The Simile of the Cranes and Pygmies: A Study of Homeric Metaphor

Brandeis University
[This essay was originally published in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 93 (1990), pp. 59–101. The original pagination is marked in brackets ‘{ }’, so, for example, the break between pages 59 and 60 will be as follows: {59|60}.]

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ κόσμηθεν ἅμ’ ἡγεμόνεσσιν ἕκαστοι
Τρῶες μὲν κλαγγῇ τ’ ἐνοπῇ τ’ ἴσαν, ὄρνιθες ὥς,
ἠΰτε περ κλαγγὴ γεράνων πέλει οὐρανόθι πρό
αἳ τ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν χειμῶνα φύγον καὶ ἀθέσφατον ὄμβρον,
κλαγγῇ ταί γε πέτονται ἐπ’ Ὠκεανοῖο ῥοάων,
ἀνδράσι Πυγμαίοισι φόνον καὶ κῆρα φέρουσαι·
ἠέριαι δ’ ἄρα ταί γε κακὴν ἔριδα προφέρονται·
οἱ δ’ ἄρ’ ἴσαν σιγῇ μένεα πνείοντες Ἀχαιοί,
ἐν θυμῷ μεμαῶτες ἀλεξέμεν ἀλλήλοισιν.
And when each of them was marshaled with their leaders,
the Trojans went with a shriek and a war-cry,
like birds, just as the shriek of cranes arises in the sky,
the ones who, fleeing storm and endless downpour,
fly with a shriek over the streams of Okeanos
bringing slaughter and death to Pygmy men;
high in the air, they provoke dread strife;
but the Achaeans went in silence, infused with might,
eager in their hearts to protect one another.

(Il. 3.1–9)


The question is, what does such a simile signify? Since Greek epic works by tacit conventions familiar to the poet and his audience but not necessarily to us, one way to begin is to restore the simile’s conventionality by observing its relationship to other similes of like content or {59|60} in similar contexts. [1] Then, on the assumption that the language in metaphors and similes is determined by their specific narrative and metaphoric context, [2] one can examine this simile in relation to the narrative and to the other metaphors of the rest of Book 3: after all, in position if not significance, this is the book’s first metaphor. [3] Lastly, since Greek epic is traditional poetry, it is plausible to examine the historical past and/or future of this simile in its conventional, narrative, and metaphoric context. My contention is that the similes are not less traditional {60|61} than the rest of the epic, and that tradition, far from bearing the past as a meaningless burden, continually enhances and preserves the epic’s expressive and evocative power. [4] An investigation of this simile’s traditional background provides a context of variants over time that are analogous to mythical variants and that function as yet another guide to understanding. The overall goal, then, is to open a set of questions about the way epic similes are composed and to suggest answers to them. [5]

Conventional context

Generally speaking, to interpret a simile is to explain its relation to its narrative context or, in “specialized” terminology, the relation between tenor (here, epic narrative) and vehicle (the simile itself). [6] But for Greek epic, the nature of this relation is the heart of the problem. Homeric similes either consist of or introduce elements that appear to us irrelevant to the narrative context. Leaving aside this issue for the moment, we need to begin by establishing the relation, whatever it may be, not between this vehicle and its tenor, but between it and others like it or joined to like tenors. Such parallels would have constituted a {61|62} primary frame of reference for an epic audience and poet. So other similes about cranes—there is no other mention of Pygmies in epic, with or without cranes—are a suitable point of departure.
The simile at the head of Iliad 3 follows the Catalogue of Trojans at the end of Iliad 2 and the mustering and march of the Trojan army into battle. In a similar though not identical context, just before the Catalogue of the Achaeans, when Agamemnon’s army is mustered, its march is embellished with similes. First their radiance (αἴγλη) is compared to the far-seen blaze of a forest-fire on the mountain-tops (2.455–458), and then they are likened to flocks of birds, including cranes:

τῶν δ’, ὥς τ’ ὀρνίθων πετεηνῶν ἔθνεα πολλά,
χηνῶν ἢ γεράνων ἢ κύκνων δουλιχοδείρων,
Ἀσίῳ ἐν λειμῶνι, Καϋστρίου ἀμφὶ ῥέεθρα,
ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα ποτῶνται ἀγαλλόμενα πτερύγεσσι,
κλαγγηδὸν προκαθιζόντων, σμαραγεῖ δέ τε λειμών,
ὣς τῶν ἔθνεα πολλὰ νεῶν ἄπο καὶ κλισιάων
ἐς πεδίον προχέοντο Σκαμάνδριον· αὐτὰρ ὑπὸ χθὼν
σμερδαλέον κονάβιζε ποδῶν αὐτῶν τε καὶ ἵππων.
ἔσταν δ’ ἐν λειμῶνι Σκαμανδρίῳ ἀνθεμόεντι
μυρίοι, ὅσσα τε φύλλα καὶ ἄνθεα γίγνεται ὥρῃ.
And just as many flocks of winged birds, geese or cranes or long-necked swans
in an Asian meadow, beside the streams of Kaiister, flutter this
way and that way, exulting in their wings
as they alight with shrieks, and the meadow resounds;
so many flocks of men poured forth from ships and huts
onto the plain of Scamander; and the earth under
their feet and their horses’ thundered mightily.
And they stood in the flowery meadow of Scamander,
thousands of them, as many as the leaves and flowers in season …

(Il. 2.459–468)

The single mention of cranes as one of three possible subjects of this simile may seem tenuous grounds for comparing it to the simile of the cranes and Pygmies. Yet the contextual similarity of the two suggests deeper links, and the listing of two or three possible subjects for the simile is a peculiar but not uncommon feature of Homeric similes that {62|63} needs to be understood before it can be considered grounds for disjoining the two similes in question. [7] In fact, the list of alternative subjects is an artistic aspect of the simile’s form: it begins with a generic correspondence between men and birds, then the picture develops with more and more specific, sensual details. The birds are in social groups (ἔθνεα), they are either geese, cranes, or swans, they are in an Asian meadow, actually the banks of the Kaiister, and so on. A predominance of nouns and adjectives at the beginning of the simile (13 in the first three lines, no verbs) shifts to a predominance of verbs and adverbs at the end (seven in the last two lines, with two nouns) as the details of action become more and more precise. The scene develops an overall contrast between its vague opening, in which the objects seen are gradually more clearly identified, and its precise close, which abounds in details of movement and sound. So the list of possible subjects for the simile is an aesthetic element of an artistic form, not the hesitancy or vagueness of a second-rate poet.

Nevertheless, this artistry is a less constant feature of Homeric similes than the alternative list itself, which has another function. [8] This becomes clear once we observe the similarities between the composition of similes and that of folktales as analyzed by Vladimir Propp. Inside a defined corpus of tales, the same narrative themes from a fixed repertoire are carried out by a widely varying cast of characters in such a way as to give the listener a simultaneous impression of the tales’ variety and their sameness. [9] Similarly in epic, boars and lions are actually the subjects of identical similes, [10] and at times the poet can also compose a simile the subject of which is “a lion or a boar” (Il. 12.41 f.; cf. 5.782–783):{63|64}

ὡς δ’ ὁτ’ ἂν ἔν τε κύνεσσι καὶ ἀνδράσι θηρευτῇσι
κάπριος ἠὲ λέων στρέφεται σθένει βλεμεαίνων
as when amid dogs and hunters
a lion or a boar turns, exulting in his strength

There are other similes, however, in which the two are not interchangeable, for the tradition treats lions as predators who initiate aggression while boars are aggressive defenders, not attackers. [11] If nothing else, the simple formal parallelism between the alternative cast of characters at Il. 12.41 f. and at 2.459 ff. suggests that geese, cranes, and swans are members of an associated group like boars and lions. A simile in which one of the three species is singled out could, in principle, be composed about either of the other two, though individuals within the group might have secondary traits and associations that would render them appropriate to certain contexts but inappropriate to others. It needs further research to establish that a system of composition based on a varying but associated cast of characters is generalizable for epic similes, [12] but such a system would bespeak an aesthetic of regularized flexibility not incompatible with the formal flexibility typical of epic formula and theme. [13]

That cranes, then, are only one of three possible subjects of the simile at Il. 2.458 ff. need not diminish its relevance to the study of a simile about cranes alone. The context’s ambivalence with respect to the traditional simile system makes possible the choice of subjects, and we can assume that the other birds in the simile are functionally associated with cranes in the tradition, a factor that can widen the scope of our research. In a way, we can even treat the three-subject simile as though it were about cranes only since in this context at least geese, cranes, and swans are true synonyms. [14] {64|65}
To look more closely at the thematic variables in this simile and their contextual relevance: it concerns a group of relatively large, social (implied in ἔθνεα [15] ) birds on a meadow beside a river, first flying here and there, then alighting with shrieks and making the meadow resound mightily (σμαραγεῖ). All but one of these details of the simile have very precise analogues in the narrative. The men called out to muster consist of social groups (again, ἔθνεα) who pour forth onto the plain (πεδίον) or, two lines below, on the meadow of the river Scamander, making a terrible din (κονάβιζε) [16] with their feet and their horses’ hooves. Just as the birds alight (προκαθιζόντων) on the meadow, so the men stand (ἔσταν) still after rushing forth.
The single detail in the simile that has no precise analogue in the narrative is as follows:

ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα ποτῶνται ἀγαλλόμενα πτερύγεσσι
In different directions they flit, exulting in their wings


Is this a careless irrelevancy? A detail pertinent to the simile itself but irrelevant to its narrative context? Or is there some other explanation for its disturbing appearance—disturbing for us, at least, since elements like this one transgress what we sense as intuitive limits on irrelevance in an analogy.

In the past, various ways of accounting for these transgressions have been proposed: that Homeric similes were made on an aesthetic rule that is different from our rule of analogy—for instance, that an epic simile is built up from a single Vergleichungspunkt, or that it aims at Stimmungsgleichnis, similarity of register instead of the “logic” of analogy. Others have suggested that such elements are lapses ascribable {65|66} to the strenuous demands of oral performance or to the inferior poetic quality in “later” layers of the text. In fact, the problem has larger dimensions than the existence of superfluous elements in so-called “extended” similes. There are times when the opposite situation obtains: a comparison is made between things that seem to us too similar to be analogous; and finally, there are similes in which tenor and vehicle seem devoid of any similarity whatever, as when Hektor charging into battle is said to resemble a snowy mountain. I suggest that the global problem and its solution lie in the factor of tradition: a conventional, traditional medium like Homeric epic has the capacity to omit from the surface of its discourse elements that are admitted to social memory, that are evoked by the traditional poetic language in the poet and his audience but not in us. [17] In a word, it is not that the longer Homeric similes are “extended”; instead, all similes, including the longer ones, are “condensed.” On this hypothesis, the several peculiarities of Homeric similes can be explained by one principle inherent in the medium itself and consistent with it rather than through more or less convincing special pleading.
To determine the traditional contextual associations of the “superfluous” line 2.462, we need go no further than a simile that deserves consideration in this discussion anyhow, namely, the one used in a parallel context at the beginning of Book 2, when Agamemnon musters his army in order to test the veracity of his false dream:

… ἐπέσσευοντο δὲ λαοί.
ἠΰτε ἔθνεα εἶσι μελισσάων ἁδινάων
πέτρης ἐκ γλαφυρῆς αἰεὶ νέον ἐρχομενάων·
βοτρυδὸν δὲ πέτονται ἐπ’ ἄνθεσιν εἰαρινοῖσιν
αἱ μέν τ’ ἔνθα ἅλις πεποτήαται, αἱ δέ τε ἔνθα
ὣς τῶν ἔθνεα πολλὰ νεῶν ἄπο καὶ κλισιάων
ἠιόνος προπάροιθε βαθείης ἐστιχόωντο
ἰλαδὸν εἰς ἀγορήν·
And the hosts of fighting men rushed forth. {66|67}
Just as flocks of bees go in swarms
always coming anew from a hollow rock;
in clusters they fly over the flowers of spring;
some fly massed in one direction, others in another;
so the many flocks of men from ships and huts
were marching row by row before the broad shore
in squads into assembly.

