Indo-European Language and Society

Chapter 6. Magic Power


Kûdos, a term almost exclusively confined to the epic, which has been regarded by ancient and modern scholars as a synonym of kléos ‘glory’, ‘renown’, has in fact a quite specific sense: it designates a magic power that is irresistible and is the apanage of the gods, who occasionally grant it to a hero of their choice and thus ensure his triumph. Kûdos arésthai, used of a warrior, properly means “to seize (from the gods) the kûdos,” and consequently, strengthened by this talisman, to cover oneself with glory.
The formal correspondence between kûdos thus understood and O.Slav čudo ‘miracle, marvel’ is thus not surprising: the notion of “supernatural force” common to the two terms makes it fully intelligible.


When we study this vocabulary, we must pay close attention to the connections which are established between the words. Each of them taken separately does not always appear to be significant but its force is made clear in the light of its connections. Then we shall notice certain qualifications which reveal their full sense and bring to light a new value. In Homer it is sometimes necessary to read a long continuous passage in order to grasp the subtle play of values; an important term, by the connections into which it enters, may throw light on terms which attract less attention.
After géras and timḗ we can turn our attention to another notion which belongs to the same sphere and is equally notable: this is the word kûdos (κῦδος). We have several hundred examples in Homer of this neuter, which is uniformly translated “glory,” and its derivatives, both nominal and verbal: kudrós, kudálimos, kudánō, kudaínō, kudiáneira, etc.
This traditional sense of “glory,” which seems demanded by the context in certain passages, was already given to us by the ancient commentators. The meaning has been fixed since ancient times: it forms part of the humanist tradition.
It must be said, however, that our understanding of the Homeric vocabulary is still in its infancy. We have received from antiquity a system of interpretation to which we continue to cling and which is enshrined in our lexica and translations. While great efforts have been made to restore a reliable text and to define the dialectal characteristics of the epic language, our interpretations are those of an epoch in which aesthetic conventions took precedence over exactitude. The more one studies the Homeric texts, the more clearly we see the gap between the real nature of its concepts and the picture of them given in traditional scholarship.
From this point of view certain recent studies do not mark any real progress. For instance the dissertation by Greindl devoted to the study of five Greek words, kléos, kûdos, timḗ, phátis, dóxa (Munich, 1938) is a convenient assemblage of facts, but it is essentially a literary and psychological study. The author comes to the conclusion that kûdos designated majestic appearance and also an advantage in combat which is equivalent to victory: the sense was thus “Ruhm, glory, authority” which is more or less the meaning given everywhere in translations.
There is, however, a reason why kûdos should not mean “glory”: namely that Homer uses another word meaning “glory”—kléos. We know with certainty that the concept of kléos is one of the most ancient and constant of the Indo-European world: Vedic śravas, Avestan sravah– are the exact correspondents of the Greek word and they have exactly the same sense. Moreover, the poetic language preserves in Greek and in Vedic one and the same formulaic expression: Hom. kléwos áphthiton, Ved. śravas akṣitam ‘imperishable glory’, designating the supreme recompense of the warrior, this “imperishable glory” which the Indo-European hero desires above all else and for which he will lay down his life. Here we have one of the rare pieces of evidence from which we can infer the existence, if not of an epic language, at least of stock poetic expressions from the time of common Indo-European onwards.
This alone makes it improbable that kûdos has the sense of “glory.” In the epic terminology, we may be sure, the major terms are all specific and synonymy is unknown. A priori we can assert that kléos ‘glory’ and kûdos are not equivalent terms, and in fact, as we shall see, kûdos never signifies “glory.” This translation, which is generally accepted, is to be rejected. There is not even any special relation between these two notions. Their respective qualifications differ in number and in kind. First, kléos is qualified as esthlón ‘good’, méga ‘great’ (with the degrees of comparison meîzon and mégiston ‘greater, greatest’), eurú ‘wide’, ásbeston ‘inextinguishable’, áphthiton ‘imperishable’, hupouránion ‘sub-celestial’; it is used in the plural kléa and with certain determinants (“glory of men,” etc.); and it lends itself to hyperbole (“his fame was raised to the skies”). With kûdos we find only two epithets: méga ‘great’ and hupérteron ‘superior’, and one example of áspeton ‘immense’; it has no plural, it never appears in a syntagm formed with a determinative and it never admits any description. Such differences suggest that kûdos is a distinct concept which has to be defined separately.
