The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours

  Nagy, Gregory. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. Abridged edition 2019.

Hour 1. The Homeric Iliad and the glory of the unseasonal hero

The meaning of kleos

1§1. There are two key words for this hour. The first of the two is kleos, ‘glory, fame, that which is heard’; or, ‘the poem or song that conveys glory, fame, that which is heard’. We will turn to the second of the two words when we reach the paragraphs starting at §26.
1§2. But I start with kleos, ‘glory’. This word was used in ancient Greek poetry or song to refer to the poetry or the song that glorifies the heroes of the distant heroic past. Since the references to kleos in ancient Greek poetry and song make no distinction between poetry and song, I will simply use the word song whenever I refer to the basic meaning of kleos.
1§3. A specific form of poetry is epic, which is the medium of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey, and a general form of song is what we know today as lyric. I will have more to say later about epic and lyric. For now I simply repeat my working definition of epic, as I formulated it in the Introduction to Homeric poetry: an expansive poem of enormous scope, composed in an old-fashioned and superbly elevated style of language, concerning the wondrous deeds of heroes.
1§4. The song of kleos glorifies not only the heroes of the distant past, which is a heroic age. It glorifies also the gods – as they existed in the heroic age and as they continued to exist for their worshippers at any given moment in historical time.
1§5. Why did the ancient Greeks glorify heroes? Partly because they worshipped not only gods but also heroes. As I noted in the Introduction, we see here a fundamental fact of ancient Greek history: the ancient Greeks practiced hero worship, to which I refer more specifically as hero cult.
1§6. Let us return to the main topic of this hour, as signaled by the key word kleos. This word was used in Homeric poetry to refer to both the medium and {26|27} the message of the glory of heroes. The dictum of Marshall McLuhan applies here (Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964): the medium is the message.

The kleos of Achilles as epic ‘glory’

1§7. I begin by concentrating on the medium of song as marked by the word kleos. In ancient Greek song culture, kleos was the primary medium for communicating the concept of the hero, which is the primary topic (or “message”) of these 24 hours.
1§8. The main hero of the Iliad, Achilles, is quoted as saying …

Hour 1 Text A = Hour 0 Text F

|410 My mother Thetis, goddess with silver steps, tells me that |411 I carry the burden of two different fated ways [kēres] leading to the final moment [telos] of death. |412 If I stay here and fight at the walls of the city of the Trojans, then my safe homecoming [nostos] will be destroyed for me, but I will have a glory [kleos] [1] that is imperishable [aphthiton]. [2] |414 Whereas if I go back home, returning to the dear land of my forefathers, |415 then it is my glory [kleos], [3] genuine [esthlon] as it is, that will be destroyed for me, but my life force [aiōn] will then |416 last me a long time, and the final moment [telos] of death will not be swift in catching up with me.
Iliad IX 410-416 [4]
1§9. This translation, which is my own, is different from what we read in Samuel Butler’s translation of the Iliad (London 1898), which is available online for free by way of the Perseus Project (and also by way of other media, such as Project Gutenberg). The original wording of Butler (1898) is as follows:

My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I will not return alive but my name will {27|28} live for ever: whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me.
1§10. In the Sourcebook of original Greek texts (in English translation) about the ancient Greek hero (, which as I already said is available online for free, the reader will see that I use my own translation for the verses we have just been considering, Iliad IX 410-416. In general, however, the translated text of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey in this online Sourcebook is based on Butler’s original translation (Iliad 1898 and Odyssey 1900). In editing this Sourcebook with the help of fellow teachers and researchers, my practice has been to modify the original translation wherever I see a need to substitute a more accurate translation, as in the case of Iliad IX 410-416. This practice is made possible by the fact that Butler’s translation, just like all the other translations used in this online Sourcebook, is free from copyright restrictions. As I said in the Introduction, the texts of all the translations in the Sourcebook are periodically reviewed and modified, and the modifications are indicated by way of special formatting designed to show the differences between the original translator’s version and the modified version.
1§11. That said, I return to Samuel Butler’s translation of Iliad IX 410-416, as I quoted it in §9. It is a literary translation, not a literal one. In general, Butler’s translation of the Iliad and Odyssey is literary, meant to be pleasing to the ear when read out loud. In the case of Iliad IX 410-416, Butler’s translation successfully captures the general idea of what is being said by Achilles. I focus our attention on the part that I highlighted earlier:

I will not return alive but my name will live for ever.

In place of this literary version, the Sourcebook shows my more literal translation of the original Greek, which is contained in one single verse:

then my safe homecoming [nostos] will be destroyed for me, but I will have a glory [kleos] that is imperishable [aphthiton].
Iliad IX 413
1§12. In what follows, I will be making a set of arguments that I will now encapsulate here in one thesis sentence:

In Iliad IX 413, the main hero of the Iliad leaves as his signature the kleos of his own epic, which turns out to be the Iliad.
1§13. In order to make the arguments I hope to make, I will start by offering my working interpretation of this verse. From here on, I will refer to this kind of interpretation as exegesis, which is an ancient Greek term referring to a close reading of a given text. Here, then, is my exegesis, which I format as a block paragraph:

Achilles has started to understand the consequences of his decision to reject the option of a safe nostos or ‘homecoming’. He is in the process {28|29} of deciding to choose the other option: he will stay at Troy and continue to fight in the Trojan War. Choosing this option will result in his death, and he is starting to understand that. In the fullness of time, he will be ready to give up his life in exchange for getting a kleos, which is a poetic ‘glory’ described as lasting forever. This kleos is the tale of Troy, the Iliad (the name of the poem, Iliad, means ‘tale of Ilion’; Ilion is the other name for ‘Troy’). Achilles the hero gets included in the Iliad by dying a warrior’s death. The consolation prize for his death is the kleos of the Iliad.

A much shorter version of epic ‘glory’

1§14. Having considered the kleos or epic ‘glory’ of Achilles, I turn to the kleos of another hero:

Hour 1 Text B

|218 Tell me now you Muses dwelling on Olympus, |219 who was the first to come up and face Agamemnon, |220 either among the Trojans or among their famous allies? |221 It was Iphidamas son of Antenor, a man both good and great, |222 who was raised in fertile Thrace the mother of sheep. |223 Kissēs in his own house raised him when he was little. |224 Kissēs was his mother’s father, father to Theano, the one with the fair cheeks. |225 When he [= Iphidamas] reached the stage of adolescence, which brings luminous glory, |226 he [= Kissēs] wanted to keep him at home and to give him his own daughter in marriage, |227 but as soon as he [= Iphidamas] had married, he left the bride chamber and went off seeking the kleos of the Achaeans |228 along with twelve curved ships that followed him.
Iliad XI 218-228 [5]
1§15. This passage, Text B, resembles Text A in the way it highlights a hero’s obsession with the goal of dying the right way in order to be remembered for- {29|30} ever in the kleos or ‘glory’ of song. In this case, however, the hero is not a major figure of the Iliad, like Achilles. Rather, the hero here in Text B is mentioned only this one time in the Iliad, in what amounts to a short story embedded inside the overall story of the Iliad.
1§16. To distinguish the story of the Iliad from such short stories that exist inside the story of the Iliad, I will as a rule refer to the Iliad as the Narrative, with an upper-case N, and to the stories inside the Iliad as narratives, with lower-case n. Such narratives are micro-narratives in comparison to the macro-Narrative that is the Iliad. Also, I will as a rule use the word Narrator in referring to ‘Homer’, whom I have already described as a culture hero venerated by the ancient Greeks as the ultimate ‘singer’ of the Iliad and Odyssey.
1§17. In order to appreciate the poetic artistry that produced the micro-narrative that we have just read in Text B, we must consider the artistic device of compression in the traditional media of ancient Greek songmaking. This device of compression is to be contrasted with the device of expansion. Whereas expansion produces macro-narratives, such as the monumental composition of the Iliad itself, compression produces micro-narratives, such as the story-within-a-story that we are now considering. [6] In many ways, a “trailer” in today’s culture of film-making is produced by techniques of compression that resemble the techniques used in producing such micro-narratives in ancient Greek songmaking.
1§18. I concentrate on the next-to-last verse of this micro-narrative:

but as soon as he had married, he left the bride chamber and went off seeking the kleos of the Achaeans
Iliad XI 227
1§19. This micro-narrative is about a hero who decides to interrupt his honeymoon to go to Troy to fight on the side of the Trojans against the Achaeans. These Achaeans, as we saw in the Introduction to Homeric poetry, are the Greeks of the heroic age. So, now, this hero has just been killed in battle. Why did he give up his life, a life of newlywed bliss, just to fight and die at Troy? The Narrator of the macro-Narrative gives the answer to this question: this hero did it in order to get included in the kleos or epic ‘glory’ of the Greek song culture. He was ‘seeking the kleos of the Achaeans’. This kleos is the macro-Narrative of the Iliad.
1§20. We see here a hero getting included in the Iliad by dying a warrior’s {30|31} death. To that extent, he is like the major hero Achilles, whose death is the core theme of the Iliad. But this minor hero, Iphidamas, dies for just a “bit part.” By contrast, Achilles will die for the lead part.

The immortalizing power of kleos as epic ‘glory’

1§21. So, why is the kleos of the Achaeans so important that you are ready to die for it – not only if you are Achilles, the best of the Achaeans, but even if you are not an Achaean, as in the case of our “bit player” Iphidamas? The answer has to do with the immortalizing power of kleos as epic ‘glory’, which as we have seen is described as aphthiton, ‘imperishable’, in Iliad IX 413. Achilles will choose the glory of epic song, which is a thing of art, over his own life, which is a thing of nature. The thing of art is destined to last forever, while his own life, as a thing of nature, is destined for death.
1§22. In the culture represented by the heroes of the Iliad, the distinction between art and nature, between the artificial and the natural, is not the same as in our modern cultures. Their culture was a song culture, as I have described it earlier. In our modern cultures, artificial implies “unreal” while natural implies “real.” In a song culture, by contrast, the artificial can be just as real as the natural, since the words of an “artificial” song can be just as real as the words of “natural” speech in a real-life experience. In a song culture, the song can be just as real as life itself.
1§23. In ancient Greek song culture, the tale or story of the Iliad was felt to be not only real but also true. As we will see in later hours, the Homeric Iliad was felt to convey the ultimate truth-values of the ancient Greek song culture.
1§24. Because we as users of the English language have a different cultural perspective on the words tale or story, which for us imply fiction and are therefore not expected to be “true,” I have also been using the more neutral word narrative in referring to the tale or story of the Iliad and other such tales or stories. [7]
1§25. As I have been arguing, the epic macro-Narrative of the Iliad is just as real to its heroes as their very own lives are real to them. For Achilles, the major hero of the Iliad, the song of kleos is just as real as his very own life is real to him. The infinite time of the artificial song, the kleos aphthiton or ‘imperishable glory’ at Iliad IX 413, is just as real to him as the finite time of his natural life. {31|32}

The meaning of hōrā

1§26. The very idea of such a coexistence between infinite time and finite time brings me to the second key word for this hour. It is hōrā (plural hōrai), ‘season, seasonality, the right time, the perfect time’. This word hōrā stood for natural time in a natural life, in a natural life-cycle. The English word hour is derived from ancient Greek hōrā. Relevant are such expressions in English as The hour is near.
1§27. The goddess of hōrā (plural hōrai) was Hērā (the two forms hōrā and Hērā are linguistically related to each other). She was the goddess of seasons, in charge of making everything happen on time, happen in season, and happen in a timely way.
1§28. Related to these two words hōrā and Hērā is hērōs (singular) / hērōes (plural), meaning ‘hero’. As we will see, the precise moment when everything comes together for the hero is the moment of death. The hero is ‘on time’ at the hōrā or ‘time’ of death. Before death and in fact during their whole lifetime, however, heroes are not on time: as we will see, they are unseasonal.
1§29. In Text A, we have seen Achilles thinking about his future death as glorified by the medium of kleos. In a sense, we see him “scripting” his death. And this “scripting” is all about timing. The timing of heroic death is all-important for the hero.

The need for heroes to “script” their own death

1§30. Here I return to a point I made earlier: in a song culture, the song can be just as real as life itself. To experience song in a song culture is to experience a real-life experience. But there is a paradox here, as we will see: for the Greek hero, the ultimate real-life experience is not life but death. In some situations, as we will also see in later hours, death can even become an alternative to sex. So, death must be a defining moment of reality for the hero, and it must not be feared but welcomed, since the hero must ultimately achieve the perfect moment of a perfect death. And such a perfect moment must be recorded in song, which brings kleos or ‘glory’. So, heroes feel a need to “script” their own death with their dying words.
1§31. We find an example in Aeschylus Agamemnon 1444-1445, a passage we will encounter in Hour 16. [8] In that passage, we will read the words of the last {32|33} song of sorrow sung by Cassandra, one of the most engaging female heroes in the ancient texts we read.
1§32. In ancient Greek traditions, a hero’s dying words can be pictured as a swan song. According to such traditions, the swan sings its most beautiful song at the moment of its death. We will consider this myth in more detail toward the end of this book, when we read Plato’s Phaedo: in that work, Socrates talks about the concept of the swan song at the moment of his own death by hemlock. What Socrates is quoted as saying in the Phaedo, as we will see, turns out to be his own swan song.
1§33. I see a point of comparison in modern popular culture. The example I have in mind comes from the film Bladerunner, directed by Ridley Scott (1982), based on the science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968). In particular, I have in mind the moment when Roy Blatty, an artificial human, “scripts” his own death, which is meant to be natural.

[[In “live” meetings, I show at this point a clip entitled “Like tears in rain. Time to die,” from Bladerunner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott. I draw attention here, for the first time, to a collection of film clips, with commentaries that accompany them. These film clips and commentaries can be found at I wrote these commentaries with the purpose of complementing some of the observations I make in The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.]]
1§34. We now turn to a model for Achilles in the “scripting” of his own death. This model is a hero from an earlier age, who exemplifies the perfect timing of his own death. That hero is Hēraklēs, otherwise known by the Romanized version of his name, Hercules.

