The Pragmatics of Verbal Abuse in Homer [*]
Giuseppe Lentini, Sapienza University of Rome
§1 Homeric Verbal Abuse in Recent Studies
§2 Historical Pragmatics and the “Pragmatic Space” of Verbal Abuse
§3 (Im)politeness Theory
§4 Types of Verbal Abuse in Homer (I): Flyting (Intercommunal Verbal Abuse)
ἐς μέσον ἀμφοτέρων συνίτην μεμαῶτε μάχεσθαι
Αἰνείας τ’ Ἀγχισιάδης καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς
two men far greater than all the others
were coming to encounter, furious to fight with each other,
Aineias, the son of Anchises, and brilliant Achilles
Aineias came forward “threatening” (ἀπειλήσας, line 161): ἀπειλέω normally means “to threaten” with words, and we will have much to say about this verb later. Here, however, it refers to the gestures performed by Aineias and described in the lines which follow immediately (nodding in his helmet, holding the shield in front of his chest, shaking his spear). Achilles starts the verbal contest with a mocking question (lines 178–179: τί σὺ τόσσον ὁμίλου πολλὸν ἐπελθὼν | ἔστης;), implying that Aineias’ brave behavior is exceptional: only the hope of gaining the kingdom of Priam, or the promise of a τέμενος by the people might have convinced Aineias to be so daring (lines 179–186). The mocking tone also persists in the understatement through which Achilles states that he deems it difficult for Aineias to kill him (line 186).  Then he performs an assertive speech-act (introduced by φημί, line 187), boasting that another time he put Aineias shamefully to flight (line 187–195). Achilles ends his speech with a command and a threat (line 196–198: ἀλλά σ’ ἔγωγ’ ἀναχωρήσαντα κελεύω | ἐς πληθὺν ἰέναι … πρίν τι κακὸν παθέειν). Aineias replies by stating that Achilles’ insults (Aineias speaks of κερτομίας καὶ αἴσυλα at line 202: we will have to say more about the first of these terms) may scare little children, but not him, since he knows how to respond to such attacks. He avoids commenting on the episode mentioned by Achilles, but rather shifts the attention from that event to his heroic pedigree: if Achilles is son of Peleus and Thetis, he can boast (line 209, εὔχομαι, another verb very important for us) to be the son of Anchises and Aphrodite; he goes on for more than twenty-five lines listing his ancestors down from Dardanos (lines 213–240), and seals this genealogical tour de force by reaffirming that he can boast (again εὔχομαι, line 241) such a lineage. Before inviting Achilles to fight (lines 255–257), Aineias asks to quit such speeches, and offers a metadiscursive reflection on the exchange he has been having with Achilles that is worth quoting (lines 246–255):
πολλὰ μάλ’, οὐδ’ ἂν νηῦς ἑκατόζυγος ἄχθος ἄροιτο.
στρεπτὴ δὲ γλῶσσ’ ἐστὶ βροτῶν, πολέες δ’ ἔνι μῦθοι
παντοῖοι, ἐπέων δὲ πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.
ὁπποῖόν κ’ εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ’ ἐπακούσαις.
ἀλλὰ τί ἢ ἔριδας καὶ νείκεα νῶϊν ἀνάγκη
νεικεῖν ἀλλήλοισιν ἐναντίον ὥς τε γυναῖκας,
αἵ τε χολωσάμεναι ἔριδος πέρι θυμοβόροιο
νεικεῦσ’ ἀλλήλῃσι μέσην ἐς ἄγυιαν ἰοῦσαι
πόλλ’ ἐτεά τε καὶ οὐκί· χόλος δέ τε καὶ τὰ κελεύει
For there are harsh things enough that could be spoken against us
both, a ship of a hundred locks could not carry the burden.
The tongue of man is a twisty thing, there are plenty of words there
of every kind, the range of words is wide, and their variance.
The sort of thing you say is the thing that will be said to you.
But what have you and I to do with the need for squabbling
and hurling insults at each other, as if we were two wives
who when they have fallen upon a heart-perishing quarrel
go out in the street and say abusive things to each other
much true, and much that is not, and it is their rage that drives them
Apart from introducing some more metadiscursive terms on abusive language (ὀνείδεα, line 246; νείκεα and νεικεῖν, lines 251–254), Aineias’ words are interesting because they seem to hint at the ritual character of flyting: “the sort of thing you say is the thing that will be said to you” (line 250). This aspect of flyting, Aineias clearly implies, may lead to a devaluation of the aggressive words pronounced. Heroic flyting is ritual, but, unlike e. g. “sounding,” is not ludic; rather, it can be terribly serious.  Aineias, however, seems to suggest that the ritual character of flyting may turn it into a ludic activity, or, at least, may weaken the aggressive charge of the insults, as Aineias’ simile describing a quarrel taking place among women suggests.
§5 Is Verbal Abuse Cooperative?