The sense of kûdos is thus not “glory,” as is given in our dictionaries and commentaries. We must determine the meaning exclusively by study of its contexts and by extracting the elements of the definition solely from its uses. Once again, the traditional exegesis of Homer must be fundamentally revised.
The constructions of kûdos do not show any great variety. With the exception of the formula kúdeï gaíōn in which the dative-locative kúdeï is joined in a unique syntagm with an equally unique participial form gaíōn, the only case of kûdos used is the nominative-accusative. But the uses, amounting to more than sixty, fall into two groups. In one, kûdos is the object of a verb “to give,” the subject being a divinity; in the other kûdos is the object of a verb meaning “to gain,” the grammatical subject of which is the name of a man. The two groups must be analyzed separately.
In the first category of uses, kûdos designates something that the god “gives” (dídōsi, opázei), “offers” (orégei), or on the contrary “takes away” (apēúra). The gift of kûdos ensures the triumph of the man who receives it: in combat the holder of kûdos is invariably victorious. Here we see the fundamental character of kûdos: it acts like a talisman of supremacy. We use the term talisman advisedly, for the bestowal of kûdos by the god procures an instantaneous and irresistible advantage, rather like a magic power, and the god grants it now to one and now to another at his good will and always in order to give the advantage at a decisive moment of a combat or some competitive activity.
The goddess Athena, in order to favor Diomedes in the chariot race, breaks the harness of his rival Eumelos, who rolls on the ground, and in this way Diomedes passes him, for “Athena filled his horses with spirit and she put in him the kûdos (ep’ autō̂i kûdos éthēke).” The others immediately understood the source of Diomedes’ advantage which they were unable to question. Behind him, Antilochos, while urging on his horses, shouts to them: “I ask you not to compete with those of Diomedes, to whom Athena has just given speed and she has put kûdos in him” (the same formula, Il. 23, 400-406). The position is clear to all: when a god has given kûdos to a man, he is assured of victory, and his adversaries or his rivals know that it is vain to oppose him (cf. 5, 225). This is why Achilles, at the moment when Patroclus goes to confront Hector in his stead, beseeches Zeus: “Send him kûdos and fortify his heart” (16, 241). This is also why Nestor pleads with Achilles: he should not persist in his opposition to Agamemnon “since the timḗ has never been equal for a scepter-bearing king to whom Zeus has given kûdos” (1, 279). When Hector is pursued and is pressed hard by the chariot of Diomedes and Nestor, Zeus thunders violently in front of them. Nestor takes fright and warns his companion: “the only thing for us to do is to turn tail and flee. Do you not see that today Zeus grants kûdos to our adversary? Tomorrow he will give it to us, if that is his pleasure.” However Diomedes retorts: will he not run the risk of a reproach of cowardice? So he persists, against the advice of Nestor. Then Zeus thunders three times “giving the Trojans presage of their revenge” and Hector exults: “I see that Zeus promises me the victory and a great kûdos, but ruin to the Danaans” (8, 140-160). He hurls himself into the fray and presses irresistibly on the Danaans “since Zeus has given kûdos” (ibid. 216). In the face of this danger Agamemnon stimulates the courage of his warriors by appeals and sarcastic remarks and addresses Zeus: “Have you never blinded in this way one of the all-powerful kings by taking away from him the great kûdos?” (ibid. 237).