Among the numerous parallels in diction between this simile and the one involving cranes at 2.458, Ι single out for formal comparison a line that elaborates on the diverse, clustered movement of the bees, here explicitly correlated with the movement of men in squads to their mustering places:

αἱ μέν τ’ ἔνθα ἅλις πεποτήαται, αἱ δέ τε ἔνθα
some fly massed in one direction, others in another



ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα ποτῶνται ἀγαλλόμενα πτερύγεσσι
In different directions they flit, exulting in their wings


The only other instance in epic of the two words that terminate this line is:

παρθένοι ὠκείῃσιν ἀγαλλόμεναι πτερύγεσσι
maidens exulting in their swift wings

(HHerm. 553)

Not surprisingly, the παρθένοι referred to here are actually the prophetic bee-maidens that Apollo grants Hermes. A few lines below their movements are described as follows:

ἐντεῦθεν δὴ ἔπειτα ποτώμεναι ἄλλοτε ἄλλῃ
then flitting there from one place to another

(6HHerm. 558) {67|68}

So closer examination reveals that 2.462, which at first appeared irrelevant to its immediate context, actually is relevant to it, since it belongs to a traditional set of metaphors whose nature is established by the bee simile of 2.85–92 and the description of the bee maidens in HHerm. 553–558. [18] If we add the general consideration that forms of the root πετ- ‘fly’ in Homer are traditional, even dead metaphors for the rapid movement of warriors (and their horses), [19] then the relevance of 2.462 can be clearly stated. It calls to mind, as does its parallel in form and context at 2.90, the rapid movement of swarming squads of men to their various positions for a muster. The traditional, though inexplicit associations of the diction at 2.462 fit its narrative context as precisely as the explicit associations of the diction in the rest of the simile. In a sense, then, the traditional simile can narrate.

Nor is this correspondence between a simile about bees and a simile about geese, cranes, and swans a unique or inexplicable phenomenon. As subjects of similes, bees belong to a group that includes wasps. Both occur in mustering similes with themes and diction common to each other and the two bird similes we have just been considering. The mustering of the Myrmidons for battle from their ships (16.267: ἐκ νηῶν ἐχέοντο; cp. 2.464–465: νεῶν ἄπο … προχέοντο) is likened to wasps (σφῆκες) pouring forth (16.259: ἐξεχέοντο) at the silly boys who rile them or even a passer-by who disturbs them by accident; their fearless defense of their children (16.266: πρόσσω πᾶς πέτεται καὶ ἀμύνει οἶσι τεκέσσι) brings a common woe upon many. With bees, they are alternate subjects of a simile (12.167: σφῆκες … αἰόλοι ἠὲ μέλισσαι) on the same theme of a group rising up to defend its children against individual predators. The aggressive aspect of these similes is distinct from that of the simile of the bees in 2.86 ff. and the birds at 2.459 ff., but appropriately so: the troops likened to bees are being called to muster for assembly (2.93: εἰς ἀγορήν), not battle. {68|69}
Returning once again to the group consisting of geese, cranes, and swans, they appear to constitute an associative group of large, social birds who shriek, fly in formation, and alight noisily upon plains beside rivers. These characteristics make them suitable for comparison with the armies mustering at Troy. There is only one other mention of cranes in Homeric epic, also in a simile. At the end of Book 15, before the battle commences around Protesilaos’ ship, Aias, wielding a ship timber no less than 22 cubits in length, shouts encouragement to the demoralized Achaeans all along the shore, moving among them like an acrobatic jockey changing horses in a race. But his enemy Hektor is not put off:

οὐδὲ μὲν Ἕκτωρ
μίμνεν ἐνὶ Τρώων ὁμάδῳ πύκα θωρηκτάων
ἀλλ’ ὡς τ’ ὀρνίθων πετεηνῶν αἰετὸς αἴθων
ἔθνος ἐφορμᾶται ποταμὸν πάρα βοσκομενάων,
χηνῶν ἢ γεράνων ἢ κύκνων δουλιχοδείρων,
ὣς Ἕκτωρ ἴθυσε νεὸς κυανοπρῴροιο
ἄντιος ἀΐξας· τὸν δὲ Ζεὺς ὦσεν ὅπισθε
χειρὶ μάλα μεγάλῃ, ὤτρυνε δὲ λαὸν ἅμ’ αὐτῷ.
But Hektor did not
linger in the noisy mob of well-armored Trojans;
but as a blazing eagle sets upon a flock of winged
birds feeding alongside a river, geese, or cranes,
or long-necked swans, so Hektor made straight for
the glossy-prowed ship, rushing right at it; and Zeus
shoved him from behind with his really big hand, and
aroused the host of fighting men along with him.


The portrait of a social group (again, ἔθνος, 691) of birds, geese, cranes, or swans, gathered beside a river recurs here, but this time there are two different details: they are ‘feeding’ (βοσκομενάων, 691) beside the river, not shrieking, flying about, etc.; and also, they are the object of direct attack by a single predator, a blazing (αἴθων, 690) eagle. The attack on feeding animals is reminiscent of the simile used twice to describe the way in which Agamemnon was killed:

τὸν δ’ οὐ εἰδότ’ ὄλεθρον ἀνήγαγε καὶ κατέπεφνε
δειπνίσσας, ὥς τίς τε κατέκτανε βοῦν ἐπὶ φάτνῃ. {69|70}
Unaware of his doom he lead him up and smote him
while dining, as one kills an ox at the manger.

(Od. 4.534–535 = 11.411–112)

More germane is this simile in Diomedes’ aristeia:

ὡς δὲ λέων ἐν βουσὶ θορὼν ἐξ αὐχένα ἄξῃ
πόρτιος ἠὲ βοός, ξύλοχον κάτα βοσκομενάων,
ὣς τοὺς ἀμφοτέρους ἐξ ἵππων Τυδέος υἱός
βῆσε κακῶς ἀέκοντας, ἔπειτα δὲ τεύχε’ ἐσύλα
As a lion leaping on cattle breaks off the neck
of a calf or a cow feeding in a thicket,
so the son of Tydeus drove both of them from their
chariot harshly, against their will, and then stripped their armor.

(Il. 5.161–164)

In the case of Agamemnon, and in the context of the Odyssey as a whole, the language implies that Agamemnon’s slaughter was a perversion: unsuspecting, he was butchered like an animal being sacrificed for a dinner such as the one he was attending at the time (not an inappropriate return for the crime of Atreus). In the battle narrative of the Iliad, however, the implications are not the same: [20] that the cow or calf is feeding when killed by a predator is a pathetic detail marking its unsuspecting defenselessness—though the pathos is perhaps distanced and the scene ennobled by an ironical contrast of herbivorous bovine with carnivorous predator, each in the process of getting food.

As always in Homeric epic, the eagle (αἰετός), vulture (φήνη, αἰγυπιός), or falcon (κίρκος, ἴρηξ)—another group of three—like the lion or boar, stands in analogy to an aggressive, individualized hero distinct from his own host of fighting men. Being family-centered, predatory, {70|71} and carnivorous birds of the mountains, they are the opposite of geese, cranes, and swans, the gregarious and herbivorous waterfowl of the river plains below who here, as elsewhere, constitute their easy prey. For a simile—and there are many others—of parallel context to Hektor’s but with its cast of characters selected from among the associative groups eagle, vulture, falcon vs. cranes, geese, swans, compare:

τοῖσι δ’ ἐπ’ Αὐτομέδων μάχετ’ ἀχνύμενός περ ἑταίρου,
ἵπποις ἀΐσσων ὥς τ’ αἰγυπιὸς μετὰ χῆνας·
ῥέα μὲν γὰρ φεύγεσκεν ὑπὲκ Τρώων ὀρυμαγδοῦ,
ῥεῖα δ’ ἐπαΐξασκε πολὺν καθ’ ὅμιλον ὀπάζων.
And Automedon fought with them, still grieving for his
companion, darting with his horses like a vulture among
geese. With ease he escaped again and again {96|97} from under
the Trojans’ battle-din, with ease he rushed back upon
them, running down the great mass of men.


To return to Hektor’s simile, it seems to entail a slight flaw in the relationship between tenor and vehicle: though the eagle attacks a group of feeding waterfowl, Hektor himself does not attack a mass of men, but a glossy-prowed ship, νεὸς κυανοπρῴροιο (693). But the problem is a false one: the ship is his synecdochic target, a talisman to the demoralized Achaeans who, menaced with the loss of their homes, are fighting in fear around it. This is a false problem, but not a trivial one, for the traditional language is consistently precise about such details in bird similes. When tenor changes, vehicle’s predators and victims change accordingly. For instance, two isolated heroes fighting each other resemble two vultures fighting one another on a high cliff (16.428 ff.). [21] Several individualized heroes fighting against a massed army are like vultures from the mountains swooping down on the massed birds of the plain (22.302 ff.)—the simile uses vultures, not eagles and falcons, since they are relatively sociable birds (as wolves are more sociable than lions and boars), though they are not gregarious {71|72} like geese, cranes, and swans. [22] Likewise, the falcon, a smaller, faster predator of equal prestige to the eagle and the vulture but having a variant subset of birds as its victims—namely, jackdaws, starlings, and the rock-dove—always has predator and victim precisely matched to tenor. Akhilleus chasing a terrified Hektor is like a falcon pursuing a rock-dove, then pitying it and letting it escape (22.138 ff.). When the narrative features a single hero attacking a massed army, not a single victim, the falcon’s prey are gregarious jackdaws and/or starlings (16.582 ff., 17.755 ff.). If no particular victim is to hand, either none is spoken of in the vehicle (21.251) or its species is left undefined (13.62 ff.: ὄρνεον ἄλλο “another bird”). So the choice of geese, cranes, and swans as the eagle’s prey in Hektor’s simile represents a choice meant to fit the narrative context from a range of precise, available alternatives.

From this analysis we can begin to glimpse the way in which such similes were composed. The traditional poet worked with a system of groups, each comprising not more than three members: geese, cranes, and swans; eagle, vulture, or falcon; jackdaws, starlings, or rock-dove; bees or wasps; lions or boars. Each associative group has conventional characteristics in common that suits it to certain contexts; some member of the group may have distinctive characteristics that suits it to some contexts but not others. We have observed the difference between lions and boars, vultures as against eagles and falcons, the rock-dove as against starlings and jackdaws. The analysis offered up to now, however, has not been sensitive enough to determine why an eagle might be chosen over a falcon for a given simile; ultimately, it may be possible to make such a discrimination. [23] Furthermore, it appears as though the similes are well-attuned to the narrative environments {72|73} in which they are designed to function, that tenor and vehicle are, to put it concretely, creatures of one another. Despite this generative interdependence of simile and narrative, the similes themselves are not lacking in verisimilitude. Some might balk at the notion that an eagle could or would attack a bird as large as a crane or swan; but until recently, the Emperors of Japan forbade their subjects to hunt the Manchurian crane in order to afford themselves the exclusive pleasure of doing so with goshawks, predatory birds comparable to the European eagles. [24] But the similes are true-to-life not because they are based on the daily life of the epic performers/composers, or still less because they are intended to be a window on the world of the poet and his audience. It is much more consistent with the nature and aesthetics of archaic epic poetry to hypothesize that similes like these are a transformation of traditional lore that has, over time, developed into a coherent, generative, poetic system with formal aspects that are typical of folklore genres. [25]
The discussion of these other similes throws into relief some features of the cranes and Pygmies simile at the head of Iliad 3. First, its context now appears to be peculiar:

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ κόσμηθεν ἅμ’ ἡγεμόνεσσιν ἕκαστοι
Τρῶες μὲν κλαγγῇ τ’ ἐνοπῇ τ’ ἴσαν, ὄρνιθες ὥς.
And when each of them was marshalled with their leaders, the
Trojans went with a shriek and a war-cry, like birds


Unlike the narrative context of any other bird simile, not simply the ones cited thus far, this passage describes a massed army marching into battle, that is, after instead of during its muster, on the offensive, not the victim of attack by some single, overpowering hero. The simile proper begins with a self-contained expression that occurs alone once elsewhere, [26] ὄρνιθες ὥς ‘like birds,’ and then develops after a second {73|74} analogical conjunction, ἠΰτε ‘just as,’ as though the simile that follows is actually an expansive association triggered by the first simile rather than by the narrative itself:

ὄρνιθες ὥς,
ἠΰτε περ κλαγγὴ γεράνων πέλει οὐρανόθι πρό
αἳ τ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν χειμῶνα φύγον καὶ ἀθέσφατον ὄμβρον,
κλαγγῇ ταί γε πέτονται ἐπ’ ’Ωκεανοῖο ῥοάων
like birds,
just as the shriek of cranes arises in the sky,
the ones who, fleeing storm and endless downpour,
fly with a shriek over the streams of Okeanos


Some aspects of this developing image are by now familiar: the shriek of these birds, who in fact have a windpipe up to five feet in length with which they produce piercing, sonorous, trombone-like sounds; the flight from violence that their shriek signals, even if here the violence is not that of predators but of the weather; and also, their presence near a river, in this case the Okeanos.

