Douglas Frame, The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic: 4. Nestor

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  • Douglas Frame, The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic, 4: Nestor, Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC. September, 2005

4. Nestor

1. Introduction

The focus of attention in the last chapter was Odysseus, whose adventures preserve a latent relation between “mind” and “return.” In this chapter I shall consider another Homeric figure, who by his very name – Nést?r – tightens the connection between the words nóos and néomai.

Much of the scholarly work necessary to understanding Nestor’s name has already been done, and this work is fundamental to the present study. Nevertheless certain misconceptions have arisen, first of all with regard to the precise interpretation of Nestor’s name and, as a result of this, the interpretation of Nestor’s original nature. Oddly, what has helped to obscure these matters is an achievement which has shed light on so many other things – namely, the archeological discovery of the Bronze Age city of Pylos.

The discovery that Pylos once really existed has not unnaturally led to the assumption that Nestor was once really its king. The possibility that there was such a historical figure must in fact be granted; but this possibility, even if it became fact, would not explain the name Nést?r or the original function of the figure so called in Homer. One purpose of this chapter will be to show that at least the “original” Nestor must have been a purely mythological figure.

2. Nestor and the Greek Root *nes-

The view has long been held that the name Nést?r contains the verbal root nes– (followed by the agent suffix –t?r). This derivation was first proposed by Curtius and has since been accepted by such scholars as Kretschmer, Hofmann, Palmer, Heubeck, Mühlestein, Durante, Ruijgh, and Frisk. [1]   The derivation is thus solidly established.

Nevertheless, there has been disagreement on the interpretation of the name. The predominant modern view is that the root nes– in Nést?r has a transitive sense and that the name therefore means “he who brings [his people] home.” Kretschmer, in his time, offered a different interpretation. He retained the intransitive sense of néomai by proposing that Nést?r simply meant “he who returns” and that the figure so called was originally a vegetation deity. This view has been supported most recently by Hofmann (see n. 1).

Significantly, the predominant view has established itself as such only since the decipherment of Linear-B. One of the Pylos tablets has in fact furnished a new piece of evidence. Ventris and Chadwick were the first to draw attention to the form ne-e-ra-wo in Fn 79.5. [2]   They compared this form, which the context shows to be a personal name in the dative case, with the name Neíle?s in later Greek. The Mycenean name would be Neél?wos on the basis on this comparison.

The implications of this comparison were first seen by Palmer, [3]   who pointed out that the name Neíle?s belonged to the supposed oikist of Miletus, and that this figure, according to Greek tradition, was a direct descendant of Neleus, the founder of the Pylian dynasty. The second member in this dynasty, moreover, was Nestor, whose name contains the root nes-. This suggests that the name Neíle?s also contains the root nes-, and that its Mycenean equivalent should be transcribed as Nehé-l?wos, both forms meaning “he who leads the war-folk home.”

The importance of the Mycenean form and its Ionic equivalent is that they attest a transitive use of the root nes-. This springs directly from the form of the first element in the name, which is composed of the verbal root followed by e. One may compare the name Agé-l?(w)os, “he who leads the war-folk.” [4]  

This makes it probable that the name Nést?r also had a transitive meaning. For the present, however, I shall go no further than this. Other aspects of Palmer’s argument require more caution and will be considered later in detail. Among these is the view – probable in itself – that the name of Nestor’s father, N?leús, stands for the Mycenean form Nehél?wos. Improbable, however, is the view that this is a crucial factor in determining what the name Nést?r originally meant. Arguments will later be given for rejecting Palmer’s view that Nést?r is only a “short form” of Nehél?wos, and that it therefore has the same meaning, “he who leads the war-folk home.”

But two points have been firmly established: the first, that Nést?r is related to the verb néomai, and the second, that the name could have been understood in a transitive sense at an early period. One half of our problem has thus already been eliminated through previous scholarship. The other half, however, has never been recognized; it has to do with nóos. But this part of the problem, once it is recognized, all but solves itself.

It requires little argument to become convinced that Nestor has as strong a connection with nóos as he does with néomai. The figure who is known to us from Homer is the very embodiment of wisdom. In the Iliad he is the wise old counselor of the Greeks, and his subsequent fame derived from this role above all. Nor does it matter that his advice to the Greek princes often seems old-fashioned and long-winded, for his role is rather to symbolize nóos than to make nóos effective.

A few passages from the Iliad may be quoted to show Nestor’s clear connection with nóos. His most important advice (although it ultimately fails) is to send the embassy to Achilles. He introduces this proposal as follows (IX 103 ff.):

α?ταρ ?γ?ν ?ρ?ω ?ς μοι δοκε? ε?ναι ?ριστα.
ο? γ?ρ τις ν?ον ?λλος ?με?νονα το?δε νο?σει,
ο?ον ?γ? νο?ω, ?μ?ν π?λαι ?δ? ?τι κα? ν?ν
?ξ ?τι το? ?τε, διογεν?ς, Βριση?δα κο?ρην
χωομ?νου ?χιλ?ος ?βης κλισ?ηθεν ?πο?ρας
ο? τι καθ? ?μ?τερ?ν γε νοον.

I will speak as seems best to me. For no one else will conceive a better plan than this one, such as I have in mind, either now or long before now, ever since the time when you, O Zeus-born king, went and took the maiden Briseis from the tent of angry Achilles, which was not at all according to my advice.

When the embassy fails, Nestor slips into the background for a while, at least as the wise counselor. When the Greeks reach the point of full retreat, however, he is at hand again to suggest that Agamemnon call a council, phrasing his advice as follows (XIV 61-62):

?με?ς δ? φραζ?μεθ? ?πως ?σται τ?δε ?ργα,
ε? τι ν?ος ??ξει.

Let us take counsel as to how these matters will be, if intelligence may accomplish anything.

In this case it is very plain that Nestor is only the symbol of nóos. In actuality it is Diomedes rather than Nestor who proposes the measure which is adopted – that the wounded champions should encourage their men from behind the lines.


A third passage dwells on the word mÊtis rather than nóos. When, during the funeral games for Patroclus, Nestor instructs his son Antilochus how best to compete in the chariot race, he introduces his advice as follows (XXIII 313 ff.):

?λλ? ?γε δ? σ?, φ?λος, μ?τιν ?μβ?λλεο θυμ?
παντο?ην, ?να μ? σε παρεκπροφ?γ?σιν ?εθλα.
μ?τι τοι δρυτ?μος μ?γ? ?με?νων ?? β?ηφι·
μ?τι δ? α?τε κυβερν?της ?ν? ο?νοπι π?ντ?
ν?α θο?ν ?θ?νει ?ρεχθομ?νην ?ν?μοισι·
μ?τι δ? ?ν?οχος περιγ?γνεται ?νι?χοιο.

But come, dear son, and put into your mind all sorts of intelligent schemes so that the prizes do not escape you. It is by intelligence rather than strength that a woodcutter becomes much the better, and it is again by intelligence that a helmsman on the wine-dark sea holds his ship on course when it is battered by the winds. It is also by intelligence that charioteer surpasses charioteer.

Once again Nestor seems to be present mainly as the symbol of “intelligence.” In the lines immediately preceding what is quoted above, he in fact recognizes that Antilochus already has mÊtis enough of his own, at least in relation to his competitors:

ο?δ? μ?ν α?το?
πλε?ονα ?σασιν σ?θεν α?το? μητ?σασθαι.

They do not know how to devise more schemes than you yourself.


It is unnecessary to give further examples of this sort. What Nestor symbolizes is already perfectly clear; Nestor is in fact among the strongest single arguments for the derivation of nóos from the root nes-.

3. Nestor’s Original Function

A significant problem was ignored in the precious section. I stated that the name Nést?r contains the root nes– but did not explain how the verbal notion of this root is relevant to understanding the Homeric figure so called.

Hugo Mühlestein has drawn attention to the place in Homer where Nestor truly exemplifies his name, namely, Book 11 of the Iliad. [5]   In this book Nestor tells a long story concerning a battle between Pylos and Elis, which occurred when he was young and in which he played the leading role. It is widely assumed that this story was adapted by Homer from a lost “Pylian epic,” which undoubtedly had its own long tradition and of which Nestor was the hero. [6]   These assumptions make the story in Iliad 11 the most likely repository of ancient lore concerning Nestor.