In this long episode, marked out by characteristic uses, a new refinement is added to the definition of kûdos. We already know that this attribute emanates from a god, that it is bestowed on a king or a hero and that it confers the victory on him. But how does the man so favored know, in the heat of the fray, that the god has just granted him kûdos, and how does his adversary also perceive this? They are both informed by a prodigious sign, which makes manifest the divine choice. It is the thunder that bursts out and rolls in the middle of the battle; it is the chariot of the rival which breaks in full course; it is the string of the bow which breaks in the hands of Teucer while he is aiming at Hector and the arrow that goes far astray of its target; and Hector is not mistaken, Zeus is on his side: “Yes, I have seen with my own eyes the shafts of a hero going far amiss of their target. Easy to see is the aid that Zeus gives to men, whether he grants them a superior kûdos or he weakens others by refusing to help them. Now behold, he weakens the ardor of the Argives and comes to support us” (15, 488ff.). From this there emerges the sense of kûdos hupérteron. While Zeus refrains from intervening, the two sides are equally matched: “The Trojans and the Achaeans strive to see to whom father Zeus will offer the kûdos” (5, 33); it is at the moment of the greatest danger for Hector that Zeus inclines his balance in his favor, giving him a “superior kûdos” (12, 437). This imagery expresses the relation between the forces engaged: when Zeus has given the kûdos to the one whom he favors, his adversary is immediately doomed to defeat and he knows it: the Trojans hurl themselves into the fray “carrying out the orders of Zeus”; the lord of the gods “roused a great ménos in them, but on the Argives he cast a spell and took away the kûdos, while he spurred on their adversaries. For it was to Hector that he desired to offer the kûdos” (15, 593ff.).
The effect of the kûdos is temporary. Zeus or Athena grant it so that a hero can triumph at a given moment of the combat or can press his advantage up to a given point: they give him “the kûdos of killing” (5, 260; 17, 453), an expression comparable with “krátos of killing” (11, 192; 207). It is always at a moment’s notice and according to the fluctuations of the battle that one or other of the adversaries receives this advantage which restores his chances at the moment of peril. The gods thus give play to their preferences and settle their own personal rivalries by granting the kûdos in their turn to Achaeans and Trojans. We see how Zeus uses it to pacify the dispute which breaks out among the gods after the victory of Achilles. Some of them, outraged by the treatment that Achilles inflicts on the corpse of Hector, want to send Argeiphontes to steal him away. Others oppose this: Hector and Achilles do not have equal timḗ; Hector is only a mortal, whereas Achilles is the son of a goddess. Zeus then intervenes; no, the timḗ will not be equal between them, but let us not try to steal away the body. He summons Thetis, Achilles’ mother, and says to her: “Certain of the gods are urging Argeiphontes to steal the body of Hector. But I grant this kûdos to Achilles, just as in the future I shall preserve your aidō̂s and philótēs” (cf. above, Book Three, Chapter Four). This is the plan of Zeus: Achilles will give back the body of Hector, but only if Priam comes in person to ransom it and brings splendid presents (24, 109ff.). Thus Achilles will not be deprived of his triumph even though he gives back the corpse of Hector.
In some examples kûdos is given to a hero, not by a god, but by his own adversary. In such a case it is a simple stylistic figure. The warrior who by mischance or recklessness exposes himself dangerously and lays himself open to the blows of the enemy himself puts kûdos into the hands of his adversary. In this way Periphetes “puts kûdos into the hands (enguálikse)” of Hector when, stumbling over his shield, he falls on the ground before him (15, 644). Hecuba begs her son Hector to stay inside the walls of Troy “so as not to give Achilles a great kûdos” by going to confront him (22, 57). In the same way we say of an incautious man that he seeks his own downfall.
We now pass to the second group of examples, in which the expression kûdos arésthai predominates, this being applied to a warrior in battle (never to a god). The fact that this occurs so often (a score of times) suggests that it had a precise value, and alone the fact that in this usage kûdos is never conferred by a god, but is “seized” by a man is an indication of a new sense which is worthy of attention. How could it be possible for a man to “take away” kûdos without the consent of a god when, as we have seen, the gods alone confer it on men? This privilege is presented in one example as a divine gift: “Zeus has granted (édōke) me to carry off kûdos at the ships and to pen the Achaeans by the sea,” Hector proclaims in the assembly of the Trojans (Il. 18, 293). However, apart from a few very rare examples, no mention is made of a god on the occasions when a warrior “carries off kûdos.” Besides, the expression is often accompanied by a dative indicating the beneficiary: “carry off the kûdos for someone.”
