The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry

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Chapter 9. Poetic Categories for the Hero

9§1. In the Iliad, Hektor’s aspiration to get the same tīmḗ that is accorded to Athena (and Apollo) not only formalizes the antagonism between hero and god; it also implies a slighting of the superior god’s tīmḗ by the inferior hero. On the level of Homeric discourse, the dimension of cult that is conveyed by the word tīmḗ is latent in such situations, so that the hero’s stance amounts to what seems to be—on the surface of the narrative—simply a slighting of the god’s honor. On the level of Hesiodic discourse, by contrast, the tīmḗ of the gods in an analogous situation is overtly expressed in terms of cult. [1]

9§2. The passage in question comes from the Myth of the Five Generations, in the Works and Days. Let us join the narrative midstream, at the description of the Second, or “Silver,” Generation of Mankind, and how it came to grief after having enjoyed only the briefest span of adolescence (Works and Days 132–134). We are now about to be told the reason for this sudden demise:

ὕβριν γὰρ ἀτάσθαλον οὐκ ἐδύναντο
ἀλλήλων ἀπέχειν, οὐδ᾽ ἀθανάτους θεραπεύειν
ἤθελον οὐδ᾽ ἔρδειν μακάρων ἱεροῖς ἐπὶ βωμοῖς,
ἣ θέμις ἀνθρώποισι κατ᾽ ἤθεα. τοὺς μὲν ἔπειτα
Ζεὺς Κρονίδης ἔκρυψε χολούμενος, οὕνεκα τιμὰς
οὐκ ἔδιδον μακάρεσσι θεοῖς οἳ Ὄλυμπον ἔχουσιν
For they could not keep wanton húbris from each other,
and they were unwilling either to be ministers to the immortals
or to sacrifice on the sacred altars of the blessed ones,
which is the socially right thing for men, in accordance with their local customs{151|152}.
And Zeus the son of Kronos was angry and made them disappear,
because they did not give tīmaí to the blessed gods who control Olympus.

Hesiod Works and Days 134–139

9§4. It is not immediately clear from these Hesiodic verses, however, if the Silver Generation actually represents a classification of heroes, in their ritual dimension as antagonists of gods. The specifically heroic nature of the Silver Generation becomes explicit only when we see how it complements the nature of the Golden Generation, with which it is formally and thematically coordinated. This coordination was observed in the irreplaceable Psyche of Erwin Rohde, and it is his reading that I will attempt to reformulate here. [4] The narrative of the Works and Days makes it clear that the lifespan of the Silver Generation would have been but a copy of the Golden, had it not been for the former’s committing húbris ‘outrage’ (Works and Days 134–135). [5] The húbris of the Silver Generation is a consequence of its nature, which is to be contrasted with that of the Golden (Works and Days 129). In the case of the Golden Generation, the Hesiodic description of its nature is explicitly appropriate to heroes as they are worshiped in cult: {152|153}

Whereas the Silver Generation commits húbris, the Golden is here described as upholding díkai (Works and Days 124). We will have more to say presently about this contrast in húbris/díkē, as also about the explicitly heroic characteristics of the Golden Generation; for now, the most important thing to observe is the description of this class of mankind as epikhthónioi (Works and Days 123). [

9§5. As Rohde points out, [10] the epithet epi-khthónioi marks the earthbound condition of mankind (besides Works and Days 123, see Theogony 416, Iliad IV 45, etc.; khthṓn = ‘earth’), as compared to the celestial existence of the Olympian gods, who are ep-ouránioi (see Iliad VI 129, etc.; ouranós = ‘sky’). We must keep in mind that the function of epi– ‘on, at’ in these two formations is simply to associate figures with places. That much said, we now come to the description of the Silver Generation as the hupo-khthónioi ‘those who abide under the earth’:

τοὶ μὲν ὑποχθόνιοι μάκαρες θνητοὶ καλέονται
And they are called the hupokhthónioi , blessed mortals.

Hesiod Works and Days 141 {153|154}

Let us juxtapose the corresponding description of the Golden Generation: [

ἐσθλοί, ἐπιχθόνιοι, φύλακες θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων
They are the good, the epikhthónioi , the guardians of mortal men.

Hesiod Works and Days 123

True, the Silver Generation abides beneath the earth by virtue of being hupo -khthónioi, but this formation does not imply that the Golden Generation abides above the earth by virtue of being epi -khthónioi. As Rohde surveys the association of institutional hero cults with figures like Amphiaraos, Trophonios, Althaimenes, Teiresias, Erekhtheus, Phaethon, and others, he finds that the characteristics of these heroes match closely those of the Golden Generation, and yet their abodes in cult are all under the earth. [
12] Even the diction of Hesiodic poetry bears out this feature. A figure like Phaethon is specifically called a daímōn in his function as nēopólos múkhios ‘underground temple-attendant’ of the goddess Aphrodite (Theogony 991). [13] As we have already seen, those in the Golden Generation are also specifically called daímones (Works and Days 122).

