From Listeners to Viewers: Space in the Iliad

  Tsagalis, Christos. 2012. From Listeners to Viewers: Space in the Iliad. Hellenic Studies Series 53. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 7. Described Objects

In this chapter I will deal with the various spatial aspects of object description in the Iliad. The selected examples are chosen because these objects are described at some length, and are therefore most suitable for analysis and interpretation. In order to avoid unnecessary repetition, I have opted to discuss the different spatial aspects and techniques employed in describing objects, rather than examining each object separately. By adopting a “horizontal” rather than a “vertical” method of presenting and exploring the relevant material, I aim both at drawing some general conclusions about the function of “descriptive” passages within the medium of oral song and at exploring the role of spatial memory in the descriptive segments of the Iliad.

The list of objects that will be the litmus test of these categories includes the scepter of Agamemnon (Iliad I 234–239 and II 100–108), Helen’s tapestry (III 125–128), Pandaros’ bow (IV 105–111), the chariot of Hera (V 722–732), the aegis of Athena (V 738–742), the robe of Athena (VI 288–295), the helmet Meriones gives to Odysseus (X 261–271), the arms of Agamemnon (XI 16–46), the cup of Nestor (XI 628–635), the shield of Sarpedon (XII 294–297), the chest and cup of Achilles (XVI 221–227), Andromakhe’s headdress (XXII 468–472), Asteropaios’ breastplate (XXIII 560–562), Achilles’ silver κρατήρ, given as second prize in the funeral games for Patroklos (XXIII 741–749), Priam’s cup (XXIV 234–237), and the door-bolt of Achilles’ hut (XXIV 453–456).

The thrust of my argument lies in the fact that in constructing descriptive passages, what the storyteller is doing is simply an extension of what we all do in everyday life. By exploring the function of spatial memory, we refrain from giving complete descriptions. On the contrary, we provide our audience with only that amount of information that will help them differentiate the described object from others of the same kind and picture it clearly in their minds. Homer, more or less like us, includes brief narrative chunks in his descriptions, so as to highlight the described object by bringing to the fore its manufacture or its history, that is, to give life to it.

The Position of the Beholder

The description of a prized object is presented from the position of either the narrator or a character. Position is important, for it often determines how the description will unfold. If the narrator or character is looking at an object from up close, as often with Iliadic prized objects, he can adopt a perimetrical description, since he is able to move (in his mind’s eye) the object around itself or look at it from different angles; perimetrical visualization of an object can be enhanced by the use of deictic markers (deixis ad oculos) that accentuate the fact that the given object is described in praesentia, that is, while the narrator visualizes it as part of the scene he is narrating (and not as background setting), or while a character is actually using it, instead of just observing.

Agamemnon’s scepter is described for the first time by Achilles in Iliad I:

“ναὶ μὰ τόδε σκῆπτρον· τὸ μὲν οὔ ποτε φύλλα καὶ ὄζους
φύσει, ἐπεὶ δὴ πρῶτα τομὴν ἐν ὄρεσσι λέλοιπεν,
οὐδ’ ἀναθηλήσει· περὶ γάρ ῥά ἑ χαλκὸς ἔλεψεν
φύλλά τε καὶ φλοιόν· νῦν αὖτέ μιν υἷες Ἀχαιῶν
ἐν παλάμῃς φορέουσι δικασπόλοι, οἵ τε θέμιστας
πρὸς Διὸς εἰρύαται· ὁ δέ τοι μέγας ἔσσεται ὅρκος·”

“In the name of this sceptre, which never again will bear leaf nor
branch, now that it has left behind the cut stump in the mountains,
nor shall it ever blossom again, since the bronze blade stripped
bark and leafage, and now at last the sons of the Achaians
carry it in their hands in state when they administer
the justice of Zeus. And this shall be a great oath before you. “

Iliad I 234–239

By offering a visual tour of a precious object he holds in his hands (τόδε) as his eye moves around it, Achilles virtually spaces time by means of two distinct techniques: perspective and chronotope, [
3] that is, a framework in which time and space not only constitute integral parts of the whole but also “read” one another. With respect to perspective, Achilles’ eye follows a visual tour of the outer parts of the scepter, where there were leaves, branches, and bark before they were stripped by the bronze blade; as far as the chronotope is concerned, the scepter’s past and present are “spaced” by being anchored respectively to the mountains, where the wood it is made of was first cut, and to the palms of the kings’ hands that now hold it.

These two complementary spatial strategies stem from general mnemonic techniques that the storyteller employs, and are connected with spatial memory, but they also have a specific bearing on the actual context they are placed in. Spatial memory uses points as a background on which data are stored: perimetrically visualizing the scepter allows the storyteller’s description to follow a certain path, [4] while the spatial markers employed for the object’s history (mountains and kings’ hands) function like mental hooks, on which stages in the scepter’s “life” are hung. Moreover, these mental strategies have a powerful effect through their immediate referentiality and contextualization. Achilles’ perimetrical visual tour of the scepter, with its strong emphasis on its “natural” aspect (leaves, branches, bark), is a “reading” of its past life; its changed use, that is, its transformation into a cultural object, is accompanied by a spatial shift, from the mountains to the hands of the kings. The combination of these two spatial mechanisms paves the way for an action of paramount importance that is about to happen: the scepter’s being thrown on the ground (Iliad I 245). [5] Achilles does not dispute the scepter’s symbolic importance; he actually accentuates it by suggesting that Agamemnon is not worthy of it. [6] The spatial strategies employed in describing the scepter set the background against which the throwing of it should be placed. The scepter is not a static object but a dynamic one. [7] Like the mind’s eye, it travels in time and space, yet is a symbol of continuity, since neither its shape nor its power will change: [8] it is first visualized by means of Achilles’ mental tour, and then follows its course in an ever downward movement, from the mountains into human hands and finally to the ground. [9] As with the similes, which use imagery to add things that are not mentioned in the narrative, so in descriptive segments, where the storyteller switches from direct narrative to “narrative” through imagery, dynamic description is not a pause or slowdown, but the continuation of the action, sometimes in the form of a comment, on a different interpretive level. [10]

The narrator can also assume the position of a “mobile” beholder, who describes an object by moving his mind’s eye in a certain direction or along a visual path. In his description of the chariot of Hera, the narrator organizes the relevant material in six units, corresponding to the six parts of the chariot, which he tours by moving in his imagination from the lower to the central and then the front parts:

ἣ μὲν ἐποιχομένη χρυσάμπυκας ἔντυεν ἵππους
Ἥρη πρέσβα θεά, θυγάτηρ μεγάλοιο Κρόνοιο·
Ἥβη δ’ ἀμφ’ ὀχέεσσι θοῶς βάλε καμπύλα κύκλα
χάλκεα ὀκτάκνημα σιδηρέῳ ἄξονι ἀμφίς·
τῶν ἤτοι χρυσέη ἴτυς ἄφθιτος, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθεν
χάλκε’ ὀπίσσωτρα προσαρηρότα, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι·
πλῆμναι δ’ ἀργύρου εἰσὶ περίδρομοι ἀμφοτέρωθεν·
δίφρος δὲ χρυσέοισι καὶ ἀργυρέοισιν ἱμᾶσιν
ἐντέταται, δοιαὶ δὲ περίδρομοι ἄντυγές εἰσιν.
τοῦ δ’ ἐξ ἀργύρεος ῥυμὸς πέλεν· αὐτὰρ ἐπ’ ἄκρῳ
δῆσεν χρύσειον καλὸν ζυγόν, ἐν δὲ λέπαδνα
κάλ’ ἔβαλε χρύσει’· ὑπὸ δὲ ζυγὸν ἤγαγεν Ἥρη
ἵππους ὠκύποδας, μεμαυῖ’ ἔριδος καὶ ἀϋτῆς.

… But Hera, high goddess, daughter of Kronos
the mighty, went away to harness the gold-bridled horses.
Then Hebe in speed set about the chariot the curved wheels
eight-spoked and brazen, with an axle of iron both ways.
Golden is the wheel’s felly imperishable, and outside it
is joined, a wonder to look upon, the brazen running-rim,
and the silver naves revolve on either side of the chariot,
whereas the car itself is lashed fast with plaiting of gold
and silver, with double chariot rails that circle about it,
and the pole of the chariot is of silver, to whose extremity
Hebe made fast the golden and splendid yoke, and fastened
the harness, golden and splendid, and underneath the yoke Hera,
furious for hate and battle, led the swift-running horses.

Iliad V 720–732

The description of the chariot falls into the following six units:

  1. the wheels (κύκλα): 722–726
  2. the chariot-board (δίφρος): 727–728
  3. the rim surrounding the chariot-board (ἄντυγες): 728
  4. the pole (ῥυμός): 729
  5. the yoke (ζυγόν): 730
  6. the straps fastening the yoke (λέπαδνα): 730–731

Of these six units, corresponding to the six parts of the chariot, the first is described in greater detail as its various constituent parts are mentioned one by one: the axle (ἄξων): 723, the fellies of the wheel (ἴτυς): 724, the tires (ὀπίσσωτρα): 725, and the hubs or naves (πλῆμναι): 726.

In the description of the six parts of the chariot, the narrator moves from the lower and outer parts to the central (chariot–board and rim) and then the front parts (pole, yoke, and horses). He also opts for a strong descriptive demarcation, capitalizing on spatial markers like placement, color, number, and paratactic juxtaposition. The chariot-board (727–728 δίφρος), made of golden and silver straps or thongs, is surrounded (περίδρομοι) by two rims (728 ἄντυγες), and from it (τοῦ δ’ ἐξ) the pole comes out; on the pole’s edge (ἐπ’ ἄκρῳ) Hebe tied a beautiful golden yoke, and on it (ἐν δὲ) she placed the beautiful golden straps. The entire description closes with one more spatial marker, as Hera places the swift-footed horses under the yoke (ὑπὸ δὲ ζυγόν).

Diagrammatic Iconicity

Dynamic spatial description

In this kind of iconicity, there is no description of the various properties of an object, but an iconization of its movement in space. A notable example of this form of diagrammatic iconicity is the description of Agamemnon’s scepter by means of a catalogue format:

                            ἀνὰ δὲ κρείων Ἀγαμέμνων
ἔστη σκῆπτρον ἔχων· τὸ μὲν Ἥφαιστος κάμε τεύχων·
Ἥφαιστος μὲν δῶκε Διὶ Κρονίωνι ἄνακτι,
αὐτὰρ ἄρα Ζεὺς δῶκε διακτόρῳ Ἀργεϊφόντῃ,
Ἑρμείας δὲ ἄναξ δῶκεν Πέλοπι πληξίππῳ,
αὐτὰρ ὃ αὖτε Πέλοψ δῶκ’ Ἀτρέϊ ποιμένι λαῶν·
Ἀτρεὺς δὲ θνῄσκων ἔλιπεν πολύαρνι Θυέστῃ,
αὐτὰρ ὃ αὖτε Θυέστ’ Ἀγαμέμνονι λεῖπε φορῆναι,
πολλῇσιν νήσοισι καὶ Ἄργεϊ παντὶ ἀνάσσειν.

