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 4. Achilles as lyric hero in the songs of Sappho and Pindar

The meaning of aphthito-

4§1. The key word for this hour is aphthito- in the sense of ‘imperishable’. And, by the time we reach the end of this hour, we will see that aphthito- can also be interpreted as ‘unwilting’ in some specialized contexts. We already saw this word when we were reading Text A in Hour 1, where the hero Achilles tells about a prophecy made by his divine mother Thetis:

|412 If I stay here and fight at the walls of the city of the Trojans, |413 then my safe homecoming [nostos] will be destroyed for me, but I will have a glory [kleos] that is imperishable [aphthiton].
Iliad IX 412-413 [1]
4§2. Such an idea of a kleos or poetic ‘glory’ that is aphthiton or ‘imperishable’ forever can be found not only in epic poetry. It can be found also in lyric poetry. For example, as we will soon see, the identical expression kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’, is used in a song of Sappho, who flourished in the late seventh and early sixth century BCE. And the same idea of ‘imperishable glory’ is found in a song of Pindar, who flourished in the first half of the fifth century BCE. Although the era of Pindar is more than a century later than the era of Sappho, I will start in Text A with the relevant passage from Pindar (Isthmian 8 lines 56-62). Then I will move to text B, which is the relevant passage from Sappho (Song 44, with special reference to kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’, at line 4). [2] {90|91}

The imperishable glory of Achilles in a song of Pindar

4§3. That said, I am ready to focus on a passage that expresses the idea of kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’ – but without directly using the words kleos and aphthiton. The passage I will quote, Text A, is taken from a choral lyric song of Pindar. This song is honoring the athletic victory of an aristocrat from the island state of Aegina. The athlete’s name is Kleandros. Besides Kleandros, the song also honors his cousin, named Nikokles. And, ultimately, the song honors the hero Achilles, whom the aristocrats of Aegina claimed as one of their ancestors. [3] Here is what the lyric wording says about Achilles:

Hour 4 Text A (see also Hour 0 Text E)

|56 Even when he [= Achilles] died, the songs did not leave him, |57 but the Maidens of Helicon [= the Muses] stood by his pyre and his funeral mound, |58 and, as they stood there, they poured forth a song of lamentation [thrēnos] that is famed far and wide. |59 And so it was that the immortal gods decided |60 to hand over the man, genuine [esthlos] as he was even after he had perished [phthi-n-ein] in death, to the songs of the goddesses [= the Muses]. |61 And this, even now, wins as a prize the words of song, as the chariot-team of the Muses starts moving on its way |62 to glorify the memory of Nikokles the boxer.
Pindar Isthmian 8.56-62 [4]
4§4. So, the lyric song is saying that Achilles will die in war and will thus stop flourishing, that is, he will ‘perish’, phthi-n-ein, but the medium that conveys the message of death will never perish. This medium is pictured as a choral lyric song eternally sung by the Muses as they lament Achilles after he is cut down. [5] The lyric song is pictured as a lament that will be transformed by the Muses into a song of glory. Although Achilles will personally ‘perish’, phthi-n-ein, the song about him is destined to have a poetic glory that will never perish. The lyric wording here corresponds to the epic wording that we have noted in Iliad IX {91|92} 413, quoted in Hour 1 Text A, where it is foretold that the poetic kleos, ‘glory’, of Achilles will be a-phthi-ton, ‘imperishable’, forever. [6] The Homeric usage of kleos in such contexts is parallel to the usage of this same word in the songmaking of Pindar, whose words proudly proclaim his mastery of the prestige conferred by kleos or poetic ‘glory’ (as in Nemean 7.61-63). [7]
4§5. I follow up here with a brief exegesis of Text A, the Pindaric passage that I quoted just now (Isthmian 8 lines 56-62). [8]
4§5a. According to Pindar’s song, the death of the athlete Nikokles (we do not know for sure how he died, but he may have been killed in the Persian War of 480 BCE) will not impede the glory that he merited as a victorious boxer: rather, the death of this athlete is said to be the key to the continuation of his glory, just as the death of Achilles was the key to the extension of the glory of heroes into the historical present.
4§5b. Pindar’s song says that the death of Nikokles, by virtue of his deeds in the historical present, will be honored by the same tradition of song that honored the death of Achilles by virtue of that hero’s deeds in the heroic past. Thus the name of Nikokles, Nīkoklēs or ‘he who has the glory [kleos] of victory [nīkē]’, has a meaning that is relevant to the themes of Pindar’s lyric song.
4§5c. But there is another name in this song that is even more relevant. The cousin of Nikokles, whose victory in an athletic event of boxing is highlighted in the song, was a young man named Kleandros, who won in the athletic event of the pankration at the festival of the Isthmia (celebrated at the Isthmus of Corinth) and who was the primary recipient of honor in this lyric song of Pindar. The name of Kleandros, Kleandros or ‘he who has the glories of men [klea andrōn]’, is proclaimed as the first word of this whole song of Pindar’s (Isthmian 8.1). This placement of his name at the very beginning of the song composed in his honor is remarkable. In no other victory song of Pindar do we find the name of a victor placed in absolute initial position. And the meaning of this name fits perfectly the meaning of the expression klea andrōn, ‘the glories of men’, as we have seen it used in epic: {92|93}

Hour 4 Text B (part of Hour 2 Text B)

|524 This is how [houtōs] we [= I, Phoenix] learned it, the glories [klea] of men [andrōn] of an earlier time [prosthen], |525 who were heroes [hērōes], whenever one of them was overcome by tempestuous anger.
Iliad IX 524-525

Hour 4 Text C = 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 – radiant 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

In these two passages from Iliad IX, as we have already seen in Hour 2, the term klea andrōn, ‘glories of men’, refers in the first case to an allusive tale told by Phoenix to Achilles about Meleagros and Kleopatra (524) and, in the second case, to a song sung by Achilles in his shelter (189).