Mühlestein has followed Palmer in equating the names Nést?r and Nehél?wos, and has therefore tried to find an instance in which Nestor “brings the war-folk safely home.” He argues that such an instance appears in XI 759 ff., when Nestor has slain his last victim and the “Achaeans” return to Pylos:

                                                                           α?τ?ρ ?χαιο?
?ψ ?π? Βουπρασ?οιο Π?λονδ? ?χον ?κ?ας ?ππους
π?ντες δ? ε?χετ?ωντο θε?ν Δι? Ν?στορ? τ? ?νδρ?ν.

But the Achaeans headed their swift horses back from Bouprasion to Pylos, and they offered prayers to Zeus among gods and to Nestor among men.

It is in fact plausible to see Nestor as a kind of Nehél?wos in this passage.


But this final moment does not exhaust the relevance of Nestor’s story to his name. The mere fact that Nestor is involved with the word nóos indicates that he is a deeply traditional figure, whose roots go back to a time when the relation between nóos and néomai was still perceived. At this time, moreover, the root nes– still signified a “return to life” and was used in the context of sun symbolism, the dominant feature of which, in Homer, involves the sun’s “cattle.” These observations determine what we should be looking for in Nestor’s story.

His story does not disappoint us. The first episode he describes is in fact a bo?lasí?, a “cattle-raid” (cf. XI 671-72). Under the leadership of Nestor, a band of Pylians stages this raid against one of the Epeians and drives the captured spoil home to Pylos (XI 671 ff.). The rest of the narrative springs from this beginning. In the next section (683-707) the spoil is divided at Pylos. We learn that the Pylians, first weakened by their conflict with Heracles, had been abused by the Epeians; the Epeians had probably been engaged in raiding the cattle of the Pylians, since the latter (the Pylians) regarded the newly won spoil as their rightful due. In the next section (707-61) the Epeians attack and the Pylians hasten from their city by night to meet them. The battle takes place on the next day and the Pylains are victorious.

This is the structure of Nestor’s story. There are two major episodes, a cattle-raid and a battle, and in trying to understand Nestor’s function, the first deserves at least as much attention as the second. For while Nestor may bring the war-folk home from battle, he also “rescues” from the Epeians the herds and flocks which rightfully belong to Pylos. He is the foremost figure in the cattle-raid, insofar as he kills Itymoneus, who is present to protect his “cattle” (ho d’ amún?n hÊisi bóessin, in l. 674). In the following lines we see Nestor, as the first among his companions, bringing huge flocks and herds home to Pylos; the elaborateness of the description is itself a sign that this function is important (XI 677 ff.):

λη?δα δ? ?κ πεδ?ου συνελ?σσαμεν ?λιθα πολλ?ν,
πεντ?κοντα βο?ν ?γ?λας, τ?σα π?εα ο??ν,
τ?σσα συ?ν συβ?σια, τ?σ? α?π?λια πλατ?? α?γ?ν,
?ππους δ? ξανθ?ς ?κατ?ν κα? πεντ?κοντα,
π?σας θηλε?ας, πολλ?σι δ? π?λοι ?π?σαν.
κα? τ? μ?ν ?λασ?μεσθα Π?λον Νηλ??ον ε?σω.

We drove together from the plain an immense amount of spoil: there were fifty herds of cattle, as many flocks of sheep, as many droves of pigs, and as many wide-ranging flocks of goats; there were also a hundred and fifty brown horses, all of them mares, and many of them with foals following underneath. All of these we then drove into Pylos, the city of Neleus.

When Nés-t?r kills the guardian of the “cattle” and drives the rescued herds home, we are immediately disposed to see this, at least in part, as the reflex of a solar myth. [7]   This idea, moreover, is soon seen to be more than a prejudice. For lurking in the background of Nestor’s story is the Epeian king, whose name is Augeías. In XI 701 he is mentioned as having once robbed the four race-horses of Neleus, an example, apparently, of the grievances Pylos held against Elis. [8]   In XI 739 he is mentioned as the father-in-law of the first hero slain in battle, whose horses and chariot are taken and used by Nestor.

The name Augeías is related to the noun aug?, which in turn suggests the “radiance” of the sun. [9]   It is clear that this figure was originally connected, or even identical, with the sun itself. Homer indicates as much in the description of his daughter Agamede, the spouse of the first hero slain (XI 739 ff.):

                                        γαμβρ?ς δ? ?ν Α?γε?αο
πρεσβυτ?την δ? θ?γατρ? ε?χε ξανθ?ν ?Αγαμ?δην,
? τ?σα φ?ρμακα ?δη ?σα τρ?φει ε?ρε?α χθ?ν.

He was the son-in-law of Augeias, and had as wife his oldest daughter, the fair-haired Agamede, who knew all the drugs which the wide earth nourishes.

Agam?d?, who is well-versed in all manner of drugs, is just another form of M?deia. In later Greek tradition Medea was thought to be the granddaughter of Helios. If this was also Homer’s view, then he perhaps considered Augeias to be the son of Helios. Probably, however, the name Augeías originated as an epithet belonging to Helios himself.


In later Greek myth, at any rate, Augeias was said to be the son of Helios. More importantly, the significance of “cattle” in relation to Augeias becomes clearer at this stage. It was the cattle of Augeias whose stables Heracles had to clean. Theocritus 25 is a long epyllion which uses this particular labor as its background. The second part of the poem is devoted to an elaborate description of the prodigious herds as they return at night; they are like endless clouds driven on by the wind. [10]   That these herds have to do with the cattle of the Sun is apparent throughout, but especially in the description of the twelve white bulls (129 ff.):

?λλοι δ? α? μετ? το?σι δυ?δεκα βουκολ?οντο
?ερο? ?Ηελ?ου· χροι?ν δ? ?σαν ??τε κ?κνοι

Pasturing among the other bulls were twelve sacred to Helios; in color they were like shining white swans,

and in the following lines as well (118 ff.):

?Η?λιος δ? ? παιδ? τ?γ? ?ξοχον ?πασε δ?ρον,
?φνει?ν μ?λοις περ? π?ντων ?μμεναι ?νδρ?ν,
κα? ?? ο? α?τ?ς ?φελλε διαμπερ?ως βοτ? π?ντα
?ς τ?λος.

Helios gave this special gift to his son, to be rich in flocks beyond all men, and he himself made all the animals prosper for him continually without end.


In light of the above it becomes highly plausible that Nestor, by capturing the Epeian herds, in effect rescues the cattle of the Sun. It is true that the herds seem to belong, not to Augeias, but to the figure named Itymoneus. But Helios also remains in the background in Book 12 of the Odyssey, where he has other guardians to tend to his cattle on Thrinacia. Perhaps Itymoneus stands for what was once the sort of monstrous guardian that would fittingly be slain. [11]   But details such as this need not be pressed.

This interpretation of Nestor’s story is supported by a passage in Pausanias, from which we learn that there was a cave outside the Messenian city of Pylos in which the cattle of Nestor, and earlier those of Neleus, were said to have been stabled. [12]   Nothing could bring Nestor into closer relation with the cattle of the Sun than this piece of information. The importance of the cave in Greek and Sanskrit myths has already been discussed.

Pausanias goes on to conjecture that the cattle in question were those which had earlier belonged to the Thessalian Iphiclus, and which Neleus had demanded as the price for his daughter’s hand. It is worth considering this legend more closely. Homer refers to it twice in the Odyssey, in Books 11 and 15. According to these accounts, Bias wanted to marry the daughter of Neleus. His brother Melampus, a prophet, therefore undertook to bring back the cattle of Iphiclus. Melampus, however, was captured in the attempt and imprisoned for a year before being released with the cattle.

The language used to describe the imprisonment is striking. One instance occurs in xi 292-93:

              χαλεπ? δ? θεο? κατ? μο?ρα π?δησε,
δεσμο? τ? ?ργαλ?οι κα? βουκ?λοι ?γροι?ται.

The hard destiny of the god, painful, bonds, and rustic cowherds shackled him.

