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 3. Achilles and the poetics of lament

The meaning of akhos and penthos

3§1. There are two key words for this hour, akhos and penthos, and the meaning of both words is ‘grief, sorrow; public expression of grief, sorrow, by way of lamentation or keening’.

A man of constant sorrow

3§2. The word akhos is connected with the name of Achilles in the Iliad. And the meaning of the word akhos, which conveys intense grief, sorrow, and pain, is connected with a central theme that is linked with Achilles in the Homeric Iliad: Achilles is a man of constant sorrow. I have already used this phrase once before, in Hour 1, where I was thinking of the title of a traditional American folk song. I am thinking now also of an expression in Isaiah 53:3 as translated in the King James Bible: ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’. One of my major research projects over the years has been the study of this central theme of grief and sorrow as experienced by Achilles and by his people, the Achaeans. Essential for such a study are the principal words that express all that grief and sorrow, namely, akhos and its synonym penthos. We can see this theme of grief and sorrow already at the very beginning of the Iliad:

Hour 3 Text A

|188 Thus he [= Agamemnon] spoke. And the son of Peleus [= Achilles] felt grief [akhos], and the heart |189 within his shaggy chest was divided |190 whether to draw the sharp sword at his thigh |191 and make the others get up and scatter while he kills the son of Atreus [= Ag- {74|75} amemnon], |192 or whether to check his anger [kholos] and restrain his heart [thūmos].
Iliad I 188-192 [1]
3§3. So, Achilles experiences akhos right away, and the grief, sorrow, and pain of this akhos modulates right away into kholos, anger.

Achilles and Penthesileia the Amazon

3§4. Just as the word akhos is connected with the name of Achilles, its synonym penthos is connected with the name of an Amazon called Penthesileia. The story of Penthesileia the Amazon is preserved in an ancient plot summary of a lost epic, the Aithiopis or ‘Song of the Ethiopians’, attributed to Arctinus of Miletus, which belonged to a body of epic poetry known in the ancient world as the epic Cycle:

Hour 3 Text B

|22 The Amazon Penthesileia, arrives, |23 as an ally of the Trojans. She is the daughter of Arēs and Thracian |24 by birth. In the middle of her aristeia [= greatest epic moments], Achilles kills her and the Trojans |25 arrange for her funeral. And Achilles kills Thersites, who reviled |26 him with abusive words for conceiving a passionate love for Penthesileia, |27 so he said.
plot-summary by Proclus of the Aithiopis by Arctinus of Miletus p. 105 lines 22-26 [2]

What we read here is all that we have left, unfortunately, about Penthesileia the Amazon in this ancient plot-summary. [3]

3§5. We must ponder a basic question about the plot of this lost epic, the {75|76} Aithiopis, as retold by Proclus in his plot-summary. The question is this: when Thersites says that Achilles is in love with the Amazon Penthesileia, why is Achilles angry enough to kill him? My answer is this: it would seem that Achilles is in a state of denial about having fallen in love with the beautiful and powerful Amazon whom he has just killed.
3§6. As we know from the narrative about Thersites in Iliad II, we are dealing here with a character who understands the truth about heroes, even though he retells that truth in a distorted and offensive way that make the offended heroes want to kill him. A close reading of the Thersites narrative in Iliad II shows that there is a kernel of truth in what he says about Agamemnon and Achilles when he speaks in public about the big quarrel between those two heroes. [4] Thersites is lucky to escape with his life for what he says here in the Iliad, but his luck finally runs out in the Aithiopis.
3§7. We know that Thersites was on to something when he mocked Achilles for falling in love with Penthesileia. We know this from the evidence of ancient vase-paintings, dating from the sixth and fifth centuries, where we see depictions of the actual moment when Achilles kills the beautiful Amazon.

[[Here are two examples. They are two vase paintings, showing the killing of the Amazon Penthesileia by Achilles:
3§8. These evocative paintings, which show the eye contact between Achilles and Penthesileia at the precise moment when he plunges his weapon into her beautiful body, convey a remarkable convergence of themes linked with death and sex – and we will observe many other examples of such convergence as we proceed in our readings from ancient Greek song culture. Coming up, in Hour 5, is an example from the lyric songs of Sappho, Song 31.
3§9. A big question remains: why would Achilles fall in love with the Amazon Penthesileia in particular? A key to the answer is the name of this Amazon, Penthesileia, which means ‘she who has penthos for the people [lāos]’. This name is a perfect parallel to the name of Achilles, the full form of which can be reconstructed linguistically as *Akhi-lāos and which is understood in the specialized language of Homeric poetry to mean ‘he who has akhos for the people [lāos]’. [5] Not only the names of these epic characters but even the characters themselves are beautifully matched. When Achilles and Penthesileia are engaged in mortal {76|77} combat, as we see in the vase paintings, their eyes meet at the precise moment when he kills her. And what Achilles sees in Penthesileia is a female reflection of his male self. All along, Penthesileia has been his other self in the feminine gender, as even her name shows, and now he has killed her. The death of Penthesileia thus becomes a source of grief, sorrow, and overwhelming sadness for Achilles, this man of constant sorrow. Both these epic names – and the epic characters that are tied to them – have to do with themes of lament, as signaled by the words akhos and penthos. Both these words point to the ‘grief’ or ‘sorrow’ or ‘sadness’ of lament.

