Hippota Nestor

  Frame, Douglas. 2009. Hippota Nestor. Hellenic Studies Series 37. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Frame.Hippota_Nestor.2009.


[In this on-line version, the page-numbers of the printed version are indicated within braces (“{” and “}”). For example, “{69|70}” indicates where p. 69 of the printed version ends and p. 70 begins. These indications will be useful to readers who need to look up references made elsewhere to the printed version of this book.]

Nestor, the subject of this book, figured in my earlier book, The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic, which had largely to do with the Greek word nóstos, “return”. The name Nestor contains the verbal root of nóstos, namely *nes-, and a chapter of my earlier book was devoted to the Homeric figure. The present book builds on that chapter, and on a second chapter of the same book, which dealt with comparative evidence in Vedic Sanskrit. Vedic has a cognate of the Greek name Néstōr which goes to the heart of the Indo-European twin myth, and this cognate is relevant to Nestor as an epic figure. The cognate is the name Nā́satyā, which belongs to the twin gods of the Vedic pantheon. In my earlier work I did not pursue the consequences of this comparison between the names Néstōr and Nā́satyā, although I had become well aware of them, because I knew that the subject required a longer study. I now present that study, which is organized into five parts as described below.

In Part 1 the Greek-Vedic comparison in question is introduced in Chapter 1, and the evidence for each side of the comparison is laid out separately in Chapter 2, on Greek, and Chapter 3, on Vedic. Nestor’s epithet hippóta, “the horseman,” is part of the comparison, and this accounts for the book’s title, Hippota Nestor, “the horseman Nestor.” [1] The Vedic twins are also called “horsemen”; this is the meaning of their second and more common name, Aśvínā. There is thus a double comparison between the Aśvínā Nā́satyā in Vedic and hippóta Néstōr in Greek. To interpret this double comparison, and to reconstruct Nestor’s myth, the Greek Dioskouroi are also taken into account. The basic myth of this paradigmatic pair of Indo-European twins completes the picture for both Vedic and Greek. {1|2}

In Part 2 Nestor’s Homeric role is interpreted in the light of his reconstructed myth. Nestor’s myth is a variant of the Indo-European twin myth, and it is the key to his role in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. But his myth is never fully disclosed in the Iliad and the Odyssey; instead it is presented ironically, and this irony must be understood in order to uncover his myth. In the Iliad two of Nestor’s stories about his youth concern his twin myth, and both occur in the context of the story of Patroclus. Nestor tells the first of these stories to Patroclus himself in Iliad 11, when he instigates Patroclus to take Achilles’ place in battle; he tells the second story in Iliad 23, when Patroclus has died as a result of Nestor’s advice, and Nestor accepts an honorary prize from Achilles at Patroclus’s funeral. Chapters 4 and 5 are devoted to these two pivotal stories in the Iliad. Chapters 6 and 7 are concerned with Nestor’s role in the Odyssey. In Chapter 6 Nestor’s role in the nóstos of Odysseus is examined, and Nestor’s own account, in Odyssey 3, of his last parting from Odysseus is shown to be highly ironical; a significant foreshadowing of what took place on that fateful occasion is also seen to exist in an episode in Iliad 8. The Phaeacians are the subject of Chapter 7, in which Alcinous, the Phaeacian king, is the main focus. From every significant point of view Alcinous is cast as a second Nestor, deliberately duplicating the Pylian king; the two have not only the same twin myth, but also genealogies that mirror each other point for point. When Odysseus tells the story of his adventures to his Phaeacian audience, his account includes a catalogue of heroines whom he met in the underworld. This catalogue, in Odyssey 11, contains Nestor’s genealogy, and the focus of the catalogue can be shown to be Nestor’s twin myth. Internal and external evidence shows that there were two different versions of the catalogue at different stages in Homeric tradition. Distinguishing an earlier Ionian version from a later Athenian version allows Nestor’s twin myth to stand out clearly and distinctly in the earlier Ionian version. In Odyssey 11 Alcinous listens to this catalogue as it is delivered, and the underlying issue in the episode is his relationship to Nestor; Nestor’s name means “homebringer,” but it is Alcinous, and not Nestor, who brings Odysseus home.

