Fighting Words and Feuding Words: Anger and the Homeric Poems

Chapter 1. The Prophet Defines

Within the first hundred lines of the Iliad, the Achaean prophet, Calchas, presents a definition of anger (Il. 1.74-83). The immediate context is that Achilles has just called an assembly in response to the suffering of the Achaeans. So great is their suffering that, Achilles suggests, they are on the brink of entirely abandoning their efforts on the Trojan plain (Il. 1.59-67). In response to Achilles’ suggestion that the anger of Apollo is at issue (Il. 1.64), Calchas comes to ask for his protection, for the prophet will reveal that the cause of the suffering is the action of none other than Agamemnon. After Calchas solicits Achilles’ help (Il. 1.76-77), he proceeds to identify the source of his misgiving by sharpening the distinction between two kinds of anger, kótos and khólos: [1]

ἦ γὰρ ὀίομαι ἄνδρα χ ολωσέμεν, ὅς μέγα πάντων
Άργείων κρατέει καί οἱ πείθονται ’Αχαιοί·
κρείσσων γάρ βασιλεύς, ὅτε χώσεται ἀνδρί χέρηι·
εἴ περ γάρ τε χολον γε καί αὐτῆμαρ καταπέψη,
ἀλλά τε καί μετόπισθεν ἔχει κότον, ὄφρα τελέσση
ἐν στήθεσσιν ἑοῖσι· σὺ δὲ φράσαι εἴ με σαώσεις.

(Il. 1.78-83)

Now, I think I will enrage a man who has mighty rule over all the Argives, and the Achaeans obey him. For a king is stronger when he comes to be angry with a lesser man; for, if in fact he can swallow his khólos down on the very same day, he can later keep kótos in his heart until he brings it to its télos . You must take thought of protecting me.

As for the category of time, Calchas emphasizes the longevity of kótos in comparison with khólos. He claims that kótos has its own télos that must be reached before the kótos can come to an end. The implication is that khólos is more malleable, more subject to modification than is kótos. Autêmar (“in a day’s time”) does not limit khólos in its duration. Rather, it indicates that there is no intrinsic télos (“end”) to khólos.

The notion of an asymmetrical contrast—a marked/unmarked opposition—between khólos and kótos directs us to the Homeric semantics of anger so that we can approach that topic with a specific goal in mind. Just how do these terms contrast, and how does Calchas’s formulation fit with the contrasts that we unearth? For kótos, Calchas suggests that we regard this term as an especially delimited semantic unit, one whose major features include issues of class, the body, and time. As for khólos, in Part II I will attempt both to sketch its role as the unmarked term for anger—the most generic item in the rich epic vocabulary of anger—and to argue that the features of khólos have particular and dramatic importance for the Homeric poems.

Having accepted Calchas as our informant and having interrogated his statement, I now seek independent support of his definition for each term. To justify taking this approach, to accept Calchas’s lead, I briefly turn to a few passages that emphasize the distinctive nature of kótos and khólos.

To suggest that kótos is as important as Calchas indicates, I ask if there is any other similar characterization of kótos, perhaps one that also flags key terms such as télos in order to point to longevity as a feature of kótos. We see these features in Iliad 4, when Pandarus, spurred on by Athena, shoots and wounds Menelaus. At the sight of Menelaus’s wound, Agamemnon launches into a chilling speech that refers to the anger of Zeus against the Trojans, especially because the oath that marked the duel in Book 3 has been violated:{23|24}

ἔσσεται ἦμαρ, ὅτ’ ἄν ποτ’ ὀλώλῃ ’Ίλιος ἱρὴ
καὶ Πρίαμος καὶ λαὸς ἐυμμελίω Πριάμοιο,
Ζεὺς δέ σφιν Κρονίδης ὑψίζυγος, αἰθέρι ναίων,
αὐτὸς ἐπισσείῃσιν ἐρεμνὴν αἰγίδα πᾶσι
τῆσδ’ ἀπάτης κοτέων· τὰ μὲν ἔσσεται οὐκ ἀτέλεστα.

