Garcia, Lorenzo F., Jr. 2013. Homeric Durability: Telling Time in the Iliad. Hellenic Studies Series 58. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_GarciaL.Homeric_Durability_Telling_Time_in_the_Iliad.2013.
Epilogue: Homeric Durability; Concluding Remarks
Trapped in an enduring present moment without access to a future horizon, a patient is caught up in a temporality of the “no longer”; there is only an unrecoverable pain-free past and an unendurable present of world-shattering pain.
The very phraseology describing the perpetuation of “fame” indicates that, generally speaking, “fame” does not last—it is a temporal and temporary object, destined to fade over time as memory and the various mnemonic devices—graves, tombs, and the oral tradition itself—fade into oblivion. So in those cases when the durability of κλέος is emphasized—when it is claimed that it will never be lost, that it will be inextinguishable, that it will be imperishable—we can only measure that durability with the scale Homer provides elsewhere in the epic. The adjective ἄφθιτος ‘unwithered’ in κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται is otherwise used for the marvelous: grapevines that do not fade in their bounty (ix 133), Zeus’ divine counsels (XXIV 88), and the material craftwork of Hephaistos, including Agamemnon’s σκῆπτρον ‘scepter’ (II 46, 186), Hera’s θρόνος ‘throne’ (XIV 238), the rims of the wheels of her chariot (V 724), and the homes of Poseidon (XIII 22) and Hephaistos himself (XVIII 370). These divine objects are durable and certainly long lasting—though Homer elsewhere shows us divine craft that does break in spite of its being created to be ἄρρηκτος ‘unbreakable’ (XXI 446–447). Hephaistos’ other “immortal” craftwork—namely the armor he makes for Achilles (cf. XIX 3, 10–11)  —cannot preserve his life (cf. XVIII 464–467). Zeus’ divine counsels are themselves only “imperishable” so long as he remains king of the pantheon. It is worth considering the distribution of the formulaic Ζεὺς δ’ ἄφθιτα εἰδῶς in early Greek poetry: it appears once in the Iliad (XXIV 88) when Zeus summons Thetis to talk about the return of Hektor’s corpse, but three times in Hesiod’s Theogony (545, 550, 561), significantly all in context of Zeus’ struggles with Prometheus. In other words, Zeus’ counsels are emphasized as ἄφθιτος only in contexts where there is a real question of whether he will be obeyed.
Achilles’ κλέος ἄφθιτον is not ‘imperishable fame’, for there is nothing in the world of the Iliad that would allow us to comprehend what ‘imperishable’ means. Instead, we should interpret it as ‘unwithered fame’, fame that is temporally conditioned, though projected into an indefinite future.