Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush: A Multitext Edition with Essays and Commentary

  Dué, Casey, and Mary Ebbott. 2010. Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush: A Multitext Edition with Essays and Commentary. Hellenic Studies Series 39. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Tradition and Reception: Rhesos, Dolon, and the Doloneia

In this essay, we pair two concepts for investigation: the traditionality of the characters of Rhesos and Dolon and the reception of these characters and the story of the Doloneia in later works. Both concepts involve exploring what we know about these characters, the story of the Doloneia, and ambush in general from outside of Iliad 10. We start by looking at what we can discern about the characters of Rhesos, first, and then Dolon as part of a larger tradition, within which the songs and mythic stories that comprise our Iliad were performed and handed down. [1] The characters of Rhesos and Dolon appear in the Iliad only in the tenth book, and this fact has led to questions about the place of each in the oral tradition. These questions both stem from and contribute to the dispute over the authorship and traditionality of the book and its place within our Iliad. We propose to move beyond these questions by using the evidence that survives to understand their traditionality in new ways.

In the section on reception we will investigate how the theme and poetics of ambush, as exemplified by the Doloneia, have been received and reworked in subsequent literature. We focus on the tragedy Rhesos and on Virgil’s Aeneid, two works whose reception of the Homeric Doloneia is extensive and which therefore offer the opportunity for deeper exploration. Our objective in these explorations is to examine how the features of the ambush theme as we have seen them in Iliad 10 are evoked in these works, whose engagement with the story of the Doloneia is wide-ranging, and to consider what more that engagement can tell us about the poetics of ambush. We will see that both of these investigations, into the past and the “future” of the Doloneia, open {89|90} up new paths for understanding Iliad 10. Considering this additional evidence is a necessary step toward understanding the tradition on its own terms.


Our approach finds many points of agreement with Fenik’s. He argues in terms of an oral poetics and an oral tradition at work in all of these versions, and he assumes an early tradition out of which the Iliad developed. But we also have important points of divergence from his arguments, since Fenik views Iliad 10 both as the work of an individual, even idiosyncratic, author (whom he calls only “the K poet”) and as a “later insert” (Fenik 1964:16). These assumptions then set up his entire argument, namely, that this particular author knew the other versions but was specifically shaping his story to fit within the Iliad (as we know it). In the end, then, his assumptions are revealed to be literary at the core. As sympathetic as we are to some of Fenik’s arguments, and as much as we are building on his understanding of the Rhesos tradition, we must also define a separate set of assumptions and a different conclusion about the relationship between these multiple versions as well as the place of Iliad 10 within the Iliadic tradition.

Fenik begins his examination of the Rhesos story with the scholia, and we, too, want to examine them in detail for the valuable information they provide. For the Townley scholia, we depend on the edition of Maass (1887), but for the Venetus A and Venetus B, we are able to directly access the scholia on the images of the manuscript published as part of the Homer Multitext Project ( In each manuscript, the comment that we will discuss here is keyed to Iliad 10.435, the first line in which Rhesos’ name appears. At this point Dolon tells Diomedes and Odysseus about the arrival of Rhesos and especially about his armor and horses. Here is the scholion from each manuscript:

Venetus A: Ῥῆσος γένει μὲν ἦν Θρᾷξ, ὑιὸς δὲ Στρυμόνος τοῦ αὐτόθι ποταμοῦ καὶ Εὐτέρπης μιᾶς τῶν Μουσῶν. διάφορος δὲ τῶν καθ’ αὑτὸν γενόμενος ἐν πολεμικοῖς ἔργοις ἐπῆλθε τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ὅπως Τρωσὶ συμμαχήσῃ, καὶ συμβαλὼν πολλοὺς τῶν Ἑλλήνων ἀπέκτεινεν. δείσασα δὲ Ἥρα περὶ τῶν Ἑλλήνων Ἀθηνᾶν ἐπὶ τὴν τούτου διαφθορὰν πέμπει. κατελθοῦσα δὲ ἡ θεὸς Ὀδυσσέα τε καὶ Διομήδη ἐπὶ τὴν κατασκοπὴν ἐποίησε προελθεῖν. ἐπιστάντες δὲ ἐκεῖνοι κοιμωμένῳ Ῥήσῳ αὐτὸν τε καὶ τοὺς ἑταίρους αὐτοῦ κτείνουσιν, ὡς ἱστορεῖ Πίνδαρος. ἔνιοι {91|92} δὲ λέγουσι νυκτὸς παραγεγονέναι τὸν Ῥῆσον εἰς τὴν Τροίαν, καὶ πρὶν γεύσασθαι αὐτὸν τοῦ ὕδατος καὶ οἱ ἵπποι αὐτοῦ τοῦ Σκαμάνδρου πίουσιν καὶ τῆς αὐτόθι νομῆς, ἀκαταμάχητος ἔσται εἰς τὸ παντελές.

[at the bottom of the folio] ὅσοι ἐκ Μουσῶν τίκτονται. Ὀρφεὺς ἐκ Καλλιόπης ἢ Κλειοῦς, Λίνος Τερψιχόρης ἢ ὥς τινες Εὐτέρπης, Ῥῆσος Τερψιχόρης ἢ Εὐτέρπης Θρᾷξ, Θαλείας Παλαίφατος, Ἐρατοῦς Θάμυρις ὁ Θρᾷξ, Μελπομένης καὶ Ἀχελῴου Σειρῆνες, Πολυμνίας Τριπτόλεμος.

The following number are born from Muses: Orpheus from Kalliope or Kleio, Linos from Terpsikhore or, as some say, Euterpe, Thracian Rhesos from Terpsikhore or Euterpe, Palaiphatos from Thaleia, Thamyris the Thracian from Erato, the Sirens from Melpomene and Akheloos, Triptolemos from Polymnia.

Venetus B: Ῥῆσος Στρυμόνος τοῦ ποταμοῦ Θράκης καὶ Εὐτέρπης τῆς Μούσης υἱός. ἱστορεῖ δὲ Πίνδαρος ὅτι καὶ μίαν ἡμέραν πολεμήσας πρὸς Ἕλληνας, μέγιστα αὐτοῖς ἀνεδείξατο κακά. κατὰ δὲ θείαν πρόνοιαν νυκτὸς αὐτὸν Διομήδης ἀναιρεῖ.

Rhesos is the son of Strymon the river in Thrace and Euterpe the Muse. Pindar gives the story that having fought in battle {92|93} for even one day against the Greeks, he demonstrated the greatest evils for them. And by divine forethought Diomedes kills him at night.

Townley: Ῥῆσος Στρυμόνος τοῦ ποταμοῦ τῆς Θρᾴκης υἱὸς καὶ Εὐτέρπης Μούσης. ἱστορεῖ δὲ Πίνδαρος ὅτι καὶ μίαν ἡμέραν πολεμήσας πρὸς Ἕλληνας μέγιστα αὐτοῖς ἐνεδείξατο κακά, κατὰ δὲ πρόνοιαν Ἥρας καὶ Ἀθηνᾶς ἀναστάντες οἱ περὶ Διομήδεα ἀναιροῦσιν αὐτόν.

Rhesos is the son of Strymon the river of Thrace and Euterpe, a Muse. Pindar gives the story that having fought in battle for even one day against the Greeks he proved to be the greatest evils for them, and having been roused by the forethought of Hera and Athena, those around Diomedes kill him.

Fenik identifies two basic narrative patterns in what the scholia report (Fenik 1964:5–6). The first is what he calls the “Pindar version,” since the scholia attribute it to Pindar: namely, that Rhesos fought in battle for one day and was so successful that the gods (Hera, and/or Athena, or “divine forethought”) prompted the Achaeans (Diomedes in particular, perhaps with Odysseus) to kill him. This version appears in one form or another in all three scholia. The second narrative pattern, which Fenik calls the “oracle version,” appears only in the Venetus A scholion, and there in somewhat abbreviated form: in Dindorf’s edition, which Fenik uses, Dindorf supplied from Eustathius’ commentary on 10.435 the additional words τῆς χώρας φονευθῆναι· χρησμὸς γὰρ ἐδέδοτο αὐτῷ, φασὶν, ὅτι εἰ αὐτὸς γεύσεται τοῦ ὕδατος after ὕδατος in the A scholia, so that it reads “But some say that Rhesos arrived at Troy during the night, and was killed before he tasted the water of the area. For an oracle had been given to him, they say, that if he tasted the water and his horses drank from the Skamandros and the pasture there, he will be utterly unconquerable.” Let us note, then, that the word “oracle” itself is not in this scholion in the Venetus A, but also acknowledge that this version of the story seems to be one that Virgil knew and used (see Aeneid 1.469–473: we will return to this passage in the Reception section below). Although there do seem to be two basic narrative patterns referred to here, we note that there are also differences within these summaries of the so-called “Pindar version.” As often happens within Greek mythology, so also in this case there is multiplicity and multiformity both on the level of narrative pattern and on the level of narrative detail. The version of Rhesos’ story in Iliad {93|94} 10, therefore, need not be a direct “reworking” of one or both of these versions, but may have its own tradition. We will consider still further additional details about the multiplicity of possible traditions about Rhesos below, but for the moment we will continue our discussion of the implications of these scholia for our understanding of the story of Rhesos within Iliad 10.

As we have noted, Fenik argues that each of these other versions is impossible within the narrative of the Iliad, that Dolon is absent from and extraneous to these other versions, and also that they follow narrative patterns commonly seen in the Epic Cycle or other traditional stories (Fenik 1964:6–12). Fenik concludes that the so-called “K Poet” has tried to fit the story of Rhesos, which belongs elsewhere in the story of the Trojan War, into the Iliad, with poor results (Fenik 1964:40–63). That the seeming multiplicity of the Rhesos tradition might inform the composition of Iliad 10 has also been suggested in a different way by Gaunt, who proposes that there may have been two versions within the epic tradition that an oral poet could sing: one in which Odysseus endeavors to kill some prominent warrior on the Trojan side, taking Diomedes with him, and the other in which Diomedes volunteers to go on a spying mission and chooses Odysseus as his companion (Gaunt 1971:195–196). Gaunt adds that Dolon may have been common to both versions—in fact, Dolon seems to act as the link that allows the shift from one of these versions to the other in the course of Iliad 10 in Gaunt’s reconstruction. His conclusion is based on a particular understanding of oral poetry, in which the poet introduces the murder of Rhesos into the reconnaissance narrative because it “offers more of the immediate excitement which the audience is looking for” (Gaunt 1971:198). Such a view of oral composition-in-performance, however, neglects Lord’s affirmation of the observable planning by the singer: “In all these instances one sees also that the singer always has the end of the theme in his mind. He knows where he is going. As in the adding of one line to another, so in the adding of one element in a theme to another, the singer can stop and fondly dwell upon any single item without losing a sense of the whole … The singer’s mind is orderly” (Lord 1960/2000:92).

Thus the individual interpretations of both Fenik and Gaunt (both of which do take oral tradition into account) attempt to explain perceived problems with the way Rhesos’ death is portrayed in Iliad 10 through some idea that one or more traditions about Rhesos may have existed before the composition of Iliad 10. Both also assert that there has been some conflation, combination, or adaptation of this tradition {94|95} in the Iliadic version, as evidenced by the differences between Iliad 10 and the versions reported by the scholia or within different parts of Iliad 10 itself. Our approach to the Rhesos tradition, grounded in the well-established evidence about oral composition-in-performance and oral traditions, will start from an assumption that there is no individual author of Iliad 10, whether the same or different from the author of the Iliad as a whole. Making an assumption that there is an individual author, as Fenik does, results only in implications that this author was either incompetent or overly ambitious in trying to adapt this story to the Iliad when it does not belong there (Fenik 1964:7, 62–63). We also will look at the interaction between the singer and audience in a way different from Gaunt, whose conclusions imply a “primitive” nature to oral composition-in-performance. As John Foley has shown in several publications, this interaction between performer and audience creates not primitive simplicity and narrative deficiencies, but rather greater meaning and complexity in narrative. We need also to be careful in attributing our aesthetic or ethical reactions to the ancient audience. Starting from these assumptions, then, we can reconsider the place of the ambush of Rhesos within the epic tradition as a whole and within the Iliad in particular.

Recognizing the ambush context of the Rhesos narrative then allows us to reconsider possible parallels with or connections to other traditional narratives, such as the narratives focused on omens or oracles and those of the “late-coming allies” that Fenik identifies. In the larger tradition about the Trojan War, there are several incidents driven by particular prophesies of one sort or another, and many also relate to the goal of defeating Troy. The “oracle version” of Rhesos’ story appears, as we have seen, only in truncated form in the Venetus A scholia, but it does share in this pattern. Several of these oracle driven incidents, however, also involve ambush, either to get the prophecy or as a result of it. For example, in the Little Iliad, according to Proklos’ summary of it, while on a spying mission, Odysseus ambushes the Trojan prophet Helenos, who then reveals that in order to capture Troy the Achaeans must retrieve Philoktetes and also enlist Neoptolemos in the war. The elements of spying mission, ambush, prophecy, and the conditions that must be met for an Achaean victory are all present in this example. The “oracle version” of Rhesos’ story contains all of these elements as well, if we draw the conclusion that an invincible {96|97} ally of the Trojans (had he and his horses eaten and drunk there) would prevent the destruction of Troy. We can also compare Menelaos’ ambush of Proteus, as he relates it in the Odyssey (4.384–480), to receive the prophecy that will help him return home (the ultimate goal in that epic).

Now let us consider the possible connections between ambush and the other narrative pattern found in the scholia’s descriptions, the one Fenik calls the “late-coming ally.” Exemplified by Penthesilea, Memnon, or Eurypylos, this theme is focused on daytime battle, in which the ally has an aristeia, and culminates in a one-on-one duel in which Achilles or Neoptolemos defeats the ally (Fenik 1964:8–9). Rhesos does not fit this pattern, Fenik points out, in that he is not killed by Achilles or Neoptolemos, and (more importantly for our discussion) “he is killed at night and not in the course of his aristeia” (Fenik 1964:10). Even in what little the scholia tell us about the Rhesos tradition, that he inflicts huge damages in an aristeia that consists of one day of fighting, all indications point to the killing of Rhesos at night, by ambush. Fenik sees this significant difference from the “late-coming ally” pattern as proof that a so-called “K poet” altered the pattern so as to fit the story of Rhesos into the Iliad. We, however, view the ambush at night as a consistent part of the Rhesos tradition, and argue that it is indicative a different narrative pattern. {97|98}

All of these thematic connections between ambush and the versions of Rhesos’ story recorded by the scholia suggest that the ambush of Rhesos in Iliad 10 is traditional: that is, his death by ambush, and not just the figure of Rhesos himself, is traditional. For all the differences we might notice in the attested versions of the story, in every one of them Rhesos is killed in an ambush by Diomedes and perhaps also Odysseus. For Fenik, the differences also highlight what he sees as a lack of proper motivation for killing Rhesos (Fenik 1964:7, 40–41). In his argument, the oracle or an aristeia results in a better-defined need for an ambush specifically directed at Rhesos. [10] There are two (somewhat related) ways we may think about this question further, however. The first is to reconsider whether the ambush is improperly or insufficiently motivated. We disagree with Fenik’s assertion that the Achaeans have no need to feel fearful on this night, as they would have had to feel in the other versions of the story (Fenik 1964:61). Iliad 10 as we have it {98|99} establishes and repeatedly emphasizes the dire situation in which the Achaeans find themselves. In particular the fear they feel is caused and reinforced by the Trojans’ presence near their camp and is elevated by not knowing what the Trojans are planning. This fear keeps Agamemnon from sleeping (Iliad 10.3–4, 11–16), prompts Menelaos to first suggest a spying mission (Iliad 10.37–41), and creates a great “need” for the Achaeans (Iliad 10.43, 85, 118, 142, 172). [11] When the poetry itself articulates these motivations, how can we say that they do not exist?

