The Oral Palimpsest: Exploring Intertextuality in the Homeric Epics

  Tsagalis, Christos. 2008. The Oral Palimpsest: Exploring Intertextuality in the Homeric Epics. Hellenic Studies Series 29. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 6. Viewing from the Walls, Viewing Helen: Language and Indeterminacy in the ‘Teichoscopia’


The literature on Helen in the Iliad is extensive, but it has been mainly concerned with questions of a genetic nature. Scholars have been interested in the dilemma concerning her innocence or guilt, trying to examine and trace its mythological origin. Even very recent efforts have adopted the basis for this dilemma, although they interpret it in terms of its poetic function.

The aim of this chapter is to examine Helen’s language in the ‘Teichoscopia’ in an effort to determine its poetic mechanics and to disclose Helen’s status and function in this episode. In other words, how does Helen’s diction reflect her thematic marginalization within the Iliadic plot?

Genre-Mixing and Formulaic Misuse


Helen’s figurative death

When Priam tells Helen to identify a huge Achaean warrior in the battlefield looking like a king, she replies with a lengthy speech that has, in its larger part, nothing to do with the question the Trojan king had asked her (Iliad III 172–180): [6]

῾῾αἰδοῖός τέ μοί ἐσσι, φίλε ἑκυρέ, δεινός τε.
ὡς ὄφελεν // θάνατός μοι ἁδεῖν κακός, // ὁππότε δεῦρο
υἱέϊ σῷ ἑπόμην, θάλαμον γνωτούς τε λιποῦσα
παῖδά τε τηλυγέτην καὶ ὁμηλικίην // ἐρατεινήν.
ἀλλὰ τά γ᾿ οὐκ ἐγένοντο· τὸ καὶ κλαίουσα τέτηκα.
τοῦτο δέ τοι ἐρέω, ὅ μ᾿ ἀνείρεαι ἠδὲ μεταλλᾷς·
οὗτός γ᾿ Ἀτρείδης εὐρὺ κρείων Ἀγαμέμνων,
ἀμφότερον βασιλεύς τ᾿ ἀγαθὸς κρατερός τ᾿ αἰχμητής.
δαὴρ αὖτ᾿ ἐμὸς ἔσκε // κυνώπιδος, εἴ ποτ᾿ ἔην γε.᾿᾿

“Always to me, beloved father, you are feared and respected;
and I wish bitter death had been what I wanted, when I came hither
following your son, forsaking my chamber, my kinsmen,
my growing child, and the loveliness of girls my own age.
It did not happen that way: and now I am worn with weeping.
This now I will tell you in answer to the question you asked me.
That man is Atreus’ son Agamemnon, widely powerful,
at the same time a good king and a strong spearfighter,
once my kinsman, slut that I am. Did this ever happen?”

Helen begins her speech by addressing her father-in-law (ἑκυρέ) [
7] with the epithets αἰδοῖος (III 172) and δεινός (III 172), which are only attested together here and in Iliad XVIII 394. [8] In Iliad III 172, the constituent items of the formula αἰδοῖός τε … δεινός τε have been separated by the family term (ἑκυρέ); they notionally refer to (albeit in a different case) and present a new combination of the formula αἰδοίη τε φίλη τε. This lexical amalgam is an innovative use of traditional material because the dictional allomorph φίλη τε καὶ αἰδοίη / αἰδοίη τε φίλη τε is never previously employed with family terms. Αἰδοῖος acquires here a specific emotive force, since it does not simply mean ‘revered’ [9] but expresses a new connotation for a state of intimacy, not just veneration and respect, which emphasizes the integral part that Helen plays in Priam’s family. [10] Moreover, this expression of emotion unfolds a poetic strategy characterizing Helen’s language throughout the poem: she constantly indicates her preference for Priam and Hector, who are the only people in Troy that show her respect despite the pain and grief she causes the Trojan people. Formulaic reshaping gives a personal touch to the beginning of her speech, underscoring her apologetic tone, which will acquire a climactic self-abusive pitch by the end of her speech. [11]

By uttering a death wish, a speaker postulates his or her own death expressing a level of anxiety and desperation that virtually annuls the very notion of existence, the primary precondition for the utterance of speech. The speaking “I” adopts a self-destructive stance, wishing for its own effacement from life and, by extension, for its own poetic death. Nagy, [15] drawing on the iconoclastic work of Dumézil [16] in the field of Indo-European studies and of Detienne [17] in the area of Greek culture, has convincingly shown that the old Indo-European bipolarity between praise and blame is also at work in Homeric poetry, which confers praise and blame to various heroes. Keeping this observation in mind, one can see how Helen takes a paradoxical stance by constructing her fictive death by means of language. As a creature of speech, she blames herself while being, ipso tempore, immortalized through the medium of poetry. [18] In the phrase ὡς ὄφελεν θάνατος the word θάνατος is modified by κακός. This is not the only use of the adjective κακός with θάνατος, [19] but it is the only expression of a death wish accompanied by the nominative of a noun qualified by an adjective. [20] The use of the aorist infinitive ἁδεῖν in juxtaposition to the phrase θάνατος κακός creates an oxymoronic effect, since ἁδεῖν means to “please”, to “delight”, to “gratify.” [21] In the Iliad ἁνδάνω is used with a negative particle (I 24 = I 378: ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ Ἀτρείδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονι ἥνδανε θυμῷ and XV 674: οὐδ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἔτ᾿ Αἴαντι μεγαλήτορι ἥνδανε θυμῷ), [22] indicating that something is not pleasing to one’s heart. By speaking of Helen’s imagined death, the Iliad looks back at her picture and reads it anew. [23] For Helen is supposed to be the mythical paragon of beauty bringing pleasure when people look at her. Some verses earlier in the same Book of the Iliad, e. g. when the old Trojan men look at Helen, stress her beauty: αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν (Iliad III 158), [24] since she recalls in their minds the picture of Aphrodite, the divine paragon of beauty. And yet she who is the most beautiful woman in the world, who is famous for a concept regarded as ἀρετή and praised accordingly, she is destined to bring grief to both Greeks and Trojans. The phrase θάλαμον γνωτούς τε λιποῦσα brings forth further associations triggered by the abundant use of lament terminology and inspires a tone reminiscent of funerary epigrams. [25] The phraseology employed by Helen alludes to the description of someone who has passed away. [26] It recalls an epitaph dedicated to a woman who has left behind husband, family, daughter and friends. [27] CEG 486 strikes a similar note:

The participle προλιπο͂σα, like the Homeric λιποῦσα, is a marked term employed for leaving behind dear ones or something belonging to the cycle of life. λιποῦσα is attested only three more times in the entire poem (Iliad XVI 857, XXII 363, XXIV 144):

ὣς ἄρα μιν εἰπόντα τέλος θανάτοιο κάλυψεν·
ψυχὴ δ᾿ ἐκ ῥεθέων πταμένη Ἄϊδόσδε βεβήκει,
ὃν πότμον γοόωσα, λιποῦσ᾿ ἀνδροτῆτα καὶ ἥβην.

He spoke, and as he spoke the end of death closed in upon him,
and the soul fluttering free of the limbs went down into Death’s house
mourning her destiny, leaving youth and manhood behind her.

Iliad XVI 855–857 = Iliad XXII 361–363

῾῾βάσκ᾿ ἴθι, Ἶρι ταχεῖα, λιποῦσ᾿ ἕδος Οὐλύμποιο᾿᾿

“Go forth, Iris the swift, leaving your place on Olympos”

Iliad XXIV 144

In the first two cases the participle λιποῦσα is used in reference to the departure of Patroclus’ and Hector’s souls to Hades, whereas in the third (Iliad XXIV 144), it takes a literal object (ἕδος). In Helen’s speech (Iliad III 174) the participle λιποῦσα, used in reference to her own advent to Troy and placed at the hexameter’s end, is deviating from its typical localization right after the trochaic caesura. Helen once more misuses an expression by shifting its position within the verse and changing its function. This localization shift is accompanied by a semantic one. By saying that she has left behind family and friends, Helen virtually implies that she has gone to Hades, that Troy is mutatis mutandis a metonymy for her figurative death. [

It seems that Helen, like Penelope in the Odyssey, ravels and unravels her own figurative web of past memories and present sufferings, employing lamentation terminology and family vocabulary in an intricate verbal game that makes her speech remain endlessly suspended and unfinished. By oscillating between two equally plausible representations, [30] which can be resumed in the latent polarization between θάνατος and θάλαμος, she introduces a key opposition in her speech. The semantic fields expressed by both θάνατος and θάλαμος are extensive, since both terms contain a large number of allusive references that shed their light upon the particular lexical use of the term. θάνατος is always masculine [31] and, like its divine representation (Θάνατος), does not incarnate a horrible power of destruction [32] so much as express a state, a condition beyond the grave, a point of no return. The Iliad is also familiar with the other side of death, the horrible Κήρ, expressing the inexorable, pitiless divinity that incarnates a radical alterity and brings destruction to mortals. In the ‘Shield of Achilles’ Κήρ is represented as “… holding either a warrior still alive, despite his recent wound, or another still not wounded, or another already dead whom she drags by his feet into the fighting while she is wearing a cloth on her shoulders, made red by human blood.” [33] The death Helen wishes for is rather a point of no return and not a horrible end at the hands of furious, bloodthirsty deities. [34] This distinction is important for understanding the intricate nexus between θάνατος and θάλαμος. The opposition on which their polarization is based is an antithesis of different conditions of being and not being, not of contradicting powers. θάλαμος encompasses a semantic field that includes a nuptial dimension on two distinct but complementary levels (that of her marriage and of her bridal competition) and an erotic dimension. It alludes not only to Helen’s nuptial chamber and conjugal status as Menelaus’ wife, but also to her bridal competition, which will soon be repeated in front of her eyes in Troy. [35] The juxtaposition of these two terms bespeaks their interconnection. Once the θάλαμος of Helen and Menelaus is abandoned, Helen must die, albeit a pleasing death.

Formulaic deviation from the standard norm is also at work in the case of ὁμηλικίην ἐρατεινήν. ὁμηλικίην is attested five times in the Iliad (III 175; V 326; XIII 431; XIII 485; XX 465), but is only accompanied here by an epithet. [39] ἐρατεινήν is employed thirteen times in the entire epic. It usually (nine times) [40] modifies a place-name in verse-terminal position, whereas it accompanies a simple noun like ὁμηλικίη, ἠνορέη, ἀμβροσίη only four times. In this light ὁμηλικίην ἐρατεινήν (III 175) is a new coin based on the combination of two paradigmatic formulas giving a unique color to Helen’s language. [41] The interpretation of the specific semantics of this formulaic deviation coincides with my previous claim about the figurative death of Helen. Through pattern deixis, which springs from formulaic localization at a specific slot within the hexameter and from the context-specific use of the cluster ὁμηλικίην ἐρατεινήν, [42] it may be plausibly argued that this expression offers a glance at Helen’s allusive language. Helen’s affinity with her age-group [43] recalls the endearment typical of one’s fatherland [44] but also points to her paradoxical situation, which is covertly expressed by the fact that she has also left behind her daughter, [45] who is fully grown or was, rather, born long ago. The epithets τηλυγέτη and ἐρατεινή refer to the chronemics [46] of Helen’s language, i.e. not simply to time, but to its manipulation and perception by the speaker, who makes both temporal distality (τηλυγέτην) [47] and proximity (ὁμηλικίη) operate in order to create a sorrowful tone reminiscent of funerary epigrams. [48] Helen’s chronemics, based on the innovative combination of the paradigmatic formulas τηλυγέτη and ὁμηλικίην ἐρατεινήν, specify that her perception of time is not linear but rather circular and mixed, underscored by emotional factors.