§6 Types of Verbal Abuse in Homer (II): The Irus Episode
and now he spoke, insulting him, and addressed him in winged words
The actual words spoken are (Odyssey 18.10):
Give way, old sir, from the forecourt, before you are taken and dragged out by the foot
Irus issues a command, accompanied by the vocative γέρον, which may be considered disparaging (this is clear from Odyssey 18.27 and 31), and closed by a threat. It is possible to find very close parallels to what are clearly flyting exchanges: cf. for example the son of Panthus who gives an order to Menelaus at Iliad 17.13 (χάζεο), and threatens him a few lines later (μή σε βάλω).  Quite clearly, Irus construes his hostility against the disguised Odysseus as intercommunal: Odysseus is a stranger, and, in his view, in no way part of the community in which Irus is, as it were, the “official” beggar. It is interesting, however, that Odysseus, before responding with a powerful counter-threat (Odyssey 18.20–24), clearly defines his relationship with Irus as intracommunal, for he evokes association and even equity rights. Odysseus evidently suggests to Irus that he thinks he is entitled to associate and have positive relationships with the other members of the community, and this seems to be predicated on his equal standing to Irus (they are both beggars). Let us read Odyssey 18.15–19:
οὔτε τινὰ φθονέω δόμεναι καὶ πόλλ’ ἀνελόντα.
οὐδὸς δ’ ἀμφοτέρους ὅδε χείσεται, οὐδέ τί σε χρὴ
ἀλλοτρίων φθονέειν· δοκέεις δέ μοι εἶναι ἀλήτης
ὥς περ ἐγών, ὄλβον δὲ θεοὶ μέλλουσιν ὀπάζειν
Strange man, I am doing you no harm, nor speaking any
nor am I jealous, if someone takes plenty and gives it to you.
This doorsill is big enough for both of us, nor have you any
need to be jealous of others. I think you are a vagabond
as I am too. Prosperity is in the god’s giving
This attempt at conciliation (be it serious or not, as seems more likely, on behalf of Odysseus at this stage) would be in any case difficult to imagine between enemies on the battlefield; though we might recall the memorable case of the encounter of Diomedes and Glaucus in Iliad 6.119–236, in which the two enemy warriors engage in a flyting exchange, but when Diomedes discovers that they are ξένοι of each other (that is, that they, at another level, belong to the same community) the duel ceases.
§7 Types of Verbal Abuse in Homer (III): Intracommunal, Non-Disruptive, Verbal Abuse
ὥς ποτε δηρίσαντο θεῶν ἐν δαιτὶ θαλείῃ
ἐκπάγλοισ’ ἐπέεσσιν, ἄναξ δ’ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων
χαῖρε νόῳ, ὅ τ’ ἄριστοι Ἀχαιῶν δηριόωντο
the quarrel between Odysseus and Peleus’ son, Achilles,
how these once contended, at the gods’ generous festival,
with words of violence, so that the lord of men, Agamemnon,
was happy in his heart that the best of the Achaeans were quarreling
Here the quarrel (νεῖκος), which involves the uttering of regrettably vague “terrible words” (ἐκπάγλοισ’ ἐπέεσσιν, line 77), seems to have its roots in the contrasting claims of the two heroes, who both strive to hold the title of “the best of the Achaeans” (cf. line 78).  But, such a claim can be gained only by demonstrating one’s own value in war against the Trojans. Thus, the verbal duel here has the positive consequence of focusing the competitive drives of the two warriors against a common enemy; hence the joy of the king Agamemnon.  In Hesiodic terms, the competition between Achilles and Odysseus would correspond to positive eris. 
§8 Types of Verbal Abuse in Homer (IV): The Dialogue between Eurymachus and Odysseus
Eurymachos, I wish there could be a working contest between us …
In this way, the verbal conflict would assume the aspect of positive eris, as the competition imagined between the two litigants (in work and in martial prowess, lines 366–379) would have, we may imagine, positive effects for the community at large. In this sense it would be similar to the νεῖκος between Achilles and Odysseus. Finally, in the last lines of his reply, the disguised Odysseus envisages the scenario of Odysseus’ return and the fight that would ensue. Eurymachus would be scared to death and the doors, although very wide, would appear to him too narrow in order for him to escape. We know that Odysseus is already there; we have come as near as possible to the classic intercommunal flyting exchange!
§9 The Metalanguage of Verbal Abuse (I): νεικεω, ευχομαι, απειλεω
Father Zeus, it is no good thing to boast so arrogantly
Here the verb εὐχετάασθαι refers to the threatening speech just pronounced by Euphorbus.  Menelaus then goes on to boast that he has already killed Euphorbus’ brother Hyperenor when the latter insulted Menelaus by calling him a cowardly warrior (lines 23–28); finally Menelaus issues a threat and an order (lines 29–32):
στήῃς· ἀλλά σ’ ἔγωγ’ ἀναχωρήσαντα κελεύω
ἐς πληθὺν ἰέναι, μηδ’ ἀντίος ἵστασ’ ἐμεῖο
πρίν τι κακὸν παθέειν· ῥεχθὲν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω
So I think I can break your strength as well, if you only
stand against me. No, but I myself tell you to get back
into the multitude, not stand to face me, before you
take some harm. Once a thing has been done, the fool sees it
When Euphorbus replies, he will use the verb ἐπεύχομαι to describe Menelaus’ speech (ἐπευχόμενος … ἀγορεύεις, line 35).
for he threatened to hobble your feet and to bind your arms
In other cases, however, the verb signals an assertive speech act. For example, when Diomedes imagines that Hector will boast of having turned him to flight, he says (Iliad 8.147–150):
“Τυδεΐδης ὑπ’ ἐμεῖο φοβεύμενος ἵκετο νῆας.”