We have been arguing so far that just what Iliad 10 makes explicit might provide us with an internally coherent motivation for the ambush of Rhesos. We can now add a second approach, one grounded in oral poetics, and consider the ways in which a traditional audience might have understood the ambush of Rhesos. A great deal of scholarship has shown that audiences within an oral tradition bring to their reception of any one performance their experience in hearing all other performances within the tradition. John Foley has argued, based on comparative fieldwork in oral traditional poetry, that the interaction between singer and audience can take advantage of this knowledge on the audience’s part, so that even individual formulas and lines imply {99|100} the entire sequence of the theme or song to come. [13] In an analogous way, Laura Slatkin, among others, has shown how the larger mythical tradition about characters (in Slatkin’s case, Thetis) informs their portrayal within the Homeric epics and how the compressed allusions to these wider narratives can create greater, more complex meaning. [14] In these interrelated ways, then, on both the level of the language and that of the myth, the knowledge and experience a traditional audience brings to an individual performance of a traditional song expands its meaning beyond the explicit. It is incumbent upon us, in turn, to try to reconstruct this larger meaning as much as we can—in Foley’s words, to become “fluent” in the language of Homeric poetry. [15]

By giving us a glimpse into the larger mythic tradition about Rhesos, the scholia can aid us in our reconstruction of what a traditional audience might bring to their reception of Iliad 10. If an audience knows about one or both of these other versions that the scholia relate, they might implicitly understand the significance of the killing of Rhesos, even if it is never explicitly stated. [16] Such an interplay between the implicit and explicit sets up an interesting dynamic for the audience, who would understand what the ambush means for the Achaeans’ long-term victory in the war. In this way, the motivation is not supplied by the aristeia or the oracle on the surface of the narrative, but from the audience’s perspective the importance of the mission still exists. Perhaps there are also compressed allusions to these other versions, similar to what Slatkin sees in the Iliadic portrait of Thetis, that would call to mind for the audience the threat that Rhesos poses to the Achaeans. When Dolon makes special mention of Rhesos and his horses and armor, which above we argued could be considered motivation enough for Diomedes and Odysseus, does it also evoke for the audience the oracle about Rhesos becoming invincible if he and his horses {100|101} drink from the Skamandros and eat at Troy? We discussed above the parallel ambush and prophecy story concerning Helenos; now let us emphasize that he was a captive of Diomedes and Odysseus when he made his prophecies about Philoktetes and Neoptolemos. Does Dolon’s effusive detail in answering Odysseus’ questions about the allies, even if it is an attempt to save his life, recall for the audience a situation in which captives give information crucial to the overall Achaean victory, thus also evoking the traditional threat that Rhesos poses?

The information given by Dolon is highlighted again just before the ambush of Rhesos, as Odysseus says to Diomedes:

οὗτός τοι Διόμηδες ἀνήρ, οὗτοι δέ τοι ἵπποι,
οὓς νῶϊν πίφραυσκε Δόλων ὃν ἐπέφνομεν ἡμεῖς.
ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε δὴ πρόφερε κρατερὸν μένος· οὐδέ τί σε χρὴ
ἑστάμεναι μέλεον σὺν τεύχεσιν, ἀλλὰ λύ᾽ ἵππους·
ἠὲ σύ γ᾽ ἄνδρας ἔναιρε, μελήσουσιν δ᾽ ἐμοὶ ἵπποι.

Iliad 10.477–481

“This, Diomedes, is the man, and these are the horses,
whom Dolon (the man we killed) signaled to us two.
Come on, bring on overpowering violence [menos]. You must not
just stand there in your armor, but release the horses.
Or else you kill the men, and I’ll take care of the horses.”

In these lines we again have an emphasis on Rhesos, the man (and then also his men), the horses, and the armor. These words and their collocation may once again evoke for a traditional audience the importance of killing Rhesos, either before he fulfills the conditions of the oracle, or (in this case) before any possible aristeia.

We have now seen that there are other ways to understand the motivation for the ambush of Rhesos within Iliad 10. There is an internal logic within the episode, a compositional logic to the connected themes of spying and ambush, and a traditional logic for the audience as to why killing Rhesos is an important victory for the Achaeans. Let us turn now to reconsider Fenik’s argument that the Rhesos story does not belong in the Iliad and sits “uncomfortably” there as a later addition (Fenik 1964:7, see also 62). If we again start from our assumption that we are not looking for the “authorship” of Iliad 10, we can once more come to conclusions that uncover a different relationship between Iliad 10 and the epic as a whole from the one Fenik suggests. We will then {101|102} also consider yet another possible tradition for Rhesos and discuss how competing traditions coexist.

Dan Petegorsky has argued that instead of misapplying conceptions about authorship, relationships between “texts,” or the idea of “lateness” with respect to the Doloneia, and instead of seeking a strictly structural significance for the Doloneia, we should focus on the Doloneia’s thematic importance within the Iliad. [19] His examination of the presence and function of the Doloneia in the Iliad, he asserts, shows “how important the episode is in contributing to the thematic coherence of the poem as a whole” (Petegorsky 1982:177). The Doloneia, Petegorsky persuasively argues, far from being “separate” or divorced from the rest of the Iliad, serves the epic’s overall momentum, as it builds towards Achilles’ return as the only way to overcome Hektor. His discussion is complex and compelling, especially as concerns the role of mētis in the Iliad, but we will have to summarize it here only with respect to the Doloneia and Rhesos. In the previous episode on this night, the embassy to Achilles, Achilles has refused to return to battle to face the threat Hektor poses and, noting the wall that the Achaeans have built, has advised them that the wall will not hold Hektor back {102|103} (Iliad 9.346–355). Later, Achilles says that the Achaean leaders will need to come up with a “better mētis,” μῆτιν ἀμείνω (Iliad 9.421–426). This challenge, Petegorsky argues, evokes a theme of mētis, or, looking at it thematically, his challenge “demands that they make use of essentially Odyssean skills in an Iliadic context” (Petegorsky 1982:177–178). Unlike all the other plans that the Achaeans attempt in Achilles’ absence, however, this one does succeed—but not in turning back Hektor. Instead, its success actually highlights that the only way to succeed against Hektor is through Achilles’ strength, which is the programmatic message of the Iliad, with its focus on Achilles. The Doloneia does, however, remind us that Troy itself will eventually be taken by mētis. In effect, the Doloneia exposes the limited role of mētis within the Iliad through thematic contrast. Nestor’s words about Achilles and Hektor at Iliad 10.103–107, the offer of kleos for the spying mission that is tied to a nostos (Iliad 10.211–213, see our commentary on these lines), and even the references to the superiority of the horses of Achilles at Iliad 10.401–404 and (more obliquely, as Petegorsky argues) at Iliad 10.555–557 all serve to emphasize the necessity of Achilles’ strength for effecting the death of Hektor and, consequently, the taking of Troy. [20]

To sum up, Petegorsky argues that Achilles’ challenge to the Achaeans in Iliad 9, to find a better mētis to save the ships, evokes a particular kind of episode, an Odyssean one, in which Odysseus is the star, mētis prevails, and nostos is achieved. Recalling the arguments we have made that intersect with Petegorsky’s examination of these thematic elements, we would rephrase the thematic evocation he reveals—namely, that Achilles’ challenge evokes an ambush theme. We can build on Petegorsky’s arguments by saying that the plan and ambush in Iliad 10 show how mētis succeeds when the force used in the polemos does not. Or, with the ambush of Rhesos understood in its larger tradition, we may extend Petegorsky’s reasoning and return to our point above that the ambush reveals how mētis overcomes an enemy who cannot otherwise be beaten in the polemos. In the Iliadic tradition, Hektor can be overcome in the polemos—by Achilles only. So, although Rhesos is explicitly only an indirect threat and is a greater {103|104} threat implicitly, his ambush nevertheless reveals the important role of mētis and ambush in the overall epic tradition about Troy and the general suppression of that importance in the Iliad. That general suppression may also account for the dearth of direct references to the events of the Doloneia in the subsequent books of the Iliad.

The Rhesos tradition, then, has a very particular place in the Iliadic tradition. The question raised by Achilles as to whether mētis will serve the “need” of the Achaeans on this night is answered in a particular way, which allows an Achaean success while at the same time maintaining the greater need for Achilles’ return. We can add to Petegorsky’s arguments about the thematic importance of the Doloneia for the Iliad as a whole one more consideration about the Rhesos tradition: namely, his tradition may have had local significance as well.

The second detail, about hunting, leads us to the latest reference to the Rhesos tradition we will examine, that in Philostratos’ Heroikos, which also features a hunting Rhesos. In this brief passage, which we quote in full, we see that there is a local version, involving both song and the kind of cult worship that includes sacrifices to the hero, epiphanies of the hero, and the hero’s help in maintaining the prosperity of the community: {104|105}

You should also know something about the Thracian Rhesos. Rhesos, whom Diomedes killed at Troy, is said to inhabit Rhodope, where they celebrate many of his wonders in song. They say that he breeds horses, serves as a soldier, and hunts wild beasts. A sign that the hero is hunting is that wild boars, deer, and all the wild beasts on the mountain come to the altar of Rhesos by twos or threes to be sacrificed unbound and to offer themselves to the sacrificial knife. This same hero is also said to keep the mountains free of pestilence. Rhodope is extremely populous, and many villages surround the sanctuary. For this reason I think even Diomedes will cry out in defense of his fellow soldiers. If we believe this Thracian still exists (whom Diomedes killed as one who had done nothing famous at Troy nor displayed there anything worthy of mention other than his white horses) and we make sacrifices to him while traveling through Rhodope and Thrace, then we would dishonor those who have performed divine and brilliant works, believing the fame surrounding them fabulous tales and idle boasting.

Heroikos 17.3–6 (trans. Maclean and Aitken)

Although the Vinedresser earlier tells the Phoenician that passion for the Homeric epics means that some worthy men are not remembered at all (Heroikos 14.2), in the passage about Rhesos, he seems to uphold the Homeric version of Rhesos’ story (and a particular understanding of it) over a local cult tradition in which Rhesos is a hunter as well as a soldier, and in which he has done things that the Rhodopians sing about (ᾄδουσιν, Heroikos 17.3). This passage not only suggests that such local traditions about Rhesos existed but also reveals the tensions that can exist between Homeric versions and local versions. As Gregory Nagy has argued, the Homeric epics are Panhellenic in nature and thus screen out local details and variations. [
22] The resulting tensions between the Panhellenic epics and these local versions can create the same kinds of tensions within the epics themselves that we see in the passage from Philostratos. Thus, as the Iliadic tradition incorporates Rhesos into its own Panhellenic version, focused on Achilles and Hektor as the chief rivals, and shapes his narrative to its own thematic agenda, we can understand any remaining peculiarities not as evidence of a different author unsuccessfully attempting {105|106} to insert his work into that of another, but as the natural tensions between coexisting, and even competing, versions of songs within an oral tradition.

In this brief examination of the Rhesos tradition beyond the Iliad and those versions reported in the Iliad scholia, we are not arguing that all of these versions were part of the epic tradition or influenced the Homeric portrayal of Rhesos. We argue, rather, that the wider tradition helps us understand the version that has been shaped by the epic tradition. In the case of Rhesos, we have seen a multiform tradition that seems to have connections to local cult activities, but that on the Panhellenic level is consistently associated with an ambush theme. As we turn to consider Dolon, we will be dealing with fewer sources for our evidence, and so we will have to use additional methods to uncover and understand his traditionality.


We do not have the same external evidence for a Dolon tradition that we have for the Rhesos tradition. As many note, Dolon appears only in Iliad 10 and the Rhesos in our extant Archaic and Classical Greek literary sources, although he is pictured on early vase paintings as well. The vase paintings will be important later in our consideration of Dolon’s possible traditionality. But a careful examination of what we are told about Dolon in the Iliad can also yield information about how to understand his role within the Iliadic tradition.

In Iliad 10, Dolon is introduced in four lines before he starts to speak and accepts Hektor’s challenge to go on the spying mission:

ἦν δέ τις ἐν Τρώεσσι Δόλων Εὐμήδεος υἱὸς
κήρυκος θείοιο πολύχρυσος πολύχαλκος,
ὃς δή τοι εἶδος μὲν ἔην κακός, ἀλλὰ ποδώκης·
αὐτὰρ ὃ μοῦνος ἔην μετὰ πέντε κασιγνήτῃσιν.
ὅς ῥα τότε Τρωσίν τε καὶ Ἕκτορι μῦθον ἔειπεν·

Iliad 10.314–318

There was among the Trojans someone named Dolon, son of Eumedes.
Eumedes was a divine herald, and Dolon had much gold and much bronze.
He was not good-looking, but he was swift-footed.
And he was the only son among five sisters. {106|107}
It was he who at that point spoke words [muthos] to the Trojans and Hektor.

We learn this much about Dolon before he speaks and goes off on his mission never to return (as we hear at Iliad 10.336–337: see also our commentary on these lines). If we look for more information on Dolon’s background in the scholia on these lines found in the same three manuscripts that we examined in connection with Rhesos, we see that they do not provide any information beyond what is in the text itself. This is in contrast to what we saw with Rhesos, above: in that case, the scholia articulated other known versions of his story. The scholia dealing with Dolon comment on the attributes ascribed to Dolon here in the text and the presentation of Dolon generally within the Iliad.