Helen and Achilles

A significant part of Helen’s linguistic marginalization in the ‘Teichoscopia’ proper is founded upon the use and function of the metanastic term τηλύγετος. [53] Achilles is the κάλλιστος and ἄριστος among the Achaeans in the masculine form; Helen is the most beautiful and the best in the woman’s form. [54] Both are marginal figures in the sense that they are secluded and excluded from the main action for the largest portion of the poem, Achilles in his hut and Helen within the walls of Troy. They both have partly divine parentage (Helen is the daughter of Zeus, Achilles the son of Thetis) and as Helen is the cause of the Trojan War, so Achilles is the cause of its destructive change against the Achaeans. Achilles’ γόος for his dead friend Patroclus (Iliad XIX 315–337) and Helen’s speech to Priam (Iliad III 172–180) share the same preoccupation with the past, since Achilles remembers his father and his son, and Helen recalls her γνωτούς and her daughter. Achilles’ speech is more elaborate, imbued with what has been called the ‘expansion aesthetic’, [55] a tendency for the Iliadic tradition to expand and refine ideas and feelings when they are attributed to the best of the Achaeans. In this way the best warrior becomes the best speaker, as if the tradition of the Iliad has reserved for the poem’s main hero the privilege to distinguish himself not only through his might and subsequent marginalization within the action, but also through the medium of speech, thus making his liminality warlike as well as poetic. Helen shares a similar poetic and dictional liminality, which does not find the overflowing outburst of sensitivity characterizing Achilles’ diction, but distinguishes itself by its abruptness of tone, its wavering hesitancy between past and present, its family-oriented wording, and, finally, its blameful self-referentiality. From this perspective, I am inclined to adopt a figurative reading of Iliad XIX 324–325, where Achilles uses such an emotionally weighty phrase: … ὃ δ᾿ ἀλλοδαπῷ ἐνὶ δήμῳ // εἵνεκα ῥιγεδανῆς Ἑλένης Τρωσὶν πολεμίζω. Helen is ῥιγεδανή (shrilling/bringing ῥῖγος) both dictionally and poetically. [56] Achilles presents himself as being in a foreign land (ἀλλοδαπῷ ἐνὶ δήμῳ), where the horror of a woman has made him fight an endless war. Likewise, he and Helen painfully realize that they are exiled in a foreign country literally and figuratively alike, both in plot and in diction.

This approach revolutionizes the very foundations of the traditional dilemma of Helen’s innocence or guilt. She refuses to abide by the epic rules and thus agree to pigeonhole herself in Iliadic or Odyssean nomenclature, despite the general assumption that the Iliad depicts her as guilty, since she is presented as having deliberately followed Paris to Troy, whereas the Odyssey promotes her innocence. This taxonomical dichotomy reflects a canonistic model made up by scholars who are willing to see a correspondence between a tradition and the representation of a character. The innate linearity of this approach aims at accounting for the evolution of a poetic persona, but considerably fails to dovetail with the sort of synchronic multifariousness of which epic poetry is so fond. By employing the term τηλυγέτην Helen objects to her classification and expresses her negation of the role of Menelaus’ good wife back in Sparta. The memory of the past discloses the deliberate paradox Helen herself ingenuously concocts, a paradox revealing her foreignness, both literally and metaphorically, to the world of the Iliad.


The whole part of this second verse describing Agamemnon stands in apposition to his name and modifies it through its chiastic order (Iliad III 179):

βασιλεύς τ᾿ ἀγαθός
κρατερός τ᾿ αἰχμητής

The noun-adjective/adjective-noun construction implies a strong parallelism but also alludes to a contrast, which has—after Book I—become a locus communis in the Iliad: Agamemnon is a great king but not such a great warrior, despite his future Iliadic aristeia. In this way, Helen looks back to the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon in Iliad I, engaging the audience to recall what had happened. Given that Helen describes Agamemnon in this way because she is ignorant of his quarrel with Achilles and has in mind the picture of Agamemnon that she knew before the war, it becomes clear how attached to the past she is, even when speaking about the present. These observations become all the more important, as they have been introduced by a truth-telling formula: τοῦτο δέ τοι ἐρέω, ὅ μ᾿ ἀνείρεαι ἠδὲ μεταλλᾷς. Not only does Helen present Agamemnon in a manner that recasts the events of Iliad I, but she also corroborates her presentation as if she were a guest replying truthfully to the questions of her host.

Helen’s language is double-bound, mirroring her effort to assimilate herself with the community, but to retain her independence at the same time. The radical instability of her diction, fluctuating between praise for Hector and Priam and self-blame, mimics the languages of both Greeks and Trojans in the Iliad. She adopts a defensive, Trojan-like stance for those she holds dear, but an aggressive, Greek-like stance towards herself, refusing to abide by the epic rules and hinting at her idiosyncratic disavowal of any effort of classification.

In this way, she avoids the dilemma of choosing sides and oscillates between not only the Achaean and Trojan communities, but also between male and female characteristics. By employing the language of blame with an auto-referential tone, Helen shifts nationality and gender at the same time: nationality because the language of νεῖκος is akin to the aggressive Achaean style, and gender because it is particular to the male warrior society.