Hēraklēs as a model hero

1§35. Hēraklēs is more than a model for Achilles. He is a model for all heroes. As we will see, his story brings to life the meaning of the ancient Greek word for hero, hērōs, and the meanings of the related word for seasonality, hōrā, and for the goddess of seasonality herself, Hērā. As we will also see, even his name tells the story: Hēraklēs means ‘he who has the kleos of Hērā’.
1§36. In the Iliad, we find an embedded micro-narrative that tells the story of Hēraklēs as it relates to the story of Achilles in the macro-Narrative that is the Iliad. In the first edition of H24H, I quoted and translated and commented on the entire passage that contains this micro-narrative, Iliad XIX 76–138, labeled Hour 1 Text C. But then, in the new printed edition, I give only a paraphrase of that passage. The new parts of this paraphrase extend from 1§36a to 1§36e, while the old part remains where it was in the first edition, at 1§37. In the current online version of H24H, the reader has two options, the first of which is considerably more difficult than the second:
Option 1: taking up more time, to read through the text of Iliad XIX 76–138, which appears immediately below as Hour 1 Text C, along with the Commentary that follows that text further below,
Option 2: taking up less time, to skip ahead right now to §36a–e, even further below, where I start the paraphrasing of Iliad XIX 76-138.

Hour 1 Text C = Iliad XIX 76–138

|76 Then Agamemnon, the king of men, spoke up at their meeting, |77 right there from the place where he was sitting, not even standing up in the middle of the assembly. |78 “Near and dear ones,” said he, “Danaan [= Achaean] heroes, attendants [therapontes] of Arēs! |79 It is a good thing to listen when a man stands up to speak, and it is not seemly |80 {33|34} to speak in relay after him. [9] It would be hard for someone to do that, even if he is a practiced speaker. |81 For how could any man in an assembly either hear anything when there is an uproar |82 or say anything? Even a public speaker who speaks clearly will be disconcerted by it. |83 What I will do is to make a declaration addressed to [Achilles] the son of Peleus. As for the rest of you |84 Argives [= Achaeans], you should understand and know well, each one of you, the words [mūthos] that I say for the record. |85 By now the Achaeans have been saying these words [mūthos] to me many times, |86 and they have been blaming me. But I am not responsible [aitios]. |87 No, those who are really responsible are Zeus and Fate [Moira] and the Fury [Erinys] who roams in the mist. |88 They are the ones who, at the public assembly, had put savage aberration [atē] into my thinking [phrenes] |89 on that day when I myself deprived Achilles of his honorific portion [geras]. |90 But what could I do? The god is the one who brings everything to its fulfillment [teleutân]. |91 That goddess Atē, senior daughter of Zeus – she makes everyone veer off-course [aâsthai], |92 that disastrous one [oulomenē], the one who has delicate steps. She never makes contact with the ground of the threshold, |93 never even going near it, but instead she hovers over the heads of men, bringing harm to mortals. |94 In her harmfulness, she has incapacitated others as well [besides me], and I have in mind one person in particular. |95 Yes, once upon a time even Zeus veered off-course [aâsthai], who is said to be the best |96 among men and gods. Even he |97 was deceived; Hērā did it, with her devious ways of thinking, female that she is. |98 It happened on the day when the mighty Hēraklēs |99 was about to be born of Alkmene in Thebes, the city garlanded by good walls. |100 He [= Zeus], making a formal declaration [eukhesthai], spoke up at a meeting of all the gods and said: |101 “hear me, all gods and all goddesses, |102 and let me say to you what the heart [thūmos] in my chest tells me to say. |103 Today the goddess who presides over the pains of childbirth, Eileithuia, will help bring forth a man into the light, |104 revealing him, and he will be king over all the people who live around him. |105 He comes from an ancestral line of men who are descended from blood that comes from me.” |106 Thinking devious thoughts, the goddess Hērā ad-{34|35}dressed him [= Zeus]: |107 “You will be mistaken, and you will not be able to make a fulfillment [telos] of the words [mūthos] that you have spoken for the record. |108 But come, Olympian god, swear for me a binding oath: |109 swear that he will really be king over all the people who live around him, |110 I mean, the one who on this day shall fall to the ground between the legs of a woman, |111 who is descended from men who come from your line of ancestry, from blood that comes from you.” |112 So she spoke. And Zeus did not at all notice [noeîn] her devious thinking, |113 but he swore a great oath. And right then and there, he veered off-course [aâsthai] in a big way. |114 Meanwhile, Hērā sped off, leaving the ridges of Olympus behind, |115 and swiftly she reached Achaean Argos. She knew that she would find there |116 the strong wife of Sthenelos son of Perseus. |117 She was pregnant with a dear son, and she was in her sixth [10] month. |118 And she brought him forth into the light, even though he was still premature in his months. |119 Meanwhile she put a pause on the time of delivery for Alkmene, holding back the divine powers of labor, the Eileithuiai. |120 And then she herself went to tell the news to Zeus the son of Kronos, saying: |121 “Zeus the father, you with the gleaming thunderbolt, I will put a word into your thoughts: |122 there has just been born a man, a noble one, who will be king over the Argives. |123 He is Eurystheus son of Sthenelos son of Perseus. |124 He is from your line of ancestry, and it is not unseemly for him to be king over the Argives.” |125 So she spoke, and he was struck in his mind [phrēn] with a sharp sorrow [akhos]. |126 And right away he grabbed the goddess Atē by the head – that head covered with luxuriant curls – |127 since he was angry in his thinking [phrenes], and he swore a binding oath |128 that never will she come to Olympus and to the starry sky |129 never again will she come back, that goddess Atē, who makes everyone veer off-course [aâsthai]. |130 And so saying he threw her down from the starry sky, |131 having whirled her around in his hand. And then she [= Atē] came to the fields where mortals live and work. |132 He [= Zeus] always mourned the fact that she ever existed, every time he saw how his own dear son |133 was having one of his degrading Labors [āthloi] to work on. |134 So also I [= Agamemnon], while the great {35|36} Hector, the one with the gleaming helmet, |135 was destroying the Argives [= Achaeans] at the sterns of the beached ships, |136 was not able to keep out of my mind the veering [atē] I experienced once I veered off-course [aâsthai]. |137 But since I did veer off-course [aâsthai] and since Zeus took away from me my thinking, |138 I now want to make amends, and to give untold amounts of compensation.”
Iliad XIX 76-138 [11]

Before I proceed with my argumentation, I have to pause in order to give a commentary on details in the text that will not be obvious to someone who has read it for the first time ever.