When external evidence is not present to suggest the traditionality of a character outside of our Iliad, the suggestion is sometimes made that the character was “invented” for the episode in which they appear. [23] This concept of “invention” is rooted in a particular understanding of the composition of the epic. In this understanding, the monumental poet Homer (or, in this case often “the Doloneia poet,” who is considered separate from, later than, and inferior to the monumental poet Homer) takes traditional material as his basis, but composes an independent, monumental poem as he “breaks free” from the constraints of the tradition. [24] The invention of characters is necessary in order for this individual poet to fill out the structure he has created for the Iliad as he molds the tradition to his own literary purposes. We hope it is {107|108} clear by now that we reject such an understanding of the composition of the epic. As Lord so eloquently put it about his conception of Homer: “He is not a split personality with half of his understanding and technique in the tradition and the other half in a parnassus of literate methods. No, he is not even ‘immersed’ in the tradition. He is the tradition” (1960/2000:147). [25] With this empirically-based recognition of how oral poets operate within and indeed embody the tradition they sing, we must also reject the notion of inventing a character as a creation outside of the tradition. If we speak of the invention of a character like Dolon, who appears in both epic poetry and the visual arts, we are dealing with two different kinds of innovation. For the invention of a character involves not only a radical addition to the system of traditional epic composition and song (both in terms of narrative content and diction), but also the creation of the myth around which the system of composition is built. [26]

Several characters in the Iliad have supposedly been invented, including Euphorbos, Briseis, and even Patroklos. [27] Casey Dué has argued with reference to Briseis, however, that because innovation within an oral, traditional poetic system happens only over a long period of time, we must seek a new model for understanding the roles of minor characters within our Iliad:

It cannot be claimed therefore that Briseis or any character is the “invention” of any one poet, even though traditional {108|109} tales can be shown (by an outsider to that tradition) to change over time. If we are to appreciate the Iliad and Odyssey as oral traditional poetry, a different model must account for Briseis’ and other minor characters’ brief appearances. Such a model presents itself in the poetic technique of compression and expansion … In the more fluid stages of the evolution of the Iliad, it is possible that multiple variations on expanded narratives about Briseis coexisted. Briseis had not only a history, but possibly many histories. In less fluid stages of a poem there are fewer variations, but variation continues to occur on the level of expansion and compression. I argue that Briseis’ seemingly minor role in the Iliad, like that of many other characters, is a compression of at least one variation on her story.

Dué 2002:87

Using this approach to consider the introduction of Dolon in our text, we can understand the details given there to point to possible alternative or expanded versions. The details about Dolon’s family seem to place him within a traditional context: he appears not out of nowhere, but has a father, the herald Eumedes, and five sisters. As the scholiasts point out, other details introduced here, such as Dolon’s swiftness and his wealth, do indeed come into play when he is captured: even though he is swift, Odysseus outsmarts him so that his swiftness does not allow him to escape (Iliad 10.341–377), and Dolon says, quite formulaically, that his father will gladly pay much ransom to get him back alive (Iliad 10.378–381). But the four-line introduction has resonance beyond its immediate context: this compressed version can point to a wider tradition about Dolon himself, as well as show how Dolon fits into traditional story patterns. [
28] {109|110}

We should recognize first that the introduction of Dolon is composed formulaically in a way that is similar to other introductions of characters entering Homeric narratives for the first time. Four other characters are introduced with the same formula that we find at Iliad 10.314: ἦν δέ τις ἐν Τρώεσσι Δόλων Εὐμήδεος υἱὸς. In what follows, we will examine these introductions, and then see what kinds of inferences we can draw from each one and from the group collectively.

Another instance of the formula introduces Eukhenor, at Iliad 13.663–664, followed by a longer description of his life story. Eukhenor is not a man among the Trojans, as we have seen in the first two examples, but an Achaean fighter with a very specific backstory:

ἦν δέ τις Εὐχήνωρ Πολυΐδου μάντιος υἱὸς
ἀφνειός τ’ ἀγαθός τε Κορινθόθι οἰκία ναίων,
665 ὅς ῥ’ εὖ εἰδὼς κῆρ’ ὀλοὴν ἐπὶ νηὸς ἔβαινε·
πολλάκι γάρ οἱ ἔειπε γέρων ἀγαθὸς Πολύϊδος
νούσῳ ὑπ’ ἀργαλέῃ φθίσθαι οἷς ἐν μεγάροισιν,
ἢ μετ’ Ἀχαιῶν νηυσὶν ὑπὸ Τρώεσσι δαμῆναι·
τώ ῥ’ ἅμα τ’ ἀργαλέην θωὴν ἀλέεινεν Ἀχαιῶν
670 νοῦσόν τε στυγερήν, ἵνα μὴ πάθοι ἄλγεα θυμῷ.
τὸν βάλ’ ὑπὸ γναθμοῖο καὶ οὔατος· ὦκα δὲ θυμὸς
ᾤχετ’ ἀπὸ μελέων, στυγερὸς δ’ ἄρα μιν σκότος εἷλεν.

Iliad 13.663–672

There was someone named Eukhenor, a son of the seer Polyidos,
both wealthy and valiant, dwelling and making his home in Corinth.
Fully aware of his destructive doom he boarded the ship.
For often the valiant old man Polyidos told him
that he would perish from a painful disease in his own halls
or would be subdued at the hands of the Trojans near the ships of the Achaeans.
Thus he avoided at the same time both the painful penalty of the Achaeans
and the hateful disease, so that he would not experience suffering in his heart.
Him Paris hit under the jaw and through the ear. Swiftly his life
left from his limbs, and the hateful darkness took him.

Eukhenor has also been understood as a character whose “purpose is to remind the audience that Achilles will die at Troy at the hands of Paris after having made a similar choice.” [
31] Nickel (2002), for example, explores the idea that Eukhenor is a ‘doublet’ of Achilles. Fenik earlier {111|112} proposed this idea, but says that, for all of the resemblance between Eukhenor’s choice and Achilles’, Eukhenor’s story also resembles other traditional story patterns. [32] Fenik argues that when Eukhenor is considered within the epic as a whole: “All the other details of his life and death—his wealth, the circumstances of his death, the action of Paris with his bow—are fully typical with the Iliad itself without reference to Achilles.” [33] From our understanding of how oral traditional poetry operates, what Fenik calls “fully typical” we would call “fully traditional.”

As many commentators have pointed out, as Eukhenor’s story is told, he is also in the process of being killed, and therefore he plays no further direct role in the action. Yet Eukhenor and his story appear to be traditional, and if we consider possible local variations or expansions, such as those Dué examines for Briseis—variations that would have been screened out as the Iliad became a Panhellenic epic—we can imagine that Eukhenor might have had an epic of his own sung at Corinth about his choice to go to war. The compressed reference to the Achaean leaders coming to collect him for war (implied by the “penalty” he avoids) is reminiscent of Epic Cycle tales about heroes such as Achilles and Odysseus. Another sign of his traditionality can be found in the scholion on the line that introduces Eukhenor (Iliad 13.663) in the Townley manuscript of the Iliad. There, the scholiast notes that Pherekydes provides a genealogy for Eukhenor. [34] This genealogy extends back five generations on his father’s side, and three on his mother’s side. His mother, Pherekydes says, was Eurydameia, the daughter of Phyleus, the son of Augeus. This background not only places Eukhenor within a wider tradition that includes Herakles, but also means that he has an uncle, Meges, also fighting at Troy. According to this same scholion, Eukhenor and his brother, Kleitos, fought with the Epigonoi in their successful assault on Thebes. All of this adds up to a great deal of material for a song within an oral tradition. {112|113}

Finally, the suitor Ktesippos is introduced with this formula at Odyssey 20.287. Ktesippos memorably throws an ox foot at Odysseus, provoking Odysseus’ famously sardonic smile. Just before making that throw, immediately preceding his first speech in our Odyssey, Ktesippos is introduced as follows:

ἦν δέ τις ἐν μνηστῆρσιν ἀνὴρ ἀθεμίστια εἰδώς,
Κτήσιππος δ’ ὄνομ’ ἔσκε, Σάμῃ δ’ ἐνὶ οἰκία ναῖεν·
ὃς δή τοι κτεάτεσσι πεποιθὼς πατρὸς ἑοῖο
μνάσκετ’ Ὀδυσσῆος δὴν οἰχομένοιο δάμαρτα.
ὅς ῥα τότε μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μετηύδα·

Odyssey 20.287–291

There was someone among the suitors who knew lawlessness,
his name was Ktesippos, and he dwelt and made his home in Same.
This man, trusting in the property of his father,
wooed the wife of Odysseus, who was gone for a long time.
It was he who at that point spoke among the overweening suitors.

Structurally, this introduction has even more in common with that of Dolon, since it is also made just before the character speaks for the first {113|114} time. In both cases we have the ἦν δέ τις ἐν formulaic beginning (cf. Iliad 10.314), four lines of description, and then a speech introduction that uses the formulaic line beginning ὅς ῥα τότε (cf. Iliad 10.318). We have fewer biographical details here, however: simply his hometown and the fact that his father was wealthy.

Looking at all five examples, we can see that Dolon is introduced in a formulaic way, and that each man introduced in this way has specific details provided that may be expanded into a longer story. Eukhenor, of course, is the example in which the pattern is easiest to see because something of an expansion is already present in this version. But the details that follow in the brief appearance of the sons of Dares point to the possibility of a larger story as well, as Hephaistos saves Idaios so that Dares will not be totally bereft (Iliad 5.22–24). Other Trojans so rescued, such as Paris and Aeneas, have connections to larger stories beyond the Iliad.

Details that evoke possible expanded versions are common to introductions like Dolon’s. Another common thread is that each man is introduced at a transition point. The introduction of Dares and his sons marks the beginning of Diomedes’ expansive aristeia. Ktesippos is introduced at the first meal of the day on which the suitors will be slaughtered: although Telemakhos has asserted control over the suitors in their treatment of the stranger, Ktesippos will begin the abuse again, marking the beginning of the end for the suitors—as is further indicated by Odysseus’ smile (Odyssey 20.257–303). The introduction and subsequent death of Eukhenor mark a swinging of momentum from the Achaeans back to the Trojans, as Eukhenor’s death is followed by a shift in focus to Hektor and his renewed charge (Iliad 13.674–688). Similarly, the death of Podes happens as the focus shifts from Menelaos and the fight over Patroklos’ body back to Hektor in battle and Apollo’s arrival in disguise to guide him (Iliad 17.582–590).

Dolon’s introduction comes at a point where the focus of the narrative has just shifted from the Achaean camp to that of the Trojans. But the doubling of the spying mission theme (that is, Dolon’s introduction occurs when Hektor proposes a mission parallel to the one Nestor proposes for Diomedes and Odysseus) marks another kind of transition as well, since it will transform the spying mission into an ambush (see our essay “The Poetics of Ambush” on how these themes are related and one can be transformed into the other). Within the larger structure of the song, then, such introductions of characters come at moments when a longer important episode is starting and/or a series is coming to an end before a new focus begins. This is only indirectly associated {114|115} with the traditionality of the characters so introduced themselves, but it helps us to see that such introductions are not spur of the moment “inventions” but rather part of a larger pattern within the structure of songs.

A third point of commonality is that deaths follow these introductions, immediately for Eukhenor and Podes and later that same day for Ktesippos (Odyssey 22.285–291). In Dares’ case, the death of his son immediately follows. Dolon will also die the same night, and as he leaves the camp the narrator says as much. Within his discussion of Eukhenor, Fenik adduces examples of Trojan victims such as Iphiton, Satnios, and Simoeisios, who are introduced as they are killed, and argues that these biographies “are all composed according to a single mould with the purpose of achieving a distinct kind of pathos” (Fenik 1968:152). [37] Fenik focuses on the mention of each man’s mother in these cases. We instead address cases in which fathers are mentioned. For example, in the case of Dares we have the direct reference to his grief (Iliad 5.24) and an implied reference in the story of Eukhenor, since it is his father who informs him of the choice he faces in how he will die (Iliad 13.666–668). In the case of Podes, his father Eetion is already dead, but his close relationship with Hektor transfers the grief theme to Hektor himself, who feels grief (akhos) when told of Podes’ death (Iliad 17.591). As unsympathetic as we might find Ktesippos, we know from the reactions of the suitors’ families in general in Odyssey 24 that they, too, grieve their loss. And, similarly, we discuss in the commentary on 10.314–317 the ways in which Dolon’s introduction, especially the details that he is his father’s only son and that he has five sisters, may connect to lament traditions and evoke sympathy.

Davidson, building on the work of Gernet and Fenik, also surveys myths and initiation rituals involving wolves, tricksters, and horse swapping. She argues that Iliad 10 exemplifies epic’s incorporation of other traditions, concluding: “If one accepts Fenik’s suggestion that the Rhesus myth of the play Rhesus is pre-Iliadic, then I suggest that the Dolon myth is also that old … Many of the details that seem hazy in Book X can be clarified if we look at such other traditions” (Davidson 1979:66). More recently, Wathelet (1989) has also explored possible religious undertones to the Doloneia. He argues that Rhesos, with his magnificent horses and chariot, could be associated with a cult of a Sun god, and that Dolon has affinities with the god Hermes (1989:218–219, 226–231). This story, in Wathelet’s analysis, also has the structure of an initiation ritual. Schnapp-Gourbeillon (1981:95–131), however, has questioned this ritual reading of Dolon’s wolf skin, arguing that it must be read in connection with the animal skins the Achaeans wear earlier in Iliad 10. {116|117}

While Davidson and Wathelet focus on cult and ritual in determining the traditionality or pre-Iliadic existence of Dolon, Malcolm Davies, who does not cite Gernet directly, frames his arguments in terms of folktales and their quest narratives. He proposes that Dolon is the “ambivalent helper” figure in such quest stories, and that his wolf skin is suggestive of the metamorphosis or disguise such figures often take (Davies 2005:31–32). Another folktale motif that Davies explores is that this helper is often a doublet of the adversary. In exploring what Dolon and Rhesos have in common, Davies comes to a similar proposal to that of Gernet, asking “whether Dolon and Rhesus, like Nereus and Geryon, share an original status as death-demons,” especially considering their associations with night (Davies 2005:32). These types of story patterns or cult associations offer a different type of traditionality, and suggest that there is something old, perhaps even Indo-European, about nighttime missions and figures like Dolon, at least, if not this particular character.

So far, then, we have seen possible ways of thinking about Dolon as a traditional figure within the Homeric epic tradition, within myth or folklore, and within cult and ritual. All these possibilities remain uncertain without further evidence. But, as we noted at the beginning of this examination of Dolon, he also appears in vase painting, which gives us yet another perspective on his individual tradition. François Lissarrague (1980) also takes the narratives of Dolon in Iliad 10 and the tragedy Rhesos as a starting point in his examination of eight different vase paintings from the sixth to fourth centuries BCE that depict Dolon, sometimes explicitly labeling the figure by name, other times identifying him by the wolf skin and/or as one man captured by two others (see Plate 5). On the earliest (590–575 BCE) of these vases, a Corinthian cup, Dolon is nude and, since he is placed under the handle of the vase, he is also somewhat removed from what looks to be a conventional battle scene in the central part of the painting. [41] Considering this {117|118} image, Lissarrague cautions that we should not try to fit text to image or image to text, for they “speak two different languages”: “Texte et image parlent deux langages différents, utilisent deux codes différents, et constituent deux univers plus parallèls que complémentaires” (Lissarrague 1980:14). Our approach to the visual images is similar: the visual artists follow the conventions of their medium and are not dependent on particular texts. [42] When we investigate the question of Dolon’s tradition we must take both into account. [43]

Lissarrague contrasts the positioning of Dolon on the periphery of this early image with his positioning in the Attic vase paintings in which he is front and center, depicted between Diomedes and Odysseus (Lissarrague 1980:17–19). In these images, dated from 510–460 BCE, there are certain motifs that Lissarrague identifies as common to the three vases he presents: the composition of the figures (with Dolon in the middle), use of animal disguise, vegetal decoration, the armament of the heroes, and the gestures and postures. These visual signifiers have much in common with what we have identified in our “Poetics of Ambush” essay above as signals that indicate a particular poetic register within a particular theme. Just as we discussed there in connection with the dressing scenes in which the heroes put on animal skins in Iliad 10, Lissarrague emphasizes the wearing of skins as a putting on of a certain identity (Lissarrague 1980:19–20). The vegetation in the background, he argues, is part of Dolon’s camouflage as he moves through the night, and it shares features with scenes of Achilles ambushing Troilos. Lissarrague wants to understand the vegetation as generally associated with “an animal and savage world” (1980:21). We would argue instead that the plants indicate an ambush setting in both cases.

Reception: The Doloneia and the Theme of Ambush in the Rhesos and the Aeneid

When we look to the reception of the Doloneia in later works of poetry, we see that Ovid, for example, expected his readers to be well acquainted {119|120} with the story. In the Ars Amatoria (2.123–144) Ovid offers Odysseus as an example of someone whom the ladies (and even goddesses) love, not because he is good looking, but because he is eloquent. In illustration of this point, Ovid portrays Calypso as asking Odysseus again and again to tell her about the fall of Troy, and as they walk along the beach, Calypso requests specifically that he tell her about the death of Rhesos. Her request, however, is phrased in a learned allusion (illic quoque pulchra Calypso /   Exigit Odrysii fata cruenta ducis, Ars Amatoria 2.129–130); Rhesos’ name is not used until Ars Amatoria 2.137. In his story, Odysseus includes the death of Dolon, as well as that of Rhesos and his horses, as he draws the two camps in the sand to illustrate the story. [46] This brief passage offers the allusion in a playful manner, typical of Ovid, but for our purposes we note simply that Ovid represents the episode as one that both Calypso and Ovid’s own audience would want to hear. Ovid uses the Doloneia also in Heroides 1.37–46. In this letter from Penelope to Odysseus, who is not yet home, she informs him that she has heard from Telemakhos, who heard from Nestor, how Odysseus, helped only by one man, killed Rhesos and Dolon and infiltrated the Thracian camp at night: in other words, she has heard the Doloneia. In both of these poems, Odysseus is in the middle of his “odyssey”—within the story, his own epic is not yet complete. Yet, out of all the stories of Odysseus at Troy that could be used in these situations, it is perhaps the prestige of an Iliadic episode that has motivated the choice of the Doloneia.

The Rhesos

Story and tradition in the Rhesos

We have seen already above in the section on Rhesos that Bernard Fenik has used the eponymous tragedy as evidence of a Rhesos tradition that is different from the Homeric Doloneia. But, as we also saw in that discussion, when multiple traditions exist there can be a tension between them that underlies the presentation of one version. Such tensions are detectable in the Rhesos in its awareness of Iliad 10. The Rhesos presents the story of this night raid and ambush from the Trojan point of view, and it seems to set itself up as a parallel or alternative to the Iliad 10 account in its opening details. [51] Hektor is asleep onstage as the play opens (Rhesos 1–10), while in the Iliad we hear that he is awake and has not let the Trojans sleep (Iliad 10.299–301). Iliad 10 also opens with Agamemnon awake as the rest of the Achaeans sleep (Iliad 10.1–4). The report of the Chorus that there is activity in the Achaean camp parallels Agamemnon’s glances at the Trojan camp (Iliad 10.11–13), as well as the description of the Achaean guards on the night watch looking toward the Trojans and hearing their movements (Iliad 10.180–189). The dialogue between Hektor and Aeneas about how to respond (Rhesos 87–148) is similar in structure, although not in content, to that between Agamemnon and Menelaos (Iliad 10.36–72). We see that, after some disagreement, their conclusion is to let the allies continue to sleep, while Agamemnon and Menelaos, cooperative throughout, resolve to wake the Achaean leaders.

Another way in which the drama can be seen to engage particular aspects of this larger theme and its expression in Iliad 10, again with a resulting tension, is through a kind of metacommentary on aspects of the Doloneia. What we mean by “metacommentary” is that the dialogue of the tragedy explicitly comments on aspects of the story and the ambush theme that are traditional to the epic or otherwise implicit in it. Such commentary dominates the brief scene in which Dolon appears, starting with the way that Dolon is introduced. Hektor asks for a volunteer for the spying mission, and Dolon stands up to say he is willing to do it (Rhesos 149–157). We have no narrator, as we do in the epic (a factor we will encounter again below, when we look at the messenger-speeches in the play), to introduce Dolon. Dolon himself speaks in the first person, and so Hektor’s response must include his name. But Hektor’s response delays Dolon’s name until the second line, commenting on him first: “You are surely rightly named and city-loving, Dolon” (ἐπώνυμος μὲν κάρτα καὶ φιλόπτολις / Δόλων, Rhesos 158–159). [53] That Dolon is “rightly named” must be a play on the fact that his name sounds like δόλος ‘trick’ (see further in the commentary on 10.447). As we discussed in our essay “The Poetics of Ambush,” the concept of trickiness and the word δόλος itself are associated with the ambush theme, including spying missions. Hektor’s response hints at those associations as it draws attention to Dolon’s name.

Those associations are made more explicit, and the metacommentary is taken even further, when Dolon describes what he will wear for his mission. He says that his equipment will be fitting for his task and for stealthy movement (πρέπουσαν ἔργῳ κλωπικοῖς τε βήμασιν, Rhesos 205). He then elaborates further on how the wolf skin will disguise his movements and confuse the enemy, and that this ploy is his δόλος (Rhesos 208–215). We have seen that wearing animal skins is a signal of a night episode in the epic, but in the tragedy a detailed explanation of how and why an animal skin might be worn on a night mission is given. It is as if the tragedy feels the need to answer an implicit question about why animal skins are worn at night or why Dolon traditionally wore a wolf skin in particular. {124|125}

Just before Dolon’s departure, the Chorus emphasizes his return: they say they hope Hermes sends Dolon there and back again (ἐκεῖσε καὶ πάλιν, Rhesos 216). We have seen in the epic theme that a crucial part of a spying or ambush mission is the successful return, and, in one example, Hermes plays a direct role (Priam’s mission into enemy territory at night, and his successful return, in Iliad 24). Dolon’s response reflects the significance of the homecoming, and also shows the thematic connection between spying missions and ambushes, when he adds his desire to murder Odysseus or Diomedes to his original reconnaissance mission, before he arrives home (ἥξω πρὸς οἴκους, Rhesos 219–223). His wishful thinking reverses the way in which a spying mission actually becomes an ambush both here and in Iliad 10. Thus this brief scene with Dolon presents several elements of the traditional narrative pattern of the ambush theme, some of which are commented on to explain their presence. These explanations, however, do not necessarily reflect the meaning we see within the epic theme. Instead, the tragedy seems to put an almost practical or realistic spin on these traditional elements.

As their argument continues, it becomes a question of who will be the savior of Troy. Rhesos ends his response by claiming that his arrival is still at the right time (ἐν καιρῷ δ’ ὅμως, Rhesos 443), since Hektor has made no progress in defeating the Achaeans. In this way, the situation of the two leaders facing and arguing with one another creates a dramatic tension out of what in the epic tradition would be a tension between episodes or versions. The Iliadic version offers Hektor as the only rival for Achilles, but Rhesos wants to face him here (Rhesos 491). In the Rhesos, Rhesos boasts that all he needs is one day to finish what Hektor has taken ten years to start (Rhesos 443–453). Through his own speech, Rhesos alludes to and even combines the alternate traditions, both that of an overpowering one-day aristeia (which, as we have seen above, in some versions prompts the night ambush), and that of gaining invincibility once he and his horses eat and drink at Troy.

Drama in the dark

Tragic messengers are normally “eyewitnesses,” but if the messengers themselves cannot see, what do they report instead? The first messenger-speech in the Rhesos, delivered to Hektor by a shepherd announcing the arrival of Rhesos and the Thracian army on Mount Ida (Rhesos 264–317), shows that the usual eyewitness function is changed under nocturnal circumstances. To Hektor’s question about their route, the shepherd’s answer, which begins his extended narrative, signals the need for interpreting information that is gathered in the dark: “I do not know exactly, but I can at least guess” (οὐκ οἶδ’ ἀκριβῶς· εἰκάσαι γε μὴν πάρα, Rhesos 284). As he continues his account, he mentions that it was the noise (πολλῇ ἠχῇ, Rhesos 290) the army made that first drew his and his fellow shepherds’ attention and caused them to fear (φόβον, Rhesos 287; θάμβει ἐκπλαγέντες, Rhesos 291). For, as he explains, they interpreted these noises as an attack by the enemy Argives (Rhesos 292–293). But it was another sound—the non-Greek language of the intruders—that convinced them otherwise (Rhesos 294–295). Thus the sounds they hear in the dark are the first sources of information: unfamiliar sounds cause fear, and their first guess at what such sounds might mean is wrong. [67] In a typical messenger-speech, de Jong has observed, sounds usually have a minimal importance, especially compared with sights. [68] But in this case, sounds take on a new prominence. It is only after the shepherd has questioned ‘who goes there’ and has gathered enough information from listening that he sees Rhesos before him (καὶ παντ’ ἀκούσας ὧν ἐφιέμην μαθεῖν / ἔστην· ὁρῶ δὲ Ῥῆσον, Rhesos 300–301). (The horses and gold armor of Rhesos then seem to “light up” the dark night, although the noise the army makes is still prominent, Rhesos {130|131} 303–308.) These details from the shepherd’s report show that vision is not the sole or even the most prominent means by which he gathers information in the dark. Because he cannot see what is happening (in this case, at first), interpretation of other sensory input is necessary—though it is not necessarily reliable.

The report of Rhesos’ death given by his charioteer further reveals the elements of night and ambush (appropriately, since he is reporting an ambush). Here, too, we find an emphasis on multiple senses due to the limitations of sight. In this case, what the charioteer does perceive by sight he interprets incorrectly. He begins his extended narrative about what has happened offstage with a brief description of how the Thracians set up an unguarded camp, since they had been assured that the Trojans were guarding the whole area, and fell asleep (Rhesos 762–769). We saw above the portrayal of Rhesos as the only leader who does not guard against ambush; here the charioteer, in particular, but also the encampment as a whole are shown to be completely unprepared for an ambush.

The “eyewitness” function of the tragic messenger becomes more evident in the next part of the charioteer’s description: he says that he awoke again to feed the horses and saw two men wandering around the camp, who retreated as he started to move toward them (Rhesos 770–775). This part of his account sets up the expectation that the charioteer will be awake to witness the attack on the camp, while also revealing his mindset: he explains that he thought the men he saw were allies (συμμάχων, Rhesos 777) coming to steal from them (which is presumably why he did not ask them for the password). Although he witnesses this intrusion, he nonetheless says that after he warned them to leave he thought nothing further of it and went back to sleep (Rhesos 776–779). The unmet expectation that the charioteer will be able to report what he saw in a conscious state, coupled with his exposed inability to interpret correctly the threat to the camp, leads to his description of his ensuing nightmare and subsequent actions (Rhesos 779–803):

ηὗδον δ’ ἀπελθὼν αὖθις ἐς κοίτην πάλιν.
780 καί μοι καθ’ ὕπνον δόξα τις παρίσταται·
ἵππους γὰρ ἃς ἔθρεψα κἀδιφρηλάτουν
Ῥήσωι παρεστὼς εἶδον, ὡς ὄναρ δοκῶν,
λύκους ἐπεμβεβῶτας ἑδραίαν ῥάχιν·
θείνοντε δ’ οὐρᾷ πωλικῆς ῥινοῦ τρίχα
785 ἤλαυνον, αἱ δ’ ἔρρεγκον ἐξ ἀρτηριῶν {131|132}
θυμὸν πνέουσαι κἀνεχαίτιζον φόβῳ.
ἐγὼ δ’ ἀμύνων θῆρας ἐξεγείρομαι
πώλοισιν· ἔννυχος γὰρ ἐξώρμα φόβος.
κλύω δ’ ἐπάρας κρᾶτα μυχθισμὸν νεκρῶν·
790 θερμὸς δὲ κρουνὸς δεσπότου παρὰ σφαγῆς
βάλλει με δυσθνήισκοντος αἵματος νέου.
ὀρθὸς δ’ ἀνάισσω χειρὶ σὺν κενῇ δορός·
καὶ μ’ ἔγχος αὐγάζοντα καὶ θηρώμενον
παίει παραστὰς νεῖραν ἐς πλευρὰν ξίφει
795 ἀνὴρ ἀκμάζων· φασγάνου γὰρ ᾐσθόμην
πληγῆς, βαθεῖαν ἄλοκα τραύματος λαβών.
πίπτω δὲ πρηνής· οἱ δ’ ὄχημα πωλικὸν
λαβόντες ἵππων ἵεσαν φυγῇ πόδα.
ἆ ἆ·
ὀδύνη με τείρει κοὐκέτ’ ὀρθοῦμαι τάλας.
800 καὶ ξυμφορὰν μὲν οἶδ’ ὁρῶν, τρόπῳ δ’ ὅτῳ
τεθνᾶσιν οἱ θανόντες οὐκ ἔχω φράσαι
οὐδ’ ἐξ ὁποίας χειρός. εἰκάσαι δέ μοι
πάρεστι λυπρὰ πρὸς φίλων πεπονθέναι.
I was sleeping having gone back to bed again.
780 And some apparition is standing next to me in my slumber.
For the mares which I cared for and used to drive
standing next to Rhesos, I saw, I seemed to see in my dream,
wolves treading on their backs, where a rider sits.
The two of them striking with their tails the hair of the horse’s hide
785 drove them on, but the horses were snorting from their nostrils,
breathing their life’s breath and rearing back in fear.
And I woke up to ward off the beasts from
the horses; for the frightening nightmare had roused me ready for action.
I lifted up my head and heard the gasping of dying men.
790 A warm spurt from the slaughter of my master
hit me, a spurt of the dying man’s fresh blood.
I darted up with my hand empty of a spear.
While I was trying to see clearly and hunting around for a spear,
someone standing near strikes me with a sword in my lower ribs— {132|133}
795 it was some man in his prime. For I perceived the blow
of the sword, taking a deep gash of a wound.
I fell on my face, and they took the chariot
and horses and hurled their feet in flight.
Ah, ah.
Sharp pain wears me down, and wretch that I am I can no longer stand upright.
800 I know this calamity seeing it, but in what way
the dead have died I am not able to tell,
not by what sort of hand. But it seems likely to me
that we have suffered the present sad events at the hands of our friends.

In what he reports in this section, the charioteer’s powers of interpretation seem to be most successful when based on information gathered from senses such as hearing and touch: he can report that it is blood that touches him and men who gasp, and he can discern the youth of the man who struck him (assuming it is Diomedes who did so).

Yet in this speech he describes his dream in terms of what he saw, as would be expected in a messenger-speech: he saw (εἶδον, Rhesos 782) the horses that he tends and drives and the wolves jumping upon the horses’ backs and driving them off. The attack on the horses in the dream, which he terms a nightmare (ἔννυχος φόβος, Rhesos 788), awakens their faithful keeper ready to defend them. His failures of seeing and interpretation happen, not in the dream, but while the charioteer is awake. The first time he wakes up, he says, he sees (λεύσσω, Rhesos 773) two men in the camp through the dense darkness (πυκνῆς δι’ ὄρφνης, Rhesos 774), [69] but we know that he incorrectly interprets them as allies coming to steal from the camp. From what little he does see he also miscalculates the possible threat they pose (Rhesos 777–778). When he wakes after his nightmare, he cannot see well enough to find a weapon to defend himself and his comrades (Rhesos 793). Although he then claims to know from seeing (οἶδ’ ὁρῶν) the calamity that has occurred, his knowledge is admittedly limited since he cannot say how it happened or who did it (Rhesos 800–803). Any seeing he does, therefore, is restricted to the result, not the actions that produced the result. [70] Even his description of the perpetrators escaping with the {133|134} horses results from an inference of what happened—he is flat on his face as they run off (Rhesos 797). And his interpretation is once again misguided: he suspects philoi as the perpetrators (Rhesos 803). The only true seeing he reports, then, is his dream, an internal sight that is itself qualified as “dreamlike seeing” (ὡς ὄναρ δοκῶν, Rhesos 782).

In the epic, we see in several places how the darkness affects the characters: what they see or do not see, how they interpret those sights, the prominence of hearing, the need for careful planning so as not to miss people or objects in the dark, and the usefulness of darkness for achieving an ambush mission. In the tragedy, since characters are also narrators, the darkness affects the very conventions of that narration in messenger-speeches, changing what it means to be an eyewitness, while still conveying to the audience the information it needs—if interpreted correctly—about what has happened offstage. The poetics of ambush are thus far-reaching within the tragedy, expressed even in these seeming anomalies in generic conventions.

Virgil’s Aeneid

Similar to the way in which we restricted the scope of our examination of the reception of the Doloneia in the Rhesos, we will also be focusing on a rather limited idea of reception in Virgil’s Aeneid. Virgil’s reception of Homeric epic, as well as the larger tradition about the Trojan War, is significant and extensive, and a thorough consideration of all of {135|136} its poetic implications is beyond our scope here. In addition, Virgilian scholars have considered the points of comparison between the Doloneia and the night episode in Aeneid 9 and drawn various conclusions about how the episode, and the way it responds to the Doloneia, is important to the themes and program of the Aeneid as a whole. [75] Our goal here is not to provide an interpretation of the Aeneid, however, but rather to explore how Virgil’s reception of the Doloneia contributes to our understanding of the poetics of ambush. Like scholars before us, our interpretation of Virgil’s reception is influenced by our own understanding of the Doloneia. As just one example of this kind of influence, we can see in the scholarship that, if one has a negative opinion of Dolon in the Iliad, references or allusions to him in the Aeneid will also seem negative, and interpretation will proceed from that assumption. But, instead of engaging here in a point-by-point agreement with or refutation of these assumptions and interpretations, we have tried in this volume to make our own assumptions clear and acknowledge that of course they color our interpretations in this case as well. In this discussion there are three passages we want to examine: the stories of Rhesos and Dolon, mentioned separately, and, of course, the night episode in Aeneid 9, with Nisus and Euryalus as an ambushing pair.

Rhesos in Carthage

Nec procul hinc Rhesi niveis tentoria velis
470 agnoscit lacrimans, primo quae prodita somno
Tydides multa vastabat caede cruentus,
ardentisque avertit equos in castra prius quam
pabula gustassent Troiae Xanthumque bibissent.

Aeneid 1.469–474

Not far from here the tents of Rhesus with their snow-white cloths
he recognized, weeping, [the tents] which, betrayed by the first sleep,
the blood-stained son of Tydeus destroyed with abundant slaughter,
and he turned the dazzling horses into his camp, before
they had tasted the pastures of Troy and had drunk the Xanthus.

In this encapsulation of the story of Rhesos at Troy, we see a compression of detail as well as narrative in a metonymic series of connections that the viewer/reader must make. In the Iliad, it is Rhesos’ horses that are described as “whiter than snow” (λευκότεροι χιόνος, Iliad 10.437). Here that color is transferred to the tents of his encampment, [
80] and the tents in turn stand for Rhesos and the Thracians—quae prodita (Aeneid 1.470) grammatically agrees with the tentoria (Aeneid 1.471)—but we know that the men themselves were betrayed by sleep and destroyed in the slaughter Diomedes committed. This compression relies on a reader who knows the story as well as Aeneas does to understand all that the picture represents.

We can notice next that only Diomedes is named as killer and taker of the horses. Does the absence of Odysseus again reflect the {137|138} compression of the story? Perhaps, and we should also remember that in the Greek epic tradition different versions of ambush episodes could feature one or the other for both of these heroes. [81] But there may also be other reasons to single out Diomedes. Odysseus will be featured prominently in Aeneas’ telling of the fall of Troy (see e.g. Aeneid 2.7, 2.44, 2.90, 2.122, 2.164, 2.261, 2.762), and even in his tale of his wanderings (see e.g. Aeneid 3.273 and 3.613–654); there may be a desire to postpone mentioning his name, leaving it for Aeneas’ own version of the sack of Troy by ambush. It has been noted before that Achilles dominates the pictures here: even in the non-Iliadic pictures he has a role, whether named or unnamed. [82] Diomedes can be a substitute for Achilles, which may help to motivate his name here, while Odysseus will instead loom over Aeneas’ story of the fall of Troy and his wanderings in Books 2 and 3. [83] Papaioannou agrees that Diomedes is associated with Achilles here, and also argues that the Aeneid often pairs Aeneas and Diomedes, in anticipation of the embassy to Diomedes by the Italians (Papaioannou 2000:198–200). [84] Thus the association of Aeneas and Diomedes, because of their battle in Iliad 5 and the prominence of Diomedes in the second half of this epic (where ambush is also conspicuous), may likewise be a reason to focus on his role in the ambush here.

In the final two lines, a particular version of the Rhesos story is revealed. The placement of the scene (“not far,” Aeneid 1.469, from the scenes of the Trojans routing the Achaeans and Achilles turning the Trojans back) as well as the details we have looked at thus far give it, {138|139} as we noted, an Iliadic feel. When we hear that the horses have not yet eaten or drunk at Troy (Aeneid 1.472–473), however, we recognize an allusion to the version in which an oracle predicted Rhesos’ invincibility if his horses did indeed do so. Thus we do not have a simply Iliadic reference here: instead, the description makes us first think of Iliad 10, but then adds this key detail from an alternate version, one, as we saw above, that is more explicit about the danger Rhesos presents to the Achaeans, and therefore the hope he embodies for the Trojans. This meaning of the final line is yet another compression, then, and the reader/viewer must have knowledge of the story to grasp its full importance.

Scholars have also argued that these pictures have long-range connections within the Aeneid to events in the second, or Iliadic, half of the poem. Stanley asserts that the order of the pictures, which does not follow the order of events at Troy themselves (as we can see just from the placement of the Rhesos and Troilos pictures), instead follows the events they correspond to in the Aeneid 7–12: “the panels provide clues in sequence to what lies ahead, though the roles of Greek and Trojan, {140|141} the besieger and besieged, will be reversed in the war between Trojan and Latin” (Stanley 1965:274, original emphasis). The picture of Rhesos is in the position it is in here, according to Stanley’s analysis, because it prefigures the night episode in Aeneid 9, which we will examine in detail below. Stanley’s insight has been accepted and further explored in subsequent studies. [92] Lowenstam, for example, has drawn parallels in both theme and diction between the description of the Rhesos picture on the temple walls and the night raid of Nisus and Euryalus (Lowenstam 1993:38–39, 43–45). With this presaging nature of the pictures as well as Stanley’s point about the reversal of roles in mind, we can then consider that Aeneas’ reaction to the picture of Rhesos also shares in the foreshadowing. We have seen that this description alludes to the fall of Troy, especially with the inclusion of the oracle, and so Aeneas’ tears as he recognizes the scene (agnoscit lacrimans, Aeneid 1.470) are first and foremost related to that interpretation of the picture. [93] But, if the picture indeed also points ahead to the night raid of Nisus and Euryalus, then Aeneas’ grief may also be proleptic, as the reversal of Diomedes’ success in this picture is found in the Trojan ambushers’ ultimate failure. [94]

Thus this compressed depiction of the ambush of Rhesos begins and implicates a series of ambushes: that of Troilos, most immediately; the sack of Troy, which Aeneas will narrate in Aeneid 2, in the nearer term; and then the extended night episode of Nisus and Euryalus in Aeneid 9. What seems at first simply an allusion to the Trojan past is instead part of a larger pattern at work in the poem as a whole. It also indicates that Virgil was working within a wider epic tradition, one that encompassed other versions of the story of Rhesos. The death of {141|142} Rhesos, which many have seen as a marginal event within the Iliad, takes on a symbolic importance within the Aeneid.

Action at night in Aeneid 9

Even before night falls and Nisus conceives the plan for a mission to get a message to Aeneas, the beginning of Aeneid 9 signals the coming night adventure. The second simile of the book compares Turnus as he attacks the Trojan fort by day to a wolf trying to get into a sheep pen at night (Aeneid 9.59–66). [99] This wolf is an ambusher (lupus insidiatus, Aeneid 9.59) who works in the middle of the night (nocte super media, Aeneid 9.61). As we have seen in the Homeric poetics of ambush, here also the hardship of such an attack is emphasized, as the wolf endures wind and rain (ventos perpessus et imbris, Aeneid 9.60) and his continuing hunger wears him out (collecta fatigat edendi ex longo rabies, Aeneid 9.63–64). The fact that he has been hungry for a long time also suggests that his situation is desperate, another characteristic of ambush episodes. Although the focus of the simile is on the wolf’s rage as he tries to attack (and so also Turnus’ rage), the “absent” prey (in absentis, Aeneid 9.63) and the wolf’s “jaws dry of blood” (siccae sanguine fauces, Aeneid 9.64) suggest that this ambush will not be successful. The failure of ambush is a recurring feature in the episodes in the second half of the Aeneid, as we will continue to see—failure that stands in contrast to the successful ambush by Diomedes and Odysseus in Iliad 10 and in so many other episodes in the wider tradition of the Trojan War. In other words, the failure of the wolf within the simile seems to have longer-range implications than Turnus’ failure to get the Trojans to fight outside their walls at this moment.

Turnus himself, however, disavows ambush tactics soon after this simile. Even though on this day he cannot provoke the Trojans into a battle, he tells his men that he will be able to defeat them far more easily than the Greeks did: he does not need a thousand ships, or ten {143|144} years, or ambush tactics to do so (Aeneid 9.148–155). He specifically mentions two famous ambush episodes from the Epic Cycle, the theft of the Palladion and the wooden horse:

tenebras et inertia furta
Palladii caesis summae custodibus arcis
ne timeant, nec equi caeca condemur in aluo:
luce palam certum est igni circumdare muros.

Aeneid 9.150–153

Let them not fear darkness and the unskilled theft
of the Palladion after the guards of the highest citadel have been slaughtered,
nor that we will be laid up in the blind belly of a horse:
in daylight, openly, we are resolved to surround their walls with fire.

Pairing these two ambush episodes indicates that they are both part of the tradition that Virgil knew about the Trojan War—as is already apparent when Aeneas mentions them in his narration of the end of the war in Aeneid 2 (the theft of the Palladion at Aeneid 2.162–170 and the men emerging from the wooden horse at Aeneid 2.250–267). When we compare Aeneid 9.151 with Aeneid 2.166, we see that Turnus here describes the theft of the Palladion and the ambush of its guards in almost exactly the same way Aeneas had, with only a change in the grammatical case of ‘Palladium’. Whether or not Virgil is imitating the formulaic language of oral epic in this repetition, the effect of it is that Turnus, not only knows the story, he knows it the way Aeneas tells it. [
100] Turnus’ scorn for such actions, however, is a different reaction from Aeneas’ anger and horror in describing them, revealing that there are multiple ways of interpreting these same events.

After his speech, Turnus allows his men to retire for the night. Although, or perhaps even because, Turnus renounced such strategies, the Trojans, of course, will use them on this very night. The Aeneid presents this war in several ways as “another” Trojan War: at times the Trojans are in the same position as they were in that war, but at other {144|145} times they are in the position of the Greeks. In terms of the plan for a night reconnaissance mission, they are very much like the Achaeans in Iliad 10: trapped by an aggressive army, desperate, and without their best warrior. It is this kind of situation that suggests something as bold as a night mission.