The Silent Voice

Helen and Odysseus, just like Helen and Achilles, are mutually exclusive. There is no single scene in which they can be together. When it comes to Helen to describe Odysseus, she does so in a brief, laconic manner that is highly formulaic and colored with Odyssean formulas. This description, in opposition to Helen’s first speech, employs paradigmatic and syntagmatic formulas in equal numbers, showing that she is not so innovative as before and relies more on the repeated phrase. Helen is incapable of developing her own language for Odysseus and follows the more secure, yet less creative solution of using the ready-made formulas. She is unable to describe Odysseus in detail because he is the hero of speech par excellence, and so she has no language to rival him. She withdraws when the gifted speaker comes to mind, borrowing the tradition’s voice to simply mention his name, his place of origin, and his well-known epic qualities. Antenor is then summoned by the Iliad to do what Helen herself cannot, namely to state, albeit indirectly, that Odysseus excels above other heroes with respect to his outstanding verbal ability (III 221–224):

ἀλλ᾿ ὅτε δὴ ὄπα τε μεγάλην ἐκ στήθεος εἵη
καὶ ἔπεα νιφάδεσσιν ἐοικότα χειμερίῃσιν,
οὐκ ἂν ἔπειτ᾿ Ὀδυσῆΐ γ᾿ ἐρίσσειε βροτὸς ἄλλος.
οὐ τότε γ᾿ ὧδ᾿ Ὀδυσῆος ἀγασσάμεθ᾿ εἶδος ἰδόντες.

But when he let the great voice go from his chest, and the words came
drifting down like the winter snows, then no other mortal
man beside could stand up against Odysseus. Then we
wondered less beholding Odysseus’ outward appearance.

Intratextual and Intertextual Helen

Helen’s third reply to Priam’s question is, like the first, a long one (III 228–242):

τὸν δ᾿ Ἑλένη τανύπεπλος ἀμείβετο δῖα γυναικῶν·
῾῾οὗτος δ᾿ // Αἴας // ἐστὶ // πελώριος, ἕρκος Ἀχαιῶν.
Ἰδομενεὺς // δ᾿ ἑτέρωθεν // ἐνὶ Κρήτεσσι θεὸς ὥς
ἕστηκ᾿, // ἀμφὶ δέ μιν // Κρητῶν ἀγοὶ // ἠγερέθονται.
πολλάκι // μιν // ξείνισσεν // ἀρηΐφιλος Μενέλαος
οἴκῳ ἐν ἡμετέρῳ, // ὁπότε // Κρήτηθεν // ἵκοιτο.
νῦν δ᾿ // ἄλλους μὲν πάντας // ὁρῶ // ἑλίκωπας Ἀχαιούς,
οὕς // κεν ἔϋ // γνοίην // καί τ᾿ // οὔνομα // μυθησαίμην,
δοιὼ δ᾿ // οὐ δύναμαι ἰδέειν // κοσμήτορε λαῶν,
Κάστορά θ᾿ ἱππόδαμον καὶ πὺξ ἀγαθὸν Πολυδεύκεα,
αὐτοκασιγνήτω, // τώ μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ.
ἠ᾿ οὐκ ἐσπέσθην // Λακεδαίμονος ἐξ ἐρατεινῆς,
ἢ // δεύρω // μὲν // ἕποντο // νέεσσ᾿ ἔνι ποντοπόροισιν ,
νῦν αὖτ᾿ // οὐκ ἐθέλουσι // μάχην // καταδύμεναι // ἀνδρῶν,
αἴσχεα // δειδιότες // καὶ // ὀνείδεα // πόλλ᾿ // ἅ μοί ἐστιν.᾿᾿

Helen with the light robes and shining among women answered him:
“That one is gigantic Aias, wall of the Achaians,
and beyond him there is Idomeneus like a god standing
among the Kretans, and the lords of Krete are gathered about him.
Many a time warlike Menelaos would entertain him
in our house when he came over from Krete. And I see them
all now, all the rest of the glancing-eyed Achaians,
all whom I would know well by sight, whose names I could tell you,
yet nowhere can I see those two, the marshals of the people,
Kastor, breaker of horses, and the strong boxer, Polydeukes,
my own brothers, born with me of a single mother.
Perhaps these came not with the rest from Lakedaimon the lovely,
or else they did come here in their sea-wandering ships, yet
now they are reluctant to go with the men into battle
dreading the words of shame and all the reproach that is on me.”

Helen’s reply is virtually completed in the very first verse of her speech with the description of Ajax (Iliad III 229). The mention of Idomeneus, who stands nearby, is merely a pretext for what might seem to the eyes of a conservative critic an unnecessary autobiographical addition with no bearing on the situation. A closer look, though, shows that the reference to Idomeneus transfers Helen’s thoughts back to Sparta, when she recalls that Menelaus had often offered hospitality to Idomeneus in their palace at home.

The xenia-scene relic plays a prominent role, since it gives Helen the opportunity to refer to Menelaus, who is presented in his typical Iliadic verbal vestiture, that of a great warrior. Helen ingeniously picks up ἀρηΐφιλος, just used by Antenor, (III 206: … σὺν ἀρηϊφίλῳ Μενελάῳ) only to mimic his language:

… σὺν ἀρηϊφίλῳ Μενελάῳ· // τοὺς δ᾿ ἐγὼ ἐξείνισσα καὶ ἐν μεγάροισι φίλησα,

Antenor: III 206–207

πολλάκι μιν ξείνισσεν ἀρηΐφιλος Μενέλαος // οἴκῳ ἐν ἡμετέρῳ …

Helen: III 232–233

There are further examples corroborating the idea of a response or rather an echo coming from Antenor’s previous speech:

ἤδη γὰρ καὶ δεῦρό ποτ᾿ ἤλυθε δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς (205)

