Ankle and Ankle Epithets in Archaic Greek Verse

7. Conclusion

Once it appears that there are consistent symbolic connotations to the noun σφυρόν and to the epithets deriving from it, connotations that transcend poetic genre and span the course of literary development from Homer to Bacchylides, a final question remains: why should these words have the implications they do? This is the kind of question that is impossible to solve definitively, but it is nevertheless tempting to speculate about some answers.

The appearance of σφυρόν in the Iliad and the symbolic importance it has in the structure of the poem seem all the more significant and credible in light of the use of the related epithets in the same and in subsequent works. In reviewing the use of this noun it is revealing to note the other parts of the body the poet includes with the ankle in his narrative of wounding and death. In the wounding of Menelaos the blood drips on his ankle, legs and thighs; in the killing of Diores, the weapon hits his ankle and bones; and in the deaths both of Patroklos and of Hektor, the ankle and the neck are the places of mutilation. All the parts of the body with which the ankle appears have specific sacrificial connotations. The prominence of the μηρός in animal sacrifices to the gods and its consequent symbolism in archaic poetry were discussed above. [1] A comparable and equally noteworthy tradition surrounds the ὀστέα, for Hesiod explains that since the time of Prometheus men sacrifice the ὀστέα λευκά of animals to the gods. [2] And in funerary rituals there was a concern for saving the bones of the dead. [3] A blow on the back of the neck is, finally, a familiar part of the ritual killing of sacrificial animals. [4]


[ back ] 1. See Chapter 2.

[ back ] 2. Hesiod Theogony 540–541 and 556–557.

[ back ] 3. Burkert 1972:13, 21, 24, 49,114, 117.

[ back ] 4. Hymn to Hermes 119–120.

[ back ] 5. Herodotos I.119.

[ back ] 6. Burkert 1972:121.

[ back ] 7. Burkert 1972:132.

[ back ] 8. Stengel 1910:85–91.

[ back ] 9. Ibid.

[ back ] 10. Iliad XVI 235. Eitrem 1915:92.

[ back ] 11. Iliad XVII 520; XX 403.

[ back ] 12. Lowenstam 1975 passim.

[ back ] 13. Burkert 1972:29n34, 77, 79ff.

[ back ] 14. Rutkowski 1968.

[ back ] 15. For this entire discussion, see Nagy 1976, esp. 244, 255–256. His definition of the formula is very helpful: “The formula is a fixed phrase conditioned by the traditional themes of oral poetry … Meter is diachronically generated by formula rather than vice-versa” (251).

[ back ] 16. Nagler 1967 writes: “No simple equation … will get us very far into the poetic artistry of the relevant passages. The interaction of word and context, the precise comment the motif offers upon the character or situation of the personage(s) involved, is not fixed in a single function. [A]n active symbol … can be realized with a great variety of nuance” (299).