Here we have a specific phrase which must be studied both in the circumstances in which it appears and in the syntactical forms in which it is embedded. If we examine it from these points of view we shall discover that there are two types of use.
In the first it is an offer made to a warrior to undertake some extraordinary exploit alone. If he succeeds, “he will win kûdos” for his king, for his people or for himself, and a great reward is promised him.
The phrase is situated in a prospective context and it is used in the future tense, often accompanied by the word for the beneficiary in the dative.
We find this schema in a whole series of episodes. Athena in disguise incites Pandarus to a deed of daring: to let fly an arrow at Menelaus. “In this way,” says Athena, “you will win kháris and kûdos for the Trojans, and above all for King Alexander. You will obtain from him splendid presents if he sees valiant Menelaus subdued by your arrow” (4, 95). When he is sent as an ambassador to Achilles, Odysseus presses him to return to the combat: “The Achaeans will honor you like a god. For you will certainly win for them a great kûdos, for this time you will triumph over Hector” (9, 303). Hector in his camp appeals for a volunteer to carry out a nocturnal reconnaissance among the Achaeans. The man who is bold enough to do this will have a great reward and “he will win kûdos for himself (10, 307). Poseidon exhorts the Danaans in these words: “Are we again going to yield victory to Hector, so that he may take our ships and win kûdos?” (14, 365). Achilles instructs Patroclus as he sends him out to fight against Hector: “Follow faithfully the plan which I put in your mind, so that you will win for me a great timḗ and kûdos at the hands of all the Danaans … But once the enemy is repulsed from the ships, return. Even if Zeus grants you to win kûdos again, guard against the desire to fight against the warlike Trojans without me” (16, 84-88). The phalanxes of the Trojans “had taken their stand around the body of Patroclus and were strongly minded to drag him to the city and win kûdos” (17, 286f.). “Zeus,” says Hector, “has granted me to win kûdos at the ships and to pen the Achaeans by the sea” (18, 293). Achilles rushes into the fray and crushes his enemies “hotly desiring to win kûdos” (20, 502; cf. 12, 407; 21, 596), but “Apollo does not allow him to win kûdos (21, 596). Disguised as Agenor, Apollo gets Achilles to pursue him; then having removed him from the battle, he reassumes his divine shape. Achilles, infuriated, shouts at him: “You have foiled me, most destructive of all the gods, by diverting me hither far from the walls … Now you have deprived me of great kûdos, and you have saved the Trojans” (22, 18). Achilles, as he pursued Hector, makes a sign to his men not to shoot any arrows “lest some other should win kûdos by striking Hector and he should come second” (22, 207). The balance of Zeus has marked Hector’s day of doom. Then Athena says to Achilles: “This time I am confident that we two shall win great kûdos for the Achaeans at their ships by slaying Hector” (ibid. 217).
It is exceptional for the expression to be used in the past tense indicating the accomplished act. Only one example is found of this, and it has the additional peculiarity that the subject is in the plural. This occurs in the paean which the victorious Argives intone: “We have won great kûdos; we have slain the divine Hector” (22, 393).
The second type of use of kûdos arésthai puts the verb in the past conditional: the hero would have won kûdos had not a god intervened to save his adversary. The examples are much less numerous. In his single combat against Alexander, Menelaus chokes him with the strap of his helmet: “He would have dragged him off and thus won great kûdos had not Aphrodite seen him”; the goddess breaks the strap and takes Alexander away (3, 373). “The Argives by their might and strength would have won kûdos, even beyond the fate apportioned by Zeus, had not Apollo himself aroused Aeneas” (17, 321). Hector would have dragged off the corpse of Patroclus and won immense kûdos had not Iris, dispatched by Hera, warned Achilles (18, 165).