There is another description in xv 231 ff.; here Phylacus, the father of Iphiclus, is mentioned:

                   ? δ? τ?ος ?ν? μεγ?ροις Φυλ?κοιο
δεσμ? ?ν ?ργαλ?? δ?δετο, κρατ?ρ? ?λγεα π?σχων
ε?νεκα Νηλ?ος κο?ρης ?της τε βαρε?ης.

He meanwhile was tied in painful bonds in the house of Phylacus, suffering harsh woes because of the daughter of Neleus and the heavy ruin.

Words like mo?ra, “destiny,” and át?, “ruin,” suggest that the imprisonment was somewhat extraordinary. More suggestive still is the description of the release of Melampus in xv 235-36:

?λλ? ? μ?ν ?κφυγε κ?ρα κα? ?λασε βο?ς ?ριμ?κους
?ς Π?λον ?κ Φυλ?κης.

But he escaped death and drove the loud-bellowing cattle from Phylaca to Pylos.

Melampus is said to have driven the cattle ek Phulák?s, “from the town of imprisonment” (cf. also Phúlakos); first, however, he “escaped death,” ékphuge kÊra. The latter phrase is similar to the second-level expression phúgomen thánaton, “we escaped death,” which has replaced the notion of “returning from death” elsewhere in the Odyssey. [13]   One is inclined to think that this was also the original notion in the Melampus legend. Even the role of nóos seems to have been preserved. In xi 296-97, Iphiclus is said to have released Melampus when the latter had “told all the oracles,” thésphata pánt’ eipónta. The significance of prophecy in the context of “returning from death” has already been seen in connection with Teiresias. [14]  


It is interesting that Pausanias connects the myth of Melampus with the cave of Nestor. But the “myth” in which Nestor himself is involved seems primary to the myth of Melampus [15]   and therefore has a still greater right to be connected with this cave. Nestor’s original function was presumably to release the sun’s cattle from this place, although such a detail is no longer suggested by his story and had perhaps long since vanished from the tradition behind it. [16]  

It was pointed out earlier that flocks of the Sun were associated with Taenarum, and that in Taenarum there was a cave which was thought to connect with the underworld (see chap. 3, sect. 2). It is therefore plausible that Nestor’s cave was also once thought to be an entrance to the underworld. No such tradition has survived, but there are still many indications that Pylos in general was associated with this domain. The very name suggests the “gates” (púlai) of Hades. Homer must have had this in mind when he related (V 397) how Heracles wounded the death-god Hades en Púl?i en nekúessin, “in Pylos among the dead.” Mühlestein, furthermore, draws attention to “the remarkable fact that several names found around Pylos and Neleus express connections with Hades: Klymenos, Klymene, Periklymenos, Khloris, Anax, Pylartes, Ekhelos, among others, . . . and also po-ro-u-te-u/Pluteus, and e-ru-si-jo/Elysios.” [17]   From this list of names it is apparent that Homer, even if he had overextended the relation between Pylos and Hades, was nevertheless following a tradition.

It is not unnatural that Nestor, whose function had to do with “returning to life,” was associated with Pylos. Sun symbolism is characterized by its two opposed aspects. If Nestor stands for the positive aspect, one might see in his brother Periclymenus the negative aspect; the latter’s name was also an epithet for the god of the underworld. [18]   Of all the sons of Neleus, in fact, only Nestor was associated with life. According to tradition, he alone survived the attack of Heracles on Pylos (XI 692-93): [19]  

δ?δεκα γ?ρ Νηλ?ος ?μ?μονος υ??ες ?μεν·
τ?ν ο?ος λιπ?μην, ο? δ? ?λλοι π?ντες ?λοντο.

There had been twelve sons of blameless Neleus, but of these only I was left; the others had all perished.

This raises the final point to be considered in this section. In addition to evidence for his freeing of the cattle of the sun, can one also find signs in Book 11 that Nestor’s original function was to restore mortals to life and to light? I suggest that there are traces of this.

One finds a latent sense that Nestor restores the Pylians to light in the following curious details. Because the Epeians attack suddenly, the Pylians, forewarned by Athena, [20]   must set forth by night (XI 714 ff.):

?λλ? ?τε π?ν πεδ?ον μετεκ?αθον, ?μμι δ? ?Αθ?νη
?γγελος ?λθε θ?ουσ? ?π? ?Ολ?μπου θωρ?σσεσθαι
?ννυχος, ο?δ? ??κοντα Π?λον κ?τα λα?ν ?γειρεν.

But when they had crossed the entire plain, Athena rushed from Olympus by night to give us the message to arm, and throughout Pylos she gathered the willing host.

At this point, moreover, Neleus tries to prevent his son from going to battle by “hiding” his horses: apékrupsen dé moi híppous (718). But Nestor goes on foot, and when the sun rises and the battle begins, he immediately acquires horses by slaying the son-in-law of Augeias (735 ff.). Then the rout begins. In all of this there is a latent sense that Nestor is leading his people from the dark night of danger to the daylight of victory. [21]  


There is also a sense in which Nestor brings the Pylians back to life. If one considers the narrative in Book 11 as a whole, it becomes clear that Nestor, far more than “bringing his people home from battle,” effectively restores his people to life. The following lines (XI 689 ff.) show how close to extinction Pylos was before Nestor accomplished his cattle-raid and subsequent battle-rout:

?ς ?με?ς πα?ροι κεκακωμ?νοι ?ν Π?λ? ?μεν·
?λθ?ν γ?ρ ?? ?κ?κωσε β?η ?Ηρακληε?η
τ?ν προτ?ρων ?τ?ων, κατ? δ? ?κταθεν ?σσοι ?ριστοι·
δ?δεκα γ?ρ Νηλ?ος ?μ?μονος υ??ες ?μεν·
τ?ν ο?ος λιπ?μην, ο? δ? ?λλοι π?ντες ?λοντο.

There were few of us left in Pylos and we were badly off, for Heracles had come in earlier years and hurt us badly – all the bravest men were killed. There had been twelve sons of blameless Neleus, but of these only I was left; the others had all perished.

The narrative in Book 11 suggests that the hostilities between Pylos and Elis, the cattle-raids in particular, were of a recurrent nature; this fits well with the original meaning of the myth. But the myth has become historicized. A highly convincing study by Räto Cantieni [22]   has shown how this process, even at a relatively late date, was still at work. One of his arguments is particularly worth mentioning. According to Cantieni, the passages in Nestor’s story which contain detailed geographical references are late additions to the basic narrative. These passages (711-13, 722-34, and 757-58) represent the battle as taking place on the border between Pylian and Elian territory. This is inconsistent with the fact, which Cantieni demonstrates, that Bouprasion was on the far side of Elis from Pylos. [23]   When the later passages are removed, it becomes clear that the battle originally covered the whole territory between Pylos and the far side of Elis. This in turn highlights the significance of the name Bou-prásion, from which Nestor returns with his victorious people. [24]  

I would suggest that at an earlier stage as well an historical dimension began to replace the original myth. The myth was recast as the hostility between two peoples, with the conflict between Heracles and Pylos occupying the background. When this happened the role of the “return from death” became obscure; the idea could survive only as suggested above – namely, as a return from virtual extinction by Nestor’s people.

4. A Closer Look at Nestor’s Name

In the previous section I have argued that the essential part of Nestor’s story in Iliad 11 descends from an original myth of the sun. This would imply that Nestor himself came to be viewed as “historical” only when his myth had first been historicized. The trend of modern scholarship since the discovery of Pylos has been to historicize Nestor even more, and a pivotal argument in this trend has to do with the interpretation of Nestor’s name. In this section, therefore, I shall reexamine this matter in some detail.

I shall begin by putting the case for a historical King Nestor as strongly as possible. As far as the name is concerned, the case may be summarized as follows. The crucial factor is the tradition, already well established in Homer, that Nestor was the son of Neleus. The next step must be to show that the name Neleus actually stands for an original Nehél?wos. If this can be done, there is then some basis for believing that a King Nehelawos once existed, given the fact that this name is already attested on the Pylos tablets, although apparently not for a king. [25]   If we are thus led to believe Homer concerning Neleus, we may also be led to believe that Neleus had a son named Nestor. The presence of the root nes– in both names becomes an argument for the accuracy of Homer’s picture of the Pylian dynasty. Leonard Palmer phrases this view as follows: “in the names of Nést?r and his father N?leús we find further exemplification of the common practice of giving to the son a part of his father’s name.” [26]   This, with certain reservations, is a plausible argument.