                                      Powerful Agamemnon
stood up holding the sceptre Hephaistos had wrought him carefully.
Hephaistos gave it to Zeus the king, the son of Kronos,
and Zeus in turn gave it to the courier Argeïphontes,
and lord Hermes gave it to Pelops, driver of horses,
and Pelops again gave it to Atreus, the shepherd of the people.
Atreus dying left it to Thyestes of the rich flocks,
and Thyestes left it in turn to Agamemnon to carry
and to be lord of many islands and over all Argos.

Iliad II 100–108

In contrast with Achilles, the narrator employs a cataloguing type of organization, one that builds on the history of Agamemnon’s scepter. By tracing its origins to the divine craftsman Hephaistos, the narrator capitalizes on its tremendous power as a symbol, while by listing all its previous holders and owners he underscores both its royal aspect and its temporariness, the former stemming from the fact that it has belonged only to kings, the latter that it has “moved” in time. Scholars have recently talked about an archaeology of the past [
16] that is embodied in certain material objects in Homeric epic. The term biography of things, [17] though first used a century ago, [18] has become important again in descriptions of phases or stages in a thing’s life. Biographies of material objects, however, especially those organized in catalogues, may determine not only temporal relations but also spatial ones, as part of the tracing of a given object’s history. Before exploring this aspect of Agamemnon’s scepter, I will try briefly to explain a frequent misunderstanding in discussions of the cataloguing principle of organization, which stems from a confusion between the terms “catalogue” and “list.” The following formulation by Sammons sets things in the right order: [19]

In this light, it becomes clear that what makes Iliad II 100–108 a catalogue, instead of a list, is elaboration, the means by which items are turned into entries. In particular, we are dealing with a catalogue organized under the heading “past owners of the scepter,” containing six entries, each entry including two items, one following a right-dislocation (subject) and one a left-dislocation (object). Individual entries are metrically coterminous (they end at verse-end) and have a standard structure: item 1 + (modifier 1) + verb “to give or leave to” + (modifier 2) item 2 + (modifier 2). [21] This structuralist digression aims at highlighting the fact that the catalogue is a “narrativized” list, a special register that contains elements pertaining to narrative proper and not a simple enumeration of items. It is very important that the narrator organized the various owners of the scepter into a schema marked by a very specific poetic grammar. Such mechanisms privileging repetition [22] no doubt enhance memorability, since they embed the individual items into larger constructions (the entries) and further concatenate them, thus reinforcing their mental association and facilitating their recall. On a different level, though, this grouping of names turns them from mere references into parts of a chain that, apart from its mnemonic suitability, produces links, interdependences, and finally motion. If repetition of names is seen as a token of continuity, then the scepter surpasses consanguinity and geographical proximity, the two “natural” aspects of connectedness, and replaces a blood lineage with a social function. The scepter becomes endowed with an intergenerational transitivity, one that goes beyond divine-human dichotomies and generates in our minds the image of a continuous historical line. [23] Through the use of the verbs “to give” (δῶκεν) and “to leave to” (ἔλιπεν, λεῖπε), the narrator translates the history of the scepter into a series of transfers from one person to another. In other words, he sees time, the scepter’s “biography,” as space, as he follows the prized object passing from one king to the next until it finally reaches Agamemnon. By linking the scepter’s archaeology not to any given time frame but to its transfer from the divine craftsman Hephaistos to the king of Mycenae, the narrator turns its biography into a movement in space. [24] The catalogue format employed in this passage effectively erases all traces of the individual histories of the scepter’s various owners, or their potential conflicts, and presents them qua scepter in a highly compressed small story. In this way, distance is decreased and the scepter’s divine origins are set not in the remote past but only “six transfers away.”

In the techniques they employ for describing this prized material object, therefore, the two Iliadic passages referring to Agamemnon’s scepter both draw on space. Despite the importance they attribute to spatial factors, they deal with them in very different ways: while the first emphasizes perspective, the second focuses on transferability; whereas in the one, Achilles’ mental eye guides the audience to a perimetrical visualization of the scepter, in the other the narrator emphasizes its mobility. These differences in spatial aspect have their own bearing on the particular functions the scepter fulfills: for Achilles, the focus on its lack of leaves and branches hints at the invincible power of his oath, while for the narrator the emphasis lies in the scepter’s “royal pedigree,” which is “transferred” to its last owner, Agamemnon.

Static spatial description

Extrinsic perspective

Diagrammatic iconicity can take the form of static spatial description, which in the case of Helen’s web involves the antithesis between extrinsic and intrinsic perspective. Let us first consider the relevant lines:

Ἶρις δ’ αὖθ’ Ἑλένῃ λευκωλένῳ ἄγγελος ἦλθεν,
εἰδομένη γαλόῳ, Ἀντηνορίδαο δάμαρτι,
τὴν Ἀντηνορίδης εἶχε κρείων Ἑλικάων,
Λαοδίκην, Πριάμοιο θυγατρῶν εἶδος ἀρίστην.
τὴν δ’ εὗρ’ ἐν μεγάρῳ· ἣ δὲ μέγαν ἱστὸν ὕφαινεν,
δίπλακα πορφυρέην, πολέας δ’ ἐνέπασσεν ἀέθλους
Τρώων θ’ ἱπποδάμων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων,
οὕς ἕθεν εἵνεκ’ ἔπασχον ὑπ’ Ἄρηος παλαμάων.

Now to Helen of the white arms came a messenger, Iris,
in the likeness of her sister-in-law, the wife of Antenor’s
son, whom strong Helikaon wed, the son of Antenor,
Laodike, loveliest looking of all the daughters of Priam.
She came on Helen in the chamber; she was weaving a great web,
a red folding robe, and working into it the numerous struggles
of Trojans, breakers of horses, and bronze-armoured Achaians

Iliad III 121–128

Iliad XI 628–635 contains a description of Nestor’s table, with special emphasis on his cup. Although the majority of scholars have discussed this cup in detail, little attention has been paid to its connection to the whole description of Nestor’s table, of which it represents the most amplified part.

ἥ σφωϊν πρῶτον μὲν ἐπιπροΐηλε τράπεζαν
καλὴν κυανόπεζαν ἐΰξοον, αὐτὰρ ἐπ’ αὐτῆς
χάλκειον κάνεον, ἐπὶ δὲ κρόμυον ποτῷ ὄψον,
ἠδὲ μέλι χλωρόν, παρὰ δ’ ἀλφίτου ἱεροῦ ἀκτήν,
πὰρ δὲ δέπας περικαλλές, ὃ οἴκοθεν ἦγ’ ὁ γεραιός,
χρυσείοις ἥλοισι πεπαρμένον· οὔατα δ’ αὐτοῦ
τέσσαρ’ ἔσαν, δοιαὶ δὲ πελειάδες ἀμφὶς ἕκαστον
χρύσειαι νεμέθοντο, δύω δ’ ὑπὸ πυθμένες ἦσαν.

First she pushed up the table in front of them, a lovely
table, polished and with feet of cobalt, and on it
she laid a bronze basket, with onion to go with the drinking,
and pale honey, and beside it bread, blessed pride of the barley,
and beside it a beautifully wrought cup which the old man brought with him
from home. It was set with golden nails, the eared handles upon it
were four, and on either side there were fashioned two doves
of gold, feeding, and there were double bases beneath it.

Iliad XI 628–635

After describing the table, the narrator turns his attention to various objects or foods placed on it: a bronze basket or plate, onion, fresh honey, and bread. Most commentators and translators do not indicate whether the three edibles are placed within the basket or plate, or next to it. [36] If ἐπὶ δέ (630) means “upon it” (= ἐπ’ αὐτῆς [sc. τῆς τραπέζης]), then we have a non sequitur, since παρὰ δ’ in the next verse cannot possibly refer to the table, meaning “beside it [sc. the table].” It would have been extremely awkward (a) to have the bread placed not on the table but next to it, but all the rest of the food and objects on the table, (b) to juxtapose a useless bronze basket or plate to three different types of food without any reason, and finally (c) to have a second πὰρ δέ (XI 632) referring to the table. It is much more sound, I think, to take ἐπὶ δέ, παρὰ δ’, and πὰρ δέ as referring to their syntactic antecedents, the basket or plate, the honey, and the bread respectively. The narrator is simply listing all the edibles placed inside the χάλκειον κάνεον by concatenating them on the basis of their position with respect to the last item he has recalled from his memory: basket or plate > onion and honey > bread. This discussion may seem trivial, but it is necessary in order to explore the way the narrator works with space in this descriptive segment. Once we have clarified that the various edibles are placed within the bronze basket or plate and are described in terms of spatial association, then we can see that the χάλκειον κάνεον constitutes a second visual image that facilitates the transition from the spatial framework of the table to that of Nestor’s cup, which will be the center of the narrator’s attention.

The passage devoted to Nestor’s cup begins with a single adjective emphasizing the cup’s beauty and a brief reference to its history (Iliad XI 632 ὃ οἴκοθεν ἦγ’ ὁ γεραιός), which soon give way to the actual description of this prized object. The cup’s description is marked by what I would call, for lack of a better term, visual ring composition: the narrator uses the impression of gleaming gold, which strengthens mnemonic recall, [37] to frame his mental tour of the cup. In fact, the golden nails and the golden doves that begin and end the perimetrical description of the cup (the reference to the double bases is rather an addition) not only enhance memorability, but also function as a contrast with the visual background of the dark-footed table and the “intermediate” brightness of the bronze basket or plate. Moreover, the emphasis on the plurality of the cup’s various decorative elements (four handles, two doves on each of them, double bases) reflects an expansion aesthetic, [38] which stems from the tendency of descriptive passages to schematize an object in space, the more so if this is an exceptional object. The emphasis on the cup’s plethora of various parts generates the mental image of this special cup with increasing intensity and allows the audience, as well as the narrator’s imagination, to place it in space. The multiple nails, handles, doves, and bases are ancillary images that shape its visualization and bring about its spatialization, its positioning in space. Description thus becomes, in the words of Hamon, [39] “a meta-classification,” a type of taxonomy that pigeonholes a form of material already individualized in other discourses. The almost inherent découpage [40] that characterizes the description of any given object, as it does Nestor’s cup, plays on the illusion of insularization, [41] only to suggest a spatialization that makes the object part of a larger narrative reality.

The description of Athena’s robe (Iliad VI 288–295) begins with a brief history of the object, but ends by highlighting its brightness and placement. After an effet de liste created by the adjectives “loveliest” (294 κάλλιστος) and “largest” (294 μέγιστος), the narrator underscores both the garment’s brightness (295 ἀστὴρ δ’ ὣς ἀπέλαμπεν) and its placement beneath all the other robes stored in the chamber (295 ἔκειτο δὲ νείατος ἄλλων).