ὥς ποτ’ ἀπειλήσει· τότε μοι χάνοι εὐρεῖα χθών
for some day Hektor will say openly before the Trojans:
“The son of Tydeus, running before me, fled to his vessels”
So he will vaunt; and then let the wide earth open beneath me
Again, in the flyting exchange between Achilles and Asteropaeus (Iliad 21.148–160), the latter will reply to Achilles’ threatening question about who he is (only children of unhappy parents, Achilles maintains, fight his fury) by claiming descent from the river Axios. The narrator describes the speech in the following way (Iliad 21.161):
So he spoke, threatening
The speech by Asteropaeus then, as always when warriors rehearse their own genealogy, has to be construed agonistically, and indeed, when Achilles has killed Asteropaeus, his vaunt will pick up Asteropaeus’ genealogical claim (Iliad 21.184–199, especially lines 186–187, φῆσθα σὺ μὲν ποταμοῦ γένος ἔμμεναι εὐρὺ ῥέοντος, | αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ γενεὴν μεγάλου Διὸς εὔχομαι εἶναι, “you said you were of the generation of the wide-running river, but I claim I am of the generation of the great Zeus”). 
πῇ ἔβαν εὐχωλαί, ὅτε δὴ φάμεν εἶναι ἄριστοι,
ἃς ὁπότ’ ἐν Λήμνῳ κενεαυχέες ἠγοράασθε …
Shame, you Argives, poor nonentities splendid to look on.
Where are you high words gone, when we said that we were the bravest?
those words you spoke before all in hollow vaunting at Lemnos
And a similar use, this time of ἀπειλαί, can be observed in Iliad 13.219–220.
§10 The Metalanguage of Verbal Abuse (II): κερτομέω
ἔδμεναι ἐν σπῆϊ γλαφυρῷ κρατερῆφι βίηφι.
καὶ λίην σέ γ’ ἔμελλε κιχήσεσθαι κακὰ ἔργα,
σχέτλι’, ἐπεὶ ξείνους οὐχ ἅζεο σῷ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
ἐσθέμεναι· τῶ σε Ζεὺς τείσατο καὶ θεοὶ ἄλλοι
Cyclops, in the end it was no weak man’s companions
you were to eat by violence and force in your hollow
cave, and your evil deeds were to catch up with you, and be
too strong for you, hard one, who dared to eat you own guests
in your own house, so Zeus and the rest of the gods have punished you
This is no doubt a boast, comparable to the vaunts of victorious warriors on the battlefield, but here made indirect by the use of an understatement (violation of the Maxim of Quantity), οὐκ … ἀνάλκιδος, Odysseus has been very brave indeed! Sarcastic comments over defeated enemies are introduced by ἐπικερτομέων in Iliad 16.744–750 and Odyssey 22.194–199. In both passages there is a clear mismatch between the real situation and the words pronounced, that is, a violation of the Maxim of Quality implying cruelly mocking remarks about the victims. In the first passage, for example, Patroclus ‘transfigures’ his victim Kebriones falling from his chariot into a diver:
“ὢ πόποι ἦ μάλ’ ἐλαφρὸς ἀνήρ, ὡς ῥεῖα κυβιστᾷ.
εἰ δή που καὶ πόντῳ ἐν ἰχθυόεντι γένοιτο,
πολλοὺς ἂν κορέσειεν ἀνὴρ ὅδε τήθεα διφῶν
νηὸς ἀποθρῴσκων, εἰ καὶ δυσπέμφελος εἴη,
ὡς νῦν ἐν πεδίῳ ἐξ ἵππων ῥεῖα κυβιστᾷ
ἦ ῥα καὶ ἐν Τρώεσσι κυβιστητῆρες ἔασιν” 
You spoke in bitter mockery over him, rider Patroklos:
“See now, what a light man this is, how agile an acrobat.
If only he were somewhere on the sea, where the fish swarm,
he could fill the hunger of many men, by diving for oysters;
he could go overboard from a boat even in rough weather
the way he somersaults so light to the ground from his chariot
now. So, to be sure, in Troy also they have their acrobats”
As this example makes clear, there is a creative (cf. §2) component in the indirectness of kertomia. This aspect can make this mode of discourse fun for an audience (that is, it can make it entertaining);  hence its association with laughing, as in Odyssey 18.349–355:
κερτομέων Ὀδυσῆα· γέλω δ’ ἑτάροισιν ἔτευχε·
“κέκλυτέ μευ, μνηστῆρες ἀγακλειτῆς βασιλείης,
ὄφρ’ εἴπω, τά με θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι κελεύει.
οὐκ ἀθεεὶ ὅδ’ ἀνὴρ Ὀδυσήϊον ἐς δόμον ἵκει·
ἔμπης μοι δοκέει δαΐδων σέλας ἔμμεναι αὐτοῦ
κὰκ κεφαλῆς, ἐπεὶ οὔ οἱ ἔνι τρίχες οὐδ’ ἠβαιαί”
Eurymachos, son of Polybos, began speaking among them,
Taunting Odysseus, and started up laughter among his companions:
“Hear me, all you suitors of the glorious queen, hear me
while I speak out what the heart within my breast urges.
This man comes as gift of the gods to the house of Odysseus.
