The Power of Thetis and Selected Essays

  Slatkin, Laura. 2011. The Power of Thetis and Selected Essays. Hellenic Studies Series 16. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Part II. Chapter 5. The Poetics of Exchange in the Iliad [1]


ξένια γὰρ Ἄρεος τραύματα, φόνοι

—scholia Sophocles Electra 96

The dynamics of the Iliad’s paradigm of exchange may be introduced against the background of those figures in which equilibrium and disequilibrium, parity and disparity, are represented in similes of measurement and balance, vivid for their depiction of a strained, taut symmetry, as at Iliad XV 410–413:

ἀλλ’ ὥς τε στάθμη δόρυ νήϊον ἐξιθύνει
τέκτονος ἐν παλάμῃσι δαήμονος, ὅς ῥά τε πάσης
εὖ εἰδῇ σοφἰης ὑποθημοσύνῃσιν Ἀθήνης,
ὣς μὲν τῶν ἐπὶ ἶσα μάχη τέτατο πτόλεμός τε·
But as a chalkline straightens the cutting of a ship’s timber
in the hands of an expert carpenter, who by Athene’s
inspiration is well versed in all his craft’s subtlety,
so the battles fought by both sides were pulled fast and even.

Here the battle is compared to a carpenter’s chalkline (στάθμη), a line drawn even, to allow a true measurement for hewing δόρυ νήϊον—timber that will be used to build the “balanced ships.”

As at Iliad XII 436 and XV 413 (ὣς μὲν τῶν ἐπὶ ἶσα μάχη τέτατο πτόλεμός τε), the battle is stretched out equally from both sides once again at XVII 543–544:

Ἂψ δ’ ἐπὶ Πατρόκλῳ τέτατο κρατερὴ ὑσμίνη
ἀργαλέη πολύδακρυς…
Once again over Patroklos was close drawn a strong battle
weary and sorrowful… {168|169}

Here an introductory simile of the kind that introduces the image in the earlier passages is elided or else has been displaced into the subsequent verses in which Zeus stretches out a rainbow as a portent of war.

These images of the war in balance recapitulate the metaphor of Zeus pulling the battle evenly from both sides, at Iliad XI 336:

Ἔνθά σφιν κατὰ ἶσα μάχην ἐτάνυσσε Κρονίων
There the son of Kronos strained the battle even between them

and at Iliad XVI 661–662:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . πολέες γὰρ ἐπ’ αὐτῷ
κάππεσον, εὖτ’ ἔριδα κρατερὴν ἐτάνυσσε Κρονίων.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . since many others had fallen
above him, once Zeus had strained fast the powerful conflict.

as well as at Iliad XVII 400–401:

τοῖον Ζεὺς ἐπὶ Πατρόκλῳ ἀνδρῶν τε καὶ ἵππων
ἤματι τῷ ἐτάνυσσε κακὸν πόνον?
such was the wicked work of battle for men and for horses
Zeus strained tight above Patroklos that day

The war is drawn out into equilibrium, yet not attenuated; on the contrary, it is intensified in its evenness. Hector and Poseidon, from opposite sides, are said at Iliad XIV 388–391 to stretch to its deadliest (αἰνοτάτην) the conflict of battle:

Τρῶας δ’ αὖθ’ ἑτέρωθεν ἐκόσμει φαίδιμος Ἕκτωρ.
δή ῥα τότ’ αἰνοτάτην ἔριδα πτολέμοιο τάνυσσαν
κυανοχαῖτα Ποσειδάων καὶ φαίδιμος Ἕκτωρ,
ἤτοι ὁ μὲν Τρώεσσιν, ὁ δ’ Ἀργείοισιν ἀρήγων.
On the other side glorious Hektor ordered the Trojans,
And now Poseidon of the dark hair and glorious Hektor
strained to its deadliest the division of battle, the one
bringing power to the Trojans, and the god to the Argives.

The figure of the stretched rope may recall a powerful metaphor earlier in the poem, in which Zeus and Poseidon pull and tie a cable around both armies. Paradoxically, it loosens or “unstrings” the limbs of many warriors: {169|170}

Τοὶ δ’ ἔριδος κρατερῆς καὶ ὁμοιΐου πτολέμοιο
πεῖραρ ἐπαλλάξαντες ἐπ’ ἀμφοτέροισι τάνυσσαν,
ἄρρηκτόν τ’ ἄλυτόν τε, τὸ πολλῶν γούνατ’ ἔλυσεν.

Iliad XIII 358–360

So these two had looped over both sides a crossing
cable of strong discord and the closing of battle, not to be
slipped, not to be broken, which unstrung the knees of many.