Under these two aspects, prospective (future) or retrospective (conditional) “to carry off, win kûdos” is generally the act of a man, sometimes but very rarely, of a people, whereas, as we have seen, “to give kûdos” is always the act of a god. There is this further difference in that “to give kûdos” is a condition which precedes victory, whereas “to win kûdos” appears as the consequence of an exploit: “provided that Zeus grants to us to slay Odysseus and win kûdos” (Od. 22, 253). We may conclude from this that kûdos, which was properly the talisman of victory, came to have the sense of “triumph” by a natural shift of sense: the hero, having accomplished some remarkable exploit, wins by his valor this kûdos which only a god can grant; in a certain sense he wrests it from a god. Thus the formula kûdos arésthai enters into the repertory of heroic eulogy on a par with kléos arésthai ‘win glory’ (Il. 5, 3). Besides, it will have been noticed that the kûdos thus won by the hero often rebounds to the credit of a king. “I shall not reproach Agamemnon,” says Diomedes, “for urging the Achaeans to battle, for it is to him that the kûdos will accrue if the Achaeans slay the Trojans and take holy Ilion; his, too, will be the great grief if the Achaeans are slain” (14, 415). Thus a resemblance is established between kûdos and timḗ, both being prerogatives of the king, and both substantives being constructed with the same verb: “We followed you to please you, and to win (arnúmenoi) for you and Menelaus a timḗ at the hands of the Trojans” (1, 159). The kûdos may also accrue to the whole community of a people (Il. 13, 676).
By another extension of sense kûdos comes to denote an attribute of a man. Of certain heroes it is said that they are “the great kûdos” of the Achaeans (Agamemnon, Nestor, Odysseus) or of the Trojans (Hector). By themselves each is a talisman of victory.
In the light of the definition which we have proposed for kûdos, for its nature and what it represents in the relations between gods and men and for the chances of battle, we can get a better appreciation of the sense of the derivatives based on kûdos: the adjective kudrós, especially in the superlative kúdistos, which is applied to the highest of the gods, particularly Zeus, or, among men, Agamemnon alone; and further of kudálimos, bestowed on heroes or peoples. Of the verbs formed from kûdos we may note particularly kudaίnō or kudánō, which means literally “fill with kûdos,” whether in the physical sense to express “endow with kûdos, with the talisman of victory” (13, 348; 14, 73), whence “to infuse a wounded body with the power to overcome the injury” as Leto and Artemis do to Aeneas when they are tending him (5, 448), or metaphorically “to honor by a mark of distinction” (10, 69; Od. 14, 438). So strong was the force of kûdos that it lent itself to many metaphorical usages in which its essential value is always visible. And this value was certainly, at the beginning, of a magical nature, as emerges from the oppositions into which it enters. Κûdos acts like a charm: it ensures the triumph of the warrior or of the side to which Zeus grants it, whereas the arms and the hearts of his adversaries are “benumbed” or “bound” as if by an enchantment. This motif runs through some episodes, and it brings out the power of this attribute. “I now know,” says Agamemnon before the rout of his army, “that Zeus endows certain men with kûdos (toùs mèn kudánei) to make them like the blessed gods whereas for us he has bound (édēsen) our hearts and arms” (14, 73). “Zeus casts a spell (thélge) on the mind of the Achaeans, but to the Trojans and to Hector he grants kûdos” (12, 225). “The Trojans like ravening lions hurled themselves towards the ships, carrying out the order of Zeus, and he ever roused great might in them, whereas he cast a spell (thélge) on the spirit of the Argives and took away kûdos, while he spurred on the others. For his spirit was set on giving kûdos to Hector, son of Priam, that he might cast a fierce fire on the curved ships” (15, 595-6). Apollo, shaking his aegis before the Danaans and uttering loud cries, “cast a spell (éthelxe) on their hearts and they forgot their zest for the fight … Deprived of their valor the Achaeans fled in panic. For Apollo had sent panic on them but to the Trojans and to Hector he gave kûdos” (15, 327).