But another aspect of the image is not familiar at all: these cranes are high in the sky, a position reserved for predators in other bird similes. The reference here is to a piece of lore also mentioned in the Works and Days of Hesiod, that the annual southerly migration of the cranes marks the onset of winter:

φράζεσθαι δ’ εὖτ’ ἂν γεράνου φωνὴν ἐπακούσεις
ὑψόθεν ἐκ νεφέων ἐνιαύσια κεκληγυίης,
ἥ τ’ ἀρότοιό τε σῆμα φέρει καὶ χείματος ὥρην
δεικνύει ὀμβρηροῦ· κραδίην δ’ ἔδακ’ ἀνδρὸς ἀβούτεω
But think, whenever you hear the voice of the crane from up high,
from the clouds, shrieking its yearly shrieks, that brings a sign of {74|75}
plowing and marks the season of winter with its drenching rain; it
bites the heart of a man with no ox. [27]

(Op. 448–451 ff.)

The migratory shriek, then, accounts for the birds’ disquieting position, but why they are spoken of in connection with the marching of a mustered army into battle is not clear until the last two lines of the simile:

κλαγγῇ ταί γε πέτονται ἐπ’ Ὠκεανοῖο ῥοάων
ἀνδράσι Πυγμαίοισι φόνον καὶ κῆρα φέρουσαι·
ἠέριαι δ’ ἄρα ταί γε κακὴν ἔριδα προφέρονται·
With a shriek they fly over the streams of Okeanos
bringing slaughter and death to Pygmy men; high in the
air [28] they provoke dread strife;

So these cranes are in fact predatory, carnivorous, deadly birds, and their shriek is, after all, a war-cry, not the noise of a flock settling on a river plain or the outcry of a falcon’s prey, such as the one in this simile from the seventeenth book of the Iliad:

ὣς αἰεὶ Αἴαντε μάχην ἀνέεργον ὁπίσσω
Τρώων οἱ δ’ ἅμ’ ἔποντο, δύω δ’ ἐν τοῖσι μάλιστα,
Αἰνείας τ’ Ἀγχισιάδης καὶ φαίδιμος Ἕκτωρ. {75|76}
τῶν δ’ ὥς τε ψαρῶν νέφος ἔρχεται ἠὲ κολοιῶν,
οὖλον κεκλήγοντες, ὅτε προΐδωσιν ἰόντα
κίρκον, ὅ τε σμικρῇσι φόνον φέρει ὀρνίθεσσιν,
ὣς ἄρ’ ὑπ’ Αἰνείᾳ τε καὶ Ἕκτορι κοῦροι Ἀχαιῶν
οὖλον κεκλήγοντες ἴσαν, λήθοντο δὲ χάρμης.
So the two Ajaxes continually were closing off
the battle of the Trojans at their rear; but the Trojans
pursued, and two of them in particular, Aineias the son
of Anchises and shining Hektor. And as a cloud of
jackdaws or starlings goes shrieking death [29] when they
catch sight of a falcon coming, who brings death on
small birds; so the Achaeans’ youths went shrieking
death and forgot their battle lust.


In the cranes and Pygmies simile, then, the cranes have actually replaced the predatory eagle, falcon, or vulture in other bird similes, and the Pygmies have replaced the cranes, swans or geese (or, in this parallel, starlings, jack-daws, and rock-dove).

Does this inversion of the cranes’ role have any special significance? The question should be asked since such an inversion is qualitatively different from a change to an alternate cast of characters within an otherwise coherent associative group. For predatoriness is a trait in conflict with the traits of cranes elsewhere. It is not just a special dimension of cranes that distinguishes them from swans and geese, as a boar’s aggressive defensiveness distinguishes it from a lion, or as the solitary dove distinguishes itself from daws and starlings. Those {76|77} distinctive traits are consistent with the overall role of lions and boars, or rock-doves, starlings, and jackdaws, but ‘attack-cranes’ are fundamentally unlike geese, or swans, or even other cranes.
The first question that comes to mind in response to this one is, in this particular narrative context, did the poet have any alternative to the simile that we have? Once the poet had associated the massed, attacking army with birds, there is in fact no extant alternative to the simile of these cranes shrieking their war-cry at the Pygmies since there is no other instance of a bird simile applying to a massed attacking army. There are, however, alternatives to the choice of birds for such a context. There are similes about wasps (16.259 ff.), wolves (16.156 ff.), and wind and waves (13.795 ff.). This last is a particularly striking simile that follows upon a catalogue of Trojan heroes, precisely like the simile of the cranes and Pygmies. So the poet’s tradition did provide alternate simile subjects in this context, nor was it averse to repeating elaborated similes. As the only bird simile in such a context, as the only simile specifically about cranes, and as the only simile in which cranes or their ilk invert roles and behave like their predators, the simile at the head of Book 3 is an exceptional one. Why the poet placed it there and what its several peculiarities may signify are now the preoccupations of this essay.

Metaphoric and Thematic Context of Book 3

The answers to these questions lie in a thorough understanding of the simile’s immediate metaphoric and thematic context. In the narrative that follows the simile comparing the Trojan army to the cranes attacking the Pygmies, their fighting army is ritually reduced to a single representative, who on this occasion is not Hector but Paris. This substitution—of a single combatant for the group, and of Paris in Hektor’s role—is suggestive in itself, and Paris’ portrayal in the subsequent narrative is a reasonable place to seek an explanation for predatory cranes. Is he portrayed as a conventional warrior in heroic single combat? Or is he an analogue, in diction and theme, to the cranes?
An image depicting Paris near the end of Book 3 is an ideal point of departure from which to describe the consistent imagery surrounding him, which is emphatically not that of a warrior. Aphrodite has just snatched him from the battlefield—Menelaos was about to kill him. She places him in his bedroom, disguises herself as an old woman, a {77|78} favorite wool-working slave of Helen’s from Lakedaimon, and then, having found Helen on the rampart, plucks at her fine robe to get her attention and says:

“δεῦρ’ ἴθ’· Ἀλέξανδρός σε καλεῖ οἶκόνδε νέεσθαι.
κεῖνος ὅ γ’ ἐν θαλάμῳ καὶ δινωτοῖσι λέχεσσι,
κάλλεΐ τε στίλβων καὶ εἵμασιν· οὐδέ κε φαίης
ἀνδρὶ μαχεσσάμενον τόν γ’ ἐλθεῖν, ἀλλὰ χορόνδε
ἔρχεσθ’, ἠὲ χοροῖο νέον λήγοντα καθίζειν.”
“Come here! Alexander is calling you to come back home.
He is in his bedroom, on the whorled bed, his beauty and
clothes both gleaming; you would not say he came from
fighting with a man, but that he was going to a dance, or
that he was sitting down just after finishing one.”


This passage has been discussed in a compelling analysis of the role of Aphrodite in Greek epic by Deborah Boedeker. [30] Her hypothesis is that the diction and functions of Aphrodite in Homer are developments from those of the Indo-European dawn-goddess whose descendant in Greek, Eos, she has all but displaced. Like Eos and her Vedic cognate, Usas, Aphrodite is a goddess associated with the dance. [31] All three goddesses are said to possess mortal consorts. [32] As Eos brings Tithonos to her θάλαμος (HAphr. 235), so Aphrodite has placed Paris in his θάλαμος (3.382). In her role as Διὸς θυγάτηρ (3.374), [33] she has just rescued him from death on the field of battle; significantly, the exact cognate in Vedic of this Greek phrase, diva(s) duḥitár-, is restricted to Uṣas. Three times in epic, Eos “snatches/rapes” for herself a mortal {78|79} consort; the word is a form of the verb ἁρπάζω in two of these (Kleitos, Od. 14.250, and Tithonos, HAphr. 218: ἥρπασεν). The verb ἁρπάζω is also used for Aphrodite’s “snatch/rape” of Paris from the field of battle in this particular context (3.380: τὸν δ’ ἐξήρπαξ’ Ἀφροδίτη). [34]

In terms of the history of this theme and the diction associated with it, Aphrodite’s motive in snatching Paris should be to keep him as her own mortal consort, [35] not to restore him to Helen. And as Boedeker points out, that is precisely Helen’s bitterly ironic suggestion to Aphrodite once she divines that the old slave is in fact the goddess disguised:

ἥσο πάρ’ αὐτὸν ἰοῦσα, θεῶν δ’ ἀπόεικε κελεύθου,
μηδ’ ἔτι σοῖσι πόδεσσιν ὑποστρέψειας Ὄλυμπον,
ἀλλ’ αἰεὶ περὶ κεῖνον ὀΐζυε καί ἐ φύλασσε,
εἰς ὅ κέ σ’ ἢ ἄλοχον ποιήσεται, ἢ ὅ γε δούλην.
Go and sit beside him, shun the path of the gods;
no longer should you turn your feet back to Olympos,
but ceaselessly weep over him and watch over him,
until he either makes you his wife or else his slave.


Usually, the aftermath for the mortal raped by the dawn-goddess is either elevation in the cosmic hierarchy, or demotion, or some combination of the two: he goes down to Hades, or he becomes immortal, or ageless and immortal, or at least the damaged father of a superhuman child. [36] Instead, Helen has turned the motif on its head, suggesting that Aphrodite, who is actually disguised as a δούλη ‘slave-woman,’ be everlastingly demoted to the human sphere and suffer the ultimate humiliation of being wife or even slave to a mortal.

So the scene (3.369–409) in which Aphrodite as a slave-woman beckons Helen to find Paris in her bedroom reflects an ensemble of {79|80} conventional epic themes, with their accompanying diction, that were originally associated with the Indo-European dawn-goddess and are now appropriate to Aphrodite: the metaphoric dance from which Paris seems to have come or to which he seems to be going; the θάλαμος in which he lies; the rescuing, protective Διὸς θυγάτηρ; the rape of a mortal consort and his subsequent cosmic transformation, here inverted into his goddess’s demotion. More can be said about the dance theme. In epic Aphrodite’s specific participation in the dance (as against her more general association with it) is limited to two passages (HApoll. 194–196; Od. 17.194; cf. HAphr. 119) in which she joins the Kharites and seems to play a role parallel to Artemis’. [37] In fact, the metaphoric dance of Paris seems to have the most direct associations with the dancing place of Artemis, a traditional locale for the seduction of nubile adolescent virgins (κούραι, παρθένοι, νύμφαι) both in epic and in cult myths. [38] For example, the mother of a Myrmidon general named Eudoros awakened the desire of Hermes there:

τῆς δ’ ἑτέρης Εὔδωρος ἀρήιος ἡγεμόνευε,
παρθένιος, τὸν τίκτε χορῷ καλὴ Πολυμήλη,
Φύλαντος θυγάτηρ· τῆς δὴ κρατὺς Ἀργειφόντης
ἠράσατ’, ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ἰδὼν μετὰ μελπομένῃσιν
ἐν χορῷ Ἀρτέμιδος χρυσηλακάτου κελαδεινῆς.
αὐτίκα δ’ εἰς ὑπερῷ’ ἀναβὰς παρελέξατο λάθρῃ
Ἑρμείας ἀκάχητα, πόρεν δέ οἱ ἀγλαὸν υἱὸν
Εὔδωρον, πέρι μὲν θείειν ταχὺν ἠδὲ μαχητήν.
War-like Eudoros was leading another rank of
soldiers, a man born of an unmarried mother,
Polumele, daughter of Phulas, beautiful in the
dance; mighty Argeïphontes fell in love with her,
once his eyes beheld her among the lilting girls
in the dancing place of loud- {80|81}sounding Artemis
of the golden distaff. Right off he bounded up to
the upper room, and lay down beside her in secret,
gracious [39] Hermes, and he gave her a son, Eudoros,
very fast at running and a fighter.