(Il. 4.164-68)

There will come a day when holy Ilium will perish and Priam and the people of spear-skilled Priam, and Zeus, the son of Kronos, ruler-on-high, dweller in the sky, he himself will shake the dark aegis over them, all of them, having kótos over this deception: now these things will be accomplished.

This is the only place in the Iliad where Zeus is explicitly said to have kótos against the Trojans, although we will also see a simile that continues the theme in the Patrocleia. [
13] It is worth elucidating what the kótos of the chief god means here. [14]

Having looked at Agamemnon’s speech and affirmed that Calchas, as informant, has alerted us to a feature of Homeric anger that is worth pursuing, let us again look to the same speech, where Agamemnon uses the word khólos, and see if it too supports our informant’s data. Near the end of his speech after the wounding of Menelaus, Agamemnon, with a continued focus on télos, shifts attention to his own situation—what will his kléos look like if the boast (eukhōlḗn, Il. 4.113) is given to the Trojans? Indeed, he imagines quite the opposite of his confident assertion about Zeus’s kótos; he calls to mind a vision of mocking Trojans dancing on Menelaus’s grave:

καί κέ τις ὧδ’ ἐρέει Τρώων ὑπερηνορεόντων
τύμβῳ ἐπιθρώσκων Μενελάου κυδαλίμοιο·
“αἴθ’ οὕτως ἐπὶ πᾶσι χόλον τελέσει’ ’Αγαμέμνων,
ὡς καὶ vῦv ἅλιον στρατὸν ἤγαγεν ἐνθάδ’ ’Αχαιῶν,
καὶ δὴ ἔβη οἶκόνδε φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν
σὺν κεινῇσιν νηυσί, λιπὼν ἀγαθὸν Μενέλαον.”

(Il. 4.116-81)

And one of the haughty Trojans thus would say, dancing on the grave of glorious Menelaus: “Would that Agamemnon thus accomplish his khólos against all, even as he has now vainly led the Achaean army here, and indeed he has left for home to his own fatherland with empty ships, having lost good Menelaus.”

The interpretation of the anger terms in Agamemnon’s speech depends on an understanding of the cultural oppositions as presented by Calchas still earlier {25|26} in the text. Calchas’s earnest speech is highly programmatic: the system of Homeric anger terms that he presents is not to be taken lightly. For, the Iliad is centered on mênis, and the meaning of anger terms not only is highlighted at the outset of the narrative but has also been contrasted during the momentous duel of Menelaus and Paris.

The meaning of kótos in our next passage seems in harmony with the meaning gleaned from the passages already discussed. In fact, echoes of Agamemnon’s words reverberate in Book 5, when Aeneas tries to reassure Pandarus and inspire him to fire at Diomedes, who has only just begun his aristeía. Not only does this scene contain kótos, but it also brings kótos and mênis into close proximity:

ἀλλ’ ἄγε τῷδ’ ἔφες ἀνδρὶ βέλος, Διὶ χεῖρας ἀνασχών,
ὅς τις ὅδε κρατέει καὶ δὴ κακὰ πολλὰ ἔοργε
Τρῶας, ἐπεὶ πολλῶν τε καὶ ἐσθλῶν γούνατ’ ἔλυσεν·
εἰ μή τις θεός ἐστι κοτεσσάμενος Τρώεσσιν
ἱρων μηνίσας χαλεπὴ δὲ θεοῦ ἔπι μῆνις.

(Il. 5.174-78)

But come, and with your hands outstretched to Zeus, shoot your arrow at the man who has control and is doing many evils against the Trojans, because he has loosed the limbs of many and good [warriors]; unless he is some god with kótos against the Trojans, with mênis over holy things; difficult is the mênis of a god.