ἀλλ᾿ ὅτε δὴ Τρώεσσιν ἐν ἀγρομένοισιν ἔμιχθεν (209)

στάντων (210)

στάσκεν (217)

Antenor: III 205, 209

ἕστηκ’, ἀμφὶ δέ μιν Κρητῶν ἀγοὶ ἠγερέθονται (231)

… ὁπότε Κρήτηθεν ἵκοιτο (233)

Helen: III 231, 233

These textual analogies are a clear sign of intratextual mirroring between Antenor’s and Helen’s speeches. [
89] But since Helen speaks after Antenor and not vice versa, only her speech can implicitly allude to the preceding one. This may even hint at an indirect reply, because Helen skillfully uses the language of xenia to reshape and reformulate her past life. She consistently attempts to redefine her image by insisting on presenting her past in her own terms. In this way, she fosters the stance of the external narrator, as if she were rivaling a competitive song tradition that was fond of disparaging her through a negative portrayal. [90]


[ back ] 1. See Maronitis 1995:55–73.

[ back ] 2. Cf. Zagagi 1985:63.

[ back ] 3. See Griffin 1986:36–57.

[ back ] 4. See Martin 1989:43–47.

[ back ] 5. See Martin 1989:43–47; Pucci 2003:90. See also scholia vetera on Iliad III 126-127 (Erbse): ἀξιόχρεων ἀρχέτυπον ἀνέπλασεν ὁ ποιητὴς τῆς ἰδίας ποιήσεως.

[ back ] 6. See the classification of formulas into “paradigmatic” and “syntagmatic” by Martin 1989:164–166. Double-underscored characters indicate “paradigmatic” formulas, underlinings indicate “syntagmatic”, and italics Iliadic hapax legomena. *Note to the online edition: Double-underscores from the print edition are indicated by bolded italics here. Underlinings from the print edition appear as bold.

[ back ] 7. The word ἑκυρέ (metrically *Fεκυρέ) is a family term. Cf. Chantraine 1986–19886 (1948–1953):146 (GH 1). Helen constantly uses such terminology in her speeches (see especially her improvised lament for Hector in Iliad XXIV). She calls Hector (Iliad VI 344; Iliad XXIV 762) and Agamemnon (Iliad III 180) by the family term δαήρ.

[ back ] 8. Αἰδοῖος is attested 14 times in the Iliad: II 514; III 172; IV 402; VI 250; X 114; XI 649; XIV 210; XVIII 386 = XVIII 425; XVIII 394; XXI 75; XXI 460; XXI 479; XXII 451. In respect to the 14 attestations of the epithet αἰδοῖος, three observations can be made: (1) Only once (X 114) does it modify a proper name. In all the other cases it is used as the complement of either a family term (6 times), or a simple noun (3 times), or together with φίλη without a noun (3 times), or finally on its own (1 time); (2) The epithet αἰδοῖος is used in the formula φίλη τε καὶ αἰδοίη or inverted as αἰδοίη τε φίλη τε; (3) The epithet αἰδοῖος is also employed in the expression δεινή τε καὶ αἰδοίη or inverted in separation as αἰδοῖός τε… δεινός τε.

[ back ] 9. See Kirk 1985:289.

[ back ] 10. See Autenrieth 1984 s.v. It should be noted that Priam has just addressed her as φίλον τέκος (Iliad III 162). The whole verse δεῦρο πάροιθ᾿ ἐλθοῦσα, φίλον τέκος, ἵζε᾿ ἐμεῖο (Iliad III 162) expresses Priam’s intimacy with Helen, who is treated like a guest. Sitting next to the host is also an act pertaining to a hospitality scene. This is one more paradox concerning this presumed xenia and the fact that Helen is a member of Priam’s family. Priam and the elders of Troy see her as a guest, albeit a special and beloved one, but Helen constantly employs family terms as a new member of the old king’s family. Mackie (1996:38n80) rightly claims that “[t]he Teikhoskopia itself has the atmosphere of an Odyssean visit” and that Helen “abducted by Paris, whether willingly or unwillingly, and the cause of all the trouble at Troy, preserves her dignity by assuming the manners of a guest when she sits among the elderly Trojan men.” Mackie rightly argues that the formula ἀνείρεαι ἠδὲ μεταλλᾷς, which is an Iliadic hapax (attested 5 times in the Odyssey: i 231; vii 243; xv 390; xv 402; xix 171), is typical of guest scenes, when the host asks the guest about his identity, his origin, etc.

[ back ] 11. See Worman 2001:21–22.

[ back ] 12. Furthermore, by wishing that she had died not only does she establish a pattern of diction pointing to self-blame and self-reproach, but she also introduces a stereotypical way of speaking that refrains from answering other people’s questions directly.

[ back ] 13. For the death wish in Homeric speeches, see Lohmann 1970:96–97.

[ back ] 14. See Tsagalis 2004:42–44. Worman 2001:24n32 points to the use of the ὤφελλον expression in taunts and verbal counts. The death wish constitutes a typical feature of the Iliadic γόοι.

[ back ] 15. Nagy 1979:222–242.

[ back ] 16. Dumézil 1943.

[ back ] 17. Detienne 19732:18–27.

[ back ] 18. Helen seems to be well aware of her poetic immortality. See Iliad VI 357–358.

[ back ] 19. The word θάνατος is attested 75 times in the Iliad (22 times in the nominative, 29 times in the genitive, 24 times in the accusative). It is accompanied only 19 times by an adjective (9 times in the nominative, 8 times in the genitive and 2 times in the accusative). Θάνατος is modified by δυσηχής (3 times in the genitive), θυμοραϊστής (3 times in the nominative), κακός (2 times in the nominative and 2 times in the accusative), καταθύμιος (2 times in the nominative), μέλας (3 times in the genitive), πορφύρεος (2 times in the nominative), τανηλεγής (2 times in the genitive).