It is my thought that he can give us illumination
From his bald head, which has no hair, not even a little”
The stranger, we should note, has not even a few hairs on his head (line 355). Eurymachus violates the Maxims of Quantity, Quality, and possibly also Manner (he is not being orderly) to state that there is a blaze of torches coming from the stranger’s head, thus evoking mockingly the scenario of a divine epiphany (cf. Odyssey 17.483–485, for the idea that the beggar might be a god in disguise).
ἥκειν εἰς Ἰθάκην εὐδείελον, ἀλλά τιν’ ἄλλην
γαῖαν ἀναστρέφομαι· σὲ δὲ κερτομέουσαν ὀΐω
ταῦτ’ ἀγορευέμεναι, ἵν’ ἐμὰς φρένας ἠπεροπεύῃς
for I do not think
I have really come into sunny Ithaka, but have been driven
off course to another country, and I think you are teasing me
when you tell me I am, and saying it to beguile me
Odysseus does not believe he is in Ithaca, as Athena has told him. He suspects or pretends to suspect that the goddess is taking advantage of his bad psychological state in order to make fun of him.
εἴ τινά που δεδάηκας· ἔοικε δέ σ’ ἴδμεν ἀέθλους.
οὐ μὲν γὰρ μεῖζον κλέος ἀνέρος, ὄφρα κεν ᾖσιν,
ἢ ὅ τι ποσσίν τε ῥέξῃ καὶ χερσὶν ἑῇσιν.
ἀλλ’ ἄγε πείρησαι, σκέδασον δ’ ἀπὸ κήδεα θυμοῦ·
σοὶ δ’ ὁδὸς οὐκέτι δηρὸν ἀπέσσεται, ἀλλά τοι ἤδη
νηῦς τε κατείρυσται καὶ ἐπαρτέες εἰσὶν ἑταῖροι
Come you also now, father stranger, and try these contests,
if you have skill in any. It beseems you to know athletics,
for there is no greater glory that can befall a man living
than what he achieves by speed of his feet or strength of his hand. So
come then and try it, and scatter those cares that are on your spirit.
Your voyage will not be put off for long, but now already
Your ship is hauled down to the sea, and your companions are ready
To which Odysseus replies (Odyssey 8.153–157):
κήδεά μοι καὶ μᾶλλον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν ἤ περ ἄεθλοι,
ὃς πρὶν μὲν μάλα πολλὰ πάθον καὶ πολλὰ μόγησα,
νῦν δὲ μεθ’ ὑμετέρῃ ἀγορῇ νόστοιο χατίζων
ἧμαι, λισσόμενος βασιλῆά τε πάντα τε δῆμον
Laodamas, why do you all urge me in mockery
to do these things? Cares are more in my mind than games are,
who before this have suffered much and had many hardships,
and sit here now in the middle of your assembly, longing
to go home, entreating your king for this, and all the people
The difficulty of this passage lies in the reasons why Odysseus considers Laodamas’ words mockingly insincere (κερτομέοντες, line 153). Indeed, it must be pointed out that the narrator gives no hint about the actual illocutionary force of Laodamas’ words, but it is Odysseus that interprets Laodamas’ words as kertomia. According to P. V. Jones, Laodamas has been in his speech “the soul of tact and courtesy”;  in Clay’s view, “Odysseus has misinterpreted their words and taken offence where none was intended.”  According to Lloyd and Gottesmann, however, there is an insulting aspect in Laodamas’ strategy of communication: according to them, Laodamas is objectively performing kertomia. Lloyd maintains that even if there are no violations of the Gricean maxims in Laodamas’ speech, the context gives clues to interpret the words as an off-record insult: the Phaeacians are confident in their athletic skills, while Odysseus risks making a fool of himself if he competes in the games, since he is in bad physical shape.  Gottesmann on the other hand believes that the insulting component in Laodamas’ approach is implied by a contrast between his (apparent) polite words to Odysseus and his previous speech directed at his friends, in which he, while insisting on Odysseus’ physical shape, had expressed the intention of inviting the guest to take part in the games (lines 133–139):
οἶδέ τε καὶ δεδάηκε· φυήν γε μὲν οὐ κακός ἐστι,
μηρούς τε κνήμας τε καὶ ἄμφω χεῖρας ὕπερθεν
αὐχένα τε στιβαρὸν μέγα τε σθένος· οὐδέ τι ἥβης
δεύεται, ἀλλὰ κακοῖσι συνέρρηκται πολέεσσιν.
οὐ γὰρ ἐγώ γέ τί φημι κακώτερον ἄλλο θαλάσσης
ἄνδρα γε συγχεῦαι, εἰ καὶ μάλα καρτερὸς εἴη
Come, friends, let us ask the stranger if he has skill and knowledge
For any kind of contest. In his build he is no mean man,
for the lower legs and thighs he has, and both arms above them,
for the massive neck and the great strength, nor is it that he lacks
youth, but the crush of many misfortunes has used him hardly.