The lyric glory of Achilles

4§6. The word kleos, when it is used in epic, is not limited to the ‘glory’ of epic. As I will now argue, the epic kleos chosen by Achilles in Iliad IX (413) is also a lyric kleos. And Achilles himself is not only an epic hero: he is also a lyric hero. The epic wording of the Homeric Iliad clearly recognizes that the kleos of Achilles is lyric as well as epic. {93|94}
4§7. In my argumentation, I will start with a telling detail. As we can see in the epic of the Iliad, Achilles is pictured as singing the klea andrōn, ‘glories of men’ (IX 189), while accompanying himself on a phorminx (IX 186, 195), which is a kind of lyre, by which I mean simply a stringed instrument. So, it is pertinent to note already at this stage that the lyre typifies ‘lyric’ poetry in ancient Greek song culture. Granted, the mention of a lyre in this passage of the Iliad is not decisive, since we can find Homeric contexts that show a singer accompanying himself on a phorminx while performing either epic tales (as in Odyssey viii 67, 99, 105, 537) or songs that are both sung and danced (as in viii 254, 257, 261). [9] Still, the fact remains that Achilles is accompanying himself on a lyre (IX 186, 195) when he sings the klea andrōn, ‘glories of men’, in his shelter (IX 189). And all I am saying at this point is that such singing could be lyric as well as epic.
4§8. Pursuing this argument further, I now return to a passage that came up in the previous hour. It is Text D of Hour 3, Iliad VI 407-416, 421-432, where Andromache laments the death of her father, whose name is Eëtion. In the light of that passage I quoted earlier, we have seen the deep irony of the reference to the lyre of Achilles in the passage I quoted just a minute ago, Text C, from Iliad IX 185-195. Here we see Achilles playing on the lyre that once belonged to Eëtion, the father of Andromache. He is singing and accompanying himself on the lyre. And such self-accompanied singing to the lyre, as I just noted, is the basic principle of what we call lyric poetry. And the lyric poem – or, better, lyric song – that Achilles is performing here in Iliad IX 189 is the klea andrōn, the ‘glories of men’.
4§9. A fuller way of referring to such glories, as we saw in Text B, Iliad IX 524-525, is tōn prosthen klea andrōn | hērōōn, ‘the glories [kleos plural] of men of an earlier time, who were heroes’. In this Text B, as we have seen, the narrator is Phoenix, who is performing a compressed epic narrative about the hero Meleagros and his wife Kleopatra. As we have also seen, the name Kleo-patra means ‘she who has the kleos of the ancestors’. In this case, I have described the narrative of Phoenix as an epic within the epic that is the Homeric Iliad. So, the klea andrōn, ‘glories of men’, can be either epic or lyric.
4§10. When Achilles sings the klea andrōn, ‘glories of men’, in Iliad IX (189), his only audience is his best friend Patroklos, who is waiting for his own turn to sing (190-191). As we have already seen, the one-man audience of the song is {94|95} also the hidden subject of the allusive tale here. And that is because, as we have also seen, the name Patro-kleēs means ‘he who has the kleos of the ancestors’.
4§11. In Iliad IX (189), we see the word kleos, ‘glory’, being used explicitly, but the reference to the glory of Patroklos is only implicit; and this kleos, given by the medium of epic, describes itself elsewhere as aphthiton, ‘imperishable’ (413). In Pindar’s Isthmian 8 (56-60), by contrast, the word kleos is not being used in referring to glory given by the medium of lyric, though we have already seen it used that way in other lyric contexts, as in Nemean 7 (61-63). Nevertheless, the actual reference to the glory of Achilles is explicit here in Isthmian 8. And, although Isthmian 8 does not show the form aphthito-, ‘imperishable’, with reference to the glory of Achilles, it does show the word phthimenos, ‘perished’, with reference to Achilles himself as the hero who has personally perished while his glory remains imperishable. And this glory extends all the way into the glory of the victorious athlete in the historical present.
4§12. In Pindar’s lyric song, as in the epic of the Iliad, the kleos of the ancestors plays a role. In the lyric song, however, the kleos of the ancestors is realized not in the idea built into the name of Patroklos, the kleos of the ancestors, but rather in the actual kleos of the victor’s own ancestors. In this particular song, moreover, the kleos of the victor’s ancestors is realized in the victor’s own name, Kleandros. The victor Kleandros is living proof that the kleos or poetic ‘glory’ of his family is predicated on the achievements of its members. The victor who is being celebrated here in Pindar’s lyric song was expected to be celebrated from the start, from the very time that he was named after he was born. He was expected to become what he became through his athletic victory. And he was fortunate enough to live up to his name. A person’s name, which he is given at birth on the basis of his ancestry, commits him to his identity. In the case of Kleandros, we see that a historical person can fit the themes of Pindar’s songmaking tradition. Even the identity of a historical person, as defined by his name, can fit such themes. This can happen because the family’s prestige and their very identity depend on the traditional institution of glorification by way of song.
4§13. Here I return to my argument that the epic kleos to be chosen by Achilles in Iliad IX 413, quoted in Hour 1 Text A, is also a lyric kleos, as we can see from the fact that Achilles is pictured as singing the klea andrōn, ‘glories of heroes’, in Iliad IX 189, quoted in Text C, while he accompanies himself on a lyre, which as we have just seen is the stringed instrument that typifies ‘lyric’ poetry in ancient Greek song culture. And, I must now emphasize, the lyric song that {95|96} Achilles sings is relevant to the themes of lament. As we have already noticed, this precious musical instrument had been plundered by Achilles when he captured the native city of Andromache (IX 186-189). The link here with Andromache is essential, in view of the fact that this woman is featured as singing three of the greatest laments in the Iliad. As I have already noted in Hour 3, Andromache is performing a formal lament for Hector in Iliad XXIV (725-745); also in Iliad XXII (477-514), much of what she says corresponds morphologically to the words of a formal lament. And, already in her first appearance, in Iliad VI (407-439), the language of lament is evident in her words as she and Hector part forever, she is going back to her weaving at the loom while he goes off to his death. [10]
4§14. The song of klea andrōn, ‘glories of heroes’, sung by Achilles inside the epic of the Homeric Iliad (IX 189) is like an echo of songs of lament about love and bittersweet sorrow as heard in the lyric tradition. [11] In that tradition, such songs of lament are typically linked not only with Achilles but also with that most celebrated pair of doomed lovers in ancient Greek song culture, namely, Andromache and the man who earns the ultimate hatred and fury of Achilles in the Iliad, Hector. [12] The kleos of Achilles is a form of song that dwells on the hatred and the fury, the love and the sorrow – and on the power of song in expressing all these intensely lyrical feelings.

