Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History

  Compton, Todd M. 2006. Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History. Hellenic Studies Series 11. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Appendix A: Poetry, Aggression, Ritual

Walter Burkert has pioneered an analysis of ancient Greek ritual that sees its roots in aggression, in biological impulses than can be observed in animals—Konrad Lorenz was especially fascinated by geese. [1] In the survey of poets in previous chapters, themes and poetic phenomena that related to ritualized aggression have formed a background for archaic poetry (in particular, Archilochus, our first lyric poet; Homer and Hesiod are shadowy, probably non-historical or quasi-historical figures). A key passage from Burkert deserves full quotation:

Parallels with poets and poems we have examined will be obvious:

In addition, as we have seen, Greco-Roman ritual included overtly satirical elements. The cult of Demeter in particular was connected with ritual abuse. A famous example is the gephurismos in the Eleusinian mysteries, the mockery of prominent citizens in a procession as they passed over a bridge. [
12] Another Eleusinian connection to ritual abuse is Iambe, who coaxes the grieving Demeter into laughter through her jests. Demeter grieves for her stolen daughter,

πρίν γ’ ὅτε δὴ χλεύῃς μιν Ἰάμβη κέδν’ εἰδυῖα
πολλὰ παρασκώπτουσ’ ἐτρέψατο πότνιαν ἁγνὴν
μειδῆσαι γελάσαι τε καὶ ἵλαον σχεῖν θυμόν.

Until when with jokes, the wise Iambe, greatly mocking, turned the holy mistress to smile and laugh and have a cheerful soul.

One immediately thinks of the word iambos, the meter of satirical poets, a word often used with the meaning ‘satire’. In the case of Iambe’s kind mockery, laughter may be a symbol of death and rebirth.

Fescennine abuse offers a Roman parallel. Once again, farmers are involved, and there is ritual offered to a Demeter-like figure, “Earth-mother Tellus”; there is also a sacrifice of a pig, which reminds us again of Demeter and Eleusis. [18] Horace wrote:

Fescennine abuse is “discovered through this festival”; as one wonders why, some possibilities come to mind. Perhaps there was a celebratory atmosphere and the abuse was meant in the spirit of pure fun, which seems to be Horace’s view. Another explanation could be that festivals offered a sacred time in which one could criticize openly because there would be extreme religious sanctions on violence during the festival (impune minax). [
22] This would allow the lower classes to criticize the upper classes without being punished, as Horace suggests, for it is the “respectable houses” who are upset at the satirical, ritual attack (presumably from those involved in agricultural ritual), and who have the power to pass a law against it. Thus, the feasts of Dionysus and Demeter might have become tools for the more “democratic” movements (including small farmers) as opposed to the ascendant oligarchies (in the cities). There is some evidence that Dionysiac cult did have democratic connections. Dodds writes that the Dionysiac religion “probably made its original appeal mainly to people who had no citizen rights in the aristocratic ‘gentile state’ and were excluded from the older cults associated with the great families.” [23]

Thus, satire, the cult of Demeter/Dionysus, and ritualized elements of aggression formed a shadowy backdrop to the cult history of Archilochus that included a verbal phallic offense connected with Dionysiac cult, a trial and punishment of the poet, possibly exile, and punishment of society (impotence), ending in cult honors to Archilochus as favorite of Dionysus. The narrative mechanism that is the central focus of this book, which excludes the just poet unjustly, has important connections with this archaic nexus. Archilochus, the poet-scapegoat, is something of a priest, and a specialist in aggression. Perhaps the sin of the Parian burghers was to disallow the controlled aggression found in ritual abuse.


[ back ] 1. Burkert 1983:23–24; Lorenz 1966. A most interesting essay is Gerard Neuman’s “How We Became (In)human” (1987). Critiques of Lorenz can be found in Montagu 1973, introductory essays in Maple and Matheson 1973.

[ back ] 2. Burkert 1983:24.

[ back ] 3. Pythian Odes 2.53: δάκος ἀδινὸν κακαγοριᾶν.

[ back ] 4. Epistles II 1.150–151: cruento dente lacessiti.

[ back ] 5. me remorsurum. See below, app. B.

[ back ] 6. See above, chapter 17.

[ back ] 7. On drumming, see Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1971:27.

[ back ] 8. See especially appendix B below; also, above, chapter 3 (Archilochus); chapter 4 (Hipponax); chapter 22 (Cicero).

[ back ] 9. See above, chapter 3 (Archilochus); Fehling 1974:7–18.

[ back ] 10. Aristotle Poetics 4.14 (1449a10), translation by Fyfe. For the phallus in Old Comedy, see Pickard-Cambridge 1988:220–223 and 1962:133, 137, 147, cf. 228–240. Even if comedy did not derive from phallic cult, as in Aristotle’s view, it certainly had a close connection with phallic cult. Cf. Giangrande 1963. F. M. Cornford (1968:110–111) proposes that only the abusive aspect of comedy derived from phallic cult (not its structure), because this was always connected with ritual abuse (which sometimes functions as a good luck, fertility charm). According to Herodotus (2.49), Melampus, the seer who died in the riddle contest, introduced to Greece “the name of Dionysus and his sacrifice and the procession of the phallus.” Cf. above, chapter 16, on Melampus. G. Else prefers the manuscripts’ phaul(l)iká to phalliká, which is found in most editions (1957:163). However, undoubted phallic processions in Aristophanes Acharnians 241–279 and Semus (see next note) incline one toward the phallic reading; and cf. Giangrande 1963:4n1. See above, chapter 14 (Aristophanes); Adrados 1975:2.