For I say there is no other thing that is worse than the sea is
for breaking a man, even though he may be a very strong one
According to Gottesmann, Odysseus must have overheard this and realized that he was being insulted: “for no sooner does Laodamas praise Odysseus’ build and youth than he contradicts himself by commenting that he has been ‘shriveled up’ by the sea. This serves to reverse the polarity of his words, from a sympathetic assertion of the stranger’s ‘sorry’ state into an antagonistic ascription of the stranger’s sorry status.”  This of course cannot be excluded, but the text in no way signals that Odysseus had overheard the words of Laodamas’ first speech; and even if Odysseus had, it is questionable whether there was much in that speech that may have been considered offensive or mocking. We may of course look for other possible details in Laodamas’ words that could have sounded irritating. Can it be, for example, that Laodamas’ mention of Odysseus’ κήδεα and πομπή were perceived by Odysseus as a sort of mocking mimicry, given that he had insisted so much on both since his arrival at Alcinoos’ palace?  The interpretation of this passage should be left open. Personally, I would not exclude a radically different possibility: namely, that the attribution of kertomia to Laodamas says nothing about the intention of the Phaeacian youth or about Odysseus’ real perception of Laodamas’ words, but is only a rhetorical strategy adopted by the hero. Scholars have generally assumed that Odysseus takes offence at Laodamas’ words: but does he really? No indication pointing in this direction is given in the text: Odysseus’ words to Laodamas are introduced by the neutral τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη (line 152). Odysseus does eventually take offence, but only later on, when Euryalus speaks; when that happens, however, the illocutionary force of Euryalus’ speech is indicated by the narrator (νείκεσε, line 158), the speech itself is evidently aggressive, and Odysseus responds “looking darkly” (ὑπόδρα ἰδών, line 165, a typical reaction to face-attacks).  On the contrary, Laodamas’ invitation may well be sincerely polite. He, however, had insisted on the glory (κλέος) a hero can obtain from competing in the games (lines 146–147), and in stating that Laodamas is making kertomia, Odysseus may be simply showing modesty in front of his host, as after all would be desirable in a guest.  Laodamas—Odysseus may want to imply—is (gently) making fun of him, for he cannot be serious in envisaging κλέος in the games for the wretched guest who sits in the Phaeacians’ agora and begs the king and all the people for his return home (lines 156–157, quoted above). In part, the situation could be compared with that of Odyssey 7.208–225, where Odysseus rejects Alcinoos’ hypothesis that he may be a god. In both cases Odysseus would insist on his κήδεα to debase himself. But we may wonder how sincere Odysseus’ modesty is, and whether it is actually aimed at strategically avoiding participation in the games.  His assumed modesty, in any case, could be easily mistaken for athletic incapacity, and this is exactly what happens. Euryalus insults him, and Odysseus will have to show that after all he knows how to compete and win in the games.
ἐκτὸς μὲν δὴ λέξο γέρον φίλε, μή τις Ἀχαιῶν
ἐνθάδ’ ἐπέλθῃσιν βουληφόρος, οἵ τέ μοι αἰεὶ
βουλὰς βουλεύουσι παρήμενοι, ἣ θέμις ἐστί·
τῶν εἴ τίς σε ἴδοιτο θοὴν διὰ νύκτα μέλαιναν,
αὐτίκ’ ἂν ἐξείποι Ἀγαμέμνονι ποιμένι λαῶν,
καί κεν ἀνάβλησις λύσιος νεκροῖο γένηται
Achilles of the swift feet now looked at Priam and said, sarcastic:
“Sleep outside, aged sir and good friend, for fear some Achaian
Might come in here on a matter of counsel, since they keep coming
And sitting by me and making plans; as they are supposed to.
But if one of these come through the fleeting black night should notice you
he would go straight and tell Agamemnon, shepherd of the people,
and there would be delay in the ransoming of the body”
Lloyd offers a generally convincing explanation of the use of ἐπικερτομέων (line 649) in this passage:  Achilles has already performed an angry on-record response to Priam’s impatient request of releasing Hector (lines 553–570); here, while being superficially polite, he manages to give a similar riposte to Priam’s impatience (cf. line 635 λέξον νῦν με τάχιστα), but off-record. He speaks to Priam from a position of superior knowledge, as C. Macleod explains: “Achilles knows that his guest must leave by night, and his speech hints at the danger of his remaining. He knows too that a god has escorted Priam (lines 563-567); and he guesses that the same god will help him return, as in fact happens.”  I would add that the (mildly) abusive implication of Achilles’ kertomia lies precisely in Priam’s incapacity to properly perceive the danger of his situation. He is a fool, Achilles implies, if he wants to stay there. Hermes will explicitly state that Priam does not care about the danger (κακόν) of sleeping among enemies (lines 683–688):
ἀνδράσιν ἐν δηΐοισιν, ἐπεί σ’ εἴασεν Ἀχιλλεύς.
καὶ νῦν μὲν φίλον υἱὸν ἐλύσαο, πολλὰ δ’ ἔδωκας·
σεῖο δέ κε ζωοῦ καὶ τρὶς τόσα δοῖεν ἄποινα
παῖδες τοὶ μετόπισθε λελειμμένοι, αἴ κ’ Ἀγαμέμνων
γνώῃ σ’ Ἀτρεΐδης, γνώωσι δὲ πάντες Ἀχαιοί
Aged sir, you can have no thought of evil from the way
you sleep still among your enemies now Achilles has left you
unharmed. You have ransomed now your dear son and given much for him.