When Nisus first mentions his idea for a mission to Euryalus, he says he wants to do something great (aliquid … magnum, Aeneid 9.186) that will bring him a reputation (fama, Aeneid 9.195). Both here and when he makes his proposal to the Trojan leaders, the mission he proposes is to deliver a message to Aeneas about the dire situation of the Trojan encampment (see Aeneid 9.195–196, 9.236–245). In Iliad 10 reconnaissance missions (both Diomedes and Odysseus and also Dolon start off on spying missions) are similarly associated with glory (kleos, Iliad 10.212; kudos, Iliad 10.307) as well as material rewards. [101] As we have seen, these missions are closely associated with ambush in Homeric epic, and missions of stealth (such as the theft of the Palladion just mentioned by Turnus) often become ambushes as well. Virgil’s night mission undergoes just such a transformation when Nisus spies the sleeping enemy (Aeneid 9.316–323); the influence of the epic tradition is certainly felt in this transformation. For Nisus and Euryalus, just as for Diomedes and Odysseus, the sleeping, unprotected enemy is too easy a target to resist. [102] Hints that the mission will become an ambush begin already in Nisus’ repeated thoughts prior to leaving: he thinks about how the enemy encamped outside are not only sleeping but drunk (Aeneid 9.189–190 and 9.236–237). He calls his proposal “ambush” (insidiis, Aeneid 9.237) that will include “huge slaughter” (ingenti caede, Aeneid 9.242). Pinpointing when the transformation occurs is not important, however; what is significant for us is that it echoes the poetics of ambush from the Greek epic tradition.

Dolon’s son in Italy

Turnus’ failed ambush in Aeneid 11 brings us to the final passage we want to examine. Almost a bookend to the reference to Rhesos in Aeneid 1, there is in Aeneid 12 a short passage about the death of Dolon’s son Eumedes while fighting for the Trojans in Italy, which also recapitulates Dolon’s story in Iliad 10 (Aeneid 12.346–361). We did not hear in the Iliad that Dolon had a son, so what is he doing here? Eumedes is the first “personalized” victim of Turnus after Aeneas leaves the battlefield with an injury. The absence of Aeneas once again may evoke an ambush situation, but in this battlefield meeting, the ambush happens only in the backstory:

Parte alia media Eumedes in proelia fertur,
antiqui proles bello praeclara Dolonis,
nomine avum referens, animo manibusque parentem,
qui quondam, castra ut Danaum speculator adiret,
350 ausus Pelidae pretium sibi poscere currus;
illum Tydides alio pro talibus ausis
adfecit pretio nec equis aspirat Achilli.
Hunc procul ut campo Turnus prospexit aperto,
ante levi iaculo longum per inane secutus
355 sistit equos biiugis et curru desilit atque
semianimi lapsoque supervenit, et pede collo
impresso dextrae mucronem extorquet et alto
fulgentem tingit iugulo atque haec insuper addit:
‘en agros et, quam bello, Troiane, petisti,
360 Hesperiam metire iacens: haec praemia, qui me
ferro ausi temptare, ferunt, sic moenia condunt.’

Aeneid 12.346–361

In another part, Eumedes rushes into the middle of battle,
the splendid-in-war offspring of old Dolon,
reproducing his grandfather with his name and his father with his spirit and hands,
his father who once, when he went as a spy on the Danaan camp,
350 dared to ask as his price the chariot of Peleus’ son.
The son of Tydeus, in return for such great daring, bestowed on him {148|149}
another price, and he [Dolon] no longer aspires to the horses of Achilles.
When Turnus spotted this man from afar in the open field,
having pursued him first through the long space with his light javelin,
355 he brings his yoked horses to a stop and jumps down from his chariot and
overtakes him, fallen and half-alive, and with a foot pressed on his neck
he twists out the pointed sword from Eumedes’ right hand and deep
in his throat he thrusts it as it shines and he adds these things over him:
“Behold the fields and the Hesperia you sought, Trojan, with war;
360 lying there, measure them out: these rewards those who
dare to try me with a sword get, this way do they found city walls.”

Eumedes’ introduction at this point in the narrative only to be killed and boasted over by Turnus a few lines later is strongly reminiscent of the introductions of such characters in the Iliad that we have explored above, including Dolon himself. In the Iliadic passages, the warrior’s life history and lineage are narrated just before that warrior dies, far from his home and family. In this way the introduction takes the place of a lament for the fallen warrior. Here, however, the only story given is that of Eumedes’ father Dolon. We cannot be sure that Virgil did not know a son of Dolon from the epic tradition. Whether he did, or whether he “invented” one for this passage, it does not seem to be the pathos of Eumedes’ death that is the focus here, but rather Dolon himself. So, as Virgil evokes a typical feature of Homeric epic, he also changes its form from a traditional allusion to a specifically intertextual reference. The highly textual nature of this reference is disclosed by the adjective modifying Dolon: antiquus. Dolon is not ‘ancient’ within the story—he is the same generation as Aeneas himself. He is only ancient from a point of view outside the story, like the Iliad in comparison with the Aeneid.

This intertextuality continues even after the story of Dolon is recounted. For Eumedes is not only like his father in his hands and spirit, he dies in a similar fashion. Though Eumedes’ own death is not portrayed as an ambush, Dolon also has a spear thrown at him from {149|150} afar, is then overtaken on foot, and is finally killed with a sword to his throat (Iliad 10.372–377, 10.455–456). [110] There is a verbal connection in this passage as well. The death of both father and son is attributed to their “daring”: Dolon is daring in his asking for the horses of Peleus as a price (pretium) for his spying mission, and he is instead rewarded with death for his daring (ausus … ausis, which frame the lines, Aeneid 12.350–351), while Turnus’ vaunt over Eumedes similarly says death is the reward (praemia) granted to those who dare (ausi) to try him in battle (Aeneid 12.360–361). [111] In the Greek epic tradition, daring is portrayed as a necessary quality for such night missions and thus as uniformly positive—even for Dolon’s daring to enter the enemy camp. [112] Virgil complicates that conception of daring in multiple ways here: by ascribing it first to Dolon’s particular aspirations for a reward, and then to the Trojans’ aspirations for a new city in Italy. Turnus offers Eumedes just enough ground for his grave, ground that is directly compared to the city walls that the Trojans hope to found (Aeneid 12.359–360). [113] Virgil has not allowed ambush to be a determining factor in this war, but in this final allusion to the Doloneia, ambush is nevertheless implicated in a problematic way in the Trojans’ hopes and goals for this war.

The evocation of Dolon in this final book of the Aeneid is deliberate, and it suggests that the Doloneia should be understood as a thread that has been woven through the entire tapestry of the Aeneid. [114] When {150|151} we look at the reception of the Doloneia in the Rhesos and the Aeneid through the lens of the poetics of ambush, we get a very different impression from that offered by the oft-repeated idea that “even in antiquity” the authenticity of the Doloneia was doubted. Instead, we find that the theme of ambush (best represented for us in Iliad 10, but, as we have seen, a fairly common theme in the larger Greek epic tradition) is one that is alluded to, interrogated, and reworked for various poetic purposes. There is no evident preconception in these works that the Doloneia is un-Iliadic. Instead of imposing a modern scholarly prejudice on them, we suggest that more fruitful approaches to understanding the relationship between these texts will make the question of “authenticity” neither their starting assumption nor the object of investigation. As we hope we have shown in our brief treatments of these works, our knowledge and appreciation of the theme and poetics of ambush is deepened and enhanced by investigating its reception. The Rhesos and the Aeneid allow us to perceive how the poetics of ambush were understood and developed even further in antiquity, with the result that we can better appreciate how the theme of ambush operates in Homeric epic. At the same time, as we have only begun to point out here, we can better understand the Rhesos and the Aeneid once we have an appreciation for the poetics of ambush. {151|}


[ back ] 1. For more on what we mean by “tradition” see our essay above, “Interpreting Iliad 10.”

[ back ] 2. See Leaf 1915:3 for his argument that Rhesos is an invented character, with neither locality nor legend: “The natural conclusion is that the Rhesos of the Doloneia is a purely literary creation of the moment, devoid of local or legendary background.”

[ back ] 3. We will discuss further below this latter question of how well the Iliad 10 version of Rhesos’ story fits within the Iliad as a whole.

[ back ] 4. This translation reflects what actually appears in the text of the scholia, a text that others have found in need of correction because of the syntax problems in this last sentence. See below for further discussion.

[ back ] 5. Apollodorus 1.3.4 lists Strymon as Rhesos’ father and Euterpe as his mother, but adds that “some say” his mother was Kalliope. Note that in the Iliad Rhesos’ father is identified as Eioneus (Iliad 10.435).

[ back ] 6. Alternately, the fact that Diomedes and Odysseus are the killers of this great threat could indicate that Rhesos arrives as an ally only after Achilles’ death. But, as Fenik notes, that possibility still varies from the pattern of the late-arriving allies that are killed by Achilles or by Neoptolemos (Fenik 1964:8–10).

[ back ] 7. See Lord 1960/2000:81–82, 94, 97.

[ back ] 8. We are grateful to Douglas Frame for this reference. See Frame 2009:111–113 for his discussion of this passage in relation to the Iliadic stories about Nestor and the Aktorione Molione.

[ back ] 9. See our essay above, “The Poetics of Ambush” for how these elements belong to the ambush theme.

[ back ] 10. Davies 2005:30 ascribes the lack of a reference to the oracle about Rhesos, and therefore, in his argument, also a lack of sufficient motivation, to the Iliad’s screening out of “folk-tale motifs,” among which he counts “the conditional oracle or prophecy.” Davies also thinks that Iliad 10 is a “later insertion” that shares this trait with the Iliad.

[ back ] 11. See Rabel 1991 on “the theme of need” in Iliad 9–11.

[ back ] 12. Indeed, the capture of Dolon is itself an ambush, already shifting the theme. As we have discussed in “The Poetics of Ambush,” spying missions often result in an ambush—that is, the two themes are closely linked. So, in terms of the thematic composition of this episode, the one element is enough to suggest the other, and since the ambush of Rhesos is a traditional story, it is easily linked to the spying mission.

[ back ] 13. See, for example, Foley 2002:109–124, especially 118: “What this single decasyllable implies idiomatically dwarfs what it seems to say explicitly” (emphasis in original).

[ back ] 14. Slatkin 1991. See also Edwards 1985, Dué 2002, and Marks 2003 for other investigations of characters within the larger epic tradition.

[ back ] 15. Foley 2002:120–121. Doing so then prevents anachronistic or inappropriate readings: “By concentrating on the implied meaning of their ‘words,’ we can avoid some of the pitfalls inherent in a merely textual reading and at least partially understand their registers on their own terms” (Foley 2002:120).

[ back ] 16. Petegorsky 1982:210–211 understands the motivation for killing Rhesos in much this same way. He argues that, as Fenik has shown, the audience would likely have been familiar with another version of Rhesos’ story, and that Diomedes and Odysseus thus “kill a hero who, in a different context, poses the same kind of threat to the Achaeans that Hector does after Book Eight and Achilles’ rejection of the embassy” (211).

[ back ] 17. See, however, the argument of Thornton (1984:165–167) for indirect references or allusions to the events of Iliad 10 in other parts of the Iliad.

[ back ] 18. See Petegorsky 1982:176, 201–202, 209.

[ back ] 19. Petegorsky 1982:175–254.

[ back ] 20. Petegorsky 1982:209–211 refutes Fenik’s assertion that the Doloneia cannot portray the night mission as an assassination attempt against Hektor, showing that it is not the attempt that the Iliad excludes, but rather the success of such an attempt, since Achilles must be the killer of Hektor. Fenik (1964:20) also makes the (rather baseless) argument that an assassination attempt would be an unacceptable portrayal of Odysseus and Diomedes (whereas a “negative” portrayal of Odysseus and Diomedes is consistent in the Rhesos). Fenik here seems to ascribe his own understanding of ambush as “negative” to an epic tradition that includes many such episodes.

[ back ] 21. Shewan 1911:15.

[ back ] 22. Nagy 1996b:39–42, 52–54, 124–125.

[ back ] 23. Hainsworth’s commentary on 10.314 glosses Dolon’s name as “Sneaky” and says it “is an obviously invented name, created for this episode and alien to the primary forms of the Rhesos-saga” (1993:186). Hainsworth cites Fenik’s arguments that Dolon does not appear in the non-Iliadic versions of the Rhesos story as represented in the scholia and that he is “unnecessary” to it (Fenik 1964:17). Fenik himself says that he does “not mean to imply that the K poet necessarily invented Dolon, although he may well have done so” (Fenik 1964:18n3). See, however, Dué 2002: “The attribution of ‘invention’ to an epic poet working within a traditional system or a vase-painter representing traditional narrative is a very problematic concept” (31). And conjecturing that a character is “invented” because his name seems appropriate neglects the fact that many of the names of traditional epic characters are meaningful within their traditional narratives: see, for example, Nagy 1979:69–83 on Achilles’ name; Wathelet 1989:216–218 on the names of Diomedes, Odysseus, Dolon, and Eumedes; and Higbie 1995 on heroes’ names in general.

[ back ] 24. On the inherent flaws in any combination of “Homer + verb,” see Nagy 1996b:20–22. The particular combination “Homer invented” is connected with a common misconception of Homer as a master poet who has somehow “broken free” of the oral tradition. See Nagy 1996b:26–27.

[ back ] 25. Similarly, see Lord 1960/2000: “It is sometimes difficult for us to realize that the man who is sitting before us singing an epic song is not a mere carrier of the tradition but a creative artist making the tradition” (13) and “oral poets who are not traditional do not exist” (155, original emphasis).

[ back ] 26. For a refutation of the arguments of those who speak of the invention of myth (e.g. Willcock 1964 and 1977), see Nagy 1992 and 1996b:113–146. Nagy argues from the perspective of social anthropology that for the ancient Greek poets “creativity is a matter of applying, to the present occasion, myths that already exist” (Nagy 1992:312). Lowell Edmunds also speaks of the application of traditional stories or myths to the present occasion: “A story, or myth, is therefore, in retrospect, a set of variants on a fundamental pattern, while, on the occasion of any retelling, the present, individualist version is the authoritative one. Myth occurs, one could say, at the juncture of performance with tradition” (Edmunds 1997:420). Edmunds’s definition of myth is in accord with the process of composition-in-performance of oral traditional poetry. We may compare Nagler’s (1974:26) words on Homeric diction: “all is traditional on the generative level, all original on the level of performance.” On the application of mutually contradictory variations of the same myth on different occasions within the same poem, see Edmunds 1997:421–422.

[ back ] 27. On Patroklos as an invented character, see Howald 1924:11–12 as well as Dihle 1970:159–160 and bibliography ad loc. More recent discussions include Allan 2005 and Burgess 1997 and 2005. For Euphorbos, see Nickel 2002 and Allan 2005.

[ back ] 28. Dué 2002:8n24 similarly discusses the character of Briseis in terms of her syntagmatic and paradigmatic significance within the Iliad: “the paradigmatic aspects of the figure of Briseis are connected to the experiences … that unite her with the other women of the Iliad and Odyssey (and women in general). The syntagmatic aspect of her character is the extent to which she has her own narrative that is independent of other women and the way they are portrayed in epic. The terms paradigmatic and syntagmatic derive ultimately from linguistics, and are pictured as operating on respectively vertical and horizontal axes of selection and combination. To put it another way (following Jakobson) the term syntagmatic is used of metonymic relationships (that is relationships where meaning is determined by connection), whereas the term paradigmatic refers to metaphorical relationships (where meaning is determined by substitution).” We can apply this same formulation to Dolon.