Marcello Durante has made the best case for the above interpretation of the name N?leús. [27]   He first points out that Neíle?s, the name of the Milesian oikist, sometimes appears as N?leús, and more rarely as Neileús (a composite of the first two forms). This suggests from the start that the forms N?leús and Neíle?s may represent the same thing. [28]   A major problem, however, is the explanation for the –?– in N?leús. Wackernagel first suggested that this represents an Aeolic contraction of original –ee– (as in Aeolic kÊnos vs. Ionic ke?nos, “that one”), and Durante has substantially agreed. [29]  

Durante’s main contribution has been to explain the suffix –leus in a plausible way. His argument may be summarized as follows. [30]   The form N?leús is actually based on the patronymic N?l?ïos. N?leús occurs in only a limited number of Homeric contexts, which Durante views as late, and when it occurs the first syllable is usually in arsis. [31]   This is difficult to reconcile with an underlying vowel contraction. In contrast, the patronymics N?l?ïos and N?l?ïád?s have a broad distribution and necessarily accommodate an underlying vowel contraction in every occurrence. One may therefore suppose that Homer had inherited only the patronymics, and that when he went to recreate Nestor’s father for a few brief moments he invented the form N?leús. His model can be seen in the pairs Oduss?ïos, Odusseús, P?l?ïos, P?leús, etc. No longer, however, did a model exist for recreating the original o-stem name. But significantly, such a model is found in Mycenean, in a form like adaratijo, Adrástios, from Ádrastos. The argument therefore is that in Mycenean the name Nehél?wos led to the patronymic NehelÁwios, and that only the latter survived in the epic tradition. It should be noted that such an adjectival patronymic represents a great archaism in Homer.

This explanation of N?leús seems convincing. But the crucial problem is how to understand the relationship between the names Nehél?wos and Nést?r. Palmer, Durante, and Mühlestein all rely heavily on the view that the latter is a “short form” of the former. [32]   Parallels can supposedly be seen in such name-pairs as Menél?(w)os, Mént?r, Ekhél?(w)os, Hékt?r, and Agél?(w)os, Ákt?r. On the basis of this view, it is then thought likely that a real King Nehél?wos gave the name Nést?r to his son. Palmer’s judgment to this effect was quoted above; Durante is even more emphatic, calling the two names “a beautiful example of the custom, both Greek and Indo-European, of giving to the son a name which repeated in part that of the father.” [33]  

That there was such a Greek and Indo-European custom is not to be doubted. The question is simply whether Greek names ending in –t?r reflect such a custom. The specific argument for this goes back to an article by Grace Macurdy; [34]   but this article was reviewed soon after by Paul Kretschmer, who immediately saw an important weakness in it. His judicious remarks suggest the solution to both parts of our problem: how Nestor can be the very old mythological figure he seems to be, without simultaneously eliminating the possibility that he was also a historical personage. In response to Macurdy’s argument, Kretschmer pointed out that a suffix like –t?r, which has its own well-preserved function, would be highly unusual in genuine “short forms”; one could at most assume that, for the sake of brevity, compounds were replaced by agent nouns with the same meaning. [35]  

The crucial point is the independence of the –t?r agent suffix. This liberates Nést?r from Nehél?wos, and allows Nestor to be as old and as mythological as necessary. At the same time, however, a name like Nést?r could have “replaced” a name like Nehél?wos, if the former had the same meaning as the latter. We already have reason to believe that originally the name Nést?r referred to more than “bringing the war-folk safely home,” and more reasons will emerge from the discussion to follow. But it is also possible that by the late Mycenean era the name Nést?r had lost its full original meaning, and was perceived as an equivalent of Nehél?wos. This would leave open the possibility of there having been a real King Nestor. The case for such a loss of original meaning will be developed further in the discussion to follow.

In the meantime, the name Nést?r stands alone and must be interpreted alone. In arguing that Nestor’s original function was to “bring back to life and light,” I have already committed myself to a transitive force of the root nes– in his name. This may be related to the conjecture of other scholars that the name Nehél?wos presupposes a transitive form *né?, which has been lost. It is my contention, however, that the form has not been completely lost but has actually survived, disguised as something else, in one Homeric passage. To validate this claim I shall have to leave Nestor for a while and return to Odysseus. But the results of this shift will ultimately be important for Nestor.

In a passage of Odyssey 18, Penelope repeats to one of her suitors what Odysseus had said to her when he left for Troy, namely (xviii 259 ff.), that he did not think all the Achaeans would “return home”:

? γ?ναι, ο? γ?ρ ??ω ??κν?μιδας ?Αχαιο?ς
?κ Τρο?ης ε? π?ντας ?π?μονας ?πον?εσθαι.

O woman, I do not think that all the well-greaved Achaeans will return home safe and unharmed from Troy.

For (he said) the Trojans are skilled in the arts of war – spear-throwing, archery, and horsemanship – and they can therefore quickly decide the issue of a battle. In conclusion to this, Odysseus then added (xviii 265-66):

τ? ο?κ ο?δ? ? κ?ν μ? ?ν?σει θε?ς, ? κεν ?λ?ω
α?το? ?ν? Τρο??.

Therefore I do not know if a god will anései me, or if I will die in Troy.

This conclusion is plainly a reversion to the initial point. Odysseus began by saying that he did not think all the Achaeans would “return home.” He must therefore now be saying that he does not know whether he himself will “return home” or die in Troy. This much is clear; but it is not immediately clear how this meaning can be extracted from the Greek. What stands in the way is the peculiar verbal form anései in line 265.


I propose that the two words m’ anései actually stand for an original *me nései, which gives us a future form of the hitherto hypothetical verb né?. The meaning of lines 265-66 would then be: “therefore I do not know whether the god will bring me home or whether I will die in Troy,” and the root nes– would be present at the end as well as the beginning of Odysseus’s statement. But to defend this proposal we must first see how the form anései has been explained in the past.

It has traditionally been explained as an irregular future of aní?mi. But everywhere else the future of this verb is an?s? with a long vowel, and the irregularity raises serious doubts. The advantage of this explanation, on the other hand, is that aní?mi supplies at least a vaguely appropriate sense. Homer uses the verb with the meaning “release” (cf. emè d’ oud’ hÔs thumòn aníei . . . odún?, “but even so the pain would not let go of my spirit,” in XV 24-25), and Odysseus could conceivably be wondering whether the god will “release” him from Troy.

The short vowel of anései, however, destroys the traditional explanation. Realizing this, Monro proposed to derive the form from the root *sed– of Greek híz?, “to seat,” and hézomai, “to sit.” [36]   Homeric Greek possesses an old simplex aorist from this root in the forms he?sa and hés(s)ai. Monro therefore proposed the existence of a compound form with the preverb an(á), and in fact demonstrated the existence of such a form in two Homeric lines which had previously been thought to contain aorists of aní?mi. The first example occurs in XIII 657: es díphron d’ anésantes ágon protì ?lion hir?n. This line concerns the rescue of a wounded hero, and the meaning can only be, “having set (him) upon the chariot, they took (him) to Troy.” The same verb, with the same meaning, can be seen in XIV 209: eis eun?n anésaimi hom?thÊnai philót?ti. In this line Hera is the speaker, and she refers to the possibility of placing Tethys and Oceanus on their bed of love again by reconciling them. The forms anésantes and anésaimi thus have nothing to do with aní?mi, the aorist of which is seen in xxi 537 in the phrase ánesán te púlas, “and they opened the gates.” The forms are clearly compounds from the root sed-; the compound verb in fact occurs elsewhere, in tmesis, without the least ambiguity as to the root involved (I 310-311): anà dè Khrus??da kallipár?ion / he?sen ág?n. These lines refer to the placing of Chryseis upon a ship.

