Homeric Conversation

  Beck, Deborah. 2005. Homeric Conversation. Hellenic Studies Series 14. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BeckD.Homeric_Conversation.2005.

Chapter 6. Group Contexts II—Athletic Games, Laments

This chapter differs somewhat from the previous chapters in its organization and goals. Chapters 1-5 discussed various forms of lengthening and elaboration that occur in connection with repeating conversational types (one-on-one conversations, single speeches, and formal assemblies). The conversational types that were studied in these chapters all occur sufficiently often that it is clear what the repeated, “normal” pattern is for each. As a result, it is equally clear when elaborations or variations occur. The purpose of this chapter, on the other hand, is to explore the similarities between the typical form of the assembly and the typical patterns for other contexts in which formal group conversations take place, namely athletic competitions and laments. These two types, unlike assemblies or the other kinds of conversations that we have discussed so far, are not repeating modes of conversation. In fact, we have just one clear example of each (both in the Iliad) in which a series of speeches occurs that is long enough to constitute a sequence of speeches. [1] One example does not constitute a clear or a repeated “type” for either games or laments. For this reason, it is not possible to talk about expansions or elaborations on a basic conversational type for either of these genres of group speech. [2] Without a set of several examples, it is not possible to identify these patterns with certainty as types, just as it is usually not possible to identify rarely occurring phrases as formulas. In the case of both types and {230|231} formulas, one or a few examples of what seems to be a regular pattern may well be a Homeric type or a formula, but it is simply not possible to be sure.

Athletic Games

I will argue in this chapter that all formal conversational contexts in Homeric epic use behavior in some way as a regular accompaniment to speech. This regular link between behavior and speech, in fact, marks them as formal modes of conversation. In an assembly, as we have seen in Chapter 5, formulaic language is available to describe the most consistent aspects of such a scene. First, the gathering is assembled by heralds. The group as a whole is seated when an assembly begins. While the assembly is in progress, individual speakers usually stand up to mark the start of their turn as a speaker, and sit down to end their turn. Such behavioral accompaniments to speech regulate the order of turns and the progression from one speaker to the next, both for the internal audience in the poem (who needs to know when someone else can speak, or when they should respond) and also for the external audience. An assembly may also be formally dissolved. Thus, an assembly as a whole has a formal beginning (the group is called by a leader {231|232} and sits down), is clearly regulated turn by turn while it is in progress (by sitting and standing), and is dissolved when it is over. Athletic games display the same features of overall organization: they take place within a broad context of rules and order. This allows conflict in the games themselves to unfold within firm and reliable limits of stability. The basic idea that funeral games represent a more orderly, less dangerous replay of battle is not a new one. [4] This discussion extends that connection to the structure and function of conversation in funeral games, which combine elements of both the battlefield and the assembly. This allows us to see the interaction of contest and order at the level of both the structure of the type and the social interactions that take place during athletic games.

Iliad 23: The Funeral Games of Patroclus

This section will use the funeral games of Patroclus in Iliad 23 as a basis for a study of the typical patterns governing funeral games, with the proviso given at the beginning of the chapter that we cannot be sure of the extent to which such patterns can be generalized since Iliad 23 offers the only fully developed {232|233} example of funeral games. After exploring these typical patterns, including their links to the conventions governing conversational types that have been studied in previous chapters, I will examine the role of conversation in creating emphasis and shaping the funeral games of Patroclus into our final picture of the Greek forces in the poem, restored to harmony among themselves while at the same time preserving a strong sense of honor and competition.

Games and Assembly

The similarities between assemblies and athletic games exist at the level of broad, organizational principles. One of these similarities is the notion of the group being seated at the start of the business for which they have gathered together. When the games in honor of Patroclus begin after the Greeks finish putting out his funeral pyre, a leader—here the chief mourner, Achilles—collects the group together, who are then seated (23.257-258).

αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς
αὐτοῦ λαὸν ἔρυκε καὶ ἵζανεν εὐρὺν ἀγῶνα,

But Achilleus
held the people there, and made them sit down in a wide assembly,

Moreover, just as standing up marks the start of a turn in assembly, the most common formulaic speech introduction in Iliad 23 is στῆ δ’ ὀρθὸς καὶ μῦθον ἐν Ἀργείοισιν ἔειπεν (he stood upright and spoke his word out among the Argives). [10] This verse appears when Achilles announces a new competition in the funeral games, and is not used in other contexts. [11] This makes sense in funeral games for some of the same reasons I mentioned in connection with assembly turn regulation: standing up clearly identifies the start of a new portion of the funeral games, so that the rest of the group knows to whom to listen next and also that the next part of the games is now taking place. Thus, order is maintained in a possibly disorderly situation. Other speakers regularly stand up during these games before speaking, too, but there is no formulaic speech introduction to introduce these other speakers. Finally, after the funeral games, the first words of Book 24 are λῦτο δ’ ἀγών (and the games broke up, 24.1), evoking the end of the assembly in Book 1 (λῦσαν δ’ ἀγορήν [they dissolved the assembly], 305). In broad, formal outlines, the procedures for funeral games closely resemble those for assemblies: the group is gathered together by a leading individual; they sit down; standing regularly precedes a new speech; and at the end of the meeting, the group is dissolved. Both activities, in broad outline, involve a group of people who has some identity as a group engaged in a cooperative activity important to all of them.

Games and Battle

At the level of individual turns, however, athletic games in many respects are more like battles than like assemblies. In an assembly, speaking is the only activity. Speaking turns in an assembly occur one after the other, generally without anything happening between one turn and the next except for reaction by the assembled group. In contrast, both action and speech may {234|235} occur within a given set of turns in the funeral games, and extended speech-only exchanges rarely take place. [12] While standing up in an assembly always means that the person wishes to speak, participants in the funeral games for Patroclus stand up for various reasons. Achilles, as we have seen, regularly stands up to introduce a new contest. In addition, competitors who wish to compete in a particular contest indicate their interest by standing up after the contest has been announced. The particular verb that usually appears when someone stands up to show that he wants to compete in an athletic contest is a form of ὄρνυμι “rouse oneself, stir oneself up, rise from a sitting position.” [13] Sometimes we find forms of ἵστημι “stand” for one competitor in a particular contest, and ὄρνυμι for the other, showing that the two verbs indicate the same activity for competitors who want to show their interest in competing. [14] In other words, would-be competitors stand up to indicate that they want a “turn” not to speak, but to do, to compete. This function of standing as a prelude both to speech and to action implicitly equates speech and action as modes of activity in the funeral games. We have also seen this kind of association between speech and action on the battlefield, where individual “turns” may consist of both speech and action and where a warrior may attack an enemy both by threatening him and by shooting at him. When the purpose of a given turn is explicitly competitive rather than cooperative—whether in battle or in games—it may contain both speech and action. [15]

Although game participants mark themselves as taking a turn when they stand up, there is no corresponding way to indicate that a turn is over, as there is for assembly speakers. In assemblies, in contrast, the formula “X stood up” before a speech generally follows a formula mentioning previous speaker Y, who sat down after finishing a turn at speaking. This has to do with two unique aspects of game turns: first, if the “turn” that is indicated by the person who stands up is a shot at competition, it is not only permitted but necessary that more than one person at a time should take a turn. So, standing up identifies {235|236} someone as a turn-taker in a particular contest, but does not limit the entire turn to this person. Because it is not necessary to limit a game turn to one individual, it does not matter if turns overlap, and so it is not as important in funeral games as it is in assemblies to indicate where a particular turn ends. Secondly, even when standing marks the start of a speaking turn rather than a competitor turn (as when Achilles stands before announcing a new competition), the speech it introduces usually does not lead to conversation. Achilles, like a speaker in an assembly, does exclude others from taking a turn when he stands up before announcing a new competition. He not only identifies himself as a turn-taker by standing, he also signals that he alone is taking a turn. But Achilles, unlike a speaker in assembly, has a unique type of turn because he is the leader of the funeral games. No one else can announce new competitions, whereas many people can take a turn at speaking in an assembly. For the most part, after Achilles announces a new competition, the next turn is not another speech but the self-identification of competitors. Again, such a mixture of speech and action within a larger exchange recalls the battlefield, particularly since the only repeating speech element of the “competition” type is a single kind of speech (announcement that a competition will begin). The overall structure and the orderly rules governing the competition in games closely resemble the essentially cooperative conversational type of the assembly. Individual turns, which emphasize the spirit of competition more than the spirit of cooperation, resemble those found in combat situations. This combination of elements produces an activity that successfully mixes cooperation and competition.