The essentials of singing laments

3§10. How, then, is ‘grief’ or ‘sorrow’ or ‘sadness’ expressed by lament? It is by crying and singing at the same time. When people like you and me cry, we just cry. When people in a song culture cry, they lament. That is, they sing while they cry, they cry while they sing, and this kind of singing is crying; this kind of crying is singing. The physical aspects of crying are all integrated into the singing: the flow of tears, the choking of the voice, the convulsions of the body, and so on, are all part of the singing.
3§11. Anthropologists have collected many examples of laments that are sung and cried by persons in the depths of real grief. I could illustrate here by way of citing performances in Modern Greek contexts. There has been a great deal of ethnographic collecting of and research on laments in Modern Greek song culture. A particularly useful work that surveys the vast evidence is the book of Margaret Alexiou, The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition. [6] But I choose here instead to focus on a lament in the context of a historically unrelated song culture. In doing so, I am engaging in typological comparison, which is a kind of comparative method that has to do with the study of parallelisms between structures as structures pure and simple, without any presuppositions. Such a mode of comparison is especially useful in fields like linguistics: comparing parallel structures in languages – even if the given languages are unrelated to each other – is a proven way of enhancing one’s overall understanding of the linguistic structures being compared. [7]
3§12. The lament I have in mind is a northern Hungarian lament, sung – and cried – by an old woman who was mourning two adult sons, both of whom {77|78} were evidently killed in war. The recording of the lament was initiated many years ago by Zoltán Kodály, himself a Hungarian. Kodály was not only a celebrated composer (my late father, a pianist, was one of his pupils). He was also a respected ethnographer and ethnomusicologist who studied the song cultures of Eastern Europe and elsewhere. He arranged for the “live” recordings of a wide variety of folk performances (between 1934 and 1940), including laments. What I transcribe here is a part of the lament I have chosen: [8]

01. jaj jaj énnekem bánatos anyának! jaj jaj for me, sorrowful mother!
02. jaj jaj jaj jaj, jaj jaj jaj, Gézikám! jaj jaj jaj jaj, jaj jaj jaj, my little Géza!
03. Elrabolták a fiam tőlem They robbed my son from me.
04. Gézikám, Gézikám! my little Géza! my little Géza!
05. Hun vagy édes fiam? where are you, my sweet son?
06. Drága gyerekem! my dear child
07. jaj jaj jaj jaj jaj jaj! jaj jaj jaj jaj jaj jaj
08. jaj minden szentek napja jaj, every saint’s day,
09. úgy járkálok a sírok közt, how I wander among the graves
10. hogy nem tanálom a sírodat – but I can’t find your grave.
11. Gézikám édes fiam my little Géza, my sweet son
12. Gézikám Dezsőkém my little Géza, my little Dezső
13. Dezsőkém édes fiam my little Dezső, my sweet son
14. drága gyerekeim! my dear children
15. Hun vagytok, merre vagytok? where are you, where are you headed?
16. jaj de szerencsétlen anya vagyok! jaj, how luckless a mother I am
17. A gyerekeim elsodródtak tőlem messze a vihar. My children have been swept away, far away, by the storm.
18. Nem tanálom, nem tanálom, I can’t find them, I can’t find them.
19. jaj nekem, jaj nekem! jaj for me, jaj for me
20. Itthon vagyok evvel a bánatos szívű apátokval, I’m here at home with this father of yours with the sad heart.
21. akinek minden héten kiszedik a vérit. Every week they rip out his veins {78|79}
22. Jaj jaj jaj, olyan kínosan néz szegény! jaj jaj jaj, he looks so tortured
23. Jaj jaj jaj jaj jaj jaj nekem Jaj jaj jaj jaj jaj jaj for me
24. Hova legyek, mit csináljak? where am I headed, what am I to do?
25. Kihö forduljak panaszra? where shall I turn for consolation?
26. Ki segít rajtam, ki vigasztal engem? who will help me, who will comfort me?
27. Ki ad nekem egy darabka kenyeret who will give to me a little piece of bread,
28. édes fiaim énnekem? my sweet sons, to me?
29. jaj… jaj…
30. jaj, hova legyek, mit csináljak? jaj, where am I headed, what am I to do?
31. jaj, kihö menjek? jaj, where am I to go?
32. Kihö menjek panaszra, édes fiaim, drága gyerekeim? where shall I turn for consolation, my sweet sons, my dear children?
33. Nincs aki azt mondaná nekem, There is nobody who would say to me,
34. hogy édesanyám de szeretlek! My sweet mother, how I love you!
35. Gézikám drága gyerekem, My little Géza, my dear child,
36. aki ölelt-csókolt minden pillanatban engem. who hugged and kissed me every moment.
37. Anyukám, nem tehetek róla, My dear little mother [= “mommy”], I can’t help it,
38. de nagyon-nagyon szeretlek! but I love you very very much.
[[In “live” meetings ( [9] ) I play back at this point the part of the lament I just quoted (the recording is from Side 1 Section 12 of a vinyl record distributed by Qualiton Production 1964).]]