αὐτὴ δ’ ἐς θάλαμον κατεβήσετο κηώεντα,
ἔνθ’ ἔσάν οἱ πέπλοι παμποίκιλοι, ἔργα γυναικῶν
Σιδονίων, τὰς αὐτὸς Ἀλέξανδρος θεοειδής
ἤγαγε Σιδονίηθεν, ἐπιπλοὺς εὐρέα πόντον
τὴν ὁδόν, ἣν Ἑλένην περ ἀνήγαγεν εὐπατέρειαν.
τῶν ἕν’ ἀειραμένη Ἑκάβη φέρε δῶρον Ἀθήνῃ,
ὃς κάλλιστος ἔην ποικίλμασιν ἠδὲ μέγιστος,
ἀστὴρ δ’ ὣς ἀπέλαμπεν· ἔκειτο δὲ νείατος ἄλλων.

… while she descended into the fragrant store-chamber.
There lay the elaborately wrought robes, the work of Sidonian
women, whom Alexandros himself, the godlike, had brought home
from the land of Sidon, crossing the wide sea, on that journey
when he brought back also gloriously descended Helen.
Hekabe lifted out one and took it as gift to Athene,
that which was the loveliest in design and the largest,
and shone like a star. It lay beneath the others.

Iliad VI 288–295

The single-feature technique is especially observable in brief descriptive passages for two reasons: first, the narrator must counterbalance the description’s brevity by emphasizing a single characteristic, and second, he can easily create a mental link between the single feature highlighted in the descriptive passage and a detail from a narrative segment either immediately following or found in a previous reference to the same object or its owner. A noteworthy case is Asteropaios’ breastplate:

“δώσω οἱ θώρηκα, τὸν Ἀστεροπαῖον ἀπηύρων,
χάλκεον, ᾧ πέρι χεῦμα φαεινοῦ κασσιτέροιο
ἀμφιδεδίνηται· πολέος δέ οἱ ἄξιος ἔσται.”

“I will give him that corselet I stripped from Asteropaios;
it is bronze, but there is an overlay circled about it
in shining tin. It will be a gift that will mean much to him.”

Iliad XXIII 560–562

Diagrammatic iconicity is here centered on a single feature of Asteropaios’ breastplate: its being fitted close in shining tin. The emphasis on this single feature counterbalances the brevity of the description by drawing attention to a remarkable feature of the breastplate that the listeners can effectively keep in their minds. [
48] At the same time, and given that Achilles declares that he will offer to the winner of the spear contest the silver-fitted sword of Asteropaios (Iliad XXIII 807–808), the emphasis on a single feature seems to imply that this object’s brief description acquires its importance not by its beauty, size, or some other characteristic of its own, but mainly by being associated with Achilles’ defeat of Asteropaios. By isolating and therefore accentuating the importance of a single feature, the narrator can use it as a cue for recalling an important narrative incident that has taken place. It is of course quite fitting that in both XXIII 560–562 and 807–808 the speaker is Achilles, since it is he, after all, who has kept his previous exploits vividly in his memory.

But there is more to it. Rengakos, who has highlighted the fact that Achilles smiles just before promising to give Eumelos the breastplate of Asteropaios (Iliad XXIII 555 μείδησεν), has interpreted Achilles’ reaction as a mise-en-abyme. From this point of view, it is not only Achilles who is smiling, because he realizes that here (in contrast to the situation in Iliad I, where the conflict was about the spoils of war) it is about an athletic prize, but together with him the poet of the Iliad himself, who alludes to the fact that his own narrative is, after all, a kind of intellectual game. [49] Along this line of interpretation, we can move one step further and explore the possibility that the highlighting of a single feature of Asteropaios’ breastplate may be also due to the narrator’s desire to use this brief description as a backdrop against which to place the previously detailed conflict between Achilles and Asteropaios. A plethora of descriptive details would have eclipsed Asteropaios and accentuated his breastplate, whereas the emphasis on a single feature of the breastplate draws attention to Asteropaios himself, and especially to the narrative of the event that led Achilles to acquire his armor. This line of argument is supported by the fact that the poet is so eager to help his audience make this connection that he can even refer to an object not mentioned at all during the actual fighting between the two heroes in XXI 139–204: namely the sword that Achilles promises to give to the winner of the spear fight in XXIII 807–808, [50] which played no role at all in the actual duel between Achilles and Asteropaios. The two warriors fought basically with spears; in fact Asteropaios threw two of them at Achilles (XXI 162–168), who also threw his own spear at his opponent but missed his target (169–172). Why then does the poet refer to Asteropaios’ sword in Iliad XXIII 807–808? My argument is that it is exquisitely apt for Achilles, as the speaker, who in the final scene of the duel with Asteropaios in Iliad XXI killed his opponent with his own sword (XXI 173–182). [51] In the realm of mnemonic recall, the sword is thus “transferred” from Achilles to Asteropaios, since the brief description of a single spatial feature becomes an ancilla memoriae that brings to the foreground of Achilles’ emotional universe the profound antithesis between the cruelty of war and the jocular festivity of the games. Once more, accuracy is effectively sacrificed for the sake of dramatic effect.

Another descriptive passage that capitalizes on the single-feature technique involves Priam’s cup (Iliad XXIV 234–237), which is placed last in a list of gifts that the aged king of Troy is determined to offer Achilles in exchange for Hektor’s corpse:

ἦ, καὶ φωριαμῶν ἐπιθήματα κάλ’ ἀνέῳγεν.
ἔνθεν δώδεκα μὲν περικαλλέας ἔξελε πέπλους,
δώδεκα δ’ ἁπλοΐδας χλαίνας, τόσσους δὲ τάπητας,
τόσσα δὲ φάρεα λευκά, τόσους δ’ ἐπὶ τοῖσι χιτῶνας,
χρυσοῦ δὲ στήσας ἔφερεν δέκα πάντα τάλαντα,
ἐκ δὲ δύ’ αἴθωνας τρίποδας, πίσυρας δὲ λέβητας,
ἐκ δὲ δέπας περικαλλές, ὅ οἱ Θρῇκες πόρον ἄνδρες
ἐξεσίην ἐλθόντι, μέγα κτέρας· οὐδέ νυ τοῦ περ
φείσατ’ ἐνὶ μεγάροις ὁ γέρων, περὶ δ’ ἤθελε θυμῷ
λύσασθαι φίλον υἱόν.

He spoke, and lifted back the fair covering of his clothes-chest
and from inside took out twelve robes surpassingly lovely
and twelve mantles to be worn single, as many blankets,
as many great white cloaks, also the same number of tunics.
He weighed and carried out ten full talents of gold, and brought forth
two shining tripods, and four cauldrons, and brought out a goblet
of surpassing loveliness that the men of Thrace had given him
when he went to them with a message, but now the old man spared not
even this in his halls, so much was it his heart’s desire
to ransom back his beloved son.

Iliad XXIV 228–237

A similar, but not identical, case is that of the brief description of Achilles’ hut:

ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ κλισίην Πηληϊάδεω ἀφίκοντο
ὑψηλήν―τὴν Μυρμιδόνες ποίησαν ἄνακτι
δοῦρ’ ἐλάτης κέρσαντες, ἀτὰρ καθύπερθεν ἔρεψαν
λαχνήεντ’ ὄροφον λειμωνόθεν ἀμήσαντες·
ἀμφὶ δέ οἱ μεγάλην αὐλὴν ποίησαν ἄνακτι
σταυροῖσιν πυκινοῖσι· θύρην δ’ ἔχε μοῦνος ἐπιβλής
εἰλάτινος, τὸν τρεῖς μὲν ἐπιρρήσσεσκον Ἀχαιοί,
τρεῖς δ’ ἀναοίγεσκον μεγάλην κληῗδα θυράων,
τῶν ἄλλων, Ἀχιλεὺς δ’ ἄρ’ ἐπιρρήσσεσκε καὶ οἶος―

But when they had got to the shelter of Peleus’ son: a towering
shelter the Myrmidons had built for their king, hewing
the timbers of pine, and they made a roof of thatch above it
shaggy with grass that they had gathered out of the meadows;
and around it made a great courtyard for their king, with hedgepoles
set close together; the gate was secured by a single door-piece
of pine, and three Achaians could ram it home in its socket
and three could pull back and open the huge door-bar; three other
Achaians, that is, but Achilleus all by himself could close it.

Iliad XXIV 448–456

From the very beginning of this description, the storyteller carefully draws attention not only to various aspects of the hut, such as its size (449 ὑψηλήν) and the material used in making all its parts (walls, roof, hedgepoles), but also to the contribution of the Myrmidons to its construction. The audience is repeatedly told that it was Achilles’ companions who cut the trees and provided the wood (449–450), who covered the hut’s roof with grass they gathered from a meadow (450–451), and who finally built a large yard around it for their king using stakes closely fitted together (452–453). The narrator has organized the largest part of his description by means of a twofold list of the various parts of the hut and the materials used in their construction, which are tied together through the pseudonarrative of the work of a group of men, the Myrmidons. [
58] When the description continues, attention is focused on one part of the hut, the single door-bolt made of pine. This single feature of the hut is accompanied by the contrast between the abilities of the Myrmidons and those of Achilles: the listeners are explicitly told that whereas three Myrmidons were needed in order to remove the bolt, Achilles could do the same thing on his own (456 οἶος). [59]

The audience is invited to realize that the single feature stressed at the end of the description of the hut is effectively coupled with the emergence of Achilles as a special figure among the Myrmidons. In other words, the difference in descriptive importance between the various parts of the hut and the door-bolt is mirrored in the difference between the Myrmidons and Achilles. The single-feature device becomes the means of drawing attention to a wider antithesis that is about to be fully exploited in the ensuing scene. Despite the fact that Priam has come to the Myrmidons’ camp, the whole episode will be centered on his interaction with a single hero, Achilles. The son of Thetis is singled out in the description of the hut by his special ability with respect to a single spatial feature, because he will be isolated in the subsequent encounter with Priam. In turn, the door-bolt is equally singled out, because Achilles alone can remove it, as he alone can also remove some of the sorrow from Priam’s heart by allowing the aged king to take the corpse of his beloved son back to Troy.

Diagrammatic iconicity is also built around the static perspective of extrinsic spatial pairs like inside-outside, foreground-background, top-bottom. A typical example of this technique is the description of Sarpedon’s shield:

αὐτίκα δ’ ἀσπίδα μὲν πρόσθ’ ἔσχετο πάντοσ’ ἐΐσην,
καλήν, χαλκείην ἐξήλατον, ἣν ἄρα χαλκεύς
ἤλασεν, ἔντοσθεν δὲ βοείας ῥάψε θαμειάς
χρυσείῃς ῥάβδοισι διηνεκέσιν περὶ κύκλον·

Presently he held before him the perfect circle of his shield,
a lovely thing of beaten bronze, which the bronze-smith hammered
out for him, and on the inward side had stitched ox-hides
in close folds with golden staples clean round the circle.