Elements of the Game Type

Conversations in the Chariot Race

The first conversation in the chariot race occurs between two spectators, and it threatens to turn into a competition of its own until Achilles puts a stop to it. After some sharp words between the competitors Menelaus and Antilochus about Antilochus’ sneaky driving technique while the race is in progress, the scene shifts to the spectators. The spectators are seated ἐν ἀγῶνι (in their assembly, 448), but Idomeneus sits higher up than the other spectators and so he can see the racecourse better than they can (450-455). He rises from his seat and speculates about who is in the lead. {237|238}

στῆ δ’ ὀρθὸς καὶ μῦθον ἐν Ἀργείοισιν ἔειπεν·
“ὦ φίλοι, Ἀργείων ἡγήτορες ἠδὲ μέδοντες,
οἶος ἐγὼν ἵππους αὐγάζομαι ἦε καὶ ὑμεῖς;”

[Idomeneus] rose to his feet upright and spoke his word out to the Argives:
“Friends, who are leaders of the Argives and keep their council:
am I the only one who can see the horses, or can you also?”


This conversation about the competition now runs the risk of becoming a full-fledged competition in “competition” with the chariot race. Ajax rises to take up Idomeneus’ challenge, just as he might have done if he were showing his intention to compete in a contest that had been formally announced by the leader of the games. But for the timely intervention of Achilles, a contest other than the chariot race would have broken out (488-491).

ὣς ἔφατ’, ὄρνυτο δ’ αὐτίκ’ Ὀϊλῆος ταχὺς Αἴας
χωόμενος χαλεποῖσιν ἀμείψασθαι ἐπέεισσι·
καί νύ κε δὴ προτέρω ἔτ’ ἔρις γένετ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν,
εἰ μὴ Ἀχιλλεὺς αὐτὸς ἀνίστατο καὶ φάτο μῦθον· {238|239}

So he spoke [sc. Idomeneus], and swift Aias, son of Oïleus, was rising
up, angry in turn, to trade hard words with him. And now
the quarrel between the two of them would have gone still further,
had not Achilleus himself risen up and spoken between them:

The progression here resembles the “competition” type in some ways: it includes the typical contest elements “leader stands (Idomeneus’ first speech) / announces contest / contestants rise (Ajax after second speech of Idomeneus).” However, unlike the typical pattern for introducing a competition, this exchange between Ajax and Idomeneus includes conversation in which the announcer and the would-be competitor get into an argument. Moreover, it presents the person who speaks first as a possible competitor, which Achilles never is. At the same time, the narrative depicts this budding competition as a conversational exchange, since Ajax’s aborted reply is referred to in verse 489 with the verb ἀμείψασθαι.

A wrangle is now on the verge of breaking out between Ajax and Idomeneus when Achilles, as the leader, takes the next turn. He stands up and speaks to the disputing men, thereby preventing them from fighting or from making a bet about who will win the race. We have seen in the chapters about one-on-one conversations that conditional speech introductions regularly emphasize the strength of some feeling that the subsequent speech averts or tames. [20] Here, the strong feeling that Achilles averts is the competitive impulse: the desire to be right, to be strongest, to gain the upper hand over others. Both the conversation itself and the conditional structure it contains before Achilles’ speech highlight the spectators’ feelings about competition. These features in turn give greater impact to Achilles’ success in defusing these feelings. Although Achilles has calmed this particular group of unruly spectators, the chariot race includes several more instances of disagreements breaking out that threaten the stability of the games. Again and again, we will see conversation illustrating both the strength of the competitive urges that the chariot race elicits and the success of the Greeks in managing and resolving these impulses. Given that conversation in the Iliad often illustrates the strength and power of unchecked or destructive competitive impulses, this {239|240} technique is particularly effective in creating a sense of resolution and closure for the Greeks as a group in these games.

New difficulties arise in the chariot race after the contestants have all finished the race and the prizes are to be awarded. Several conversations occur in the course of these disagreements. First, Antilochus refuses to accept Achilles’ decision to give second prize to Eumelus even though Eumelus came in last place. A conversation takes place in which he and Achilles discuss the issue (536-562). Then a second dispute arises almost immediately between Antilochus and Menelaus over which of them is really entitled to Antilochus’ prize (566-611). The overall organization of this conversation and its turn sequences resembles a battlefield exchange. That is to say, conversation about a particular activity alternates with the activity itself, namely the distribution of the prizes. This gives a competitive edge to the idea of distributing prizes, even though in theory, this should be a celebratory, consensus-based part of a contest. Once again, conversation is used to bring forward both the strength of the competitive feelings of the participants and the underlying group harmony that makes it possible to resolve or defuse these feelings.

After Achilles proposes to give the second prize to Eumelus even though he came in last (536-538), Antilochus rises to say that he will be very angry if this is done. Instead, he says, Achilles should give Eumelus an additional prize from his own stores if he wants. {240|241}

“ὦ Ἀχιλεῦ, μάλα τοι κεχολώσομαι, αἴ κε τελέσσῃς
τοῦτο ἔπος· μέλλεις γὰρ ἀφαιρήσεσθαι ἄεθλον . . . ”
ὣς φάτο, μείδησεν δὲ ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς
χαίρων Ἀντιλόχῳ, ὅτι οἱ φίλος ἦεν ἑταῖρος,
καί μιν ἀμειβόμενος ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα·

“Achilleus, I shall be very angry with you if you accomplish
what you have said. You mean to take my prize away from me . . . ”
So he spoke, but brilliant swift-footed Achilleus, favouring
Antilochus, smiled, since he was his beloved companion,
and answered him and addressed him in winged words:

23.543-544, 555-557

Achilles, whose own anger at losing a prize he earned has fueled much of the plot of the Iliad, reacts favorably to this appeal. One can imagine a functionally equivalent but less effective passage as follows:

*τὸν δ’ ἐπιμειδήσας προσέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεὺς,
χαίρων Ἀντιλόχῳ, ὅτι οἱ φίλος ἦεν ἑταῖρος·

Swift footed Achilles, smiling, addressed him,
favouring Antilochus, since he was his beloved companion,

The change of epithets seems insignificant: both refer to Achilles’ swiftness of foot. [
23] The important difference between this hypothetical couplet and the passage in our text is the increased prominence of Achilles’ emotions resulting from the additional verse to describe them. His feelings here, and his role in the dispute, contrast strongly with his feelings on the previous occasions when we have seen him involved in conversations about disputed property. He is now the unruffled distributor of prizes, not the irate recipient (or non-recipient). Achilles tells one of his companions to fetch additional gifts for Eumelus from his tent; this is done, and Eumelus accepts his prize with pleasure (563-565). This portrayal of Achilles calming Greeks who are exercised about the allocation of prizes, evoking his very different demeanor about the distribution of his own prizes in Book 1, ends the first movement of this conversation. By showing Achilles in this way, the episode provides a clear and effective closure to the conflict surrounding him that has troubled the Greeks for much of the poem. {241|242}

Similar concerns now arise for other competitors. Menelaus, the winner of the third prize, becomes angry. He rises to speak (566), saying that Antilochus had beaten him unfairly to win (570-585). Antilochus gives way before the wrathful Menelaus and offers to hand over the mare that he was awarded for his prize (587-595). The pleasure of Menelaus at this deferential treatment is described at some length and includes a simile. The thrust of 596-601, however, is simply that Menelaus replied to Antilochus:

ἦ ῥα, καὶ ἵππον ἄγων μεγαθύμου Νέστορος υἱὸς
ἐν χείρεσσι τίθει Μενελάου· τοῖο δὲ θυμὸς
ἰάνθη ὡς εἴ τε περὶ σταχύεσσιν ἐέρση
ληΐου ἀλδήσκοντος, ὅτε φρίσσουσιν ἄρουραι·
ὣς ἄρα σοί, Μενέλαε, μετὰ φρεσὶ θυμὸς ἰάνθη.
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα·

He spoke, the son of Nestor the great-hearted, and leading
the mare up gave her to Menelaos’ hands. But his anger
was softened, as with dew the ears of corn are softened
in the standing corn growth of a shuddering field. For you also
the heart, o Menelaos, was thus softened within you.
He spoke to him aloud and addressed him in winged word:

The passage highlights Menelaus’ pleasure by describing it in terms of dew on ears of wheat that are blowing in the breeze, a vivid and peaceful image that both adorns the scene and contributes to the sense of calm that succeeds the conflict over the prize.

The simile and the speech frame as a whole emphasize the swift action that Antilochus takes to placate Menelaus (in contrast to Agamemnon’s inaction in a similar situation) and its beneficial, calming effect on the offended person. As it turns out, Antilochus’ gesture alone is enough to calm Menelaus, and he refuses to take the mare (602-611). Menelaus gives her to the companion of Antilochus to lead away, and Menelaus gets a cup instead (612-613). Thus, this disagreement contrasts strongly with the disastrous argument between Achilles and Agamemnon over prizes that begins the poem and has such a far-reaching effect. Here, both participants go further than is necessary to resolve their dispute, whereas neither Agamemnon nor Achilles was willing to go far enough to resolve theirs until it had already done enormous damage. As this passage makes clear, in these games, conflict is not avoided; instead, it is repeatedly confronted and defused in an orderly and productive manner. {242|243} The poem draws to a close partly by dwelling at length on this process and implicitly contrasting it to the conflicts that bedevil the Greeks through most of the Iliad.