This much of Monro’s argument seems perfectly correct. But he also wished to explain anései in xviii 265 in the same way, and that is a different matter. For the aorist forms, both the forms and the meaning are transparently accurate, and they are also otherwise attested. But not so for the future in xviii 265. The only evidence for a future hés? from the root sed– is the form kathés? in the comic playwright Eupolus. This could be overlooked were it not for the question of meaning. Monro’s own examples show that his compound verb means to place or set upon. To make sense in xviii 265, this meaning must be extended to “set up” and then interpreted as “restore.” But even the meaning “restore” does not really convey what Odysseus intends to say in xviii 265.

Thus, Monro’s explanation seems as impossible semantically as does the traditional explanation formally, and the way is clear for the new proposal offered above. Phonologically, the form nései is an acceptable future for né?. Homer fluctuates between a single and a double sigma in forms from an original configuration (-)VssV-; for example, he uses both ésomai and éssomai, “I will be.” The difference is one of dialect. In ancient Greek the dialects with single sigma are Attic, Ionic, and Arcadian, [37]   which would suggest that the form nései in Homer is Ionic; but it is also possible that the form goes back to a common ancestor of the three dialects in question, and this possibility should be left open. [38]   To explain the reading m’ anései in xviii 265, one simply assumes what is already evident from the lack of other examples, namely, that the verb né? no longer existed in Homer’s time. A traditional line containing this verb was therefore reinterpreted and thus allowed to survive. What Homer may have had in mind, if it was he who effected the change, was the future of aní?mi in the meaning “release.” [39]  

According to the argument above, xviii 265 was a traditional epic line which contained a forgotten form from the root nes-. This should remind us of another traditional line, that which begins ásmenoi ek thanátoio, “having returned from death.” We have already seen that on more than one occasion Homer reinterprets the latter phrase with the words thánaton phúgomen, “we escaped death.” [40]   Hence it is very significant that in xv 300 Telemachus, sailing for home by night, is described as:

hormaín?n ? ken thánaton phúgoi Ê ken hal??i

Pondering whether he would escape death or die.

The similarity of this to the reconstructed line:

tÔi ouk o?d’ ? kén me nései theòs Ê ken hal??

is unmistakable. In the first part, hormaín?n, “pondering,” balances tÔi ouk o?d’, “therefore I do not know,” in expressing uncertainty. The last part, Ê ken hal??i, “or die,” is the same as Ê ken hal?? except for a change of person. The only significant variation occurs in the middle, where ? ken thánaton phúgoi, “whether he would escape death,” contrasts with ? kén me nései theós, “if a god will nései me.” At this point such a variation is almost predictable and confirms beyond reasonable doubt the interpretation proposed for xviii 265.


The inevitable question now is whether thánaton phúgoi has replaced a phrase containing the root nes– for the same reason that thánaton phúgomen has replaced ásmenoi ek thanátoio. In other words, does the transitive verb né? in xviii 265 mean “to bring back from death” just as ásmenoi means “having returned from death”? I suggest that it does, and that this can be seen by considering the line xviii 265 as a whole.

What must be considered more closely is the verb hal?? at the end of the line. This is an aorist form of halískomai, which means “to be seized” or “to be captured.” But in xviii 265 and in a few other Homeric occurrences, the verb clearly means “to be killed” or simply “to die.” How is this meaning to be explained?

With only one exception, [41]   the meaning “to die” is not attested after Homer. In classical Greek the basic meaning “to be seized” or “captured” is always obvious. Homer, too, attests this meaning in a few phrases: for example, in the formula used of a city which has been “captured” and “sacked” – namely, halo?sá te perthomén? te. [42]   Since the meaning “to die” is all but limited to Homer, one suspects from the outset that it is an artificial product of the epic Kunstsprache. This suspicion is increased by the fact that the meaning “to die” is limited to two basic formulaic patterns.

The first pattern in fact reveals immediately how the meaning “to die” developed. The original notion was “to be seized by death,” as in the following lines (v 312 = XXI 281 and xxiv 34):

ν?ν δ? με λευγαλ?? θαν?τ? ε?μαρτο ?λ?ναι

But now it is my fate to be seized by a grievous death,

ν?ν δ? ?ρα σ? ο?κτ?στ? θαν?τ? ε?μαρτο ?λ?ναι

But now it is your fate to be seized by a most pitiable death.

The phrase thanát?i . . . halÔnai, “to be seized by death,” is perfectly understandable as an equivalent for thane?n, “to die.” But it is obvious that the word thanát?i, “by death,” is necessary to the sense. How, then, can the second formulaic type, in which thanát?i is no longer present, be explained? This type is exemplified by xviii 265 and xv 300, and by a few other passages to be discussed below. The essential feature of this pattern is the occurrence of a form of halÔnai as the second member in a set of alternatives, the alternatives being marked by the particles ? (or ) and Ê.

I suggest that the semantic ellipsis began in xviii 265 or in a line like xviii 265. If the form nései meant “will bring back from death,” then it would have been unnecessary to make “by death” explicit in the alternative; the alternative would naturally have been understood as “or be caught by death.” It should be noted that the meaning “be caught” is a very fitting alternative to the proposed meaning of nései. Earlier parts of this study have shown that the root nes– originally pertained to a kind of “safe passage” through death; such a safe passage would seem to imply not being “caught” by death. [43]  

Once the ellipsis of thanát?i had begun in a line like xviii 265, it could then spread. A line in which the ellipsis was necessarily continued was xv 300, which was patterned directly on a line like xviii 265. In this line the expression thánaton phúgoi, “would escape death,” makes the notion of death explicit; but in spite of this, the meaning of hal??i is no longer quite accurate. The line now means literally “pondering whether he would escape death or be caught,” and it is not clear who or what threatens to catch him (viz. Telemachus). The line plainly depends on xviii 265: “therefore I do not know whether the god will bring me back from death or whether I will be caught,” where no such ambiguity exists.

Homer, too, may have felt that the opposition between “escaping death” and “being caught” was somewhat imprecise. A solution would have been to vary the second member in the opposition, as in the following lines where Penelope “ponders” the nóstos of Telemachus (iv 789-90):

?ρμα?νουσ? ? ο? θ?νατον φ?γοι υ??ς ?μ?μων,
? ? γ? ?π? μνηστ?ρσιν ?περφι?λοισι δαμε?η.

Pondering whether her blameless son would escape death or be overcome by the arrogant suitors.

These lines clearly have to do with xv 300, but the ambiguity of the latter has been removed. Dameí?, “be overcome,” is clearer than hal??i in the meaning “be killed,” and specific agents, who come to mind already in xv 300, have replaced the latent thanát?i of the latter line; it is specifically the suitors who threaten Telemachus.


Again in the following example it is not at once clear whether halÔnai means “to be killed” or “to be captured.” In this passage Eumaeus is speaking to Odysseus about the nóstos of Telemachus (xiv 183-84): [44]  

?λλ? ? τοι κε?νον μ?ν ??σομεν, ? κεν ?λ??
? κε φ?γ? κα? κ?ν ο? ?π?ρσχ? χε?ρα Κρον?ων.

But let us not concern ourselves with him, whether he should be killed (captured) or whether he should escape and the son of Cronus protect him.

Only the evidence of other related lines tells us that the meaning here is “be killed” and not “be captured.” In this passage one should also note the mention of Zeus, which may well be a survival of the tradition represented by the word theós, “a god,” in xviii 265.


The last passage quoted above shows that the opposition between pheúgein and halÔnai, even without the mention of death, had become firmly established as an opposition between “escaping” and “dying.” The following line (XIV 81), in which pheúgein, “to flee from, escape,” is doubly emphasized and thánaton, “death,” has been replaced by kakón, “evil,” shows the same thing:

β?λτερον ?ς φε?γων προφ?γ? κακ?ν ?? ?λ??.

It is better that one escape evil by fleeing than that one be killed. [45]  

The meaning of halÔnai, “to be killed,” was so firmly established in this opposition that the opposition could itself be renewed with a first member meaning “to kill” (XII 172):

πρ?ν γ? ?? κατακτ?μεν ?? ?λ?ναι. [46]  

Before either killing or being killed.

