 152 [2004]) 22–24. The views of Aristarchus on Homer are sometimes reported in this lexicon (see Schironi’s index p. 604), and since the present fragment is, like the two preceding, very un-Homeric, one might speculate that it was originally quoted by Aristarchus to contrast Homer’s practice with that of οἱ νεώτεροι (see Schironi’s index p. 608). A. Henrichs, “Philodems De pietate als mythographische Quelle,” Cronache Ercolanesi 5 (1975): 36–38 discusses this and other lexicographical references to Zagreus’ role in Greek poetry and derives them from Apollodorus’ περὶ θεῶν. On the identity of the Seleucus mentioned in the present context see Henrichs 37n172. {119|120}

πότνια Γῆ: cf. [Homer] Epigram 7.1. Homer never uses the epithet of this divinity. Indeed the nearest parallel in early Greek literature is Homeric Hymn to Demeter 54 | πότνια Δημήτηρ. Compare in later writers ὦ πότνια χθών (Aeschylus Libation Bearers 722; Euripides Hecuba 70; cf. Sophocles Philoctetes 395 [addressed to the earth] μᾶτερ πότνι’). θεῶν πανυπέρτατε πάντων: add this occurrence of the adj. to LSJ s.v. 2 (“supreme”), in front of the reference to Callimachus Hymn 1.91. For the construction compare Sophocles Antigone 338 θεῶν … τὰν ὑπερτάταν, Γᾶν, Aristophanes Birds 1765 δαιμόνων ὑπέρτατε (with Dunbar ad loc.), Plato Timaeus 40c γῆν … πρώτην καὶ πρεσβυτάτην θεῶν. Compare too ὕψιστος as used of Zeus (cf. LSJ s.v. 2): [9] see Wackernagel 1916:213–214 (“sind ὕπατος ὑπέρτατος summus die normalen Ausdrücke für das, was ὕψιcτος ausdrücken soll”). According to Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion, 146n36, “the whole jingle with which the line ends does not otherwise occur in extant epic.” Perhaps it is hymnic in origin: compare the figura sermonis at Aeschylus Agamemnon 1485–1486. Διὸς παναιτίου πανεργέτα; Eumenides 200 εἷς τὸ πᾶν ἔπραξας ὢν παναίτιος; and cf. Norden, Agnostos Theos (Leipzig 1913) index (p. 410) s.v. “πᾶν, πάντα u.ä. in Prädikationen Gottes”; D. Fehling, Die Wiederholungsfiguren und ihr Gebrauch bei den Griechen vor Gorgias (Berlin 1969) 201–202.

For a bibliography of speculations as to the original context of the fragment, see G. Arrigoni, “La maschera e lo specchio: Il caso di Perseo e Dioniso a Delfi e l’enigma dei Satiri,” Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica 73 (2003): 38n91. {120|121}

F4 (see page 147 for text)

“The accounts differ as to whom Tydeus killed, but they agree that he fled from Calydon to Adrastus at Argos, and that Adrastus purified him from the murder … and gave him his daughter to wife”: Frazer, Loeb Apollodorus 1.72n1. For lists of these variant accounts see Frazer; Erbse on Σ T Iliad XIV 114 (3.584); Pfeiffer on Callimachus fr. 680; J. Fontenrose, “Daulis at Delphi,” California Studies in Classical Antiquity 2 (1969): 123n39. Cf. Fowler 2013:413. Note especially Hesiod fr. 14 MW (“Tydeus fratres patris insidiantes interfecit et ad Adrastum fugit,” as Merkelbach and West ad loc. summarize its contents). For an interesting study of the different versions see Fontenrose 118–124. Immediately after citing the Alcmaeonis and Pherecydes, Apollodorus’ narrative (I 8.5–6) proceeds to describe how Tydeus was arraigned by Agrius for his murderous act, and how he fled into exile, joined the expedition against Thebes, and met his death there. We are next told how the sons of Agrius (including Thersites and Onchestus) deposed and imprisoned Oeneus and gave the kingship to their father. Diomedes then returns secretly from Argos with Alcmaeon, puts to death most of the sons of Agrius, and (in view of Oeneus’ extreme old age) sets Oeneus’ son-in-law Andraemon in charge of the kingdom. However, Thersites and Onchestus have escaped to the Peloponnese, and there they ambush and kill Oeneus. Diomedes conveys his corpse to Argos, buries it there, and then proceeds to Troy.

Because of its position, and its unexpected mention of Alcmaeon, several scholars have derived this account too from the Alcmaeonis. They are then obliged to explain its relationship to the state of affairs implied by two passages in the Iliad where Thoas son of Andraemon is represented (II 638–639) as leader of the Aetolians (οὐ γὰρ ἔτ’ Οἰνῆος μεγαλήτορος υἱέες ἦσαν, | οὐδ’ ἄρ’ ἔτ’ αὐτὸς ἔην, θάνε δὲ ξανθὸς Μελέαγρος) and Tydeus’ exile is mentioned (XIV 115–132) but not its cause, even though Agrius, Melas, and Oeneus are specifically named.