Iliad XII 294–297

Despite its terseness, this description of Sarpedon’s shield reflects the typology of descriptive sections in general: it is framed by a “visual ring-composition” (294 πάντοσ’ ἐΐσην; 297 περὶ κύκλον) and is also marked by the so-called effet de liste (295 καλήν, χαλκείην ἐξήλατον). These general features aside, the narrator focuses his attention on the spatial opposition between the shield’s outward and inward sides, the former made of bronze, the latter of ox-hides stitched together and fastened with golden staples. The highlighting of this spatially determined antithesis strikes a dissonant note against the monumental description of Achilles’ shield in Iliad XVIII, since in this case there is no tour of the various parts of the shield, but only a brief look at the outside and inside. In addition to its visual speed, the storyteller uses this technique to create a link with the ensuing narrative. [
60] In fact, the emphasis on the marked opposition between the “beaten bronze” of the outer side and the closely folded ox-hides of the inner part functions as a visual backdrop against which the narrator, in the following simile, will emphasize not only the interplay between “outside” and “inside” in the lion’s attack on the strongly built stable where the sheep are kept, but also the antithesis between Sarpedon’s attack and the Achaeans’ defense of their wall. It is of no importance that the initial spatial opposition pertains only to an object owned by the aggressor, whereas it is then split between aggressor and defender in both simile and narrative. This “domino effect” is based on the visual association of contiguous mental spaces that determines the course followed by the narrator’s mind. Thus descriptive space can be mapped onto the space of the simile and then again onto its immediate narrative space, effectively allowing the storyteller to cross over to other registers by means of concatenated visual units.

The spatial pair top-bottom is also pertinent to static diagrammatic iconicity, the more so since its inherent verticality plays upon the illusion of concealed importance that humans regularly attribute to hidden objects. The description of Achilles’ chest is a representative example of this technique:

αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεύς
βῆ ῥ’ ἴμεν ἐς κλισίην, χηλοῦ δ’ ἀπὸ πῶμ’ ἀνέῳγε
καλῆς δαιδαλέης, τήν οἱ Θέτις ἀργυρόπεζα
θῆκ’ ἐπὶ νηὸς ἄγεσθαι, ἐῢ πλήσασα χιτώνων
χλαινάων τ’ ἀνεμοσκεπέων οὔλων τε ταπήτων·
ἔνθα δέ οἱ δέπας ἔσκε τετυγμένον, οὐδέ τις ἄλλος
οὔτ’ ἀνδρῶν πίνεσκεν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ αἴθοπα οἶνον
οὔτέ τεῳ σπένδεσκε θεῶν, ὅτε μὴ Διὶ πατρί.

But meanwhile Achilleus
went off into his shelter, and lifted the lid from a lovely
elaborately wrought chest, which Thetis the silver-footed
had put in his ship to carry, and filled it fairly with tunics
and mantles to hold the wind from a man, and with fleecy blankets.
Inside this lay a wrought goblet, nor did any other
man drink the shining wine from it nor did Achilleus
pour from it to any other god, but only Zeus father.

Iliad XVI 220–227

As in Iliad VI 293–295, the most precious object is mentioned at the end of the actual description, and is singled out in stark contrast to the plurality of other, rather “transitional” objects (such as tunics, mantles, and blankets) placed either upon or next to it. [
61] This time the effet de liste applies to both the description of Achilles’ chest (XVI 222 καλῆς, δαιδαλέης) and the various other gifts placed in it. When the narrator refers to the cup of Achilles, he has already guided his listeners to the contents of the chest by means of a mental tour, following initially a vertical course from the lid as it is lifted to the tunics, mantles, and blankets, and then a horizontal one, by visualizing the cup somewhere there (ἔνθα), probably next to or beneath them. The top-bottom spatial pair is particularly effective, since the audience is mentally following the narrator in the course of his description: they are lifting the chest’s lid and looking at its contents together with him, moving from a multitude of trivial objects to a prized cup devoted to a special god, Zeus himself, for whose sake it is used in libations.

This gradual process by which the narrator mentally arrives at the focus of his description builds on details that suggest to the audience a particular visualization of the chest’s contents. The phrase ἐῢ πλήσασα χιτώνων (XVI 223) invites the listeners to visualize a scene in which Thetis herself is both filling (πλήσασα) the chest with tunics, wind-resisting mantles, and fleecy blankets (223–224) that will keep Achilles warm during the war, and placing them on the ship that will carry him to Troy (223 θῆκ’ ἐπὶ νηὸς ἄγεσθαι). In the light of the mythic agenda that underlies the entire Iliadic plot, the audience may use the background information of Thetis’ preparing Achilles’ chest and putting it on board, as well as the highlighting of the cup inside the box (the only item whose placement by Thetis is not syntactically emphasized), as a cue for recalling the special connection between Thetis, Achilles, and Zeus within the Iliad. The hidden importance of the cup is then linked to its special use for the father of gods and men, whose help Achilles has sought through his mother’s mediation in the beginning of the Iliadic plot. The audience follows the storyteller’s visual tour to the contents of the chest, where a special object is placed, an object prized for its literal and symbolic importance in the Iliad. This elaborate interplay between description and wider narrative context is even imbued with a certain irony, for Achilles is about to ask Zeus for almost the opposite of what he asked for in Iliad I, when he requested through Thetis that the supreme god grant victory to the Trojans until his honor among the Achaeans was restored (365–427, 503–530). Zeus may be Achilles’ privileged god, as the choice cup indicates, [62] but he is no longer willing to listen as he did in Iliad I. The cards cannot be reshuffled; Patroklos will not return to the ships. [63]

Scholars have suggested that since the κρήδεμνον is placed last in the list of Andromakhe’s headdresses, it must have been worn under the ἄμπυξ, κεκρύφαλος, and πλεκτὴ ἀναδέσμη that precede it in the text. [65] One would be easily inclined to accept this approach and argue that the storyteller is moving from top to bottom: he starts with the upper parts of Andromakhe’s headdress and follows a downward course, from the diadem (ἄμπυκα) to the cap (κεκρύφαλον) to the “holding-band woven together” (πλεκτὴν ἀναδέσμην) to the κρήδεμνον (which scholars have misread as “fillet”). [66] There are three problems with this kind of interpretation: first, κρήδεμνον is very likely to mean “head-veil that hung from the back part of the head and covered the back and the shoulders of the wearer,” [67] and so it cannot have been placed under the other head-coverings, but must have been on top of them; second, there are other cases in which a hero is presented as putting on first his outer robe and then his tunic; [68] and third, we do not expect Andromakhe, being in a state of maenadic frenzy, to have taken off her headdresses in an orderly fashion. [69] The point of this description is exactly that: the top-to-bottom spatial principle is tellingly annulled because the situation Andromakhe is facing is about uncontrolled pain. By having her throw off her head-coverings all together, the Homeric storyteller translates mental turmoil into physical disarray.

If this is so, then it can be plausibly argued that the violation of the top-to-bottom spatial description of the shining gear that ordered Andromakhe’s headdress capitalizes on both the immediate context of her maenadic frenzy and the epic semantics of κρήδεμνον. By activating its twofold function as both headdress and symbol of a city’s battlements, the narrator visually reenacts the gradual destruction of the city walls. Just as Andromakhe’s headgear falls down, so the city’s walls will figuratively fall down. The narrator seems to have been guided in his description of an act of grief by the “symbolic association between the citadel of a city and the physical head of its protective monarch.” [72] Having not only just used the symbolic interplay between the head of Hektor in the dust and Hekabe throwing her λιπαρὴ καλύπτρη from her head (Iliad XXII 405–411), [73] but also having spelled out their association by explicitly stating that τῷ δὲ μάλιστ’ ἄρ’ ἔην ἐναλίγκιον, ὡς εἰ ἅπασα / Ἴλιος ὀφρυόεσσα πυρὶ σμύχοιτο κατ’ ἄκρης (410–411), [74] the storyteller now exploits traditional and immediate referentiality in describing the most emotionally heated throwing off of the headgear by Andromakhe (468–472). [75] If the contrast between Hekabe’s single headband and Andromakhe’s multiple headgear reflects the latter’s greater involvement in Hektor’s loss, [76] then it may not be off the mark to argue that what has been spelled out in 405–411 is expressed with even more intensity in 468–472. By visualizing the narrator’s violation of spatial order in the throwing off of Andromakhe’s headgear (the actual κρήδεμνον falling down to the shoulders, almost like a veil), the audience, being familiar with epic poetic grammar, is invited to imagine the destruction of the city κατ’ ἄκρης ‘from top to bottom’, through Andromakhe’s throwing her headgear ἀπὸ κρατός ‘from her head’. [77]

Intrinsic perspective

Mixed types

In Iliad X 260–271, [82] the narrator refers to the weapons Meriones gives to Odysseus. After a brief reference, in the typical list form, to a bow, a quiver, and a sword, he embarks on a description of a helmet, [83] which is expanded by the addition of a segment on the helmet’s “biography”:

Μηριόνης δ’ Ὀδυσῆϊ δίδου βιὸν ἠδὲ φαρέτρην
καὶ ξίφος· ἀμφὶ δέ οἱ κυνέην κεφαλῆφιν ἔθηκεν
ῥινοῦ ποιητήν, πολέσιν δ’ ἔντοσθεν ἱμᾶσιν
ἐντέτατο στερεῶς, ἔκτοσθε δὲ λευκοὶ ὀδόντες
ἀργιόδοντος ὑὸς θαμέες ἔχον ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα
εὖ καὶ ἐπισταμένως, μέσσῃ δ’ ἐνὶ πῖλος ἀρήρει·
τήν ῥά ποτ’ ἐξ Ἐλεῶνος Ἀμύντορος Ὀρμενίδαο
ἐξέλετ’ Αὐτόλυκος πυκινὸν δόμον ἀντιτορήσας,
Σκάνδειαν δ’ ἄρα δῶκε Κυθηρίῳ Ἀμφιδάμαντι·
Ἀμφιδάμας δὲ Μόλῳ δῶκε ξεινήϊον εἶναι,
αὐτὰρ ὃ Μηριόνῃ δῶκεν ᾧ παιδὶ φορῆναι·
δὴ τότ’ Ὀδυσσῆος πύκασεν κάρη ἀμφιτεθεῖσα.

while Meriones gave Odysseus a bow and a quiver
and a sword; and he too put over his head a helmet
fashioned of leather; on the inside the cap was cross-strung firmly
with thongs of leather, and on the outer side the white teeth
of a tusk-shining boar were close sewn one after another
with craftsmanship and skill; and a felt was set in the centre.
Autolykos, breaking into the close-built house, had stolen it
from Amyntor, the son of Ormenos, out of Eleon,
and gave it to Kytherian Amphidamas, at Skandeia;
Amphidamas gave it in turn to Molos, a gift of guest-friendship,
and Molos gave it to his son Meriones to carry.
But at this time it was worn to cover the head of Odysseus.