Commentary on Hour 1 Text C

– Verses 76-82. Agamemnon, who is the high king among all the kings of the Achaean warriors participating in the war at Troy, is speaking here in a public {36|37} assembly of the Achaeans. Strangely, he speaks to his fellow warriors while remaining in a seated position (77), saying that it is a good thing to listen to a man who speaks in a standing position and that it is hard for even a good speaker to hupoballein [12] him (80). So, what does this mean? Achilles had just spoken to the assembly at verses 56–73, and verse 55 makes it explicit that he was standing. [13] In the Greek-English dictionary of Liddell, Scott, and Jones (LSJ), hupoballein is interpreted as ‘interrupt’ in the context of verse 80 here. A related context is the adverb hupoblēdēn [14] at Iliad I 292, where Achilles is responding to Agamemnon in the course of their famous quarrel. Some translate that adverb as ‘interruptingly’. [15] Instead, I interpret hupoballein and hupoblēdēn as ‘speak in relay [after someone]’ and ‘speaking in relay’ respectively, and I argue that the concept of relay speaking is a characteristic of competitive speech-making. [16] As Richard Martin has shown, the Iliad can dramatize Agamemnon and Achilles in the act of competing with each other as speakers, not only as warriors and leaders, and Achilles is consistently portrayed as the better speaker by far. [17] At Iliad I 292, where I interpret hupoblēdēn as ‘speaking in relay’, Achilles engages in verbal combat with Agamemnon not so much by way of ‘interrupting’ but by picking up the train of thought exactly where his opponent left off – and out-performing him in the process. So, here at Iliad XIX 80, Agamemnon backs off from verbal combat with Achilles, using as an excuse the fact that he is wounded: I can’t stand up, and therefore I can’t compete by picking up the train of thought where Achilles left off – and therefore I can’t out-perform him (and perhaps I don’t anymore have the stomach even to try to do so). The successful performer remains standing, and the unsuccessful performer fails to stand up and compete by taking his turn, choosing instead to sit it out. He will still speak to Achilles, but he will speak without offering any more competition. [18]
– Verse 83. Instead of competing with Achilles as a public speaker, Agamemnon says that all he wants to do now is to make Achilles an offer.
– Verses 83-84. Agamemnon says that he will say a mūthos (84, 85). As Richard Martin has shown, this word as used in Homeric poetry means ‘something {37|38} said for the record’; mūthos “is a speech-act indicating authority, performed at length, usually in public, with a focus on full attention to every detail.” [19] Another example of mūthos occurs at verse 107, where it is Zeus who says something for the record. Among the sub-categories of the kinds of things that are ‘said for the record’ are stories that we call myths. In Homeric terms, any story that is called a mūthos is genuine and true, because it is said for the record; the modern derivative myth has obviously veered from this meaning. [20]
– Verses 85-86. According to Agamemnon, the myth about Hēraklēs has been used against him by the Achaeans. But he will now use the same myth to excuse himself.
– Verses 86-87. The kind of excuse that Agamemnon uses – that he is not personally aitios, ‘responsible’, because the gods caused him to experience atē, ‘aberration’ – is explored at length in Greek tragedy. We will see it most clearly in a tragedy of Aeschylus, the Agamemnon, as analyzed in Hour 16.
– Verse 88. The word atē, ‘aberration’, is both a passive experience, as described here by Agamemnon, and an active force that is personified as the goddess Atē, as we see later at verse 91 and following.
– Verse 91. In Homeric poetry, the word atē, ‘aberration’, is perceived as a noun derived from the verb aâsthai, ‘veer off-course’. [21]
– Verse 95. Once again, aâsthai, ‘veer off-course’, is used as the verb of atē, ‘aberration’.
– Verse 105. The wording of Zeus hides the fact that Hēraklēs was fathered directly by him.
– Verse 111. The wording of Hērā hides the fact that she is speaking about the mother-to-be of Eurystheus, and that this woman is the wife of the hero Sthenelos, who is the son of the hero Perseus, who in turn was fathered directly by Zeus. Later, at verses 116 and 123, the identity of this woman is revealed. For now, however, Zeus is being deceived into thinking that Hērā is speaking about the mother-to-be of Hēraklēs.
– Verse 113. Once again, aâsthai, ‘veer off-course’, is used as the verb of atē, ‘aberration’. {38|39}
– Verses 136-137. Once again, aâsthai, ‘veer off-course’, is used as the verb of atē, ‘aberration’.

Here is where the Commentary in the original printed version came to an end. Readers here who have chosen Option 2 have already skipped ahead to the reading that follows at 1§36a below, picking up from 1§36 above, before the quotation of Hour 1 Text C, which is Iliad XIX 76-138.

1§36a. My paraphrase of Iliad XIX 76–138 begins at a point where Agamemnon the high king admits to all the assembled Achaeans that he has made a big mistake, and the word for this mistake is atē, XIX 88, which for now I translate as ‘aberration’. The king’s aberration, as he himself says, was that he had insulted Achilles, thus dishonoring the hero, XIX 89. Already at the beginning of the Iliad, I 412, Achilles had pointed to the atē ‘aberration’ of Agamemnon, which had caused the high king to make the mistake of dishonoring Achilles, ‘the best of the Achaeans’.
1§36b. But now, while admitting that he had made such a mistake, Agamemnon claims that this mistake of his had been caused by the gods, XIX 86–89, especially by a goddess named Atē, XIX 91. This goddess Atē is an active personification of the passive experience that is atē. That passive atē is what we saw at XIX 88, with reference to the making of a very big mistake. But what about the active Atē?
1§36c. In referring to an active force here at XIX 91, this noun Atē is now featured as the grammatical subject of the verb aâsthai, which can be translated in this context as ‘cause to veer off-course’. The same translation applies also later, at verse 129, where the noun Atē is featured once again as the grammatical subject of the verb aâsthai: it is said there once again that this goddess Atē personally ‘causes’ all her victims ‘to veer off-course’.
1§36d. But there is more to it: in the overall story as retold by Agamemnon, verses 95–133, this active force called Atē caused even Zeus himself to veer off-course once upon a time. In this further context, the same word aâsthai is used not only in a causative sense, ‘cause to veer off-course’, where Atē is the grammatical subject of the verb, but also in an intransitive sense, ‘veer off-course’, where the grammatical subject is the person who passively experiences the mistake, the aberration. At XIX 95 and 113, this grammatical subject of the verb aâsthai ‘veer off-course’ is the god Zeus himself. And then, finally at XIX 137, the grammatical subject of the same verb aâsthai is Agamemnon, who concludes his speech by admitting that he likewise ‘veered off-course’.
1§36e. Now we already know what the mistake of Agamemnon had been. But what was the big mistake experienced by Zeus, high king of the gods? How did Zeus himself ‘veer off-course’?
1§37. My paraphrase of Iliad XIX 76–138 continues, now focusing on the big mistake of Zeus. This mistake drives the story, as retold by Agamemnon at XIX 95–133, about the relationship of Hēraklēs with that hero’s inferior cousin Eurystheus. According to that story, the goddess Hērā tricked Zeus into making it possible for her to accelerate the birth of Eurystheus and to retard the birth of Hēraklēs, so that Eurystheus the inferior hero became king, entitled to give commands to the superior hero Hēraklēs. In another ancient source, the Herakles of Euripides, we see that Hēraklēs qualifies as the supreme hero of them all, the aristos or ‘best’ of all humans (verse 150; see also verses 183, 208, 1306). [22] Still, the heroic superiority of Hēraklēs is canceled by the social superiority of Eurystheus, who is entitled by seniority in birth to become the high king and to give orders to Hēraklēs. Similarly, the heroic superiority of Achilles is canceled by the social superiority of Agamemnon at the beginning of the Iliad.
1§38. The twist in the story told by Agamemnon, in micro-narrative form, is made clear by the macro-Narrative of the story that is the Iliad. In terms of Agamemnon’s micro-narrative, the point of his story is that Atē the goddess of ‘aberration’ made it possible for Zeus himself to make a mistake in the story about Hēraklēs, just as this same goddess Atē made it possible for Agamemnon to make a mistake in the story of the Iliad. In terms of the macro-Narrative of the Iliad, however, the parallel extends much further: the mistake in the story about Hēraklēs and Eurystheus is that the hero who was superior as a hero became socially inferior, and that is also the mistake in the story about Achilles and Agamemnon as narrated in the overall Iliad: Achilles is superior to Agamemnon as a hero, but he is socially inferior to him, and that is why Agamemnon seemed to get away with the mistake of asserting his social superiority at the expense of Achilles. Like Hēraklēs, who is constrained by the social superiority of Eurystheus and follows his commands in performing āthloi ‘labors’, XIX 133, so also Achilles is constrained by the social superiority of Agamemnon in offering no physical resistance to the taking of the young woman Briseis, his war prize, by the inferior hero. {39|40}
1§39. The performance of āthloi ‘labors’ by Hēraklēs is mentioned in passing by this micro-narrative in the Iliad (XIX 133). As we are about to see from other sources, the Labors of Hēraklēs lead to the kleos ‘glory’ that Hēraklēs earns as a hero, and these labors would never have been performed if Hērā, the goddess of seasons, had not made Hēraklēs the hero unseasonal by being born after rather than before his inferior cousin. So, Hēraklēs owes the kleos that he earns from his Labors to Hērā.

The Labors of Hēraklēs

1§40. There are many different kinds of Labors performed by Hēraklēs, as we see from an extensive retelling by Diodorus of Sicily (4.8-4.39). The work of this author, who lived in the first century BCE, is not part of our reading list of ancient texts, as contained in the Sourcebook, and so I need to summarize his narrative here in order to highlight some essential features of the overall story of Hēraklēs.
1§41. One of the Labors of Hēraklēs, as we see from Diodorus, was the foundation of the athletic festival of the Olympics. The story as retold by Diodorus (4.14.1-2) says that Hēraklēs not only founded this major festival: he also competed in every athletic event on the prototypical occasion of the first Olympics. On that occasion, he won first prize in every Olympic event. This tradition about Hēraklēs is the perfect illustration of a fundamental connection between the labor of a hero and the competition of an athlete at athletic events like the Olympics. As we can see when we read Hour 8b, the hero’s labor and the athlete’s competition are the “same thing,” from the standpoint of ancient Greek concepts of the hero. The Greek word for the hero’s labor and for the athlete’s competition is the same: āthlos. Our English word athlete is a borrowing from the Greek word āthlētēs, which is derived from āthlos.
1§42. Before we consider further Labors performed by Hēraklēs, I offer a paraphrase of the beginning of the story of these Labors as narrated by Diodorus (4.9.2-4.9.5):

The supreme god and king of gods, Zeus, impregnates Alkmene, a mortal woman (4.9.2). The wife of Zeus, the goddess Hērā, is jealous; she decides to intervene in the life of the hero who is about to be born, Hēraklēs (4.9.4). If this hero had been born on schedule, on time, in time, he would have been the supreme king of his time; but Hērā makes sure that Hēraklēs is born not on schedule, not on time, not in time. {40|41} Hēraklēs’ inferior cousin, Eurystheus, is born ahead of him and thus is fated to become king instead of Hēraklēs (4.9.4-5). During all of Hēraklēs’ lifetime, Eurystheus persecutes him directly; Hērā persecutes him indirectly. The superior hero has to spend his entire lifespan obeying the orders of the inferior king (4.9.5). Hēraklēs follows up on each one of the orders, and his accomplishments in the process add up to the Labors of Hēraklēs.
1§43. In the classical period, the Labors of Hēraklēs were represented most famously in a set of relief sculptures that decorated the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, built in the fifth century BCE. These relief sculptures, the technical term for which is metopes, focused on a canonical number of twelve Labors performed by Hēraklēs. Diodorus narrates all these Twelve Labors (4.11.3-4.26.4):

– Hēraklēs kills the Nemean Lion (4.11.3-4)
– Hēraklēs kills the Lernaean Hydra (4.11.5-6)
– Hēraklēs captures the Erymanthian Boar alive (4.12.1-2)
– Hēraklēs hunts down the Hind with the Golden Horn (4.13.1)
– Hēraklēs clears the Stymphalian Marsh of the noxious birds that infested it (4.13.2)
– Hēraklēs clears the manure from the Augean Stables (4.13.3)
– Hēraklēs captures the Cretan Bull alive and brings it to the Peloponnesus (4.13.4)
– Hēraklēs corrals the Horses of Diomedes, eaters of human flesh (4.15.3-4)
– Hēraklēs captures the waistband or ‘girdle’ of the Amazon Hippolyte (4.16.1-4)
– Hēraklēs rustles the Cattle of Geryon (4.17.1-2)
– Hēraklēs descends to Hādēs and brings up Cerberus the Hound of Hādēs from the zone of darkness to the zone of light and life (4.26.1)
– Hēraklēs gathers the Golden Apples of the Hesperides (4.26.2-4).
1§44. In the catalogue of the Labors of Hēraklēs as sung and danced in praise of the hero by the chorus in the tragedy by Euripides entitled the Herakles (lines 348-440), the last of these Labors to be mentioned is the descent of Hēraklēs to Hādēs (425-435); in the imagery of Euripides, and elsewhere in Greek poetry and song as we will see later on, the experience of going into Hādēs is ex- {41|42} plicitly the experience of dying, and the experience of coming back out of Hādēs is implicitly the experience of resurrection (lines 143-146).

Hēraklēs and the meaning of kleos

1§45. Hēraklēs’ heroic deeds in performing these Labors and many others are the raw material for the heroic song, kleos, that is sung about him. The connection of the name of Hēraklēs with these deeds and with the medium of kleos that glorifies these deeds is made explicit in the Herakles of Euripides (lines 271, 1335, 1370). This connection of the hero’s name with these deeds of kleos is also made explicit by Diodorus (1.24.4 and 4.10.1). [23] And, as I have already noted, Hēraklēs owes the kleos that he earns from his Labors to Hērā. That is how he gets his name Hēraklēs, which means ‘he who has the kleos of Hērā’. [24] The goddess of being on time makes sure that the hero should start off his lifespan by being not on time and that he should go through life by trying to catch up – and never quite managing to do so until the very end. Hēraklēs gets all caught up only at the final moment of his life, at the moment of death.
1§46. I continue here my paraphrase of Diodorus (4.38.1-4.39.3):

At the final moment of Hēraklēs’ heroic lifespan, he experiences the most painful death imaginable, climaxed by burning to death. This form of death is an ultimate test of the nervous system, by ancient Greek heroic standards. Here is how it happens. Hēraklēs is fatally poisoned when his skin makes contact with the semen of a dying Centaur. The estranged wife of Hēraklēs, Deianeira, had preserved this poisonous substance in a vial, and she smears it on an undergarment called a khiton that she sends to Hēraklēs in a vain attempt to regain his affections; the hero had asked for a cloak and a khiton to be sent to him so that he could perform a sacrifice to Zeus after capturing Iole, a younger woman whom he now intends to marry (4.38.1-2). Hēraklēs gets dressed for the sacrifice and puts on the khiton. The consequences {42|43} are fatal. Once the skin of Hēraklēs makes contact with the poison smeared on the undergarment, he starts burning up on the inside as the poison rapidly pervades his body from the outside. The pain is excruciating, and Hēraklēs knows he is doomed. He arranges with the people of Trachis to have them build for him a funeral pyre on the peak of Mount Oeta, and then he climbs up on top of the funeral pyre (4.38.3-4). He yearns to be put out of his misery, ready to die and be consumed by the fires of the funeral pyre; he calls on his friend Philoktetes to light his pyre (4.38.4). [25] At that precise moment of agonizing death, a flaming thunderbolt from his father Zeus strikes him. He goes up in flames, in a spectacular explosion of fire (4.38.4-5). In the aftermath, those who attended the primal scene find no physical trace of Hēraklēs, not even bones (4.38.5). They go home to Trachis, but Menoitios, the father of Patroklos, will later establish a hero cult for Hēraklēs at Opous, and the Thebans have a similar hero cult for him (4.38.1). Others, however, especially the Athenians, worship Hēraklēs not as a hero but as a god (4.39.1). The rationale for this alternative custom is given by the continuation of the myth as retold by Diodorus: at the moment of his death, Hēraklēs regains consciousness and finds himself on the top of Mount Olympus, in the company of the gods (4.39.2-3). He has awakened to find himself immortalized. He is then adopted by the theoi, ‘gods’, on Mount Olympus as one of their own (the technical Greek term is apotheosis). Hērā now changes identities – from Hēraklēs’ stepmother to Hēraklēs’ mother (4.39.2). The procedure is specified by Diodorus, and I translate literally (4.39.2): ‘Hērā got into her bed and drew Hēraklēs close to her body; then she ejected him through her clothes to the ground, re-enacting [= making mīmēsis of] genuine birth’ (tēn de teknōsin genesthai phasi toiautēn: tēn Hēran anabasan epi klinēn kai ton Hēraklea proslabomenēn pros to sōma dia tōn endumatōn apheinai pros tēn gēn, mimoumenēn tēn alēthinēn genesin). [26]
1§47. Birth by Hērā is the hero’s rebirth, a birth into immortality. [27] Death by lightning is the key to this rebirth: the thunderbolt of Zeus, so prominently fea- {43|44} tured in the poetry of cosmogony and anthropogony, simultaneously destroys and regenerates: Elysium, one of many different names given to an imagined paradisiacal place of immortalization for heroes after death, is related to the word enēlusion, which designates a place struck by lightning – a place made sacred by contact with the thunderbolt of Zeus. [28] As I said in the Introduction to Homeric poetry (0§6), the hero can be immortalized, but the fundamental painful fact remains: the hero is not by nature immortal.
1§48. By now we can see that the name Hēraklēs, ‘he who has the glory [kleos] of Hērā’, marks both the medium and the message of the hero. But when we first consider the meaning of the name of Hēraklēs, our first impression is that this name is illogical: it seems to us strange that Hēraklēs should be named after Hērā – that his poetic glory or kleos should depend on Hērā. After all, Hēraklēs is persecuted by Hērā throughout his heroic lifespan. And yet, without this unseasonality, without the disequilibrium brought about by the persecution of Hērā, Hēraklēs would never have achieved the equilibrium of immortality and the kleos or ‘glory’ that makes his achievements live forever in song.

Hēraklēs and the idea of the hero

1§49. At the core of the narratives about Hēraklēs is the meaning of hērōs, ‘hero’, as a cognate of Hērā, the goddess of seasonality and equilibrium, and of hōrā, a noun that actually means ‘seasonality’ in the context of designating hero cult, as in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter 265. [29] The decisive verse that I cite here from Homeric Hymn to Demeter will be quoted in Hour 8 Text C and analyzed in Hour 8§§20-21. The unseasonality of the hērōs in mortal life leads to the telos or ‘fulfillment’ of hōrā, ‘seasonality’, in immortal life, which is achieved in the setting of hero cult, as we will see in Hour 13§§11-22. Such a concept of telos as ‘fulfillment’ is also expressed by an adjectival derivative of telos, which is teleia, used as a cult epithet that conventionally describes the goddess Hērā. [30] That is, Hērā is the goddess of telos in the sense of ‘fulfillment’, as we will see in Hour 13§18.
1§50. Overall, the narratives about Hēraklēs fit neatly into a model of the hero as I outline it in a general article I have published on the topic of the epic hero. [31] I offer here {44|45} a shortened version of the outline that I develop there. In terms of that outline, there are three characteristics of the hero:

1. The hero is unseasonal.
2. The hero is extreme – positively (for example, ‘best’ in whatever category) or negatively (the negative aspect can be a function of the hero’s unseasonality).
3. The hero is antagonistic toward the god who seems to be most like the hero; antagonism does not rule out an element of attraction – often a “fatal attraction” – which is played out in a variety of ways.
1§51. All three characteristics converge in the figure of the hero Hēraklēs:

1. He is made unseasonal by Hērā.
2. His unseasonality makes it possible for him to perform his extraordinary Labors. He also commits some deeds that are morally questionable: for example, he destroys the city of Iole and kills the brothers of this woman in order to capture her as his bride – even though he is already married to Deianeira (Diodorus of Sicily 4.37.5).
3. He is antagonistic with Hērā throughout his lifespan, but he becomes reconciled with her through death: as we have seen, the hero becomes the virtual son of Hērā by being reborn from her. As the hero’s name makes clear, he owes his heroic identity to his kleos and, ultimately, to Hērā. A parallel is the antagonism of Juno, the Roman equivalent of Hērā, toward the hero Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid.
1§52. Before we go on, I must highlight the fact that the story of Hēraklēs includes the committing of deeds that are morally questionable. It is essential to keep in mind that whenever heroes commit deeds that violate moral codes, such deeds are not condoned by the heroic narrative. As we will see later, in Hours 6 7 8, 18, the pollution of a hero in myth is relevant to the worship of that hero in ritual.
1§53. That said, I now proceed with paraphrases of two further details about the life of Hēraklēs:

– Hērā finds an abandoned baby, who happens to be Hēraklēs. She takes a fancy to the baby and breast-feeds it, but the baby bites her. This {45|46} part of the narrative is reported by Diodorus of Sicily (4.9.6). Another part of the narrative is reported elsewhere: the breast-feeding of Hēraklēs by Hērā goes awry and results in a cosmic spilling of milk, a galaxy (Greek galakt- means ‘milk’) – that is, the Milky Way ([Eratosthenes] Katasterismoi 3.44; Hyginus Astronomica 2.43; “Achilles” Astronomica 24).
– Hēraklēs’ mortal mother, Alkmene, conceives another son by her mortal husband, Amphitryon, on the same night when she conceives her son Hēraklēs by her immortal paramour, Zeus (Apollodorus Library 2.4.8). This twin, Iphikles, is mortal. The other twin, Hēraklēs, is mortal only on his mother’s side. I do not say half-mortal or half-divine in this case, and we will see why when we reach Hour 6§59.

Achilles and the idea of the hero

1§54. Now that I have outlined the basics of the narratives about Hēraklēs, I turn to the basics about Achilles. We find in the figure of Achilles the same three heroic characteristics that we found in figure of Hēraklēs:

1. He is unseasonal: in Iliad XXIV 540, Achilles is explicitly described as pana-(h)ōrios, ‘the most unseasonal of them all’. [32] His unseasonality is a major cause of his grief, which makes him a man of constant sorrow. In using this phrase, I have in mind here the title of a traditional American folk song, first recorded by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky. The grief over the unseasonality of Achilles is best expressed by the hero’s mother Thetis in Iliad XVIII 54-62, a passage that will figure prominently in Hour 4§23.
2. He is extreme, mostly in a positive sense, since he is ‘best’ in many categories, and ‘best of the Achaeans’ in the Homeric Iliad; occasionally, however, he is extreme in a negative sense, as in his moments of martial fury. In Hour 6, I will have more to say about such martial fury, otherwise known as warp spasm.
3. He is antagonistic to the god Apollo, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance. Again in Hour 6, I will have more to say about the antagonism of Apollo with the hero Achilles. {46|47}

Achilles and the meaning of kleos

1§55. There is another important parallel between Hēraklēs and Achilles: the use of the word kleos, ‘glory’, in identifying Hēraklēs as a hero is relevant to the fact that the same word is used in identifying Achilles as an epic hero in the Homeric Iliad. In the Iliad, kleos designates not only ‘glory’ but also, more specifically, the glory of the hero as conferred by epic. As we have seen in Hour 1 Text A, Iliad IX 413, Achilles chooses kleos over life itself, and he owes his heroic identity to this kleos. [33]
1§56. So, we end up where we started, with the hero Achilles. He chooses kleos over life itself, and he owes his heroic identity to this kleos. He achieves the major goal of the hero: to have his identity put permanently on record through kleos. For us, a common way to express this goal is to say: “you’ll go down in history.” For the earliest periods of ancient Greece, the equivalent of this kind of “history” is kleos.
1§57. In J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951), Holden Caulfield is given this lesson by the teacher: “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
1§58. My guess is that Achilles would respond negatively to such a teaching: in that case, I would rather be immature than mature. Still, as we will see, Achilles will achieve a maturity, a seasonality, at the moment in the Iliad when he comes to terms with his own impending heroic death.
1§59. I close for now by quoting what the teacher goes on to say in Salinger’s narrative: “Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them … if you want to. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” [34] {47|48}


[ back ] 1. Here, then, is the key word: kleos ‘glory’.
[ back ] 2. In Hour 4, I will elaborate on the word aphthiton in the sense of ‘imperishable’.
[ back ] 3. So, kleos ‘glory’ is evidently being contrasted with nostos ‘homecoming’.
[ back ] 4. |410 μήτηρ γάρ τέ μέ φησι θεὰ Θέτις ἀργυρόπεζα |411 διχθαδίας κῆρας φερέμεν θανάτοιο τέλος δέ. |412 εἰ μέν κ’ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι, |413 ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται· |414 εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ’ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν, |415 ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν |416 ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ’ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.
[ back ] 5. |218 Ἔσπετε νῦν μοι Μοῦσαι Ὀλύμπια δώματ’ ἔχουσαι |219 ὅς τις δὴ πρῶτος Ἀγαμέμνονος ἀντίον ἦλθεν |220 ἢ αὐτῶν Τρώων ἠὲ κλειτῶν ἐπικούρων. |221 Ἰφιδάμας Ἀντηνορίδης ἠΰς τε μέγας τε |222 ὃς τράφη ἐν Θρῄκῃ ἐριβώλακι μητέρι μήλων· |223 Κισσῆς τόν γ’ ἔθρεψε δόμοις ἔνι τυτθὸν ἐόντα |224 μητροπάτωρ, ὃς τίκτε Θεανὼ καλλιπάρῃον· |225 αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ’ ἥβης ἐρικυδέος ἵκετο μέτρον, |226 αὐτοῦ μιν κατέρυκε, δίδου δ’ ὅ γε θυγατέρα ἥν· |227 γήμας δ’ ἐκ θαλάμοιο μετὰ κλέος ἵκετ’ Ἀχαιῶν |228 σὺν δυοκαίδεκα νηυσὶ κορωνίσιν, αἵ οἱ ἕποντο.
[ back ] 6. More on expansion and compression in HQ 76-77.
[ back ] 7. A modern attempt to capture a sense of the “trueness” of song is a poem by Wallace Stevens, “Peter Quince at the Clavier” (1915).
[ back ] 8. An English-language translation of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon is available in the online Sourcebook (
[ back ] 9. The previous speaker was Achilles.
[ back ] 10. In the original Greek, with its inclusive counting system (which has no concept of zero), the numbering is ‘seventh’.
[ back ] 11. |76 τοῖσι δὲ καὶ μετέειπεν ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων |77 αὐτόθεν ἐξ ἕδρης, οὐδ’ ἐν μέσσοισιν ἀναστάς· |78 ὦ φίλοι ἥρωες Δαναοὶ θεράποντες Ἄρηος |79 ἑσταότος μὲν καλὸν ἀκούειν, οὐδὲ ἔοικεν |80 ὑββάλλειν· χαλεπὸν γὰρ ἐπισταμένῳ περ ἐόντι. |81 ἀνδρῶν δ’ ἐν πολλῷ ὁμάδῳ πῶς κέν τις ἀκούσαι |82 ἢ εἴποι; βλάβεται δὲ λιγύς περ ἐὼν ἀγορητής. |83 Πηλεΐδῃ μὲν ἐγὼν ἐνδείξομαι· αὐτὰρ οἱ ἄλλοι |84 σύνθεσθ’ Ἀργεῖοι, μῦθόν τ’ εὖ γνῶτε ἕκαστος. |85 πολλάκι δή μοι τοῦτον Ἀχαιοὶ μῦθον ἔειπον |86 καί τέ με νεικείεσκον· ἐγὼ δ’ οὐκ αἴτιός εἰμι, |87 ἀλλὰ Ζεὺς καὶ Μοῖρα καὶ ἠεροφοῖτις Ἐρινύς, |88 οἵ τέ μοι εἰν ἀγορῇ φρεσὶν ἔμβαλον ἄγριον ἄτην, |89 ἤματι τῷ ὅτ’ Ἀχιλλῆος γέρας αὐτὸς ἀπηύρων. |90 ἀλλὰ τί κεν ῥέξαιμι; θεὸς διὰ πάντα τελευτᾷ. |91 πρέσβα Διὸς θυγάτηρ Ἄτη, ἣ πάντας ἀᾶται, |92 οὐλομένη· τῇ μέν θ’ ἁπαλοὶ πόδες· οὐ γὰρ ἐπ’ οὔδει |93 πίλναται, ἀλλ’ ἄρα ἥ γε κατ’ ἀνδρῶν κράατα βαίνει |94 – βλάπτουσ’ ἀνθρώπους· κατὰ δ’ οὖν ἕτερόν γε πέδησε. |95 καὶ γὰρ δή νύ ποτε Ζεὺς ἄσατο, τόν περ ἄριστον |96 ἀνδρῶν ἠδὲ θεῶν φασ’ ἔμμεναι· ἀλλ’ ἄρα καὶ τὸν |97 Ἥρη θῆλυς ἐοῦσα δολοφροσύνῃς ἀπάτησεν, |98 ἤματι τῷ ὅτ’ ἔμελλε βίην Ἡρακληείην |99 Ἀλκμήνη τέξεσθαι ἐϋστεφάνῳ ἐνὶ Θήβῃ. |100 ἤτοι ὅ γ’ εὐχόμενος μετέφη πάντεσσι θεοῖσι· |101 κέκλυτέ μευ πάντές τε θεοὶ πᾶσαί τε θέαιναι, |102 ὄφρ’ εἴπω τά με θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσιν ἀνώγει. |103 σήμερον ἄνδρα φόως δὲ μογοστόκος Εἰλείθυια |104 ἐκφανεῖ, ὃς πάντεσσι περικτιόνεσσιν ἀνάξει, |105 τῶν ἀνδρῶν γενεῆς οἵ θ’ αἵματος ἐξ ἐμεῦ εἰσί. |106 τὸν δὲ δολοφρονέουσα προσηύδα πότνια Ἥρη· |107 ψευστήσεις, οὐδ’ αὖτε τέλος μύθῳ ἐπιθήσεις. |108 εἰ δ’ ἄγε νῦν μοι ὄμοσσον Ὀλύμπιε καρτερὸν ὅρκον, |109 ἦ μὲν τὸν πάντεσσι περικτιόνεσσιν ἀνάξειν |110 ὅς κεν ἐπ’ ἤματι τῷδε πέσῃ μετὰ ποσσὶ γυναικὸς |111 τῶν ἀνδρῶν οἳ σῆς ἐξ αἵματός εἰσι γενέθλης. |112 ὣς ἔφατο· Ζεὺς δ’ οὔ τι δολοφροσύνην ἐνόησεν, |113 ἀλλ’ ὄμοσεν μέγαν ὅρκον, ἔπειτα δὲ πολλὸν ἀάσθη. |114 Ἥρη δ’ ἀΐξασα λίπεν ῥίον Οὐλύμποιο, |115 καρπαλίμως δ’ ἵκετ’ Ἄργος Ἀχαιικόν, ἔνθ’ ἄρα ᾔδη |116 ἰφθίμην ἄλοχον Σθενέλου Περσηϊάδαο. |117 ἣ δ’ ἐκύει φίλον υἱόν, ὃ δ’ ἕβδομος ἑστήκει μείς· |118 ἐκ δ’ ἄγαγε πρὸ φόως δὲ καὶ ἠλιτόμηνον ἐόντα, |119 Ἀλκμήνης δ’ ἀπέπαυσε τόκον, σχέθε δ’ Εἰλειθυίας. |120 αὐτὴ δ’ ἀγγελέουσα Δία Κρονίωνα προσηύδα· |121 Ζεῦ πάτερ ἀργικέραυνε ἔπος τί τοι ἐν φρεσὶ θήσω· |122 ἤδη ἀνὴρ γέγον’ ἐσθλὸς ὃς Ἀργείοισιν ἀνάξει |123 Εὐρυσθεὺς Σθενέλοιο πάϊς Περσηϊάδαο |124 σὸν γένος· οὔ οἱ ἀεικὲς ἀνασσέμεν Ἀργείοισιν. |125 ὣς φάτο, τὸν δ’ ἄχος ὀξὺ κατὰ φρένα τύψε βαθεῖαν· |126 αὐτίκα δ’ εἷλ’ Ἄτην κεφαλῆς λιπαροπλοκάμοιο |127 χωόμενος φρεσὶν ᾗσι, καὶ ὤμοσε καρτερὸν ὅρκον |128 μή ποτ’ ἐς Οὔλυμπόν τε καὶ οὐρανὸν ἀστερόεντα |129 αὖτις ἐλεύσεσθαι Ἄτην, ἣ πάντας ἀᾶται. |130 ὣς εἰπὼν ἔρριψεν ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος |131 χειρὶ περιστρέψας· τάχα δ’ ἵκετο ἔργ’ ἀνθρώπων. |132 τὴν αἰεὶ στενάχεσχ’ ὅθ’ ἑὸν φίλον υἱὸν ὁρῷτο |133 ἔργον ἀεικὲς ἔχοντα ὑπ’ Εὐρυσθῆος ἀέθλων. |134 ὣς καὶ ἐγών, ὅτε δ’ αὖτε μέγας κορυθαίολος Ἕκτωρ |135 Ἀργείους ὀλέκεσκεν ἐπὶ πρυμνῇσι νέεσσιν, |136 οὐ δυνάμην λελαθέσθ’ Ἄτης ᾗ πρῶτον ἀάσθην. |137 ἀλλ’ ἐπεὶ ἀασάμην καί μευ φρένας ἐξέλετο Ζεύς, |138 ἂψ ἐθέλω ἀρέσαι, δόμεναί τ’ ἀπερείσι’ ἄποινα.
[ back ] 12. ὑββάλλειν.
[ back ] 13. For more on this contrast between the seated Agamemnon and the standing Achilles, see Elmer 2013:127.
[ back ] 14. ὑποβλήδην.
[ back ] 15. Details in PR 20.
[ back ] 16. PR 21-22.
[ back ] 17. Martin 1989:117; also 63, 69–70, 98, 113, 117, 119, 133, 202, 219, 223, 228.
[ back ] 18. PR 21.
[ back ] 19. Martin 1989:12.
[ back ] 20. HQ 119-125, 127-133, 152.
[ back ] 21. Extensive commentary on the meaning of atē in PH 242-243 = 8§§41-42.
[ back ] 22. An English-language translation of Euripides’ Herakles is available in the online Sourcebook (
[ back ] 23. Diodorus 1.24.4 attributes this information to Matris of Thebes FGH 39 F 2; in 4.10.1, Diodorus actually retells the version attributed to Matris.
[ back ] 24. On the linguistic validity of the etymology of his name, see HQ 48n79. The problem of the short a in the middle of the form Hērăklēs can best be addressed by comparing the short a in the middle of the form Alkăthoos, the name of a hero of Megara (as in Theognis 774) who is closely related thematically to Hēraklēs. I owe this solution to Alexander Nikolaev.
[ back ] 25. Thinking of Jim Morrison’s 1966 recording of “Light my fire,” I recall these words: “Try now we can only lose / And our love become a funeral pyre / Come on baby, light my fire / Come on baby, light my fire / Try to set the night on fire, yeah … .”
[ back ] 26. In the Introduction to Part III (§9), I will analyze the meaning of mīmēsis as ‘re-enactment’. See also Hour 8e.
[ back ] 27. This formulation comes from the analysis in EH §75, and the rest of my paragraph here draws further on that analysis.
[ back ] 28. GM 140-142.
[ back ] 29. PH 140n27 = 5§7; GM 136. See also Davidson 1980 and 2013a:89-90.
[ back ] 30. This cult epithet for Hērā, teleia, is attested for example in Aristophanes Women at the Thesmophoria 973.
[ back ] 31. EH §§105-110.
[ back ] 32. HQ 48.
[ back ] 33. HR 39-48.
[ back ] 34. The emphasis is mine.