The imperishable glory of Hector and Andromache in a song of Sappho

4§15. The kleos or ‘glory’ of Achilles in epic is interchangeable with the kleos or ‘glory’ of Hector and Andromache in lyric, as we learn from Song 44 of Sappho, which is about the wedding of this doomed couple. [13] Song 44 is fragmentary, and I quote here only some salient lines:

Hour 4 Text D

|4 … and the rest of Asia … imperishable glory [kleos aphthiton]. |5 Hector and his comrades [sun-(h)etairoi] led her, the one with the {96|97} glancing looks, |6 from holy Thebe and … Plakia, they led her, the lovely Andromache |7 in ships over the salty |8 sea. Many golden bracelets and purple |9 robes …, intricately-worked ornaments, |10 countless silver cups and ivory. |11 Thus he spoke. And the dear father quickly stood up. |12 And the news reached the dear ones throughout the broad city. |13 And the Trojans yoked to smooth-running carriages |14 the mules. And the whole ensemble climbed on, |15 all the women and maidens | … |21 looking just like the gods [ikeloi theois] |22 … holy |23 set forth into Troy … |24 And the sweet song of the pipe mixed … |25 And the sound of the cymbals, and then the maidens |26 sang a sacred song, and all the way to the sky |27 traveled the wondrous echo … |28 And everywhere through the streets … |29 Mixing bowls and cups … |30 And myrrh and cassia and frankincense were mingled. |31 And the older women cried out elelu. |32 Meanwhile all the men sang out a lovely high-pitched song, |33 calling on Apollo Pāōn, the far-shooter, master of playing beautifully on the lyre. |34 And they sang the song of Hector and Andromache, both looking just like the gods [theoeikeloi].
from Song 44 of Sappho (“The Wedding of Hector and Andromache”) [14]
4§16. There is an all-important comparison to be made here: the happy bride and bridegroom, in the wording of line 4 of Song 44 of Sappho, are destined to have kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’, and the phrase that we see being used here in Sappho’s song is identical with the kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’, of Achilles in line 413 of Iliad IX, as quoted in Hour 1 Text A.
4§17. We saw in Iliad IX 413 that the main hero of the Iliad leaves as his signature the kleos of his own epic, which turns out to be the Iliad. Now we see that the kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’, of Achilles in Iliad IX is matched by the {97|98} kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’, of Hector and Andromache in Song 44 of Sappho. In the first case, the context of winning such glory is war. In the second case, the context is a wedding.
4§18. Since Song 44 of Sappho is about a wedding, it is important to note right away the traditional wording that applies to brides at weddings. That word is numphē, which means both ‘bride’ (as in Iliad XVIII 492) and ‘goddess’, that is, ‘nymph’ (as in Iliad XXIV 616). By implication, the ritual occasion of a wedding, as formalized in a bridal song, collapses the distinction between ‘bride’ and ‘goddess’. The same can be said, as we will see in Hour 5, about the distinction between ‘bridegroom’ and ‘god’.
4§19. At the climax of the wedding of Hector and Andromache as narrated in Song 44 of Sappho, the bride and groom are transformed into gods – at the actual moment of that climax. I will make that argument in Hour 5. And I will also make a related argument there. In Hour 5, we will see how something comparable happens at the climactic moment of war: at the actual moment of that climax, the warrior is transformed into a god.
4§20. Here I highlight the epithet theoeikeloi, ‘looking just like the gods’, applied to Hector and Andromache as the bridegroom and the bride in line 34 of Song 44 of Sappho; also relevant is ikeloi theois, ‘looking just like the gods’, applied to the couple in line 11. This same epithet theoeikelos, ‘looking just like the gods’, is used in the Iliad, but there it is reserved for Achilles (I 131, XIX 155). No other hero receives this epithet in that epic. So, the doomed couple and the doomed Achilles are all part of one song, one kleos. Such is the kleos that Sappho’s Song 44 is recreating. In the songmaking traditions of women, this song is morphologically related to but distinct from the epic songs that derive primarily from the songmaking traditions of men. To put it another way, Song 44 of Sappho is an example of epic as refracted in women’s songmaking traditions. [15]

Achilles as a bridegroom

4§21. As we have seen so far in Hour 4, Achilles can cross over from the world of epic into the world of lyric. In terms of this crossover, as we will see in Hour 5, Achilles is pictured not only as a warrior but also as a bridegroom. And, like {98|99} Hector, Achilles too is pictured as a bridegroom who is ‘equal to the gods’. Unlike Hector, however, Achilles will never get married, and that is why he is lamented in a special way. As we will see in Hour 5, Achilles is lamented as an eternal bridegroom because his fulfillment as a married adult is eternally deferred. For the moment, I will simply show a preview of this idea of Achilles as a bridegroom by highlighting an important piece of information about the poetic tradition of Sappho:

Hour 4 Text E

Himerius (Orations 1.16) says: ‘Sappho compared the girl to an apple […] she compared the bridegroom to Achilles, and likened the young man’s deeds to the hero’s.’ [16]
Sappho Fragment 105b