In figures depicting the battle as pulled taut to its extreme limit by equal force from either end, then, warriors are both subject and object of the stretching (the dead warrior lies τανύθεις, e.g., Iliad XIII 392 = XVI 485; XX 483; τανύσσας, XXIII 25), just as the poem shows enemies as both divided (οἵ τε πανημέριοι στυργερῷ κρίνονται Ἄρηϊ, Iliad XVIII 209) and dividing (ἐν μέσῳ ἀμφότεροι μένος Ἄρηος δατέονται, Iliad XVIII 264)—dividing “between {170|171} them the strength of Ares.” In these terms (as on the level of the narrative itself) the poem shows all its warriors to be at once agents and victims of destruction. War is ὁμοίϊος ‘equalizing’ as, elsewhere, only old age or death are ὁμοίϊος (Iliad IV 315 and Odyssey iii 236 respectively). The war god, as Hector says (Iliad XVIII 309), is even-handed, and slays the slayer.

More disturbing is that the poem seems to call into question the meaning of “equal”. How does the action of the Iliad allow us to understand what constitutes the term “equal to” or even whether it can have a meaning? An unsettling illustration of the problem is offered by the poem’s use of the phrase δαίμονι ἶσος ‘equal to a divinity’. When a hero entering the fray is described as δαίμονι ἶσος, the phrase introduces an encounter in which the term ἶσος can be tested, because the antagonist who confronts him is in fact a god. In each of the episodes in which this occurs, it becomes devastatingly clear with the destruction (or near-destruction) of the mortal fighter how utterly unequal to a god, in reality, the hero is. Apollo himself makes this explicit in his encounter with Diomedes. Diomedes may come close to fighting on the gods’ terms, but Apollo warns him:

‘φράζεο, Τυδεΐδη, καὶ χάζεο, μηδὲ θεοῖσιν
ἶσ’ ἔθελε φρονέειν, ἐπεὶ οὔ ποτε φῦλον ὁμοῖον
ἀθανάτων τε θεῶν χαμαὶ ἐρχομένων τ’ ἀνθρώπων.’

Iliad V 440–442

‘Take care, give back, son of Tydeus, and strive no longer
to make yourself like the gods in mind, since never the same is
the breed of gods, who are immortal, and the men who walk groundling.’

Apollo admonishes as if to correct a misapprehension or to dispel a familiar illusion—such as the one embodied in the very appellation δαίμονι ἶσος.

The problem extends beyond exposing the irreconcilable differences between the human and the divine. On the human level, the duel in Book VII between Hector and Ajax suggests the profound complexity that inheres in the {172|173} theoretically unambiguous status of “equal.” In this episode, in which Hector challenges “the best of the Achaeans” to meet him in single combat, the warriors themselves articulate the process of taking the measure of individual fighters, specifically assessing each compared to the others, to determine which one will be equal to—which, in the event, means greater than—Hector’s threat. Although the duel is designed to distinguish which of two antagonists is the greater, its actual outcome is prefigured in the prayer to Zeus uttered by the Achaeans on the sidelines as Ajax arms himself for combat:

‘δὸς νίκην Αἴαντι καὶ ἀγλαὸν εὖχος ἀρέσθαι·
εἰ δὲ καὶ Ἕκτορά περ φιλέεις καὶ κήδεαι αὐτοῦ,
ἴσην ἀμφοτέροισι βίην καὶ κῦδος ὄπασσον.’

Iliad VII 203–205

‘Grant that Aias win the vaunt of renown and the victory;
but if truly you love Hektor and are careful for him,
give to both of them equal strength, make equal their honour.’

Yet the narrative describes the duel inevitably doing what it must, progressively revealing the superior might of Ajax over Hector. Hector’s spear fails to penetrate Ajax’ shield, while Ajax successfully pierces Hector’s shield completely, so that blood gushes from his wound. Hector retaliates by striking Ajax’ shield with a stone, but Ajax hurls a far larger one, which crushes Hector’s shield and Hector with it. The narrative leaves no doubt that, while they may have met on equal ground initially, Ajax would overpower Hector and kill him were their contest to take its natural course. The wished-for ἴση βίη, an ideal resisted by the intrinsic capacities of the antagonists, grows more and more remote. It is a notion that can be made to correspond to reality only by the intervention of a truce, diplomatically arranged and superimposed. The enforced stalemate that concludes their encounter suggests not only that equilibrium is fragile and fleeting, but that, if it is to be maintained even temporarily, it must be socially constructed. Or it may, in rare instances, be divinely manipulated. Thus Aeneas in his confrontation with Achilles uses the narrative’s metaphor to voice the hope that he might stand a chance against Achilles if only Poseidon were to stretch out an ‘equal outcome’ (ἶσον τέλος) to the war:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ‘εἰ δὲ θεός περ
ἶσον τείνειεν πολέμου τέλος, οὔ κε μάλα ῥέα
νικήσει’, οὐδ’ εἰ παγχάλκεος εὔχεται εἶναι.’

Iliad XX 100–102 {173|174}

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ‘But if the god only
would pull out even the issue of war, he would not so easily
win, not even though he claims to be made all of bronze.’