9§7. If indeed the First and Second Generations of Mankind are designed as complementary categories, it remains to ask why a distinction was made in the first place. The answer is available in a study by Jean-Pierre Vernant, who has observed that the entire Myth {154|155} of the Five Generations is permeated with the central theme of contrasting díkē with húbris. [16] The composition of the Works and Days elaborates this theme even further in the lengthy moral (Works and Days 213–285) that follows the Myth of the Five Generations (Works and Days 106–201). [17] We have, in fact, already seen that the concept of díkē characterizes the First Generation, as compared to the húbris of the Second. We must now add that the Third Generation is again characterized by húbris (ὕβριες: Works and Days 146); [18] furthermore, it is then set off from the Fourth Generation for the specific reason that the Fourth has díkē, as compared to the Third (δικαιότερον: Works and Days 158). [19] By virtue of díkē, the Fourth is also superior to the Third (δικαιότερον καὶ ἄρειον: Works and Days 158), whereas the Second had been inferior to the First (πολὺ χειρότερον: Works and Days 127). In other words, Generation I, which is marked by díkē, serves as a positive foil for Generation II, marked by húbris; correspondingly, Generation III, which is marked by hubris, serves as a negative foil for Generation IV, again marked by díkē. As for Generation V, which describes the realities of the Hesiodic world, the good is to be mixed in with the bad (Works and Days 179). In this world of the here-and-now, húbris is engaged in an ongoing struggle with díkē (Works and Days 213–218 and beyond). I could put it another way: Generation V is the quintessence of the four opposing types of human condition, Generations I versus II, and III versus IV. The here-and-now incorporates all the oppositions of the past and the hereafter.

9§8. It remains to ask what kind of human condition is represented by Generations III and IV. My answer will be based on the proposition that Generations I and II together form an integral picture of the hero in cult. Correspondingly, I propose that Generations III and IV together form a complete picture of the hero in epic. Furthermore, just as Generation I had represented the positive side {155|156} of Generation II, so also Generation III represents the negative side of Generation IV.

9§9. As in our discussion of the first two generations, let us approach the next two by beginning with the negative side of the picture. The Third or “Bronze” Generation is depicted as bent on nothing but húbris and war:

Their very birth and essence, ash trees and bronze respectively, add up to a prime emblem of war: the generic spear of epic diction has a staff made of ash wood and a tip made of bronze, so that a Homeric word for ‘spear’ like énkhos can bear either the epithet meílinon ‘of ash’ (e.g., Iliad V 655) or khálkeon ‘of bronze’ (e.g., Iliad V 620). [
21] The description of the Bronze Generation continues, with more details about their savage ways:

9§12. We have already seen that bronze and ash wood are emblematic of the Third Generation (Works and Days 143–151) and that the spear of Homeric diction consists of the same elements: a tip of bronze and a shaft of ash wood. We must now observe further that the bronze-tipped ash spear of Achilles in particular is the only piece of the hero’s armor that was not made by the divine smith Hephaistos (see Iliad XVII 194–197, XVIII 82–85). Rather, the spear of Achilles was inherited from his father, to whom it had been given by Cheiron the Centaur:

Πηλιάδα μελίην τήν πατρὶ φίλῳ πόρε Χείρων
Πηλίου ἐκ κορυφῆς, φόνον ἔμμεναι ἡρώεσσιν
the Pelian ash-spear, which Cheiron had given to his phílos father,
from the heights of Mount Pelion, to be death for heroes

Iliad XVI 143–144

In fact, Achilles is described as the only hero who could wield this magnificent spear (Iliad XVI 140–142), which is also the only piece of the hero’s armor that Patroklos did not take with him when he fatally replaced Achilles (Iliad XVI 139–141) and which is therefore the only piece not to be despoiled and then actually worn by the killer of Patroklos, Hektor. As Richard Shannon points out, the spear of Achilles is a theme that reaffirms the hero’s connection with his mortal father, just as the rest of his armor connects him with his immortal mother. [
32] What is more, as Shannon’s whole monograph {158|159} shows convincingly, the melíē ‘ash spear’ of Achilles is a word that is “restricted in the Iliad to describing the individual weapon of a specific character in particular contexts.” [33] In sum, the diction of the entire Iliad makes the bronze-tipped ash spear an emblem of Achilles just as surely as the birthmark of a spear characterizes the wanton Spartoi, or as bronze and ash wood characterize the equally wanton Bronze Men. [34]

9§14. The Hesiodic description of those in the Fourth Generation overtly names them as the heroes who fought at Thebes and at Troy (Works and Days159–165). Even the diction corresponds to that of Homeric Epos: the expression ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων θεῖον γένος ‘the divine generation of hḗrōes’ (Works and Days 159) features the conventional Homeric word for ‘hero’: hḗrōs/hḗrōes (Iliad I 4, etc.). In the entire Works and Days, the word hḗrōs/hḗrōes is in fact restricted to the Fourth Generation (Works and Days 159, 172).

9§17. In sum, I propose that the diction of the Works and Days represents the Fourth Generation of Mankind in a manner that is both appropriate to the heroes of epic tradition (consider hḗrōes at Works and Days 159) and at the same time removed from the epic perspectives of the heroic age (consider hēmítheoi at Works and Days 160). It follows that we are now faced with an important question about the theme reflected by the diction. In specifically identifying the men of the Fourth Generation as those heroes who had fought at Thebes and at Troy, the Works and Days is doubtless making reference to actual epic traditions, and we have yet to ask what these may be.