Achilles as a focus of lament

4§22. This idea of Achilles as a bridegroom is relevant to the fact that Achilles is a focus of lament in lyric as well as in epic traditions. In lyric, as we will see in Hour 5, the idea of Achilles as a bridegroom is connected with his sorrowful fate of dying young, cut down in the bloom of his youth like a tender seedling that is thus doomed to wilt. This connection is implied in the wording of a fragment from one of the songs of Sappho:

Hour 4 Text F

To what shall I liken you, dear bridegroom, to make the likeness beautiful? | To a tender seedling, I liken you to that most of all.
Sappho Song 115 [17]
4§23. As I will argue in Hour 5, the words of this lyric song are implicitly comparing the bridegroom to Achilles. Leading up to that argument, I will show here in Hour 4 that Achilles himself is compared to a tender seedling in his own right, and that this comparison is a fundamental theme in the lyric traditions of lament. A prime example can be found in the lament of Thetis in Iliad XVIII, {99|100} where the goddess makes such a comparison while expressing her sorrow over the sad fate of her son Achilles:

Hour 4 Text G = Hour 0 Text D

|54 Ah me, the pitiful one! Ah me, the mother, so sad it is, of the very best. |55 I gave birth to a faultless and strong son, |56 the very best of heroes. And he shot up [anedramen] equal [īsos] to a seedling [ernos]. |57 I nurtured him like a shoot in the choicest spot of the orchard, |58 only to send him off on curved ships to Troy, to fight Trojan men. |59 And I will never be welcoming him |60 back home as returning warrior, back to the House of Peleus. |61 And as long as he lives and sees the light of the sun, |62 he will have sorrow [akh-nutai], and though I go to him I cannot help him. |63 Nevertheless I will go, that I may see my dear son and learn |64 what sorrow [penthos] has befallen him though he is still holding aloof from battle.
Iliad XVIII 54-64 [18]
4§24. The goddess Thetis, in performing her lament, sings to her son Achilles as if he were already dead. She feels the sorrow that he feels over the death of Patroklos, and that sorrow translates into the sorrow that she feels by foreseeing, goddess that she is, the death of Achilles himself. We see here a perfect expression of the theme of the man of constant sorrow, and the two most telling words that are used in this passage are (1) the noun penthos, ‘sorrow’, at verse 64 and (2) the verb akh-nutai, ‘he will have sorrow’, at verse 62 corresponding to the noun akhos, meaning ‘sorrow’, which, as I have argued in Hour 3, is the central theme connected with Achilles in the Iliad. And, as we will see in Hour 5, the idea of Achilles as an ideal bridegroom is a central theme in traditions of singing songs of lament for this hero.
4§25. In the Odyssey, we find a retrospective description of the lament sung by Thetis and her fellow Nereids at the actual funeral of Achilles, followed and augmented by the lament of the Muses themselves: {100|101}

Hour 4 Text H

|58 Standing around you were the daughters of the Old One of the sea [= Nereus], |59 weeping piteously, and they [= the Nereids] clothed you [= the corpse of Achilles] in immortalizing [ambrota] clothes. |60 The nine Muses also came, all of them, and sang antiphonally with a beautiful voice, |61 singing their song of lament [thrēneîn]; you could not spot a single person who was not shedding tears, |62 of all the Argives [= Achaeans], so loudly did the piercing sound of lament rise up. |63 Days and nights seven and ten |64 we mourned you, mortals and immortals alike.
Odyssey xxiv 58-64 [19]
4§26. This picturing of Achilles as the focus of lament sung by Thetis and her sister Nereids and then by the Muses is attested in the epic Cycle as well, as we see from a most compressed retelling in the plot-summary:

Hour 4 Text I

|12 … Thetis |13 comes with the Muses and her sisters and makes a lament [thrēnos] for her son. |14 After that, Thetis snatches him off the funeral pyre and carries her |15 son over to the White Island [Leukē]. Meanwhile the Achaeans |16 make [for Achilles] a tomb [taphos] and hold funeral games.
plot-summary by Proclus of the Aithiopis by Arctinus of Miletus p. 106 lines 12-16 [20]
4§27. As we have seen in Text A, taken from a song of Pindar (Isthmian 8.56-62), the lamentation of Achilles by the Muses is what propels the imperishable glory of Achilles, as sung in both epic and lyric. In the words of Pindar, this hero who is glorified by song will die and will thus stop flourishing, that is, he will ‘perish’, phthi-n-ein, but he will have as his eternal consolation the prospect that at least his song will never perish: rather, the song of Achilles will be {101|102} eternally sung by the Muses as they lament the death of the hero. And that eternal song of the Muses translates into an eternity of ongoing epic and lyric singing by mortals inspired by the Muses.