Or again, in the Hymn to Aphrodite, the goddess takes on the form and stature of a παρθένος ἀδμήτη ‘unwed maiden’ (82) and explains her sudden presence to Ankhises with the same motif:

νῦν δέ μ’ ἀνήρπαξε χρυσόρραπις Ἀργειφόντης
ἐκ χοροῦ Ἀρτέμιδος χρυσηλακάτου κελαδεινῆς.
πολλαὶ δὲ νύμφαι καὶ παρθένοι ἀλφεσίβοιαι
παίζομεν, ἀμφὶ δ’ ὅμιλος ἀπείριτος ἐστεφάνωτο
ἔνθεν μ’ ἥρπαξε χρυσόρραπις Ἀργειφόντης·
Argeiphontes with his golden wand just snatched
me up from the dancing place of loud-sounding
Artemis of the golden distaff. Many brides and
virgins worth many an ox we were, and a huge
crowd made a ring around us. Argeiphontes with
his golden wand snatched me away from there.

(HAphr. 117–121)

In this instance, a goddess in the act of taking a mortal consort for herself, an action usually denoted by a form of the verb ἁρπάζω, is disguising herself as a mortal virgin snatched by Hermes from Artemis’ χορός (ἁρπάζω: 117, 121). The same thematic links underlie the resemblance of Paris to a dancer in 3.393–394. True, he is no nubile maid snatched by a god from the χορός of Artemis: he is a male snatched by a goddess as though to be her consort, as hungry for a {81|82} sexual encounter with Helen as when he first made love to her, [40] and a hero resembling a dancer, not a fighter.

From where, in fact, has he been snatched? The poet tells us twice, once before the combat with Menelaos begins, once at its actual beginning:

Ἕκτωρ δὲ Πριάμοιο πάις καὶ δῖος ’Οδυσσεύς
χῶρον μὲν πρῶτον διεμέτρεον, …
Hektor son of Priam and god-like Odysseus
first measured out a χῶρος …

καὶ ῥ’ ἐγγὺς στήτην διαμετρητῷ ἐνὶ χώρῳ
σείοντ’ ἐγχείας ἀλλήλοισιν κοτέοντε.
And the two of them (Paris and Menelaos)
stood near in the measured-out χῶρος,
shaking their spears at each other in anger.


So Aphrodite has snatched Paris not from a χορός, but a χῶρος, a ritually demarcated space for his single combat with Menelaos. In another connection altogether Boedeker has made a strong case for the historical relationship between the words χορός and χῶρος ‘special place,’ showing that cognates of their common root in Indo-European have thematic associations in Greek and Indie with the dawn-goddess. [41] The metaphoric use of the word χορός at 3.393 (to designate the place from which Paris came or to which he is going) in connection with a series of inherited, conventional themes that actually call up the word χῶρος (to designate the place from which he is actually snatched) reinforces her historical argument and suggests the creativity of her method. From a synchronic standpoint, the inherited χῶρος ‘place of battle’/χορός ‘dancing place’ combination is a play on words with {82|83} significant implications about the thematic structure of Book 3. To cite a parallel the implications of which have not been exhausted, I refer to Schadewaldt’s observations on the verbal and thematic links between the names and functions of Kleopatra, wife of Meleagros, and Patroklos, Akhilleus’ companion. [42] So it may be worthwhile to explore the implications of the χῶρος/χορός word-play to enhance our understanding of Paris’ representation in the narrative.

Most directly, the play on χῶρος ‘place of combat’/χορός ‘place for dancing’ implies that the single combat of Paris and Menelaos, the principal action of Book 3, is a confluence of battle with dance. That is to say, it is a combination of fire and ice, as Aphrodite’s speech to Helen makes plain:

… οὐδέ κε φαίης
ἀνδρὶ μαχεσσάμενον τόν γ’ ἐλθεῖν, ἀλλὰ χορόνδε
ἔρχεσθ’, ἠὲ χοροῖο νέον λήγοντα καθίζειν.
… and you would not say he came from
fighting with a man but that he was going
to a dance, or that he was sitting down
just after finishing one.


Fighters do not look the same before and after a battle, but before and after a dance, a dancer is the same, as sensual as before; that is the special point of the contrasting alternatives the old woman poses. They are a twist on an epic cliché, the polar contrast between warrior and dancer. Compare, as an example, Ajax’s speech bolstering the Achaeans: {83|84}

ἢ οὐκ ὀτρύνοντος ἀκούετε λαὸν ἅπαντα
Ἕκτορος, ὃς δὴ νῆας ἐνιπρῆσαι μενεαίνει
οὐ μὰν ἔς γε χορὸν κέλετ’ ἐλθέμεν, ἀλλὰ μάχεσθαι
ἡμῖν δ’ οὔ τις τοῦδε νόος καὶ μῆτις ἀμείνων,
ἢ αὐτοσχεδίῃ μεῖξαι χεῖράς τε μένος τε.
Do you not hear Hektor, who yearns to set fire to
the ships, rousing his whole army? He is not by any
means inviting them to come to a dancing place (sic),
but to fight. We have no better insight and cunning
plan than this, to mingle hands and might in single combat.


Here the dance vs. battle contrast calls up another traditional contrast between cunning and force, the physical force in a warrior’s hands. For the same combination of contrasts in condensed form, see Polydamas’ cautionary remarks to Hektor:

ἀλλ’ οὔ πως ἅμα πάντα δυνήσεαι αὐτὸς ἑλέσθαι.
ἄλλῳ μὲν γὰρ δῶκε θεὸς πολεμήια ἔργα,
ἄλλῳ δ’ ὀρχηστύν, ἑτέρῳ κίθαριν καὶ ἀοιδήν,
ἄλλῳ δ’ ἐν στήθεσσι τιθεῖ νόον εὐρύοπα Ζεύς.
Yourself, you will not be able to get everything.
To one man god gives the actions of war,
to another the dance or the lyre and song, [43] in
another’s breast wide-seeing Zeus puts intelligence.


Given the association of hands (χεῖρες) with physical force (βίη) in epic diction, we can understand Alkinoos’ characterization of the Phaeacians as a variation on the same theme:

οὐ γὰρ πυγμάχοι εἰμὲν ἀμύμονες οὐδὲ παλαισταί,
ἀλλὰ ποσὶ κραιπνῶς θέομεν καὶ νηυσὶν ἄριστοι·
αἰεὶ δ’ ἡμῖν δαίς τε φίλη κίθαρίς τε χοροί τε {84|85}
εἵματα τ’ ἐξημοιβὰ λοετρά τε θερμὰ καὶ εὐναί.
… for we are not fist-fighters or wrestlers,
but we are fast on our feet and best at ships;
and we always love feasting and the lyre and dancing
places and clothes worthy of exchange [44] and hot baths
and beds …


Fist-fighting and wrestling, as ways of training for single combat that involve the use of powerful hands, are inimical to the Phaeacians, who excel in feet: running, dancing, and a set of objects and pursuits associated with them. [45] There is also a Homeric hero, one Periphetes from Mycenae, who is said to have far outstripped an inferior father [46] in all the virtues, παντοῖαι ἀρεταί. These are given as feet and fighting (ἠμὲν πόδας ἠδὲ μάχεσθαι), and, the poet adds, he was also among the first of the Mycenaeans in νόος ‘intelligence’ (15.641).

There are more examples in epic of the contrast between battle and dance, [47] but more importantly, there is a way in which it can be acceptably neutralized: by reducing one member of the contrastive pair to {85|86} metaphoric status. So the male dancers on Akhilleus’ shield are imitating warriors:

Ἐν δὲ χορὸν ποίκιλλε περικλυτὸς ἀμφιγυήεις,
τῷ ἴκελον οἷον ποτ’ ἐνὶ Κνωσῷ εὐρείῃ
Δαίδαλος ἤσκησεν καλλιπλοκάμῳ Ἀριάδνῃ,
ἔνθα μὲν ἠΐθεοι καὶ παρθένοι ἀλφεσίβοιαι
ὠρχεῦντ’, ἀλλήλων ἐπὶ καρπῷ χεῖρας ἔχοντες.
τῶν δ’ αἱ μὲν λεπτὰς ὀθόνας ἔχον, οἱ δὲ χιτῶνας
εἵατ’ εὐννήτους, ἦκα στίλβοντας ἐλαίῳ
καί ῥ’ αἱ μὲν καλὰς στεφάνας ἔχον, οἱ δὲ μαχαίρας
εἶχον χρυσείας ἐξ ἀργυρέων τελαμώνων.
οἱ δ’ ὁτὲ μὲν θρέξασκον ἐπισταμένοισι πόδεσσι
ῥεῖα μάλ’, ὡς ὅτε τις τροχὸν ἄρμενον ἐν παλάμῃσιν
ἑζόμενος κεραμεὺς πειρήσεται, αἴ κε θέῃσιν·
ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖ θρέξασκον ἐπὶ στίχας ἀλλήλοισι.
And very famous ἀμφιγυήεις (Hephaistos) embossed a
dancing place on it, like the one that Daidalos contrived
in broad Knossos for fair-tressed Ariadne.
There adolescent boys and virgin girls worth many oxen
were dancing, holding each others’ hands at the wrist.
The girls wore fine linens, the boys, stitched tunics
that glistened a little with olive oil.
And while the girls had on pretty wreaths, the boys
wore golden knives hanging from silver bucklers.
Now with practiced feet they ran on and on,
really easily, as when some potter sits to try his wheel
fitted in his hands, to see how it runs;
and again, at other times, they ran and ran at each
other’s ranks.


Equipped as symbolic warriors with golden μάχαιραι ‘ritual knives,’ not real weapons, and sewn tunics, not bronze ones, the youths in this dance run at each others’ στίχας ‘ranks,’ a word used elsewhere of men or chariots in fighting formation. [48] A real warrior in full battle {86|87}dress in such a scene would abort the dance; likewise, the warrior masquerade in no way trivializes warfare, instead it exalts it. By contrast, a warrior like Hektor can menace his opponent on the battlefield with his knowledge ἐνὶ σταδίῃ μέλπεσθαι Ἄρηι ‘to sing and dance for destroyer Ares in hand-to-hand (combat)’ [49] ; this metaphoric dance is ferocious. But it is an insult for a warrior to say, as Aineias does of Meriones, that his opponent is a dancer (16.617: ὀρχηστήν περ ἐόντα); and when Priam says that the sons remaining to him after the death of Hektor excel at the dance, he is not flattering them. Of the best of them, he says:

τοὺς μὲν ἀπώλεσ’ Ἄρης, τὰ δ’ ἐλέγχεα πάντα λέλειπται,
ψεῦσταί τ’ ὀρχησταί τε, χοροιτυπίῃσιν ἄριστοι,
ἀρνῶν ἠδ’ ἐρίφων ἐπιδήμιοι ἁρπακτῆρες.
Ares (sic: they perished in battle) destroyed them, but left behind are
all these disgraces, liars and dancers, best at tapping the dancing-floor,
snatchers of lambs and kids from their own kinsmen.


Of the sons remaining to Priam after the death of Hektor the most prominent is Paris, and we have observed the themes in Book 3 that suggest that he, in contrast to Hektor, is a dancer snatched from the χορός rather than a warrior in the χῶρος of single combat. The narrative of Book 3 makes Paris into a literal, not a metaphoric, dancer, unsuited to the field of battle, whose single combat does not end in victory or in death, but in the bedroom.

In fact, right from the beginning of Book 3 Paris is positioned smartly between battle and dance. When he runs out before the front ranks of the advancing Trojan army challenging the best Argives to battle, he catches sight of Menelaos rushing out to meet him and immediately retreats, like a man who has just seen a snake in a mountain-dell (3.33–37). His brother Hektor, who later in the poem is likened to the mountain snake awaiting the man in such a simile, [50] {87|88} rebukes him sternly and taunts him about what would happen if he actually did face Menelaos:

οὐκ ἄν τοι χραίσμῃ κίθαρις τά τε δῶρ’ Ἀφροδίτης,
ἥ τε κόμη τό τε εἶδος, ὅτ’ ἐν κονίῃσι μιγείης.
ἀλλὰ μάλα Τρῶες δειδήμονες· ἦ τέ κεν ἤδη
λάινον ἕσσο χιτῶνα κακῶν ἕνεκ’ ὅσσα ἕοργας.
Then the lyre and those gifts of Aphrodite would not help you, that
hair of yours and your figure, when you are mingled in the dust.
But really the Trojans are timid; otherwise, you would have long
since put on a tunic of stone for the evil you have wrought.