But the sons you left behind would give three times as much ransom
for you, who are alive, were Atreus’ son Agamemnon
to recognize you, and all the other Achaians learn of you
Achilles had hinted at the same scenario by using an ironic understatement (a typical aspect of kertomia). If Agamemnon were to know that Priam was there, there would be a delay (ἀνάβλησις, line 655) in releasing Hector.  Achilles then plays with Priam’s inability to foresee the danger, the κακόν (cf. Hermes at line 683), something which is typical of fools, i.e. those who are νήπιοι (cf. Iliad 17.32 = 20.198).
§11 Types of Verbal Abuse in Homer (V): Intracommunal, (Potentially) Disruptive, Verbal Abuse
ἔρχεσθαι μετὰ φῦλα θεῶν ἢ εἰς ἅλα δῖαν.
εἰ δέ μοι οὐκ ἐπέεσσ’ ἐπιπείσεται, ἀλλ’ ἀλογήσει,
φραζέσθω δὴ ἔπειτα κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμὸν
μή μ’ οὐδὲ κρατερός περ ἐὼν ἐπιόντα ταλάσσῃ
μεῖναι, ἐπεί εὑ φημὶ βίῃ πολὺ φέρτερος εἶναι
καὶ γενεῇ πρότερος· τοῦ δ’ οὐκ ὄθεται φίλον ἦτορ
ἶσον ἐμοὶ φάσθαι, τόν τε στυγέουσι καὶ ἄλλοι
Tell him that he must now quit the war and fighting, and go back
among the generations of gods, or into the bright sea.
And if he will not obey my words, or thinks nothing of them,
then let him consider in his heart and his spirit
that he might not, strong though he is, be able to stand up
to my attack; since I say I am far greater than he is
in strength, and elder born; yet his inward heart shrinks not from calling
himself the equal of me, though others shudder before me
The message to be delivered to Poseidon starts with an order (cf. ἄνωχθι, line 160), moves to a warning which includes a threat (lines 163–165), and is followed by an assertive speech-act (lines 165–166, cf. φημί), in which Zeus boasts his own superiority to Poseidon, who does not hesitate to consider himself equal to Zeus (line 167). Zeus’ injunctions are clearly predicated on an explicit refusal of equity rights. In reporting Zeus’ speech to Poseidon, Iris gives even clearer signposts as to the illocutionary force of Zeus’ words: cf. κέλευσε (line 176) and ἠπείλει (line 179). Poseidon cannot but interpret Zeus’ words as a face-attack; more precisely he explicitly invokes equity rights to demand a less bully-like behavior from his brother Zeus (Iliad 15.184–186):
ὢ πόποι ἦ ῥ’ ἀγαθός περ ἐὼν ὑπέροπλον ἔειπεν
εἴ μ’ ὁμότιμον ἐόντα βίῃ ἀέκοντα καθέξει
Then deeply vexed the famed shaker of the earth spoke to her:
“No, no. Great though he is, this that he has said is too much,
if he will force me against my will, me, who am his equal in rank …”
The equality invoked by Poseidon is predicated on the equal division of the whole cosmos among the three sons of Kronos and Rhea. Zeus has no more claims than Poseidon does to exercise power on the earth, which is common to the three gods (lines 186–195). Interestingly, Poseidon compares the speech of his brother Zeus to that of a father reproaching his children with harsh words (Iliad 15.196–199):
θυγατέρεσσιν γάρ τε καὶ υἱάσι βέλτερον εἴη
ἐκπάγλοις ἐπέεσσιν ἐνισσέμεν οὓς τέκεν αὐτός,
οἵ ἑθεν ὀτρύνοντος ἀκούσονται καὶ ἀνάγκῃ
and let him absolutely stop frightening me, as if I were
mean, with his hands. It were better to keep for the sons and the daughters
he got himself these blusterings and these threats of terror.
They will listen, because they must, to whatever he tells them
We may wonder what situation would have ensued if Iris had reported such a speech to Zeus. But Iris asks Poseidon whether this is to be considered his last word (lines 201–204):
τόνδε φέρω Διὶ μῦθον ἀπηνέα τε κρατερόν τε,
ἦ τι μεταστρέψεις; στρεπταὶ μέν τε φρένες ἐσθλῶν.
οἶσθ’ ὡς πρεσβυτέροισιν Ἐρινύες αἰὲν ἕπονται
am I then to carry, O dark-haired, earth-encircler,
this word, which is strong and steep, back to Zeus from you?
Or will you change a little? The hearts of the great can be changed.
You know the Furies, how they forever side with the elder
Iris’ intervention is very interesting from a pragmatic point of view. We may see in her speech a twofold violation of the Maxim of Quantity. Her description of Poseidon’s speech as ἀπηνέα τε κρατερόν τε adds a detail which makes clear to Poseidon the dangerous force of his speech; at the same time, the expression ἦ τι μεταστρέψεις is a clear understatement, which is moreover accompanied by a double justification consisting of general maxims.  Iris is praised for her fitting words by Poseidon, who now yields (line 211). His reaction was due to the pain (ἄχος) provoked by Zeus’ abusive language, which Poseidon qualifies through the very flexible verb νεικέω (Iliad 15.208–210):
ὁππότ’ ἂν ἰσόμορον καὶ ὁμῇ πεπρωμένον αἴσῃ
νεικείειν ἐθέλῃσι χολωτοῖσιν ἐπέεσσιν
but this thing comes as a bitter sorrow to my heart and my spirit,
when Zeus tries in words of anger to reprimand one who
is his equal in station, and endowed with destiny like his
He considers Zeus’ abuse inappropriate as it is directed at an equal. He then issues a threat (Iliad 15.212: ἀπειλήσω τό γε θυμῷ), promising that there will be no healing to the wrath of the other gods if Zeus spares Troy from destruction.