And indeed it is only the intervention of Poseidon that allows Aeneas to emerge intact from a meeting remarkable for its elaborate, competitive rehearsal of claims to superior genealogical status and worth but, in the event, predictably familiar in its demonstration of the superiority of Achilles’ native ability. As a function of the intrinsic abilities of individuals, equilibrium between those at war appears fugitive, at best.

But within the narrative’s broad perspective, individual gains and losses are subsumed in a view of the aggregate, so as to produce the similes of the evenness of battle cited above. The balanced symmetry of war they describe is a stasis built out of the unrelenting, ongoing fluctuation of triumphs and defeats—a rhythm wherein there emerges at every moment a victor and a vanquished, yet through which, by turns, each side overbalances, and then is overbalanced by, the other.

This continuous process is given expression in the poem’s most memorable, recurring motif of measurement: that of the scales of Zeus, poised to determine survival or destruction for those who are, by a scarcely fathomable process, placed in the balance and weighed against each other. It is an image at once mysterious and transparent, enigmatic in blurring the lines between the literal and the figurative, between description and prediction—yet instantly comprehensible in what it signifies. The battle narrative of Book VIII introduces the image:

Ὄφρα μὲν ἠὼς ἦν καὶ ἀέξετο ἱερὸν ἦμαρ,
τόφρα μάλ’ ἀμφοτέρων βέλε’ ἥπτετο, πῖπτε δὲ λαός.
ἦμος δ’ Ἠέλιος μέσον οὐρανὸν ἀμφιβεβήκει,
καὶ τότε δὴ χρύσεια πατὴρ ἐτίταινε τάλαντα·
ἐν δὲ τίθε δύο κῆρε τανηλεγέος θανάτοιο,
Τρώων θ’ ἱπποδάμων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων,
ἕλκε δὲ μέσσα λαβών· ῥέπε δ’ αἴσιμον ἦμαρ Ἀχαιῶν.

Iliad VIII 66–72

So long as it was early morning and the sacred daylight increasing,
so long the thrown weapons of both took hold and men dropped under them.
But when the sun god stood bestriding the middle heaven, {174|175}
then the father balanced his golden scales, and in them
he set two fateful portions of death, which lays men prostrate,
for Trojans, breakers of horses, and bronze-armoured Achaians,
and balanced it by the middle. The Achaians’ death-day was heaviest.

The image recurs in the climactic account of the confrontation between Hector and Achilles in Book XXII, as though the weighing were itself the decisive event:

ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ τὸ τέταρτον ἐπὶ κρουνοὺς ἀφίκοντο,
καὶ τότε δὴ χρύσεια πατὴρ ἐτίταινε τάλαντα,
ἐν δ’ ἐτίθει δύο κῆρε τανηλεγέος θανάτοιο,
τὴν μὲν Ἀχιλλῆος, τὴν δ’ Ἕκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο,
ἕλκε δὲ μέσσα λαβών·

Iliad XXII 208–212

But when for the fourth time they had come around to the well springs,
then the father balanced his golden scales, and in them
he set two fateful portions of death, which lays men prostrate,
one for Achilleus, and one for Hektor, breaker of horses,
and balanced it by the middle…

Zeus holds the scales, as the balance shifts between Achaeans and Trojans, but does not intervene; destinies are calibrated independent of divine favor, according to an impartial principle of discrimination that allows them, as it were, to find their own level. The scales tip, ineluctably; never do they remain in equipoise.

What is implicit in Hector’s reaction is not simply a reference to the previous instance of the motif’s occurrence (when in fact the Trojans, by contrast, were successful), but an interpretation of the dynamics of battle, one that recapitulates the narrative’s vision of the ceaseless movement in heroic relations between balance and imbalance, equal and unequal measure. That vision can be invoked by allusion, as here, because the recurring figures of equilibrium have prepared us for it, providing a framework in which to locate the motif of the scales.

The full implication of the motif’s place in a larger system becomes clearer from a passage in Book XIX, in which Odysseus makes reference to the scales of Zeus as part of an admonition to Achilles, urging him not to send men into battle hungry.

τῶ τοι ἐπιτλήτω κραδίη μύθοισιν ἐμοῖσιν.
αἶψά τε φυλόπιδος πέλεται κόρος ἀνθρώποισιν,
ἧς τε πλείστην μὲν καλάμην χθονὶ χαλκὸς ἔχευεν,
ἄμητος δ’ ὀλίγιστος, ἐπὴν κλίνῃσι τάλαντα
Ζεύς, ὅς τ’ ἀνθρώπων ταμίης πολέμοιο τέτυκται.

Iliad XIX 220–224

Therefore let your heart endure and listen to my words.
When there is battle men have suddenly their fill of it
when the bronze scatters on the ground the straw in most numbers
and the harvest is most thin, when Zeus has poised his balance,
Zeus, who is administrator to men in their fighting.