The unfailing glory of Achilles

4§28. As we have seen from the wording of the lament of Thetis in Iliad XVIII 54-64, Text G, Achilles in death is pictured as a beautiful plant that has been cut down in its prime. That is how Achilles himself can be lamented forever. Here I find it relevant to return to the word used to describe this dead Achilles as the Muses start to sing their own song of lament for him. In Pindar’s Isthmian 8.56-62, Text A, Achilles is described as phthi-menos (60), which I have so far translated simply as ‘perished in death’. But the verb phthi-n-ein has a deeper meaning than ‘perish’, and we see that deeper meaning in the contexts of the derivative adjective a-phthi-to-, which describes the kleos ‘glory’ of Achilles in Iliad IX 413 – and which I have been translating so far simply as ‘imperishable’. As we will now see, a more accurate translation of kleos aphthiton would be ‘unfailing glory’.
4§29. The expression kleos aphthiton is of great antiquity. There is a related expression in the oldest attested body of Indic poetry: in the Rig-Veda (1.9.7), we see an attestation of the words śráva(s) ákṣitam, meaning ‘imperishable glory’. The Indic word śrávas, ‘glory’, is cognate with Greek kleos, ‘glory’, while the Indic word ákṣitam, ‘imperishable’, is cognate with Greek aphthiton, ‘imperishable’. Further, the Greek expression kleos aphthiton and the Indic expression śráva(s) ákṣitam are attested in cognate syntactical and metrical contexts.
4§30. When I say cognate here, I mean that the Indic combination śrávas + ákṣitam and the Greek combination kleos + aphthiton can be traced back to a common linguistic origin, as we can see if we apply methods of analysis developed within the discipline of Indo-European linguistics. [21] My ongoing work in analyzing such an origin has been summarized in detail elsewhere, and I will be drawing on that summary in the argumentation that follows. [22]
4§31. On the basis of the Indic comparative evidence, the meaning of aph – {102|103} thito– / ákṣita- can be interpreted not only as ‘imperishable’ but even as ‘unfailing’, since other attestations in Indic traditions evoke the metaphor of an unfailing flow of vitality. [23]
4§32. For the first time in this book, I have used here the term metaphor. It comes from the Greek word metaphorā, which means literally a ‘transferring’ of a meaning. I offer right away a working definition: metaphor is an expression of meaning by way of substituting something for something else – as distinct from metonymy, which is an expression of meaning by way of connecting something to something else that is next to it or at least near to it, thereby establishing contact. [24] If we were to reformulate these working definitions in terms of Prague School linguistics, we would say that the mental process of referring to anything involves, simultaneously, a horizontal axis of combination and a vertical axis of selection. [25]
4§33. The basic idea behind the application of the metaphorical world of kleos aphthiton to a hero like Achilles is this: like anything that is natural, Achilles will ‘perish’ because he will lose the flow of vitality when he is killed, but his kleos, ‘glory’, will never perish because it will never lose its own flow of vitality. And that is because this kleos, ‘glory’, is not a thing of nature: it is a thing of art, a song.

Contrasting the artificial and the natural

4§34. In ancient Greek song culture, as I noted in Hour 1, the distinction between art and nature, between the artificial and the natural, is not the same as in our modern cultures. When we say that something is artificial, we imply that this something is “unreal,” while natural means “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.
4§35. For Achilles, as I also noted in Hour 1, 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’ (IX 413), is just as real to him as the finite time of his natural life.
4§36. Similarly, the infinite time of the immortal gods is just as real to Ho- {103|104} meric heroes as is the finite time they have as mortals. And the gods too are “artificial” but real, just as kleos, ‘glory’, is “artificial” but real. In the Homeric view of the world, even the sky can be seen as artificial, since it belongs to the realm of the immortal gods. By contrast, the earth is natural, since it belongs to the realm of mortal humans. But the point remains that the immortal and the artificial are just as real as the mortal and the natural. And the contrast between the mortal and the immortal is parallel to a contrast between the natural and the artificial. [26]
4§37. The idea that immortality is artificial is conveyed by a metaphor that we see at work in the Greek expression kleos aphthiton and in the cognate Indic expression śráva(s) ákṣitam. This metaphor refers to a poetic ‘glory’ that is ‘imperishable’ or even ‘unfailing’ in the sense that its vitality, which is imagined as something that flows, will never stop flowing. [27]

The unwilting glory of Achilles

4§38. In the case of Achilles, as we have seen from the lament of Thetis in Iliad XVIII 54-64, Text G, this hero’s death is conventionally imagined as the cutting down of a tender young plant that is animated by the flow of vitality. Naturally, the cutting down of the plant will stop the flow. But the kleos or poetic ‘glory’ of Achilles will prolong forever its own flow of vitality, and this immunity from death is conveyed by describing the kleos as aphthiton. In such contexts, the adjective aphthito- can be interpreted as not only ‘imperishable’ or ‘unfailing’ but even as ‘unwilting’.
4§39. Verbs and nouns derived from the verb phthi-n-ein, which I have translated so far as ‘perish’, convey the idea of wilting in contexts referring to the vitality of plants. [28] Unlike natural plants, which go through a cycle of flourishing and then wilting, the kleos of Achilles can be imagined as an unnatural or artifi– {104|105} cial plant that will never wilt, never losing its vitality and beauty, its color and aroma. [29] This plant has become an immortal mutant. So, the kleos aphthiton of Achilles at Iliad IX 413 is a ‘glory’ that is not only ‘imperishable’, not only ‘unfailing’, but even ‘unwilting’. And this kleos aphthiton, ‘unwilting glory’, results from a choice that Achilles himself ultimately makes, which is, never to return to his homeland of Phthia or Phthīē. That form Phthīē, as we see in Iliad XIX 328-330 and elsewhere, is directly connected in Homeric poetry with the idea of phthi-n-ein, ‘wilting’. [30]
4§40. By now we have seen that the kleos aphthiton or ‘unwilting glory’ of Achilles stems from a metaphorical world of lament for a hero who wilts like a beautiful plant in the prime of his youth – and whose death is compensated by a song of glory that will never wilt.

Achilles as a model for singing lyric songs of glory

4§41. Achilles himself becomes a model for singing such songs of glory in the Homeric Iliad. It happens at the moment when he is pictured as singing to the tune of a lyre that he is playing, as we saw in Text D of Hour 2 (Iliad IX 186-189). This lyre, I repeat, once belonged to Eëtion, king of the Aeolic city of Thebe, whom Achilles killed when he captured that city (IX 186-189) – and who was the father of that greatest singer of lamentations in the Iliad, Andromache (VI 414-416). What Achilles in the Iliad sings to the tune of this Aeolic lyre evokes feelings of love and bittersweet sorrow as heard in lyric song and poetry. [31]
4§42. An example of such lyric in historical times is Song 44 of Sappho, about the wedding of Hector and Andromache. The lyric kleos aphthiton, ‘unwilting glory’, of this Aeolic song (line 4) converges with the epic kleos aphthiton, ‘unwilting glory’, that Achilles is promised in the Iliad (IX 413), and this convergence of lyric and epic is signaled by the klea andrōn, ‘glories of men’, that Achilles is singing on the Aeolic lyre (IX 189).