σοὶ κοίλῃς παρὰ νηυσὶ βαρείας χεῖρας ἐποίσει
συμπάντων Δαναῶν, οὐδ’ ἢν Ἀγαμέμνονα εἴπῃς,
ὃς νῦν πολλὸν ἄριστος Ἀχαιῶν εὔχεται εἶναι
no man so long as I am alive above earth and see daylight
shall lay the weight of his hands on you beside the hollow ships,
not one of all the Danaäns, even if you mean Agamemnon,
who now claims to be by far the best of the Achaeans
No reaction on behalf of Agamemnon is recorded by the narrator at this point, but there is here a blatant violation of the Maxim of Quantity by Achilles, and it is not difficult to imagine that such a violation would be interpreted as ‘impolite’ by Agamemnon. Achilles’ strictly unnecessary addition that he will grant protection to Calchas even if he were “to mention the name of Agamemnon, who now claims to be the best of the Achaeans” may have been taken by Agamemnon as an attack to his Relational Face, for his claim of leader of the Achaeans seemed to be cast in doubt.  (We may add that this interpretation would have been after all well-founded, for in Iliad 1.244, when the quarrel has already begun, Achilles attributes to himself the title of “best of the Achaeans.”) The attribution to Agamemnon of the speech act of “claiming to be the best” (verb εὔχομαι) may even remind the audience of the use of εὐχωλή and similar words to mock slack warriors for their past, ineffective vaunts.  When Calchas makes the cause of Apollo’s wrath manifest, Agamemnon reacts by requesting from his army a gift in return for the release of Chryseis. But when Achilles explains that there are no common goods from which the army could offer a gift, Agamemnon interprets his words as a cunning attempt at gaining an advantage over him (Achilles would have the gift while Agamemnon should be deprived of it), and hints at the possibility of getting a gift from Ajax or Odysseus or even Achilles (131–139). This possibility, however, is abandoned immediately afterwards, when Agamemnon turns his attention to the organization of the propitiatory rites in honor of Apollo.
Τρώων ἐκπέρσωσ’ εὖ ναιόμενον πτολίεθρον·
ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν πλεῖον πολυάϊκος πολέμοιο
χεῖρες ἐμαὶ διέπουσ’· ἀτὰρ ἤν ποτε δασμὸς ἵκηται,
σοὶ τὸ γέρας πολὺ μεῖζον, ἐγὼ δ’ ὀλίγον τε φίλον τε
ἔρχομ’ ἔχων ἐπὶ νῆας, ἐπεί κε κάμω πολεμίζων
never, when the Achaians sack some well-founded citadel
of the Trojans, do I have a prize that is equal to your prize.
Always the greater part of the painful fighting is the work of
my hands; but when the time comes to distribute the booty
yours is far the greatest reward, and I with some small thing
yet dear to me go back to my ships when I am weary with fighting
In this context, Achilles hints at his intention to return to Phthia (a threat, in practice, for in doing so he deprives the Achaean army of its strongest hero), but Agamemnon responds with a snub (lines 180–181, σέθεν δ’ ἐγὼ οὐκ ἀλεγίζω | οὐδ’ ὄθομαι κοτέοντος),  followed by a formal threat (cf. Iliad 1.181: ἀπειλήσω δέ τοι ὧδε), which equates his authority to that of a god: as Apollo takes away Chryseis from him, so he will take Briseis away from Achilles; and he concludes (Iliad 1.185–187):
ὅσσον φέρτερός εἰμι σέθεν, στυγέῃ δὲ καὶ ἄλλος
ἶσον ἐμοὶ φάσθαι καὶ ὁμοιωθήμεναι ἄντην
so that you may learn well
how much greater I am than you, and another man may shrink
from claiming parity with me and playing the equal to my face
Agamemnon is picking up here Achilles’ previous protest for not receiving a gift equal to his, and his words are very similar to those pronounced by Zeus to Poseidon (Iliad 15.165–167, quoted above, and 181–183).  But in the case of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, there is nothing similar to the important mediating function performed by Iris: Achilles comes then very near to a physical reaction, and Athena has to intervene (lines 188–223). Achilles’ insults at lines 225–244 are most clearly the substitute for physical retaliation, and their direct harshness (cf. the rare epithet ἀταρτηροῖς defining the character of his words at line 224) makes up for the fact that Achilles has no power to respond to Agamemnon’s threat with an equivalent counterthreat: he can only withdraw from war and make a prophecy that the Achean army will at some point desperately need his presence (the complexity of Achilles’ verbal strategy is admirably captured by Athena’s unusual expression at line 211 ὀνείδισον ὡς ἔσεταί περ, something like “cast in his teeth how it will be”).
τοὔνεκα καί τε βροτοῖσι θεῶν ἔχθιστος ἁπάντων·
καί μοι ὑποστήτω ὅσσον βασιλεύτερός εἰμι
ἠδ’ ὅσσον γενεῇ προγενέστερος εὔχομαι εἶναι
let him give way. For Hades gives not way, and is pitiless,
and therefore he among all the gods is most hateful to mortals.