Iliad X 260–271

In lines 262–266, diagrammatic iconicity is built around the static perspective of the extrinsic spatial pair outside-inside, which finally brings the narrator’s visual memory to the very center of the helmet, just when he is about to complete his description. Up to this point, the storyteller has dealt with the visual “mapping” of this special object. Why is he then expanding or supplementing it with a story-fragment whose time frame antedates Meriones’ acquiring the helmet? [84] Is it significant, in this light, that the story-fragment textually follows but narratively precedes the beginning of the descriptive passage? It is my contention that the narrator employs this technique in order to offer his audience a reconceptualization of the described object, deepening their understanding of what the object is by telling them how it was acquired by its present holder. Had he stopped at the “pure” description of the helmet, the listeners would have assumed that it had been Meriones’ since it was made. By following the helmet’s transfer from one owner to the next, the storyteller puts the preceding description in perspective: the carefully delineated inside and outside parts of the helmet—its spatially conceived iconicity—and its history invite storyteller and audience not only to visualize the structure and material of this precious object but also to see how it has become part of the gesture Meriones is making toward Odysseus. [85] Having done this, the storyteller suggests that the entire description of the helmet should be interpreted in conjunction with its transfer [86] from one person to the other: the helmet consists in not only what it is made of, but also how it was acquired. [87]

In Iliad XXIII 740–749, the description of a silver bowl as first prize for the foot race during the funeral games for Patroklos is also capped by the object’s “biography,” from its manufacture by Sidonian men to its arrival in the hands of Achilles:

Πηλείδης δ’ αἶψ’ ἄλλα τίθει ταχυτῆτος ἄεθλα,
ἀργύρεον κρητῆρα τετυγμένον· ἓξ δ’ ἄρα μέτρα
χάνδανεν, αὐτὰρ κάλλει ἐνίκα πᾶσαν ἐπ’ αἶαν
πολλόν, ἐπεὶ Σιδόνες πολυδαίδαλοι εὖ ἤσκησαν,
Φοίνικες δ’ ἄγον ἄνδρες ἐπ’ ἠεροειδέα πόντον,
στῆσαν δ’ ἐν λιμένεσσι, Θόαντι δὲ δῶρον ἔδωκαν·
υἷος δὲ Πριάμοιο Λυκάονος ὦνον ἔδωκεν
Πατρόκλῳ ἥρωϊ Ἰησονίδης Εὔνηος.
καὶ τὸν Ἀχιλλεὺς θῆκεν ἀέθλιον οὗ ἑτάροιο,
ὅς τις ἐλαφρότατος ποσσὶ κραιπνοῖσι πέλοιτο.

At once the son of Peleus set out prizes for the foot-race:
a mixing-bowl of silver, a work of art, which held only
six measures, but for its loveliness it surpassed all others
on earth by far, since skilled Sidonian craftsmen had wrought it
well, and Phoenicians carried it over the misty face of the water
and set it in the harbour, and gave it for a present to Thoas.
Euneos, son of Jason, gave it to the hero Patroklos
to buy Lykaon, Priam’s son, out of slavery, and now
Achilleus made it a prize in memory of his companion,
for that man who should prove in the speed of his feet to run lightest.

Iliad XXIII 740–749

The bowl’s “biography” is a movement in space, which converges at a certain point with that of Lukaon, Priam’s son. By translating the bowl’s history in terms of a change of place, that is, a “journey” from one place to another, and then inscribing it on the “transfer” of Lukaon, object-like, as a slave from one place to another, the narrator provides his audience with a profound reconceptualization of the bowl that he has described in the beginning of this passage. The message is clear: the value of the bowl stems not only from the aspects underscored in the “pure” description, but also from its link to the tragic fate of Lukaon. The prize Achilles sets for the foot race is presented to the audience in terms of both static and dynamic spatiality, since the storyteller’s mind’s eye tours not only the size and beauty of this prized object but also its history, translated into spatial associations.

Descriptivized Narration

In the Iliad, object descriptions at times show a certain fusing of boundaries between description and narration, but never by disguising a given section to conceal its true text-type or mode. Rather, a description of an object that begins in formal descriptive terms soon slips into a kind of pseudonarrative, [96] a form of descriptivized narration endorsed by the Iliad, in which a description is not concealed or disguised but blurred, either by a simile-like visual imagery or a mini-ecphrastic format. These fused text-types blend description and narration both by expanding on given aspects of the description (Iliad IV 105–113) and by elaborating via mini-ecphrases one or more items in a list of briefly described objects that belong to a “whole” (V 733–742 and XI 16–46). These expansions do not constitute real narrative segments, but are a form of pseudonarrative that seems to sabotage the clearly demarcated frames within which narration and description normally operate. [97] These glissements, to use Hamon’s apt term, [98] both remind the audience of the borders between description and narration and flirt with the idea of erasing them, at least temporarily. This blurring of the boundaries between description and narration has mainly been interpreted as a transition from space into time, but as we shall see, this point of view is based on examining “pure” narrative sections into which descriptive passages slip. [99] Instead, I will argue that we are dealing here with pseudonarrative that is so strongly anchored to its preceding descriptive “hooks” that it almost creates a new little universe, with different rules and tone: the narrator seems to jump from one mode into the other so as to create a new mixed mode, where description and narration conspire to suggest a reconceptualization of the given object. By building on the spatial description of some of the object’s parts, pseudo narrative sections conjure up and subsequently activate equivalent narrative spaces and expand the object’s spatial domain, which is no longer limited to the actual description of its parts but also includes its origin or its history, now conceived spatially.

Expanding certain aspects of the description

In Iliad IV 105–113, Athena stirs the archer Pandaros, who grabs his bow, made of polished horn from a wild goat, and prepares to shoot an arrow at Menelaos. Given the importance of this action for the development of the plot—as the Lycian archer virtually breaks the truce—the storyteller feels the need to focus on Pandaros’ bow:

αὐτίκ’ ἐσύλα τόξον ἐΰξοον ἰξάλου αἰγός
ἀγρίου, ὅν ῥά ποτ’ αὐτὸς ὑπὸ στέρνοιο τυχήσας
πέτρης ἐκβαίνοντα, δεδεγμένος ἐν προδοκῇσιν,
βεβλήκει πρὸς στῆθος, ὃ δ’ ὕπτιος ἔμπεσε πέτρῃ.
τοῦ κέρα ἐκ κεφαλῆς ἑκκαιδεκάδωρα πεφύκει·
καὶ τὰ μὲν ἀσκήσας κεραοξόος ἤραρε τέκτων,
πᾶν δ’ εὖ λειήνας χρυσέην ἐπέθηκε κορώνην.
καὶ τὸ μὲν εὖ κατέθηκε τανυσσάμενος, ποτὶ γαίῃ

Straightaway he unwrapped his bow, of the polished horn from
a running wild goat he himself had shot in the chest once,
lying in wait for the goat in a covert as it stepped down
from the rock, and hit it in the chest so it sprawled on the boulders.
The horns that grew from the goat’s head were sixteen palms’ length.
A bowyer working on the horn then bound them together,
smoothing them to a fair surface, and put on a golden string hook.
Pandaros strung his bow and put it in position, bracing it
against the ground …

Iliad IV 105–113

Description and mini-ecphrastic expansion

A more or less brief description of an object can sometimes be expanded by, or focused on, a small-scale ecphrasis. In Iliad V 733–744, the narrator refers to Athena’s preparation for battle by presenting one by one the various steps she takes. The beginning of this passage is based on the interplay between Athena’s taking off her robe and putting on her χιτών and αἰγίς:

αὐτὰρ Ἀθηναίη κούρη Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο
πέπλον μὲν κατέχευεν ἑανὸν πατρὸς ἐπ’ οὔδει
ποικίλον, ὅν ῥ’ αὐτὴ ποιήσατο καὶ κάμε χερσίν,
ἣ δὲ χιτῶν’ ἐνδῦσα Διὸς νεφεληγερέταο
τεύχεσιν ἐς πόλεμον θωρήσσετο δακρυόεντα.
ἀμφὶ δ’ ἄρ’ ὤμοισιν βάλετ’ αἰγίδα θυσσανόεσσαν
δεινήν, ἣν περὶ μὲν πάντῃ Φόβος ἐστεφάνωται,
ἐν δ’ Ἔρις, ἐν δ’ Ἀλκή, ἐν δὲ κρυόεσσα Ἰωκή,
ἐν δέ τε Γοργείη κεφαλὴ δεινοῖο πελώρου,
δεινή τε σμερδνή τε, Διὸς τέρας αἰγιόχοιο·
κρατὶ δ’ ἐπ’ ἀμφίφαλον κυνέην θέτο τετραφάληρον
χρυσείην, ἑκατὸν πολίων πρυλέεσσ’ ἀραρυῖαν·

Now in turn Athene, daughter of Zeus of the aegis,
beside the threshold of her father slipped off her elaborate
dress which she herself had wrought with her hands’ patience,
and now assuming the war tunic of Zeus who gathers
the clouds, she armed in her gear for the dismal fighting.
And across her shoulders she threw the betasselled, terrible
aegis, all about which Terror hang like a garland,
and Hatred is there, and Battle Strength, and heart-freezing Onslaught
and thereon is set the head of the grim gigantic Gorgon,
a thing of fear and horror, portent of Zeus of the aegis.
Upon her head she set the golden helm with its four sheets
and two horns, wrought with the fighting men of a hundred cities.