Models of lament

4§43. The lyric virtuosity of Achilles qualifies him as a specialist in the singing of lament. In Iliad XIX 315-337, Achilles himself sings a song of lament for {105|106} Patroklos, who as we have seen is the single person who means more to Achilles than anyone else in that hero’s world. This lament is a model for the laments that will be sung for Achilles himself when he is dead.
4§44. And there are other models as well. As I come to the end of Hour 4, I close with a preview of the lament that Achilles himself will sing in the Iliad. I have in mind the lament performed by Briseis, the young woman whom Achilles in Iliad IX (342-343) professes to love as if she were his own wife. This lament, which I will analyze in detail when we reach Hour 5, is an expression of sorrow over the death of Patroklos. And the lament of Briseis for Patroklos will become the model for the lament of Achilles himself for his best friend. Here, then, is the lament of Briseis for Patroklos:

Hour 4 Text J

|282 Then Briseis, looking like golden Aphrodite, |283 saw Patroklos all cut apart by the sharp bronze, and, when she saw him, |284 she poured herself all over him in tears and wailed with a voice most clear, and with her hands she tore at |285 her breasts and her tender neck and her beautiful face. |286 And then she spoke, weeping, this woman who looked like the goddesses: |287 “O Patroklos, you have been most gracious to me in my terrible state and most gratifying to my heart. |288 You were alive when I last saw you on my way out from the shelter |289 – and now I come back to find you dead, you, the protector of your people |290 – that is what I come back to find. Oh, how I have one misfortune after the next to welcome me. |291 The man to whom I was given away by my father and by my mother the queen |292 – I saw that man lying there in front of the city, all cut apart by the sharp bronze, |293 and lying near him were my three brothers – all of us were born of one mother – |294 they are all a cause for my sorrow, since they have all met up with their time of destruction. |295 No, you [= Patroklos] did not let me – back when my husband was killed by swift-footed Achilles, |296 killed by him, and when the city of my godlike Mynes [= my husband] was destroyed by him |297 – you did not let me weep, back then, but you told me that godlike Achilles |298 would have me as a properly courted wife, that you would make that happen, and that you would take me on board the ships, |299 taking me all the way to Phthia, and that you would arrange for a wedding feast among the Myrmidons. |300 So, now, I cannot stop crying for you, now that you are dead, you who {106|107} were always so sweet and gentle.” |301 So she [= Briseis] spoke, weeping, and the women kept on mourning in response. |302 They mourned for Patroklos, that was their pretext, but they were all mourning, each and every one of them, for what they really cared for in their sorrow.
Iliad XIX 282-302 [32]
4§45. In the logic of the epic narrative here, Briseis is not just weeping, not just speaking words of sorrow: she is represented as singing a lament. [33] And the words of her lament are quoted inside the epic narrative. Following this quotation in Iliad XIX (287-300) is the quotation of another lament for Patroklos, this one performed by the hero Achilles himself (315-337); Achilles here is represented as actually singing a lament, just as Briseis actually sings a lament. [34]
4§46. We see in this passage that quotes the lament of Briseis a most remarkable feature of Homeric poetry: if a performer of epic quotes a woman who is singing a lament or love song, then he is singing a lament or love song. The word “quote” here and elsewhere in such contexts is of course anachronistic. From the standpoint of song culture, it would be better for us to say perform.

[[We saw a comparable principle at work when we viewed the clip from the film Ch’unhyang.]]
4§47. When a character like Briseis – or like Achilles himself – is quoted, that character’s words become a “super-star” performance. Conversely, when a “super-star” performer like the master Narrator of the Iliad quotes the words of a hero like Achilles, the performer himself becomes the hero in the moment of performance. Hero and performer develop a reciprocal relationship. The hero becomes a super-star performer in his own right, while the performer becomes heroic, larger-than-life, even godlike in sacred moments (just as the hero becomes godlike in sacred moments). Achilles is pictured as a super-star performer in his own right when he sings the klea andrōn at Iliad IX 189, as we saw in Hour 2 Text D. {107|108}
4§48. I bring this analysis to a close by pondering further the implications of the lament of Briseis as quoted in Iliad XIX. In her lament, Briseis sings her bittersweet sorrow not only over the death of Patroklos but also over the death of her own fondest hope: when he was alive, Patroklos had promised to arrange for her a marriage to Achilles, but, now that Patroklos is dead, the hope of that promise is gone forever (XIX 295-300). As we will see further in Hour 5, the Iliad pictures Patroklos as a stand-in for Achilles, his other self, in courtship as well as in war. [35] {108|109}