No one argues about Meriones’ fourth prize, which he receives without any accompanying disputes or speeches (614-615). Achilles awards the fifth and final prize for the chariot race, which has gone unclaimed by any contestant, as a sort of honorary prize for Nestor since he is now too old to compete (618-623). Nestor is delighted to accept this award, which we learn not only from the narrator in the introduction to Nestor’s speech (624-625) but also from Nestor’s own words (626-650). Here, too, an expanded speech frame emphasizes reciprocity, both the actual giving of the gift and the joy of the recipient, although the narrative could have proceeded smoothly if a single verse “Nestor answered him” reply introduction were used instead.

ὣς εἰπὼν ἐν χερσὶ τίθει· ὁ δ’ ἐδέξατο χαίρων,
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα·

He spoke, and put it in the hands of Nestor, who took it joyfully
and spoke in answer and addressed him in winged words:


Once again, the full-verse introductory formula καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα appears in combination with another verse or verses that describe the pleasure of one of the participants in the games at an orderly distribution of prizes, bringing this notion to the fore at the end of the process of awarding the prizes for the chariot race.

Thus, the conversations that occur during the chariot race and the specific speeches that are introduced by multi-verse speech frames in particular repeatedly show the heroes successfully adjusting differences of opinion about prizes and reputation, sometimes after heated disagreements and angry words. The expanded speech frames emphasize the importance of these issues specifically by highlighting the strength of the emotions that are stirred up by them. This calls the audience’s attention not only to the powerful feelings surrounding the equitable allotment of goods, but also to the consistent success of Achilles in particular at facing these conflicts and resolving them. This success, in turn, contrasts with Achilles’ own angry and intractable behavior earlier in the Iliad when he fails to get the prizes he feels he deserves. Achilles appears throughout the chariot race as a strong {243|244} and effective force for order, equity, and conflict resolution. [24] This dramatizes his character’s evolution over the course of the poem and—given the central role in the Iliad of Achilles’ feelings about prizes and conflict over them—brings the poem toward its conclusion. It is largely through conversations that these ideas emerge, conversations that distinguish the chariot race from the other contests in the funeral games. This technique derives even more impact from the contrasting functions of conversation in the funeral games, where they emphasize moments when conflicts are successfully resolved, with the function of conversation in most other contexts in the poem, where they draw out various aspects of unresolved and/or ongoing conflicts.

What have we learned about the structure of games? In the funeral games in Iliad 23, the overall structure with its formal markers for beginning, turn-taking, and ending resembles that of an assembly. Within this structure, however, individual turns and speeches differ from those that occur in formal assemblies because they rarely make a conversation. Instead, speech and action can each constitute a “turn,” and both may be combined in one interdependent structure within a given turn. These aspects of speech representation in the funeral games in Iliad 23 resemble battlefield scenes more than assemblies, where conversation forms the essence of the scene and where action other than various formal accompaniments to speech rarely occurs. So, we can say that the representation of speech and conversation in Patroclus’ funeral games combines the formal structures of assembly with the competition and speech-plus-action turn patterns found on the battlefield. That is to say, opponents strive against one another in an agonistic, competitive manner within a larger framework of rules and order that prevents the competitive aspect of the situation from getting out of control. Because conversation is rare in games scenes, when it does occur it creates emphasis simply by being there, as we have seen at length in the chariot race in Patroclus’ funeral games. In this competition, several different conversations consistently highlight conflict over the equitable distribution of goods in order to show these conflicts being resolved. Because conflict over prizes is one of the main themes of the Iliad, this provides an effective sense of closure in our last view of most of the important Greek heroes. {244|245}


  • formulaic speech introduction: τῇσιν δ’ αὖτε or ἔπειτα [name of lamenter] ἐξῆρχε γόοιο
  • lament
  • formulaic speech conclusion: ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες

All of these elements are not necessarily found in this identical form in every lament, but this basic structure and often these formulas usually accompany laments. As in assemblies, the regular structure of an individual turn in a formal lament sequence includes not only the speech itself, but also specific actions before and after the speech that are related to the context in which the speech occurs. {245|246}

Some of these laments for Patroclus have been used by neoanalysts to argue that Patroclus’ death is a superficially adapted version of Achilles’ death which has an uneasy or problematic relationship to its Iliadic context. However, if we closely examine the structures found in speeches about the dead Patroclus, it becomes clear that the speech most extensively used to support this neoanalytical argument shows significant differences from typical lament patterns and is not really a lament at all. In other words, speeches lamenting Patroclus’ death do not seem to be taken from some other part of the Troy tale without regard to their suitability for the Iliad, but to be well integrated into their own contexts. If we look for lament patterns outside of the well-known series about Hector in Book 24, we find them creating added layers of meaning and connection through the last section of the Iliad. Many of these laments, among the most beautiful and moving speeches in the Iliad, have been extensively studied before for their individual pathos and artistry; this analysis will draw out the connections among different examples of lament in order to show their significance as a consistent force in shaping the end of the poem into a depiction of the costs of war for Greek and Trojan alike.

Iliad 24: The Funeral Rites of Hector

The special, formal nature of this series of laments for Hector emerges in several ways. First of all, this is the longest series of successive laments in the Homeric epics for the same individual. [30] In addition, professional singers are present to mourn for Hector, whereas other laments are performed only by the friends, relatives, and comrades of the dead person. These professionals, too, lament in a responsive fashion, although the narrative does not present any of their laments in direct speech. Instead, they appear as a kind of prelude or backdrop for Andromache, who leads off the laments that are sung by Hector’s relations.

This opening, in fact, represents the πρόθεσις (laying out) of Hector, including not only the laying-out itself but also the lamentations that formed a part of this mourning ritual. [
32] From the brief description in 721-722, it appears that while the professional singers are present, they sing a lament and the women respond. [33] This general procedure, although it contains several words that appear only here in the Iliad, [34] mirrors quite closely what we find when female relations rather than professionals lead the lament. Although the noun ἔξαρχος is not found elsewhere in the Iliad, the root ἐξαρχ- appears regularly in formulaic introductions for laments. So, not only the responsive interchange between the professional singers and the women but also the language that the narrator uses to describe the scene closely matches that which we find elsewhere for formal laments sung by non-professional mourners.

After Andromache, Hecuba takes her turn to lament for her dead son. In contrast to the introduction for Andromache’s lament, the language between {248|249} the end of Andromache’s lament and the beginning of Hecuba’s closely follows typical patterns (746-748).

ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες.
τῇσιν δ’ αὖθ’ Ἑκάβη ἁδινοῦ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο·
“Ἕκτορ, ἐμῷ θυμῷ πάντων πολὺ φίλτατε παίδων . . . ”

So she spoke in tears, and the women were mourning in response.
Now Hekabe led out the thronging chant of their sorrow:
“Hektor, of all my sons the dearest by far to my spirit . . . ”

The women who are with Andromache and Hecuba play a necessary part in these laments, as we can see from both ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες in the conclusion for Andromache and τῇσιν in the introduction for Hecuba. The structure of these formulas shows that the conversation or interchange in formal lament is not between the chief mourners and one another, but between each individual chief mourner and the group of women who respond to her lament. [
37] It is these women who respond after Andromache laments, and the women to whom Hecuba addresses her lament as well. At the same time, the laments themselves are “addressed” to the dead Hector, in that the vocative forms in them refer to him. So, laments display their formal, stylized nature partly in the complete separation of the audience for a given speech (the women) and the addressee of the speech (the dead person). In one-on-one conversations, the audience and the addressee are always the same. In group conversations, they may overlap to a greater or lesser degree. Only in laments are they totally distinct. [38] This contributes to the formality that distinguishes lament from other ways of expressing grief.

The notion of the women’s responsive role appears in a slightly less developed way following the lament of Hecuba, since the usual conclusion for lament has an unusual expression in the second half of the verse (24.760-762).

ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσα, γόον δ’ ἀλίαστον ὄρινε.
τῇσι δ’ ἔπειθ’ Ἑλένη τριτάτη ἐξῆρχε γόοιο·
“Ἕκτορ ἐμῷ θυμῷ δαέρων πολὺ φίλτατε πάντων . . . ” {249|250}

So she spoke, in tears, and wakened the endless mourning.
Third and last Helen led the song of sorrow among them:
“Hektor, of all my lord’s brothers dearest by far to my spirit . . . ”

Although 760 does not have the concluding half-verse ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες (and the women mourned in response), the passage between the laments of Hecuba and Helen nevertheless includes the key behavioral and responsive elements of formal lament. ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσα tells us that Hecuba wept as she lamented, and τῇσι refers to the assembled women who are the audience for the lament of Helen. The expression γόον δ’ ἀλίαστον ὄρινε (wakened the endless mourning, 760) strongly implies the assembled women as the people in whom this mourning was awakened, but they are not mentioned explicitly as they would have been by the more common phrase ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες. Even so, this expression conveys the idea of a responsive group wailing in response to Hecuba’s speech.