Here what it means to “know” or “recognize” the scales of Zeus is clear. Although his image is not easy to decipher precisely, for Odysseus the scales of Zeus are part of a metaphor, one that coincides with the narrative’s representation, in which Achaeans and Trojans are poised as seemingly indistinguishable counterweights. Here they are sheaves of wheat—resources in a process of winnowing and weighing that, when complete, will finally, irre- {176|177} vocably, discriminate between them. We are made to see the act of weighing set within broader procedures of harvesting, husbanding, and dispensing, in which Zeus performs as steward (ταμίης) of war.

Other mechanisms and instruments supplement and reinforce the image of the scales in a pervasive model of transaction and distribution, as in the urgent struggle—with measuring ropes—in our earlier simile of the dispute over the division of a field:

ἀλλ’ ὥς τ’ ἀμφ’ οὔροισι δύ’ ἀνέρε δηριάασθον
μέτρ’ ἐν χερσὶν ἔχοντες, ἐπιξύνῳ ἐν ἀρούρῃ,
ὥ τ’ ὀλίγῳ ἐνὶ χώρῳ ἐρίζητον περὶ ἴσης,
ὣς ἄρα τοὺς διέεργον ἐπάλξιες·

Iliad XII 421–424 {177|178}

but as two men with measuring ropes in their hands fight bitterly
about a boundary line at the meeting place of two cornfields,
and the two of them fight in the strait place over the rights of division,
so the battlements held these armies apart…

Armed conflict becomes the striking of a bargain in which the terms are continually subject to reevaluation as elements are added and subtracted, though the goal is a constant one. The poem’s figurations of parity and disparity participate in a representation of the war, not as random and chaotic disintegration, but as an economy of reciprocal exchanges—coherent, encompassing, self-perpetuating.

Warriors on the battlefield refer their life-and-death confrontations to a model of reciprocal economic claims, which means that they represent their actions in dialogue that takes place almost exclusively in a figurative mode. In Book XIII, Idomeneus kills the Trojan ally Asios together with his charioteer. Priam’s son Deiphobos, grieving for Asios, casts his spear at Idomeneus; he misses his target, but strikes Hypsenor nearby and cries out that the death of Asios has not gone unpaid (ἄτιτος). Idomeneus responds by killing a third Trojan fighter, Alkathoos, and calls out to Deiphobos to ask, “Do we agree this is a suitable return, three men killed in exchange for one?” as though they were negotiating together the terms for a bargain:

‘Δηΐφοβ’, ἦ ἄρα δή τι ἐΐσκομεν ἄξιον εἶναι
τρεῖς ἑνὸς ἀντὶ πεφάσθαι; ἐπεὶ σύ περ εὔχεαι οὕτω.’

Iliad XIII 446–447

‘Deiphobos, are we then to call this a worthy bargain,
three men killed for one? It was you yourself were so boastful.’

The diction of exchange is similarly explicit at Iliad XIV 470ff, where the Trojan Poulydamas boasts of killing Prothoënor, an Argive warrior. Ajax, in turn, kills a Trojan fighter and replies, “Consider, Poulydamas, whether this man isn’t equivalent in exchange for Prothoënor?”:

‘φράζεο, Πουλυδάμα, καὶ μοι νημερτὲς ἐνίσπες·
ἦ ῥ’ οὐχ οὗτος ἀνὴρ Προθοήνορος ἀντὶ πεφάσθαι

Iliad XIV 470–472 {178|179}

‘Think over this, Poulydamas, and answer me truly.
Is not this man’s death against Prothoënor’s a worthwhile

Thus—as in the examples of Agamemnon and Nestor cited above—characters in the Iliad do not speak of inflicting punishment on each other, or even of hurting each other or making each other suffer, but rather of making each other pay. They exact payment for sorrow endured, for outrage borne. The priest Chryses, at the opening of the poem, appeals to Apollo to “make the Danaans pay for his tears” by visiting a plague on them (τίσειαν Δαναοὶ ἐμὰ δάκρυα σοῖσι βέλεσσιν, Iliad I 42). Ares threatens to exact payment for the death of his son Askalaphos (Iliad XV 116), Achilles for Patroclus’ death (Iliad XIX 208; XXI 134); Menelaos will make Paris pay (Iliad III 28, 351, 366). Most stunning is the dialogue in Book XI between the two sons of the Trojan ally Antimachos and Agamemnon, who captures them together. Antimachos, the narrative tells us, had been bought off by Paris, and so opposed the return of Helen to the Argives. His sons plead for their lives, offering ‘appropriate’ ransom (ἄξια… ἄποινα ) and ‘boundless’ ransom (ἀπερείσι’ ἄποινα). This, they say, their father will be glad to pay. Agamemnon replies that their father will not pay for their lives; their lives will be payment for his outrage (λώβη):

‘εἰ μὲν δὴ Ἀντιμάχοιο δαΐφρονος υἱέες ἐστόν,
ὅς ποτ’ ἐνὶ Τρώων ἀγορῇ Μενέλαον ἄνωγεν, {179|180}
ἀγγελίην ἐλθόντα σὺν ἀντιθέῳ Ὀδυσῆϊ
αὖθι κατακτεῖναι μηδ’ ἐξέμεν ἂψ ἐς Ἀχαιούς,
νῦν μὲν δὴ τοῦ πατρὸς ἀεικέα τείσετε λώβην.’

Iliad XI 138–142

‘If in truth you are the sons of wise Antimachos,
that man who once among the Trojans assembled advised them
that Menelaos, who came as envoy with godlike Odysseus,
should be murdered on the spot nor let go back to the Achaians,
so now your mutilation shall punish the shame of your father.’

A specific kind of payment is that designated by the term ποινή. Ποινή in actual practice denotes a specific recompense, often in gold, paid by an individual as a blood-price to the next-of-kin of a man who has been slain. The practice is referred to, for example, by Ajax, who reproaches Achilles for his rejection of Agamemnon’s grandiose offer in Book IX. Achilles, Ajax says, is intransigent, impossible; for, after all, a man will accept a blood-price (ποινή) from the killer of his brother or his child:

νηλής· καὶ μέν τίς τε κασιγνήτοιο φονῆος
ποινὴν ἢ οὗ παιδὸς ἐδέξατο τεθνηῶτος·

Iliad IX 632–636

Pitiless. And yet a man takes from his brother’s slayer
the blood price, or the price for a child who was killed.

Or again, a ποινή is at issue in the famous scene on the shield made by Hephaestus for Achilles:

λαοὶ δ’ εἰν ἀγορῇ ἔσαν ἀθρόοι· ἔνθα δὲ νεῖκος
ὠρώρει, δύο δ’ ἄνδρες ἐνείκεον εἵνεκα ποινῆς
ἀνδρὸς ἀποφθιμένου· ὁ μὲν εὔχετο πάντ’ ἀποδοῦναι
δήμῳ πιφαύσκων, ὁ δ’ ἀναίνετο μηδὲν ἑλέσθαι.

Iliad XVIII 497–500

The people were assembled in the market place, where a quarrel
had arisen, and two men were disputing over the blood price
for a man who had been killed. One man promised full restitution
in a public statement, but the other refused and would accept nothing.

But ποινή generates a metaphor that encapsulates the economy of the battlefield, recalling the kind of negotiation Idomeneus questions Deiphobus {180|181} about, in which one death is weighed against another with the question “is this a suitable exchange?” When Patroclus enters the battle in Achilles’ place, he is said to kill many Trojans to exact ποινή for many Achaean deaths:

Πάτροκλος δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν πρώτας ἐπέκερσε φάλαγγας,
ἂψ ἐπὶ νῆας ἔεργε παλιμπετές, οὐδὲ πόληος
εἴα ἱεμένους ἐπιβαινέμεν, ἀλλὰ μεσηγὺ
νηῶν καὶ ποταμοῦ καὶ τείχεος ὑψηλοῖο
κτεῖνε μεταΐσσων, πολέων δ’ ἀπετίνυτο ποινήν.

Iliad XVI 394–398

But Patroklos, when he had cut away their first battalions,
turned back to pin them against the ships, and would not allow them
to climb back into their city though they strained for it, but sweeping
through the space between the ships, the high wall, and the river,
made havoc and exacted from them the blood price for many.

When the Trojan Akamas kills the Argive Promachos as the latter attempts to drag off the corpse of Akamas’ brother, Akamas asserts that his opponent’s death means that the ποινή for his fallen brother does not remain unpaid (ἄτιτος) for long:

‘φράζεσθ’ ὡς ὑμῖν Πρόμαχος δεδμημένος εὕδει
ἔγχει ἐμῷ, ἵνα μή τι κασιγνήτοιό γε ποινὴ
δηρὸν ἄτιτος ἔῃ·’

Iliad XIV 482–484

‘Think how Promachos sleeps among you, beaten down under
my spear, so that punishment for my brother may not go
long unpaid.’

Because the language in which these exchanges are figured belongs to the narrative as well as to the divine and human characters, the Iliad enlarges its perspective to view such transactions not as isolated, but as integrated in an ongoing cycle sustained by its own momentum. Thus the poem says that the ποινή for Patroclus’ death at Hector’s hands will be the deaths of many Trojan fighters. Yet Hector’s success itself constituted recompense in the first place. At Iliad XVII 201–208 Zeus meditates on Hector’s dressing for battle in Achilles’ armor and foresees Hector’s death. He reflects: {181|182}

‘ἆ δείλ’, οὐδέ τί τοι θάνατος καταθύμιός ἐστιν,
ὃς δή τοι σχεδὸν εἶσι· σὺ δ’ ἄμβροτα τεύχεα δύνεις
ἀνδρὸς ἄριστῆος, τόν τε τρομέουσι καὶ ἄλλοι·
τοῦ δὴ ἑταῖρον ἔπεφνες ἐνηέα τε κρατερόν τε,
τεύχεα δ’ οὐ κατὰ κόσμον ἀπὸ κρατός τε καὶ ὤμων
εἵλευ· ἀτάρ τοι νῦν γε μέγα κράτος ἐγγυαλίξω,
τῶν ποινὴν ὅ τοι οὔ τι μάχης ἐκ νοστήσαντι
δέξεται Ἀνδρομάχη κλυτὰ τεύχεα Πηλεΐωνος.’
‘Ah, poor wretch! There is no thought of death in your mind now, and yet death stands
close beside you as you put on the immortal armour
of a surpassing man. There are others who tremble before him.
Now you have killed this man’s dear friend, who was strong and gentle,
and taken the armour, as you should not have done, from his shoulders
and head. Still for the present I will invest you with great strength
to make up for it that you will not come home out of the fighting,
nor Andromache take from your hands the glorious arms of Achilleus.’

When Akamas refers to the ποινή for his brother, therefore, or when Euphorbos takes aim at Menelaos and calls out, “Then, lordly Menelaos, you must now pay the penalty for my brother, whom you killed” (νῦν μὲν δὴ, Μενέλαε διοτρεφὲς, ἦ μάλα τείσεις / γνωτὸν ἐμὸν, τὸν ἔπεφνες, Iliad XVII 34–35), they reaffirm their participation in a system where debit and credit are constantly renegotiated, toward a settlement that is perpetually readjusted, a system that can function only because it is reciprocal—and collaborative.

The implications of such a relationship of collaboration in exchange between enemies are extended in the ironizing, metaphorical treatment of the notion of κόρος as ‘satisfaction’. For the response to the enemy’s demands for payment is the offer to give him satisfaction, however insatiable he may be. Agamemnon, in Book VII, says that the Achaean chiefs who volunteer to meet Hector in a μονομαχία will make Hector happy, happy to run, for all that he cannot get enough of battle. Idomeneus, at Iliad XIII 315ff, says that the two Ajaxes will give Hector a sufficiency of war—enough war. And Achilles in Book XIX promises that he will not cease fighting until he has driven a sufficiency of war on the Trojans, whom Menelaos in his harangue in Book XIII calls ἀκόρητοι μαχῆς ‘insatiable of battle’ and ἀκόρητοι ἀυτῆς ‘insatiable of the war cry’. Achilles will give them “enough.”

But to give your enemy “enough,” we understand, means to give him too much. To satiate his insatiability means to overwhelm him, to destroy him. And this, we learn, is how the Iliadic economy functions—equilibrium is destabilized, preventing the scales from settling evenly into those freeze-frames described above; thus more payments can be called for, more exchanges generated. Your struggle with the enemy for equal shares will always remain a struggle in which neither antagonist is finally satisfied.

And it is through the figure of Achilles that we learn it—Achilles whom the narrative calls, to his face, insatiable, in one of the few instances when it addresses him in the second person. For it is Achilles who says to the Trojans at Iliad XXI 128ff, “Die, perish, until you all pay for the death of Patroclus”: only the deaths of all the Trojans will pay for the death of Patroclus. But to say this is as much as to say that Achilles does not buy in, so to speak, to the figurative trades, the rhetoric of reciprocity, and the constructed system of even exchange that the warriors presuppose and reinforce.

Achilles, who begins the poem by being preoccupied with the problem of appropriate distribution and, in particular, adequate compensation, is brought to see—and to expose—the incommensurability of what any hero does and what he receives. In his speech to the embassy from Agamemnon in Book IX, he rejects the “deal” Agamemnon proposes: [14] {183|184}

οὐδ’ εἴ μοι δεκάκις τε καὶ εἰκοσάκις τόσα δοίη
ὅσσα τέ οἱ νῦν ἔστι, καὶ εἴ ποθεν ἄλλα γένοιτο,
οὐδ’ ὅσ’ ἐς Ὀρχομενὸν ποτινίσεται, οὐδ’ ὅσα Θήβας
Αἰγυπτίας, ὅθι πλεῖστα δόμοις ἐν κτήματα κεῖται,
αἵ θ’ ἑκατόμπυλοί εἰσι, διηκόσιοι δ’ ἀν’ ἑκάστας
ἀνέρες ἐξοιχνεῦσι σὺν ἵπποισιν καὶ ὄχεσφιν·
οὐδ’ εἴ μοι τόσα δοίη ὅσα ψάμαθός τε κόνις τε,
οὐδέ κεν ὧς ἔτι θυμὸν ἐμὸν πείσει’ Ἀγαμέμνων

Iliad IX 379–386

Not if he gave me ten times as much, and twenty times over
as he possesses now, not if more should come to him from elsewhere,
or gave all that is brought in to Orchomenos, all that is brought in
to Thebes of Egypt, where the greatest possessions lie up in the houses,
Thebes of the hundred gates, where through each of the gates two hundred
fighting men come forth to war with horses and chariots;
not if he gave me gifts as many as the sand or the dust is,
not even so would Agamemnon have his way with my spirit…

For Achilles only μοῖρα is ἴση—that is, only the destiny that comes to us all in the end is “equal”—and distributes payments evenhandedly:

ἴση μοῖρα μένοντι, καὶ εἰ μάλα τις πολεμίζοι·
ἐν δὲ ἰῇ τιμῇ ἠμὲν κακὸς ἠδὲ καὶ ἐσθλός·
κάτθαν’ ὁμῶς ὅ τ’ ἀεργὸς ἀνὴρ ὅ τε πολλὰ ἐοργώς.

Iliad IX 318–320 {184|185}

Fate is the same for the man who holds back, the same if he fights hard.
We are all held in a single honour, the brave with the weaklings.
A man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much.

But the other “misrecognition” that the poem identifies, also through the figure of Achilles, is the one supported by the metaphors of economic activity, whereby one death can be viewed as traded for, or as “paying for,” another—as though there could be parity, recuperation of damages, a stable, balanced reciprocity in the world of the battlefield, in the realm of suffering. The imagery of economic exchange makes that notion possible, concealing the harrowing, irremediable losses. For Achilles the only equation is that between himself and Patroclus, for whom he laments:

Πάτροκλος, τὸν ἐγὼ περὶ πάντων τῖον ἑταίρων,
ἶσον ἐμῇ κεφαλῇ·

Iliad XVIII 81–82

Patroklos, whom I loved beyond all other companions,
as well as my own life…

Achilles, by the end of the poem, exposes the deficiencies of a conventional calculus expressed in the language of exchange—in metaphors of trading with weights and measures. As he explains to Priam in the description of the two πίθοι, suffering mortals share what is distributed unequally—and they suffer alike.

We might say that Achilles, by repudiating the economy of social relations and its metaphors, finally removes himself from the life of the poem. For the others, however, the metaphors of exchange have their own regenerative momentum. We see this in the paradox of the theme of enemies as partners who give each other what each needs. Your friends pity you, grieve for you, avenge you; but it is your enemy—your killer—who speaks your disappointed hopes. Idomeneus, for example, addresses the corpse of Othryoneus, whom he has just slain. He tells Othryoneus’ story: the promises, now never to be fulfilled, by which Othryoneus was to have received Priam’s daughter in marriage in return for beating the Greeks back from the city. He suggests to the corpse that the Achaeans will act as matchmakers for him in return for his services: {185|186}

‘Ὀθρυονεῦ, περὶ δή σε βροτῶν αἰνίζομ’ ἁπάντων,
εἰ ἐτεὸν δὴ πάντα τελευτήσεις ὅσ’ ὑπέστης
Δαρδανίδῃ Πριάμῳ· ὁ δ’ ὑπέσχετο θυγατέρα ἥν.
καί κέ τοι ἡμεῖς ταῦτά γ’ ὑποσχόμενοι τελέσαιμεν,
δοῖμεν δ’ Ἀτρεΐδαο θυγατρῶν εἶδος ἀρίστην
Ἄργεος ἐξαγαγόντες ὀπυιέμεν, εἴ κε σὺν ἄμμιν
Ἰλίου ἐκπέρσῃς εὖ ναιόμενον πτολίεθρον.
ἀλλ’ ἕπε’, ὄφρ’ ἐπὶ νηυσὶ συνώμεθα ποντοπόροισιν
ἀμφὶ γάμῳ, ἐπεὶ οὔ τοι ἐεδνωταὶ κακοί εἰμεν.’

Iliad XIII 374–382

‘Othryoneus, I congratulate you beyond all others
if it is here that you will bring to pass what you promised
to Dardanian Priam, who in turn promised you his daughter.
See now, we also would make you a promise, and we would fulfill it;
we would give you the loveliest of Atreides’ daughters,
and bring her here from Argos to be your wife, if you joined us
and helped us storm the strong-founded city of Ilium.
Come then with me, so we can meet by our seafaring vessels
about a marriage; we here are not bad matchmakers for you.’

Works Cited

Benveniste, E. 1969. Le Vocabulaire des Institutions Indo-Européennes . Paris.

Bourdieu, P. 1977. “The Objective Limits of Objectivism.” Chapter 1 of P. Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice, 1-58. Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology 16. Cambridge.

Felson, N. and L. Slatkin. 2004. “Gender and Homeric Epic.” In The Cambridge Companion to Homer, ed. R. Fowler, 91-114. Cambridge.

Gernet, L. 1968. Anthropologie de la Grèce antique. Paris.

King, B. Forthcoming. The End of Adventure.

Loraux, N. 1987. “Le lien de la division.” Le cahier du Collège international de Philosophie 4:101-124. Reprinted as Chapter 4 of N. Loraux, La Cité Divisée: l’oubli dans la mémoire d’Athènes (Paris, 1997), 90–130. Also reprinted as “The Bond of Division,” in N. Loraux, The Divided City. On Memory and Forgetting in Ancient Athens (New York, 2002), trans. C. Pache and J. Fort, 93–123.

Mauss, M. 1954. The Gift: Forms and Functions in Archaic Societies. Trans. I. Cunnison. Reprint 1970. London. Originally published as “Essai sur le Don. Forme et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaïques.” L’Année sociologique seconde série 1:30–186.

Reden, S. von. 1995. Exchange in Ancient Greece . London.

Wees, H. van. 1992. Status Warriors: War, Violence, and Society in Homer and History. Dutch Monographs on Ancient History and Archaeology 9. Leiden.

———. 2004. Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities. London.

Wilson, D. F. 2002. Ransom, Revenge, and Heroic Identity in the Iliad. Cambridge.


[ back ] 1. This paper was delivered at the first UCLA “Homeric Dialogues” conference, organized by Ann Bergren, in May 1989.

[ back ] 2. First published in l’Année Sociologique, seconde série, 1923–1924.

[ back ] 3. See now the work of King (forthcoming), van Wees 1992, von Reden 1995, and Wilson 2002.

[ back ] 4. Benveniste 1969:65–80.

[ back ] 5. Cf. Zeus’ dispensation for his son: Sarpedon is spared not death, but the battle over his body. Compare the gentle, coordinated effort of Sleep and Death, which specifically exempts Sarpedon’s body from having the battle enacted on it, as it is on so many others, including Patroclus.

[ back ] 6. Loraux 1987 = Loraux 1997:109–114.

[ back ] 7. Loraux 1997:111ff.

[ back ] 8. Similarly, Achilles at Iliad XXI 151: δυστήνων δέ τε παῖδες ἐμῷ μένει ἀντιίωσι. Everything must be measured, but to measure is dangerous.

[ back ] 9. Achilles may be the best warrior but is “less kingly” than Agamemnon; Diomedes and Ajax are called the best of the Achaean warriors after Achilles; the Trojans describe their terror of Diomedes by saying they fear him even more than they did Achilles. Agamemnon, moreover, wishes to keep Chryseis because she is “not inferior to Clytaemnestra”; and of course the worth of women can be measured, as at Iliad XXIII 704–705. See Felson and Slatkin 2004.

[ back ] 10. It is worth noting here, although the point has received little attention, that Hector’s language is the most figurative of any Iliadic character; he even glosses his own figures of speech.

[ back ] 11. N.B. the indispensability of scales as an implement determining currency in a pre-monetary economy and the evolution of the meaning of τάλαντα—from ‘scales’ to ‘money’.

[ back ] 12. Gernet 1968:93–137 points out the parallel between objects used in gift-exchange and those used for ransom: “Les objets donnés en prix appartiennent à une catégorie assez large, mais assez définie. On les retrouve, eux ou leurs analogues, dans plusieurs séries parallèles—cadeaux coutumiers, présents d’hospitalité, rançons, offrandes aux dieux, part du mort et objets déposés dans des tombes des chefs. Dans l’ensemble, ce sont ceux qui font la matière d’un commerce noble” (96).

[ back ] 13. These formulations of recycling recall the warnings repeatedly issued to one’s allies that consist of reminding them that what is pain for them will be the enemy’s χάρμα ‘joy’.

[ back ] 14. Through Achilles’ hyperboles—like those at Iliad IX 379ff, or at XXI 128ff—and through his refusal, we are reminded of Mauss’ emphatic observation that in archaic societies exchange procedures must above all appear to be “voluntary, disinterested, and spontaneous,” while in fact giving, receiving, and return-giving are precisely calculated and entirely “obligatory and interested,” compelled by the most stringent sanctions (1954:1); that reciprocal giving, moreover, must be treated as though it were perfectly symmetrical, as though gift and counter-gift were on a par; whereas in fact they will always be unequal; and all-important shifts in prestige and authority will depend upon, and reflect, that differential. One giver (or one community of givers) will inevitably outgive, and dominate, the other. Pierre Bourdieu, based on his field work in Algeria, speaks of this disjunction between the “social representation” of exchange or the formal behavior governing it, and its exigent, compulsory reality, as necessary “misrecognition”—“méconnaissance”: “If the system is to work, the agents must not be entirely unaware of the truth of their exchanges…while at the same time they must refuse to know and above all to recognize it.” Achilles forces acknowledgement of the fiction of exchange or, as Bourdieu puts it, the “authorized oversight,” the “collectively maintained and approved self-deception without which symbolic exchange, a fake circulation of fake coin, could not operate” (1977:3–6).

[ back ] 15. Les Amis mortels (this volume).