In Part 3 the Phaeacians are investigated further. In Chapter 8 Arete and Nausicaa, the Phaeacian queen and princess, are both viewed in relation to the goddess Athena, who on the one hand is the Olympian daughter of Zeus, and on the other hand is the ancient city goddess of Athens. A case is made that Nausicaa evokes the Olympian daughter of Zeus, and that Arete evokes an earlier form of the city goddess of Athens than has otherwise been preserved. In Chapter 9 I reconstruct forward from this ancient form of the city goddess of Athens, posited on the basis of the Phaeacian queen, {2|3} to Athena’s known historical cult. The key issue is the primitive relationship of the city goddess of Athens to the figure Erechtheus, a relationship that is evoked in a well-known passage of Odyssey 7. A case is made that the relationship presupposed by Odyssey 7 was radically altered later, in the time of Solon, when both Erechtheus and the city goddess Athena were transformed into their known historical forms. I argue that the Athenian festival of the Skira was the context in which these transformations were realized.

Part 4 considers Nestor’s relevance to a key question in Homeric studies: the circumstances of the composition of the Homeric poems. The view that the poems were composed in Ionia in the late eighth and early seventh centuries BC is accepted, and the circumstances are pursued. The key to these circumstances is the tradition that Nestor was one of twelve sons of Neleus; this tradition was an alternative to Nestor’s twin myth, and in my view it arose as a reflection of the Ionian dodecapolis, a well-defined union of twelve cities. Neleus, the founder of Pylos, was the clan ancestor of the kings of Miletus, and I argue that the Neleids of Miletus were instrumental in the development of the Ionian dodecapolis. The myth of Neleus’s twelve sons, representing the dodecapolis in a symbolic way, was paralleled by another similar myth, which pretended to historicity as well, namely the myth of Kodrid founders. In this myth Miletus was founded from Athens by a second Neleus, a descendant of Pylian Neleus, and a son of the Athenian king Kodros. This myth too was extended from Miletus to other cities of the dodecapolis, where a Kodrid founder became the mark of Panionic status. I argue that in the Homeric poems the Ionians of the dodecapolis are represented by the Phaeacians, whose king and queen, Alcinous and Arete, are linked with Pylos and Athens through their relationships to Nestor and Athena respectively. The Phaeacians thus embody the two stages of the Neleids’ past, as this past was symbolically extended to other Panionians. The Phaeacians, who are Odysseus’s audience when he tells his adventures in the Odyssey, represent the Homeric audience, and thus by implication the Homeric audience was Panionic; the festival of the Panionia, celebrated by the cites of the dodecapolis, is therefore the likely context in which the Homeric poems were expanded to the form in which we have them. An analysis of the poems’ basic structure reveals that there are twelve units of four books each in the two poems taken together, and this structure would be well accounted for by the poems’ formation at a twelve-city festival. The early history of this festival at Panionion on Cape Mycale is investigated on the basis of literary and archaeological evidence. An argument is made that the last Neleid king of Miletus, a figure named Leodamas, was closely associated with the creation {3|4} of the Homeric poems. In the organization of Part 4, Chapter 10 deals with the Kodrid myth, both as it is embodied in the Phaeacians in the Odyssey, and as it occurred historically in the cities of the Ionian dodecapolis. Chapter 11 then focuses on the Panionia as the likely occasion for the composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Part 5 returns to the story that Nestor tells Patroclus in Iliad 11, as previously interpreted in Part 2. The gist of this story is that Nestor in his youth took the place of his warrior brother Periklymenos, who had died in battle, and became the champion of Pylos himself, and that he thereby won the title hippóta, “the horseman.” This is Nestor’s variant of the twin myth, and the myth, as Nestor tells it in the Iliad, is relevant to Patroclus, who at Nestor’s urging will take Achilles’ place in battle. Nestor’s story, as a paradigm for Patroclus, is simple and schematic, but there were two versions of this story, and our text of Iliad 11 contains the more complicated version. This fact, which is the starting point for Chapter 12, was recognized by the Swiss scholar Cantieni, who showed that passages of detailed geography in Nestor’s story were added secondarily to it, and need only be removed to recover the simpler earlier version. In support of this conclusion, with which my analysis of Nestor’s twin myth is in complete agreement, an indirect argument is developed that has to do with the location of Nestor’s city Pylos. In the earlier version of Nestor’s story in Iliad 11 the location of Pylos was vague and unrealistic, but in the passages of detailed geography in this story Pylos is in a very definite place, namely in the historical region of Triphylia. I argue that these passages were not added until the fifth century BC, under circumstances that evoked the heroic conflict in Nestor’s story between the cities of Pylos and Elis. What in particular may have motivated this late editorial intervention makes an interesting story in itself, and it is the last subject considered in the book, in Chapter 14. But there is an earlier stage to the argument. In Chapter 13 a case is made that when the Pythian section of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo was composed, in the late seventh or early sixth century BC, not long before the First Sacred War, the passages of detailed geography in Nestor’s story did not yet exist. The reason for this is that the Hymn to Apollo locates Pylos in Elis, north of Triphylia, and it does so on the basis of the Homeric text. The Hymn to Apollo reinterprets the Homeric text in a minimalist way to achieve its end, but it could not have done so if Nestor’s story in Iliad 11 contained massive evidence for Triphylia as the location of Nestor’s city. Why the Hymn to Apollo wished to locate Nestor’s city in Elis is a separate question, which is also addressed; the answer, it is argued, is that the Pythian section of the Hymn to Apollo reflects Spartan interests after the {4|5} Second Messenian War, when Pylians still surviving in Messenia were finally driven from the Peloponnesus. The Homeric text was vague enough as to the location of Nestor’s city for Spartans to claim that when the coast of Messenia was cleared of its inhabitants this had nothing to do with Nestor’s Homeric city; Nestor’s famous city was not in Messenia, but in Elis, according to the Spartan reinterpretation of the Homeric text.