[ back ] 29. See our commentary on 10.314–315 for more on the unnecessary enjambment in these lines.

[ back ] 30. See Thornton 1984:68–69, who argues that this rescue of a potential victim of Diomedes is a ‘sign-post’ directing the audience to the later important rescue of Aeneas by Aphrodite (the ‘goal’ in Thornton’s terms). See also Thornton 1984:80–82 for her brief discussion of the expansion of Diomedes’ aristeia through the doubling of motifs.

[ back ] 31. Nickel 2002:226. Nickel does not state that Eukhenor is invented using that term. But the idea that Eukhenor has a particular purpose in Achilles’ story having only to do with Achilles himself is typical of the “invention” concept.

[ back ] 32. Fenik 1968:148–149. Fenik does, however, believe that characters can be “invented” and given a biography modeled on a general pattern: he makes such an argument in his discussion of minor Trojan characters who are introduced just before they are killed (Fenik 1968:151–152).

[ back ] 33. Fenik 1968:149. Later, Fenik reasserts that Eukhenor is a doublet of Achilles (Fenik 1968:152).

[ back ] 34. The scholion from the Townley manuscript in Maass’ edition reads: ἦν δέ τις Εὐχήνωρ Πολυΐδου· Φερεκύδης οὕτω γενεαλογεῖ· “ἀπὸ Μελάμποδος Μάντιον, οὗ Κλεῖτον, οὗ Κοίρανον, οὗ Πολύϊδον·” εἶτα “Πολύϊδος” φησί “γαμεῖ Εὐρυδάμειαν τὴν Φυλέως τοῦ Αὐγέου· τῷ δὲ γίνεται Εὐχήνωρ καὶ Κλεῖτος, οἳ Θήβας εἷλον σὺν τοῖς Ἐπιγόνοις· ἔπειτα ἐς Τροίην ἔρχονται σὺν Ἀγαμέμνονι, καὶ θνῄσκει Εὐχήνωρ ὑπὸ Ἀλεξάνδρου.”

[ back ] 35. See our following essay “Iliad 10: A Multitextual Approach” for more on the terms multiform and performance variant.

[ back ] 36. See p. 76 for our argument that Achilles ambushed the brothers of Andromache.

[ back ] 37. Similarly, Janko’s commentary on Iliad 13.660–672 characterizes the introduction ἦν δέ τις as “wealthy but doomed characters” (1992:128). Fenik also says that some of these characters may be invented.

[ back ] 38. For this approach, see Tsagalis 2004:179–192 and the commentary below on 10.314–317.

[ back ] 39. Wathelet 1989:220 also understands a rite of passage underlying Dolon’s wolf skin.

[ back ] 40. Gernet 1936:196–197. Cf. Rhesos 219–223 and our discussion of the tragedy below.

[ back ] 41. Although he does not believe Dolon to be a traditional character, Friis Johansen (1967:74–75) asserts that this early sixth-century BCE Corinthian cup “makes it reasonable to assume that the Doloneia was known in Corinth as part of the Iliad at the beginning of the sixth century.” Snodgrass concludes: “We should take this as a sign that the Doloneia, before it became the tenth book of the Iliad, had both literary and non-literary antecedents” (1998:121). Elsewhere Snodgrass notes his own reluctance to acknowledge that Doloneia scenes are among the earliest and most common of the “Iliadic” scenes on vases (1998:131). Lowenstam (1992:184) comments on this phenomenon, specifically as it relates to the Doloneia in art: “It is curious that some of the passages in the Homeric poems which the Analysts confidently determined to be ‘late’ are those for which we have the earliest artistic evidence.” Ahlberg-Cornell (1992) does not include the Doloneia in her otherwise comprehensive survey of epic scenes in early Greek art.

[ back ] 42. For more on how to understand the relationship between visual images and the Homeric epics as oral-traditional poetry, see Lowenstam 1992, 1997, and 2008. Lowenstam (1992:188) points out that “vases furnish not only our earliest alternative versions of some Homeric stories but sometimes also our first view of stories known to the tradition and Epic Cycle although not utilized or delineated in the versions of the Iliad and Odyssey that we possess.” Thus these vase paintings can indicate a wider tradition about Dolon and can tell us something about that wider tradition, perhaps especially through individual details in the depictions of him.

[ back ] 43. See also Dué 2002:27–36 on the question of the relationship between art and epic, and what that relationship means for understanding traditionality.

[ back ] 44. Ainsi dans tous les cas que nous connaissons Ulysse et Diomède s’opposent à Dolon par l’habillement et les armes, et dans une certaine mesure leurs rôles peuvent s’inverser” (Lissarrague 1980:24).

[ back ] 45. Lowenstam 1997 discusses the question of what vase paintings, especially those that have differences from the Homeric epics as we know them, can tell us about the dating of the Iliad and Odyssey.

[ back ] 46. We have to leave aside here the intertextuality between Ovid and Virgil (e.g. in the phrases tentoria Rhesi, Ars Amatoria 2.137, cf. Aeneid 1.469, and somno proditus, Heroides 1.40, cf. Aeneid 1.470), and also between these two poems of Ovid, as Heroides 1 also has a Trojan veteran draw the Trojan plain, this time with wine, as he tells his story (compare Ars Amatoria 2.131–138 and Heroides 1.31–36).

[ back ] 47. For one example, in a brief remark within a discussion of Ovid’s use of myth, Graf uses his own assumptions about the “inauthenticity” of Iliad 10 to interpret Heroides 1. Graf says that Ovid uses a “wealth of Homeric details” to seem authentic, but that referring to the Doloneia was a clever way to distance his text from Homer’s (Graf 2002:112 and 112n26). The simpler conclusion, it seems to us, would be that the poem includes Odysseus’ exploits in the Doloneia as part of the knowledge of the Iliad that Penelope displays in her letter. Because Graf does not accept Iliad 10 as “Homeric,” he has to find another explanation for why Ovid would include it. Similarly, editors starting with Bentley have bracketed at least some of the lines of the Doloneia passage in Heroides 1.39–46 as an interpolation. Knox bases his bracketing of Heroides 1.39–40 on the repetition of dolo at the ends of lines 1.40 and 1.42, saying that it is “rhetorically emphatic but without point” (Knox 1995:97). On the contrary, we would argue that the close association between ambush and dolus ‘guile’ provides the point of the repetition. See “The Poetics of Ambush” for our discussion of the association of the Greek equivalent δόλος with ambush.

[ back ] 48. Rolfe 1893 reviewed the debate over the tragedy’s authorship during the nineteenth century. About the great degree of disagreement over authorship and date he states: “Almost without exception they have begun with a preconceived theory of the authorship for the play, and have supported their theory without regard to any other possibility” (Rolfe 1893:65). The debate seems to have continued in a similar manner in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Porter 1929:ix notes that the question of authenticity has dominated interest in the tragedy and that judgments either way are based on personal assessments of the play’s artistic merits. After an extended discussion of the evidence (1929:xxx–liv), he suggests that Euripides planned the play and it was completed and produced by his son. Grube 1961:439, 447 argues that the Rhesos is genuine and perhaps an early play of Euripides. Ritchie 1964 also argues for Euripidean authorship and notes that more recent arguments against it have added to earlier judgments based on aesthetics by examining “vocabulary, style and technique” (Ritchie 1964:vii). In Fraenkel’s 1965 review of Ritchie, he argues against Euripidean authorship, and that conclusion seems to be gaining acceptance, as discussed by Fantuzzi (2006a) in his review of François Jouan’s 2004 edition of the play. Fantuzzi (2005:272) also argues that Fraenkel’s review “has helped to establish a kind of suspension of judgment on the problem of authenticity, which had absorbed nearly all of the scholarly attention devoted to this tragedy over the last two centuries. However, there is general scholarly agreement that if this tragedy is not by Euripides, then it has to be dated to the fourth century.” Poe 2004 examines issues of stagecraft and concludes that what he sees as breaches of norms in the Rhesos are “evidence of an author who, despite his considerable literary knowledge, was not completely familiar with the fifth century theater or with conventions of tragic structure and the limitations that these imposed” (2004:32). For further conclusions in favor of Euripides’ authorship, see Lattimore 1958:2–5, Devereux 1976:259, 310–311, and Burnett 1985:50–51. For other arguments against Euripides as author, see Björck 1957, Kitto 1977, and Bryce 1990–1991.

[ back ] 49. Goward 1999:4 makes a similar argument about the tragic audience: “The fifth-century audience who heard the four-yearly competitive recital of the Homeric poems at the Great Panathenaic festival were the same people who watched the dramatic competition in the theater of Dionysus.” The ancient literary testimony for performance at the Panathenaia is Plato, Ion and the dialogue Hipparkhos, also attributed to Plato. Davison 1958 is a seminal study on the form of the festival. He discusses the musical contests and suggests that competitions of performing Homeric epic date back well into the sixth century BCE (Davison 1958:36–41). Neils 1992b provides a detailed description of the Panathenaic festival and Shapiro’s article in the same volume outlines the performance of Homeric epic during the festival (Shapiro 1992:72–75). See especially Nagy 1996a and Nagy 2002 for more on the performance of Homeric poetry at the Panathenaic festival.

[ back ] 50. For example, Fenik argues that Dolon’s presence in the play is at least partly attributable to the influence of the Iliad (Fenik 1964:17). Kitto (1977:334) argues that the poet took the “Homeric Doloneia as his main ‘source’” but then tried to make the story different. Zuntz argues that the play’s inclusion in the “schoolbook” editions of Euripides’ plays, and therefore its survival, is attributable to its use of an Iliadic episode as its plot (Zuntz 1965:255–256). Bond 1996 examines Homeric “echoes” in the Rhesos and argues that the Rhesos “seems to presuppose a knowledge of specific Iliadic details” (Bond 1996:266) and that “we must remember that the powerful influence of epic on the audience’s reception as well as the visual aspect of the drama must have enhanced the experience” (Bond 1996:272). Fantuzzi 2005 explores intertextuality between the Rhesos and the Iliad and Fantuzzi 2006b argues that the Rhesos is a “continuation” of Iliad 10.

[ back ] 51. It is, of course, necessary for the events to be presented from the Trojan point of view, since they are the ones who suffer the tragic loss of Rhesos. In other words, the play also presents these events as a success for the Achaeans.

[ back ] 52. Fantuzzi (2006b:149–152), taking a very different approach, calls the beginning of the play “intertextual misdirection,” as it uses familiar elements from Iliad 10 and shifts the perspective.

[ back ] 53. We are using Diggle’s 1994 edition of the Rhesos.

[ back ] 54. Fenik 1964:8–10, citing also Kullmann 1960.

[ back ] 55. Fantuzzi (2006b:153–155) also discusses what he describes as a challenge to Rhesos’ participation in the war. He compares this to the other Rhesos traditions found in the scholia and his Iliadic portrayal.

[ back ] 56. Hektor’s concluding statement about Odysseus is that in him “we wrestle with an astounding evil” (κακῷ δὲ μερμέρῳ παλαίομεν, Rhesos 509). See the commentary on 10.289 and 10.524 for the phrase mermera erga in an ambush context.

[ back ] 57. See our essay “The Poetics of Ambush” and especially Iliad 13.277. Compare Turnus’ rejection of ambush tactics, discussed below.

[ back ] 58. Diggle brackets these lines in his edition. In the manuscripts, some have δόλος in place of λόχος. See above and “The Poetics of Ambush” for the associations between these words.

[ back ] 59. Fantuzzi 2006b, arguing from a different approach, also sees the use of dolos as integral to the attempt to create a tragedy, which he argues is a genre especially concerned with doloi: “Both the Rhesus’ staging of the anxiety about the enemies’ doloi and of the generalized misunderstanding of reality, and the formal, minimalistic dolos of the misleading intertextuality make clear to the audience just how far the Doloneia of the Rhesus is from being a mere dramatization of the Doloneia of Iliad 10. It also underscores just how cleverly the author selected the only section of the Iliad concerned with the doloi of an ambush and a treacherous raid as an homage to the poetics of tragedy, a genre that privileged actions involving doloi and atmospheres of misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of reality” (152).

[ back ] 60. Björck 1957:17 argues that “the plot of the Rhesus is no more a tragedy than two gangsters waylaying the first suitable victim to come their way.” Kitto 1977:335–337, 344–346 asks whether the play was meant to be a parody or burlesque. Burnett 1985 argues for a comic or absurd tone to the tragedy, but she also considers Iliad 10 a “rogue’s comedy” (1985:15).

[ back ] 61. Walton 2000, in an important study focused on performance rather than provenance, examines the setting of the tragedy at night and speculates on how the actors would indicate the action as taking place in the dark. Björck 1957:10 notes the quantity and variety of words meaning “night” or “darkness” in the play.

[ back ] 62. See the section “Sensory and spatial aspects of the night” in our essay “The Poetics of Ambush.”

[ back ] 63. Walton 2000:141–142 discusses how these opening lines establish for the audience that the characters are dealing with darkness, and speculates on how this effect might have been reinforced by gestures and stage movements.

[ back ] 64. See our essay “The Poetics of Ambush” for the historical use of a password in a night battle during the Peloponnesian War.

[ back ] 65. See Bremer 1976, de Jong 1991, and Barrett 2002 on the function of tragic messengers. Bremer 1976 outlines reasons why narration is a formal technique of Greek tragedy. De Jong 1991:30–103 treats in detail the messenger as narrator and as focalizer. She emphasizes that the messenger-speech is a first-person narrative, as opposed to an omniscient one, and that the messenger focalizes the events through his own experience of them, a type of narrator she terms “I-as-witness” (see de Jong 1991:60 for the term). Barbara Goward’s book on narrative technique in Greek tragedy argues for broadening the category of messenger-speeches to “message narratives” to include even more examples of narration of what has happened away from the audience’s eyes, since such narration is integral to the genre (1999:18–19, 26–27).

[ back ] 66. De Jong has argued that the messenger, not only relates events as he saw them, but also includes his own emotional reactions: “The messenger’s addressees are made to see the events exactly as he saw them, hence to share his experience of growing understanding, agitation and see-sawing emotions, from happiness to dismay, from joy to fear, from apprehension to exhilaration” (1991:38). Barrett, on the other hand, characterizes a typical tragic messenger (from all three tragedians) as an eye-witness (and therefore part of the action), but also a detached narrator with special knowledge, who has an authority similar to that of an epic narrator (Barrett 2002:xvi–xvii, 168–169). Barrett makes an exception, however, of the charioteer’s messenger-speech in the Rhesos, and we will argue below that the darkness, a significant part of the ambush theme, changes the kind of messenger-speech the charioteer can deliver.