The lyre, Aphrodite’s gifts, sensual beauty—these attributes of the dancer are also the tokens of his inadequacy in war. In the erotic context they define, Hektor’s use of the battle-book formula for a dead warrior’s disfigurement, ἐν κονίῃσι μιγείης ‘you are mingled in the dust,’ seems a vicious metaphor with a double meaning: compare the regular epic expression for having sexual intercourse, ἐν φιλοτῆτι μιγῆναι ‘be mingled in sex’ (as in 3.445). Lastly, there is the image of the λάινος χιτών ‘tunic of stone.’ Whether it refers to lapidation or a σῆμα ‘tomb’ of stone, as the commentators discuss it, [51] leaves irrelevant and unexplained the choice of a clothing image, a χιτών ‘tunic.’ Yet in this context of dancers’ attributes, it is completely relevant, for fine clothes, especially χιτῶνες, are another conventional item associated with the dance: the Phaeacians love feasting, the lyre, dancing places, and clothing worth exchanging (Od. 7.250); the virgins dancing on Akhilleus’ shield wear fine linens (λεπταὶ ὀθόναι), while the boys have well-stitched tunics, sparkling a little with olive oil (18.595–596: ἦκα στίλβοντας ἐλαίῳ); and then, at the end of this book there is Paris, the dancer, κάλλεΐ τε στίλβων καὶ εἵμασιν ‘with his beauty and clothes gleaming,’ ripe for seduction (3.392). So the Trojans should have long ago dressed up Paris, but not in a warrior’s {88|89} bronze tunic, nor the glistening, oiled one of a dancer; instead, says Hektor, it should have been a stone tunic, not made for movement of any kind.

Hektor’s objective in this abusive speech is to shame Paris out of his dancer’s identity and into a fighter’s. Paris tries, but ultimately, he fails. The spear he hurls at Menelaos does not even pierce his shield; its point gets bent. Then Menelaos, full of righteous indignation and praying to Zeus for vengeance against the miscreant, does not do much better: his spearcast pierces Paris’ shield, and that is all. In utter fury, he brings down his sword over Paris’ helmet. But the sword shatters into several pieces and flies from his hand. Desperate, outraged at Zeus’ unresponsiveness, Menelaos finally grabs the plume of Paris’ helmet and begins to drag him off. But the goddess Aphrodite, puny in war, [52] manages to intervene and save him with a tiny gesture: she snaps the leather chinstrap of his helmet. Menelaos tosses away the empty helmet and charges forward to attack again with his other spear, but his quarry, Paris, gets whisked off to his bedroom by Aphrodite. That is a place in which she presides. Menelaos is left charging around the field of battle like a wild beast (θηρὶ ἐοικώς … ) looking for his enemy and unconvincingly declaring himself the victor while Paris is making love to his wife: the contrast is yet another enactment of the contrast between warrior and dancer.
At the end of Book 3 Paris is what he was at the beginning. He has failed to respond to Hektor’s challenge that he shed his dancer’s identity and become a fighter. So the dancer’s single combat ends with a seduction, not a victory or even a defeat. All this is not a matter of cowardice on his part; still less is it ascribable to the rigidity of Homeric concepts of character. It is Aphrodite, the powerful and in fact violent forces that she represents and that Helen and Paris incarnate. “You can’t just throw away the gifts of the gods,” Paris had said (3.65–66) in answer to Hektor’s abuse, “though no one would take them of his own will.” If Paris seems a peculiarly submissive figure for {89|90} a Homeric hero, that only bespeaks the particularly subjugating nature of the sexuality in the goddess who is his patron. [53]

The Cranes and Pygmies in the Poetic Context of Book 3

By the same token, these features of Paris’ representation in the narrative of Book 3 suggest a solution to the questions raised earlier about the inverted conventionality of the simile of the cranes and Pygmies with which the book begins. [54] Otherwise passive, sociable birds find themselves in an unaccustomed role, in an unaccustomed locale: shrieking high above the river-plains, they descend like predators upon the Pygmies. The simile likens them to the Trojan host, but Paris is the sole representative of the Trojan host in the narrative that follows. So the simile is intended to reflect upon him. Paris, though dressed like a fighter, is in fact a dancer trying to fight, a man who confounds the lists of war with the locus amoenus of seduction. The χῶρος is as unnatural a locale for him as is the high heaven for the cranes; his role as an aggressive single combatant representing the Trojan side, a role that properly belongs to Hector in the Iliad, is as much an inversion of his dancer’s nature as is the cranes’ role as predators. [55] {90|91}
One prominent element in the representation of Paris appears as yet unmatched in the metaphor: just how appropriate is the image of Paris as a dancer trying to fight to the metaphor of the cranes attacking the Pygmies? In fact, γέρανος ‘crane’ is the name of the famous dance performed on Delos by Theseus, Ariadne, and the Athenian youths and maidens on their return from Crete. In nature, cranes actually do perform a remarkable group dance all year round, [56] and their symbolic attributes in the Greek bestiary are especially appropriate to the context of the Theseus myth, as Marcel Detienne has shown: the γέρανος dance, which is consistently described as imitating the entry into or the passage from the labyrinth, is, like Ariadne’s thread, an invention of Daidalos. [57] But in form and function both the thread and the dance recall Greek descriptions of the two-headed, twisting line of flight made by cranes migrating from the ends of the earth and back. [58] In epic, the dancing-place on Akhilleus’ shield (cited above, 86–87) is explicitly likened [59] to the one Daidalos contrived for Ariadne in Crete, and the scholia identify the dance being performed by the ἠΐθεοι καὶ παρθένοι ‘adolescents and maidens’ on it as one performed on Crete {91|92} imitating the twists and turns of the labyrinth. [60] In fact, the scholia may be correct: this may actually be the dance called γέρανος that was later performed on Delos (see the discussion below). So the fighting cranes in the simile have that association with Paris as well: they, also, are dancers taking on the unaccustomed role of fighters. Ultimately, the link between Paris and the simile is as intimate and precise as the link between tenor and vehicle in the other epic bird similes discussed above.
Lest it be unclear, there is in fact no explicit attestation of the word γέρανος in epic as an appellative for a dance. I am arguing that the association of γέρανος with the dance exists in the epic tradition even so. We have seen that bird similes are precisely related to their contexts once the traditional associations of the diction in them are made plain, when they can be made plain. [61] In the particular instance of the simile of the cranes and Pygmies, we have seen how the representation of Paris, stand-in for the Trojan army in the narrative that follows the simile, matches the inversion of the conventional role of cranes in epic similes; furthermore, cranes in nature do perform a remarkable group dance all year round; and epic does attest a dance on the shield of Akhilleus performed by ἠΐθεοι καὶ παρθένοι on Ariadne’s dancing-place in Crete (discussed further below). Given this evidence and the immediate contextual appropriateness of the association we are suggesting, between cranes as dancing birds engaged in battle and Paris as a dancer trying to do battle, I conclude that this is an instance in which we are lacking explicit evidence for an association although the implicit evidence for it is abundant. Since similes are traditional and conventional, they can rely upon a tacit conspiracy of meaning between poet and audience. There is no reason to expect that such meaning will be accessible or recoverable in every case on the basis of explicit evidence. [62] {92|93}

The Future of a Tradition

Formally explicit evidence, however, does exist for precisely the association we are suggesting although in another medium than epic. First of all, the existence of a traditional contrastive pairing of battle and dance themes in the context of the myth of Theseus has been documented in another prestigious artistic genre, Corinthian iconography from the first half of the seventh century B.C. through the second half of the sixth. [63] The oldest objects in a series assembled by Friis Johansen are two gold reliefs in Berlin, one depicting Theseus slaying the Minotaur with Ariadne standing behind him holding the ball of thread, the other a chorus of four women, presumably rescued maidens, holding hands in a stately dance. [64] It includes Cyprian, Boeotian, and Etruscan vase paintings as well as such revered objects as the chest of Cypselus exhibited at Olympia and perhaps even the throne of Apollo at Amyclae.
In the latter half of the sixth century the Corinthian pairing of “le combat contre le monstre et la danse triomphale qui le suit” [my emphasis], [65] as Friis Johansen puts it, entered the Attic vase painting tradition. Ultimately the two separate motifs were crystallized and abstracted into one, and Athena (or in one instance an ephebe), portrayed attending on Theseus as he slays the Minotaur, simply proffers him a lyre. [66] But the François vase was painted by Klitias before the motifs had coalesced to that extent. The topmost of its six friezes presents, on one side, a dance performed by Theseus, Ariadne, and the ἠΐθεοι καὶ παρθένοι who accompanied Theseus to Crete; on the opposite side, also at the top, is the slaying of a monster, not, however, the Minotaur. It is the huge Kalydonian boar, and its killers are a host of heroes, among them Meleager, Atalanta, Melanion, Peleus, Castor and Polydeuces. This change to a monster from another myth transforms the concrete narrative association of violent battle and erotic dance into a transcendent one, highlighting symbolic values at the expense of any narrative linkage between the events. [67] Moreover, in a spatial {93|94} opposition symmetrical to the one between the two sides of the topmost frieze along the rim of the vase, the bottommost frieze all around the foot of the vase actually depicts the battle of the cranes and Pygmies. The parallel in symbolic terms to the analysis just concluded of Iliad Book 3 is exact. It would be still more exact if the dance on the top frieze were the γέρανος, as has often been thought. Then the pattern linking cranes and Pygmies to the γέρανος dance and contrasting both to heroic combat will have been preserved intact in two traditional genres.
But the identification of the dance on the vase with the γέρανος dance on the island of Delos has been disputed. To Friis Johansen, the scene on the vase could only take place on the island of Crete. This would explain both the presence and the welcoming attitude of Ariadne, as well as the representation of a boat in the background: for Friis Johansen takes it that the people onboard are once-despondent Athenian sailors now joyously observing the victory dance from offshore, since he finds it hard to conceive who they are if the scene is taking place along the coast of Delos. He also supports the view that Theseus himself was only secondarily associated with the island of Delos by a Pisistratid policy seeking to make an Athenian Theseus into an Ionian hero with the prestige of Herakles. [68] If that is correct, the association of the Delian γέρανος with Theseus did not occur until some time after the date of the François vase. Friis Johansen further assumes that the γέρανος itself was originally a cult dance performed on Delos that was only secondarily associated with the Theseus myth, to which it was originally unrelated. Inferring from its name that it had no connection to the Theseus myth, Friis Johansen suggests that the dance originally imitated the circuitous wanderings of Leto in search of a place to give birth to her divine child. The earliest sure evidence for the dance on Delos is Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos 300 ff.; as mentioned above (n. 60), it is also said in the scholia to Iliad 18.590 that once he left the labyrinth, Theseus and his companions performed a dance imitating the way in and out of it. [69] This language closely {94|95}resembles that used in Pollux and Plutarch [70] to describe the γέρανος itself, and in fact there are no grounds at all for assuming that the γέρανος dance originally had nothing to do with the Theseus myth but applied first to Leto. The suggested connection between her and the crane is gratuitous and, symbolically speaking, no less problematic than the one between Theseus and the bird. All we can safely say is that certainty about the connection between the name of the dance and the myth of Theseus eludes us, not that no relationship ever existed—Detienne’s theory, for instance, on the symbolic relationship between the two is well worth considering. [71] Even if Friis Johansen’s iconographic and historical reasons for placing the scene of the François vase on Crete do carry conviction—and I am not saying that they should [72] —there is no reason whatever to deny that the dance Theseus and the ἠΐθεοι και παρθένοι performed on Crete and that is represented on the vase was also the γέρανος, and that another tradition, ultimately the predominant one, located it on Delos. So the likelihood exists of an exact parallel on the vase to the relationship between Paris and the simile of the cranes and Pygmies: the geranomachy on the vase is associated with the contrast between dancers (who on the vase may actually be dancing the γέρανος!) and fighters that rules the representation of Paris in Iliad 3, where it is also associated with a geranomachy. {95|96}

Conclusion: On Homeric Metaphor

The overall goal of this detailed, if not exhaustive analysis of a single epic simile is to renew the study of epic similes by suggesting solutions to several besetting problems about their composition, as follows:

Relation of similes to experience: Hermann Frankel took advantage of just this simile to make two key points about the poetics of similes in epic that bear repeating. First, he stressed that its locale is one “den nie ein Sterblichen sah,” refuting the widespread assumption [73] that the similes rendered knowable processes that were difficult for the epic listeners to understand by relating them to things that were proper to their own experience. Then, expressing himself in terms of constraints, Fränkel stated his conclusion from this fact: “nur Einmalig Geschichtliches bleibt dem Gleichnissen fern,” “only things that happen once keep far from the similes.” To put it in more positive terms, the similes constitute a traditional frame of reference for the epic world. In contrast to the events that the heroes take part in, which are “einmalig-geschichtlich,” the similes portray only recurrent events, which is another reason why it is appropriate for the subjects in similes to be presented as alternatives: the processes described in similes recur across time as well as along it. To use metaphoric terms appropriate to the epic itself, one can say that the conventional relation between tenor and vehicle in epic is like that between the generation of men and the generation of leaves: individual men die, but trees never cease losing their leaves in season. Yet on another level, while the events in the epic are, for the heroes, one-time, unrepeatable events that lead to inevitable death, for us, they are κλέος ἄφθιτον, because, like an event in a simile, they are performed again and again. [74] Metaphoric diction not “new”: The common conviction that the language of similes is “new” is not unrelated to the notion that the similes are based on the experience of the poet and his audience. Both notions are as stifling as they are inexact: the similes constitute a systematic subgenre of epic wedded to the narrative and having linguistic features that are to be understood as defining idiosyncrasies of the subgenre, not innovations. We can clearly see from a study like Tilman Krischer’s analysis of the formal conventions of ἀρίστειαι, or Bernard Fenik’s of battle narratives, that similes are in fact systematically embedded into the oldest structures of epic narrative. [75] My analysis has exhibited the economy and extent of the system of composition for a subset of the similes in such narratives, those that feature predatory birds and their prey. Not only is the language of the similes not new, neither are the elaborated forms of the simile newer than the short ones: the short similes are compressions as are the elaborated ones, which merely “unpack” to some degree the traditional meanings that resonate in the short forms; they are not “new” in form or in content. In this instance, the principal metaphoric themes of Book 3 and aspects of their diction have demonstrable Indo-European origins, the recognition of which contributes directly to synchronic understanding of the text; other intricate aspects of the imagery may point to Bronze Age contact with Egypt. [76] Moreover, the structure of metaphors and meaning informing the narrative of Book 3 apparently survived the chronological and artistic limits of epic to resurface in Attic Black-Figure vase-painting. This sidelight suggests just how durable and apprehensible such metaphoric structures can be.Another reason that the similes have been thought of as “new” is our need to individualize the poet and credit his originality in ways that are appropriate to nineteenth-century romanticism, not the poetics of traditional poetry. The traditional poet’s basic concern is voicing and handing on the most expressive traditions. For us, however, the need to recognize the mind of the great, innovative individual at work in a striking simile is especially difficult to fight off. Nevertheless the traditionality {97|98} of the similes’ language means that they should be interpreted as conventional poetry, in terms of one another, and in terms of the past and the future in which other exemplars of the tradition may be found. The study of this particular simile, which has no exact parallels in epic, offers a good instance of the usefulness of synchronic as well as diachronic research into an epic simile. The only extant simile about the battle of cranes and Pygmies had complex conventional meanings for poet and audience that can still be reconstructed, and the explication of poetic expressiveness is an effective antidote to the relentless search for “originality.”Logic and consistency of epic metaphor: No special pleading is necessary to excuse or explain away the putative irrelevance of epic metaphors. It is the by-product of our distance from an expressive language that was just a given, just a tacit conspiracy of thought and expression entered into by poet and society from which neither could or would escape. In fact, the clearest token of the traditionality of the epic metaphors is that the relation between tenor and vehicle in them is not always transparent. Not only is it fruitful to assume that no detail of a given simile is irrelevant, but it is also plain that a narrative sequence at least as long as a book can be ruled by a consistent set of metaphors and figures, in this instance, language associated with the contrast between battle and dance, the χῶρος and the χορός, the glistening tunic and the spear, the crane who fights and the crane dance. The epic poet is not forced into sloppy, discontinuous improvisation by the need to compose and perform simultaneously; his Kunstsprache, which has an extension in time and place beyond that of natural languages, comes with expressiveness and consistency built in and refined over generations of audience-performer interaction. There is no need to be suspicious of aesthetically structured manipulation of figurative languages in such a system of composition or to worry whether the intent of such manipulation can ever have been apprehended. It is part of the medium of thought and expression. Likewise, inexplicitness in epic metaphor is not inconsistent with the apparent forthrightness of epic narrative; metaphoric language is elliptical or reductive, properties that are naturally heightened when poet and audience conspire in the traditions. This analysis has shown clearly how a consistent set of metaphors encodes fundamental meanings in an epic narrative that might otherwise remain hidden from our eyes; like epic bird seers, {98|99} who interpret omens by recasting them as similes, we have used past, present, and future to bring those meanings to light. [77]

Appendix: Pygmies and the Dance

As for the Pygmies, their mention may or may not be elucidated by historical explanation. One can account for the existence of small-scale persons in combat with large birds, at times identified as sandhill cranes, in the mythological tradition of North American Indians without invoking the fact that Pygmies in fact existed in Africa at the time or that ancient Greeks told a similar tale about them; more or less broad universals in human experience and imagination take on parallel forms in myths. [78] The only aspect of such a situation that is not banal, in fact, is that beings resembling mythological Pygmies actually happen to exist. Likewise, it is unnecessary to invoke knowledge of actual Pygmies to account for their presence in the Iliad, a point that has been strongly and correctly made by P. Janni. [79] On the other hand, it is not therefore necessary to deny the relevance of such knowledge. [80] It may well be, for example, that information about real Pygmies was only secondarily associated with the myth. At the end of the nineteenth century, in the wake of Livingston and Stanley and in the era of Schliemann, a certain Pierre Monceaux informed the world of classical scholarship that true Pygmies were living in Central Africa [81] ; by 1932, R. Hennig found it remarkable that the Iliad located Pygmies at the southernmost limits of the world it knew when there actually were {99|100} Pygmies living along the upper reaches of the Nile. Hennig brought to bear the earliest documentation on Pygmies from ancient Egypt, which goes back to the Sixth dynasty (2700 B.C.); it occurs in the correspondence between a proud nobleman, Harkhuf, and his Pharaoh, Piopi II, which the former had engraved on the walls of his tomb at Aswân. Harkhuf had journeyed far to the south, perhaps as far as the second cataract of the Nile, and he wrote to Piopi overjoyed that he had been able to obtain for him a d3ng, that is, a pygmy (as against a dwarf [nmi]; the two are philologically, biologically, and physically distinct). [82] Here is an excerpt from Piopi’s reply:

You said in this letter of yours that you brought a d3ng of the god’s dances from the land of the horizon-dwellers like the d3ng brought by the god’s seal-bearer Bawerded from Pwene in the time of Izozi; and you said to My Majesty that never had the like of him been brought back by any other who has visited Yam previously. Truly I know that you do what your Lord loves and praises. Truly you pass day and night taking thought for me … Hurry and bring with you this d3ng … My Majesty desires to see this d3ng more than all the tribute of the Mine-land and Pwene. … [83]

Another text from this period reinforces the indication here (“d3ng of the god’s dances”) about the Pharaoh’s interest in the pygmy: the exceptional chance of having a d3ng perform “the dance of the god.” [84] So here we have an actual pygmy, who dances a remarkable dance, and who comes from “the land of the Horizon-dwellers,” if that is the correct translation. [85] All this, if it is not mere coincidence, recalls {100|101} indeed the Homeric Pygmies who dwell beyond the Okeanos and appear in a context of battle that is not, however, alien to the dance. Heretofore, the oldest Homeric tradition from Egypt had been dated by some to the fourteenth century B.C., but recently the validity of that claim has been seriously questioned in favor of a much later date, the seventh century. [86]