As is evident from the summary above, the argumentation in this study is complex, and the subject matter involves new interpretations in a number of areas. In the main body of the text I have tried to limit discussions to what is essential for the argument to proceed, so that it is not weighed down by secondary matters. As a result the footnotes carry a larger burden than would otherwise have been the case. When discussions in the footnotes also became too complex, I have relegated part of the discussion to a series of Endnotes. I would like to think that the entire study can be read as presented, with secondary material supporting primary material, and tertiary material supporting secondary material, and, indeed, I have worked to make it so. On the other hand I do not think that it is advisable to try to take everything on board at once. There is enough complexity in the main body of the text to deal with that alone at first; that is where the logos of the study is to be found, and that is what matters in the first instance. It remains to say a word about the numbering of paragraphs, footnotes, and Endnotes, and about page numbers in this electronic version. The main divisions of the study are the five Parts described above, each of which was developed separately, and the paragraphs, footnotes, and Endnotes are therefore numbered by Part. In this online version, the page numbers of the printed version are indicated within braces; these indications will be useful to readers who need to look up references made elsewhere to the printed version of the book. {5|9}


[ back ] 1. Nestor’s full Homeric title is Gerḗnios hippóta Néstōr, “the Gerenian horseman Nestor,” which occurs twenty-one times in the Iliad and ten times in the Odyssey. The phrase hippóta Néstōr by itself occurs only once, in Iliad 9.52. For the epithet Gerḗnios, the meaning of which is not certain, see n1.6 and n4.189 below.