9§20. Diomedes responds to the taunt of Agamemnon by showing an eagerness to prove himself in battle (Iliad IV 401–402, 412–418), but his comrade Sthenelos cannot resist a rejoinder to Agamemnon. As we examine his words, we must keep in mind that Sthenelos was also one of the Epigonoi, while his father Kapaneus was also one of the Seven against Thebes:

Ἀτρεΐδη, μή ψεύδε᾽ ἐπιστάμενος σάφα εἰπεῖν·
ἡμεῖς τοι πατέρων μέγ᾽ ἀμείνονες εὐχόμεθ᾽ εἶναι·
ἡμεῖς καὶ Θήβης ἕδος εἵλομεν ἑπταπύλοιο,
παυρότερον λαὸν ἀγαγόνθ᾽ ὑπὸ τεῖχος ἄρειον,
πειθόμενοι τεράεσσι θεῶν καὶ Ζηνὸς ἀρωγῇ·
κεῖνοι δὲ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο.
τῶ μή μοι πατέρας ποθ᾽ ὁμοίῃ ἔνθεο τιμῇ
Son of Atreus! Don’t warp your talk when you know how to speak clearly!
We boast to be much better than our fathers.
We even captured the foundations of seven-gated Thebes,
having mustered a smaller army against a stronger fortress,
and having heeded the signs of the gods and the help of Zeus.
But they perished, by their own wantonness.
So do not bestow on our fathers a tīmḗ that is like ours.

Iliad IV 404–410

Although Diomedes is socially compelled to answer Agamemnon’s taunt with action rather than words, [
44] the very theme of the taunt {162|163} leads to his vindication. If indeed action weighs more heavily than words—which is after all the ideological basis for the taunt itself— then surely the Epigonoi are better than the Seven against Thebes, since the sons captured Thebes and thus succeeded where their fathers had failed. [45] Thus the whole interchange that began with the taunt of Agamemnon amounts in the end to an affirmation that the Epigonoi were indeed superior to the Seven against Thebes. [46]

9§21. Again, we are reminded of the Hesiodic Myth of the Five Generations. Since Generation IV is not only “more just” but also ‘better’ (áreion: Works and Days 158) than Generation III, we may ask whether there is a traditional parallel in the theme that makes the Epigonoi superior to the Seven against Thebes. Here too, after all, we see a contrast of actual generations. Moreover, the fathers of the Epigonoi are said to have died because of their ‘wantonness’, atasthalíēisin (Iliad IV 409), and we must recognize that the word atásthalo– ‘wanton’ and its derivatives are conventionally associated in Homeric diction with acts denoted by the word húbris and its derivatives (Iliad XI 695, XIII 633–634, Odyssey iii 207, xvii 588, etc.); the adjective atásthalo– even serves as an epithet of the noun húbris (Odyssey xvi 86, xxiv 352). So too in Hesiodic diction: in fact, it is the same epithet atásthalo– ‘wanton’ that marks the húbris of Generation II (Works and Days 134), which is parallel to the húbris of Generation III (Works and Days 146).

9§22. As we look about for an instance illustrating the ‘wanton’ (atásthalo-) nature of the Seven against Thebes, we come upon a particularly grisly and negative theme—one that also happens to contrast sharply with a positive theme that reflects on the nature of the Epigonoi. We begin by considering the positive theme. There is a poetic tradition, as we learn from Skolion 894P, that both Diomedes and Achilles were immortalized on the Isles of the Blessed. [47] In the case of Diomedes, we see from the Pindaric allusion at Nemean 10.7 {163|164} that it was Athena who brought about his immortalization. The scholia to this passage reveal the corresponding negative theme. [48] Athena was about to confer immortality upon Tydeus, father of Diomedes, as he lay dying from wounds inflicted in his duel with the Theban hero Melanippos, who had also been mortally wounded. What stopped the goddess from fulfilling her initial design was her sheer disgust at what she saw: Tydeus was eating the brains of Melanippos. [49] Here, then, is the grisly deed that deprived Tydeus of an immortality that could have been his—but was passed on to his son Diomedes. Again we may compare the Hesiodic Myth of Generations, and how the men of Generation III are assigned to Hades (Works and Days 153) while those of Generation IV are eligible for the Isles of the Blessed (Works and Days 164–173). [50] For all these reasons, I conclude that the war against Thebes at Works and Days 162–163 is the war of the Epigonoi. [51]

9§25. Let us begin to look beyond these assumptions by quickly examining a parallel to the Iliadic finale of Achilles, in an epic composition known as the Oikhalias Halosis (‘Capture of Oikhalia’), [55] transmitted by a rhapsodic organization at Samos known as the Kreophyleioi. [56] Thanks to Walter Burkert’s meticulous survey of the attested documentation about this lost epic, [57] we know that there were several features in the plot structure of the Oikhalias Halosis that paralleled the specific conventions of the Iliad. (The parallelisms between this epic composed in the tradition of the Kreophyleioi of Samos and those composed in the tradition of the Homeridai of Chios [58] had even led to a myth that has the founding father Kreophylos being “given” the Oikhalias Halosis by Homer himself, who had left Chios to visit him in Samos and had then wanted to reward the host’s cordial treatment of his guest.) [59] We find perhaps the most striking parallel between the Iliad and this particular Herakles epic in the emphasis on the theme of mortality. As we see from the retelling in Apollodorus 2.7.7, Herakles at the end of the Oikhalias Halosis arranges for the funeral of those who fought on his side, [60] much as {165|166} Achilles makes possible the funeral of Hektor at the end of the Iliad. Thus the Oikhalias Halosis ends on a note of death and lamentation, and Burkert infers that such an ending foreshadows the impending death of Herakles himself. [61] In fact we know from the Hesiodic tradition that the inherited story of Herakles and Iole, the central theme of the Oikhalias Halosis, presupposes his subsequent suffering and death on Mount Oeta (Hesiod fr. 25.20–25 and fr. 229MW) [62] —a traditional theme that is pictured again for us many years later by Sophocles in his Women of Trachis. [63] And yet we also know that the inherited theme of the hero’s death and descent to Hades (Hesiod fr. 25.20–25MW) in turn presupposes his subsequent accession to Olympus and immortality (Hesiod fr. 25.26–33MW). [64] Note the transition from death and Hades to Olympus and immortalization:

As Burkert points out, the theme of immortality in store for the hero is simply left outside the framework of the Oikhalias Halosis, by virtue of its epic ending. [
66] In this respect, then, the composition bears a Homeric mark. [67]

9§31. The theme of a cycle that leads to the permanency of a Golden Age is attested in the traditional poetic diction of Pindar. Significantly, one attestation comes from a specific type of lamentation, a thrênos: [76]

The title hḗroes hagnoí ‘holy heroes’ at line 5 recalls the words ólbioi hḗrōes ‘blessed heroes’ (Works and Days 172), describing the immortalized Fourth Generation. Moreover, the title basilêes ‘kings’ at line 3 recalls the honor appropriate to the Golden Generation, which is called the géras basilḗïon ‘honorific portion of kings’ (Works and Days 126). [
78] In Pindar’s Olympian 2, a composition that adopts the thematic apparatus of the thrênos apparently because of this genre’s ad hoc appropriateness to the special circumstances of the performance and audience, [79] we see further elaboration on the traditional vision of the Golden Age:

9§34. Of course, the Iliad is hardly primitive on account of its delving into the mortal aspect of Achilles. If anything, the Iliadic emphasis on mortality is a mark of sophistication, which we can appreciate only after we take another look at traditional representations of immortality.{173|}


[ back ] 1. For tīmḗ as ‘cult’, see Ch.7§1n2.

[ back ] 2. Cf. Rohde I 99n1.

[ back ] 3. Rohde I 99.

[ back ] 4. See Rohde I 91–110.

[ back ] 5. For the significance of the opposition between húbris and díkē in the Works and Days, I will rely on the study of Vernant 1966 [= 1960].

[ back ] 6. On the connotations of esthlós ‘worthy, good’: Ch.10§1n2, §3n6.

[ back ] 7. For the interpretation of ἠέρα ἑσσάμενοι ‘wrapped in mist’ at Works and Days 125 as ‘invisible’, see Rohde I 96.

[ back ] 8. On géras ‘honorific portion’, see Ch.7§19n57; on the connotations of βασιλήϊον ᾽befitting basilêes [kings]’, see §31.

[ back ] 9. For cogent arguments against the bracketing of Works and Days 124–125, see Rohde I 96; also Vernant 1966 [= 1960] p. 29. Albert Henrichs calls my attention to a remarkable parallelism between Works and Days 122–126 and the parabasis of Aristophanes Heroes = fr. 58 Austin. See Merkelbach 1967 and Gelzer 1969 (esp. pp. 123 ff.).

[ back ] 10. Rohde I 97; so also the Proclus commentary. Cf. also Goldschmidt 1950:37, Vernant 1966 [= 1960] pp. 25 and 1966b:274, and West 1978:182.

[ back ] 11. For the textual problems at Works and Days 122–123, see West, pp. 181–182.

[ back ] 12. Rohde I 111–145.

[ back ] 13. See Rohde I 135, as well as Ch.10§§22–36 below; also Sinos 1975:17–37.

[ back ] 14. The etymology of daímōn as ‘he who apportions’ (see Ch.7§15n43) is paralleled by the epithet ploutodótai ‘givers of wealth’ at Works and Days 126, correlated with daímones at Works and Days 122. For a warning against equating the daímones of Hesiodic diction with the daímones of Plato’s usage, see Rohde I 96n2. Cf. also Detienne 1963, esp. the preface by J.-P. Vernant. Finally, consider the comment on the word by Nock 1972 [= 1944]:580n21: “It is a word of reflection and analysis.”

[ back ] 15. The Olympian gods in turn have some cult functions that properly belong beneath the Earth, in which contexts they qualify as khthónioi (e.g., Works and Days 465, Theogony 767) or múkhioi (see Rohde I 135 for a survey of attestations in cult; cf. also Hesiod Theogony 119).

[ back ] 16. Vernant 1966 [= 1960]:20, 24–26.

[ back ] 17. Within this passage (Works and Days 213–285), the words díkē/húbris occur no fewer than 27/4 times (derivatives included). On the intervening aînos of the hawk and the nightingale (Works and Days 202–212), see Puelma 1972; also Ch.12§18 below.

[ back ] 18. Whether we read the textual variant ὕβριες or ὕβριος, the present argument remains unaffected.

[ back ] 19. The inherited meaning of a comparative like dikaióteros is not ‘X has more díkē [than Y]’ but ‘X has díkē [as compared to Y, who does not]’. Similarly, Homeric skaióteros [compared to dexiós] is not ‘X is more left [than Y]’ but ‘X is left [as compared to Y, which is right]’; also, dexíteros [compared to skaiós] is not ‘X is more right [than Y]’ but ‘X is right [as compared to Y, which is left]’; see Benveniste 1948:115–125.