[ back ] 20. An unfulfilled wish is often expressed in Homer by the formula ὤφελ(λ)ον // ὄφελες(ν) ͺ+ infinitive. There are 6 death wishes expressed by this pattern in the Iliad. Only in III 40 and in III 173 does a nominative accompany the infinitive and only in III 173 is the nominative of a noun employed (θάνατος). On the use of the ὤφελ(λ)ον // ὄφελες(ν) + infinitive, see Chantraine 1986–19886 (1948–1953):228 (GH 2).

[ back ] 21. LSJ 9 s.v.

[ back ] 22. The imperfect ἥνδανε is also used in Iliad XVIII 510 without a negative particle, but there it means “acceptable”. Ἑαδότα (Iliad IX 173) and ἅδε (Iliad XII 80, XIII 748) are also accompanied by datives without a negation.

[ back ] 23. This deviation from formulaic standards observed in Helen’s language can be also traced in the use of δεῦρο in Iliad III 173 which, as Kirk 1985:290 notes, “occurs only here at the verse-end out of 22 Iliadic uses (and only 1/21x Od.).”

[ back ] 24. There is a brilliant wordplay between (III 158: ἀθανάτῃσι) and (III 173: θάνατος) contrasting divine immortality to the mortality of Helen. This contrast is multileveled, for it points to an oblique, even sinister aspect of things, since Helen has been actually regarded as similar in shape and beauty to the immortal goddesses (III 158). The whole death wish acquires here an oxymoronic, not to say, ironic tone. See Constantinidou 1990:49, who correctly notes that ἄλγεα πάσχειν in Iliad III 157 and πῆμα in Iliad III 160 “suggest the destructive nature of the extraordinary beauty which is meaningfully developed in verses 159–160.”

[ back ] 25. See Elmer 2005:1–39, who has extensively argued that the two tristichs spoken by Helen (Iliad III 178–180 and Iliad III 200–202) correspond to a particular subclass of epigram. Under the scope of Helen’s meta-traditional role in Homeric epic, these ‘epigrams’ become the Iliadic tradition’s ‘vehicle’ for expressing “its relation to other poetic genres and to poetry in general” (2).

[ back ] 26. Elmer 2005:1–39 building on the work of Vox 1975:67–70 argues for Helen’s epigrammatic teichoscopic style. He rightly discerns the different function of Helen’s tristich and Hector’s distich epigrams (Iliad VI 460–461 and Iliad VII 89–90). The use of οὗτος in the former and ὅδε//ἥδε in the latter indicates, according to Elmer, that Helen’s tristichs are a caption, a Beischrift, whose ‘autonomy’ consists in that “they do not require the prior formulation of a demand or request.” For Homeric οὗτος, see especially Bakker 1999:1–19.

[ back ] 27. For more examples supporting the claim that these two verses of her speech (Iliad III 174–175) recall funerary epigrams, see Peek 1955.

[ back ] 28. Pircher 1979:22 rightly says that “Der Hexameter diese künstlerisch kaum beachtlichen Gedichtes erwähnt, dass die Frau gestorben ist und ihren Gatten sowie ihre Mutter (?) zurückgelassen hat.”

[ back ] 29. See also Alcaeus fr. 283.7–8 (Voigt) and Sappho fr. 16.7–11 (Voigt), where it is clear that there is no metaphoric use of the expression λίποισα + accusative object. I do not think that this observation undermines the argument stated above because both Sappho and Alcaeus intend to present and explain Helen’s abandonment of her family as a result of the power of love. On the other hand, in Iliad III 174 Helen does not refer or allude to her falling in love with Paris. This is done only later on, in the scene with Aphrodite, but even then a polemical tone emerges in her language as she blames the goddess of love for her present sufferings.

[ back ] 30. On Penelope’s metaphorical web in the Odyssey, see Papadopoulou-Belmehdi 1994:113–116.

[ back ] 31. I am hereafter basing my approach to θάνατος on Vernant 1996:131–152.

[ back ] 32. See Vernant 1996:132.

[ back ] 33. See Iliad XVIII 536–538.

[ back ] 34. See Hesiod Shield 248–257.

[ back ] 35. It is tempting to see in θάλαμος an allusion to death, since this word also means death chamber. On the other hand, this meaning is nowhere attested in Homer. Its first attestation is in Aeschylus’ Persians 624 in the phrase θαλάμους ὑπὸ γῆς (the realms below).

[ back ] 36. For her bridal competition, see the Catalogue of Women frs. 196–204 (M.-W.).

[ back ] 37. See Maronitis 1995:60. Worman 2001:22 is right to argue that her self-abuse is due to her tactics of cementing a good relationship with her interlocutor (esp. Priam and Hector), even if she has to employ covert seduction.

[ back ] 38. Clader 1976:9 points to the oddity of Helen in presenting the Achaean heroes to Priam. The author believes that Helen’s “catalogue of the troops” represents her own bridal competition back in Sparta. On the reshaping of the ‘Teichoscopia’ as a traditional catalogue of warriors, see Edwards 1980:81–105.

[ back ] 39. The case of Iliad V 326 is somewhat different.

[ back ] 40. Modifying a place-name: Iliad II 571; II 591; II 607; III 239; III 401; III 443; V 210; XIV 226; XVIII 291. Without a place-name: Iliad III 175; VI 156; XIX 347; XIX 353.

[ back ] 41. In (Iliad III 239) Helen uses the epithet ἐρατεινῆς according to its standard function, namely modifying the place-name Λακεδαίμονος.

[ back ] 42. The expression refers, in all probability, to her pre-marriage life. See Theocritus’ term θῆλυς νεολαία (18.24).