Pondering the words of this lament, I note here especially the many ways in which the lamenting woman expresses here her feelings of losing control and order. There is a sense of disorientation that sets in, especially at lines 18 and following, and this disorientation leads to a time warp: at lines 32 and following, the lamenting woman’s memories modulate from the present to the distant past, back when she is still a young mother taking care of her loving child. Her lamenting words picture the child as he is kissing her, trying to comfort her, and the child’s words are quoted directly: I am so sorry, ‘Mommy’, I can’t help it, I didn’t mean to hurt you. The incapacitation caused by death is all-pervasive here. Earlier, at lines 20-21, the father too is pictured as incapacitated with grief, as if all his blood had been forcibly drained from his body.

3§13. It is a well-known fact, learned from ethnographic research on laments, that such sad songs centering on the death of loved ones can modulate into love {79|80} songs. [10] And not only can laments modulate into love songs. The converse also happens: love songs can modulate into laments, especially in the case of love songs that center not only on lovers who are lost or dead but also on the loss or death of love itself. Just as laments express sorrow and love together in the course of mourning the death of a loved one, so also love songs can readily express the same two emotions of sorrow and love together. And why should a traditional love song be sad? It is because most traditional love songs are preoccupied with the theme of unrequited love. And, in most song cultures, love songs about unrequited love are felt to be deeply erotic.
3§14. I show here an example. It is a Hungarian love song, from the region of Transylvania, and the name of the love song is Szerelem, which means ‘love’. This song was used by the director of the film The English Patient (1996), both at the beginning of the film and also in the course of the action in the film, as for example in an intensely erotic love scene where the Hungarian character in the story of the film plays on an old “phonograph” machine a vinyl record of this love song. I give here the words of the first two stanzas only:

Szerelem, szerelem, O, love love
átkozott gyötrelem, accursed torture
mért nem virágoztál why did you not blossom
minden fatetején? on every treetop?
Minden fa tetején, On the top of every tree,
diófa levelén. on the leaf of a walnut tree,
úgy szakisztott volna so it would have been plucked by
minden leány s legény. every maiden and unmarried young man.

When you listen to this song, you hear an example of stylized crying. That is to say, the singer is not really crying, since the crying is stylized.

3§15. In most traditional song cultures, including Greek song culture, laments and love songs are performed primarily by women, and many of the formal gestures of lament are specific to women. The performance of songs by women is a most important matter in ancient Greek song culture. And it is a most important matter to consider right now, as we study the Homeric Iliad, since the traditions of such performances pervade the Iliad. And I argue that {80|81} Homeric poetry needs to be rethought in the light of the women’s song traditions that pervade it.

A conventional gesture in women’s laments

3§16. A moment ago, I mentioned formal gestures of lament that are specific to women. Now I point to an example of such a gesture in the singing of ancient Greek laments: women conventionally let down their hair while lamenting. This spontaneous but traditional gesture is an expression of loss of control and order in one’s personal life. There are also other spontaneous but traditional ways of expressing loss of control and order, such as tearing your hair, scratching your cheeks, ripping your fine clothing.
3§17. In the case of letting down the hair, this ritual gesture is normally preceded by the equally spontaneous but traditional ritual gesture of ripping off the veil that holds the hair together and keeps it composed.
3§18. Here I repeat, from the Introduction to the book, my working definition of ritual and myth. Ritual is doing things and saying things in a way that is considered sacred. Myth is saying things in a way that is also considered sacred. So, ritual frames myth.
3§19. Once the veil is torn off, the hair gets let down and becomes completely undone. A spectacular example is the scene in Iliad XXII when the wife of Hector, Andromache, rips off her veil, which is the most elaborate headdress to be found in Homeric poetry, before she starts to sing a lament over the death of her husband. By ripping off this veil, Andromache is letting down her beautiful curly hair, violently undoing it. In effect, what the Homeric narration presents here to the mind’s eye is the complete undoing of a woman’s composure. Andromache will perform her lament, crying and singing, with her hair completely undone:

Hour 3 Text C

|460 She [= Andromache] rushed out of the palace, same as a maenad [mainas], [11] |461 with heart throbbing. And her attending women went with her. |462 But when she reached the tower and the crowd of warriors, |463 she stood on the wall, looking around, and then she noticed him. |464 There he was, being dragged right in front of the city. The {81|82} swift chariot team of horses was |465 dragging him, far from her caring thoughts, back toward the hollow ships of the Achaeans. |466 Over her eyes a dark night spread its cover, |467 and she fell backward, gasping out her life’s breath [psūkhē]. |468 She threw far from her head the splendid adornments that bound her hair |469 – her frontlet [ampux], her snood [kekruphalos], her plaited headband [anadesmē], |470 and, to top it all, the veil [krēdemnon] that had been given to her by golden Aphrodite |471 on that day when Hector, the one with the waving plume on his helmet, took her by the hand and led her |472 out from the palace of Eëtion, and he gave countless courtship presents. |473 Crowding around her stood her husband’s sisters and his brothers’ wives, |474 and they were holding her up. She was barely breathing, to the point of dying. |475 But when she recovered her breathing and her life’s breath gathered in her heart, |476 she started to sing a lament in the midst of the Trojan women.
Iliad XXII 460-476 [12]
3§20. In the verses that follow, the beautiful song of lament sung by Andromache is quoted in full by the master Narrator (XXII 477-514). In order to appreciate this lament in context, we need to understand the scene of dishevelment that leads up to it, which I have studied at length in an article. Here is an abridged version of what I say about it there: [13]

When Andromache suddenly sees the corpse of Hector, dragged behind the chariot of Achilles, she falls into a swoon (XXII 466-467) while at the same time tearing off her elaborate krēdemnon, ‘veil’ (XXII 468-470). In this passionate moment, as her eyes are just about to behold the dreaded sight of her husband’s corpse, she is described as looking ‘just like a maenad’ (mainadi īsē XXII 460). Earlier in the Iliad {82|83}, in an analogous context (VI 389), Andromache is pictured as ‘looking like a woman possessed’ (mainomenēi eïkuia VI 389) as she rushes toward the walls of Troy to see for herself the fate of the Trojans on the battlefield.
In this dramatic context, I draw attention to the evocative word krēdemnon, ‘veil’ (XXII 470). It refers to the overall ornamental hair-binding that holds together three separate kinds of ornamental hair-binding that serve to keep Andromache’s hair in place, under control (XXII 469). [14] When Andromache violently tears off from her head this most elaborate veil, causing her hair to come completely undone, she is ritually miming her complete loss of control over her own fate as linked with the fate of her husband: we see here a ritually eroticized gesture that expresses her extreme sexual vulnerability as linked with the violent death and disfiguration of her husband. For Andromache to do violence to her own krēdemnon is to express the anticipated violence of her future sexual humiliation at the hands of the enemy. Pointedly, the goddess Aphrodite herself had given this krēdemnon to Andromache on her wedding day (XXII 470-471).
Such explicit association of the krēdemnon with Aphrodite reveals its erotic properties. The undoing of a woman’s hair, caused by the undoing of her krēdemnon, produces what I will call an Aphrodisiac effect. So long as a woman’s krēdemnon is in place, her sexuality is under control just as her hair is under control. When the krēdemnon is out of place, however, her sexuality threatens to get out of control.
3§21. The lament that is sung by Andromache when she sees the corpse of Hector dragged behind the speeding chariot of Achilles is arguably the most artistic and elaborate of all the laments quoted in the Iliad (XXII 477-514). It is also the most lengthy of all Homeric laments. Later on, toward the end of the Iliad, Andromache sings a lament at the funeral of Hector in Troy, and this lament too is quoted in full by the master Narrator (XXIV 725-745). And, earlier on, when Andromache speaks to her husband for the last time in a tearful farewell scene, {83|84} her words correspond formally to the words of a lament that could have been sung, with adjustments, at the funeral of Hector, and these words too are quoted in full by the master Narrator (VI 407-439).
3§22. I need to say one more thing right now about the first of the three laments performed by Andromache: in this first lament, Andromache is singing and crying over the death of her husband Hector even before he dies. In this case, her lament is an act of premonition.