And let him yield place to me, inasmuch as I am the kinglier
And inasmuch as I can call myself born the elder
Odysseus will shrewdly avoid reporting this “coda” to Achilles. Nevertheless, the insincerity of Agamemnon’s attempt at conciliation does not escape Achilles.  He refuses Agamemnon’s offer and will not be persuaded until Agamemnon “has made good to me all his heart-rending insolence,” (line 387 πρίν γ’ ἀπὸ πᾶσαν ἐμοὶ δόμεναι θυμαλγέα λώβην). Achilles’ long refusal, not mitigated by any politeness strategy,  includes, among other things, a snub (lines 376–378, … ἐρρέτω … τίω δέ μιν ἐν καρὸς αἴσῃ, cf. also lines 334–335), sarcastic remarks (lines 391–392: οὐδέ μιν ὧς γαμέω· ὃ δ’ Ἀχαιῶν ἄλλον ἑλέσθω, | ὅς τις οἷ τ’ ἐπέοικε καὶ ὃς βασιλεύτερός ἐστιν), together with on-record abuse (lines 332–333; 372–373).
ὠρώρει, δύο δ’ ἄνδρες ἐνείκεον εἵνεκα ποινῆς
ἀνδρὸς ἀποφθιμένου· ὃ μὲν εὔχετο πάντ’ ἀποδοῦναι
δήμῳ πιφαύσκων, ὃ δ’ ἀναίνετο μηδὲν ἑλέσθαι·
ἄμφω δ’ ἱέσθην ἐπὶ ἴστορι πεῖραρ ἑλέσθαι.
λαοὶ δ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἐπήπυον ἀμφὶς ἀρωγοί·
κήρυκες δ’ ἄρα λαὸν ἐρήτυον· οἳ δὲ γέροντες
εἵατ’ ἐπὶ ξεστοῖσι λίθοις ἱερῷ ἐνὶ κύκλῳ,
σκῆπτρα δὲ κηρύκων ἐν χέρσ’ ἔχον ἠεροφώνων·
τοῖσιν ἔπειτ’ ἤϊσσον, ἀμοιβηδὶς δὲ δίκαζον.
κεῖτο δ’ ἄρ’ ἐν μέσσοισι δύω χρυσοῖο τάλαντα,
τῷ δόμεν ὃς μετὰ τοῖσι δίκην ἰθύντατα εἴποι
The people were assembled in the market place, where a quarrel
had arisen, and two men were disputing over the blood price
for a man who had perished. One man claimed full restitution
in a public statement, but the other refused and would accept nothing.
Both then were eager to have a decision according to an arbitrator.
And people were speaking up on either side, to help both men,
but the heralds kept the people in hand, as meanwhile the elders
were in session on benches of polished stone in the sacred circle
and held in their hands the staves of the heralds who lift their voices.
With those in hand they sprang up, and gave judgments in turn;
and between them lay on the ground two talents of gold, to be given
to the one who among them spoke the straightest opinion
The enormous amount of bibliography devoted to these eleven lines have mainly aimed at defining the characteristics of the legal procedure described.  Dealing with this scene in the context of verbal abuse in Homer may even appear surprising. I am of course interested in a better understanding of the legal aspects of this description, but believe that such a goal can be achieved only if we investigate further the logic of the quarrel itself; and this in turn needs to be done against the backdrop of what we have so far observed regarding the pragmatics and metalanguage of verbal abuse in Homer. 
ἐς μέσον ἀμφοτέρων συνίτην μεμαῶτε μάχεσθαι
Αἰνείας τ’ Ἀγχισιάδης καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς
Two men far greater than all the others
Were coming to encounter, furious to fight with each other,
Aineias, the son of Anchises, and brilliant Achilles
We have already seen also that the verbs characterizing the actual ensuing speeches are εὔχομαι (Aineias boasting his ancestors, lines 209 and 241) and νεικέω (cf. lines 251, 252, 254).
Κύρνε, δίκην, ἶσόν τ’ ἀμφοτέροισι δόμεν
I must render this judgment according to a chalkline and square,
Kyrnos, and give to both sides their equitable share
Determining what is equal and right is not a simple matter. “Theognis” states he needs special precision tools (a chalkline and a square) to perform this task. In Iliad 15.410–413 the stalemate between the two armies fighting with equal force is illustrated through the image of a carpenter cutting straight a ship’s timber with the aid of a chalkline:
τέκτονος ἐν παλάμῃσι δαήμονος, ὅς ῥά τε πάσης
εὖ εἰδῇ σοφίης ὑποθημοσύνῃσιν Ἀθήνης,
ὣς μὲν τῶν ἐπὶ ἶσα μάχη τέτατο πτόλεμός τε
but as a chalkline straightens the cutting of a ship’s timber
in the hands of an expert carpenter, who by Athene’s
inspiration is well versed in all his craft’s subtlety,
so the battles fought by both sides were pulled fast and even
The carpenter is one who “one who is well versed (literally ‘knows’, εἰδῇ, again etymologycally from the root *weid-) in all his craft’s subtlety (πάσης … σοφίης)”: the perfect straightness of the cut is a sign of his expertise.