Iliad V 733–744

The arming scene of Agamemnon in Iliad XI 15–46 is one of the most detailed in the entire epic. It includes short descriptions of seven different items (greaves, breastplate, sword, shield, belt, helmet, spears), three of which (breastplate, shield, and belt) are expanded by mini-ecphrastic sections:

Ἀτρείδης δ’ ἐβόησεν ἰδὲ ζώνυσθαι ἄνωγεν
Ἀργείους· ἐν δ’ αὐτὸς ἐδύσετο νώροπα χαλκόν.
κνημῖδας μὲν πρῶτα περὶ κνήμῃσιν ἔθηκεν
καλάς, ἀργυρέοισιν ἐπισφυρίοις ἀραρυίας·
δεύτερον αὖ θώρηκα περὶ στήθεσσιν ἔδυνεν,
τόν ποτέ οἱ Κινύρης δῶκε ξεινήϊον εἶναι,
πεύθετο γὰρ Κύπρονδε μέγα κλέος, οὕνεκ’ Ἀχαιοί
ἐς Τροίην νήεσσιν ἀναπλεύσεσθαι ἔμελλον·
τοὔνεκά οἱ τὸν δῶκε, χαριζόμενος βασιλῆϊ.
τοῦ δ’ ἤτοι δέκα οἶμοι ἔσαν μέλανος κυάνοιο,
δώδεκα δὲ χρυσοῖο καὶ εἴκοσι κασσιτέροιο·
κυάνεοι δὲ δράκοντες ὀρωρέχατο προτὶ δειρήν
τρεῖς ἑκάτερθ’, ἴρισσιν ἐοικότες, ἅς τε Κρονίων
ἐν νέφεϊ στήριξε, τέρας μερόπων ἀνθρώπων.
ἀμφὶ δ’ ἄρ’ ὤμοισιν βάλετο ξίφος· ἐν δέ οἱ ἧλοι
χρύσειοι πάμφαινον, ἀτὰρ περὶ κουλεὸν ἦεν
ἀργύρεον, χρυσέοισιν ἀορτήρεσσιν ἀρηρός.
ἂν δ’ ἕλετ’ ἀμφιβρότην πολυδαίδαλον ἀσπίδα θοῦριν,
καλήν, ἣν πέρι μὲν κύκλοι δέκα χάλκεοι ἦσαν,
ἐν δέ οἱ ὀμφαλοὶ ἦσαν ἐείκοσι κασσιτέροιο
λευκοί, ἐν δὲ μέσοισιν ἔην μέλανος κυάνοιο.
τῇ δ’ ἐπὶ μὲν Γοργὼ βλοσυρῶπις ἐστεφάνωτο
δεινὸν δερκομένη, περὶ δὲ Δεῖμός τε Φόβος τε·
τῆς δ’ ἐξ ἀργύρεος τελαμὼν ἦν, αὐτὰρ ἐπ’ αὐτοῦ
κυάνεος ἐλέλικτο δράκων, κεφαλαὶ δέ οἱ ἦσαν
τρεῖς ἀμφιστρεφέες, ἑνὸς αὐχένος ἐκπεφυυῖαι.
κρατὶ δ’ ἐπ’ ἀμφίφαλον κυνέην θέτο τετραφάληρον
ἵππουριν· δεινὸν δὲ λόφος καθύπερθεν ἔνευεν.
εἵλετο δ’ ἄλκιμα δοῦρε δύω, κεκορυθμένα χαλκῷ,
ὀξέα· τῆλε δὲ χαλκὸς ἀπ’ αὐτόφιν οὐρανὸν εἴσω
λάμπ’. ἐπὶ δ’ ἐγδούπησαν Ἀθηναίη τε καὶ Ἥρη,
τιμῶσαι βασιλῆα πολυχρύσοιο Μυκήνης.

And Atreus’ son cried out aloud and drove the Achaians
to gird them, while he himself put the shining bronze upon him.
First he placed along his legs the beautiful greaves linked
with silver fastenings to hold the greaves at the ankles.
Afterwards he girt on about his chest the corselet
that Kinyras had given him once, to be a guest present.
For the great fame and rumour of war had carried to Kypros
how the Achaians were to sail against Troy in their vessels.
Therefore he gave the king as a gift of grace his corselet.
Now there were ten circles of deep cobalt upon it,
and twelve of gold and twenty of tin. And toward the opening
at the throat there were rearing up three serpents of cobalt
on either side, like rainbows, which the son of Kronos
has marked upon the clouds, to be a portent to mortals.
Across his shoulders he slung the sword, and the nails upon it
were golden and glittered, and closing about it the scabbard
was silver, and gold was upon the swordstraps that held it.
And he took up the man-enclosing elaborate stark shield,
a thing of splendour. There were ten circles of bronze upon it,
and set about it were twenty knobs of tin, pale-shining,
and in the very centre another knob of dark cobalt.
And circled in the midst of all was the black-eyed face of the Gorgon
with her stare of horror, and Fear was inscribed upon it, and Terror.
The strap of the shield had silver upon it, and there also on it
was coiled a cobalt snake, and there were three heads upon him
twisted to look backward and grown from a single neck, all three.
Upon his head he set the helmet, two-horned, four-sheeted,
with the horse-hair crest, and the plumes nodded terribly above it.
Then he caught up two strong spears edged with sharp bronze
and the brazen heads flashed far from him deep into heaven.
And Hera and Athene caused a crash of thunder about him,
doing honour to the lord of deep-golden Mykenai.

Iliad XI 15–46

There are at least two important questions to be asked with respect to this passage: first, why has the storyteller decided to expand some of the descriptive subsegments by mini-ecphrases, and second, why has not he done the same with all the parts of Agamemnon’s armor? These two questions may seem trivial to those who are eager to explain all this as a random choice, but I will attempt to show that they lie at the very heart of the function of space in descriptive passages.

Let me then begin by saying that the entire passage could have had the abbreviated form of a list: “and Agamemnon put on his greaves, breastplate, sword, shield, belt, helmet, and spears.” Instead of simply enumerating the individual parts of Agamemnon’s armor, the storyteller could easily have turned this list into a catalogue, by expanding each item or entry with an extremely brief addition of the kind exemplified by the item “greaves”: a short, one- or two-line, attributive addition. Why then has he opted for the use of a mini-ecphrastic type?

The further expansion of the breastplate’s description by a brief ecphrasis creates a “still moment,” marked by the use of spatial features. Plurality (“twelve,” “twenty,” “three”), material (“gold,” “tin,” “cobalt”), positioning (“towards the opening of the throat,” “on either side”), internal expansion by means of a simile that is embedded in the ecphrasis (“like rainbows, which the son of Kronos / has marked upon the clouds, to be a portent of mortals”); all these features create a vivid mental image of Agamemnon’s breastplate and endow it with majestic grandeur. It is exactly this aspect of the breastplate that the storyteller wants to transfer from this prized object to its owner. Underscoring status is one aim of this double expansion, and especially of the brief ecphrastic format; pointing to human vanity is another. The audience, because of their familiarity with the plot of the epic, would no doubt have realized that for all the greatness of his armor, Agamemnon will never be Achilles’ successful surrogate in the field of combat. Despite his initial success in Iliad XI, he will be wounded in the arm and retreat from the battlefield (Iliad XI 252–253 and 273–274). This bitterly ironic innuendo is confirmed by the fact that the narrator uses Hera, who (together with Athena) had thundered in honor of Agamemnon while he prepared for battle (XI 45–46), as the core of a simile comparing Agamemnon’s pain from his wound to the birth pangs Hera’s daughters bring upon a woman in labor (XI 269–272). The brief ecphrasis on the wide surface of the breastplate creates expectations of Agamemnon’s ultimate victory, only to overturn them. This subversive function of the ecphrasis makes full use of the “still moment” to freeze the action, and by illusively highlighting authority and martial prowess to comment on Agamemnon’s vanity and future failure. While temporal unraveling is at a rest, military greatness can be briefly aestheticized, since it will soon be cut short.

In the brief ecphrases on the shield and its strap, the narrator presents his audience with vivid depictions of terrifying creatures (Gorgon, Fear, Terror) and snakes respectively. Given that snakes were also depicted on Agamemnon’s breastplate, it can be argued that the storyteller’s aim is to aestheticize recurrent themes of martial epic like violence and war. Just before Agamemnon’s ἀριστεία, which will be replete with the utmost cruelty of successive murders, the narrator explores the theme of violence by using ecphrasis as a commentary on the nature of war. The presence of monsters, like the Gorgon, who are regularly excluded from Homeric narrative, and personified abstract entities like Fear and Terror lend the ecphrasis a generalized tone. Even though (or perhaps because) it forms part of Agamemnon’s armor, it virtually amounts to a critical outlook on the nature of war. Making full use of standard mnemonic formats that exploit spatial cues such as the interplay between periphery [120] and center, [121] the narrator can easily append his brief descriptions of some of the individual parts of Agamemnon’s armor through elaborate ecphrases, allowing his audience a glimpse into his own evaluation of the unfolding narrative. By creating a pause in his narration, the storyteller employs description and ecphrases tied to one of the two heroes around whom the theme of μῆνις has been unfolding since the beginning of the poem, in order to ponder the monstrosity, inhumanity, and cruelty of war.

As to the second question, referring to the narrator’s selection of some parts of Agamemnon’s armor for ecphrastic elaboration at the expense of others, the answer is twofold: given that ornamental depictions on works of art presuppose a surface on which the artwork will be placed, the breastplate and the shield with its strap are more suitable than the sword or the helmet. Space probably was the decisive criterion for this choice, but it was hardly the only one. Agamemnon’s role in the Iliad was so deeply marked by his initial conflict with Achilles that it is not unthinkable that the narrator, having planned an ecphrasis on Achilles’ shield on a massive scale in Iliad XVIII, wanted to endow Agamemnon with multiple but smaller ecphrases before his own ἀριστεία in Iliad XI. In this way the audience would realize, during the extended ecphrasis dedicated to a single part of Achilles’ armor, that in contrast with Agamemnon, the son of Thetis will not be wounded but masterfully prevail on the battlefield, that his own single ecphrasis allusively outdoes the multiple short ecphrases for Agamemnon, just as his heroic prowess surpasses by far that of the king of Mycenae.


[ back ] 1. See Zoran 1984; Minchin 2001:100–131.

[ back ] 2. See Wenz 1997; Dennerlein 2009:13–47, with further bibliography.

[ back ] 3. See Bakhtin 1981; Riffaterre 1996; Pier 2005a.

[ back ] 4. See Wenz 1997:28–31, who employs the term diagrammatische Ikonizität (“diagrammatic iconicity”) and distinguishes, with respect to static descriptions of space, between egozentrische Perspektive (near-far, foreground-background, center-periphery, etc.) and intrinsische Perspektive (principle of topographical contiguity or proximity).

[ back ] 5. The detail that the scepter is studded with golden nails, which is also based on perimetrical vision, ironically surfaces at the very point where this prized object will be “relocated” from the kings’ hands to the ground (Iliad I 245–246).

[ back ] 6. See Bouvier 2002:275.

[ back ] 7. See also Perrone-Moisès 1980, who draws a line between “static” and “dynamic” description, and Lyne 1989:68.

[ back ] 8. See Nagy 1979:180; Grethlein 2008.

[ back ] 9. On the scepter as a mirror of Achilles, see Lynn-George 1988:48–49.

[ back ] 10. Scholars have used terms like narrativized description for descriptions containing narrative elements and descriptivized narration for narratives displaying formal features of the text-type of description; see Kittay 1981; Sternberg 1981:76; Chatman 1990:6–37; Mosher 1991. I am skeptical about the use of these terms, since sometimes the blurring or fusion between the boundaries of narration and description is so pervasive that it almost defies the underlying principle of priority that these terms take for granted. In other words, mixed narration and description, or description and narration, operates as a third text-type or mode, one that aims neither at concealing narration behind descriptive formats nor hiding description in the disguise of pseudonarration (see “Descriptivized Narration,” below). It is with these thoughts that I opt for Bakhtin’s chronotope, a nexus of interactive and coexistent modes.

[ back ] 11. I do not treat the spokes (κνῆμαι [723 ὀκτάκνημα]) as a separate part because the way they are referred to (as an adjective modifying the wheels: καμπύλα κύκλα, ὀκτάκνημα) shows that they rather denote a type of wheel than being a description in their own right.