It is clear that the opposition between kataktámen, “to kill,” and halÔnai, “to be killed,” in the last line is the final result of an artificial development which can be explained only in terms of a Kunstsprache. This suggests one final observation. The verb to which halískomai is genuinely opposed is hairé?, “to seize” or “capture.” [47]   This genuine opposition seems to have asserted itself in the following isolated expression, spoken by Hector to Achilles in XXII 253: héloimí ken, ? ken haloí?n. This phrase means “I will slay or be slain.” I suggest that it was through the natural opposition of the verbs halískomai and hairé? that hairé? acquired the meaning “slay,” a meaning which is common in the aorist form héle(n), as in the phrase hélen ándras arístous, “he slew the best men,” in V 541. The suggestion that this usage originated as a euphemism [48]   will convince no one who recalls the explicit battle descriptions of the Iliad. Like halískomai, hairé? has its special meaning only in Homer; the two words should be explained together. It is natural that one member of a genuinely opposed pair should have affected the other.

The above discussion has shown the meaning “to die” of Homeric halÔnai, when used alone, can best be explained by starting from a line like xviii 265. The development of this meaning begins with an ellipsis of thanát?i, “by death,” which is understandable only if the verb nései has to do with “bringing back from death.” In support of this argument may now be mentioned the only example known to me where halískomai means “to die” in later Greek. The example occurs in Pindar Pythian 3.54 ff., in which the perfect participle hal?kóta is used to mean “dead.” The context concerns Asclepius, whose fame as a physician has just been celebrated, but who is now censured for an unholy deed:

?λλ? κ?ρδει κα? σοφ?α δ?δεται.
?τραπεν κα? κε?νον ?γ?νορι μισθ?
χρυσ?ς ?ν χερσ?ν φανε?ς
?νδρ? ?κ θαν?του κομ?σαι
?δη ?λωκ?τα

But even wisdom is subject to greed. When he saw gold in his hands, he was perverted by this lavish pay to bring back from death a man who had already been caught.

Greedy for profit, Asclepius used his wisdom “to bring back from death” a man who had already been “caught,” and for this impiety (as the following lines inform us) both he and the rescued man were struck down by Zeus. The phrase ek thanátou komísai, “to bring back from death,” gives the precise meaning that has been proposed for transitive né?. What is equally striking, however, is the clear opposition between this phrase and the word hal?kóta. One could not “bring back from death” a man who had already been “caught (by death).” [49]   It is also well worth noting the role of sophía, “wisdom,” in this passage. With different words Pindar seems to have preserved something very old – namely, the connection between nóos and néomai. Wisdom is connected with “bringing back from death,” although not even the wisdom of Asclepius could bring back one who was caught by death. [50]  


The meaning “he will bring back from death,” of the form nései in xviii 265, brings transitive né? in line with intrasitive néomai. It is significant that xviii 265 pertains to Odysseus, whose “return from death” was studied in the last chapter. Of course Homer, who uses this line in connection with a “return from war,” has lost the line’s original context along with its original wording. From the point of view of context, the secondary line xv 300 – hormaín?n ? ken thánaton phúgoi Ê ken hal??i, “pondering whether he would escape death or die,” has remained closer to the original meaning of the root nes-. In the passage preceding xv 300, Telemachus takes on board his ship the seer Theoclymenus, and following Athena’s command (nuktì d’ homÔs pleíein, in xv 34) he sails for home by night (xv 296). His voyage home is thus a passage through darkness to light, and is made in the company of one whose presence reflects the original role of nóos.

In light of these remarks the line tÔi ouk o?d’ ? kén me nései theòs Ê ken hal?? may justly be separated from its context. Like the refrain containing the phrase ásmenoi ek thanátoio, xviii 265 no longer fits its context if the root nes– is given its full force. It was argued earlier that the line containing ásmenoi goes back far beyond the Homeric period; it is now suggested that xviii 265, with some variation in the first foot-and-a-half, is likewise very old. Some points in the language cause uncertainty, but nothing more; the formulaic pattern of the line is a stronger argument for its antiquity. [51]   If this view is correct, then one point in my previous argument should be modified. The syntax of xviii 265 would be more archaic if nései were a subjunctive rather than a modal indicative. [52]   As it happens, the form may easily represent an original subjunctive of the sigmatic aorist. [53]   The ultimate status of nései (or anései) as a future form would have to do with subsequent changes in both the morphological and syntactic systems of Greek.

The next problem is to determine the relative age of transitive né? and, if its antiquity be granted, of the line represented by xviii 265. From the Indo-European standpoint, Greek néomai belongs to a class of verbs that are media tantum. When such verbs develop active forms, this process occurs only within the individual languages. Hence the verb né? must have been created within Greek itself. Whether it was created during or after the period of common Greek cannot be told.

The form nései in xviii 265, at any rate, must be later than the supposed dialectal split into northern and southern Greek, [54]   for the form would otherwise have preserved its original double sigma. The important question now is how early the double sigma was simplified in the southern group. Although this cannot be dated precisely, a recent study makes it appear that the simplification took place before the attested stage of Mycenean Greek. [55]   This means that in theory the line represented by xviii 265 could be older than the Linear-B tablets.

On the basis of these observations, one may attempt a relative chronology for the development of transitive né?. At this point we return to Nestor, who in fact occupies a crucial place in the chronology to be proposed. I suggest that one should begin with the name Nést?r, composed of nothing more than the verbal root and the agent suffix –t?r; this name could go back to Common Greek if not beyond. [56]   The figure to whom this name belonged was doubtless mythological, and his function was conceived to be that of “bringing back to life and light.” The suffix –t?r, moreover, gave to his name a strong verbal rection. [57]   Thus the transitive force of his name could easily have led to the creation of a new transitive verb né?, which was almost certainly restricted to hieratic contexts. Such a context is still apparent in xviii 265, where the subject of nései is theós, “the god.” [58]  

The implication of this argument is that Nést?r was once a hieratic name, reflecting the hieratic connotations of the root nes-. But the same is not true of the name Nehél?wos, attested for Mycenean Greek. This name, which from its form also appears to be old, [59]   attests a secular acceptation of the root nes– (see chap. 2, sect. 1, conclusion). Thus the two names in question are on very different levels, and it is difficult to see how they could have belonged to an actual father and son, by the method so often assumed, in the late Mycenean era. For this to be the case would one not have to assume a previous effacement of the hieratic acceptation of the root nes-? Such an eventuality is possible if xviii 265 goes back to a very early time; whether or not this eventuality is likely is a question for others to decide. [60]  

Since Nestor’s origins are to be found in myth, a final question arises concerning his original mythological status. Are we entitled to consider him a god? Since we know so little about the period of his origin, the question is perhaps presumptuous, but attention can at least be drawn to certain indications. The first of these is the word theós in xviii 265; as subject of a verb which is closely related to Nestor’s name there appears the word “god.” A second indication is the impression gained from Homer that Nestor alone defied the famous dictum of Glaucus (VI 146 ff.) that the generation of men is like the generation of leaves. For Nestor, when he is met in Homer, has survived the passing of not only one, but two generations. In the following lines from the Iliad (I 250 ff.) Nestor is represented as the sole survivor from a former era:

τ? δ? ?δη δ?ο μ?ν γενεα? μερ?πων ?νθρ?πων
?φθ?αθ?, ο? ο? πρ?σθεν ?μα τρ?φεν ?δ? ?γ?νοντο
?ν Π?λ? ?γαθ??, μετ? δ? τριτ?τοισιν ?νασσεν.

For him two generations of mortal men had already passed away, those born and raised with him in holy Pylos, and now he was king among the third.

Taking this passage literally, one cannot think that Homer simply means that Nestor is over sixty years old, for two entire generations do not vanish in so short a time.


There is a second reference to Nestor’s survival from generation to generation in the Odyssey. Of the following lines (iii 245-46) which Telemachus addresses to Athena, the second is especially revealing:

τρ?ς γ?ρ δ? μ?ν φασιν ?ν?ξασθαι γ?νε? ?νδρ?ν,
?ς τ? μοι ?θ?νατος ?νδ?λλεται ε?σορ?ασθαι.

They say that he has ruled during three generations of men; thus he seems to me to be an immortal to look upon.