A typological comparison of laments

3§23. I offer here a typological parallel to Andromache’s first lament as an act of premonition. [15] It comes from the Korean film Ch’unhyang (2000), which is based on a traditional Korean p’ansori narrative about a righteous young woman named Ch’unhyang, who is of low social status but high moral principles.
3§24. I concentrate here on a scene from this narrative, in which the young woman breaks out in lament when she absorbs the sad news of a terrible fate that awaits her. In this scene, the secret husband of Ch’unhyang announces that he will abandon her, though only for a while, he claims. The reaction of Ch’unhyang is instantaneous grief. Her sorrow is mixed with feelings of love for her husband, and with feelings of fear and anger that she will lose him forever. She bursts into a lament, accompanied by ritual gestures, such as the violent tearing of her clothes, which is a ritual premonition of the violence she will endure because of her low social rank, now that her high-ranking secret husband is leaving her. This violent tearing of clothes dramatizes her sexual vulnerability in the uncertain future that now awaits her. In the plot of the Ch’unhyang narrative, that vulnerability will turn out to be a grim reality for this abandoned woman, whose low social status makes her become the tragic victim of predatory men of high social status. Her lament is a premonition that anticipates this reality, as she keeps on crying and singing. And the master Narrator quotes the lament of Ch’unhyang as she cries and sings. This way, by quoting the lament of Ch’unhyang, the Narrator performs his own stylized crying and singing, which is more artistic than the lament of Ch’unhyang. When Ch’unhyang is lamenting, her crying and singing are more natural, not as musical as the stylized crying and singing of the master Narrator, and her lament echoes in a kind of delayed reaction the singing of her {84|85} lament as performed by the master Narrator. In the middle of her lament, the macro-Narrative of the film shows flashbacks to happy moments in the past when Ch’unhyang is seen making love to her secret husband. These erotic flashbacks have the effect of intensifying the sorrow of Ch’unhyang as she thinks back to those happy moments in the past that preceded her excruciating pain and suffering in the present. And, conversely, her sorrow intensifies the eroticism of these flashbacks.

[[In “live” meetings, I show at this point a clip from the film Ch’unhyang (2000), directed by Im Kwon-taek.]]
3§25. The macro-Narrative of the film Ch’unhyang actually shows the master Narrator in action. The camera shows him performing before a large audience representing a broad cross-section of ages and social status. The master Narrator is telling about the excruciating pain and suffering inflicted on Ch’unhyang by her high ranking tormentor, a magistrate who seeks to alienate her affections from her absent husband. The earlier lament of premonition sung by Ch’unhyang, accompanied by acts of ritual self-degradation like the ripping of her fine clothing, now becomes a lament of actuality, where she cries and sings over the excruciating pain that is being inflicted on her. And the lament that she sings while she is being tortured is quoted by the master Narrator himself, whose stylized crying and singing is foregrounded against the background of the natural crying and singing of Ch’unhyang as she endures the pain inflicted on her. Her crying and singing are echoing the stylized crying and singing of the master Narrator who is quoting her sad song:

[[In “live” meetings, I show at this point a clip from Ch’unhyang. What we may observe, in “reading” the laments of the character named Ch’unhyang, is a typological parallel to the laments of Andromache in the Homeric Iliad. ]].

The first lament of Andromache

3§26. With this comparison in place, I will now analyze the first of the three laments of Andromache in the Iliad. I quote only a part of this lament, where we see Andromache singing and crying over the death of her husband Hector even before he dies. As I said before, her lament is an act of premonition:

Hour 3 Text D

|407 What’s gotten into you [Hector] – some kind of superhuman force [daimōn]? Your own power [menos] is going to make you perish [phthi-n-ein]. You are not showing pity, |408 not thinking of your disconnected [nēpiakhos] son, and not thinking of me, deprived as I am of good fortune. I will soon become a widow, |409 your widow, since you will soon {85|86} be killed by the Achaeans. |410 They will all rush at you. It would be better for me, |411 if I should lose you, to lie dead and be covered over by the earth, since there will no longer |412 be anything left to comfort me when you have met your fate. |413 I will have nothing but sorrows [akhos plural]. I have neither a father nor a queen mother now. |414 My father was killed by radiant Achilles |415 when that one destroyed the beautifully flourishing city of the Cilicians, |416 Thebe, with its lofty gates. So he [= Achilles] killed Eëtion, |417 but he did not strip him of his armor – at least he had that much decency in his heart [thūmos] – |418 and he honored him with the ritual of cremation, burning him together with his armor. |419 Then he heaped up a tomb [sēma] for him, and elm trees were generated [phuteuein] around it |420 by forest nymphs who are daughters of Zeus, holder of the aegis. |421 I had seven brothers in my father’s house, |422 but on the same day they all went down into the house of Hādēs. |423 For they were all killed by Achilles, swift of foot, the radiant one, |424 while they were guarding their ranging cattle and their bright-fleeced sheep. |425 My mother – she who had been queen of all the land under the wooded mountain Plakos – |426 he [= Achilles] brought her along with the captured treasures, |427 and freed her for the price of an untold amount of property, |428 but then, in the house of your father [= Priam], she was shot down by Artemis, shooter of arrows. |429 Oh, Hector, you who are to me a father, a queen mother, |430 a brother, and a husband in his prime – |431 please, have pity on me; stay here at the fortifications; |432 don’t make your child an orphan, and your wife a widow.
Iliad VI 407-432 [16] {86|87}
3§27. As we see in these words of Andromache’s lament, the word akhos, ‘grief, sorrow’, at verse 413 is used to express the performance, the singing, of lament.
3§28. In the course of lamenting her sorrows, Andromache makes special mention of the death of her father, whose name is Eëtion – as we know from another context that we will be considering in less than a minute from now. From what Andromache says, it is clear that her father would rank highest in her ascending scale of affection – if he were alive. But her father is dead, and so too are her seven brothers and her mother. For Andromache, all she has left is her husband Hector, who is now the entirety of her ascending scale of affections. Hector has become for Andromache her father, brothers, and mother as well as her husband. In effect, Andromache is telling Hector: you’re my everything.