It was necessary to go through the uses of kûdos in some detail, to establish its collocations, its oppositions, and its derivatives in order to reach the authentic sense of this sadly misunderstood term. The royal or heroic kûdos forms part of the powerful charms which the gods grant and withhold instantaneously at their own whim to one or other of the parties in war, to restore the equilibrium in battle, to save a chief who has honored them with sacrifices or as a move in their own rivalries. These changing favors reflect the play of factions in the camp of the gods, over which Zeus is arbiter. The kûdos thus passes from one to another, from the Achaeans to the Trojans, then from Hector to Achilles, as an invisible and magical attribute, surrounded by prodigies and as a prodigy itself, an instrument of triumph, which Zeus alone holds forever and which he concedes for a day to kings or heroes.
This description of the sense opens up new possibilities for the etymology. The formal resemblance of Gr. kûdos to Slavic čudo ‘miracle, marvel’ has long been noted, but the sense of “glory” traditionally attributed to kûdos was not favorable to the connection. Now the question can be posed in new terms: kûdos never means “glory” but designates an attribute of a magical nature which ensures triumph. The prodigious character of kûdos, its immense and instantaneous effects, the confusion which it spreads among the enemy, all this brings it close to Slavic čudo and the etymological connection is completely acceptable. Incidentally both words are connected with one and the same verbal root, which is that of čuti ‘feel’ in Slavic and of koeîn ‘perceive, notice’ in Greek. Its proper sense must have been “notice something unusual, perceive as new or strange.” This agrees with the focal sense which seems to be common to Gr. kûdos and Slavic čudo.
We have taken all or nearly all our examples from the Iliad, and these constitute in fact virtually the whole evidence for the word. There are few in the Odyssey, especially if the passages regarded as interpolated are excluded. Some simply reproduce the uses already studied (Od. 4, 275; 22, 253), while others relate to the authority of the king or the head of a house (3, 57; 19, 161).
In all the examples kûdos is always the condition leading to success, whatever this may be, to superiority in some domain in which it is manifested. There are grounds for defining it as an advantage of supremacy which is manifested by a triumph of a magical character, an advantage which is permanent when it is in the hands of Zeus, and temporary when the gods grant it to men. This talisman, which devolves by divine favor on a king or a valiant warrior, in all circumstances ensures preeminence to them and on occasion confers victory on them. But if there is no victory without kûdos, kûdos is not necessarily linked with the triumph of the warrior. Although it is never described, it can be represented in a material guise: it seems to confer a kind of brilliance on those who are endowed with it. In the epithet kudrós, applied to divinities, there is the idea of a certain majesty, of a radiance which is the external manifestation of kûdos.
To return to the notions which were our starting point, we now see how they are to be distinguished. Géras denotes exclusively material goods; it forms part of the portion belonging to men, the prestation due to the sovereign person, recognition by means of offerings of his rank and of his supremacy. Timḗ is an honor, paid to the gods and also accorded by the gods to men as a reward for merit in the form of respect and also of gifts. Finally, kûdos does not depend on men but is the exclusive possession of the gods and forms part of the apanage of these gods. It is a magic power the possession of which confers superiority in certain circumstances, often in battle, where it is a guarantee of victory.
The analysis of the term kûdos opens up a domain into which we are rarely introduced by Greek terms, that of the magical powers of royalty. In the most ancient world of Indo-European concepts the king had a role which was both political and magical. He assumes complete power, ruling over the relations of men among themselves and also their relations with the gods. Because of this he is possessed of a formidable power that consists of law and magic.
It is remarkable that a notion like kûdos should have survived in a world so bereft of magic as that of the Homeric poems. This is perhaps due to the fact that it is used for the most part in formulaic expressions. This term had ceased to be understood even in ancient times, so that it was assimilated to kléos ‘glory’ or níkē ‘victory’. It is necessary to transcend these rationalistic interpretations in order to recover the full and true sense of the word.