[ back ] 1. |412 εἰ μέν κ’ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι, |413 ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται.
[ back ] 2. This expression kleos aphthiton ‘imperishable glory’ is also used in a lyric composition of Ibycus (PMG S151.47-48), who flourished in the second half of the sixth century BCE.
[ back ] 3. On the Aiakidai ‘Aeacids’ = ‘descendants of Aiakos’ (among whom are Achilles and Ajax) as notional ancestors of the aristocratic lineages of the island state of Aegina, see Nagy 2011a.
[ back ] 4. |56 τὸν μὲν οὐδὲ θανόντ’ ἀοιδαὶ <ἐπ>έλιπον, |57 ἀλλά οἱ παρά τε πυρὰν τάφον θ’ Ἑλικώνιαι παρθένοι |58 στάν, ἐπὶ θρῆνόν τε πολύφαμον ἔχεαν. |59 ἔδοξ’ ἦρα καὶ ἀθανάτοις, |60 ἐσλόν γε φῶτα καὶ φθίμενον ὕμνοις θεᾶν διδόμεν. |61 τὸ καὶ νῦν φέρει λόγον, ἔσσυταί τε Μοισαῖον ἅρμα Νικοκλέος |62 μνᾶμα πυγμάχου κελαδῆσαι.
[ back ] 5. PH 204-206 = 7§6.
[ back ] 6. A fuller version of the argument is made in BA 176-177 = 10§§3-4; also in PH 204-206 = 7§6. I disagree with what is said by Rodin 2009:296 about the relevant wording of Pindar Isthmian 8.56-60. I especially disagree with his argument that the kleos of Achilles is restricted to epic. As we will now see, the kleos of Achilles is pictured as extending into lyric, including such forms as the victory odes of Pindar. See also Nagy 2007a (“Lyric and Greek Myth”) 36.
[ back ] 7. PH 147 = 6§3.
[ back ] 8. There is a fuller version of this exegesis in PH 204-206 = 7§§6-7.
[ back ] 9. Of the three performances of Demodokos in the narration of Odyssey viii, the first and the third are epic while the second is “lyric,” in the sense that the second performance includes singing and athletic dancing to the rhythm and melody of the words being sung. See HPC 79-93 = I§§188-223.
[ back ] 10. HC 579-580 = 4§262.
[ back ] 11. Nagy 2007a (“Lyric and Greek Myth”) 36-38.
[ back ] 12. HPC 239-240 = II§297.
[ back ] 13. There is much debate about the occasion for singing such a song: there is a quick survey of differing opinions in Dale 2011, especially pp. 58 and 61. I agree with Dale and others when they say that there is no reason to insist that the occasion must be a wedding. But I must add that there is no reason to assume that sad songs cannot be sung at weddings.
[ back ] 14. |4 τάς τ’ ἄλλας Ἀσίας .[.]δε.αν κλέος ἄφθιτον· |5 Ἔκτωρ καὶ συνέταιρ̣[ο]ι ἄγ̣οι̣σ’ ἐλικώπιδα |6 Θήβας ἐξ ἰέρας Πλακίας τ’ ἀ.[..]νάω |7 ἄβραν Ἀνδρομάχαν ἐνὶ ναῦσιν ἐπ’ ἄλμυρον |8 πόντον· πόλλα δ’ [ἐλί]γματα χρύσια κἄμματα |9 πορφύρ[α] καταύτ[..]να, ποί̣κ̣ι̣λ’ ἀθύρματα, |10 ἀργύρα̣ τ̣’ ἀνά̣ρ[ι]θ̣μα [ποτή]ρ[ια] κἀλέφαις. |11 ὢς εἶπ’· ὀτραλέως δ’ ἀνόρουσε πάτ[η]ρ̣ φίλος· |12 φάμα δ’ ἦλθε κατὰ πτ̣όλιν εὐρύχο̣ρ̣ο̣ν φίλοις. |13 αὔτικ’ Ἰλίαδαι σατίναι[ς] ὐπ’ ἐυτρόχοις |14 ἆγον αἰμιόνοις, ἐ̣π̣[έ]βαινε δὲ παῖς ὄχλος |15 γυναίκων τ’ ἄμα παρθενίκα[ν] τ..[..].σφύρων, |21 [… ἴ]κελοι θέοι[ς] |22 […] ἄγνον ἀολ[λε-]|23 ὄ̣ρ̣ματ̣α̣ι̣[…]νον ἐς Ἴλιο[ν] |24 αὖλος δ’ ἀδυ[μ]έλησ̣[…] τ’ ὀνεμίγνυ[το]|25 καὶ ψ[ό]φο[ς κ]ροτάλ[ων…]ως δ’ ἄρα πάρ[θενοι] |26 ἄειδον μέλος ἄγν̣[ον ἴκα]νε δ’ ἐς α̣ἴ̣θ̣[ερα] |27 ἄχω θεσπεσία̣ γελ̣[…] |28 πάνται δ’ ἦς κὰτ ὄδο[…] |29 κράτηρες φίαλαί τ’ ὀ[…]υεδε[..]..εακ[.].[…] |30 μύρρα καὶ κασία λίβανός τ’ ὀνεμείχνυτο |31 γύναικες δ’ ἐλέλυσδον ὄσαι προγενέστερα[ι] |32 πάντες δ’ ἄνδρες ἐπήρατον ἴαχον ὄρθιον |33 Πάον’ ὀνκαλέοντες ἐκάβολον εὐλύραν, |34 ὔμνην δ’ Ἔκτορα κἈ⌋νδρομάχαν θεοεικέλο[ις]. (In this transcription, the sign “[…]” is not meant to indicate the number of letters that are missing: it is merely a short-hand indication of lacunae.)
[ back ] 15. HQ 57.
[ back ] 16. More on the testimony of Himerius in Dale 2011, especially pp. 54, 62-64, 67.
[ back ] 17. τίωι σ’, ὦ φίλε γάμβρε, κάλως ἐικάσδω; | ὄρπακι βραδίνωι σε μάλιστ’ ἐικάσδω.
[ back ] 18. |54 ὤ μοι ἐγὼ δειλή, ὤ μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια, |55 ἥ τ’ ἐπεὶ ἂρ τέκον υἱὸν ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε |56 ἔξοχον ἡρώων· ὃ δ’ ἀνέδραμεν ἔρνεϊ ἶσος· |57 τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ θρέψασα φυτὸν ὣς γουνῷ ἀλωῆς |58 νηυσὶν ἐπιπροέηκα κορωνίσιν Ἴλιον εἴσω |59 Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον· τὸν δ’ οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις |60 οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω. |61 ὄφρα δέ μοι ζώει καὶ ὁρᾷ φάος ἠελίοιο |62 ἄχνυται, οὐδέ τί οἱ δύναμαι χραισμῆσαι ἰοῦσα. |63 ἀλλ’ εἶμ’, ὄφρα ἴδωμι φίλον τέκος, ἠδ’ ἐπακούσω |64 ὅττί μιν ἵκετο πένθος ἀπὸ πτολέμοιο μένοντα.