When Telemachus gazes at Nestor, the latter seems to him to be “immortal.” We already share this impression ourselves, but what makes us do so the more is the fact that no tradition has survived concerning Nestor’s death. The only minor blemish on this argumentum ex silentio is the mention in Pausanias 4.62.3 of a mnÊma, “monument, tomb,” within the Messenian city of Pylos which was said to belong to Nestor.


Thus Nestor “seems” to have been immortal. But there may be other reasons for hesitating to call him a god. Benveniste has argued that the suffix –t?r serves to signify “un mérite actuel, non une virtualité,” which makes it an appropriate component of a man’s name. [61]   One wonders whether the same factor does not render the suffix inappropriate in a god’s name. A name that comes to mind is Kást?r, but this example is ambiguous in that Castor was considered the mortal son, and Polydeuces the immortal son, of their fathers Tyndareus and Zeus.

Another name that comes to mind is Mént?r. Mentor is not a god in the Odyssey; but, significantly, it is his likeness that Athena assumes when she accompanies Telemachus. The name is a very close parallel to Nést?r; it, too, contains the root of an intransitive verb in a transitive sense – the sense “to put in mind” – and its meaning is likewise connected with mental activity. Perhaps we should view Nestor, like Mentor, as neither wholly human nor wholly divine, but as something in between.

This, at any rate, accords with the picture Homer gives of Nestor when the latter, at the end of his story in Iliad 11, says that his restored people gave glory to Zeus among gods and to Nestor among men (761):

π?ντες δ? ε?χετ?ωντο θε?ν Δι? Ν?στορ? τ? ?νδρ?ν.

Nestor includes himself among men, but the mere fact that he is glorified like Zeus raises him toward Zeus’s level.


Even if a good possibility remains that Nestor was originally a god, we may rest content with what clearly emerges from Iliad 11 – namely, that he was at least mythological. Like the Phaeacians, who were seen in the last chapter to perform the same function of “bringing back to life,” the Homeric Nestor does not belong entirely either to the world of gods or to the world of men.

 1. G. Curtius, Grundzüge der griechischen Etymologie (Leipzig, 1869), p. 294; P. Kretschmer, “Mythische Namen,” Glotta 4 (1913): 308-309; J. B. Hofmann, Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Griechischen (Munich, 1949), s.v. néomai; L. R. Palmer, Eranos 54 (1956): 7 ff., also his The Interpretation of Mycenean Greek Texts (Oxford, 1963), pp. 79-80; A. Heubeck, Beiträge zur Namenforschung 8 (1957): 28; H. Mühlestein, “Namen von Neleiden auf Pylostäfelchen” (chap. 1, n. 7), p. 158; M. Durante, “Νε?λεως e Νηλε?ς,” Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici 21, no. 3 (1967): 36; C. J. Ruijgh, Études sur la grammaire et le vocabulaire du grec mycénien (chap. 2, n. 27), pp. 369-370; H. Frisk (chap. 1, n. 4), s.v. néomai.    back
 2. M. Ventris and J. Chadwick, Documents in Mycenean Greek² (Cambridge, 1973), p. 421.    back
 3. L.R. Palmer, Eranos (n. 1), pp. 9 ff.    back
 4. On the archaic form of these compounds, see C. Watkins, Indogermanische Grammatik, vol. 3, pt. 1 (Heidelberg, 1969), pp. 94-95.    back
 5. H. Mühlestein, “Namen von Neleiden auf Pylostäfelchen” (chap. 1, n. 7), p. 158.    back
 6. For a detailed investigation, see R. Cantieni, Die Nestorerzählung im XI. Gesang der Ilias (Zurich, 1942).    back
 7. The actual description of the spoil, including cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats, seems to be stock in nature; cf. the parallel description of Odysseus’s possessions in xiv 100 ff.    back
 8. According to R. Cantieni (n. 6), p. 64, mention of this incident represents a later interpolation into Nestor’s original story; see sect. 3 below for further suspected interpolations.    back
 9. Cf. the frequent Homeric formula hup’ augàs ?elíoio, “under the rays of the sun.”    back
 10. Theocritus 25.88 ff.:

α?τ?ρ ?πειτα β?ες μ?λα μυρ?αι ?λλαι ?π? ?λλαις
?ρχ?μεναι φα?νονθ? ?σε? ν?φη ?δατ?εντα,
?σσα τ? ?ν ο?ραν? ε?σιν ?λαυν?μενα προτ?ρωσε
?? Ν?τοιο β?? ?? Θρ?κ?ς Βορ?αο.

Then the cattle came thousand upon thousand like watery clouds driven forward through the sky by the force of the south wind or the north wind from Thrace.


 11. As Geryon, for example, is slain by Heracles; cf. chap. 3, sect 2 above.    back
 12. Pausanias 4.36.2-3:

κα? σπ?λαι?ν ?στιν ?ντ?ς τ?ς π?λεως· βο?ς δ? ?ντα?θα τ?ς Ν?στορος κα? ?τι πρ?τερον Νηλ?ως φασ?ν α?λ?ζεσθαι· ε?η δ? ?ν Θεσσαλικ?ν τ? γ?νος τ?ν βο?ν το?των, ?φ?κλου ποτ? το? Πρωτεσιλ?ου πατρ?ς· τα?τας γ?ρ δ? τ?ς βο?ς Νηλε?ς ?δνα ?π? τ? θυγατρ? ?τει το?ς μνωμ?νους.

And there is a cave inside the city; they say that here the cattle of Nestor, and earlier those of Neleus, were stabled; these cattle would have been Thessalian in origin, as they once belonged to Iphiclus, the father of Protesilaus; for Neleus demanded these cattle as the bride-price for his daughter from her suitors.


 13. See chap. 3, sect. 3 above; cf. also chap. 2, sect. 1.    back
 14. See chap. 3, sect 2 above, where the Apollonian prophet Euenius is also discussed.    back
 15. The myth in which Melampus is involved seems to reflect historical ties between Thessaly and the western Peloponnesus in the Mycenean age; cf. M. P. Nilsson, The Mycenean Origin of Greek Mythology (Berkeley, Calif., 1932), pp. 141-47.    back
 16. In Iliad 11, Nestor brings the cattle back from Elis, whereas his cave is in Pylos. Perhaps relevant to discovering the underlying myth is the fact that there were three cities in the western Peloponnesus named Pylos, in Messenia, Triphylia, and Elis; the name Pylos appears to have a mythological connection with the “gates” to the underworld (see below in text), and the fact that there was more than one city of this name perhaps suggests a belief in different points of entrance and exit from the underworld.    back
 17. “Die merkwürdige Tatsache, dass mehrere Namen um Pylos und Neleus Hadesbeziehungen ausdrücken. . . ”: H. Mühlestein, “Namen von Neleiden auf Pylostäfelchen” (chap. 1, n. 7), p. 169 n. 49.    back
 18. Cf. Hesychius, periklúmenos: ho Ploút?n (god of the underworld).    back
 19. Hesiod says that Nestor was in Gerenia at the time of Heracles’ attack, cf. frags. 34 and 35 in Fragmenta Hesiodea, ed. R. Merkelbach and M.L. West (Oxford, 1967).    back
 20. The fact that it is Athena who comes with the “forewarning” seems significant, since the patron deity of Pylos was Poseidon; perhaps Athena’s role has to do with nóos in this episode, as it does in the final homecoming of Odysseus (see chap. 3, sect. 4 above).    back
 21. That hippóta Nést?r, “the horseman Nestor,” is deprived of his own horses and forced to get new ones is an interesting, and perhaps a significant, detail. See chap. 3, n. 72 below for remarks on the possible significance of Nestor’s epithet “the horseman.”    back
 22. See n. 6 above.    back
 23. For the location of Bouprasion, see Cantieni, pp. 43 ff.; for his discussion of the interpolated passages, pp. 36-57.    back
 24. Whatever the second element of this name has to do with (práson, “leek”?), the first element has to do with “cattle.”    back
 25. Cf. M. Durante (n. 1), p. 34: “Si tratta di una persona di condizione modesta, che viene citata a proposito di una assegnazione di frumento e di olive.” [“It is a matter of a person of modest state, who is cited in connection with an allotment of grain or olives.”]    back
 26. L. R. Palmer, Eranos (n. 1), p. 7.    back
 27. M. Durante (n. 1); Palmer, Eranos (n. 1), p. 7, simply calls N?leús a “short form” of Nehél?wos.    back
 28. Durante, p. 33.    back
 29. J. Wackernagel, Berliner philologische Wochenschrift (1891), cols. 6-7; Durante, p. 40 n. 29 allows other possibilities as well.    back
 30. Summarized from Durante, pp. 35-41.    back
 31. Durante says eight of ten instances (p. 37); the figures should be seven of eleven.    back
 32. Palmer, Eranos, p. 7; Durante, p. 36; Mühlestein (chap. 1, n. 7), p. 158.    back
 33. “Un bell’esempio della consuetudine, greca e indoeuropea, di dare al figlio un nome che ripetesse in parte quello paterno”: Durante, p. 36.    back
 34. G. Macurdy, “Homeric Names in -tor,” Classical Quarterly 23 (1929): 23-27.    back
 35. P. Kretschmer, Glotta 20 (1932): 230: “Ich meine, es handelt sich hier nicht um gewöhnliche Kurzformen, für die ein Suffix mit einer stets bewahrten Funktion wie -τωρ sonst nicht üblich ist, sondern man könnte höchstens annehmen, der Kürze halber sei das Kompositum durch ein gleichbedeutendes Nomen agentis ersetzt worden”; cf. also A. Heubeck (n. 1), p. 29, who agrees with Kretschmer, and who also draws attention to Illyrian names ending in –tor (Aetor, Buctor, Daetor, Veitor, among others) as showing the antiquity of these names.    back
 36. Cf. D. B. Monro, Homer, Iliad Books XIII-XXIV² (Oxford, 1890), commentary on XIII 657 and XIV 209; I have been unable to find where Monro first proposed this derivation.    back
 37. Cf. M. Lejeune, Phonétique historique du mycénien et du grec ancien (Paris, 1972), p. 102.    back
 38. See below in text for further discussion.    back
 39. This would, in fact, have been close to the original sense of nései which I propose (see below in text).    back
 40. See n. 13 above for page references.    back
 41. See below in text.    back
 42. Formulaic in II 374, IV 291, and XIII 816.    back
 43. For the notion of death as “seizing” its victims, cf. Hesiod Theogony 765-66, regarding Thánatos, “Death”:

               ?χει δ? ?ν πρ?τα λ?β?σιν

He holds fast any man that he first seizes.


 44. This passage is in fact a conflation of formulaic patterns; cf. IX 701-02:

?λλ? ?τοι κε?νον μ?ν ??σομεν, ? κεν ??σιν,
? κε μ?ν?.

But let us not concern ourselves with him, whether he goes or stays.


 45. There is a similar opposition in XXI 493 ff., in which a divinity is indirectly involved:

‘                              θε? φ?γεν ?ς τε π?λεια
? ?? θ? ?π? ?ρηκος κο?λην ε?σ?πτατο π?τρην,
χηραμ?ν· ο?δ? ?ρα τ? γε ?λ?μεναι α?σιμον ?εν.
’ ‘The goddess fled like a dove that flies into a hollow rock, a cave, away from a hawk; it is not destined for the dove to be caught (killed).’

Since the opposition does not apply directly to the “immortal” in question, hal?menai here, too, can mean “to be killed.”    back

 46. For a second instance of the opposition between katakte?nai and halÔnai, cf. XVII 506.    back
 47. Cf. Attic legal usage, in which hairé? means “convict,” halískomai “be convicted.”    back
 48. Thus LSJ, s.v. α?ρ?ω.    back
 49. In LSJ (s.v. ?λ?σκομαι), nós?i, “by disease,” rather than thanát?i, “by death,” is suggested as the word lost by ellipsis, but this would imply that any recovery from illness would offend Zeus.    back
 50. Another point to be noticed in this passage is the context of illness and healing, for this is the semantic sphere of German genesen, “get well,” one of the cognates of néomai to be discussed in chap. 6.    back
 51. The alternative question markers ? κεν and ? κεν require some comment. It is assumed that Homeric ? and ? represent contractions of ?? and ?ε (cf. H. Frisk, Griechisches etymologisches Wörterbuch [chap. 1, n. 4], s.v. ?); the latter particles are from ?-?ε and *?-?ε, both containing the alternative marker *-we, as in Latin sive. It should be noted, however, that in Homer the particle κεν also serves as an alternative marker (cf. P. Chantraine, Grammaire homérique [Paris, 1963], 2: 21 and 295). In the sequence ? κεν . . . ? κεν, the particle -?ε would therefore be redundant, and it is best simply to posit the particle ? by itself; for this interjectional and interrogative particle, see E. Schwyzer and A. Debrunner, Griechische Grammatik (Munich, 1950), 2: 546-47. The Homeric formulaic evidence, furthermore, favors ? κεν and ? κεν as older forms than (?? κεν) and ?? κεν. Further examples of ? κεν and ? κεν, to add to those quoted in the text above, are found in XIII 742-43, XX 311, and XXI 226; cf. also XXII 244 ff. By contrast, ?? κεν seems to occur only once (xxiv 218). It is also necessary to draw attention to the etymological digamma in the verb ?λ?ω in xviii 265, and to suggest that the sequence ? κεν ?λ?ω, if it is old, must originally have contained a preconsonantal form of the particle *k? (zero-grade of κεν); see L.R. Palmer, “The Language of Homer,” in A Companion to Homer, ed. A.J.B. Wace and F.H. Stubbings (London, 1963), pp. 90 ff.    back
 52. Cf. P. Chantraine, Grammaire homérique, 2: 225.    back
 53. The sigmatic aorist, as an athematic formation, originally had a short-vowel subjunctive; for dialect forms of a third-singular subjunctive in -σει, see C. D. Buck, The Greek Dialects² (Chicago, 1955), pp. 119-20.    back
 54. I.e., the split proposed by E. Risch, “Die Gliederung der griechischen Dialekte in neuer Sicht,” (chap. 2, n. 13).    back
 55. G. Nagy, Greek Dialects and the Transformation of an Indo-European Process (Cambridge, 1970), pp. 135, 142.    back
 56. Cf. n. 35 above for Illyrian names in –t?r.    back
 57. See É. Benveniste, Noms d’agent et noms d’action en indo-européen (Paris, 1948), pp. 28 ff., 62.    back
 58. Gregory Nagy has pointed out to me a strong parallel for the active formation. Aristotle, de Caelo 305a11, distinguishes between the two verbs sbénnusthai and maraínesthai – whereas sbénnusthai is used in relation to a fire which is put out by someone, maraínesthai is used of a fire which goes out by itself; nevertheless, maraínesthai is put in an active form in Hymn to Hermes 140, with Hermes (i.e., a god) as the subject: anthrakí?n d’ emárane, “he extinguished the burning embers.” There is another interesting example in the verbs khráomai, “to consult an oracle,” and khrá?, “to give an oracle”; the active verb khrá? was created from the middle verb khráomai, and the subjects of the active verb are limited to the gods and their prophets.    back
 59. See n. 4 above.    back
 60. For another attempt to explain the development of a transitive né?, cf. A. Heubeck (n. 1), p. 30. Heubeck starts from the Mycenean form netijano, interpreted as Nestián?r, the first part of which was originally an abstract noun (*néstis), representing either an action noun or a personification within the compound itself; the name would thus have originally meant “happy home-coming of men.” Subsequently, however, the first member would have been felt to have a transitive verbal force. While this argument is plausible in itself, it does not explain the transitive force of the root nes– in the old name Nestor, which should be reckoned with first. This is an appropriate place to mention another Mycenean name that may contain the root nes-. Mühlestein (chap. 1, n. 7), p. 157, cites a form pironeta, which he interprets, hesitantly, as *Philo-nes-tas, “he who saves his dear ones” (“der seine Lieben rettet”). If this is correct, one should note (as Mühlestein does) the similarity in formation to Polu-dék-t?s, an epithet of the god Hades (cf. sect. 3 above for remarks on Nestor and his brother Periclymenus).    back
 61. É. Benveniste (n. 57), p. 55.    back

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