[ back ] 12. For a typology of descriptive markers in literature, see Hamon 1993:64–72.

[ back ] 13. See Minchin 2001:101.

[ back ] 14. Wenz 1997:28–31.

[ back ] 15. That is to say, top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top.

[ back ] 16. See Grethlein 2008.

[ back ] 17. For the “biography of things,” see the survey in World Archaeology 31.2 (1999) and Grethlein 2008:35–43; also Kopytoff 1986:66–67.

[ back ] 18. Rivers 1910:3–12.

[ back ] 19. 2010:9. Various terms have been employed to describe the entries or items of a list or catalogue. See Beye 1964; Powell 1978; Edwards 1980; Barney 1982:191–192; Thalmann 1984:23–26; Minchin 1996:4–5, 2001:74–76; Tsagalis 2010a.

[ back ] 20. See Matz 1995 for three entries. Minchin (2001:75) argues for a minimum of four entries.

[ back ] 21. Modifiers are substantives or adjectives modifying the subject or object; they are optional (hence the parenthesis) and may either precede or follow the item they refer to.

[ back ] 22. Within the whole catalogue, each item acts as both subject and object. This double function of the individual items underscores the cohesion of the whole construction.

[ back ] 23. Zerubavel 2003:57–58.

[ back ] 24. The paratactic organization of the whole catalogue, and in particular the δέ particles, “indicate[s] the shifting focus in the … field of vision, rather than any inherent temporal quality of events in the narrative,” as Bakker notes (1997:68).

[ back ] 25. See Dennerlein 2009:156.

[ back ] 26. See “Extrinsic perspective,” below.

[ back ] 27. See Purves 2010a:24–64.

[ back ] 28. Iliad III 127 (= 131) Τρώων θ’ ἱπποδάμων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων / οὓς ἕθεν εἵνεκ’ ἔπασχον ὑπ’ Ἄρηος παλαμάων (128) – οἳ πρὶν ἐπ’ ἀλλήλοισι φέρον πολύδακρυν ἄρηα (132) (“of Trojans, breakers of horses, and bronze-armoured Achaians, / struggles that they endured for her sake at the hands of the war god … who [Trojans and Achaeans] just now carried sorrowful war against each other”). This point is further strengthened by the fact that the expression employed in III 128 (ὑπ’ Ἄρηος παλαμάων) is a hapax.

[ back ] 29. See Becker 1995:56–57, who refers to the “concinnity between the language used to describe a depiction of these contests (127) and that which describes the contests themselves (131),” in order to argue that “epic formulaic language here discourages a differentiation between the representational capabilities of the verbal and the visual media.”

[ back ] 30. See scholia BT on Iliad III 126–127: ἀξιόχρεων ἀρχέτυπον ἀνέπλασεν ὁ ποιητὴς τῆς ἰδίας ποιήσεως· ἴσως δὲ τούτῳ τοῖς ὁρῶσιν ἐπειρᾶτο δεικνύναι τὴν Τρώων βίαν καὶ τὴν Ἑλλήνων δικαίαν ἰσχύν (“the poet shaped a worthy model of his own poetry; perhaps he was trying to show to those who see it the strength of the Trojans and the just force of the Greeks”). The literature on the implicit connection between Helen’s tapestry and the storyteller’s song is immense: Whitman 1958:117–118; Austin 1975:127–128; Snyder 1981; Schein 1984:23; Thalmann 1984:27, 153, 166; G. A. Kennedy 1986; Lynn-George 1988:29; Bergren 2008:43–55; Clay 2011:7. Nünlist (2009:132n51) maintains that this is a case of “implicit self-referentiality” that should be distinguished from instances in which characters represent the poet explicitly.

[ back ] 31. Any discussion of how the “struggles” between Trojans and Achaeans may have been depicted on the tapestry is entirely speculative; see Kirk 1985:280.

[ back ] 32. See Bergren 2008:47, who points to the link between these two scenes by accentuating the mixture of “the suspension of historical temporality with otherwise realistic narration.”

[ back ] 33. 1993:66.

[ back ] 34. Hamon 1993:67.

[ back ] 35. By pantonym I refer to the notional center of a given description. According to Hamon, whom I follow, the pantonym can become “the center of reference within a whole system of anaphoric markers and by means of simple repetition it can economize the sum of an object’s innumerable parts …, the sum of its qualities …, or both at the same time. The expansion of the pantonym can take the form of an inventory either of the object’s individual parts (configuration of a referent) or of the various distinctive features of a term or notion (definition)” (1993:127; author’s translation).

[ back ] 36. With the notable exception of Ameis and Hentze 1906:82, who take ἐπὶ δέ (XI 630) as referring to the table (= ἐπ’ αὐτῆς) and print a comma after κρόμυον.

[ back ] 37. See Rubin 1995:57.

[ back ] 38. On the term expansion aesthetic, see Martin 1989:196, 206–230.

[ back ] 39. Hamon 1993:56.

[ back ] 40. On découpage , see Barthes 1964:213–220.

[ back ] 41. On this term, see Bakhtin 1978:254 passim.

[ back ] 42. On the “bright-dark” interplay as a basis for the organization of extrinsic static space, see Dennerlein 2009:156–157.

[ back ] 43. Minchin 2001:106.

[ back ] 44. See below on the robe of Athena.

[ back ] 45. Minchin 2001:117n34.

[ back ] 46. On the term insularization, see Bakhtin 1978:254 passim.

[ back ] 47. As indicated by the superlatives κάλλιστος and μέγιστος (Iliad VI 294).

[ back ] 48. The brevity of descriptive segments (between two or three and seven or eight lines of text) is due to the needs of both audience and poet. Listeners find narrative a more engaging medium, because, according to cognitive science, it expresses the sequential nature of all human experience. The storyteller knows that narrative is easier to call to mind and to perform because it comprises logical chains of events based on cause and effect. That is one reason why the longer set-piece descriptions, like that of the shield of Achilles, are expanded in narrative sections: limited descriptive material is augmented by longer narrative chunks. “Just as when the poet sings a catalogue-song, which includes fragments of stories, so it is with descriptive passages: it appears to be difficult for the poet to resist the pull of narrative” (Minchin 2001:117).

[ back ] 49. Rengakos 2006a:30.

[ back ] 50. The spear fight ends in a draw, but the sword is awarded to Diomedes (Iliad XXIII 824–825).

[ back ] 51. That is to say, Achilles’ sword. This whole scene concludes when the narrator highlights Asteropaios’ death on Achilles’ sword (Iliad XXI 208 χέρσ’ ὕπο Πηλείδαο καὶ ἄορι ἶφι δαμέντα [“gone down by force under the sword and the hands of Peleïdes”]).

[ back ] 52. On the priamel, see Race 1982.

[ back ] 53. Lattimore 1951 leaves this expression untranslated.

[ back ] 54. Iliad XXIV 235–237: οὐδέ νυ τοῦ περ / φείσατ’ ἐνὶ μεγάροις ὁ γέρων, περὶ δ’ ἤθελε θυμῷ / λύσασθαι φίλον υἱόν (“… but now the old man spared not / even this in his halls, so much was it his heart’s desire / to ransom back his beloved son”).

[ back ] 55. See Minchin 2001:114–117, who discusses this and other passages by emphasizing that the poet often chooses to render descriptive passages through narration. I tend to regard this kind of narration as “pseudonarrative,” for the boundaries between the two modes are intentionally blurred.

[ back ] 56. See Woronoff 1983.

[ back ] 57. “ἔρρετε, λωβητῆρες, ἐλεγχέες· οὔ νυ καὶ ὑμῖν / οἴκοι ἔνεστι γόος, ὅτι μ’ ἤλθετε κηδήσοντες; / ἦ ὀνόσασθ’ ὅτι μοι Κρονίδης Ζεὺς ἄλγε’ ἔδωκεν, / παῖδ’ ὀλέσαι τὸν ἄριστον; ἀτὰρ γνώσεσθε καὶ ὔμμες· / ῥηΐτεροι γὰρ μᾶλλον Ἀχαιοῖσιν δὴ ἔσεσθε / κείνου τεθνηῶτος ἐναιρέμεν. αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε, / πρὶν ἀλαπαζομένην τε πόλιν κεραϊζομένην τε / ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ἰδεῖν, βαίην δόμον Ἄϊδος εἴσω” (“‘Get out, you failures, you disgraces. Have you not also / mourning of your own at home that you come to me with your sorrows? / Is it not enough that Zeus, son of Kronos, has given me sorrow / in losing the best of my sons? You also shall be aware of this / since you will be all the easier for the Achaians to slaughter / now he is dead. But, for myself, before my eyes look / upon this city as it is destroyed and its people are slaughtered, / my wish is to go sooner down to the house of the death god’”).

[ back ] 58. See de Jong 2001:xvii on “scenery”: “In Homer scenery is never described systematically or for its own sake; rather, we find descriptions or brief references when the story needs them; they derive almost exclusively from characters, in embedded focalization or a speech. Scenery descriptions either consist of a list of items connected via refrain composition (ἔνθα or ἐν) or have some form of spatial organization, or are a combination of the two.” On scenery in Homer, see also Arend 1933:28; Müller 1968:123–137; Friedrich 1975:57; de Jong 1987a:107–110; Richardson 1990:51–57; Byre 1994a, 1994b:4–5; de Jong 2001:128–129 on Odyssey v 63–75.

[ back ] 59. The description of one’s abode is a standard element of the “arrival” type-scene. See Arend 1933:31–32, 37–38, 42–43, etc., and Iliad VI 242–250, 313–317; Odyssey v 55–75; vii 81–133; xiv 5–22. There are practical reasons that justify the huge size of Achilles’ hut (washing and anointing Hektor’s body without Priam’s being able to watch, since the old king as well as Idaios are sleeping at some distance from Achilles and Briseis, though they all are in a single hut), but at the same time the narrator aims at offering his audience the focalization of Priam (XXIV 235–237) and paving the way for the emotional encounter to follow. In descriptive passages of embedded focalization the past tense is regularly employed instead of the present or gnomic aorist.

[ back ] 60. See scholia (b[BCE3]T) on Iliad XII 297b: προπαρασκευάζει δὲ ἀεὶ τοὺς ἀριστεύοντας, ἐξαίρων ἡμᾶς εἰς προσοχήν (“he always prepares [us] for those who are excelling [in battle] by drawing our attention”). See also Hainsworth 1993:350 on Iliad XII 294–296: “The short description of Sarpedon’s equipment is an instance of what the scholia call αὔξησις; it enhances the standing of the warrior in the eyes of the poet’s audience.”

[ back ] 61. By the term transitional I refer to the function of these objects as a “bridge” that allows both narrator and audience to cross over from the narrative to the key object inside the chest, the prized cup of Achilles. The warm clothing gives a nice emotional touch; see Griffin 1980:17.