Homer’s avoidance of tales of internecine strife, and his employment of Tydeus as a paradigm for his son Diomedes (see page 37 above), will amply explain the lack of detail in the latter passage. The relationship between the two epics remains problematic. Are the two brief and elliptical Iliadic references dependent upon the fuller account of the Alcmaeonis, as W. Kullmann, Die Quellen der Ilias (Hermes Einzelschriften 14 [1960]) 144–148 assumes? Or did the Alcmaeonis expand and elaborate the passing and riddling allusions contained within the Iliad? The whole question received an appropriately cautious and circumspect treatment from Ø. Andersen (“Thersites und Thoas vor Troia,” Symbolae Osloenses 57 [1982]: 7–34), who tends (rightly, I think) towards the latter hypothesis. He observes (among other things) that the three different versions of the identity of Tydeus’ victim which we find in Apollodorus I 8.5 look like different attempts to clarify the vague words of Homer at Iliad XIV 115–125. {121|122}

F5 (see page 147 for text)

We do at least know enough to say that this fragment too is highly un-Homeric, since the description of the descent of Agamemnon’s scepter from generation to generation of the Pelopid family in Iliad II 100–108 sedulously avoids the least suggestion of internecine strife.

F6 (see page 148 for text)

F7 (see page 148 for text)

On the papyri that are our source for Philodemus’ On Piety, see D. Obbink’s edition, vol. 1 (Oxford 1996) 24–80; on the work itself, 81–99. {122|}


[ back ] 1. So already H. Düntzer, Die Fragmente der epischen Poesie der Griechen (Cologne 1840) 7; Welcker 1865:2.404–405, etc.

[ back ] 2. Perhaps a “Schwindelautor”: for arguments on either side see J. Schlereth, De Plutarchi quae feruntur Parallelis minoribus (Freiburg 1931) 114–115; Jacoby, “Die Überlieferung von Ps. Plutarchs Parallela Minora und die Schwindelautoren,” Mnemosyne 8 (1940): 127 = Abhandlungen zur griechischen Geschichtsschreibung 407. On pseudo-Plutarch see now Cameron, Greek Mythography in the Ancient World (Oxford 2004) 125.

[ back ] 3. See, for example, M. C. van der Kolf, Quaeritur quomodo Pindarus fabulas tractaverit quidque in eis mutaverit (Rotterdam 1923) 51–52; or G. Huxley, Pindar’s Vision of the Past (Belfast 1975) 19–20; cf. Lloyd-Jones, “Modern Interpretation of Pindar: The Second Pythian and Seventh Nemean Odes,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 93 (1973): 137 = Academic Papers [I] 152 and n141.

[ back ] 4. Frazer was wrong, then, to suggest (Loeb Apollodorus, 2.51–52n2) that Pherecydes may preserve an “original tradition” whereby “Peleus, not Telamon, was described as the murderer of Phocus.”

[ back ] 5. ἔοικεν ἀγνοεῖν τὰ περὶ Ψαμάθης ὁ πoιητής says Σ T Iliad XVIII 432 (4.520 Erbse) of Homer. On Psamathe/Psamatheia see West on Hesiod Theogony 260, Kannicht on Euripides Helen 6–7.

[ back ] 6. Cf. Severyns 1928:236–237; M. Schmidt, Die Erklärungen zum Weltbild Homers und zur Kultur der Heroenzeit in den bT-Scholien zur Ilias (Zetemata 62 [1976]) 215–218 (with bibliography in n1); Μ. Blech, Studien zum Kranz bei den Griechen (Berlin 1982) 390–391.

[ back ] 7. W. K. C. Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion (Princeton 1935) 146n36 states that its source (the Etymologicum Gudianum) was not put together before the twelfth century and adds “the experiment of reading the line aloud has made me at least hope that it was not composed until after the classical age.” But see Henrichs as cited.

[ back ] 8. Against Jane Harrison’s treatment of our passage in Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion 2 (Cambridge 1908) 480–481 see Zuntz, Persephone (Oxford 1971) 81n5.

[ back ] 9. For studies of the adjective’s application to Zeus see Cook, Zeus (Cambridge 1925) 2.876–890; Nock, “The Gild of Zeus Hypsistos,” Harvard Theological Review 29 (1936): 56–87 = Essays on Religion and the Ancient World 1.416–442.

[ back ] 10. Most scholars (e.g. Burkert, Homo Necans [Berlin 1972] 122 = Engl. trans. 104) assume it presupposes the cannibalistic feast of Thyestes; and J. G. Howie (“The Revision of Myth in Pindar Olympian 1,” Papers of the Liverpool Latin Seminar 4 [1983]: 279 = Exemplum and Myth: Criticism and Creation [Leeds 2012] 164) thinks it entails Pelops’ murder of Myrtilus.

[ back ] 11. The dating of the Alcmaeonis assumes great importance for Kullmann, since he supposes that it will supply a terminus ad quem for the Iliad: against this notion that the Iliad presupposes the existence of the Alcmaeonis see page 121 above.