Helen gives the last lament for Hector (762-775). [39] When she has finished her speech, the scene shifts to Priam and the funeral rites of pyre and burial that men perform. The conclusion to her lament effects a transition from the women’s laments to the men’s funeral rites by making the entire Trojan people, rather than just the womenfolk, the responsive mourners for her lament.

ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δ’ ἔστενε δῆμος ἀπείρων.
λαοῖσιν δ’ ὁ γέρων Πρίαμος μετὰ μῦθον ἔειπεν·
“ἄξετε νῦν Τρῶες ξύλα ἄστυ δέ . . . ”

So she spoke in tears, and the vast populace grieved with her.
Now Priam the aged king spoke forth his word to his people:
“Now, men of Troy, bring timber into the city . . . ”


Helen weeps as she laments, as we are told in the formulaic beginning of verse 776, but unlike Hector’s other mourners, her “audience” is not limited to the women of Troy. The “vast populace” who groans aloud in response to her lament is also the addressee of Priam’s next speech. He speaks immediately after the formal laments by the women have ended, and he addresses the group to whom the last speaker was talking rather than—as is usual in other {250|251} conversational situations—the last speaker. The sequence and arrangement of the speeches here touches Priam’s speech with the idea of lament. In fact, the speech that Priam makes here is the last speech in the poem. He gives instructions for bringing wood into the city along with assurances that the Greeks will not harm the Trojan people while they conduct funeral rites for Hector (778-781). This means that a series of laments for Hector are the final words that the audience hears in the mouths of the characters rather than of the narrator. This essentially concludes the poem with the grief of the Trojan women, instead of (e.g.) the contests of the Greek men, ending the tale on a sorrowful rather than a triumphant or victorious note.

This scene displays the basic features of formal lament. A series of speeches occur that are nominally addressed to the dead person, insofar as the vocatives they contain refer to him. Like assembly, laments feature a series of speeches by different characters to the same addressee. However, the group of people present are the ones who respond to a speech of lament, the dead person obviously being prevented by his condition from doing so. This response by the listening group forms an important and regular element of a lament, as shown by the formulaic expression that refers to it. Both the listeners and the person speaking the lament weep. Thus, lament alone of the conversational genres we have studied has a complete separation between the person addressed in a speech and the person(s) who responds to the speech. This separation contributes to the formality of the occasion; the importance of the listening audience in lament, assembly, and athletic games links all of these together as formal genres of speech. Moreover, since their common attributes have been documented linguistically as characteristic of institutional speech, it seems probable that the specific behavioral and sequential characteristics of these different kinds of conversation reflect at least to some degree a social reality in how they were conducted.

Iliad 22: The Death of Hector

The formal laments in Iliad 24 take place within the larger context of funeral rites, including professional singers and the construction of a funeral pyre on which Hector is cremated after the laments over his body. The same conventions that apply to the laments themselves in Iliad 24, namely the invariable practice of weeping while lamenting and the responsive accompaniment of a group of mourners, also occur with the laments for Hector immediately after his death. These are less formal insofar as they do not take place as part of his funeral rites, and they sometimes lack the formulaic {251|252} speech frames for lament that appear regularly in Book 24. Nonetheless, the speeches themselves display the conventions of lament for the behavior of both lamenter and responsive group. Thus, the audience experiences Hector’s death twice. They also experience it in different ways, first with the despairing shock and immediacy of the moment of death itself, and then in a calmer and more elaborate way during Hector’s funeral. This double treatment of Hector’s death gives it great importance in structuring the end of the poem, and thus in creating the feeling of sorrow and loss that characterizes the poem as a whole.

When Achilles begins dragging the body of Hector around the city of Troy, Hector’s parents and the assembled Trojans are stricken with grief. The language of the passage that describes their emotions does not use the specific words for “grief” or “wail” that we saw repeatedly in Book 24. Nor does Priam ever address Hector in the second person when he expresses his misery, as we saw each of the mourners do in Book 24. [40] Nevertheless, when Hector’s parents witness his death and first give voice to their grief, we have the lament-like scenario of weeping speaker accompanied by mourning group of people. As the scene goes on, each new speech has more of the characteristics of a formal lament, starting with the quasi-lament of Priam—sections of which are quoted below—and culminating in the full-fledged lament of Andromache that concludes the scene. This gives a sense that the members of Hector’s family are in the process of internalizing his death as the scene goes on; by the end of Book 22, his parents and wife have accepted the fact of his death and are speaking in the typical formal patterns of lament.

ᾤμωξεν δ’ ἐλεεινὰ πατὴρ φίλος, ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
κωκυτῷ τ’ εἴχοντο καὶ οἰμωγῇ κατὰ ἄστυ . . . .
. . . πάντας δὲ λιτάνευε κυλινδόμενος κατὰ κόπρον,
ἐξ ὀνομακλήδην ὀνομάζων ἄνδρα ἕκαστον·
“ . . . τῶν πάντων οὐ τόσσον ὀδύρομαι ἀχνύμενός περ
ὡς ἑνός, οὗ μ’ ἄχος ὀξὺ κατοίσεται Ἄϊδος εἴσω,
Ἕκτορος· ὡς ὄφελεν θανέειν ἐν χερσὶν ἐμῇσι·
τώ κε κορεσσάμεθα κλαίοντέ τε μυρομένω τε
μήτηρ θ’, ἥ μιν ἔτικτε δυσάμμορος, ἠδ’ ἐγὼ αὐτός.”
ὣς ἔφατο κλαίων, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο πολῖται·
Τρῳῇσιν δ’ Ἑκάβη ἁδινοῦ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο·
“τέκνον ἐγὼ δειλή . . . ” {252|253}

…and his father beloved groaned pitifully, and all his people about him
were taken with wailing and lamentation all through the city . . .
. . . he implored them all, and wallowed in the muck
before them calling on each man and naming him by his name:
“ . . . But for all of these [sons] I mourn not so much, in spite of my sorrow,
as for one, Hektor, and the sharp grief for him will carry me downward
into Death’s house. I wish he had died in my arms, for that way,
we two, I myself and his mother who bore him unhappy,
might have so glutted ourselves with weeping for him and mourning.”
So he spoke, in tears, and in response mourned the citizens.
But for the women of Troy Hekabe led out the thronging
chant of sorrow: “Child, I am wretched . . . ”

22.408-409; 414-415; 424-431

While some typical features of a lament (weeping individual and a mourning group in accompaniment) are present here, the passage preceding Priam’s speech does not explicitly identify his words as a lament. At the opening of his speech, Priam directly addresses the surrounding group (416-417). Most of Priam’s speech concerns the immediate necessity of journeying to the Greek camp to ransom Hector’s body from Achilles (416-423). This section of the speech is neither to Hector nor about him in the normal manner of a Homeric lament. [
41] At the end of the speech, however, Priam is bewailing the loss of his son (although he never addresses him directly). Thus, the speech does not consistently maintain the distinction between the audience of a lament (the other mourners) and its addressee (the dead person) that characterizes laments elsewhere. Nevertheless, the conclusion of the speech identifies it as a lament. Just as the speech itself does not display some of the important features of a lament, yet has strong affinities with lament toward the end, the speech framing language that surrounds Priam’s speech only identifies it as a lament in the conclusion (429). This conclusion adapts the usual formula that follows laments to accommodate a male mourner rather than the more usual female. The participle “weeping” has the same metrical shape whether {253|254} it is masculine or feminine (κλαίων vs. κλαίουσ’, where the final α is elided before the initial vowel in ἐπί). Similarly, πολῖται has the same metrical shape as γυναῖκες (women), the usual subject of the verb στενάχοντο. A series of laments for a dead person in which one of the mourners is a male relative and the rest are female relatives is unprecedented; it seems that Priam speaks here as one of those most closely affected by Hector’s death, but that his speech is not presented as a full-fledged lament because that would be inconsistent with the lament type. [42]

After Priam finishes, Hecuba begins to speak. Her speech is both preceded and followed by formulaic speech frames for lament. In contrast to Priam, whose “chorus” of mourners are men like himself, Hecuba now makes a lament among the Trojan women. The introduction to her lament uses a dative proper noun to emphasize this difference, rather than the usual pronoun τῇσι (them), which in this context would not clearly identify the women who mourn with her. Her speech, unlike Priam’s, consists entirely of direct address to Hector and the traditional comparison between her own condition and his (431-436). The most unusual feature of Hecuba’s lament is the lack of a responsive audience in the speech conclusion that follows her lament, although the Trojan women appear as her audience before she begins. With this exception, Hecuba’s speech—unlike Priam’s—displays the typical features of formal lament.

After she finishes, however, the most usual speech concluding formula for laments is changed. The resulting verse turns the audience’s attention to Andromache in an extremely effective and moving manner.

“ἦ γὰρ καί σφι μάλα μέγα κῦδος ἔησθα
ζωὸς ἐών· νῦν αὖ θάνατος καὶ μοῖρα κιχάνει.”
ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἄλοχος δ’ οὔ πώ τι πέπυστο
Ἕκτορος· οὐ γάρ οἵ τις ἐτήτυμος ἄγγελος ἐλθὼν
ἤγγειλ’ ὅττι ῥά οἱ πόσις ἔκτοθι μίμνε πυλάων . . .

“since in truth you were their high honor
while you lived. Now death and fate have closed in upon you.”
So she spoke in tears, but the wife of Hektor had not yet
heard : for no sure messenger had come to her and told her
how her husband had held his ground there outside the gates . . .

22.435-439 {254|255}

The conclusion to Hecuba’s speech begins with the usual formula that follows a lament, but the narrator goes on to depict the as-yet ignorant widowed Andromache in the second half of the verse instead of mentioning the responsive lamenting of the Trojan women. The narrator here uses the part of the verse that normally refers to the response of an audience to a lament to say that Andromache is not there, and does not know of her husband’s death. As a result of her ignorance, Andromache does not form part of the responsive mourning group, as the wife of a dead man typically would. Andromache does lament for Hector when she learns of his death. However, the narrator does not put her lament immediately after Hecuba’s, as the turn sequence and formulas leading up to this point lead the audience to expect. Instead, the narrator emphasizes her emotions on the death of her husband by devoting a significant amount of time to describing them. First, her happily ignorant domesticity immediately before she hears the news of Hector’s death sets up a poignant contrast to the scene of death and misery outside the walls of Troy (437-459). When her emotions are finally described (460-475), they gain additional intensity from the disparity with what came immediately before. Rather than analyze the construction of this passage myself, I will quote from Segal’s superb discussion of it.

In Book 22, the very first speech about the dead Hector (by Priam) only resembles a lament in some respects. It does not separate the addressee from the audience, for example, which other laments in the poem consistently do. Nor does it directly address the dead man. As the scene progresses, however, the speeches of other family members more clearly and fully demonstrate the characteristics of the formal lament. Hecuba’s speech displays virtually all of the conventions of lament, except for a reference to a responsive chorus at the end. The lament of Andromache derives special emphasis from its delayed position after the speeches of Hector’s parents, and it displays all of the conventions of formal lament that we see in all three laments in Book 24. {256|257} Overall, the scene gives a sense that the fact of Hector’s death sinks in gradually for the members of his family: Priam, in the immediate flush of grief, does not give a formal lament; Hecuba, with a bit more time to process that her son has been killed, gives a speech with most of the features of formal lament, while Andromache, the last speaker, makes the longest and most formal lament not only of the three in Book 22, but of any in the Iliad. This progression only emerges clearly against the backdrop of the typical patterns for formal lament.

If we compare the series of laments for Hector immediately after his death in Book 22 with those that appear in Book 24 in connection with his funeral rites, we see that the series in Book 24 is more formally arranged and presented in several respects. All of the laments in the series in Book 24 display the same set of formal criteria; the dynamic there is a gradual broadening of the responsive group of lamenters rather than (as in Book 22) a progressive heightening of the expression of grief from unadorned sadness to full-blown lament. At first, the mourners are women, as is usual in such contexts. By the final lament of Helen—who has caused the whole situation, in some sense—the group of mourners has been extended to include all the people of Troy, which will soon fall to the Greeks now that Hector is dead. These two scenes both use the typical features of formal lament to create an overall dynamic for a scene of mourning for Hector, but each scene does this in a different way that is well suited to the particular circumstances of that particular point in the story. Book 22 uses the conventions of lament to depict the gradual process of the loved ones taking in the fact of someone’s death; in Book 24, the narrator creates a sense of closure by gradually broadening the impact of Hector’s death from his immediate family to his entire city, which is now destined to fall, taking Achilles with it. Neither of these effects would be as successful as they are without a typical pattern as the basis for them.

Achilles and Patroclus: Iliad 18, 19, 23

There are two sets of laments for the dead Hector, one somewhat informal series at the point when his family first learns of his death, and a second, more formal group that takes place in the broader context of his funeral rites. In the same way, informal laments for Patroclus occur after Achilles and then Briseis first learn of Patroclus’ death (Books 18 and 19), and Achilles laments for Patroclus again in the more formal context of the funeral games in Book 23. Indeed, after the death of Patroclus in Book 16, the narrative moves back and forth between laments for Patroclus and laments for Hector, one of the {257|258} ways in which the poem highlights the interconnectedness of their deaths and the more general idea of the terrible emotional costs of war for both sides. Patroclus’ death, moreover, is linked both to Hector’s death and also—after the end of the Iliad—to the death of Achilles. In many of these speeches, the lamenter sees the death of Patroclus primarily in terms of the death of Achilles rather than on its own terms. Indeed, it has often been suggested that the primary importance of Patroclus’ death is not the death of Patroclus himself, but the death of Achilles to which it will inevitably lead. [46] However, the position of some neoanalysts that many passages having to do with Patroclus’ death have been taken over with minimal changes from passages describing Achilles’ death in the epic cycle [47] is an overstatement, as a close examination of the use of lament features in the relevant speeches will show. While it is clearly true that much of the emotion that people feel about Patroclus’ death stems from its almost certain result of Achilles’ demise, it is not therefore the case that Patroclus’ death stands in for Achilles’.

Iliad 18

. . . ἄλλαι θ’ αἳ κατὰ βένθος ἁλὸς Νηρηΐδες ἦσαν.
τῶν δὲ καὶ ἀργύφεον πλῆτο σπέος· αἳ δ’ ἅμα πᾶσαι
στήθεα πεπλήγοντο, Θέτις δ’ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο·
“κλῦτε κασίγνηται Νηρηΐδες, ὄφρ’ ἐῢ πᾶσαι
εἴδετ’ ἀκούουσαι ὅσ’ ἐμῷ ἔνι κήδεα θυμῷ.
ὤ μοι ἐγὼ δειλή, ὤ μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια . . . ”

. . . and the rest who along the depth of the sea were the daughters of Nereus.
The silvery cave was filled with these, and together all of them
beat their breasts, and among them Thetis led out the threnody:
“Hear me, Nereids, my sisters; so you may all know
well all the sorrows that are in my heart, when you hear of them from me.
Ah me, my sorrow, the bitterness in this best of child-bearing . . . ”


Thus, in both the speech itself and the speech conclusion to it, the traditional separation in laments between the addressee and the audience breaks down, and the speaker never uses direct address to refer to the person who has died. As we saw above, this is one of the most significant features of lament and one that marks it as a formal genre of speech. This speech alludes to the genre of lament insofar as the narrator uses a lament introductory formula to precede the speech, and the speaker is sad because someone close to her has died. However, in several important respects, this speech is not a lament even though it is often referred to as one: the audience and the addressee of the speech are the same, and the dead person is not mentioned in the speech itself. A desire to connect the deaths of Achilles and Patroclus should not lead us into thinking wrongly that this speech is a lament for Achilles. In fact, it follows only a few of the conventions of formal lament. Kakridis [52] argues that this scene is derived from one representing the death of Achilles and the laments of his mother and aunts on that occasion. Given the many significant ways that this speech does not follow the conventions of lament, I suggest that Kakridis overstates the similarity of the speech of Thetis to a lament in his desire to demonstrate the link between Iliad 18 and a scene of the death of Achilles in another part of the epic cycle. The less this speech resembles lament, indeed, the more improbable it becomes that the passage has links to any specific version of the death of Achilles. Just as Thetis’ speech evokes or alludes to lament, the death of Patroclus evokes the death of Achilles but is not, itself, the death of Achilles.

Achilles laments for Patroclus later in Book 18, after Patroclus’ corpse has been returned to the Greek camp. While the Trojans eat their supper after holding an assembly, Achilles and his comrades spend the night in lamentation for Patroclus. Here Achilles is the only mourner to lament in direct speech, but in spite of the lack of a series of speeches, it is clear that his speech is a lament.

αὐτὰρ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
παννύχιοι Πάτροκλον ἀνεστενάχοντο γοῶντες.
τοῖσι δὲ Πηλεΐδης ἁδινοῦ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο,
χεῖρας ἐπ’ ἀνδροφόνους θέμενος στήθεσσιν ἑταίρου,
πυκνὰ μάλα στενάχων ὥς τε λὶς ἠϋγένειος,
ᾧ ῥά θ’ ὑπὸ σκύμνους ἐλαφηβόλος ἁρπάσῃ ἀνὴρ
ὕλης ἐκ πυκινῆς· ὃ δέ τ’ ἄχνυται ὕστερος ἐλθών,
πολλὰ δέ τ’ ἄγκε’ ἐπῆλθε μετ’ ἀνέρος ἴχνι’ ἐρευνῶν,
εἴ ποθεν ἐξεύροι· μάλα γὰρ δριμὺς χόλος αἱρεῖ· {260|261}
ὣς ὃ βαρὺ στενάχων μετεφώνεε Μυρμιδόνεσσιν·
“ὢ πόποι . . . ”

Meanwhile the Achaians
mourned all night in lamentation over Patroklos.
Peleus’ son led the thronging chant of their lamentation,
and laid his manslaughtering hands over the chest of his dear friend
with outbursts of incessant grief. As some great bearded lion
when some man, a deer hunter, has stolen his cubs away from him
out of the close wood; the lion comes back too late, and is anguished,
and turns into many valleys quartering after the man’s trail
on the chance of finding him, and taken with bitter anger;
so he, groaning heavily, spoke out to the Myrmidons:
“Ah me . . . .”


This passage begins by describing the group of grieving comrades among whom Achilles laments for Patroclus (314-315). The verb στενάχομαι (mourn), which regularly appears in formulaic lament conclusions to describe the responsive mourning of an accompanying group, is used in verse 315 in compound form for the activity of the Achaeans. This portrays them as the responsive chorus for the lament of Achilles. Verse 316 is a formulaic introduction for laments, with a masculine dative pronoun instead of a feminine one to suit the Achaeans as the audience for the lament.

This lament does not lead to further laments by other comrades. Instead, after Achilles finishes speaking, he and his companions bathe the corpse and lay it on a bier (343-353). Following this, a couplet very similar to 314-315 tells us that the Myrmidons lamented with Achilles throughout the night (354-355), and this vignette of the lamenting Achilles comes to an end. This speech displays all of the conventional features of formal lament except for a formulaic conclusion describing responsive lament by a group. This group lamenting does take place, but it is delayed until after the body has been washed. Moreover, the lament gains particular distinction from the simile that is woven into the introductory formula. The simile, which appears in addition to the traditional introduction for a lament rather than instead of it, draws on common battlefield imagery in an unusual context to create a particularly apposite image of Achilles’ grief when he first “meets” the corpse of his dead friend and laments over it.

Although the component of the lamenting group does occur in this scene, the primary focus is very much on Achilles rather than on a group of mourners, as befits the bitter and overwhelming grief of his first confrontation with the dead body of his friend. Unlike Hector, who has several loving relatives who are all grief-stricken by his death, only Patroclus’ absent father Menoetius is said to have an affection for him that resembles that of Achilles. As a result, Achilles has a distinctive role as “head mourner” for Patroclus, while the father, son, brother, and husband Hector is lamented over by many of his relatives. In Book 19, however, Achilles is joined by others in lamenting for Patroclus in a series that more closely resembles those that we saw for Hector. This broadens the impact of Patroclus’ death to include associates of Patroclus’ beyond Achilles. Similarly, Briseis’ lament and the response of the group around her provide an opportunity to explore the broader impact of war itself on the wives, parents, and comrades who are bereaved by the death of warriors they love during a peaceful interlude before Achilles returns to the battlefield to cause the deaths of many more warriors.

Iliad 19

The impetus for this set of laments for Patroclus is Briseis’ return to Achilles after the assembly at which the disagreement between him and Agamemnon is resolved. When Briseis reaches Achilles’ tent and sees the corpse of Patroclus, she addresses him in tears. The introduction to her speech is not based on the common formulaic lament introduction and it does not include a reference to {263|264} a responsive audience among whom she speaks. In other respects, her speech can be confidently identified as a lament.

Βρισηῒς δ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτ’, ἰκέλη χρυσέῃ Ἀφροδίτῃ,
ὡς ἴδε Πάτροκλον δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
ἀμφ’ αὐτῷ χυμένη λίγ’ ἐκώκυε, χερσὶ δ’ ἄμυσσε
στήθεά τ’ ἠδ’ ἁπαλὴν δειρὴν ἰδὲ καλὰ πρόσωπα.
εἶπε δ’ ἄρα κλαίουσα γυνὴ ἐϊκυῖα θεῇσι·
“Πάτροκλέ μοι δειλῇ πλεῖστον κεχαρισμένε θυμῷ . . .
. . . τώ σ’ ἄμοτον κλαίω τεθνηότα, μείλιχον αἰεί.”
ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες,
Πάτροκλον πρόφασιν, σφῶν δ’ αὐτῶν κήδε’ ἑκάστη.

And now, in the likeness of golden Aphrodite, Briseis
when she saw Patroklos lying torn with sharp bronze, folding
him in her arms cried shrilly above him and with her hands tore
at her breasts and her soft throat and her beautiful forehead.
The woman like the immortals mourning for him spoke:
“Patroklos, far most pleasing to my heart in its sorrows . . .
. . . therefore I weep your death without ceasing. You were kind always.”
So she spoke, lamenting, and the women sorrowed in response
grieving openly for Patroklos, but for her own sorrows each.

19.282-287; 300-302

When she speaks, she addresses the corpse directly, as do the relatives of Hector when they mourn for him. Briseis, unlike Thetis, laments for Patroclus himself and the grief that his loss will cause her. She follows the typical lament pattern of directly addressing his corpse at the beginning and the end of her {264|265} lament, and she gives a narrative description of her own life in between. In addition, the formulaic conclusion for laments at 301 brings in the responsive group that usually accompanies lament. Moreover, an additional verse (302) describes the feelings of this lamenting chorus in more detail than we find elsewhere, giving them a particularly prominent role here in spite of their absence from the narrative before the lament begins. Briseis, in essence, assumes the role of a female relation of Patroclus, and gives a formal lament that follows all the conventions of the genre except for the explicit mention of a responsive group before the lament begins.

Achilles, however, maintains his position as the chief mourner and most bereaved person. So, he laments here also, even though he already lamented for Patroclus when the body was first returned to him. After Briseis’ lament, the leaders of the Greeks beg Achilles to eat, but he refuses and most of the leaders leave (303-309). A few men stay with Achilles, however, and form a chorus for his lament for Patroclus.

μνησάμενος δ’ ἁδινῶς ἀνενείκατο φώνησέν τε·
“ἦ ῥά νύ μοί ποτε καὶ σὺ δυσάμμορε φίλταθ’ ἑταίρων . . .
. . . ἤδη γὰρ Πηλῆά γ’ ὀΐομαι ἢ κατὰ πάμπαν
τεθνάμεν, ἤ που τυτθὸν ἔτι ζώοντ’ ἀκάχησθαι
γήραΐ τε στυγερῷ καὶ ἐμὴν ποτιδέγμενον αἰεὶ
λυγρὴν ἀγγελίην, ὅτ’ ἀποφθιμένοιο πύθηται.”
ὣς ἔφατο κλαίων, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γέροντες,
μνησάμενοι τὰ ἕκαστος ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ἔλειπον.

Remembering Patroklos he sighed vehemently for him, and spoke aloud:
“There was a time, ill-fated, o dearest of all my companions . . .
. . . for by this time I think that Peleus must altogether
have perished, or still keeps a little scant life in sorrow
for the hatefulness of old age and because he waits ever from me
the evil message, for the day he hears I have been killed.”
So he spoke, mourning, and the elders lamented in response,
remembering each those he had left behind in his own halls.

19.314-15; 334-39

Here, as in Briseis’ lament, the introduction to Achilles’ speech uses language that is similar to formulaic lament introductions, but it does not explicitly identify the speech as a lament. The adjective ἁδινός (incessant, shrill) modifies the lament itself in language regularly found in lament introductory {265|266} formulas (ἁδινοῦ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο, led out the incessant lament), but here it takes the form of an adverb and describes the manner of Achilles’ speech. The introductory verse, like that for Briseis’ speech, uses a common verb of speaking (ἀνενείκατο φώνησέν τε, sighed and spoke) rather than the technical term for leading a lament (ἐξῆρχε γόοιο, led out lament). It includes no pronoun for the addressee, leaving open the question of who exactly is being addressed. The speech itself is a direct address to the dead Patroclus, as we expect for a lament. [
57] Here, as for Briseis’ lament, the formulaic conclusion gives a particularly prominent role to the responsive community of mourners who were absent from the introductory language. These mourners, like the captive women who lament with Briseis, remember their own loved ones as they lament for Patroclus. The aorist participle μνησάμενος “remembering” appears twice in the verse-initial position at the beginning (314) and the end of this lament (339, with the nominative plural ending -οι). This highlights the connection of memory with lament.

Thus, this lament for Patroclus brings in more people to grieve for him alongside Achilles. The contents of these various laments, and the stress that the speech frames lay on the thoughts of the lamenters, draw attention to the impact that the death of a warrior has on the range of people with whom the warrior is connected. Such connections, which led to Patroclus’ presence on the battlefield in the first place through his relationship to Achilles, become increasingly prominent during the last section of the poem. They finally assume center stage in Book 24, where they provide a way for Priam and Achilles to make a connection to each other and—in a very different context—draw together the whole community of Troy through their grief for the dead Hector to conclude the Iliad.

Iliad 23

Thus far in our exploration of the sorrowful speeches about the dead Patroclus, we have seen one speech by Thetis that evokes lament without actually being one (18.52-64); a lament by Achilles amid the Achaeans when Patroclus’ corpse is brought home (18.324-342); and further laments by Briseis and then by Achilles when Briseis returns to Achilles’ tent and sees the corpse of Patroclus (19.287-300). Finally, in Book 23, Patroclus is buried with full funeral honors, which start with another lament by Achilles. This lament follows almost {266|267} immediately after Andromache’s lament for Hector at the end of Book 22, emphasizing the manifold connections among the characters involved in these two related deaths and the universality of sorrow and lament in war. Just after Hector dies for having killed Patroclus, Patroclus’ corpse receives its final funeral rites. As Book 23 opens, most of the other Greeks return to their ships after the fighting over Hector’s body has ended, but Achilles tells the Myrmidons to stay with him and mourn for Patroclus (4-11). Achilles leads a lamenting group of Myrmidons (οἱ δ’ ᾤμωξαν ἀολλέες, ἦρχε δ’ Ἀχιλλεύς [all of them assembled moaned, and Achilleus led them], 12). Accompanied by Thetis, they slowly drive their chariots around the corpse (12-16).

The introduction to Achilles’ speech at this point is identical to the beginning of the introduction to his first lament for Patroclus.

τοῖσι δὲ Πηλεΐδης ἁδινοῦ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο
χεῖρας ἐπ’ ἀνδροφόνους θέμενος στήθεσσιν ἑταίρου·
“χαῖρέ μοι ὦ Πάτροκλε καὶ εἰν Ἀΐδαο δόμοισι·”

Peleus’ son led the thronging chant of their lamentation,
and laid his manslaughtering hands over the chest of his dear friend:
Good-bye, Patroklos. I hail you even in the house of the death god.”

23.17-19 (17-18 = 18.316-317)

Once again, the added verse after the formulaic lament introduction gives a fuller and more moving picture of the grieving Achilles than the introduction alone would. A simile appeared in Book 18 after this additional verse, but the lament itself directly follows the couplet here. There is no reason why a simile could not have appeared in Book 23 as well as in Book 18. But the appearance of the simile when Achilles first grieves for Patroclus, and when his grief is presumably sharpest and strongest, gives that episode special prominence compared to the more formal context of the funeral rites for Patroclus. This progression, in which the grieving person (or people) becomes more able to voice his sorrow in the formal terms of lament as he gradually takes in the reality of his loved one’s death, resembles what we saw when we compared the laments for the just-killed Hector in Book 22 with the more formal and orderly speeches during his funeral at the end of Book 24.

By this point, although Achilles has not recovered from his grief (and in fact he refuses to eat just after this lament), his grief is somewhat more under control than it has been. He opens his speech here not with expressions of {267|268} grief but with a salutation to the corpse when he says χαῖρέ μοι ὦ Πάτροκλε (contrast the opening words of his first lament at 18.324, ὢ πόποι [ah me]). Moreover, this lament forms part of the funeral rites for Patroclus rather than standing on its own. For this reason too, less elaboration than in Book 18 seems appropriate. The lament itself is short, given that Achilles has already expressed his grief for Patroclus twice before: he merely bids Patroclus farewell and tells him that he has done all the things he promised the corpse that he would do.

If we look at the various laments for Patroclus (by Achilles in Books 18, 19, and 23 and by Briseis in Book 19), we can see that all of them are addressed at least partly to Patroclus himself; all take place with a group of accompanying mourners, although this group may not be mentioned in both the introduction and conclusion of the lament; and all maintain the distinction between the audience of the lament (the group) and the addressee of the lament (the dead person). Thetis’ speech at the beginning of Book 18, on the other hand, although it is often considered a lament, resembles formal laments only in naming the speech as a γόος at the beginning and in giving Thetis a group of women to whom to speak. Her speech itself conforms very little to the traditional structures of formal lament. This casts grave doubt on the neoanalyst contention that Patroclus’ death is a rehash or a reworking of Achilles’ death as depicted in other parts of the epic cycle. While much of the interest in Patroclus’ death lies in its connection to the death of Achilles, Patroclus and Achilles are not interchangeable and the laments for Patroclus should be evaluated on their own terms.

These laments for Patroclus adhere to the basic conventions of the lament as a formal speech genre that we saw in the more developed lament sequences for Hector. In fact, the genre of lament is restricted in the Iliad to Patroclus and Hector, yet another way that these two heroes are linked together and that the poem universalizes the sorrow of war to both sides of the conflict. For both Patroclus and Hector, speeches by dear friends or relatives immediately following the death of the relevant hero have a ragged immediacy that stems partly from the fact that these speeches do not include all the typical attributes of a lament. A later speech or series of speeches, by following lament patterns more fully, have a calmer and more formal tone. Individual laments regularly achieve special effects of pathos or vividness by using the common patterns of lament in unusual ways. Moreover, the laments for each hero interlock with one another over the last {268|269} quarter of the poem, thereby strengthening its shape and cohesion: Hector’s death at Achilles’ hands follows the first laments for Patroclus and precedes his funeral. Laments for Hector, the most developed and formal of all, bring the poem to a close after Patroclus’ funeral has taken place. Thus, the genre of lament plays a significant role both in setting apart Hector and Patroclus and in linking them together. Indeed, it shapes the last section of the poem into a subtle and highly effective depiction of war primarily as a source of sorrow for those on both sides. Of course, it is also a source of honor and prizes and so forth, but the consistent emphasis on lament and grieving in the last part of the Iliad depicts loss for both winners and losers as the main effect of war.


Although athletic games and formal laments do not appear often enough to have the same secure status as types that other kinds of conversations do, they show patterns that are clear and consistent. Not only do they follow particular patterns, albeit patterns that appear less often than those of more well established types, they also manipulate these patterns to create effects in the same manner that we have observed in previous chapters. Athletic games, formal laments, and assemblies share turn sequences and turn structures that appear to be associated with formal contexts. These include successive speeches to a group at the level of turn sequence; turns that are composed of both speech and action; and speech turns that are regularly accompanied by some kind of behavior. To a great extent, these patterns are consistent with characteristics of institutional talk that have been documented by linguistic research, suggesting that the specifics of behavior and sequence described in these poetic representations reflect at least to some degree actual practices in assembly, games and lament.

Each of these genres regularly adapts these conventions to create aesthetic effects that dramatize themes important to the poem overall. In the funeral games for Patroclus, conversation appears at moments when the Greeks in general and Achilles in particular successfully negotiate and resolve conflicts about status and prizes. This contrasts markedly with Achilles’ behavior and the use of conversation elsewhere in the Iliad, thereby providing an effective resolution to the theme of conflict and status among the various Greeks. Laments for Hector and for Patroclus in the last third of the poem bring forward the idea that the main characteristic of war is the {269|270} costs it exacts from the loved ones of the dead warriors on both sides. This idea of war, an extraordinary one in a Greek poem depicting a Greek victory, characterizes the outlook of the Iliad and gives it much of its superb force and power.

The Conclusion will discuss the characteristics and aesthetic significance of conversation, and will speculate on what this means for the composition, transmission, and writing down of the Homeric epics. {270|}


[ back ] 1. The game or competition is certainly a type (see Scott 1997:216-218 for a description of it), but conversation is not a regular element of it. Hence, although the competition is a type, it is not a conversational type.

[ back ] 2. Alexiou 1974 constructs a typology of lament based on repeated examples of laments in the Homeric epics, which I will draw on extensively in the discussion that follows. However, for lament specifically as a conversational genre, we have only Iliad 24 in which several laments appear in succession.

[ back ] 3. In particular Drew and Heritage 1992 passim.

[ back ] 4. See Redfield 1994:204-210 for a valuable discussion of the structural similarities between the two.

[ back ] 5. Richardson 1993:164-166 provides a particularly helpful discussion of this point, along with the ring compositional links between our introduction to the Greek forces in the Catalogue of Ships in Book 2 and our farewell to them during the funeral games.

[ back ] 6. E.g. Lattimore (at least implicitly), who translates this word as “assembly.”

[ back ] 7. Twice in the Iliad (7.298, 18.376).

[ back ] 8. Five times in the Iliad (15.428, 16.239, 16.500, 19.42, 20.33).

[ back ] 9. Sixteen times in Iliad 23 and 24, and once in Odyssey 24 to refer to the funeral games of Achilles (86); five times in Odyssey 8, when the Phaeacians hold games during Odysseus’ stay there.