What Achilles sang

3§29. The death of Eëtion, Andromache’s father, who would have ranked highest in Andromache’s ascending scale of affection, deepens the irony in a passage we saw earlier. Here I repeat the relevant verses of that passage:

Hour 3 Text E = Hour 2 Text D

|185 The two of them reached the shelters and the ships of the Myrmidons, |186 and they found Achilles diverting his heart [phrēn] as he was playing on a clear-sounding lyre [phorminx], |187 a beautiful one, of exquisite workmanship, and its cross-bar was of silver. |188 It was part of the spoils that he had taken when he destroyed the city of Eëtion, |189 and he was now diverting his heart [thūmos] with it as he was singing [aeidein] the glories of men [klea andrōn]. |190 Patroklos was the only other person there. He [= Patroklos] sat in silence, facing him [= Achilles], |191 and waiting for the Aeacid [= Achilles] to leave off singing [aeidein]. |192 Meanwhile the two of them came in – Odysseus leading the way – |193 and stood before him. Achilles sprang up from his seat |194 with the lyre [phorminx] still in his hand, |195 and Patroklos, when he saw the guests, rose also.
Iliad IX 185-195
3§30. We see Achilles here singing the klea andrōn, the ‘glories of heroes of the past’ (Iliad IX 189) – while accompanying himself on a lyre. And the lyre {87|88} that he is playing had once belonged to Eëtion, the father of Andromache. As we have just seen from the words of Andromache, Achilles had killed her father Eëtion. And, evidently, Achilles took away as his prize the lyre of Eëtion, and now he is playing on that lyre as he sings the klea andrōn, the ‘glories of men’. You could say that Achilles is strumming the pain of Andromache. I am reminded of the words of the song original sung by Roberta Flack, Killing me softly (1973): “Strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words, …”
3§31. You have to ask yourself: what was Achilles singing about when he sang the klea andrōn, the ‘glories of heroes of the past’ (Iliad IX 189)? The master Narrator of the macro-Narrative does not say. There is no quoting or even paraphrasing of the subject of the song sung by Achilles here. But there is a hint about that subject, and that hint is embedded in another vitally important nearby mention of klea andrōn in the Iliad. We have already seen it. It happens in Text B of Hour 2, where Phoenix is telling the story of the hero Meleagros and his wife Kleopatra, and the old man refers to his micro-narrative as tōn prosthen klea andrōn | hērōōn, ‘the glories [kleos plural] of men of an earlier time who were heroes’ (IX 524-525). And what is the subject of that micro-narrative? From the standpoint of Phoenix as the narrator, the subject is the love that a hero owes to his comrades. From the standpoint of the master Narrator of the macro-Narrative that is the Iliad, however, the subject is nothing less than the meaning of Kleopatra herself, of her name, which signals the ‘glories of the ancestors’, the ‘glories of heroes of the past’.

The song of Kleopatra

3§32. The meaning of Kleopatra, as well as the meaning of the song about Kleopatra as told by Phoenix, is relevant to the very idea of lamentation. Inside the song about Kleopatra, that is, inside the klea andrōn as performed by Phoenix, Kleopatra is actually shown performing a lament, singing it to her husband Meleagros, and her song of lament is actually paraphrased in this song of and about Kleopatra (Iliad IX 590-594). In this song, that is, in the klea andrōn as performed by Phoenix (IX 524), we see that Kleopatra has a second name besides Kleopatra, and that second name is a clear signal of lamentation. That second name is Alcyone, and the meaning of that name is transparent. In ancient Greek traditions, as I noted in Hour 2, the alcyon / halcyon is a bird that is linked with singing songs of lament, and the Iliad makes this link explicit in re- {88|89} ferring to the name Alcyone, given to the lamenting Kleopatra by her lamenting mother and father:

Hour 3 Text F (part of Hour 2 Text E)

|561 She [= Kleopatra] had been given a special name by the father and by the queen mother back then [when she was growing up] in the palace. |562 They called her Alcyone, making that a second name for her, because her |563 mother [= Marpessa] was feeling the same pain [oitos] felt by the halcyon bird, known for her many sorrows [penthos]. |564 She [= Marpessa] was crying because she had been seized and carried away by the one who has far-reaching power, Phoebus Apollo.
Iliad IX 561-564 [17]
3§33. Can we say, then, that the klea andrōn sung by Achilles himself is the song of Kleopatra? Yes and no. It is the song of Kleopatra, but it is not only her song. It is also the song of Patroklos. As we have seen in Hour 2, the meaning of the name of Kleopatra is also the meaning of the name of Patroklos, ‘the one who has the glory [kleos] of the ancestors [pateres]’, and this meaning recapitulates the epic choice of Achilles, who ultimately opts for kleos over life itself. The name of Kleopatra contains the same elements as does the name of Patroklos, only in reverse: ‘the one who has the glory [kleos] of the ancestors [pateres]’. {89|90}


[ back ] 1. |188 Ὣς φάτο· Πηλεΐωνι δ’ ἄχος γένετ’, ἐν δέ οἱ ἦτορ |189 στήθεσσιν λασίοισι διάνδιχα μερμήριξεν, |190 ἢ ὅ γε φάσγανον ὀξὺ ἐρυσσάμενος παρὰ μηροῦ |191 τοὺς μὲν ἀναστήσειεν, ὃ δ’ Ἀτρεΐδην ἐναρίζοι, |192 ἦε χόλον παύσειεν ἐρητύσειέ τε θυμόν.
[ back ] 2. |22 Ἀμαζὼν Πενθεσίλεια παραγίνεται |23 Τρωσὶ συμμαχήσουσα, Ἄρεως μὲν θυγάτηρ, Θρᾷσσα δὲ τὸ |24 γένος· καὶ κτείνει αὐτὴν ἀριστεύουσαν Ἀχιλλεύς, οἱ δὲ Τρῶες |24 αὐτὴν θάπτουσι. καὶ Ἀχιλλεὺς Θερσίτην ἀναιρεῖ λοιδορηθεὶς |25 πρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ὀνειδισθεὶς τὸν ἐπὶ τῇ Πενθεσιλείᾳ |26 λεγόμενον ἔρωτα.
[ back ] 3. An English-language translation of the entire ancient plot-summary of the Aithiopis in available in the online Sourcebook (
[ back ] 4. BA 259-264 = 14§§10-14.
[ back ] 5. This reconstruction is explained in BA 94-117 = 6§§1-30 and in HTL 131-137.
[ back ] 6. Alexiou 1974; the second edition features an important new introduction by Yatromanolakis and Roilos 2002.
[ back ] 7. On the concept of typological parallels, see EH §4, with bibliography.
[ back ] 8. The recording was distributed by Qualiton (1964). Transcribed by Henry Bayerle.
[ back ] 9. For general information about the collecting of Hungarian laments, see
[ back ] 10. Nagy 2010b (“Ancient Greek Elegy”) 34.
[ back ] 11. There will be more to say about maenads in what follows.
[ back ] 12. |460 (Ὣς φαμένη) μεγάροιο διέσσυτο μαινάδι ἴση |461 παλλομένη κραδίην· ἅμα δ’ ἀμφίπολοι κίον αὐτῇ |461 αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ πύργόν τε καὶ ἀνδρῶν ἷξεν ὅμιλον |463 ἔστη παπτήνασ’ ἐπὶ τείχεϊ, τὸν δὲ νόησεν |464 ἑλκόμενον πρόσθεν πόλιος· ταχέες δέ μιν ἵπποι |465 ἕλκον ἀκηδέστως κοίλας ἐπὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν. |466 τὴν δὲ κατ’ ὀφθαλμῶν ἐρεβεννὴ νὺξ ἐκάλυψεν, |467 ἤριπε δ’ ἐξοπίσω, ἀπὸ δὲ ψυχὴν ἐκάπυσσε. |468 τῆλε δ’ ἀπὸ κρατὸς βάλε δέσματα σιγαλόεντα, |469 ἄμπυκα κεκρύφαλόν τε ἰδὲ πλεκτὴν ἀναδέσμην |470 κρήδεμνόν θ’, ὅ ῥά οἱ δῶκε χρυσῆ Ἀφροδίτη |471 ἤματι τῷ ὅτε μιν κορυθαίολος ἠγάγεθ’ Ἕκτωρ |472 ἐκ δόμου Ἠετίωνος, ἐπεὶ πόρε μυρία ἕδνα. |473 ἀμφὶ δέ μιν γαλόῳ τε καὶ εἰνατέρες ἅλις ἔσταν, |474 αἵ ἑ μετὰ σφίσιν εἶχον ἀτυζομένην ἀπολέσθαι. |475 ἣ δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν ἔμπνυτο καὶ ἐς φρένα θυμὸς ἀγέρθη |476 ἀμβλήδην γοόωσα μετὰ Τρῳῇσιν ἔειπεν·
