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 8. Ecphrastic Space

By the term ecphrastic space, I refer to: (1) the “external” or “physical” space or material on which the depiction is placed; and (2) the “internal” space or spaces mentioned in the various narrative snapshots of the ecphrasis, which consists of the individual locations of an imagined story-world (e.g. a city at peace or a dancing-floor) employed as spatial cues for information processing and mnemonic recall. [1]

External Space

Working in metal rather than, say, on a tapestry or a woven fabric influences the end product of a skilled craftsman’s labor. For in contrast to embroidering or weaving, the objects or figures depicted on metal tend to be bright and gleaming, [4] intensifying the vividness of the images. In fact, this long ecphrasis contains so many references to the shining effect of the objects and figures depicted on the shield that it may be called an “exercise in radiance.” [5] The storyteller makes this clear in a multitude of ways, through references to light (XVIII 492 δαΐδων ὕπο λαμπομενάων; 596 στίλβοντας ἐλαίῳ) and especially to shining metals (507 δύω χρυσοῖο τάλαντα; 510 τεύχεσι λαμπόμενοι; 517 ἄμφω χρυσείω, χρύσεια δὲ εἵματα ἕσθην; 522 αἴθοπι χαλκῷ; 529 ἀργεννέων ὀΐων; 548–549 ἣ δὲ μελαίνετ’ ὄπισθεν, ἀρηρομένῃ δὲ ἐῴκει / χρυσείη περ ἐοῦσα; 560 λεύκ’ ἄλφιτα; 561–562 ἀλωήν / καλήν, χρυσείην, μέλανες δ’ ἀνὰ βότρυες ἦσαν; 563 κάμαξι διαμπερὲς ἀργυρέῃσιν; 564 κυανέην κάπετον; 564–565 περὶ δ’ ἕρκος ἔλασσεν / κασσιτέρου; 574 χρυσοῖο τετεύχατο κασσιτέρου τε; 577 χρύσειοι δὲ νομῆες; 583 μέλαν αἷμα; 588 οἰῶν ἀργεννάων; 597–598 μαχαίρας / εἶχον χρυσείας ἐξ ἀργυρέων τελαμώνων).

The radiance of the figures on the shield of Achilles points to an aesthetics of space that captures the listeners’ imagination. The shield is a θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι in and of itself because it plays so masterfully with the relation between image and beholder. [10] Building on Prier’s account of θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι [11] and Neer’s analysis of the role of radiance in early and classical Greek sculpture, I would argue that the constant emphasis on both the shield’s radiance and the glow and glitter of various figures and things depicted on it amount to “a phenomenology of the synapse, the ‘joint’ of presence and absence.” [12] The shining effect refers to a dialectic of proximity and distance, of the gleaming “here” in Hephaistos’ workshop and the radiant “there” of the mental beholders of the shield, the members of the external audience. [13] This interplay between “grasping sight and radiant light” [14] is a duality that occurs on both the level of the narrative and that of the discourse. The shining effect of the gleaming depictions on the shield is relevant to the grasping sight of both those looking at them and those who visualize this interaction in their mind’s eyes. Grasping sight and radiant light are about spatial relationships of proximity and distance, of presence and absence, which are of prime importance for understanding that the wonder (θαῦμα) of the shield amounts to the interplay between medium and image, to the balance between subject and object. Perhaps it is not accidental that in the formula θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι the middle infinitive resists revealing its grammatical subject. [15]

Internal Space

Criticism requires strong supportive arguments, lest it slip into a sort of impressionistic academic vanity, seeking to persuade through far-fetched suggestions. It is in this light, and with the utmost respect and understanding for what previous approaches to the ecphrasis on the shield have contributed, [18] that I would like to follow a different tack. My take on this famous, albeit notoriously complex, ecphrasis forms part of a larger theoretical assumption concerning the medium within which it is placed and the broader framework it belongs to, that is, oral song. In order to begin to understand and evaluate the ecphrasis on the shield of Achilles, we first need to study how it came into being, the way it was composed, and of course the tenets and rules governing this particular kind of composition. I see two basic problems in many previous interpretations of Achilles’ shield: First, by following a clear-cut division between description and narration, scholars have failed to realize that most of the scenes depicted on the shield operate on a special register, where the borders between pure narration and pure description are deliberately blurred. Second, the philological zeal with which classicists have struggled to unearth the single interpretive key [19] to the entire shield not only reproduces, albeit on a different level, the ancient obsession with an allegorical reading of the multiple ecphrases on the shield, [20] but also falls into the trap of highlighting certain aspects of some scenes at the expense of others, in order to reach the desired interpretive conclusion. The crucial issue for the presentation of the various scenes on the shield is interlocked with their distribution on the five layers or folds, and must be approached by exploring the cognitive process adopted by the storyteller. Such a line of thought is unavoidably based on and colored by one’s commitment to a specific school of criticism, which goes together with certain thorny issues concerning literacy and orality. [21] This kind of interpretation would postulate that the shield of Achilles may be suggesting (or even inviting) alternative ways of interpreting and arranging the material depicted on its surface. [22] Some may even entertain the thought that this is an essential part of its success, that it functions as a multiform that can appeal in different ways to different audiences. That said, my take on the shield differs from previous ones in two respects: (1) it does not posit any kind of orthodox reading that excludes alternative ones, and (2) it rather tries to follow the mental process of the composition of this long ecphrasis within the medium of oral song, by putting the stress—I hope not excessively—on the role of spatial organization and arrangement. Instead of deluding ourselves that there is a single interpretive key to the entire shield, the analysis I will propose suggests that the Iliadic narrator’s aim may have been to alert his audience to possible ways of negotiating with the world: neither comprehensiveness nor pictorial contrapposto with the drama of the plot, but doubleness, and most of all the inducing of wonder. [23] In this light, I begin my approach to this complex matter by describing the framework within which this ecphrasis is born and breathes—that is, oral poetry.

In this medium, the narrator performs by following a mental path [24] that allows him to create strong visualizations of the contents of his song. This mental journey is so deeply built into the system of oral song-making that, as is widely known, it has been semantically epitomized by the telling metaphor of the οἴμη, [25] the path the storyteller follows during the performance. [26] If we then try to envisage the actual process through which a narrator would describe to his audience the multiple depictions on the great shield of Achilles, we need to reconstruct the actual flow of images in his mind. This approach is very much in line with the fact that ecphrasis was described in late antiquity as λόγος περιηγηματικὸς ἐναργῶς ἄγων εἰς ὄψιν τὸ δηλούμενον (“a descriptive discourse bringing vividly/graphically [27] before the eyes what is expressed”). [28] Although the ancient scholia on the shield of Achilles employ theatrical imagery for the vivid language of this extended descriptive passage, [29] “the adjective periēgēmatikos … casts the speaker as a guide showing the listener around the sight to be described.” [30] The metaphor of speech as a journey is not only frequent in Greek literature but also informs the technical vocabulary used. As I will try to show in the case of the shield of Achilles, it is as if the storyteller takes his listeners with him on a περιήγησις (“travelling around” or “winding path”). He intends not only to show his audience what is depicted on the shield, but also to direct and channel their attention. This kind of showing is about both seeing and understanding, about making visible and intelligible. [31]

Cognitive psychology and research on memory have shown that the human mind processes images by selecting details that it then configures and reconfigures according to preexisting schemata, patterns into which experience has been organized. The narrator, composing his song orally, works under multiple constraints. Some of these have to do with the generic features of his medium, such as diction and meter and the rules governing them; others with limits on how much innovation he can apply to the basic themes of his song within the larger framework of the tradition; while others are transgeneric and pertain to mental scripts available to him, which themselves interact with the reality of the performance. This complex system of constraints contextualizes meaning and sheds light on the importance of how images are produced. If we are allowed to use the term pictorial artifact for the ecphrastic universe of Achilles’ shield, then we must be also permitted to argue that “artefacts are made possible by the spatial configurations which give rise to them, but artefacts in turn reconfigure spaces they inhabit.” [32] In other words, what the storyteller describes in the ecphrasis on Achilles’ shield is determined by a number of constraints on the material [33] on which the images are depicted; by generic limitations imposed by the diction, meter, and themes available to him; by the exigencies of the performance and the function of memory; and by the principle of iconic solidarity, [34] which views “the contradictory nature of images in sequence as both autonomous (meaningful in and of themselves) and dependent upon those around them (making meaning in juxtaposition to surrounding images).” [35] In fact, meaning emerges through a process of joining and ellipsis. The spatial linking and interlacing of certain elements placed on the various folds of the shield builds on a creative interplay between whole and fragment that is informed by the five folds’ spatial seriality. The storyteller’s choice to present Hephaistos as he makes the shield testifies to his aim of helping his listeners become spectators, who can visualize not just the end product but also the whole in all its parts. From this point of view, the ecphrasis on the shield of Achilles is not a depiction of human life in its various forms, but presents the process of depicting human life—not an image of the world but a negotiation with it. [36]

The frame, which represents the most elementary visual unit, is based on and coincides with spatial organization. In order to make this clear, I will use the following schema, which offers a detailed presentation of the entire ecphrasis on the shield according to this system of visual units I have described:

Section 1 (fold 1): 483–489

Section 2 (fold 2): 490–540

Megaframe (panels 1 and 2)

Panel 1 (city at peace)

Hyperframe 1 (weddings and symposia)

     Frame 1 (chambers)

     Frame 2 (dancing)

     Frame 3 (flute and phorminx playing)

     Frame 4 (among them women on doorsteps)

     Frame 5 (standing in wonder)

Hyperframe 2 (agora)

     Frame 1 (people, two men in dispute)

     Frame 2 (people speaking up on either side)

     Frame 3 (old men sitting on smooth stones in a circle)

     Frame 4 (heralds lifting their voices)

     Frame 5 (the two men rush before the heralds)

     Frame 6 (two golden talents placed in the middle)

Panel 2 (city at war)

Hyperframe 1 (walls of a city and plain)

     Frame 1 (dispute)

     Frame 2 (walls, old men, women, and children)

     Frame 3 (plain, army)

     Frame 4 (Athena and Ares in front)

Hyperframe 2 (river)

     Frame 1 (two guards—two shepherds)

     Frame 2 (εἰράων προπάροιθε and enemy forces)

     Frame 3 (return to previous location with all actants together / ἐμάχοντο μάχην ποταμοῖο παρ’ ὄχθας)

Section 3 (fold 3): 541–572

Megaframe (panels 1, 2, and 3)

Panel 1 (land)

Hyperframe 1 (sum of actions depicted in frames 1–3)

     Frame 1 (many plowmen plowing)

     Frame 2 (end of field, man comes)

     Frame 3 (return to the previous sublocation (ἀν’ ὄγμους) with its former actants (τοὶ δὲ)

Panel 2 (τέμενος)

Hyperframe 1 (sum of actions depicted in frames 1–6)

     Frame 1 (ἔριθοι / ἤμων)

     Frame 2 (μετ’ ὄγμον ἐπήτριμα πίπτον ἔραζε), new actant 1 (δράγματα δ’ ἄλλα) motion (πίπτον)

     Frame 3 (ἐν ἐλλεδανοῖσι), new actants 2 (ἀμαλλοδετῆρες)

     Frame 4 (ὄπισθεν), new actants 3 (παῖδες) doing something (ἐν ἀγκαλίδεσσι φέροντες, / ἀσπερχὲς πάρεχον)

     Frame 5 (βασιλεὺς) standing in pleasure (γηθόσυνος κῆρ)

     Frame 6 (new location: ἀπάνευθεν ὑπὸ δρυῒ), new actants 5 (κήρυκες) and 6 (αἱ δὲ γυναῖκες) doing something (5 δαῖτα πένοντο, / βοῦν δ’ ἱερεύσαντες μέγαν ἄμφεπον and 6 δεῖπνον ἐρίθοισιν λεύκ’ ἄλφιτα πολλὰ πάλυνον)

Panel 3 (vineyard, container-contents)

Hyperframe 1 (sum of actions depicted in frames 1–4)

     Frame 1 (ἀμφὶ δὲ with actants (φορῆες … παρθενικαὶ δὲ καὶ ἠΐθεοι) doing something (φέρον μελιηδέα καρπόν)

     Frame 2 (περὶ δ’ with actants (φορῆες … παρθενικαὶ δὲ καὶ ἠΐθεοι) doing something (φέρον μελιηδέα καρπόν)

     Frame 3 (ἀταρπιτὸς ἦεν ἐπ’ αὐτήν with actants (φορῆες … παρθενικαὶ δὲ καὶ ἠΐθεοι) doing something (φέρον μελιηδέα καρπόν)

     Frame 4 (τοῖσιν δ’ ἐν μέσσοισι) and a single actant is introduced (πάϊς) playing the phorminx

     Frame 5 (τοὶ δὲ ῥήσσοντες ἁμαρτῇ / μολπῇ τ’ ἰυγμῷ τε ποσὶ σκαίροντες ἕποντο) dancing

Section 4 (fold 4): 573–606

Megaframe (panels 1, 2 and 3)

Panel 1 (cattle)

Hyperframe 1 (sum of actions depicted in frames 1–2)

     Frame 1 (cattle ἐπεσσεύοντο ἀπὸ κόπρου νομόνδε)

     Frame 2 (πὰρ ποταμὸν κελάδοντα, παρὰ ῥοδανὸν δονακῆα, actants νομῆες, κύνες, λέοντε, αἰζηοί, ἱστάμενοι)

Panel 2 (ἐν δὲ νομὸν)

Hyperframe 1 (sum of actions depicted in frames 1–2)

     Frame 1 (ἐν καλῇ βήσσῃ μέγαν οἰῶν ἀργεννάων)

     Frame 2 (σταθμούς τε κλισίας τε κατηρεφέας ἰδὲ σηκούς)

Panel 3 (dancing-floor)

Hyperframe 1 (sum of actions depicted in frames 1–3)

     Frame 1 (χορὸν, ἔνθα), actants (ἠΐθεοι καὶ παρθένοι ἀλφεσίβοιαι) moving (ὠρχέοντ’, θρέξασκον)

     Frame 2 (other actants around watching [πολλὸς δ’ ἱμερόεντα χορὸν περιίσταθ’ ὅμιλος], pleased (τερπόμενοι)

     Frame 3 (κατ’ αὐτοὺς, κατὰ μέσσους) with addition of new actants and motion as part of a new piece of information (δοιὼ δὲ κυβιστητῆρε κατ’ αὐτούς / μολπῆς ἐξάρχοντες ἐδίνευον κατὰ μέσσους)

Section 5 (fold 5): 607–608

Panel 1 (ποταμοῖο μέγα σθένος Ὠκεανοῖο)

This classification is not based on structuralist taxonomic principles; it rather attempts to trace within the realm of ecphrasis the mechanism that created this impressive artifact. One of the underlying premises of this schema is its different levels of organization. It is clear that the narrator organizes his mental images by a triple process that can be summarized by the terms segmentation, grouping, and interlacing: the storyteller breaks down his pictorial tableau into separate segments, which he arranges into groups [41] that he can weave together at will. In fact, if we try to accommodate Groensteen’s theoretical insights into the ecphrastic universe of Achilles’ shield, [42] we will see that the narrator employs two types of “arthrology,” [43] or linkage, among the various groups of images: restrained and general. [44] Restrained linkage explicates the interconnection and interaction of panels sequentially, whereas general arthrology examines the ways panels are associated nonsequentially, through the echoes of earlier terms that recur in one or more nonadjacent panels. The key point for explicating the entire process of organizing mental images is the use of space, [45] which is a powerful cue for recalling and classifying material. The storyteller visualizes the various episodes depicted on the shield as “mini-tours,” [46] following a course that leads him from one spatial node or location to another. Spatial markers are used as mental hooks on which he hangs individual scenes. Even within each scene, elements are added “freely” but are tied to locations or motion. [47] Space and motion are effective means for mentally navigating an area that the main narrative leaves unexplored. From this perspective of segmentation, grouping, and interlacing, let us now see how these theoretical tenets explicate the creation of certain images on the shield of Achilles.

Table 7: Pictorial seriality in the city at peace

Section 2 Section 2
Panel 1 (city at peace) Panel 1 (city at peace)
Hyperframe 1 (weddings and symposia) Hyperframe 2 (litigation in the agora)
Frame 1: “the loud bride song was arising” (493 πολὺς δ’ ὑμέναιος ὀρώρει) Frame 1: “a quarrel had arisen” (497–498 νεῖκος / ὠρώρει)
Frame 2: “kept up their clamour” (495 βοὴν ἔχον) Frames 2 and 4: “were speaking up” (502 ἐπήπυον), “who lift their voices” (505 ἠεροφώνων)
Frame 4: “women standing each at the door of her court” (495–496 αἱ δὲ γυναῖκες / ἱστάμεναι … ἐπὶ προθύροισιν ἑκάστη) Frame 3: “the elders / were in session on benches of polished stone in the sacred circle” (503–504 οἱ δὲ γέροντες /εἵατ’ ἐπὶ ξεστοῖσι λίθοις ἱερῷ ἐνὶ κύκλῳ)

Since segmentation is a typical feature of restrained arthrology, it operates not only between hyperframes, that is, parts of a single panel, but also between panels, as can be seen in hyperframes 1 and 2 of panel 1 and hyperframes 1 and 2 of panel 2 in section 2 (Table 8):

Table 8: Restrained arthrology in the city at peace

Section 2 Section 2
Panel 1 (city at peace) Panel 2 (city at war)
Hyperframe 2 (litigation in the agora) Hyperframe 1 (walls of a city and plain)
Frame 1: “the people were assembled in the market place” (497 λαοὶ δ’ εἰν ἀγορῇ ἔσαν ἀθρόοι) “two men” (498 δύο δ’ ἄνδρες) “were disputing” (498 ἐνείκεον), “one man promised full restitution / …, but the other refused …” (499–500 ὃ μὲν εὔχετο πάντ’ ἀποδοῦναι / … ὃ δ’ ἀναίνετο …) Frame 1: “sat in their councils” (531 εἰράων προπάροιθε καθήμενοι) “two men to watch” (523 δύω σκοποί), “two herdsmen” (525 δύω … νομῆες) “counsel was divided, whether … or share between both sides the property” (510–511 δίχα δέ σφισιν ἥνδανε βουλή, / ἠὲ … ἢ ἄνδιχα πάντα δάσασθαι)
Frame 3: “the elders” (503 οἱ δὲ γέροντες) Frame 2: “the men with age upon them” (515 ἀνέρες οὓς ἔχε γῆρας)
Frame 5: “rushed” (506 ἤϊσσον) Frame 3: “went out” (516 οἳ δ’ ἴσαν)
Frame 6: “two talents of gold” (507 δύω χρυσοῖο τάλαντα) Frame 4: “These were gold, both, and golden raiment upon them” (517 ἄμφω χρυσείω, χρύσεια δὲ εἵματα ἕσθην)
Hyperframe 1 (weddings and symposia) Hyperframe 2 (river)
Frame 3: “flutes and lyres” (495 αὐλοὶ φόρμιγγές τε) Frame 2: “playing happily on pipes” (526 τερπόμενοι σύριγξι)

Grouping of images is a mechanism by which the narrator tends to create small chains of images which seem to acquire a kind of traditional referentiality. As with formulaic material that has progressively acquired context-free meaning and anchors, at least at times, the secondary semantics of a given expression, so certain images have become part of a larger system of interconnections which when activated create mental chain reactions. The storyteller visualizes certain types of scenes in a rather limited number of ways, and tends to group individual images along a path that goes through a familiar chain of locations; in this way he can create strong nodes between places and actions and considerably increase mnemonic stability. In the ecphrasis on the shield of Achilles, grouping is observed both within a single panel and between panels.

Traditional referentiality is also at work in section 3, panel 3 (the vineyard). At the very end of this panel, the storyteller introduces a brief scene of a young man beautifully playing his phorminx, among other boys and girls who are described carrying the grapes in baskets. The reference to these boys and girls and the grapes has given the narrator a mental hint for continuing his song; thus he has visually “translated” this initial reference into a scene of festivity, which he then describes by the traditional means available to him: phorminx-playing (569–570 φόρμιγγι λιγείῃ / ἱμερόεν κιθάριζε), singing (570 λίνον δ’ ὑπὸ καλὸν ἄειδεν), and dancing (571–572 τοὶ δὲ ῥήσσοντες ἁμαρτῇ / μολπῇ τ’ ἰυγμῷ τε ποσὶ σκαίροντες ἕποντο). Here too, spatial markers have facilitated his recall: the young girls and boys are placed on the single path of the vineyard (565 μία δ’ οἴη ἀταρπιτὸς ἦεν ἐπ’ αὐτήν), the young man’s playing the phorminx is tied to his standing in the middle of these boys and girls (569 τοῖσιν δ’ ἐν μέσσοισι), the boy’s singing is anchored to the sound he produces (571 λεπταλέῃ φωνῇ), and the dancing is connected with the noise produced by the singing and whistling of all the youths (572 μολπῇ τ’ ἰυγμῷ τε).

The brevity of panel 2, which lacks any expansion, is at odds not only with the pictorial wealth of the previous, simile-like panel (the cattle), but also with the way all the previous panels began. This is indeed the first time the skilled craftsman Hephaistos is mentioned in the line that introduces a panel. [56] Whereas previously the pattern employed was always ἐν μέν/δέ + verb of making (ἔτευξε, ποίησε, ἐτίθει) + what he made, [57] here the introductory formula takes the form ἐν δέ + what he made + verb of making + periphrastic denomination for Hephaistos. This may seem like mere quibbling, but the long panel of the dance that comes immediately after begins in virtually the same way (590 ἐν δὲ χορὸν ποίκιλλε [58] περικλυτὸς Ἀμφιγυήεις). Before I discuss this in detail, I will also draw attention to another crucial difference between lines 587–589 and all the other panels: these lines are the only ones that do not expand on what is being depicted (νομόν), but create a sudden pause by adding multiple spatial markers: [59]

ἐν δὲ νομὸν ποίησε περικλυτὸς Ἀμφιγυήεις
ἐν καλῇ βήσσῃ μέγαν οἰῶν ἀργεννάων,
σταθμούς τε κλισίας τε κατηρεφέας ἰδὲ σηκούς.

And the renowned smith of the strong arms made on it a meadow
large and in a lovely valley for the glimmering sheepflocks,
with dwelling places upon it, and covered shelters, and sheepfolds.

Iliad XVIII 587–589

The meadow (νομόν) is not expanded but spatially overdetermined: it is located “in a lovely valley” (ἐν καλῇ βήσσῃ), and the sheep placed in it are “tied” to “dwelling places” (σταθμούς), “covered shelters” (κλισίας … κατηρεφέας), and “sheepfolds” (σηκούς). Instead of presenting his audience with a narrative snapshot of the meadow, the narrator accumulates spatial references from the same thematic family as those in the previous panel. I would argue that the following panel shares the same pattern in its introductory formula, but not the brevity or the thematic range of content, as a result of oral correction. The storyteller begins to visualize a scene that shares the same or equivalent thematic content with the previous one (cattle), but soon decides to cut it short and move on to a different visualization. His initial task was to strengthen the effect of the previous panel by doubling it, [
60] but he soon opted for a different goal. It is, of course, intriguing to wonder what may have changed his mind. The storyteller may have realized that the only images he could easily recall were so similar to the ones just presented in the previous panel that there was no room for variation, and therefore decided to undertake a wholesale shift in his topic. Using the same introductory formulaic pattern that was still very active in his mind, he tried to correct his false start and moved on to what is perhaps the crowning image of the whole shield, the dancing-floor. His grouping of images between the two panels may have been cancelled, but it has left traces of the very process by which it came into being.

Interlacing, which refers to the weaving together of nonsequential frames or panels, capitalizes on echoes or long-term links between individual or larger groups of visual units. The narrator occasionally reuses, or rather applies, frames previously used in other panels and sections. Frames 2 and 3 (section 2, panel 1), picturing the dancing and flute- and phorminx-playing, are interlaced with both frames 4 and 5 (section 3, panel 3; the youth playing the phorminx amid groups of dancing boys and girls) and frames 1–3 (section 4, panel 3; the entire panel of the dancing-floor). The progressively intensifying effect of this type of expanding or strong interlacing shows that we are dealing with a pictorial gradation: the initial frames (in section 2) did not become weaker in the process of the ecphrasis, but on the contrary were so strengthened that they could cover a whole panel. The dancing-floor, which some scholars have seen as the climactic scene of the entire ecphrasis, [61] and which verifies the “Law of Final Stress” that typifies oral literature, [62] shows that in presenting his ecphrastic material the storyteller is not so much following a given thematic blueprint, but employing recollections or echoes of previously used visual units to create, at times at least, new, surprising, but really unexpected visual compositions, like the impressive dancing-floor that crowns his description. There are also examples of default interlacing. [63] Frame 5 (section 2, panel 1), picturing the women who are standing in wonder (ἱστάμεναι θαύμαζον), is woven together with frame 5 (section 3, panel 2), depicting a king who is also standing (ἑστήκει), being pleased at heart (γηθόσυνος κῆρ), and frame 2 (section 4, panel 1), where the dogs stand their ground and bark at the lions as they try to chase them away from the cattle (ἱστάμενοι). Frame 3 (section 2, panel 1, hyperframe 2), describing the elders seated in the agora, is interlaced with frame 2 (section 2, panel 2, hyperframe 2), which depicts an army seated at the “place of the counsels.” The number two is also a recurring device in the narrator’s mind, since it appears in multiple panels of the ecphrasis (two men take part in a litigation, there are two options available for the besieged city, two gods lead the army outside the walls, there are two guards and two shepherds in the scene by the river, two lions attack the cattle in section 4, and finally there are two acrobats on the dancing-floor). These are only some of the manifestations of default interlacing. Finally, there are few cases of weak interlacing, where the initial visual unit is reproduced by means of a considerably less strong image. The heralds are an integral part of the litigation scene in the agora (section 2, panel 1, hyperframe 2, frame 4), although they are really ancillary and do not actually fit there, as they do not perform their usual task in the king’s precinct (section 3, panel 2, hyperframe 1, frame 6). The storyteller has retained the visual image of the heralds in his memory, and he reproduces it less forcefully under different circumstances and at the expense of accuracy.

Taking my cue from this mapping of thematic features, I shall first suggest and then explicate the story grammar of the snapshots included in the shield of Achilles. These snapshots seem to follow a pattern that can be summarized this way:

The story grammar of the snapshots [
70] is a spatial one: mini-maps of spatial references are combined with mini-tours [71] that reveal “abortive mini-narratives,” [72] or to put it differently, the narrator’s mind, together with his moving subjects, moves from one visual shot to another, verbalizing them on the spatially juxtaposed sections or parts of the shield. This ecphrasis needs to be approached within the framework of oral storytelling and the techniques employed by storytellers within the context of the performance. Any attempt to reconstruct the shield of Achilles is off the mark, for the simple reason that it misses the illusion on which the visual imagery of the ecphrasis is being built. The shield of Achilles is governed by the same rules as a simile of gigantic proportions: [73] it functions like a visual gallery, [74] presenting multiple images that the storyteller’s rich imagination has created by means of spatial memory. There is no single thread or pattern running through these images, because we are not dealing with a script in cognitive terms (that refers to both form and content), but with a story grammar that refers only to form. In fact, the duplication that marks most of the snapshots included in the shield results from the fact that in oral storytelling “repeated pairings of ideas or words are noted as one way the individual words acquire traditional meanings within their genre.” [75] Duality is a form of pairing, and pairing, at the most elementary level, is a sort of spatial association. The narrator does not divide each of the shield’s central sections into two narrative snapshots; he duplicates visual images, and thereby associates and groups them together: a pictorial list has no clear structure; it is the associative imagination of the storyteller that imposes one. [76] The storyteller in this case uses the same technique he employs in the Homeric similes, [77] with one important addition. Here the slide from description into narrative [78] is similar to the shift from a simple comparison to a developed, extended simile. It is the workings of visual memory that enhance this smooth glide, and in particular it is spatial memory that creates this rich visual panorama of the shield. The individual narrative snapshots of the shield are all, more or less, drawn from the rich pictorial storehouse that also furnishes the similes, [79] and they are based on equivalent devices of spatial memory. What is new in the shield of Achilles is that the accumulation of mental pictures is organized not simply according to an associative pattern (as in simile-chains), but as successive pictures placed on successive levels of the shield. This ecphrastic gallery is a spatial tour of the world of the poet’s imagination, a visit to a mental museum where listeners are turned into spectators and the poet’s mind’s eye is visually indexed on the massive shield of his chief hero Achilles.

I have deliberately left out of my analysis the inner and outer folds of the shield, since they are sharply distinguished from the three “intermediate” folds. Being empty of narrative snapshots, the inner and outer folds are marked by their stillness: no motion, no human figures, no shining effect expressed verbally, but a mere listing of heavenly bodies and the great ocean. This stillness, framing a world of human activity, is intended to induce wonder, based on polarity and antithesis. The shield’s twofoldness, featuring a static and unchanging cosmos on the one hand and a vibrant, highly active, and shifting world of mankind on the other, reveals a contrast that is essential to the organization of space. This is neither a systemic impulse nor a structural formality, but a reflection on seeing. At the heart of this spatial arrangement lies the distinction between what the figures on the shield see and what we, the external beholders, look at. This point has been effectively made with respect to sculpture in classical pediments, [80] and with a certain degree of modification can be reiterated here: the human figures in the three intermediate but larger main folds of the shield are presented in the course of their various activities, unaware—as they are in the real world—of the unchanging framework of the static cosmos and ocean within which they are situated. The stillness of the vast space lying above (cosmos) and around them (ocean) is perceptible only to the external beholder. This effective disjunction of human activity and cosmic stillness amounts to a comment from the storyteller to his audience: the shield is not about the depiction of the world but about its denotation; not its comprehensiveness, but a way of dealing with it through space. [81]

The Metaleptic Aspect of Ecphrasis

Apart from the spatial story grammar of the ecphrasis on the shield of Achilles and the foregoing analysis of the cognitive process that brought it into being, space also emerges in the blurring of narrative levels. In fact, the description of the shield of Achilles constitutes the earliest extended metalepsis in Greek literature. Μετάληψις (literally “sharing”) is a term of ancient rhetoric [82] that denotes either “a particular status of a juridical case” or “figures of speech such as metonymy and metaphor, when one word is used for another.” [83] Genette was the first to assign this term a narratological meaning, narrowing its use to the blurring or transcending of the distinction between narrative levels, as when the narrator enters the world of the characters, or the characters that of the narrator. [84] Recent narratological approaches have developed a more detailed typology of metalepsis, which like most narratological observations is very much at home in the genre of the novel. Given that the poetic reality of Homeric epic is profoundly different, I will restrict myself to a brief catalogue of the basic forms of metalepsis, without considering other types that are not applicable or are too jargon-oriented for archaic Greek epic. To this end, I will deliberately shy away from any sophisticated classification of metalepsis, [85] and instead opt for the simplest and most self-explanatory distinction, between passages where the narrator enters the world of the characters and those where the characters enter his, and also treat as a separate category instances where the narrator makes metanarrative comments and becomes not the reporter but the creator of the story.

Characters enter the world of the narrator: A character passes from an embedded to an embedding level

  1. third-person imaginary spectator
  2. a character’s words point explicitly to the story-world, but implicitly to the world of the narrator and the narratees
  3. implicit presentation of a character’s viewpoint

Rhetorical or discourse metalepsis: The narrator intervenes with a metanarrative comment, or the narrator becomes the creator instead of the reporter of the story. Rhetorical metalepsis opens a small window and then quickly closes it, while boundaries are at the end reascertained

  1. evaluative comments (νήπιος, σχέτλιος) or judgmental words (οὐλομένην)
  2. rhetorical questions (what should I say first and what last?)
  3. if-not situations (X would have happened if it were not for person Y)
  4. the narrator acknowledges that he has orchestrated a specific outcome in the plot (Iliad XXII 328–329)

In Iliad XVIII 496 (the city at peace), the narrator refers to a group of women standing by the front doors of their houses and marveling (θαύμαζον) at the bridal procession. [89] These women are figures on the shield and cannot have feelings, or to put it in another way the narrator is the one who can give them feelings and turn them into both living beings and active spectators of the action depicted there. This strategy of mirroring his own experience within the ecphrasis while visualizing the divine craftsman making the shield is, of course, a hint to the narratees who will also marvel at his presentation of this divine masterpiece. [90] Another instance of this metaleptic effect appears in lines 530 and 556. In the former, the enemy forces hear the great uproar of another army attacking the shepherds (ἐπύθοντο πολὺν κέλαδον), whereas in the latter the king stands in silence (σιωπῆι) with pleasure in his heart (557 γηθόσυνος κῆρ). In both instances, the narrator enters the world of the figures on the shield and attributes to them feelings and perceptions he, as a mortal, wants them to experience. The figures cannot hear any sound, nor does it make any sense to say that they remain silent or that they can be pleased. This is all about the narrator’s leaping into the illusionary story-world of the ecphrasis. Marvel, pleasure, sound, and silence are all his own, but when transferred to the figures of the shield, they let him blur the boundaries between distinct narrative levels and make the ecphrasis come alive, a magnificent, (mainly) peaceful world that could have been real but is not. [91]

Of the second type of metalepsis (characters entering the world of the narrator), the scene just before the actual making of the shield provides a stunning example. Before Hephaistos begins to work, he says to Thetis:

“ὥς οἱ τεύχεα καλὰ παρέσσεται, οἷά τις αὖτε
ἀνθρώπων πολέων θαυμάσσεται, ὅς κεν ἴδηται.”

“as there shall be fine armour for him, such as another
man out of many men shall wonder at, when he looks on it.”

Iliad XVIII 466–467

This “other man out of many men” is an intriguing expression, the more so since he is left nameless. Given that similar phrasing was employed in another passage where a character “announces the text in the text,” as de Jong has neatly put it, [
92] Hephaistos’ words seem to refer only to the narratees’ world, rather than that of the characters. First, let us examine a similar passage:

“οἷσιν ἔπι Ζεὺς θῆκε κακὸν μόρον, ὡς καὶ ὀπίσσω
ἀνθρώποισι πελώμεθ’ ἀοίδιμοι ἐσσομένοισιν.”

“us two, on whom Zeus set a vile destiny, so that hereafter
we shall be made into things of song for the men of the future. “

Iliad VI 357–358

Helen’s words will undoubtedly make the narratees think of the Iliad itself, a song that will present the κλέος and the fate of heroes like Hektor and women like Helen. By entering a different narrative level, Helen, a character with such a profound role in the Trojan myth in general, announces the Iliad within the Iliad.

In Iliad XVIII 466–467, Hephaistos does not merely “announce the Iliad at large,” but points to the gazing at the armor of Achilles (and by implication at the famous ecphrasis on the shield) by an anonymous person “among many other men.” This cryptic expression acquires its full meaning only after the armor is completed and handed to Achilles:

Μυρμιδόνας δ’ ἄρα πάντας ἕλε τρόμος, οὐδέ τις ἔτλη
ἄντην εἰσιδέειν, ἀλλ’ ἔτρεσαν· αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεύς
ὡς εἶδ’, ὥς μιν μᾶλλον ἔδυ χόλος, ἐν δέ οἱ ὄσσε
δεινὸν ὑπὸ βλεφάρων ὡς εἰ σέλας ἐξεφάανθεν·
τέρπετο δ’ ἐν χείρεσσιν ἔχων θεοῦ ἀγλαὰ δῶρα.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ φρεσὶν ᾗσι τετάρπετο δαίδαλα λεύσσων,
αὐτίκα μητέρα ἣν ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα·

Trembling took hold of all the Myrmidons. None had the courage
to look straight at it. They were afraid of it. Only Achilleus
looked, and as he looked the anger came harder upon him
and his eyes glittered terribly under his lids, like sunflare.
He was glad, holding in his hands the shining gifts of Hephaistos.
But when he had satisfied his heart with looking at the intricate
armour, he spoke to his mother and addressed her in winged words.

Iliad XIX 14–20

The contrast between the multitude of Myrmidons, who are terrified of the armor and do not dare to look at it, and Achilles, who alone marvels at his divine weapons, is not only striking but also puzzling. [
93] The Myrmidons’ fear is left unexplained, which becomes even more strange given that there are no monsters or other fearful creatures depicted on the shield. Why, then, are the Myrmidons terrified and shy away from looking at the divine armor? The answer can be better expressed by two other, related questions: why is it that Achilles alone admires the shield, [94] and why is the making of the shield flanked by both Hephaistos’ words pointing to an anonymous admirer and by Achilles’ marveling at the it?

First, a word on gaze: Iliad XIX 14–20 makes clear the importance of the shining effect of Achilles’ armor. This radiant, gleaming light, bearing the trademark of divine craftsmanship, is a wonder imbued with “otherness.” Part of its duality lies in its being both visible and invisible to different viewers. [95] The fear the Myrmidons feel, which underscores their failure as beholders, highlights the contrast with Achilles’ fearless and ecstatic gaze. The true beholder of the divine armor (and of course the shield) can be none other than its proper owner. There can hardly be a more emphatic assertion of ownership, of the special association between the divine armor and Achilles. [96] The storyteller enhances this fact by presenting a brief but powerful aesthetics of light. Fear makes the Myrmidons turn their eyes away, since a frontal look entails a level of confrontation and engagement with a reality that is foreign and “other” to the average warrior. In contrast, Achilles’ look (XIX 16 ὡς εἶδ’) is correlated with the “sinking of his anger” even deeper inside him (XIX 16 ὥς μιν μᾶλλον ἔδυ χόλος), which is followed by a “terrible glittering of his eyes under his lids, like sunflare” (XIX 16–17 ἐν δέ οἱ ὄσσε / δεινὸν ὑπὸ βλεφάρων ὡς εἰ σέλας ἐξεφάανθεν). This aesthetics of light is not about a viewed object and a viewer, but about the duality of seeing: the divine armor projects its brilliant light [97] and the beholder grasps sight by emitting an equally brilliant light from his own eyes. The point is subtle but effectively made: pleasure is an emotion that takes hold of Achilles only in the framework of the interaction created by two communicating sources of light: his gaze and the shining armor. Thetis’ son is pleased only when the light reflected from the weapons he is holding in his hands shines on him (XIX 18 τέρπετο δ’ ἐν χείρεσσιν ἔχων θεοῦ ἀγλαὰ δῶρα), and only when the light shining from his glittering eyes falls upon the divine armor (XIX 19 αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ φρεσὶν ᾗσι τετάρπετο δαίδαλα λεύσσων). In this light (literally and figuratively), Achilles becomes the first mortal beholder of the divine armor, [98] a model spectator of the poet’s own art. [99]

In Iliad XVIII 518–519, the narrator briefly interrupts his description of an army moving to battle by inserting his own comment on the huge size of Athena and Ares, who were leading the army, in contrast to the small human figures in this scene.

καλὼ καὶ μεγάλω σὺν τεύχεσιν, ὥς τε θεώ περ,
ἀμφὶς ἀριζήλω· λαοὶ δ’ ὑπολίζονες ἦσαν.

… [and they were]
beautiful and huge in their armour, being divinities,
and conspicuous from afar, but the people around them were smaller.

Iliad XVIII 518–519

In Iliad XVIII 539, during the actual description of a battle, the narrator observes that the divine figures depicted on the battlefield looked like living men. This comment belongs not to the description, but to the world of the narrator who is gazing at what is depicted on the shield: ὡμίλεον δ’ ὥς τε ζωοὶ βροτοὶ ἠδ’ ἐμάχοντο (“All closed together like living men and fought with each other”). Finally, in Iliad XVIII 548–549 the narrator refers to his own perception of the dark-colored earth, which in his eyes looks like “earth that has been ploughed,” and calls this image forged on the shield “a wonder.”

ἣ δὲ μελαίνετ’ ὄπισθεν, ἀρηρομένῃ δὲ ἐῴκει
χρυσείη περ ἐοῦσα· τὸ δὴ περὶ θαῦμα τέτυκτο.

The earth darkened behind them and looked like earth that has been ploughed
though it was gold. Such was the wonder of the shield’s forging.

Iliad XVIII 548–549

These three types of metalepsis represent varying degrees of dependence on and innovation in the typology of metalepsis employed in Homeric epic. With the first type (the narrator entering the world of the characters), the ecphrasis presents a unique case of metalepsis, unprecedented in the entire Iliad, that does not belong to any of the techniques commonly used. As far as the second type is concerned, Hephaistos and the narrator tend to merge, and the narrative levels they belong to become blurred. [105] The introductory formulas to the different sections of the shield recall the distinction, which is soon forgotten as the descriptivized narrative snapshots merge the boundaries between these two levels. [106] By fusing the action of Hephaistos with his own description, as he passes from a dependent construction to an independent one (ποίησε, ἐτίθει, ἔτευξε) and then to independent clauses, the narrator can authenticate his song and increase its authority. [107] His song is as good as the god Hephaistos’ marvelous depictions on the shield of Achilles. [108] Seen from this angle, the metaleptic effect is still felt, [109] when Achilles the receiver of the armor (and mirror image of the narrator) marvels at his new weapons. By temporarily fusing the spatial boundaries of different narrative worlds, the narrator’s comments, which belong to the third type of metalepsis, aspire at reminding the audience of the fictionality of what is depicted in the entire ecphrasis. It is against such a strong pictorial illusion of a fictive story-world, then, [110] that the listeners and narratees are invited to evaluate the story-world of the Iliad.


[ back ] 1. A good starting point is the relevant articles in Neue Pauly and OCD by Fantuzzi and Rusten; two useful collections of essays, accompanied by extensive bibliographies, are also provided by two special issues on ecphrasis published by Elsner in Ramus (2002) and by Bartsch and Elsner in Classical Philology (2007). For Homer, see Alden s.v. “Ekphrasis” in Finkelberg 2011, with further bibliography.

[ back ] 2. See Fittschen 1973:N5–N7. On the shield of Achilles in general, see the bibliographical guide by Arpaia 2010.

[ back ] 3. Becker (1995:84–85, 96–100) is an exception. He draws attention to Iliad XVIII 418 (χρύσειαι, ζωῇσι νεήνισιν εἰοικυῖαι [“these are golden, and in appearance like living young women”]) to argue that “through the naming of the material and the similetic comparison, the bard has assured that we remain aware of the medium (in this case sculpted metal) as well as the message.” Becker points to defamiliarization and to the collapse of identity between the golden handmaids on the shield and real-world women, which increases the “admiration of the audience for the mimetic capabilities of the work of art” (85).

[ back ] 4. On the importance and value the Greeks attributed to glitter and glow in art, see Neer 2010:74 and 76–77 (for examples from Homer).

[ back ] 5. On the “aesthetics of radiance” and their association with the Near East, see Winter 1994; 1999. On radiance and statues, see D. Steiner 2001:97–98; on radiance in religion and cult, see Jameson 1999; Parisinou 2000.

[ back ] 6. Brightness is a cue to recall; see “Internal Space,” below.

[ back ] 7. On the term “graphic quality” as a translation of ἐνάργεια, see Nünlist 2009:194. On ἐνάργεια (traditionally rendered as “vividness”) in ancient criticism and poetry, see Römer 1879:xiii–xiv; Lehnert 1896:92; Zanker 1981; Rispoli 1984; Meijering 1987:29–52; Lausberg 1990:§810; Graf 1995; Dubel 1997; Bartsch 2007; Nünlist 2009:194–198; Webb 2009:87–106. On ἐνάργεια in Homer, see Bakker 1997:77–79. On ancient authors impressed by the vividness of Homeric discourse, see e.g. Gorgias Helen 9; Plato Ion 535b–e; Pseudo-Longinus On the Sublime 15; Quintilian Institutio oratoria 6.2.29. See also scholia vetera, e.g. on Iliad IV 154 (BT: χειρὸς ἔχων Μενέλαον, ἐπεστενάχοντο δ’ ἑταῖροι: “and by the hand held / Menelaos, while their companions were mourning beside him”); ἄφελε τὸν στίχον καὶ οὐ βλάψεις τὴν σαφήνειαν, ἀπολέσεις δὲ τὴν ἐνάργειαν, ἥτις ἐμφαίνει τὴν Ἀγαμέμνονος συμπάθειαν καὶ τὴν τῶν συναχθομένων ἑταίρων διάθεσιν (“if you remove the verse, you will not harm the clarity, but you will destroy the vividness, which shows Agamemnon’s sympathy and the disposition of his companions who share his grief”; I owe this example and the translation of the scholium to N. Richardson 2006:195). For more information, see Nünlist 2009:194–198. On the role of ἐνάργεια ‘graphic quality, vividness’ and σαφήνεια ‘clarity’), which allow a beholder to “arrive at the same same inner vision―the same φαντασία―that the scene or object had originally brought to the mind’s eye of the artist, speaker, or writer,” see Squire 2011:327.

[ back ] 8. The use of verbs like ποιεῖν, τιθέναι, τεύχειν, preceded by the strong spatial deixis of the preverb ἐν, shows how the “physical” space of the material on which the depictions are described determines some of the choices the narrator had to make with respect to the matter of vividness. On mechanisms that promote ἐνάργεια (like the emphasis on detail that makes the description seem authentic) according to ancient rhetoricians, see Meijering 1987:39–44; Nünlist 2009:194–195. See also Berardi 2010.

[ back ] 9. See also τεύχεα μαρμαίροντα (Iliad XVIII 617).

[ back ] 10. See Neer 2010:67.

[ back ] 11. See also Mette 1961; Hunzinger 1994.

[ back ] 12. Neer 2010:68.

[ back ] 13. See Prier 1989:84–97; Neer 2010:66–67.

[ back ] 14. Neer 2010:67.

[ back ] 15. See Fränkel 1973:77–82, 524; Prier 1989:95; Neer 2010:67.

[ back ] 16. On this topic, see Fowler 1991.

[ back ] 17. 1893 (1766).

[ back ] 18. Stanley’s attempt (1993:9–13) to draw attention to various verbal devices employed by the storyteller (refrain composition, ringing devices, interlocking form) to “emphasize the integration of individual elements” and point to associations between them is on the right track, though I disagree with the results of his analysis. A significant number of what he calls “ringing devices” are forced and seem to be the outcome of his effort to establish an overall organizing frame for the entire shield, on the basis of patterns of parallelism and contrast under the umbrella of the technique of ring-composition.

[ back ] 19. The most significant attempts to interpret the shield of Achilles have been based on this principle: Marg (1957:20–37), Reinhardt (1961:401–411), and Schadewaldt (1965:361–367) have argued that the shield is an effort to represent the entire world, whether the stress is on everyday (Marg), aristocratic (Reinhardt), or civilized life (Schadewaldt); Ø. Andersen (1976) called attention to isolated aspects of the depicted scenes that he tried to connect to episodes of the main narrative; Gärtner (1976) highlighted the importance of the three agricultural scenes and maintained that the king standing joyfully among the reapers is the central focus; Byre (1992), following Sheppard (1922:8), claimed that the scenes of conflict and discord stand out, since they bear a striking similarity to the thematic kernel of the Iliad. Apart from privileging a single interpretation, all these attempts are “plot-oriented,” either by contrast (peaceful life versus the cruelty of war) or by similarity (conflict and discord).

[ back ] 20. See Hardie 1985.

[ back ] 21. See Ong 1982; Havelock 1986; Thomas 1992.

[ back ] 22. With respect to this issue, Michael Squire has brought to my attention the case of the Iliac tablets.

[ back ] 23. See Neer 2010:85.

[ back ] 24. On mental paths versus real paths, see Giannisi 2006:75–90.

[ back ] 25. Odyssey viii 74; viii 481; xxii 347.

[ back ] 26. See Rubin 1995:62, who cites Foley.

[ back ] 27. See Nünlist 2009:194.

[ back ] 28. Aelius Theon 2.118.7–8 [Spengel] on ἔκφρασις. For an almost verbatim repetition of this definition, see Hermogenes Progymnasmata 10.1–2 [Rabe], Aphthonius 10.36.22 [Rabe], Nicolaus 3.491 [Spengel]. See also Becker 1995:24–31.

[ back ] 29. Scholia on Iliad XVIII 476–477 (bT): δαιμονίως τὸν πλάστην αὐτὸς διέπλασεν, ὥσπερ ἐπὶ σκηνῆς ἐκκυκλήσας καὶ δείξας ἡμῖν ἐν φανερῷ τὸ ἐργαστήριον (“[Homer] presented the maker [Hephaistos] effectively, as if rolling him onto a stage and showing us his workshop in the open”); see Webb 2009:54.

[ back ] 30. Webb 2009:54.

[ back ] 31. See Webb 2009:54, who points to Pausanias’ use of the term Περιήγησις for his traveling around Greece.

[ back ] 32. West-Pavlov 2009:23.

[ back ] 33. For a similar approach to marble in Greek sculpture, see Neer 2010:71–77.

[ back ] 34. Groensteen 2007:17–21, 57, 89, 113, 159.

[ back ] 35. See K. P. Johnson 2008:2, who was the first (to my knowledge) to apply Groensteen’s model to Achilles’ shield.

[ back ] 36. See Neer 2010:40–46.

[ back ] 37. I.e. the term “mega-frame.”

[ back ] 38. A panel is a large visual unit (e.g. “city at peace”) comprising one or more hyperframes.

[ back ] 39. See Eisner 1990:38–99; K.P. Johnson 2008:4.

[ back ] 40. The first and last are presented without any expansion: see J. Kakridis 1971:112–113, who argues that the sky and stars occupy the first position in ecphrases in Modern Greek folk poetry.

[ back ] 41. I have deliberately used the word “groups” in order to make clear that I am referring to all types of classification explicated above: frame, hyperframe, megaframe, panel, and section.

[ back ] 42. With some necessary modifications.

[ back ] 43. From the Greek word ἄρθρον (“joint of a limb”).

[ back ] 44. Groensteen (2007) also refers to a spatio-topical system, which if applied to the shield of Achilles would pertain to the panels’ physical size and placement within the sections or folds of the shield. Given that such a type of arthrology is based on the assumption that Achilles’ shield is real, it is of no value to our study. Groensteen applied this kind of linkage to the very real size of a printed page on which the panels of a comic book are placed.

[ back ] 45. In descriptions, space includes but is not restricted to location; see J. Kakridis 1971:120.

[ back ] 46. In fact, mini-maps of spatial references are combined with mini-tours that unfold short stories; the suspended function of these narrative segments with no protagonists or mythical references has multiple roles: First, it comments on a different level, not that of the plot. Second, it constitutes a paratopic space, a place to which the narrator invites his audience, a universe devoid of all the mental images created for the Iliadic narrative. Its clearly demarcated boundaries are not merely a surface element, like the verbalizing of the pictorial world of the simile, but significantly also a metaleptic hint to the very performance of the song. The poet uses the rings of the shield as segmentation devices, a sort of iconic paragraphing; instead of a verbal format, he employs a visual one, based on pictorial snapshots placed on a mental map. Finally, the shield’s multiformity, the lack of a single thread or pregnant moment in the visual spectacle, points to the decentralizing aspect of this particular form of ecphrasis. In this respect, the representations on the shield of Achilles mirror the technique the audience is familiar with from the pictorial plurality of the Homeric similes, where (in their extended form) there is no tertium comparationis, but a multiplicity of references and points of contact: images form a visual archipelago that the listener may mentally navigate at will.

[ back ] 47. See Rubin 1995:278–279.

[ back ] 48. I use this term to refer to an operation or process conducted by the narrator, not by the audience (or reader, for which see Barthes’s découpage [1964:213–220]). Groensteen maintains that “elementary relations, of the linear type [are] … governed by the operation of breaking down (découpage), … [and] put in place the sequential syntagms, which are most often subordinated to the narrative ends” (2007:22).

[ back ] 49. Rubin 1995:61.

[ back ] 50. See Foley 1991:24; Danek 2002; Tsagalis 2008b:123, 154, 187–188.

[ back ] 51. In section 2, panel 1, hyperframe 1, frame 2.

[ back ] 52. See Squire, who speaks of “a prototypical dialectic (and slippage) between ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’―a phenomenon that … would come to define ecphrasis as rationalized rhetorical trope” (2011:335).

[ back ] 53. See e.g. Leaf 1900–1902 on Iliad XVIII 587–589; likewise Taplin 1980:9. Against this view, see Marg 1957:27, who highlights the fact that this brief scene creates a pause between the violent attack of the lions in the previous scene and the fast motion of the chorus of dancers in the following part. See also West 2011:353 on Iliad XVIII 490–606, who observes that the scene of the dancing-floor should possibly be regarded as part of the previous scene of pastoralism (587–589).

[ back ] 54. See Krieger 2003:90: “a claim to form, to circular repetitiveness within the discretely linear, and this by the use of an object of spatial and plastic art to symbolize the spatiality and plasticity of literature’s temporality.”

[ back ] 55. 1992:44 §61.

[ back ] 56. Differently Becker 1995:142, who explains the oddity of lines XVIII 587–589 by comparing them to Iliad I 607–608, in which Hephaistos is again praised as a skilled craftsman, without describing the divine bedchambers. In my view, there is a crucial difference between the two passages: in Iliad I 607–608 there is no “expectation” of a description, whereas in Iliad XVIII 587–589 we are situated in the midst of descriptive passages on the various folds of the shield. In fact, the passage under discussion is flanked by long descriptive segments. The oddity, in other words, is determined by the context.

[ back ] 57. There are slight modifications in the order of these features; cf. 573 ἐν δ’ + what he made + verb of making.

[ back ] 58. Notice that two manuscripts (see West’s critical apparatus) offer the reading ποίησε instead of ποίκιλλε in Iliad XVIII 590.

[ back ] 59. The shield of Achilles as an extended narrative pause has been emphasized by scholars time and again. Shorter, intraecphrastic pauses, such as the one under discussion, have escaped attention.

[ back ] 60. A herd of oxen and shining sheep have already featured in section 2, panel 2, hyperframe 2 (the city at war) of the shield (Iliad XVIII 528–529 ἀμφὶ βοῶν ἀγέλας καὶ πώεα καλά / ἀργεννέων ὀΐων). In this light, it may be plausibly argued that general arthrology (i.e. long-term linkage) is “responsible” for the selection of images the narrator conjured up in his mind when he began to enhance the vividness of the previous panel (section 4, panel 1) by doubling its content. For the link between herds of cattle and sheep flocks, see e.g. Iliad XI 678, 696.

[ back ] 61. See J. Kakridis 1971:123: “The main scene is placed at the end of the description.”

[ back ] 62. Olrik 1992:52–54 §75.

[ back ] 63. By “default interlacing,” I refer to cases where the initial visual unit’s vividness is neither intensified nor weakened.

[ back ] 64. See Byre 1992:39. These actors are certainly not the same individuals, as Byre notes, though I cannot agree with his assertion that the poet’s words can be interpreted “as a synthesis and summary of different phases of the same action as they are performed by different actors on the represented scene before his mind’s eye.”

[ back ] 65. This is also a feature of spatial grammar. According to Dennerlein, “properties ascribed to spatial facts or objects can be typical events, positions, conditions or actions by collective or anonymous actors” (2009:141). Dennerlein calls this text-type Beschreibung (“description”); see Chatman 1978:141, who maintains that nameless, unimportant, and unrepeated characters belong to the setting.

[ back ] 66. See Schadewaldt 1965:363, who observes that “neben den Grundformen stehen die einfachen elementaren Geschehnisse. Sie entwickelt der Dichter, indem er ihre charakteristischen Phasen durchläuft”; see also Purves 2010a:46–47, who argues that “the animate picture is a common phenomenon within the tradition of ecphrastic description.” Cf. Becker 1995:9–22.

[ back ] 67. See Byre 1992:39 on the use of iterative temporal constructions concerning the movement of people (XVIII 544–546, 566, 599, 602).

[ back ] 68. More or less in the manner of the Elder Philostratus in his Imagines; see Lesky 1966; J. Kakridis 1971:120–121; Webb 2009:187–190.

[ back ] 69. See Webb 2009:187, who observes that the ecphrastic descriptions in the Imagines of the Elder Philostratus are “packed with concrete nouns, adjectives and verbs of movement, all denoting perceptible features.”

[ back ] 70. Critics have time and again wondered at the brief narrative snapshots that interrupt the description of the images on the shield of Achilles. But as Heffernan has argued, “ecphrastic literature reveals again and again this narrative response to pictorial stasis, this storytelling impulse that language by its very nature seems to release and stimulate” (1991:301). In order to avoid the pitfalls of description, Homer (as Lessing noted long ago) changed “das Coexistiriende” into “ein wirkliches Successives” (Laokoon, 128). But in contrast with other ecphrases, like that of Jason’s mantle in Argonautica I, Homer does not create a continuous storyline, but follows separate spatial formats, based on implicit knowledge, by merging narrative and description, or continuing narrative in a different register. See also Heffernan 1993; Laird 1996; Putnam 1998; Bartsch and Elsner 2007; Francis 2009.

[ back ] 71. See also Ryan 2003:219, who makes similar observations about Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

[ back ] 72. I owe this expression to Byre 1992:42. See also Palm’s observation (1965–1966:119) that one has the impression that the scenes depicted on the shield describe events rather than things.

[ back ] 73. See Rengakos 2006b, who has used the term miniature-Ekphrasen for the similes; see also Becker 1995:47–50, and Elsner 2002:4: “The shield’s momentary raising of our eyes from the narrative flow of war to scenes of an idealised ‘everyday’ life set in something closer to the audience’s world than the poem’s main action, recalls the workings of the similes but on a much grander scale.” See Byre 1992:37 and n9. The crossing of ontological boundaries that we explored earlier in the extended similes is also at work here: the figures in the snapshots begin to move, in an illusory effort to evolve into a plot and break free from the constraints and limitations imposed upon them by the medium they belong to. In the words of Ryan, observing the same phenomenon in the modern novel, “the world within the picture gradually emancipates itself from primary reality” (1990:875). See also Squire 2011:337, who observes that it is the oscillation between reality and representation that “makes the shield (like the ecphrasis mediating it) so wondrous.”