[ back ] 43. See Edwards 1991:341: “This natural affinity within an age-group, perhaps arising from shared puberty-rites, is often stressed in Homer, e.g. at [Iliad] 3.175, 5.325–6, Od. 3.363–4, 6.23, 15.197, 22.209.”

[ back ] 44. The epithet ἐρατεινός, which is employed 4 times in Iliad III (175, 239, 401, 443) suggests “a memory of a lost peace and fatherland” as Scully 1990:134 correctly suggests. Scully quotes Bowra 1960:17 and Vivante 1982:121, who both underscore the emotional weight of the above epithet as well as its special application to cities. Thus, according to Scully 1990:133, it is “particularly suited to the Catalogue of Book 2 and its invocation of the Greek homeland (cf. 2.532, 571, 583, 591, 607).” Scully also offers some euphonic reasons explaining the use of this epithet (see 1990:203n6 and compare his point with mine concerning the use of the epithet in Helen’s speech in the ‘Teichoscopia’ proper).

[ back ] 45. See Kirk 1985:290 ad Iliad III 174–175.

[ back ] 46. For the term ‘chronemics’ and its function in Homeric poetry, see Lateiner 1995:291–296.

[ back ] 47. For τηλυγέτη in the Odyssey, see Kakridis 1971:49–53.

[ back ] 48. Grave epigrams regularly employ time as a grief–producing device concerning the premature death of the deceased (ἄωρος θάνατος–mors immatura). See Griessmair 1966; Vérilhac 1978. The term τηλύγετος introduces the ‘single-child’ motif. See Sistakou 2001:247–248.

[ back ] 49. Lattimore 1951:105.

[ back ] 50. See Pucci 2003:107n24.

[ back ] 51. Conversely, in the Odyssey it is widely employed in lament contexts. See Odyssey v 396; viii 522; xi 200–201; xix 136; xix 204–209; xix 264.

[ back ] 52. Notice the absence of the most current diction of lament in this speech: ὀδύρομαι, στεναχίζω, ἄλγος, κῆδος, ὀλοφύρομαι, etc. For lament terms, see Anastassiou 1971; Mawet 1979; Derderian 2001; Alexiou 20022; Tsagalis 2004.

[ back ] 53. See Martin 1992:11–33; Tsagalis 2006:112–113.

[ back ] 54. Austin 1994:27n5 argues that κάλλιστος and ἄριστος are synonymous in Homer and brings as evidence Iliad III 124, where Iris in the form of Laodike is described as εἶδος ἀρίστη (‘best in physical form’). For some early non-Homeric references to Helen’s beauty, see the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women frs. 196–204 (M.-W.); Ilias Parva (PEG 1, fr. 19 = EGF fr. 19); Herodotus VI 61; Ibycus S 151.5-7 (PMGF); Stesichorus 201 (PMGF).

[ back ] 55. Martin 1989:206–230.

[ back ] 56. See Helen’s own words in Iliad XXIV 775: … πάντες δέ με πεφρίκασιν.

[ back ] 57. For the term metanastic poetics I am indebted to Martin 1992:11–33.

[ back ] 58. Lattimore 1951:205.

[ back ] 59. Mackie 1996:147.

[ back ] 60. Iliad IX 481–482.

[ back ] 61. Mackie 1996:148–152.

[ back ] 62. Mackie 1996:151.

[ back ] 63. For a detailed discussion of the figure of Phoenix in the Iliad, see Voskos 1974:47–69.

[ back ] 64. Mackie 1996:147n77.

[ back ] 65. See Mackie 1996:38n80. The picture now becomes clearer. Helen is not simply a guest but a stranger (xenos), who has come to stay permanently in Troy. See also Martin 1992:11–33.

[ back ] 66. I am referring to the well-known ‘expansion aesthetic’ that characterizes the language of Achilles. See Martin 1989:166–205.

[ back ] 67. Higbie 1995:73 has shown that the naming pattern embedded in typical scenes like the xenia in the Odyssey contains–among other formulas–both τοῦτο δέ τοι ἐρέω, ὃ μ᾿ ἀνείρεαι ἠδὲ μεταλλᾷς and the more flexible formula νημερτ- + ἐννέπω // εἶπον employed by Helen and Antenor, respectively. For Odyssean overtones in Helen’s language in Iliad VI, see Kirk 1990:206.

[ back ] 68. Higbie 1995:85–86.

[ back ] 69. On intertextual and intratextual misdirection, see Rengakos 2006:77–82 and 82–83, respectively.

[ back ] 70. See Odyssey iv 278–279. In addition, in Iliad VI 358 Helen says that she and Paris will be the subject of future songs for mankind. See Kirk 1990:207 ad loc.

[ back ] 71. Nagy 1979:226 convincingly argues that “the language of praise poetry presents the language of unjustified blame as parallel to the eating of heroes’ corpses by dogs. Significantly, the language of epic itself quotes the language of blame within the framework of narrative quarrels (cf. I 159 = κυνῶπα) and a prominent word of insult within such direct quotations is κύων ‘dog’ and its derivatives.” See also Faust 1970:8–31, who examines the function of κύων in Homer according to the kind of text it belongs to. In narrative, dogs are presented as hunters, watchdogs or pets, in the similes as hunters and in the speeches (as well as the proem) as carrion-eaters. See also Vodoklys 1992:20–21.

[ back ] 72. Worman 2001:21.

[ back ] 73. Parks 1990:12–13.

[ back ] 74. Worman 2001:26.

[ back ] 75. Graver 1995:41–61.

[ back ] 76. Mackie 1996:80.

[ back ] 77. Nagler 1974:53–54. I owe this reference to Mackie 1996:80.

[ back ] 78. Rabel 1989:90. I owe this reference to Mackie 1996:80.

[ back ] 79. Katz 1991:142. The same formula is used by Nestor (Iliad XI 762), Priam (Iliad XXIV 426), Telemachus (Odyssey xv 268), Penelope (Odyssey xix 315), and Laertes (Odyssey xxiv 289).

[ back ] 80. Helen’s account in the ‘Teichoscopia’ is by no means complete. See Lynn-George 1988:33.

[ back ] 81. Lynn-George 1988:37.

[ back ] 82. By giving Antenor the opportunity to talk in detail about Odysseus, the Iliad avoids an important ‘technical’ obstacle, namely making Helen talk about Menelaus (who is of course her first husband and ready to fight Paris in a duel in Iliad III). Thus, both Odysseus and Menelaus are well presented in the ‘Teichoscopia’ despite Helen’s inability to talk about them in detail (Odysseus) or at all (Menelaus).

[ back ] 83. Kirk 1990:293 ad loc. convincingly argues for the formularity of verses 201–202, the former being paralleled in the Odyssey and the latter “being an ad hoc amalgam of formular elements elaborating his [Odysseus’] description as πολύμητις” (294).

[ back ] 84. Kirk 1990:293.

[ back ] 85. Higbie 1995:106n36. The uneconomical speech introductions of Iliad III 171, 199 and 228 (all in the ‘Teichoscopia’) have been observed by Edwards 1969:81–87. Edwards thinks this is due to variation but Kirk 1990:293 explains the matter as a “rather tiresome departure, not perhaps to be imitated or repeated, from an established formular rhythm.”

[ back ] 86. Kakridis 1971:47 plausibly argues that the poet of the Odyssey imagines Helen calling each Achaean warrior hiding in the Trojan Horse in his local dialect. He also calls attention to the fact that the virgins in Delos (Homeric Hymn to Apollo [3] 156–164) were known to have mimicked the voices of pilgrims. For Helen’s ‘polyphonic ability’, see Martin’s article “Synchronic Aspects of Homeric Performance: The Evidence of the Hymn to Apollo,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Hellenism at the End of the Millennium, LaPlata, Argentina. I owe this reference to Martin 2001:56n5.

[ back ] 87. Worman 2001:34.

[ back ] 88. The locus classicus for Helen’s mimic ability is of course Odyssey iv 278–279, as Worman 2001:21 rightly suggests. I would like to argue that her extraordinary powers of mimicry are not only literal but also figurative. In the ‘Teichoscopia’, Helen describes certain Achaean heroes by using language that corresponds to her own perception of each of them. It is no coincidence that the two heroes (Menelaus and Odysseus) whom Antenor describes in detail are the ones (together with Diomedes) who are inside the Trojan Horse, when Helen mimics the voices of the wives of the Achaeans (Odyssey iv 278–279). Menelaus in Odyssey iv 266–289. frames his own tale in a way similar to the one Helen has just used. Ford 1992:72–74 and Worman 2001:33 emphasize the importance of the analogy between Iliad II 488 and Odyssey iv 240 attributing to Helen the authority of both Menelaus and the poet. Menelaus adopts a similar strategy attempting to invigorate his own story. All three characters (Helen, Menelaus and the absent Odysseus) share a preoccupation with speech either in epic tradition in general (Helen and Odysseus) or in the specific scene (Menelaus).

[ back ] 89. ‘Mirroring’, ‘framing’, ‘juxtaposition’, and ‘mise en abyme’ form the main intratextual associations. For intratextuality, see Sharrock and Morales 2000, and in particular Martin’s contribution 2000:43–65.

[ back ] 90. Graver 1995:59.

[ back ] 91. Ebbott 1999:15.

[ back ] 92. Austin 1994:48.

[ back ] 93. Achilles is a marginal exception (see Iliad XIX 325) even if we regard this term as derogatory.

[ back ] 94. Collins 1988:57 has neatly put it: “… only Helen can blame Helen without exposing the paradox that the poem wishes to remain hidden, that the very act which necessitates a war over her also condemns her from the poem’s point of view, and renders her an unworthy object of struggle.”

[ back ] 95. For intertextuality, see Pucci 1987.

[ back ] 96. See Jenkins 1999:220n33, who writes that “Helen can be seen as a poetess in her own right, singing her own catalogue of warriors … For the space of the teikhoskopia, Helen is a singer, responding to the audience of Priam.”

[ back ] 97. Herodotus IX 73; Apollodorus Library III 107, Epitome I 23. According to the scholia vetera on Iliad III 242 (Erbse) there was a version by the poet Alcman in which Theseus had abducted Helen. Euphorion of Chalkis and Alexander of Pleuron recited also this tale. See Jenkins 1999:209n5.

[ back ] 98. Jenkins 1999:220. See also Austin 1994:48.

[ back ] 99. See Stesichorus fr. 192 (PMGF); Pausanias III 19.11.

[ back ] 100. For para-narratives in the Iliad, see Alden 2000.

[ back ] 101. For the resources of memory used by the Homeric poet to weave his tales, see Minchin 2001b; for the performance of lists and catalogues, see Minchin 2001b:73–99.

[ back ] 102. Lynn-George 1988:33.

[ back ] 103. See Elmer 2005:1–39, who rightly accentuates Helen’s gender-based self-referentiality. On the other hand, I would prefer to interpret the fact that Helen produces a ‘Catalogue of Warriors’ instead of a straightforward epic diegesis as the result of the epic’s refusal to put internally presented female singers on a par with their male counterparts. Mutatis mutandis, the same is the case with professional singers of lament as opposed to the next of kin, whose dirges are verbalized by the Iliadic tradition. See Tsagalis 2004:2–8.