[ back ] 1. For the notion that similes constitute a conventional genre or subgenre within epic, see B. Marzullo, RFIC n.s. 32 (1954) 312–314 (review of G. P. Shipp, Studies in the Language of Homer 1 [Cambridge 1953]) esp. 313: [the ensemble of linguistic features found in non-narrative epic by Shipp] “costituirebbe tuttavia … un genere, di nessun valore quindi ai fini dell’ analisi,” a remark cited by C. J. Ruijgh, L’Elément achéen dans la langue épique (Amsterdam 1957) 23–24, who rejects Shipp’s linguistic arguments for the newness of the similes’ diction; for the use of the term subgenre in epic, see F. W. Householder and G. Nagy, “Greek,” Current Trends in Linguistics IX, ed. T. Sebeok (The Hague 1972) 735–816. The subgenre hypothesis also casts doubt on the statistical “proof’ of the uniqueness of the language of similes by M. W. M. Pope, “The Parry-Lord Theory of Homeric Composition,” AC 6 (1963) 1–21 (repr. in Wege der Forschung, Homer: Tradition und Neuerung, ed. J. Latacz [Darmstadt 1979] 338–367). As an indication of the nature of the evidence, I note that only two of the 30 noun-epithet combinations that Pope found recurring within the 665-line corpus of similes recur outside of similes in epic; these figures support the subgenre hypothesis.
[ back ] 2. Although there can be a formal difference between “metaphors” and “similes,” it is doubtful that the absence of a word meaning “like” answers to any functional difference between them. See the formulation of Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (Indianapolis-New York 1968) 77–78: “Instead of metaphor reducing to simile, simile reduces to metaphor; or rather, the difference between simile and metaphor is negligible.” I owe this reference, and the inspiration for most of what follows, to D. Petegorsky, Context and Evocation: Studies in Early Greek and Sanskrit Poetry (diss. Berkeley 1982). The old view that epic diction is rich in simile but poor in metaphor is surely mistaken, the product of a still regnant prejudice in the lexicographic and critical tradition I. C. Moulton, “Homeric Metaphor,” Classical Philology 74 [1974] 279–293). Furthermore, as I will show below, there are expressive, artistic links between “similes” and “metaphors” in any given context. Overemphasizing the formal difference between them blocks understanding of the text.
[ back ] 3. For precise formal features that coincide with some of the book divisions in our text of Homer, see G. Broccia, La forma poetica dell’ Iliade e la genesi dell’epos omerico (Messina 1967) 45–66. I consider Iliad 3 a coherent narrative unit, not literally “a book.” On interpreting metaphoric language in myth as the mythic narrative unfolds, see P.-Y. Jacopin, La parole générative (diss. Neuchâtel 1981), soon to appear in a revised and expanded English version published by Cambridge University Press/Maison des Sciences de l’Homme.
[ back ] 4. On the traditionality of the similes see J. C. Hogan, The Oral Nature of the Homeric Simile (diss. Cornell University 1966) [summary in Diss. Abstr. 27 (1966) 1352 A], and W. C. Scott, The Oral Nature of the Homeric Simile (Leiden 1974 [Mnemosyne Suppl. 28]).
[ back ] 5. The following works will be cited by author’s name only: D. D. Boedeker, Aphrodite’s Entry into Greek Epic (Leiden 1974 [Mnemosyne Suppl. 32]); P. Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque. Histoire des mots (Paris 1968–1979); M. Detienne, “La grue et le labyrinthe,” Mélanges de l’Ecole Française de Rome 95 (1983) 541–553; H. Frankel, Die homerischen Gleichnisse (Göttingen 1921, repr. 1977); K. Friis Johansen, “Thésée et la danse à Délos, étude herméneutique,” Kgl. Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, Arkœologisk-kunsthistoriske Meddelelser 3.3 (1945); P.-Y. Jacopin, La parole générative (Neuchâtel 1981); L. Muellner, The Meaning of Homeric εὔχομαι Through Its Formulas (Innsbruck G. Nagy, “Phaethon, Saphho’s Phaon, and the White Rock of Leukas,” HSCP 11 (1973) 137 A. Scobie, “The Battle of the Pygmies and the Cranes in Chinese, Arab, and North American Indian Sources,” Folklore 86 (1975) 122–132; W. C. Scott, The Oral Nature of the Homeric Simile (Leiden 1974 [Mnemosyne Suppl. 28]); G. P. Shipp, Studies in the Language of Homer 2 (Cambridge 1972).
[ back ] 6. For the terms tenor and vehicle and their rationale, see I. A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (Oxford 1936, repr. 1971) 90 ff.; together, the two constitute a metaphor. This well-established terminology does not differentiate between metaphor and simile.
[ back ] 7. The old view is that the list of possible subjects is a symptom of the uncertainty of a poetaster; see P. Cauer, Grundfragen der Homerkritik 3 (Leipzig 1923) 473 on Il. 16.352 ff.; Shipp (above, n. 5) 214 considers such lists of alternatives “mere additions.” For a step towards a different view, see M. Detienne, “L’Olivier: un mythe politico-religieux,” RHR 178 (1970) 18 η. 3.
[ back ] 8. For examples of similes with alternative subjects but not this artistic form, see below.
[ back ] 9. See V. Propp, The Morphology of the Folktale 2, trans. L. Scott (Austin-London 1968) 19–65.
[ back ] 10. See Scott (above, n. 5) 58–60.
[ back ] 11. Scott (above, n. 5) 58–60.
[ back ] 12. For further examples, see below on predatory bird similes and also Il. 5.782–783 (boars and lions again); 12.167 (wasps or bees, vs. wasps alone at 16.260 and below, 16); 12.389 = 16.482 (oak, poplar, or pine, vs. oak alone at 14.414), etc.
[ back ] 13. See G. Nagy, “Formula and Meter,” in Oral Literature and the Formula, ed. B. Stolz and R. Shannon (Ann Arbor 1976) 239–260.
[ back ] 14. We will return later (below, 97) to the nuance of actually expressing the context’s ambiguity or multivalence. Why make explicit the different poetic possibilities instead of just choosing one? Clearly, this is something a narrative medium like folktale will not do.
[ back ] 15. The word ἔθνεα is used of ἑταίρων, Τρώων, and Ἀχαιῶν, passim, as well as birds, bees (Il. 2.92 and 469), pigs (Od. 14.73), and the common dead (νεκροί, Od. 10.526 and 11.34 and 632).
[ back ] 16. The correspondence between σμαραγεῖ (tenor) and κονάβιζε (vehicle) goes beyond semantic analogy: both are denominative verbs formed from among a stock of three-syllabled, open-syllabled (that is, in which no syllable but the last ends with a consonant), words that designate noises; to σμαραγός and κόναβος, compare θόρυβος, ὄτοβος, κέλαδος, τάραχος, ὅμαδος, κ.τ.λ. For an expressive extension of the rule of three open syllables, see the standard epic expression for the echoing thud of a falling warrior: δούπησεν δὲ πεσών (passim), by syllables, /dou/pe/sen de/pe/son.
[ back ] 17. The power of mythical speech to express itself merely by pointing at features well-defined in the social context has been appropriately called its “deictic” function; outsiders like the anthropologist can be as unaware of the gestures themselves as they are of what they signify; see Jacopin (above, n. 5) 360 ff.
[ back ] 18. An ancient varia lectio for 2.462 ἀγαλλόμενα has been preserved: ἀγαλλόμεναι. The existence of such a form is explicable as a performance variant due to association of this diction with bees (γέρανοι and κύκνοι are of common gender, while χῆνες are masculine; the neuter form is in agreement with ἔθνεα). For more on performance variants, see Muellner (above, n. 5) 42, etc.
[ back ] 19. See for example 13.755 κεκλήγων διὰ δὲ Τρώων πέτετ’ ἠδ’ ἐπικούρων “shrieking he [Hektor] flew through the Trojans and their allies,” and 12.207, both of which feature the same pairing of the root κλαγ- ‘shriek’ and the root πετ- ‘fly’ as in 3.5. See also 21.247 and 22.143, 198.
[ back ] 20. The notion that the same or similar phenomena are to be understood differently in the Iliad and in the Odyssey is not new; but for this example, the frame of reference for such contrasts recently specified by Laura Slatkin, “Genre and Generation in the Odyssey,” ΜΗΤΙΣ 1 (1987) 259–268, seems especially pertinent. On the similes in particular, see D. J. N. Lee, The Similes of the Iliad and the Odyssey Compared (Melbourne 1964) for his notion of the red light similes that hold up the narrative (Iliad) as against the green light similes, through which the narrative passes (Odyssey).
[ back ] 21. For the corresponding case featuring animals who walk the earth, see 7.255 f.: a battle between two lions or two boars.
[ back ] 22. On the social behavior of vultures as against other predatory birds of the same class, see The New Encyclopœdia Britannica 15 (1988) s.v. Birds: Falconiformes, 40–46, esp. 43, where vultures are singled out for participating in-group feeding. Either different subspecies of vulture are adapted (by size, the shape of their beak, etc.) to consume different tissues of the same animal and so are tolerated by one another at the same carcass, or groups of vultures of the same species are found asserting dominance hierarchy at feeding time; observation of either kind of behavior could have resulted in the mythological perception of these birds as the more sociable predators.
[ back ] 23. On the other hand, a need for variety, like that which generates the large number of traditional ways to describe the death of a warrior on the field of battle, cannot be ruled out either (see Muellner [above, n. 5] 24–25 and n. 19). But this only leads to further questions: what demands and what results from such variety?
[ back ] 24. International Wildlife Encyclopedia, ed. M. and R. Burton (New York 1969) 3, s.v. Cranes.
[ back ] 25. See above, 63 and n. 10.
[ back ] 26. 2.764, ὄρνιθας ὥς, said of horses, without sequel. Shipp (above, n. 5) 211 cites the way the cranes and Pygmies simile develops from a shorter simile to show that long similes were (historically secondary) “extensions, with particularization,” of short ones. He even prints a semicolon after ὄρνιθες to press the point. A generative model, according to which the short similes are, synchronically speaking, condensed versions of the long ones, can also account for such aspects of their form.
[ back ] 27. The same theme in similar language occurs at Theog. 1197 ff. and Ar. Av. 709 f.; on these passages in particular and on the interpretation of signs in general, see G. Nagy, “Sêma and Nôesis: Some Illustrations,” Arethusa 16 (1983) 35–55, esp. 44. M. L. West, Hesiod Works and Days (Oxford 1975) 272, commenting on Works and Days 448 ff., notes the resemblance of the beginning of line 448 to oracular warnings. Since the flight of birds is an omen in the epic, it is not surprising or irrelevant to the subject of this paper as a whole that the interpretation of bird omens takes the form of similes in Homer, as at Il. 2.326–329 and elsewhere.
[ back ] 28. Or “in the mist”; as G. Nagy points out to me, these two translations are functionally equivalent, since the mist is associated with the upper air. LSJ s.v. ἠέριος cites [Simonides] in Anth. Pal. 7.496 (Waltz) ἠερίη Γεράνεια (the mountain range between Megara and Corinth) as a parallel; that poem in fact alludes to this passage and the lines of Theognis referred to in the previous note (I thank Ian Rutherford for pointing this out to me).
[ back ] 29. The meaning of the word οὖλον in this passage is disputed; to Lee (above, n. 20) 19, it is “meaningless”; others translate it “violently”; see Chantraine (above, n. 5) s.v. 3 οὖλος. I prefer the translation given (cf. Chantraine’s “criant à la mort”): elsewhere in Homer forms of the root κλαζ- refer to the war-cry of a hero or a predatory bird on the attack; οὖλον serves to mark the fact that in this particular context the cry is different, that of victims in flight. Correspondingly, perhaps one reason the word κλαγγή is repeated three times (for a word like it that bridges tenor and vehicle in Homer, two occurrences are the norm) in 3.1–7 is to stress that the cranes have taken on an unaccustomed aggressive role. Another reason is to express the iterative, echoing noise it actually denotes; see lines like Il. 1.46 and 50, in which a similar effect for just this word is achieved by the use of rhyme. The context is, once again, noises that forebode violence: the clatter of Apollo’s arrows and the twanging of his bow.
[ back ] 30. Boedeker (above, n. 5) 61–63.
[ back ] 31. Boedeker (above, n. 5) Ch. 2, “Aphrodite and the ΧΟΡΟΣ” 43–63; her detailed argument is based on evidence from the dance of St. Venus in modem Sicily to the diction associated with the Indo-European dawn-goddess, and includes cultic, iconographie, as well as philological evidence.
[ back ] 32. Aphrodite: Phaethon (Hesiod, Theog. 986–991) and Anchises (HAphr.); Eos: Tithonos (HAphr. 218), Orion (Od. 4.121), Kleitos (14.250), Kephalos (Euripides, Hipp. 455); Usas: R.V. 1.30.20; Boedeker (above, n. 5) 68.
[ back ] 33. For the dimensions of this role and the contextual restrictions of this phrase in epic, see Boedeker (above, n. 5) 40 with reference to this passage.
[ back ] 34. On these verbs and the word ἀνερείπομαι used of Aphrodite’s rape of Phaethon in Hesiod, Theog. 990, see Nagy (above, n. 5) 156 ff.
[ back ] 35. Boedeker (above, n. 5) 62.
[ back ] 36. On the subject of human elevation or demotion subsequent to divine rape, see Nagy (above, n. 5) 166; also C. Segal, “The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite: A Structuralist Approach,” CW 67 (1974) 205–221.
[ back ] 37. See Boedeker (above, n. 5) 46-47.
[ back ] 38. Examples of such events at Artemis’ χορός collected by L. Lawler, The Dance in Ancient Greece (London 1964) 42–43; Helen by Theseus and Peirithoos (Plut., Vit. Thes. 31.2); Polumele by Hermes, 15.181 ff.; noted by Boedeker (above, n. 5) 48–49: fictive rape of Aphrodite by Hermes in HAphr. 117–120; Artemis herself almost raped by Alpheios, Paus. 6.22.8–9; Spartan maidens abducted and almost raped by soldiers of Aristomenes, Paus. 4.16.9; to which add Euripides, Helen 1312 f. τὰν ἁρπασθεῖσαν κυκλίων χορῶν ἔξω παρθενίων μετὰ κούραν “in pursuit of the maiden snatched from the circle-dances of virgins.”
[ back ] 39. If ἀκακῆτα means ‘gracious,’ from ἄ-κακος by analogy to μητίετα, κ.τ.λ. (see Chantraine (above, n. 5) s.v.). It is then an apotropaic epithet referring to Hermes’ functions as psychopomp (its only other attestation is in that context, Od. 24.10), which may seem inappropriate to the context here. But see Nagy (above, n. 5) passim for the symbolic parallelism between sexual experience, passing between the world of the living and that of the dead, and passing from wakefulness to the state of dreams.
[ back ] 40. Paris uses the word ἁρπάξας to describe what he did to her (3.443).
[ back ] 41. Boedeker (above, n. 5), “Appendix: ΧΩΡΟΣ and ΧΟΡΟΣ,” 85–91; in addition, G. Nagy points out to me that in Sparta (Paus. 3.11.9) and perhaps in Crete (Supp. Epig. 2.509.6) the ἀγορά was in fact called χορός.
[ back ] 42. W. Schadewaldt, Iliasstudien (1966, repr. Darmstadt 1987) 139 f. The paronomasia was first noted by E. Howald, Rh. Mus. 73 (192) 411. J. Kakridis, Homeric Researches (Lund 1949) 27–33, tries to refute Schadewaldt on the grounds that an epic audience would be unable to perceive the lexical parallelism between the two names given the number of lines separating their thematic parallelism. It is not a question of audience perceptions of lexical items, but of traditional themes associated with traditional diction. Such associations are built into the semantic context shared by both composing poet and listening audience and may or may not be consciously perceived by either. Another occurrence of the same themes will, in theory, invoke the same diction. See M. Nagler, “Towards a Generative View of the Oral Formula,” TAPA 98 (1968) 269–311.
[ back ] 43. For this translation of ἑτέρῳ, see LSJ s.v. ἕτερος 1.2.
[ back ] 44. LSJ and Stanford ad loc. citing T. E. Lawrence, translate εἵματα ἐξημοιβά here ‘changes of clothes.’ But ἐξαμείβω is part of the vocabulary of reciprocal gift exchange, and clothing is a fundamental, ubiquitous exchange object in the epic world. Its importance as such from start to finish of the Phaeacian episode in the Odyssey, for instance, needs no emphasis.
[ back ] 45. On the significance of clothes in dancing, see below. The Phaeacians also excel in ships, which lie in the domain of νόος: see D. Frame, The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic (New Haven 1978) 78 ff., who shows how the names and functions of these people and their ships are etymologically and explicitly related to νόος and the verb νέομαι.
[ back ] 46. The father’s name, by the way, suggests just how inferior he was: Κοπρεύς.
[ back ] 47. See also 14.636–639; or consider the way that Penelope’s suitors begin the day (taking delight in athletic pursuits, such as throwing the discus or the javelin: Od. 17.168) as against the way they end it (taking delight in dance and song: 17.605–606); see further below, 87 on 24.260 ff. But the most striking instance is Il. 9.186 ff., where Akhilleus, who has absented himself from battle, is actually playing the lyre when his φίλοι arrive to urge him to return to battle. Akhilleus may well have been envisioned as beardless, though that is never made explicit in epic; he is ἀγένειος in Plato, Symp. 180a and in fifth century vase-painting, but not always beardless in earlier vase-painting (Dover on Symp. 180a6). Beardless, he would recall more readily both Apollo and ἠΐθεοι like those dancing on his shield. I regret not having been able to consult F. Frontisi-Ducroux, Le cithare d’ Achille (Paris 1988).
[ back ] 48. 4.221, 231, 330; 5.591; 11.91; 16.820; and so forth.
[ back ] 49. 7.241.
[ back ] 50. 22.93 ff. Note that this occurs in Hektor’s duel with Achilles, which is a pendant to Paris’ with Menelaos.
[ back ] 51. See Ludwich, Mazon, C-A-H, Leaf, etc. ad loc. The scholia consider it a reference to a σῆμα, as do F. Studniczka, Beiträge zur Geschichte der altgriechischer Tracht (Vienna 1886) 62, and Ch. Picard, “La menace de la ‘tunique de pierre,’” RA 21 (1944) 152–153 (reminiscent of pre-Hellenic burials).
[ back ] 52. On the separation of sexuality and physical violence in Aphrodite as against her parallels in Near Eastern myth, see P. Friedrich, The Meaning of Aphrodite (Chicago, London 1978) 95–97. There remains, however, an underlying violence in her that is not unapparent here as elsewhere in Greek myth. See the expression of affection in her menacing exchange with Helen, 3.415 ὡς νῦν ἔκπαγλα φίλησα.
[ back ] 53. For another instance of Paris’ passive but not cowardly way of looking at the world—it colors even his relatively aggressive modes—see 6.336 ff., where he is deciding to return to battle since νίκη δ’ ἐπαμείβεται ἄνδρας “victory crosses from one man to another.” On Paris’ character, see Leslie Collins, “The Wrath of Paris: Ethical Vocabulary and Ethical Type in the Iliad.” AJP 108 (1987) 220–232; H. Monsacré, Les larmes d’Achille (Paris 1988) 41–50, represents Paris as an effeminate, cowardly hero, Hektor’s foil.
[ back ] 54. Above, 77.
[ back ] 55. This is not to deny that the unconventional aggressiveness of the cranes could at first be taken seriously, as exceptionally menacing. Docile creatures, when aroused, can be especially dangerous, and the simile in this context should mark the aggressiveness of the mustered army. As the themes and imagery of this book unfold, however, other aspects of the metaphor become prominent, and the aggressiveness becomes ironic. In other words, there is a syntagmatic dimension to interpretation that includes recursive or feedback processes; for more on this subject, see Jacopin (above, n. 5). The format and content of the literary genre called παίγνιον ‘toy’ may also be relevant to this issue. From the titles that survive, it seems that παίγνιον could define itself by making over certain subjects of epic metaphor into subjects of epic, by actually substituting vehicle for tenor. Among the titles of παίγνια that have come down to us are Ἀραχνομαχία, Ψαρομαχία, and also Γερανομαχία (Suda 45). On the battle of the cranes and Pygmies as an aspect of the comic and grotesque in post-classical iconography, see A. La Penna, “I Pigmei guerrieri e le loro cavalcature,” PP 168 (1976) 2 ^ A. Scobie, “The Battle of the Pygmies and the Cranes in Chinese, Arab, and North American Indian Sources,” Folklore 86 (1975) 131 n. 9.
[ back ] 56. See Noël Mayaud in Encyclopédie de la Pléiade: Zoologie IV (Paris 1974) 518–519, s.v. grue: “la danse des grues est une manifestation de parade mutuelle, souvent effectuée en groupe: les oiseaux sautent sur place, parfois très haut, et exécutent courbettes et saluts en se faisant, vis-à-vis, le tout avec une légèrté et une élégance remarquables. Ces danses, qui servent dans la parade nuptiale, paraissent être l’expression d’un état euphorique et joyeux.”
[ back ] 57. Scholia Graeca in Iliadem: Sch. Vet. (Erbse) on 18.590; Ps.-Apollodorus, Epit. 1.8–9.
[ back ] 58. M. Detienne, “La grue et le labyrinthe,” Mélanges de l’École Française de Rome 95 (1983) 541–553. A primary relationship between the dance and the story of Theseus has, however, been denied: G. Roux, “Le vrai temple d’Apollon à Délos,” BCH 103 (1979) 118–119, thinks the crane irrelevant, imported from an old agrarian purification rite; and according to E. Bethe, “Das archaische Delos und sein Letoon,” Hermes 72 (1937) 190–201, “die Deutung des γέρανος auf die Irrgänge des Labyrinths ist ebenso wertlos wie die Nennung des Theseus,” (193). Bethe’s remark is based on the theory that the spread of Theseus mythology was 6th century Athenian political propaganda: to him, the dance is Delian and archaic, but its association with the Theseus myth is not. For the issues and bibliography, see below, n. 72.
[ back ] 59. τῷ ἵκελον: the convention in the description of the shield is to describe the image as mimetic by using the same diction as that of simile. This suggests that the language of the shield is related to the language of the simile subgenre (see above, n. 1).
[ back ] 60. χοροὶ ἠιθέων καὶ παρθένων ‘dances of adolescents and maidens’: the phrase recurs in Herodotus 3.48 of the dances invented by the Samians as part of their effort to save 300 Coreyrean boys from becoming eunuchs; and in Plutarch’s description of the first γέρανος, Vit. Thes. 15; see also the title of Bacchylides 17 (on the story of Theseus and Minos) in the papyrus: ἠΐθεοι ἢ Θησεύς. For the identification of the dance on the Shield of Akhilleus, see the scholia on Σ 591–592 (Scholia Graeca in Iliadem: Sch. Vet. [Erbse], 4.565–566) and Eustathius, Comm. in lliadem, 1166 (Van der Valk, 4.267 f.).
[ back ] 61. See especially pages 66–73.
[ back ] 62. See above, n. 17, on the anthropologist’s experience of the hidden meaning of mythical gestures; on the possible existence of a tradition associating Pygmies with the dance, see the Appendix.
[ back ] 63. Friis Johansen (above, n. 5) 26–46, esp. 42–43.
[ back ] 64. For an illustration, see Friis Johansen (above, n. 5) 28 or A. Furtwängler, Kleine Schriften 1 (Munich 1912–1913) pi. 15, 2–3.
[ back ] 65. Friis Johansen (above, n. 5) 44.
[ back ] 66. Friis Johansen (above, n. 5) 46.
[ back ] 67. Friis Johansen (above, n. 5) 48 even claims the François vase is the first instance in which the two motifs are combined in a single composition, but I am not sure that the contention is either correct (see his own analysis of the chest of Cypselus, 29) or significant.
[ back ] 68. For this idea, see H. Herter, “Theseus der Athener,” Rh. Mus. 88 (1939) 273 ff., esp. 282 ff.; F. Jacoby, Atthis (Oxford 1949) 394 f., thought the Athenian glorification of Theseus anti-Pisistratid and accordingly dated it later in the sixth century than Herter.
[ back ] 69. ἐξελθὼν δὲ μετὰ τὸ νικῆσαι ὁ Θησεὺς μετὰ τῶν ἠιθέων καὶ παρθένων χορὸν τοιοῦτον ἔπλεκεν ἐν κύκλῳ τοῖς θεοῖς, ὁποία καὶ ἡ τοῦ λαβυρίνθου εἴσοδός τε καὶ ἔξοξος αὐτῷ ἐγεγόνει.
[ back ] 70. Plutarch, Vit. Thes. 21 : μίμημα τῶν ἐν τῷ Λαβυρίνθῳ περιόδων καὶ διεξόδων; Pollux, Onom. 4.101 : ἀπομιμησαμένων τὴν ἀπὸ τοῦ Λαβυρίνθου ἔξοδον.
[ back ] 71. Detienne (above, n. 5) 541–553; briefly summarized above, 91.
[ back ] 72. For a recent review of the inconclusive discussion since Johansen’s monograph, see F. Brommer, Theseus: Die Taten des Griechischen Helden in der Antiken Kunst und Literatur (Darmstadt 1982) 83–85. Johansen is unable to identify the swimmer in the background of the scene on the vase; I wonder if it is not Theseus himself returning from his journey to the depths of the sea with the ring proving his birth. This myth is illustrated on the cup of Euphronius (Louvre G104), a black-figure vase of the same period as the François vase. The happy sailors in the ship would then be overjoyed on account of Theseus’ return. Then the scene of the swimmer represents an event in the symbolic and chronological background of the dance, not an event simultaneous to it. This clears away a major objection of Johansen’s to the scene on the vase being the island of Delos.
[ back ] 73. Fränkel (above, n. 5) 72–73. For a sophisticated version of this notion formulated in epistemological terms, see by G. E. R. Lloyd, Polarity and Analogy (Cambridge 1966) 189. Lloyd stresses the constancy of the world in the similes (for instance, he sees it in the consistency of animal behavior), as against its accessibility to experience, but then seems to fall back into the old empiricist view: the similes serve “to apprehend the unknown by likening it to something known or familiar.”
[ back ] 74. For the historical association of ἄφθιτον with vegetal growth, see G. Nagy, Comparative Studies in Greek and Indic Meter (Cambridge 1974) 229–261.
[ back ] 75. T. Krischer, Formale Konventionen der Homerischen Epik (Munich 1971 [Zetemata 56]) 13–85; B. Fenik, Typical Battle Scenes in the Iliad: Studies in the Narrative Techniques of Homeric Battle Descriptions (Wiesbaden 1968 [Hermes Einzelschriften 21]).
[ back ] 76. I am referring to the evidence presented in the Appendix.
[ back ] 77. For similes to interpret bird omens, see above, n. 27. I wish to thank the American Council of Learned Societies for a grant in 1977 during which I undertook research for this paper, and also the following persons for their help: Gregory Nagy, Dan Petegorsky, Marcel Detienne, Olga Davidson, Chris Dadian, Richard Sacks, Charles Stewart, Pierre Yves Jacopin, Steven Lowenstam, Chris Perkell, Carol Dougherty-Glen, Leslie Kurke, and Ian Rutherford; in addition, I thank the anonymous reader for helpful comments.
[ back ] 78. See Scobie (above, n. 5) (see idem, “A Further Note on Pygmies and Cranes in North America,” Folklore 88 [1977] 86–87). A generalizable form of this story is found in the Stith-Thompson index of folklore motifs (F 535.5.1).
[ back ] 79. P. Janni, Etnografia e mito: La storia dei Pigmei (Rome 1978).
[ back ] 80. H. Wölke made the same point in a review of Janni’s monograph in Gnomon 55 (198) 97–99, esp. 99.
[ back ] 81. P. Monceaux, “La légende des Pygmées et les nains de l’Afrique équatoriale,” Revue Historique 47 (1891) 1–64.
[ back ] 82. So W. R. Dawson, “Pygmies and Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt,” JEA 25 (1933) 185–189.
[ back ] 83. Translation from A. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford 1961) based on J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt: Historical Documents 1 (Chicago 1906) §§ 351–353, 160–161; I have taken the liberty of replacing archaic second person singular pronouns and verbs with their vernacular equivalents.
[ back ] 84. Pyramid Texts, §1189: “the d3ng who dances the dance of the god”; see G. Maspéro, Études de Mythologie, 2.429, and Breasted (above, n. 83) 160, n. d, for the syntax.
[ back ] 85. So Gardiner (above, n. 83) and W. Wolf, Das alte Ägypten (Munich 1971) 184; other translations are “land of the spirits” (Breasted [above, n. 83] 161) and “land of the Akhtiu” (Dawson [above, n. 82] 185, who says that Breasted’s translation is impossible and that the Akhtiu are an unknown southern people).
[ back ] 86. For the early date, see M. P. Nilsson, Homer and Mycenae (London 1933) 157–158, strengthening an argument first made by H. L. Lorimer in JHS 49 (1929) 153 ff., to the effect that epic references to Egyptian Thebes date to the 18th dynasty, that is, the fourteenth century B.C.; but see now the intricate argument of W. Burkert: “Das hunderttorige Theben und die Datierung der Ilias,” WS 89 (1976) 5–21.