[ back ] 20. We may take special note here of the close association between the Bronze Generation and Ares, on which see Vian 1968:64–66. With regard to Ares as the god who is the essence of bronze, see Muellner 1976:82 on Iliad XX 102.

[ back ] 21. Moreover, the melíē functions as the word for both ‘ash tree’ (e.g., Iliad XVI 767) and “ash spear” (e.g., Iliad XVI 143). For a thorough discussion of the Homeric evidence, see Shannon 1975, esp. pp. 46–48 for his comments on Works and Days 143–155.

[ back ] 22. Verses 148–149 are bracketed in Solmsen’s edition on the grounds that their phraseology recurs in the Hesiodic description of the Hundred-Handers at Theogony 147–153, 649, 670–673. But the textual repetitions are well motivated by the thematic parallelisms. See also Vian 1968:61–63 on the close thematic parallelisms between the Bronze Generation and the general category of earth-born Giants.

[ back ] 23. The Bronze Men are nṓnumno i ‘nameless’ in that their deeds cannot be glorified by poetry; so also the Achaeans would be nṓnumno i if they were to be destroyed at Troy without having succeeded in capturing the city (Iliad XII 70, XIII 227, XIV 70). This is not to say that the deeds of the Bronze Men are not a fitting subject for poetry—only that the treatment of their deeds in poetry will not win them any glory (cf. §20 below). For the inherited poetic theme that the hero’s name depends on being glorified by poetry, see Schmitt 1967:90–93.

[ back ] 24. See especially Vian 1968 (with further bibliography), following Vernant 1966 [= 1960].

[ back ] 25. In this respect, their association with Ares is significant. As Nilsson (I 517–519) points out, by classical times this god has many myths but noticeably few cults. Without cult, the figure of Ares is liable to be an outsider from the standpoint of the pólis. Cf. also Vian 1968:55.

[ back ] 26. On whom see Vian, pp. 59–61.

[ back ] 27. See also Ch.7§5n18 on phleguân = hubrízein.

[ back ] 28. Cf. Vernant 1966 [= 1960]:34.

[ back ] 29. Ch.7§6.

[ back ] 30. Ch.3§§5–8, Ch.4§5, Ch.7§22.

[ back ] 31. See also Ch.7§17 and n. 51 for a correlation of Iliad I 177/V 891, where Achilles/Ares is reproached by Agamemnon/Zeus for being a lover of strife and war—precisely the characteristics of the Bronze Men!

[ back ] 32. Shannon 1975:31. In fact, Hephaistos made not only the armor that Thetis gives to Achilles in Iliad XVIII but also the armor that has to be replaced when Hektor strips Patroklos; this earlier set of arms was inherited by Achilles from his father, who had received it from the gods in honor of his marrying Thetis (see again Iliad XVII 194–197, XVIII 82–85; cf. also Cypria fr. 3 Allen).

[ back ] 33. Shannon, p. 93.

[ back ] 34. Compare the picture of Achilles as a boy, armed with nothing but a spear, in Pindar Nemean 3.43–47 as discussed at Ch.20§8.

[ back ] 35. Contrast §9n23.

[ back ] 36. Aside from what I intend to say here, see West 1969 for an interesting discussion of the Achaean Wall and the relation of this theme to the Iliad as a whole.

[ back ] 37. Even the diction that frames the naming of these rivers (Iliad XII 19–23) is parallel in style to the Hesiodic catalogue of rivers (Theogony 337–345), those of the Troad included (Theogony 340–345); cf. West 1966:259–260.

[ back ] 38. Note in particular that the area by the Hellespont is explicitly smoothed over by the flooding rivers (Iliad XII 30–32). I suspect that this volunteered detail is consciously offered as a variant of the tradition that tells how the Achaeans had made a funeral mound for the dead Achilles by the Hellespont (Odyssey xxiv 80–84). There is then an ironic fulfillment of the dire threat made by the river Xanthos/Skamandros to bury Achilles under a mound of silt (Iliad XXI 316–323), as if the funeral mound of Achilles were to be in the end simply a natural formation adorning the landscape of the Troad. I draw attention to the irony that the River calls this mound the sêma ‘tomb’ of Achilles (Iliad XXI 322), from which the Achaeans will not even be able to recover the hero’s bones (Iliad XXI 320–321).

[ back ] 39. This passage marks the only Homeric attestation of not just hēmítheoi but also boágria ‘cowhide shields’. (Note too the use of the word génos with hēmítheoi!) Besides Works and Days 160, the word hēmítheoi occurs also at Hesiod fr. 204.100MW; the context (lines 95–103) is that Zeus plans the Trojan War in order that mortals may die and thus be separated from the immortal gods. Note the word éris ‘strife’ at line 96 and compare the opening of the Cypria as discussed at Ch.7§16.

[ back ] 40. Note the context of the collocation γένος ἀνδρῶν ἡμιθέων ᾽generation of men who were hēmítheoi‘ at Homeric Hymn 31.18–19 (cf. also Homeric Hymn 32.18–19). On the basis of the diction, I would infer that such compositions as Homeric Hymn 31 (and 32) are not preludes to an epic composition like the Iliad. Cf. Koller 1956, esp. pp. 180. In Plato Hippias Maior 285d, stories about the ‘generations of heroes’ (περὶ τῶν γενῶν … τῶν τε ἡρώων καὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων) are treated as a genre parallel to stories about colonizations (… καὶ τῶν κατοικίσεων, ὡς τὸ ἀρχαῖον ἐκτίσθησαν αἱ πόλεις); see Schmid 1947:xiii. On the local orientation of ktísis (‘colonization’) poetry and its suitability for the subject of hero cults, see Ch.7§28n77. Note also the context of hēmítheoi at Alcaeus fr. 42.13LP (αἰμιθέων) and at Simonides fr. 523.3P; “the best of the hēmítheoi” in the first passage is Achilles himself, while the second passage is from a thrênos, on which see further at §§31–32, Ch.10§§1–5. Finally, note the application of hēmítheoi at Bacchylides 9.10 and 13.155 respectively to the Seven against Thebes and the Achaeans who fought Hektor at Troy.

[ back ] 41. We have to speak in terms of traditions rather than compositions. See Wehrli 1972 [= 1957]:65–66n27 for speculations over whether there was more than one extant composition known as the Thebais in the classical period.

[ back ] 42. For the social context of neîkos, see Ch.12.

[ back ] 43. Cf. also Iliad V 793–813. As yet another instance of narrated heroic exploits that serve as taunts in the format of neîkos, we will examine in Chapter 15 the duel of Achilles and Aeneas, at Iliad XX. For an interesting parallel in Old Irish narrative, consider the Tale of MacDathó’s Pig; a translation is conveniently available in Cross and Slover 1936:199–207.

[ back ] 44. Note that Agamemnon’s taunt accuses Diomedes of being worse in deeds but better in words than his father (Iliad V 400). The situation is altogether different, however, when it comes to Athena’s taunt at Iliad V 793–813: her challenge is both mental and physical. Appropriately, the immediate response of Diomedes is not action but clever words (Iliad V 815–824), which in turn are justified by his later heroic action.

[ back ] 45. Even the Catalogue of the Iliad takes into account the destruction of Thebes by the Epigonoi (Iliad II 505). The failure of the original Seven to destroy Thebes qualifies them as nṓnumnoi ‘nameless’. The point is not that we do not know their names (we do) but that epic cannot give them a good name, as it were: see §9n23.

[ back ] 46. There is also the clear implication that the host assembled by the Epigonoi against Thebes was superior to the host of Agamemnon at Troy, in that the Epigonoi had fewer men arrayed against a stronger defense, as Sthenelos says (Iliad IV 407). The immediate foils here are the Seven against Thebes, but the negative contrast extends to the host assembled by Agamemnon, a king who is traditionally described as having far more men than what the Trojan defense could muster (cf. Iliad II 119–130, XIII 737–739, XV 405–407).

[ back ] 47. See further at Ch.10§1.

[ back ] 48. See Pindar scholia, vol. 3, 167–168 Drachmann; see also the scholia (ABT) to Iliad V 126 (Pherecydes FGrH 3.97).

[ back ] 49. For the thematic associations of this act with the ideologies of cult, see Delcourt 1966; cf. also Vian 1963:204 and 1968:65. In Works and Days 146–147, the Bronze Generation is described as not eating grain (see §9), and the scholia ad loc. interpret this detail as an allusion to cannibalism.

[ back ] 50. As I read Works and Days 158–168, my understanding is that the heroes of the Theban as well as the Trojan War are eligible. On the problem of line 166, see West 1978:192; as my discussion will show, however, I do not agree with his reasoning (“Epic is constantly telling us that they went to Hades”). See Foreword §19n21.

[ back ] 51. The object of the war, “the sheep of Oedipus” (Works and Days 163), is a theme that applies not only to Eteokles and Polyneikes but also to their descendants. For sheep as an emblem of kingship, see the interesting, though diffuse, article of Orgogozo 1949. See also Ch.7§16n47.

[ back ] 52. Whether all or only some of the heroes are meant depends on the authenticity of Works and Days 166 (cf. §22n50).

[ back ] 53. For an instance of a latent prediction, see Ch.10§50

[ back ] 54. For perhaps the most forceful presentation of this notion, see Rohde I 84–90.

[ back ] 55. Oikhalias Halosis 144–147 Allen.

[ back ] 56. Cf. Neanthes FGrH 84.29, Aristotle fr. 611.10 Rose, and the other sources assembled by Burkert 1972b:76–80, esp. 77n15.

[ back ] 57. Burkert 1972b, esp. pp. 82–85.

[ back ] 58. On whom see the scholia to Pindar Nemean 2.1 (Hippostratus FGrH 568.5) and Harpocration s.v. Homērídai (Acusilaus FGrH 2.2, Hellanicus FGrH 4.20). Cf. Dihle 1970:115 and Burkert 1972b:79.

[ back ] 59. See especially Callimachus Epigram 6 Pfeiffer, and Burkert’s commentary (1972b:76–77). See also Plato Republic 600b, as well as the truncated accounts in Certamen 237.322–323 Allen and Proclus 100.11–13 Allen.

[ back ] 60. Burkert 1972b:84.

[ back ] 61. Burkert 1972b:84.

[ back ] 62. Burkert 1972b:84. For the cult of Herakles on Mount Oeta, see Nilsson 1951 [= 1922].

[ back ] 63. For the indebtedness of the dramatist to the Oikhalias Halosis in particular and to non-Homeric Epos in general, see the bibliography assembled by Burkert 1972b:80n27.

[ back ] 64. See also Hesiod fr. 229MW and Theogony 950–955.

[ back ] 65. The sequence of events in Hesiod fr. 25.20–33MW (first Hades at 20–25 and then Olympus at 26–33) was confusing to scholars of the Hellenistic period and thereafter; witness the obelizing of lines 26–33 in Pap.Oxy. 2075. And yet consider Odyssey xi 601–627 and the discussion at §26n68. Cf. also Roloff 1970:93.

[ back ] 66. Burkert 1972b:83–84.

[ back ] 67. Burkert 1972b:83–84.

[ back ] 68. Similarly, the Odyssey presents a stop-motion picture of Herakles in Hades (Odyssey xi 601–627). But the vision is hardly eschatological: Herakles is at that very moment on Olympus with the immortal gods (Odyssey xi 602–604). What we see in the narrative is truly a ‘vision’ (eídōlon: Odyssey xi 602), appropriate for other phases in other tellings of the story. See further at Ch.10§48.

[ back ] 69. The island is envisioned well beyond the Hellespont, in the Black Sea (see Alcaeus fr. 354LP and Pindar Nemean 4.49); this orientation can be correlated with the penetration of Hellenic enterprises into that area (especially on the part of Miletos) and with the establishment of cult centers honoring Achilles in actual locales physically suitable for the description of Leukḗ ‘White Rock’. For a survey of the places bearing that name in the Black Sea region, see Rohde II 371–373; for the thematic associations of the name Leukḗ, see Rohde II 371–373 and Diehl 1953; also Nagy 1973:137–148. For an illuminating article on the Iliadic evidence for the Hellenic penetration of the Black Sea, see Drews 1976, esp. pp. 20–22. See now Nagy 1990:71.

[ back ] 70. See also Plato Symposium 179e, 180b; Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica 4.811–816; Apollodorus Epitome 5.5. For an eloquent discussion of the thematic convergences that link Leuke, the Isles of the Blessed, and Elysium, see Rohde II 365–378, esp. pp. 369–370n2. He calls Leuke the “Sonderelysion” of Achilles (Rohde II 371).

[ back ] 71. For the themes associated with the peírata gaíēs ‘extremities of Earth’, see in general Bergren 1975; for a correlation with the earth-encircling cosmic river Okeanos, see Nagy 1973:148–154.

[ back ] 72. The verb anapsū́khein ‘reanimate’ (Odyssey iv 568) implies, I propose, that death had somehow preceded the ultimate state of immortality. See further at Ch.10§28. After all, the prophecy at Odyssey iv 561–562 says to Menelaos not that he will not die but that he will not die in Argos. In general, the experience of death seems to be a latent element in myths telling of abductions into a state of immortality: see Ch.10§§26–28. In its other attestations, anapsū́khein overtly means not ‘bring back to life’ but simply ‘bring back to vigor’ (see Iliad V 795, XIII 84, Hesiod Works and Days 608); this semantic restriction, however, is due to specialization of contexts. Compare the behavior of psūkhḗ in epic diction. Both swooning and dying can be conveyed by the theme of losing one’s psūkhḗ, as at Iliad V 696 and XVI 856 respectively; in the case of a swoon as at Iliad V 696, revival is conveyed by the theme of regaining one’s breath: note ἀμπνύνθη at Iliad V 697 (here it is the wind Boreas that restores the hero’s breath: Iliad V 697–698). The actual word psūkhḗ, however, is not even used in contexts of reviving from a swoon—let alone reviving from death. Yet the psūkhḗ that is lost in the process of swooning is surely the same psūkhḗ that is regained in the process of reviving from the swoon. For the reading ἀμπνύνθη at Iliad V 697 and XIV 436 (instead of ἐμπνύνθη), see Schnaufer 1970:199n540. My interpretation, however, differs from his. Finally, consider the collocation of psūkhaí (subject) and psū́khontai (verb) in the gold leaf of Hipponion (Zuntz 1976:133, line 4); note too the mention of psūkhròn húdōr (Zuntz 1976:133, line 7), flowing from the spring of Mnāmósunā (Zuntz 1976:133, lines 6 and 12). I propose to examine more closely the contexts of these words in another project. (See now Nagy 1990b:90–91.)

[ back ] 73. Works and Days 169 has been renumbered as 173a and bracketed along with 173b–e in West’s edition (1978:194–195). Even if 173b–e are indeed interpolated, it does not follow that the same goes for 169–173a. The instability of this line in the textual tradition may actually be due to a misunderstanding of the Kronos theme, which I interpret to be cyclic.

[ back ] 74. In Celtic and Indic lore, the number 5 following the sequence 1–2–3–4 is a symbol of integration and centrality (see Rees and Rees 1961:118–204). I suspect that this symbolism is cognate with the traditions underlying the Hesiodic Myth of the Five Generations.

[ back ] 75. The theme of being released after death from the cycle of man’s existence is directly attested in the Thurian gold leaf A1 (Zuntz 1971:301 line 5), where the persona of the dead man declares: κύκλου δ᾽ ἐξέπταν βαρυπενθέος ἀργαλέοιο. ‘I rushed out of the woeful kúklos of heavy pénthos [grief]’. Whether we translate kúklos abstractly as ‘circle’ or concretely as ‘wheel’, it clearly applies here to the human condition (Zuntz, pp. 320–322). Note that the Pythagorean word for ‘reincarnation’ is anakúklōsis (p. 99.30DK; cf. Zuntz, pp. 336). For another instance where kúklos designates the cyclic nature of man’s existence, cf. Herodotus 1.207.2: if Cyrus recognizes that he is a mortal rather than an immortal, says Croesus, then he should accept the teaching ‘that there is a kúklos of human affairs’ (ἐκεῖνο πρῶτον μάθε ὡς κύκλος τῶν ἀνθρωπηίων ἐστὶ πρηγμάτων). On a synchronic level, the immediate sense here is ‘wheel of fortune’, but the ultimate context is still the predicament of mortality. Note that the persona of the dead man in the Thurian gold leaf A1 declares that he has become, after death, part of the ólbion génos ‘blessed breed’ of immortals (Zuntz, pp. 301, line 3; cf. also gold leaves A2 and A3) and that he will henceforth be addressed as ólbie kaì makaristé ‘holy and blessed’ (line 8). Cf. ólbioi hḗrōes ‘blessed heroes’ (Works and Days 172), describing the immortalized fourth génos (‘generation, breed’) of mankind, who abide ἐν μακάρων νήσοισι ‘on the Isles of the Blessed [mákares]’ (Works and Days 171). For more on the Thurian gold leaves, see Ch.10§20n61.

[ back ] 76. For the inherited connections of the thrênos as a genre with the obsolescent institution of ancestor worship even in the classical period, see Ch.6§28: the cult of heroes in the pólis evolved at least partly from the worship of ancestors in the génos ‘clan’. Note that Simonides fr. 523P, which tells how the hēmítheoi (line 2) are destined not to have a bíos ‘lifespan’ that is áphthitos ‘unfailing’ (line 3), is an excerpt from a thrênos (Stobaeus 4.34.14). From the standpoint of the comparative method, the themes of the thrênos include elements archaic enough to be of Indo-European pedigree (see Vian 1963:118).

[ back ] 77. The passage is quoted by Plato Meno 81b to illustrate a traditional ideology preserved in social circles that he describes as well-versed in sacral lore. For a correlation of the ideology in this thrênos with the ideology of the Thurian gold leaves, cf. Zuntz 1971:313. I draw special attention to the words poinā́ ‘compensation’ and pénthos ‘grief’ in the Pindaric fragment. The function of the latter word as a formal mark of lamentation has already been examined in detail (Ch.6); we have also seen it characterize the kúklos of life in the Thurian gold leaf A1: βαρυπενθέος ‘of heavy pénthos‘ (see §30n75). As for the former word, it figures prominently in the Thurian gold leaves A2 and A3 (Zuntz, pp. 303 and 305, line 4): ποινὰν δ᾽ ἀνταπέτεισ᾽ ἔργων ἕνεκ᾽ οὔτι δικαίων ‘and I paid compensation for unjust deeds [deeds without díkē]’. We recall the absence and presence of díkē in Generations II/III and I/IV respectively (see §7).

[ back ] 78. Cf. §4n8. In the Pharsalian gold leaf B1 (Zuntz, pp. 359, line 11), the dead man is given the following promise for the afterlife: καὶ τότ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽ ἄ[λλοισι μεθ᾽] ἡρώεσσιν ἀνάξει[ς ‘and then you will be king along with the other hḗrōes ’.

[ back ] 79. See Finley 1955:59: “nominally an epinikion, it [Olympian 2] is in fact a consolatory poem and a meditation on death.” See also Bollack 1963 and Sinos 1975:136. Note that the thrênos itself as a genre is not restricted to the actual occasion of a funeral (Proclus Chrestomathy 247.16 ff. Westphal); see also Nilsson 1951 [= 1911]:98.

[ back ] 80. The same theme recurs in a genuine thrênos by Pindar, fr. 129.5SM, where the description again concerns the Isles of the Blessed; cf. Sinos 1975:134–138.

[ back ] 81. In the Proclus summary of the Aithiopis, the distinction between the thrênoi of the Muses and the góoi of Thetis and the Nereids is blurred (Thetis, with the Muses, θρηνεῖ τὸν παῖδα ‘mourns his son’: Proclus 106.13–14 Allen). We may infer, however, that the actual narrative of the Aithiopis did maintain this distinction: cf. Odyssey xxiv 58–61 and the comments at Ch.6§§23–24.

[ back ] 82. §12 above.

[ back ] 83. For the limited time that Hektor is to be immune from death (see Iliad XVII 198–208), Zeus seals him in the armor of Achilles (Iliad XVII 209–212). Hektor had been able to kill Patroklos and despoil the armor of Achilles specifically because Apollo had first stripped away this armor in his attack on Patroklos (Iliad XVI 787–804). By the time that Hektor delivers the mortal blow, Patroklos has been denuded of the armor (Iliad XVI 815). See Thieme 1968 [= 1952]:120–121. When Hektor in turn wears this armor, he will be immune to everything except the ash spear of Achilles, with which he is mortally wounded (see Iliad XXII 319–330). Ironically, the immortal apparatus of Achilles can thus be penetrated only by an emblem of mortality (see further at §12 above).