[ back ] 74. See Squire, who highlights the fact that the shield of Achilles “came to epitomize a dynamic both of intermediality (text as image and image as text), and of scale (the big in the small and the small in the big),” and draws a parallel with the Iliac tablets, whose wondrous mode consists in “a visual-cum-verbal, gigantic-cum-miniature, all-encompassing synopsis” (2011:303–304).

[ back ] 75. Rubin 1995:31. On this topic, see also the work of F. Andersen 1985; Foley 1991, 1992.

[ back ] 76. See Tulving 1962. See also Schadewaldt 1965:363.

[ back ] 77. Motion is a basic spatial feature that functions as a cue to recall in both similes and ecphrasis; see Rubin 1995:304–305.

[ back ] 78. See Byre 1992:37n11. Debray-Genette calls Achilles’ shield a “description-récit” (1980:295).

[ back ] 79. See Lyne 1989:68. The similes add things not mentioned in the narrative by means of the different, suggestive (not explicit) medium of imagery. As with the similes, so in ecphrasis, the author switches from direct narrative to narrative through imagery. See also Perrone-Moisès 1980, who draws a line between static and dynamic description, the former having a redundant, qualifying, explanatory, or emphatic function; the latter one of displacement, compensation, or instinct-liberating. Whereas static description refers to an already expressed narrative, dynamic description produces another narrative level. Description is not a pause or slowdown of the action, but the continuation of it on a different level. More or less along the same lines are the observations of Perutelli (1978), who distinguishes three modes of the description-narration relationship: (a) total subordination of description to narrative, (b) total independence, and (c) rhetorical relationship: the ecphrasis is used as “figure” (inversione speculare).

[ back ] 80. See Neer 2010:97–98.

[ back ] 81. I generally agree with Squire, who draws attention to the fact that the most inner and outer zones of the shield of Achilles aim at highlighting the concentric design of the shield as a whole (2011:320). My take on this issue is based on how these “rings” help the viewer focus on the other three folds containing narrative snapshots.

[ back ] 82. See F. Wagner 2002:235–237; de Jong 2009:88n4. On metaecphrasis in descriptions of works of art, see Webb 2009:185–191.

[ back ] 83. De Jong 2009:88.

[ back ] 84. Genette 1980:234–237.

[ back ] 85. See Pier 2009.

[ back ] 86. On second-person apostrophe, see de Jong 2009:93–99, with further bibliography; Clay 2011:19–21.

[ back ] 87. On comparing the shield with the storyteller’s perspective, see Becker 1990:152–153; Hubbard 1992:17; Alden 2000:53.

[ back ] 88. See de Jong 2011:5.

[ back ] 89. As an artist may depict internal spectators in his work, thus mediating between the world of the picture and that of the beholder, so the internal spectators in the ecphrasis of Achilles’ shield allow the poet to duplicate (within the actual ecphrasis) the visual mise-en-abyme of his own gaze at the shield (see Iliad XVIII 549 θαῦμα τέτυκτο). The narrator emulates the craftsman’s own technique of selectively highlighting certain figures. This may seem an arbitrary selection, but it is a rather effective one, since the narrator employs what was known as ὑποτύπωσις, the performative strategy of bringing a spectacle vividly to the mind’s eye. The internal spectators both mirror the narrator’s gaze at Hephaistos’ work and point to the external audience’s visualizing not only the master craftsman’s workmanship and skill but also the narrator’s gaze at this workmanship. Thus all three levels communicate metaleptically. Space is of crucial importance in this respect, for the means used to achieve this effect consist of spatial elements that create vividness. On implicit reference to “a feeling of admiration for what the artist can do,” see Mitsi 1991:53.

[ back ] 90. See Squire 2011:334 and n74.

[ back ] 91. Cf. Elsner: “Although the first ecphrasis in ancient literature, it presents a narrative pause, where the text turns from its relentless obsession with the unfolding of war to a vision of war’s other: scenes of peace, festival, agriculture, song and dance, as well as war. This microcosm … includes, indeed emphasizes, what the Iliad is not” (2002:3–4).

[ back ] 92. 2009:98–99.

[ back ] 93. Notice the repetition of verbs and expressions pertaining to gaze: εἰσιδέειν, εἶδ’, ὄσσε … ἐξεφάανθεν, λεύσσων.

[ back ] 94. See Becker, who argues that Achilles’ twofold reaction (he first feels χόλος, then τέρψις) demonstrates “precisely the ability to respond to both the referent and the medium” (1995:149). In light of this observation, I find the author’s claim (150) that Achilles does not pause to look upon the shield contradictory, since it is explicitly said that Achilles is the only one who looks at the entire divine armor (Iliad XIX 14–20).

[ back ] 95. On the point that a single thing can be two things at the same time, see Neer’s discussion (2010:63–68), with examples from various ancient authors.

[ back ] 96. The same is the case with the huge spear of Achilles, the only weapon that Patroklos could not take with him to battle; see Iliad XVI 140–144, where it is explicitly stated that Achilles alone could brandish this spear made of Pelian ash, given to him by Kheiron.

[ back ] 97. In Iliad XIX 18 it is described as ἀγλαὰ δῶρα ‘shining gifts’ offered by Hephaistos to Achilles via Thetis. On the association between ἀγλαός and light, see Neer 2010:87.

[ back ] 98. As the narrator is the only mortal eyewitness of Hephaistos’ making the shield, so Achilles is the first mortal marveling at it.

[ back ] 99. See also Squire 2011:367–368.

[ back ] 100. Parry 1956; Martin 1989:196, 206–230; Rengakos 2006a:17–30.

[ back ] 101. One of the key factors concerning the interpretation of the ecphrasis on the shield of Achilles is that it displays the master craftsman (Hephaistos) at work, i.e. in the process of manufacturing the shield, and not for example when it is handed to Achilles. This has been interpreted as a covert reference to the master poet himself, whose mirror in the text is the smith-god; see Marg 1957:36–37.

[ back ] 102. See Pier 2005b, 2009; de Jong 2009:114–115.

[ back ] 103. See de Jong 2011:4.

[ back ] 104. de Jong 2011:7. The ample use of various spatial means lets the narrator re-create some pictorial effects, such as the distribution of light and shade or the nuances of color, and play with the antithesis between light and shade. The interplay between gleaming and darkness is a sort of verbal chiaroscuro, the famous eighteenth-century device for creating the illusion of truth.

[ back ] 105. See de Jong 2009:100–101.

[ back ] 106. See also de Jong 2011:5–7, who offers a list of “forms of narration in the ecphrasis on the shield,” though some of them, as she herself acknowledges, “suit both description and narration” (6).

[ back ] 107. See de Jong 2009:99–106. The merging of the narrative voices of Demodokos and “Homer” in Odyssey viii 367 (ταῦτ’ ἄρ’ ἀοιδὸς ἄειδε περικλυτός) also appears in the equivalent phrasing ποίησε περικλυτὸς Ἀμφιγυήεις and ποίκιλλε περικλυτὸς Ἀμφιγυήεις in Iliad XVIII 587 and 590 respectively.

[ back ] 108. On the ecphrasis on the shield of Achilles as a mise-en-abyme, see de Jong 2011:9–11.

[ back ] 109. See also Purves 2010a:52–55. For discussion of whether the shield works as a mise-en-abyme for the entire Iliad, see Marg 1957:20–37; Schadewaldt 1965:367; Ø. Andersen 1976; Taplin 1980; Burkert 1985:168; Hardie 1985; Stanley 1993:3–38; Becker 1995:4–5; Alden 2000:52–53; Nagy 2003:72–87.

[ back ] 110. As Diderot, in his review of Fragonard’s “Coresus and Callirhoe” (Diderot 1765), used the myth of Plato’s cave to alert his readers to the illusion Fragonard employed, so the epic narrator presents his audience with a detailed look at the workshop of Hephaistos and the preparation of his work, and only then proceeds to the actual making of the shield. The storyteller has in fact “recomposed” his entire world: not only has he systematically avoided presenting private scenes (all the scenes presented on the shield involve multitudes of men and refer to public life), but he has also made his figures participate in short stories that will remain endlessly suspended, since they do exist separately, in distinct short tableaux. By distributing his narrative in various brief stories, the narrator emphasizes the illusion of the ecphrasis on the shield for his audience. On illusion, Diderot, Fragonard’s “Coresus and Callirhoe,” and ecphrasis, see Dubost 1996 and Fort 1996.