[ back ] 67. We also see a similar fright (phobos) when Diomedes and Odysseus come onstage (walking carefully, they say, since they cannot see well) and hear noises that they cannot identify immediately (Rhesos 565–571).

[ back ] 68. De Jong 1991:145. She does not include the messenger-speeches from the Rhesos in her study. Walton 2000:143–144 points out that hearing is emphasized over seeing also when Diomedes and Odysseus are onstage.

[ back ] 69. See our commentary on Iliad 10.5–9 for the ambush associations of πυκινός/πυκνός and also on 10.41 for the epic formula νύκτα δι᾽ ὀρφναίην.

[ back ] 70. As Barrett 2002 asserts: “It is true that he reports that Rhesos died, but he does not know how he died” (183).

[ back ] 71. See Fenik 1964:51–52, Paduano 1973:27, and Barrett 2002:181.

[ back ] 72. Leaf 1900 ad 10.497, Messer 1918:97, Fenik 1964:52, Burnett 1985:34, and Barrett 2002:181 have all made the point that the dream is transferred to the charioteer specifically because this is tragedy and it needs to be reported. Messer 1918:56–59 includes a good discussion of the differences between these genres. The consequences of that transference, however, are interpreted differently within these arguments. We do not necessarily agree with Burnett and Barrett that the transference somehow diminishes the character of Rhesos. Our point is that the dream is what the charioteer is an eyewitness to, and, by describing it, he lets the audience in on the dream as well. Poe 2004:24 notes that the messenger-speech “is a narrative that is intended primarily for the ears of the audience.”

[ back ] 73. In both the Iliad and the Rhesos, Dolon dresses in a wolf skin before setting out for the Achaean camp (Iliad 10.334 and Rhesos 208–213). In the Rhesos Dolon speaks elaborately about his wolf skin as a disguise appropriate to his stealthy mission, one that will confuse the perception of the enemy, since they will think that a real wolf has been in their camp (Rhesos 205–215). Unlike the Iliad, in which Diomedes and Odysseus explicitly leave behind the spoils they took from Dolon with the intention of picking them up after they return (Iliad 10.458–468), in the Rhesos Odysseus mentions onstage that they are carrying the equipment (τάδε σκυλεύματ’) they stripped from Dolon’s corpse (Rhesos 591–593). Ritchie 1964:76 also speculates about whether Odysseus wears the wolf skin onstage in his discussion of the wolves in the charioteer’s dream. Paduano 1973:28 objects to Ritchie’s “ultrarealistic” explanation of why the charioteer dreams of wolves in particular as attacking the horses. Devereux 1976:276–278 follows Ritchie and elaborates further on the idea that the dream wolf is Odysseus. Burnett 1985:40–41 and Bond 1996:260 both argue that Odysseus comes onstage in Dolon’s wolf skin.

[ back ] 74. As often happens in Greek tragedy, the characters only learn for sure what really happened through a divinity, in this case the Muse (Rhesos 938–940).

[ back ] 75. For examples, see Duckworth 1967, Lennox 1977, Grandsen 1984:100–119, Pavlock 1985, Hardie 1994, Fowler 2000, Casali 2004.

[ back ] 76. For more on these pictures, see Williams 1960, Stanley 1965, Thomas 1983, Clay 1988, Lowenstam 1993, Putnam 1998, and Casali 2004:347–348.

[ back ] 77. Lowenstam 1993:38n4 details how different scholars have divided the series into different numbers, ranging from four to nine, of discrete scenes or pictures.

[ back ] 78. Clay 1988:202, 204, and 204n28 instead reads Aeneas as being in the same picture with Memnon.

[ back ] 79. The text we have used for the Aeneid is Mynors 1969, unless otherwise noted.

[ back ] 80. Putnam 1998:249 argues that color is an important element in this picture, with a contrast both between the whiteness of the tents and the darkness of the night, and also between the white of the tents and the blood-red of the slaughter.

[ back ] 81. See our commentary on 10.243.

[ back ] 82. Clay 1988:204 recounts the several depictions of Achilles within the series. Lowenstam 1993:48 also emphasizes his prominence, and Putnam 1998:256 argues that Achilles’ “overriding presence” is a key to understanding Aeneas’ reactions to the pictures.

[ back ] 83. Putnam 1998:257 notes that Diomedes is indirectly present in the scene of the Trojan women supplicating Athena, and so Achilles is present, explicitly or implicitly, in all the pictures except those that involve Diomedes or the one involving Aeneas himself. Although we read the picture of Aeneas differently from the way Putnam does (he calls it “post-Iliadic” [1998:254], while in our view it could also possibly show Aeneas in battle with Diomedes or Achilles), his point nevertheless supports the idea of Diomedes as an Achilles substitute in these pictures, just as he can be in the Iliad itself. In his reading, Putnam does make interesting connections with Aeneas himself as an Achilles substitute, and later as a Diomedes, too (1998:267).

[ back ] 84. Papaioannou recognizes the ambush context of both the Rhesos picture and that of Troilos, but her argument that Virgil has left Odysseus out of the scene in order to emphasize Diomedes’ warrior status misrepresents the basic sequence of events in Iliad 10. The spying mission is not Odysseus’ idea and he is not the one who chooses to take Diomedes with him, as she states (Papaioannou 2000:199). Fletcher 2006:227–231 also emphasizes the pairing of Aeneas and Diomedes in Aeneid 1 and further argues that Virgil separates Diomedes and Odysseus as part of his “rewriting” of the character of Diomedes (2006:233).

[ back ] 85. See Williams 1960:150, Stanley 1965:270–273, Kopff 1981:930, and Putnam 1998:253 for the possible sources to which Virgil may be alluding.

[ back ] 86. Kopff 1981:944 similarly argues that in Aeneid 2, “as elsewhere, Virgil follows the main traditions, inserts variants, and invents as he needs, in order to create the effects he is seeking.” Later, he concludes “it was not enough to suggest an alternative to only one Greek author, no matter how great, but instead to the whole Trojan tradition” (Kopff 1981:944).

[ back ] 87. Putnam also argues for several connections between these pictures and Aeneas’ narrative of the fall of Troy. About this picture in particular he says: “The linkage from the horses of Rhesus and death of Troilus to the wooden horse is strongly forged. The talismans of Troy’s downfall help conjoin ekphrasis and narrative into one continuous tale of defeat” (Putnam 1998:263).

[ back ] 88. Williams 1960:145–148 persuasively argues that this is indeed an ambush of Troilos, and not, as some scholars had suggested, a version in which Troilos faced Achilles in battle. The picture of Troilos is said to be in “another part” (parte alia, Aeneid 1.474), and so its spatial relationship to the picture of Rhesos is difficult to envision precisely. Thomas 1983:180n17 assumes that the pictures are arranged simply in a line, so this picture just follows that of Rhesos.

[ back ] 89. Williams 1960:149 notes a prophecy that said that if Troilos reached the age of twenty Troy would not fall. See also Kopff 1981:938–939 and Putnam 1998:259.

[ back ] 90. Williams 1960:149 also argues that the pictures of Rhesos, Troilos, the Trojan women, and Hektor are “a portrayal of the fata Troiana.”

[ back ] 91. In addition to these examples of ambush, there may be others. Clay 1988:205 connects the picture of Rhesos, a man slain in his sleep at night, with the ekphrasis on Pallas’ belt, which depicts the murder of the sons of Aegyptus on their wedding night (Aeneid 10.497–499). That event, too, might be thought of as an ambush. Kopff 1981:943 argues that Camilla is “slain only by ambush, not in a regular fight.” Camilla’s focus on the gold armor of Chloreus (Aeneid 11.768–777) could perhaps be an elaboration of a similar theme seen in the gold armor of Rhesos as Dolon describes it (Iliad 10.438–441). Also, she is killed by an arrow, and we have seen in “The Poetics of Ambush” that there is a thematic connection between archery and ambush in the Homeric epics.

[ back ] 92. Clay 1988:203–204. Putnam 1998:265 connects Diomedes’ killing of Rhesos in his sleep to the ambush of Troy at night with the wooden horse and to Aeneid 9. The ambush of Troilos is connected, not to another ambush episode, but rather to deaths of young warriors at the hands of those more experienced, including Pallas, Lausus, and even Turnus. Stanley 1965:275 argues for Lausus; Kopff 1981:938–939, 943 for Pallas, Lausus, and Camilla (the last he argues is an ambush); Clay 1988:204 and 204n26 and Lowenstam 1993:39–40 for Pallas and Lausus; Putnam 1998:265–266 for Pallas and Lausus, but especially Turnus as Aeneas takes the role of Achilles.

[ back ] 93. Fletcher 2006:230 argues that his tears are additionally an allusion to Diomedes’ capture of Aeneas’ own horses at Troy.

[ back ] 94. Casali 2004:348 sees a different connection between the two, arguing that Aeneas is a “resisting reader,” who interprets the death of Rhesos from a Trojan rather than a Greek point of view; his reaction parallels the way in which readers of the Aeneid may react to the slaughter committed by Nisus and Euryalus (rather than the failure and death of the ambushers themselves) as another occasion for tears.

[ back ] 95. See Casali 2004:324–327 with bibliography on this use of both as models for Nisus and Euryalus. Our interpretations differ from some of Casali’s concerning the character of Dolon and the Trojans in Iliad 10. See also Hardie 1994 on the relationship of this episode to Iliad 10.

[ back ] 96. Pavlock 1985 and Fowler 2000 both include the Rhesos as an influence. Casali 2004 expands his examination further to other plays of Euripides, as well as the poetry of Ennius and Lucretius. Kopff 1981:937 suggests that the episode of the theft of the Palladion in the Little Iliad may also have been an influence.

[ back ] 97. For the latter, see both “Interpreting Iliad 10” and “The Poetics of Ambush” above.

[ back ] 98. Casali 2004:321–323. In another argument, however, Casali asserts that “Virgil’s interest in the Doloneia is not limited to the new elaboration of Book 9, but … it frames the whole poem” (2004:324). See also Fowler 2000:91 for a critical approach that treats the Nisus and Euryalus episode as “a unit” based on an idea that Iliad 10 is a “separable part of the epic.” Duckworth 1967:129–130 reviews and rejects older views that assert that the night episode is self-contained, or even separately composed.

[ back ] 99. Virgil uses other wolf similes in night battles (Aeneid 2.355–360) or ambush situations, as when Arruns kills Camilla (Aeneid 11.809–815). See our commentary on 10.485 for more on similes describing lions that attack flocks at night in the Iliad.

[ back ] 100. Aeneid 9.151 is bracketed as an interpolation in Hardie’s (1994) edition of the text. We have built our argument on the text as received in the manuscripts, which universally contain the line. Mynors’s edition of this line reads Palladii caesis late custodibus arcis. If we read ‘late’ rather than ‘summae’ (both readings have good manuscript support) the echo is less noticeable, but does not entirely change our point.

[ back ] 101. The glory promised to Nisus and Euryalus in the famous apostrophe at Aeneid 9.446–449 is perhaps the most contentious point of interpretation of this episode. To participate in this argument is beyond our scope here. We will simply note that the promise of glory is an intertextual moment with Iliad 10.

[ back ] 102. So Lennox 1977:336, who argues that the ambush is not part of the original plan but rather “it is a chance which Nisus cannot pass by, a chance, not a premeditated idea.” Duckworth 1967:131–132, however, argues that getting a message to Aeneas is a pretext for the slaughter that Nisus desires to achieve all along.

[ back ] 103. See Iliad 10.254–272 and our commentary on these lines. The legacy of objects, such as the legacy of the helmet that Meriones gives Odysseus at Iliad 10.260–271, is, however, transferred to the spoils here—namely, the belt of Rhamnes that Euryalus strips from him (Aeneid 9.359–364).

[ back ] 104. See Lowenstam 1993:45 for the verbal echoes he sees between this scene and the picture of Rhesos in Aeneid 1. See also Pavlock 1985:214–215 on this simile.

[ back ] 105. See our commentary on Iliad 10.254–272 and 10.257 in particular.

[ back ] 106. In the arming scene, we hear that Aletes “exchanged” helmets with Nisus (galeam fidus permutat Aletes, Aeneid 9.307). Because it does not seem that during the mission Nisus is wearing a metal helmet, as galea means in Aeneid 9.365 and 9.373, perhaps we should understand that the exchange was Nisus’ metal helmet for some non-metal headgear that Aletes was wearing, one more appropriate for Nisus’ mission.

[ back ] 107. See the section “Weapons of ambush” in our essay “The Poetics of Ambush” and our commentary on Iliad 10.260 and 10.333.

[ back ] 108. Casali 2004:330 makes the interesting point that “The Doloneia in Aeneid 9 is an intertextual repetition, but in the narrative world of the poem it is also a real repetition of the past.”

[ back ] 109. In that narrative of the sack of Troy, we note that the Trojans use ambush tactics of their own. They put on the armor of the Achaeans they have killed and succeed initially, but the ambush later fails when they are attacked by other Trojans in the darkness and confusion (Aeneid 2.386–412).

[ back ] 110. Fletcher 2006:252–256 also argues that Turnus is in several ways assimilated to Diomedes in Aeneid 12, including in this passage. Francesca Behr, in personal communication, suggests that this description of Eumedes’ death also foreshadows the way Turnus himself dies, making the Doloneia allusion even more potent within Aeneid 12.

[ back ] 111. The phrase pro talibus ausis is also used in other ambush contexts: at Aeneid 2.535, during the sack of Troy, in Priam’s words about Neoptolemos killing Polites in front of him, and also, in some manuscripts, at Aeneid 9.252, where Aletes’ words characterize Nisus’ proposal for the night mission this way. In other manuscripts (and in Mynors’ edition) the phrase used instead is pro laudibus istis, suggesting that daring can be positive as well as negative. We thank Francesca Behr for these references.

[ back ] 112. See, for example, Iliad 10.205, 10.231, 10.244, 10.248, 10.307, and 10.319, and our commentary on these lines.

[ back ] 113. Williams 1973 ad 12.359–360 notes the similarity of Turnus’ vaunt here to what Turnus says when he thinks he is pursuing a fleeing Aeneas (really the phantom Juno created) at Aeneid 10.649–650, making the connection to the founding of the city even stronger. In his “economic” reading of this passage, Coffee 2009:62 connects the language of price and reward here with misthos in Iliad 10.304, arguing that it receives greater emphasis here. He further argues that Turnus’ taunt characterizes the Trojan cause as one simply of mercenary gain.

[ back ] 114. For one further example, Smith 2005:153–157 argues that Aeneas’ rejection of Magus’ supplication on the battlefield and the way he kills him recall the death of Dolon in Iliad 10.