[ back ] 10. Seven times, all in Iliad 23: 271, 456, 657, 706, 752, 801, 830. Arend 1933:120-121 includes this formula in a brief but useful discussion of various similarities between Iliad 23 and assembly scenes, in which he includes the elements of sitting down, the scepter, and the presence of a herald.

[ back ] 11. With one exception that I will discuss further below.

[ back ] 12. In the terminology of Hymes, assembly is a speech event while battle is a situation associated with speech (Gumperz and Hymes 1972:56).

[ back ] 13. Used ten times in this sense in Iliad 23, including four examples of a formulaic speech concluding verse ὣς ἔφατ’, ὦρτο δ’ ἔπειτα [nominative name/epithet] (so he spoke, and presently there rose up [subject]: 708, 811, 836, 859).

[ back ] 14. For example, at 23.708, Ajax “rose up” (ὦρτο) while his competitor Odysseus “stood up” (ἀνίστατο, 709).

[ back ] 15. Of course, one-on-one conversations or assemblies may be competitive, but unlike battlefield vaunts or athletic competition, this competitiveness is a function of the specific conversation rather than the genre itself.

[ back ] 16. This list is based on Scott 1997:217-218. Minchin 2001:43-44 offers a very similar overview of the type, although she provides more detail about the preparations for and accomplishment of the contest itself.

[ back ] 17. Scott 1997 does not include this as an element of the type, but as it occurs in all of the competitions except one, I have added it to his list.

[ back ] 18. Scott 1997:221.

[ back ] 19. The speech introduction at 23.473 is not formulaic, but it does appear at Odyssey 18.321 as well as in our passage: τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε [name/epithet] (at 23.473, Swift Aias, son of Oileus, spoke shamefully to him in anger).

[ back ] 20. The comments of Lang 1989 about the difference between affirmative and negative protases are particularly useful here: see e.g. 6 for her characterization of conditions with negative protases as reporting “what happened to prevent an expected result.”

[ back ] 21. E.g. 699 for awarding the boxing prizes.

[ back ] 22. In the close combat, we learn in 822-823 that the crowd called for a draw and an equal distribution of prizes, but no direct speech appears.

[ back ] 23. If that is what ποδάρκης means; see Chantraine 1984.

[ back ] 24. Taplin 1992:253 notes that “it is one of the main poetic functions of the funeral games to show Achilleus soothing and resolving public strife, instead of provoking and furthering it.”

[ back ] 25. The Odyssey clearly demonstrates that lament is a kind of conversation: when the soul of Agamemnon describes the death and funeral of Achilles in Book 24, he says Μοῦσαι δ’ ἐννέα πᾶσαι ἀμειβόμεναι ὀπὶ καλῇ / θρήνεον (all nine Muses taking turns with one another in sweet singing / mourned, 60-61).

[ back ] 26. Alexiou 1974:6 remarks that “the archaeological and literary evidence, taken together, makes it clear that lamentation involved movement as well as wailing and singing.” Unfortunately this movement is not referred to in formulaic speech frames, but it supports the basic idea that lament is a genre of formal conversation akin to assembly in its use of particular kinds of ritualized behavior as an accompaniment to speech.

[ back ] 27. Primarily for Patroclus. These will be discussed below.

[ back ] 28. The Chanson de Roland provides a parallel for a traditional story that is told with a lot of laments in order to draw out not simply the heroism but also the bereavement and sadness of war (Duggan 1973:171-183, especially 175-176).

[ back ] 29. The following discussion will be concerned primarily with the order of laments and the speech frames that link them together into a series. Those interested in the content of the laments themselves are referred to Lohmann 1970:108-112 and Alexiou 1974:132-134; see also the overview of this series of laments in Richardson 1993:349-352, and his comments on the contents of the laments themselves ad loc.

[ back ] 30. Edwards 1986b points out that these laments are longer and more elaborate than the laments in other funerals described in the Homeric epics (85).

[ back ] 31. Adapted from Lattimore, who consistently translates ἐπί as “beside” or “around” in lament formulas. It seems to me that ἐπί represents the responsive nature of the wailing in these contexts, not the location of the wailers.

[ back ] 32. Alexiou 1974:12.

[ back ] 33. Whether there is a difference in the Iliad between the θρῆνος of the professionals and the γόος of the female relations is debated. Nagy 1979:112 suggests that the use of indirect speech to represent professional mourners’ laments, versus direct speech for relatives, indicates a genre distinction between θρῆνος and γόος.

[ back ] 34. Richardson 1993:351 cites ἀοιδός (singer), θρῆνος (lament), θρηνεῖν (to lament), and ἔξαρχος (leader). This last, Richardson says, along with the verb ἐξάρχειν (to lead) “are virtually technical terms for leading a group of singers or dancers.”

[ back ] 35. This is a regular accompaniment to formal lament (Alexiou 1974:6); the combination of specific behavior with speaking characterizes lament as a formal genre of speech.

[ back ] 36. Edwards 1987:314 says, “it is hard not to think that the change of the adjective is intended to evoke more vividly the picture of her bare arms around the corpse.”

[ back ] 37. Drew and Heritage 1992:27 discuss “talk for an overhearing audience” as characteristic of institutional talk settings.

[ back ] 38. This is consistent with various observations about institutional talk: its turn structures vary noticeably from those found in regular one-on-one settings, and in a given setting, there may be particular turn structures that distinguish that particular activity or setting from other institutional settings (Drew and Heritage 1992:25-26).

[ back ] 39. Richardson 1993:350 rightly contrasts Helen’s position as a chief mourner, which is surprising, with that of Hector’s mother and wife, “and it is surely significant that she, who was the cause of the war, should speak thus so near the poem’s end.”

[ back ] 40. Alexiou 1974:171-172 discusses the importance of the “I/you” contrast as a regular feature of Greek laments, as well as other genres such as hymns.

[ back ] 41. Ibid. 133, where Alexiou notes that this is a traditional structure in laments.

[ back ] 42. Alexiou 1974 repeatedly cites the speeches of Hecuba and Andromache in Book 22 as laments, but not that of Priam. The situation of Achilles in relation to Patroclus (discussed below) is not a true parallel because no family members of Patroclus are present to mourn for him.

[ back ] 43. Segal 1971:37. Readers desiring a detailed analysis of the description of Andromache’s grief, which I note here primarily for its length and interruption of the formal patterns of ritual lament, are referred to Segal’s article.

[ back ] 44. Indeed, the entire series of laments in Book 24 comprises 59 verses.

[ back ] 45. Heiden 1998a has recently argued that the book divisions in the Iliad are not only useful in “assist[ing] appreciation” (79), but could also be useful in oral performance.

[ back ] 46. See Nagy 1979:111-115 for a wide-ranging and illuminating discussion of the interconnectedness of these two heroes.

[ back ] 47. See Kakridis 1949 (Chapter III) for sources for Patroclus in the Iliad.

[ back ] 48. For the neoanalyst view that this catalogue (and indeed, the speech itself) is more appropriate for a scene of the death of Achilles, see e.g. Reinhardt 1961:367-368. Minchin 2001:83-84, on the other hand, argues that the poet invented the names in this catalogue and discusses the particular associations of several of the invented names it contains.

[ back ] 49. Hector is visible to his parents and Andromache in Book 22 even though his corpse is in the possession of the Greeks.

[ back ] 50. Here I differ from Edwards 1991 ad loc. (on 18.54), where he says that “the first laments for Hector begin in the same way.”

[ back ] 51. Kakridis 1949:67-70 brings out effectively the lament-like aspects of this interaction, although it is not necessary to follow him in considering this to be a lament to appreciate these evocations of the notion of lament.

[ back ] 52. Ibid. 65-75.

[ back ] 53. Alexiou 1974:6. In addition to the passages mentioned above, Alexiou points to the opening of the Choephoroi (restored from a scholion to a similar verse in Euripides’ Alcestis), where Orestes laments that he has not been able properly to discharge his responsibilities to his dead father: οὐ γὰρ παρ‹ὼν› ᾤμωξα σὸν πάτερ μόρον, / οὐδ’ ἐξέτεινα χεῖρ’ ἐπ’ ἐκφορᾷ νεκροῦ (for I was not present to mourn your death, father, nor did I stretch out my hand at the ekphora of your corpse, 8-9).

[ back ] 54. Moulton 1977:105-106 has an excellent discussion of this simile and its similarity to various other similes. This motif reappears later in the poem, in the simile comparing Achilles’ grief at the funeral pyre of Patroclus to that of a father whose son has died young (23.222-225). For the consistent use of father-son imagery in connection with the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, see Moulton 1977:99-106.

[ back ] 55. For Achilles himself at 23.18 (on which see below) as well as for Andromache at 24.724.

[ back ] 56. This verb is used with a lament at e.g. Iliad 22.407 (Hecuba immediately after the death of Hector).

[ back ] 57. For similarities between the content of the laments of Briseis and of Achilles in this scene, see Lohmann 1970:102-105. See especially 105 for broader issues of repetition and comparison that these two speeches evoke.