[ back ] 62. See also Iliad XI 632–637 and 774–775, where reference is made to the prized cups of Nestor and Peleus respectively.

[ back ] 63. See Griffin 1980:18: “The special cup, which exists only for this moment, marks the occasion as important, and also, as with the sceptre of Agamemnon in Iliad 2, has a bitterly ironical overtone, for Zeus, the god invoked and honoured with the precious cup, has already decided on Patroclus’ death (15.65).”

[ back ] 64. I have changed Lattimore’s rendering of κρήδεμνον as “circlet” to “head-veil.”

[ back ] 65. See Studniczka 1909. I owe this reference to Llewellyn-Jones 2003:39n48.

[ back ] 66. Iconographic representations where the very names of given objects are attested confirm beyond doubt that the ἄμπυξ is a diadem (in the form of a metal strip or band) for holding the hair; see e.g. a sixth-century black-figured Attic skyphos (Martin von Wagner Museum in Würzburg) in Paoletti-Neumann 2003:90 fig. 4, 95 fig. 7, 101. See also Marinatos 1967:B21–22; Llewellyn-Jones 2003:30–33; 2011; van Wees 2005. For a useful general introduction to ancient Greek hairstyles, see Blanck 1996:67–71.

[ back ] 67. Llewellyn-Jones 2003:30.

[ back ] 68. See Odyssey xvi 173, xxiii 155. I owe these examples to Llewellyn-Jones 2003:39n49.

[ back ] 69. See Llewellyn-Jones 2003:31.

[ back ] 70. 1974:10–11, 44–60.

[ back ] 71. Reece 2009:249.

[ back ] 72. Reece 2009:256.

[ back ] 73. Hekabe’s rather thrifty use of headbands (she is wearing only a καλύπτρη) is due to her old age; see Marinatos 1967:B22. In rural Greece of the present day, women tend, after having their first child, to take off all the parts of their headdress apart from the καλύπτρη; see Korre-Zografou 1991:17.

[ back ] 74. “It was most like what would have happened, if all lowering / Ilion had been burning top to bottom in fire.”

[ back ] 75. See Foley 1991:24; Danek 2002; Tsagalis 2008b:123, 154, 187–188.

[ back ] 76. See also scholia vetera on Iliad XXII 468–472 [Erbse] ὅρα δὲ καὶ ἐν τοῖς λεπτοτάτοις τὴν παρατήρησιν τοῦ ποιητοῦ· ἐπὶ μὲν γὰρ τῆς Ἑκάβης διὰ συντόμων εἶπεν “ἀπὸ δὲ λιπαρὴν ἔρριψε καλύπτρην” (Iliad XXII 406) ― ἑνὸς γὰρ ἔδει καλύμματος τῇ πρεσβύτιδι ―, ἐπὶ δὲ ταύτης ὡς ἂν νέας καὶ γυναικὸς τοῦ μάλιστα εὐδοκιμοῦντος ἐπεξεργασίᾳ κέχρηται. b(BE3E4) T), which imply that Andromakhe’s grief, as she is both young and the wife of the deceased, is more important.

[ back ] 77. Iliad XXII 468. The syntagm δέσματα σιγαλόεντα ‘shining gear’ seems to be reflecting λιπαρὰ κρήδεμνα ‘shining diadem of towers’ in Odyssey xiii 388, which is built on λιπαρὰ κρήδεμνα ‘shining veil’ in i 334 (= xvi 416, xviii 210, xxi 65).

[ back ] 78. Dennerlein 2009:156 (author’s translation).

[ back ] 79. I use the term locational in order to avoid confusion and misunderstanding between what is often called spatial versus object imagery. Cognitive psychologists, in discussing the existence of two systems of imagery, as neuroanatomical studies have proved, do not “really mean spatial versus object imagery [but] the spatial system in humans that involves some parts of the posterior parietal cortex versus the complex visual-pattern system that involves some parts of the inferior temporal cortex” (Rubin 1995:58).

[ back ] 80. Rubin 1995:304–305, with further bibliography; see also Havelock 1978.

[ back ] 81. The history of most objects refers to events predating the Trojan War or the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles; see Minchin 2001:121. In the words of Lynn-George: “a distant past haunts the present” (1988:8).

[ back ] 82. This is hardly the place to discuss the authenticity of Iliad X. Danek (1988) and Dué and Ebbott (2010) are the best accounts against and in favor of its authenticity respectively. Danek believes that the Doloneia was composed by a gifted poet other than Homer. This poet tried to develop a personal style, introduced linguistic colloquialisms, varied formulas, and made constant allusion to the Iliad. Dué and Ebbott argue that the Doloneia represents an alternative type of warfare, the λόχος ‘ambush’, which was neither unheroic nor un-Homeric, but was endowed with its own system of traditional language and themes.

[ back ] 83. On ivory helmets, see W. Reichel 1901:102; Lorimer 1950:212–219; Borchardt 1972:18–37, 47–52, 1977. On armor and arming in general, see Snodgrass 1999.

[ back ] 84. The case of Ereuthalion’s weapons in Iliad VII 136–149 is different, since there is no description of the armor at all.

[ back ] 85. See Mitsi 1991:42, who argues that “since Autolykos is Odysseus’s maternal grandfather, the stolen helmet signifies the passing of cunning to the heir.”

[ back ] 86. Hainsworth 1993:181 on Iliad X 267 thinks that the reference to the theft is ungracious, since the helmet will finally be given to his grandson, Odysseus. In my view, it is significant that it was with Odysseus’ grandfather Autolukos that the “biography” of the helmet begins. The point is nicely made: the helmet is “fated” to go to Odysseus, following like human life a circular movement. The detail about the theft is secondary; what matters is the transfer and “travel” of the helmet from grandfather to grandson.

[ back ] 87. Clay 1997:83–89 makes a compelling case for a deeper link between Meriones and Odysseus, a relation that “spills over” to Odysseus’ Cretan tales in the Odyssey.

[ back ] 88. See Minchin 2001:111.

[ back ] 89. Sidonians and Phoenicians are often mentioned in Homer as skilled craftsmen and women as well as able merchants.

[ back ] 90. See also Iliad XXI 79.

[ back ] 91. On this passage, see Richardson 1993:249–252 on Iliad XXIII 740–749.

[ back ] 92. See Hamon 1993:97–98, who refers in particular to Homeric description.

[ back ] 93. See Sternberg 1981:76.

[ back ] 94. See Kittay 1981:239–240, who argues that the making of the shield of Achilles by Hephaistos is a descriptivized narration.

[ back ] 95. 1991.

[ back ] 96. See Minchin 2001:114–117.

[ back ] 97. According to Hamon 1993:114–115, differences between narration and description are played out by presenting the description through a character who describes an object or artifact to a listener, or through the view of a character, or through the narration of a craftsman making it. This astute observation fits very well the wider narrative context of the shield of Achilles.

[ back ] 98. 1993:170.

[ back ] 99. On this point, see Becker 1995:54; Minchin 2001:116–117.

[ back ] 100. Becker (1995:58) treats the removal of the bow from its case (Iliad IV 105) as a framing action. Since I tend to regard it as a prelude to the actual description, I opt for a twofold division of the ensuing passage.

[ back ] 101. For the Indo-European background of this technique, see West 2007:462.

[ back ] 102. Pace Kirk 1985:341 on Iliad IV 105, who opts for the meaning “full-grown.”

[ back ] 103. See Becker 1995:58, who declares that “euxoon (well polished) refers to the activity of the craftsman in a way that, e.g. megan (large) would not.”

[ back ] 104. This passage is replete with alliterative effects (δεδεγμένος ἐν προδοκῇσιν, ὃ δ’ ὕπτιος ἔμπεσε πέτρῃ. / τοῦ κέρα ἐκ κεφαλῆς ἑκκαιδεκάδωρα πεφύκει) that lend vividness to the whole section. Particularly strong is the alliteration of ξ (τόξον ἐΰξοον ἰξάλου), followed by the syllabic assonance of αἰγ-/ἀγ- (αἰγός, ἀγρίου), which is strengthened by placing all these syllables in the arsis of the relevant feet of the hexameter.

[ back ] 105. Becker 1995:62.

[ back ] 106. I consider Athena’s mounting Hera’s chariot with a huge spear in her hand as “external” to her military preparation. At that moment she is already prepared for battle, but simply needs to enter the battlefield together with Hera.

[ back ] 107. The Gorgon’s head on Athena’s αἰγίς reflects the myth in which Athena killed and skinned the monster Gorgo (Euripides Ion 987–997); it was from its skin that she made her shield. Burkert draws attention to the fact that “pictorial art turned the animal head into a Gorgon’s head and bordered the aegis with snakes” (1985:140); see also Iliad II 447–449, where Athena’s αἰγίς has golden tassels.

[ back ] 108. Athena is often depicted in art with helmet, long robe, and raised spear; see Robertson 2001:41n27.

[ back ] 109. See Becker 1995:63.

[ back ] 110. According to Burkert (1985:140 and n8), who points to Iliad XVI 100, “to conquer a city is [for Athena] to loosen her veils.” This view is based on the twofold meaning of κρήδεμνα as “headband” and “city walls”: see scholia on Iliad XVI 100 (κρήδεμνα· νῦν τὰ τείχη, μεταφορικῶς· ἰδίως γὰρ κρήδεμνον τὸ τῆς κεφαλῆς κάλυμμα); scholia on Odyssey iii 392, xiii 388; Apollonius Sophista Lexicon Homericum s.v. κρηδέμνῳ; Ηesychius s.v. κρήδεσμον; Eustathius on Iliad II 117, XVI 100; Odyssey i 335, iii 392, xiii 388; see also Nagler 1974:44–63; Reece 2009:257–258. I cannot see a specific connection with Athena in Iliad XVI 100, especially since Athena is not included in the list of goddesses wearing a κρήδεμνον in early Greek epic poetry (like Hera, Demeter, Rhea, Hekate, Thetis, Kharis, and Leukothea).

[ back ] 111. See Reece 2009:257–258.

[ back ] 112. See Mitsi 2007:9.

[ back ] 113. See Ryan 2009:427, who follows Linde and Labov 1975 in distinguishing between a map strategy and a tour, which “represents space dynamically from a mobile point of view.”

[ back ] 114. Ryan 2003:218.

[ back ] 115. Narrative facilitates recall and is a much stronger cue for keeping the audience’s attention. See Rubin 1995:15–17, 56, 326.

[ back ] 116. 2003:91.

[ back ] 117. On these aspects of ecphrasis, see Mitsi 2007.

[ back ] 118. So Hainsworth 1993:218 on Iliad XI 20.

[ back ] 119. See Mitsi 1991:42.

[ back ] 120. Iliad XI 33–34: “There were ten circles of bronze upon it, / and set about it were twenty knobs of tin, pale-shining.”

[ back ] 121. Iliad XI 35–36: “… and in the very centre another knob of dark cobalt. / And circled in the midst of all was the blank-eyed face of the Gorgon.”