[ back ] 11. Semus at Athenaeus 14.621f–622d: εἶτα προτρέχοντες ἐτώθαζον οὓς προέλοιντο.

[ back ] 12. Hesychius s.v. gephuris—gephuristai; Strabo 9.400; Mylonas 1961:256; Rosen 1988c:25.

[ back ] 13. My trans. Cf. Richardson 1974 ad loc., 213–217, with numerous examples, and, for aischrologia, p. 213; Conon Narratives 49, cf. parallels in Henrichs 1987:258n11; 270n20. See also Rusten 1977:157–161; Cornford 1968:276; Adams 1982:4–5; Olender 1985; O’Higgins 2001; Collins 2004:225–230. See above, chapter 3, for Iambe, hanged women, and for Charila at Delphi.

[ back ] 14. See above, chapter 3; cf. Richardson 1974, at Hymn to Demeter 491.

[ back ] 15. See Koster 1975:68. This is admittedly only one of several explanations for the name. Cf. the Dionysian phallic element in the origins of comedy, see above, this chapter.

[ back ] 16. West 1974:23, 36–37. Hesychius s.v. ithumbos: ποιήματα ἦν ἐπὶ χλεύῃ καὶ γέλωτι συγκείμενα. καὶ ᾠδὴ μακρὰ καὶ ὑπόσκαιος.

[ back ] 17. Koster 1975:11–12, cf. 70, 86. Miralles and Pòrtulas 1988:36; 1983:61–80.

[ back ] 18. Cf. Burkert 1983:256–264. On Tellus, the Earth, and a close associate of Ceres, Growth, see Ovid Fasti 1.671–674; Altheim 1931:108–129. Lydus On the Months 4.49 translates Tellus with Dēmētēr.

[ back ] 19. See Brink 1982:191, for Fescennine abuse.

[ back ] 20. For the sense of honestas … domos, see Brink 1982:194.

[ back ] 21. Latin text above, in chapter 20.

[ back ] 22. Cf. Lysias fragment 53 Thalheim; Isocrates 8.14; Plato Laws 934d–6b; Aristotle Politics 1336b3–23; Halliwell 1991a and 1991b:292–296.

[ back ] 23. Dodds 1953:128. Cf. Aristotle Politics 6.4 1319b; Plutarch On Love of Wealth 8 (527d); Herodotus 1.23–24; Burkert 1985:291; Thomson 1968:141; 1946:120, 151–154; How and Wells 1928 2:344. Cf. the tradition that Aesop was a slave who used fables so as to escape punishment from his masters when he criticized them, see above, chapter 3, chapter 24 (Phaedrus) and the scholiastic account of the origins of comedy, above, this chapter; according to these texts, farmers sang with faces disguised so that they could criticize city dwellers freely.

[ back ] 24. For Carnival, see Burke 1978:178–204. “Perhaps the mocking of outsiders (Jews at the Roman Carnival, peasants in that of Nuremberg) was, among other things, a dramatic expression of community solidarity” (200). Jews were pelted with mud and stones at Carnival as they raced through Rome (187), cf. Mamurius, chapter 27—on the last day of the old year, he is led in a procession through Rome, is beaten by the priests of Mars, the Salii, and then driven from the city. Violent death was common during Carnival (188), and public execution was ritualized (197). Ritual is used as social control, and even anti-hierarchical ritual preserves hierarchy (201). But sometimes “the wine barrel blew its top” (203). One thinks of Aristophanes brought to trial by Cleon, even though freedom of verbal attack was protected by festival license. “It may well have been that some of those excluded from power saw Carnival as an opportunity to make their views known and so to bring about change” (203). Cf. Bremmer and Horsfall 1987:82n29.

[ back ] 25. Plutarch Camillus 33.6 (translation by Perrin): ἔπειτα κεκοσμημέναι λαμπρῶς αἱ θεραπαινίδες περιΐασι παίζουσαι διὰ σκωμμάτων εἰς τοὺς ἀπαντῶντας. γίνεται δὲ καὶ μάχη τις αὐταῖς πρὸς ἀλλήλας, ὡς καὶ τότε τοῦ πρὸς τοὺς Λατίνους ἀγῶνος συνεπιλαμβανομέναις. See Bremmer and Horsfall 1987:76 (bibliography). Cf. Graf 1985:310.

[ back ] 26. Clearchus, at Athenaeus 10.457c–e; Collins 2004:225–235. Griffith 1990:188 writes that “it is hardly an exaggeration to say that most Greek poetry, from the time of Homer and Hesiod to that of Euripides, was composed for performance in an explicitly or implicitly agonistic context.” See above, chapter 2 (Aesop as riddle warrior); chapter 6 (Hesiod); chapter 17 (the poetic agōn in Ireland).