In encouraging Pandarus to take a shot at the leader of the Achaeans, Aeneas mounts the only possible counterargument against Pandarus’s skill as a bowman, namely, that if Diomedes is a god with kótos, then a bowshot is useless. To paraphrase Calchas, a god in kótos will be so until the télos is reached. Ironically, Aeneas assures Pandarus that he should take a shot at the Achaeans’ leader, not only on the grounds that Pandarus is a superior archer (Il. 5.171-73) but also because no god’s kótos is at issue at Troy. For Aeneas, a god’s kótos seems a remote possibility, and he does not conceive of Diomedes in his battle- fury as a god with either kótos or mênis. While he may be correct to think that kótos is remote, there is a narrative gesture toward the destruction of Troy, which in the view of the Iliad’s narrator involves the kótos of a god. [

Kótos also refers to a future potential anger in the only passage where the anger of Achilles is called kótos. Agamemnon claims extravagantly that he is not frightened of Achilles’ kótos; he imagines an extreme case in which the wrath of the Phthian king can be dismissed with a wave of the hand:

οἴκαδ’ ἰὼν σὺν νηυσί τε σῇς καὶ σοῖς ἑτάροισι
Μυpμιδόνεσσιν ἄνασσε. σέθεν δ’ ἐγὼ οὐκ ἀλεγίζω,
οὐδ’ ὄθομαι κοτέοντος.

(Il. 1.119-81)

Go home with your ships and your companions, and rule over the Myrmidons, but I won’t care about you, nor do I have concern for your kótos .

The power of Agamemnon’s insult here stands out when set beside Calchas’s definition, where kótos is styled both as the anger of a basileús and as the wrath that can be serious trouble in the future. The wrath of a king can involve the entire social body (e.g., the Myrmidons, Il. 1.180), and as his particular anger it can cross space and time to exact its vengeance. Furthermore, the notion of the length of time implies both that kótos endures, and, more important, that it may have as its source something outside the immediate narrative context, projected either back into the distant past or forward into the distant future; here, for example, Agamemnon dismisses a possible kótos from Achilles so as to present an extreme and limiting case, where the anger of grudge, extensive over time, might make the situation extremely volatile so as to be worthy of the worry that Calchas assigned to kótos in Iliad 1.

I am developing a sense of kótos that locates it in a world beyond the immediate narrative context. Agamemnon, for example, styles Zeus’s wrath over the Trojans, the wrath that will mean the death of all Trojans, as kótos, and Aeneas has linked kótos with mênis; finally, Agamemnon imagines Achilles’ kótos in Phthia. To conclude my preliminary observations about kótos, I suggest that this word typically draws attention to something that the narrative thematizes as significant on a large scale, such as the end of the Trojan war, the anger of {27|28} Achilles as king, or the like. This suggestion can be strikingly supported from the next passage, Il. 13.516-17 (quoted below).

By presenting kótos in a battle context, this passage poses a problem with regard to Calchas’s assertion that kótos is opposed to khólos. For this opposition depends in large part on the longevity of kótos and its source outside the events of the primary narrative context. In contrast, khólos can signify battle-fury in particular, so that it need last only the length of a battle or of a war, or for the duration of the emotional state of a warrior subject to khólos. Furthermore, khólos can come as a response to an attack, or conversely it can initiate an attack. Finally, this kind of anger can be kindled by taunts or other speech acts that can lead directly to the violence of battle.

In this passage, Aeneas and Idomeneus are attacking one another; Aeneas launches his spear at Idomeneus, and Idomeneus avoids it (Il. 13.503). Idomeneus in turn hits Oenomaus (Il. 13.506) and kills him, after which he retrieves his spear but is not able to remove the armor of Oenomaus. Then Deiphobus, while Idomeneus barely holds his own in his gradual retreat, takes a shot at him:

τοῦ δὲ βάδην ἀπιόντος ἀκόντισε δουρὶ φαεινῷ
Δηίφοβος· δὴ γάρ οἱ ἔχεν κότον ἐμμενές αἰεί.

(Il. 13.516-17)

With glistening spear Deiphobus took a shot at [Idomeneus] as he gradually stepped back; for, yes, he held kótos against him, steadfast, unending.

The first point of note is that khólos never occurs with the phrase emmenès aieí. Second, most scholars have interpreted this passage so that kótos is provoked by the death, earlier in the book, of other warriors, especially that of Asius at Il. 13.387-416. Although it is possible to relate a warrior’s fury to an earlier death in the same book, another interpretation, one rather more compatible with Calchas’s definition and with the sense of emmenès aieí, is readily available. Indeed, kótos occurs in an explanatory gár clause referring to an old legend, one cited later in the scholia. At lines 516-17, the scholiast comments on kótos:

{τοῦ δὲ βάδην ἀπιόντος} ἀκόντισε {δουρὶ φαεινῷ/} Δηΐφοβος· {δὴ γάρ οἱ ἔχεν κότον ἐμμενὲς αἰεί}: ὡς ἀντεραστὴς Ἑλένης, ὡς μαρτυρεῖ Ἴβυκος καὶ Σιμωνίδης.

(Schol. T Hom. Il. 13.516-517) {28|29}

“Deiphobus {as he gradually stepped back} shot at him {with his shining spear},” because he was a rival for Helen’s love, as Ibycus notes, and Simonides.

Here the source for anger is the rivalry of Helen’s suitors, an interpretation also cited by Eustathius:

Ἕτεροι δὲ ἀκολουθοῦντες τῇ Σιμωνίδου καὶ Ἰβύκου ἱστωρίᾳ φασίν, ὡς ἀληθῶς ἀεὶ ἐνεκότει τῷ Ἰδομενεῖ Δηΐφοβος ὡς ἀντεραστῇ. ἤρα γάρ, φασί, καὶ αὐτὸς τῆς Ἐλένης.

(Eustathius 944.43)

But others, following the account of Simonides and Ibycus, suggest that truly Deiphobus always had kótos against Idomeneus, because he was a rival in love. For, they suggest, he too loved Helen.

Unfortunately, our most ancient authority also suggests that those who propose that Helen loved Idomeneus must be wrong, since he was an old man. Eustathius evinces a more sophisticated sense of Helen’s taste in men than does the scholiast. With Eustathius, I take kótos here as referring to this tradition. Thus, when Idomeneus and Deiphobus meet on the battlefield, an old rivalry can flare up, just as in Iliad 6 an old friendship can be rekindled between Glaucus and Diomedes. [

Κótos, then, refers to a long-term anger outside the immediate battle’s context, an anger such as that spurred by the ancient rivalry for Helen as bride. Such an anger can be motivated by the strife over Helen, a central source for Iliadic kótos.

Having thus laid the groundwork for Part I by reviewing a few telling passages in the light of Calchas’s definition, I now turn to the formal process of understanding kótos. Following the method I described earlier, I will group the examples in a way that begins with formal regularity at the level of the word and then moves toward larger units. To recapitulate briefly, by proceeding from formal to contextual matters we move from more simple to more complex units, thereby pointing to regularities in form prior to establishing oral-literary features. Thus, in Chapter 2, after a look at grammatical forms, I turn to phraseological patterning and other formal structures. The discussion will continue with a close reading of selected narrative contexts that emerge as significant from the formal observations. These narrative contexts will be chosen especially in order to explore the validity of Calchas’s definition of kótos.{29|30}


[ back ] 1. The entire speech topicalizes anger: mênin Apóllōnos (75; cf. 64: ekhṓsato Phoîbos Apóllōn); khṓsetai (80); with kholōsémen (78); khólon (81); kóton (82).

[ back ] 2. With ándra the object of the transitive kholōsémen, cf. Kirk 1985 at Il. 1.78 and see Il. 18.111, Od. 8.205, and Od. 18.20.

[ back ] 3. The notion of two kinds of anger is reminiscent of Hesiod’s division of the kinds of éris (Works and Days 11-12), on which see Gagarin 1990, Nagler 1988 and 1992. On the notion of bipolarity in Greek culture, see Lloyd 1971, with Homeric applications relevant to this context at 183-90.

[ back ] 4. The status of Achilles and Agamemnon relative to krátos (“power”) is at issue throughout the quarrel. See Il. 1.280, where Achilles’ krátos is compared with Agamemnon’s; and in the subsequent speech Agamemnon assures the Achaeans that Achilles’ krátos is not powerful enough to persuade others.

[ back ] 5. Note that Calchas’s definition uses more terms to define kótos than khólos. He is clearly at pains to describe the term for which he needs Achilles’ protection.

[ back ] 6. Issues surrounding kingship are complex (cf. Morris 1986, 98-102, for example), but my argument only need accept a relative hierarchy between the basileús and a man ranked lower on the social scale.

[ back ] 7. That khólos is the unmarked term for anger (see note 10) indicates that it cuts across social class. Thus both the lesser man and the king are capable of khólos. The unmarked term need not be specified at every point in Calchas’s definition. See note 11.

[ back ] 8. The issue of class, status, kingship, and the like is vexed; see Rihll 1986; Finley 1977; Donlan 1982; Morris 1986; Posner 1979, 33-35. The words of Calchas need imply only the most basic differentiation, the leaders and the led, the powerful and those deprived of power, or the like; still, Calchas’s formulation may fit a more complex social formation. For our present purpose, we need to keep in mind that anger may be differentiated by the place on the social hierarchy that the angered party occupies. See Nagy 1990a, 153-68, on this aspect of wealth and power in archaic Greece and note the special place of the mántis as “middle man” (163).

[ back ] 9. See above. The metaphorical nature of this term will be explored in Part II.

[ back ] 10. Kirk 1985, 4.513.

[ back ] 11. On the notion of markedness as useful to Homeric studies, see Nagy 1990a, 5-8; cf. Martin 1989, 29-30. For a valuable overview of markedness theory, see Moravcsik and Wirth 1986. On the importance of the Prague School for literary studies, see, for example, the collection by Garvin 1964.

[ back ] 12. Moravcsik and Wirth 1986, 3.

[ back ] 13. See the simile at Il. 16.384-93.

[ back ] 14. On the structure of this speech, see Lohmann 1970, 43-44.

[ back ] 15. Leaf 1886, 87.

[ back ] 16. Lohmann 1970, 43-44.

[ back ] 17. Cf. again Lohmann (1970, 43-47) who divides the speech into two parts (I: 155-70, “Klage um Menelaos und Rache für den Eidbruch”; and II: 171-82, “Klage über die eigene Schande”).

[ back ] 18. Note that this passage contrasts an immediate possibility with a future fulfillment in diction close in form to Calchas’s definition: eí per gár te … kaì autēmar in Il. 1.81 is directly comparable eí per gár te … kaì autík’ in Il. 4.160, while (Il. 1.82) allá te kaì metópisthen ekhei kóton, óphra teléssēi is an expanded variation of ék te kaì opsè teleî (Il. 4.161).

[ back ] 19. See Muellner 1996, 48-49 for an example of divine mênis in this kind of context. On kótos and the destruction of a culture, see Il. 16.384-92.

[ back ] 20. See the preliminary discussion in Watkins 1977a and Muellner 1992; the definitive formulation is now in Muellner 1996, 18-19, 193.

[ back ] 21. On kótos and the notion of feud, see Chapter 5.

[ back ] 22. See Leaf 1886 ad loc., as discussed below. Janko 1992 at Il. 13.517, “As is shown by emmenès aieí (5x in Homer), a kótos is a grudge, more lasting than khólos, but its cause lies within the present battle.”

[ back ] 23. As kótos is related to the notion of the feud, it is the negative counterpart to the positive concept of xenía, or “guest-friendship.” Both negative and positive terms serve to make a society cohesive, as in the theory of Black-Michaud 1975. See also Seaford 1994 for considerations of the relationship between cycles of vengeance and those of reciprocity (for example, 204-5).