[ back ] 19. |58 ἀμφὶ δέ σ’ ἔστησαν κοῦραι ἁλίοιο γέροντος |59 οἴκτρ’ ὀλοφυρόμεναι, περὶ δ’ ἄμβροτα εἵματα ἕσσαν. |60 Μοῦσαι δ’ ἐννέα πᾶσαι ἀμειβόμεναι ὀπὶ καλῇ |61 θρήνεον· ἔνθα κεν οὔ τιν’ ἀδάκρυτόν γ’ ἐνόησας |62 Ἀργείων· τοῖον γὰρ ὑπώρορε Μοῦσα λίγεια. |63 ἑπτὰ δὲ καὶ δέκα μέν σε ὁμῶς νύκτας τε καὶ ἦμαρ |64 κλαίομεν ἀθάνατοί τε θεοὶ θνητοί τ’ ἄνθρωποι.
[ back ] 20. |12 … καὶ Θέτις |13 ἀφικομένη σὺν Μούσαις καὶ ταῖς ἀδελφαῖς θρηνεῖ τὸν παῖδα· |14 καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐκ τῆς πυρᾶς ἡ Θέτις ἀναρπάσασα τὸν |15 παῖδα εἰς τὴν Λευκὴν νῆσον διακομίζει. οἱ δὲ Ἀχαιοὶ τὸν |16 τάφον χώσαντες ἀγῶνα τιθέασι.
[ back ] 21. GM 122-127, PH 244-245 = 8§46n126.
[ back ] 22. PH 3 = 0§5n10, 147 = 6§3n9; 204 = 9§6n23; 223 = 8§11n42; 278 = 10§9n21. Also, in PH 244-245 = 8§46n126, I counter various objections to my interpretation of the expression kleos aphthiton. Such objections, as readers will (I hope) see if they read through the arguments as I develop them in PH, can be refuted on the basis of a thorough examination of all the metrical and syntactical contexts of the expression kleos aphthiton in its lyric as well as epic attestations.
[ back ] 23. PH 147 = 6§3n9, 278 = 10§9n21.
[ back ] 24. HTL xi.
[ back ] 25. Ducrot and Todorov 1979:111, with further references.
[ back ] 26. I offer further observations about patterns of contrast between the natural and the artificial in my article “As the World Runs Out of Breath: Metaphorical Perspectives on the Heavens and the Atmosphere in the Ancient World” (Nagy 1999), published in a book that has a specially evocative title: Earth, Air, Fire, Water: Humanistic Studies of the Environment.
[ back ] 27. For an overall survey of the range of meanings inherited by this adjective aphthito-, see BA 174-189 = 10§§1-19
[ back ] 28. For example, in Pindar Paean 9.14, the expression καρποῦ φθίσιν refers to ‘the wilting of the crops’; see BA 174 = 10§3. In Theophrastus Research about Plants 7.13.6, the expression αὐτὸ τὸ ἄνθος ἅμα τῷ καυλῷ καταφθίνει means ‘the blossom [anthos] itself wilts [kata-phthinei], along with the stem’ (with reference to the narcissus). See also BA 178, 179-180, 180 = 10§6; 8; 9, with reference respectively to Iliad VI 145-149; I 233-237; Odyssey ix 133.
[ back ] 29. This formulation is backed up by detailed argumentation in BA 174-189 = 10§§1-19.
[ back ] 30. The details are presented in BA 184-185 = 10§14.
[ back ] 31. HPC 239-240 = II§297.
[ back ] 32. |282 Βρισηῒς δ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτ’ ἰκέλη χρυσέῃ Ἀφροδίτῃ |283 ὡς ἴδε Πάτροκλον δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ, |284 ἀμφ’ αὐτῷ χυμένη λίγ’ ἐκώκυε, χερσὶ δ’ ἄμυσσε |285 στήθεά τ’ ἠδ’ ἁπαλὴν δειρὴν ἰδὲ καλὰ πρόσωπα. |286 εἶπε δ’ ἄρα κλαίουσα γυνὴ ἐϊκυῖα θεῇσι· |287 Πάτροκλέ μοι δειλῇ πλεῖστον κεχαρισμένε θυμῷ |288 ζωὸν μέν σε ἔλειπον ἐγὼ κλισίηθεν ἰοῦσα, |289 νῦν δέ σε τεθνηῶτα κιχάνομαι ὄρχαμε λαῶν |290 ἂψ ἀνιοῦσ’· ὥς μοι δέχεται κακὸν ἐκ κακοῦ αἰεί. |291 ἄνδρα μὲν ᾧ ἔδοσάν με πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ |292 εἶδον πρὸ πτόλιος δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ, |293 τρεῖς τε κασιγνήτους, τούς μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ, |294 κηδείους, οἳ πάντες ὀλέθριον ἦμαρ ἐπέσπον. |295 οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδέ μ’ ἔασκες, ὅτ’ ἄνδρ’ ἐμὸν ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεὺς |296 ἔκτεινεν, πέρσεν δὲ πόλιν θείοιο Μύνητος, |297 κλαίειν, ἀλλά μ’ ἔφασκες Ἀχιλλῆος θείοιο |298 κουριδίην ἄλοχον θήσειν, ἄξειν τ’ ἐνὶ νηυσὶν |299 ἐς Φθίην, δαίσειν δὲ γάμον μετὰ Μυρμιδόνεσσι. |300 τώ σ’ ἄμοτον κλαίω τεθνηότα μείλιχον αἰεί. |301 Ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες |302 Πάτροκλον πρόφασιν, σφῶν δ’ αὐτῶν κήδε’ ἑκάστη.
[ back ] 33. Nagy 2010b (“Ancient Greek Elegy”) 23. See also Dué 2002:70-71, 81; 2006:43-44.
[ back ] 34. Tsagalis 2004:86, 139-140.
[ back ] 35. Nagy 2010b (“Ancient Greek Elegy”) 23.