[ back ] 13. Nagy 2007c:249-250.
[ back ] 14. The three separate terms for ornamental hair-bindings here are ampux, ‘frontlet’, kekruphalos, ‘snood’, and anadesmē, ‘headband’ (Iliad XXII 469); the overall hair-binding or ‘veil’ that keeps it all in place is the krēdemnon (XXII 470). Similarly, Varro (On the Latin language 5.130) speaks of three separate terms for ornamental hair-bindings traditionally used by Roman matrons: lanea, ‘woolen ribbon’, reticulum, ‘net-cap’ or ‘snood’, and capital, ‘headband’. To these three words Varro (7.44) adds a fourth, tutulus (derived from the adjective tutus, ‘providing safety’), which seems to be an overall term for the generic veil worn by brides and Vestal Virgins as well as matrons.
[ back ] 15. On the concept of typological parallels, see again EH §4, with bibliography.
[ back ] 16. |407 δαιμόνιε φθίσει σε τὸ σὸν μένος, οὐδ’ ἐλεαίρεις |408 παῖδά τε νηπίαχον καὶ ἔμ’ ἄμμορον, ἣ τάχα χήρη |409 σεῦ ἔσομαι· τάχα γάρ σε κατακτανέουσιν Ἀχαιοὶ |410 πάντες ἐφορμηθέντες· ἐμοὶ δέ κε κέρδιον εἴη |411 σεῦ ἀφαμαρτούσῃ χθόνα δύμεναι· οὐ γὰρ ἔτ’ ἄλλη |412 ἔσται θαλπωρὴ ἐπεὶ ἂν σύ γε πότμον ἐπίσπῃς |413 ἀλλ’ ἄχε’· οὐδέ μοι ἔστι πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ. |414 ἤτοι γὰρ πατέρ’ ἁμὸν ἀπέκτανε δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς, |415 ἐκ δὲ πόλιν πέρσεν Κιλίκων εὖ ναιετάουσαν |416 Θήβην ὑψίπυλον· κατὰ δ’ ἔκτανεν Ἠετίωνα, |417 οὐδέ μιν ἐξενάριξε, σεβάσσατο γὰρ τό γε θυμῷ, |418 ἀλλ’ ἄρα μιν κατέκηε σὺν ἔντεσι δαιδαλέοισιν |419 ἠδ’ ἐπὶ σῆμ’ ἔχεεν· περὶ δὲ πτελέας ἐφύτευσαν |420 νύμφαι ὀρεστιάδες κοῦραι Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο. |421 οἳ δέ μοι ἑπτὰ κασίγνητοι ἔσαν ἐν μεγάροισιν |422 οἳ μὲν πάντες ἰῷ κίον ἤματι Ἄϊδος εἴσω· |423 πάντας γὰρ κατέπεφνε ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς |424 βουσὶν ἐπ’ εἰλιπόδεσσι καὶ ἀργεννῇς ὀΐεσσι. |425 μητέρα δ’, ἣ βασίλευεν ὑπὸ Πλάκῳ ὑληέσσῃ, |426 τὴν ἐπεὶ ἂρ δεῦρ’ ἤγαγ’ ἅμ’ ἄλλοισι κτεάτεσσιν, |427 ἂψ ὅ γε τὴν ἀπέλυσε λαβὼν ἀπερείσι’ ἄποινα, |428 πατρὸς δ’ ἐν μεγάροισι βάλ’ Ἄρτεμις ἰοχέαιρα. |429 Ἕκτορ ἀτὰρ σύ μοί ἐσσι πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ |430 ἠδὲ κασίγνητος, σὺ δέ μοι θαλερὸς παρακοίτης· |431 ἀλλ’ ἄγε νῦν ἐλέαιρε καὶ αὐτοῦ μίμν’ ἐπὶ πύργῳ, |432 μὴ παῖδ’ ὀρφανικὸν θήῃς χήρην τε γυναῖκα.
[ back ] 17. |561 τὴν δὲ τότ’ ἐν μεγάροισι πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ |562 Ἀλκυόνην καλέεσκον ἐπώνυμον, οὕνεκ’ ἄρ’ αὐτῆς |563 μήτηρ ἀλκυόνος πολυπενθέος οἶτον ἔχουσα |564 κλαῖεν ὅ μιν ἑκάεργος ἀνήρπασε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων.