A Poetic Etymology of Pietas in the Aeneid

Leonard Muellner
A reminiscence, to begin with: of a dozen graduate students and Greg, meeting as usual, after a Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin class in “friendly” Lehman Hall, for coffee and talk; a hall the size of a railroad station waiting room, all of us on either side of one of a dozen long, rectangular tables that filled it, apart from a cafeteria line at one end. In connection with nothing that I can recall, Greg says that there is no etymology of Latin pius. Silence. Nothing comes to mind, though in those days, we were trying to feel a bit empowered. So the problem was that no one had yet found the etymology of pius. It’s all of 45 years later, and the problem has been acceptably resolved, [1] but I still have something to propose about it and the noun derived from it that seems appropriate to this occasion, that may illustrate an interesting methodological concept, and that in the end may be as enlightening about the Iliad as the Aeneid.
My proposal is to expound a “poetic etymology” — not a folk etymology, but one that reflects a different process that is both linguistic and literary. I am suggesting that Virgil systematically re-semanticized fundamental terms in his models, one of which was, of course, the Homeric Iliad. Such a process — and it is important that it took place across two languages and their cultures and a significant period of time — is both a linguistic ‘translation’ process at the same time as it is a poetic one that is the dynamic by-product of a literary reception, of Virgil’s reading (in the complex sense of the term) of the Iliad. It is the result of the systematic way in which archaic Greek poetic language was understood and redeployed by a highly self-conscious, deeply learned verbal artist in Imperial Rome.

Pietas and Furor Functioning as Keywords of Thematic, Imagistic Complexes in the Aeneid

It is news to no one that within the Aeneid, and not necessarily anywhere else in the literary history that preceded it, [2] the adjective pius and its noun pietas are key terms, vital elements of a complex of ideas, terms, and imagery that the hero continually encounters in his narrative trajectory through the poetic world in which he moves. As the luminous studies of Michael Putnam and others have made clear, [3] pietas represents a hard-won ideal of self-mastery that includes respect for higher powers, a hero’s sense of duty to the history of his people as inscribed by fate, a willing submission of personal needs and wants to the long destiny of Rome, especially as manifested in the patriarchal obligations of fathers to sons and sons to fathers. In addition, the hero who is pius strives to attain the ability to resist, control, or suppress the powerful set of emotions ranging from sexual desire to murderous violence that are expressed by the words and images related to the keyword that is the opposite of pietas, namely furor and its derivatives and synonyms: they are associated with self-destructive behavior, often coupled with frenzied, brutal killing of others, an utter loss of self-control, and a refusal to accept the demands of fate and the higher powers.
The conflicting forces that these terms represent confront the reader in exemplary fashion in the first scene of the poem, when the destiny of Aeneas and his fleet, their ability to reach Italy and found a city, and thus their fated future, is menaced by a sudden, violent storm roused by the angry goddess Juno. [4] She is a character who embodies all the stubborn jealousy, rage, hostility to higher authority, and unconstrained destructiveness that are the hallmarks of furor, along with the imagery of death and destruction, blood, snakes, wind, fire — the earthly fire that consumes and destroys, not the celestial one that plays over the head of Iulus and does anything but harm (II.679-686). Here she enlists the wind god Aeolus, whose function is to forcibly subdue (uentos tempestatesque…imperio premit ac uinclis et carcere frenat I.53-54 ) and release the winds, which are raging elements that are inherently out of control (furentibus Austris, I.50; indignantes, I. 55; animos…iras, I. 57) and capable of destroying everything in their path (I.58-59). Juno bribes this god to unleash them upon Aeneas’ fleet with the offer of sexual favors in the form of Deiopeia, the most beautiful of her fourteen nymphs, all with outstanding bodies (praestanti corpore, I. 71), sexual desire being another irresistible force that overwhelms restraints. In doing so, Juno undermines the sovereignty of Neptune over his unruly element and disturbs the order of the world (I. 139-141: Neptune has won by lot imperium of the sea, Aeolus only of the island rock that imprisons the winds). [5] So once Neptune realizes what is happening from the depths, he immediately chases off the winds, calms the sea, and the sun comes out. The whole natural event is then encapsulated in a political metaphor, as follows:

ac ueluti magno in populo cum saepe coorta est
seditio saevitque animis ignobile uulgus
iamque faces et saxa uolant, furor arma ministrat;
tum pietate grauem ac meritis si forte uirum quem
conspexere, silent arrectisque auribus astant;
ille regit dictis animos et pectora mulcet:
sic cunctus pelagi cecidit fragor, aequora postquam
prospiciens genitor caeloque inuectus aperto
flectit equos curruque uolans dat lora secundo.

Aeneid I.148-156
Just as in a large mob when, ever so often, has arisen
a rebellion, and the low-born populace rages in their minds,
and now torches and rocks fly, furor supplies weapons;
then if, by chance, some man laden with pietas and well-deserved rewards
they spy, they grow silent and stand still, ears erect;
he rules their minds with his words and soothes their breasts:
so all the roaring of the sea subsided, once its expanse
was surveyed by the father, as borne along under a clear sky
he steers his horses, and flying in the chariot that they draw, he gives them free rein.

So we witness for the first time the conflicting forces interacting on a divine level that collaterally afflict mortals with their destructive consequences. These forces are then reflected in a microcosmic, metaphorical, embedded narrative that actually turns into the focus of the poem’s narrative, the story of a man laden with pietas struggling with his own inner forces of furor as well as its external expressions in divine, individual, and communal forms.

The Rule of Exclusivity in the Functional Opposition between Pietas and Furor

Such are the constitutive elements of the epic, and after a while, we learn that there is a rule of exclusivity to their oppositional aspect. For instance, affect is discouraged if not disallowed in pius relationships, while there are uncontrollable cravings and overwhelming affect in furor relationships. Notoriously, there is never an expression of affection by Aeneas for Lavinia, but also love is only rarely expressed even for Ascanius. On the one occasion where Aeneas embraces and kisses his son, the boy is armed, Aeneas has just put on his own armor, and he actually kisses his son’s helmet (12.432-434). By contrast, Aeneas is embraced physically and even erotically by Pallas, son of Evander, the young Greek man who admires him and to whom he stands as a father, which he is not (VIII.124). [6] Or again, because of the demands of pietas, Aeneas must lose his wife, Creusa, on his way out of Troy. In a pattern typical of the earlier parts of the Aeneid, he loses sight of her since she walks behind (pone subit coniunx, II.715) while he carries his father and holds his son’s hand, a configuration that itself expresses the priority of the obligatory relationship of father to son as compared to the affective one, for his wife. We learn of their affection when he realizes that she has mysteriously disappeared on their way out of the flaming city (II.738-740). Entrusting his father, his son, and their gods to his companions, Aeneas once again straps on his armor and rushes madly into the burning city to find her, running the kind of dangerous, suicidal risks and experiencing the kind of horror and terror (II.749-770) that earlier in the narrative of Book II he had finally set aside in order to save himself and his family. When Creusa finally appears to him as a larger-than-life ghost, she chides him for indulging in insano dolori (II.776), tells him to banish his tears for Creusa, as though she was not present (lacrimas dilectae pelle Creusae, II.784), and speaks prophetically of the royal wife who awaits him in Italy. In other words, she attempts to substitute his destiny and the obligatory relationship to Lavinia for his now and forever lost affection for her. [7] In the first of a series of reprises of Achilles’ inability to embrace the ghost of Patroclus, his beloved companion, in Iliad 23.97-102, Aeneas tries to embrace her three times but in vain, since she was ‘most like light winds and fleeting sleep’ (par leuibus ventis uolucrique simillima somno, II.794). This scene is actually prefigured by Aeneas’ bitter, pitiful response when he realizes that his mother, Venus (who incarnates sexuality, that is to say a natural force utterly identified with furor), has appeared to him in disguise as the sexless hunter goddess Diana at I.408-409 (cur dextrae iungere dextram / non datur ac veras audire et reddere voces? ‘why is it not granted to join right hand to right and to hear and return true voices?’). Aeneas qua hero of pietas must experience and embrace the loss of affection rather than its possession.
We again see manifestations of the same mutually exclusive oppositional syntax in the tale of Dido’s death: when the self-destructive fire of passionate love within her emerges as the fire of her funeral pyre, she cannot actually die. As a person invested with furor by Venus, she is by definition hostile to fatum, to Aeneas’ destiny to be sure, but even to her own wished-for death, which should not have happened at this point in her life. So a dea ex machina, Iris the rainbow goddess, is sent from heaven by Juno to effectuate the impossible (nam quia nec fato merita nec morte peribat, / sed misera ante diem subitoque accensa furore…IV.696-705).
I offer one last example of this rule of exclusivity. At the start of the last book of the Aeneid, the aged Latinus makes a speech intended to temper the raging fury of his daughter’s suitor, Turnus, and to bring the conflict with Aeneas to a close. Here is the heart of his speech and its conclusion:

“me natam nulli ueterum sociare procorum
fas erat, idque omnes diuique hominesque canebant.
uictus amore tui, cognato sanguine [8] uictus
30coniugis et maestae lacrimis, uincla omnia rupi;
promissam eripui genero, arma inpia sumpsi.
ex illo qui me casus, qua, Turne, sequantur
bella, uides, quantos primus patiare labores.
bis magna uicti pugna uix urbe tuemur
35spes Italas; recalent nostro Thybrina fluenta
sanguine adhuc campique ingentes ossibus albent.
quo referor totiens? quae mentem insania mutat?
si Turno exstincto socios sum ascire paratus,
cur non incolumi potius certamina tollo?
40quid consanguinei Rutuli, quid cetera dicet
Italia, ad mortem si te (fors dicta refutet!)
prodiderim, natam et conubia nostra petentem?
respice res bello uarias, miserere parentis
longaeui, quem nunc maestum patria Ardea longe

Aeneid XII.27-45
“…that I wed my daughter to none of her former suitors
was ordained, so all gods and men foretold.
But overcome by my love of you, overcome by our ties of blood
and the tears of my mourning wife, I broke all bonds;
I ripped his betrothed from my [prospective] son-in-law, I took up impious arms.
From that day, Turnus, you see what disasters, what wars
pursue me, what great tasks you above all take on.
Our city twice conquered in battle, we can barely protect
the hopes of the Italians; the Tiber’s streams are warm with our
blood still, and the great fields are white with our bones.
What am I slipping back to so often? What madness changes my mind?
If I am prepared to accept them as allies with Turnus dead,
why not instead end the struggle with him safe and sound?
What will your kinsmen, the Rutuli, what will the rest
of Italy say, if — may chance refute these words — I should hand you over
to death as you seek my daughter in marriage?
Consider the ups and downs of war, take pity on your parent,
aged as he is, mourning as he is, afar in Ardea?”
In accounting for his past behavior, Latinus’s speech begins with the language of furor: the contradiction of what is ordained and fated (fas erat, canēbant, 28), the bursting of bonds (uincla omnia rupi, 30), people overwhelmed by passionate desire (amor, 29), resulting in impious arms (impia arma, 31), repeated self-destructive defeat (uictus…uictus, 29; bis uicti, 34), death to one’s own forces on a massive scale (35-36), and madness (insania, 37). As he tries to turn himself and Turnus away from this path to a rational, life-saving decision and acceptance of what is destined, Latinus concludes with an appeal to Turnus’ pietas towards his father: miserere parentis/longaeui, quem nunc maestum patria Ardea longe/diuidit (45-46) ‘take pity on your parent in his old age…afar in Ardea.’ [9] But as is predictable from the rule of exclusivity, the response Latinus receives makes it plain how the furor of Turnus is not appeased but exacerbated by an appeal to what pietas represents, namely rationality, destiny, and active respect for the sorrow of one’s father:

…haudquaquam dictis uiolentia Turni
flectitur; exsuperat magis aegrescitque medendo.

Aeneid XII.45-46
…in no way whatsoever by these words was the violence of Turnus
deflected; it takes command even more and grows ill for the healing.

As noted earlier, the exceptionally strong word uiolentia is used only of Turnus, and the oxymoron aegrescit medendo iconifies the impossibility of synthesis or mitigation. [10]

A Poetic Etymology of Furor

It is not controversial to say that the semantic field of furor and its associated words and images is a “Virgilian transformation” of the Iliadic theme of mēnis, though I wish to argue that it is more systematic than that wording implies. Significantly, the anti-type to Aeneas, Turnus of Ardea (cf. ardeō ‘be on fire’), leader of the Rutuli (phonetic variant of rutilus, -a, -um ‘blood-red, fiery red-orange’), who is the embodiment of furor in the second half of the Aeneid, is designated as the equivalent to saeuus Achilles (‘now another Achilles has been born,/himself also born from a goddess’ alius iam partus Achilles, /natus et ipse dea VI.89-90). This is true even if, at other subtler levels, Aeneas himself can embody aspects of Achilles as well, and even if Turnus’s behavior recalls the way Aeneas portrayed himself in the earlier narrative of Book II. In the Iliad, Achilles describes anger as something that is much sweeter than honey and that swells like smoke in men’s chests (ὅς τε πολὺ γλυκίων μέλιτος καταλειβομένοιο/ἀνδρῶν ἐν στήθεσσιν ἀέξεται ἠΰτε καπνός· Iliad 18.109-110). Although it is clear that the aristocratic Roman hero is susceptible to that kind of frontal emotionality, he needs to master it in the Stoic manner, while Greek epic heroes value a different kind of restraint, so there are differences of culture as well as quality that effect the systematic “translation” of mēnis into furor. The cultural adaptation of mēnis has many dimensions: like it, furor is a thing abroad in the world, a natural force that grabs hold of humans and gods and doesn’t easily let go. However, instead of being a response to a disturbance in the cosmic order ruled by Zeus and the basic rules of nature and humanity as constructed in the Homeric world, [11] furor has become, in the Aeneid, the thing that actually threatens to disturb the cosmic arrangement of divine power and the good order of human society in its Roman manifestation. [12] By contrast, pietas and the violent suppression of furor is the realization of the world’s destiny, the path to imperium sine fine (’empire without limit’ I.279) and a pacified world with Furor writhing in chains, as Jupiter himself predicts will occur in the time of Augustus (I.278-296).
What Virgil has done to generate furor from mēnis is an example of what I am calling a poetic etymology. We can already see that it is a systematic transformation of the Homeric term, in that the changes are interconnected, and we are about to show that these are part of a larger system. What has been kept in the transformative process is as interesting as what has been changed, and a comparison with the Homeric “model” provides a background against which to perceive its significant aspects. For instance, another manifestation of the relationship between furor concepts and mēnis is the character of Juno, her saeva indignatio ‘savage resentment’ and cruel, unrelenting ira ‘wrath’ which are the motivating principle for the external expressions of furor that continually threaten Aeneas, especially in the latter books of his poem. In this instance, Virgil combines the Homeric concept of ritual antagonism to the hero (Apollo vs. Achilles, Poseidon vs. Odysseus, etc.) with the notion of a god’s mēnis already inherent in the Greek model of the mēnis of Zeus or Apollo. [13] Juno’s wrath is in turn the divine instrument whose human component is the beautiful young Italian warrior, Turnus.

Proposal for a Poetic Etymology of Pietas

Given a plausible literary-historical path from Homeric mēnis to Virgilian furor, it is perhaps not unnatural to ask this question: if mēnis is the “poetic etymon” of furor, what is the equivalent for pius, pietas? In terms of the way pius and pietas function in Homer and in the Aeneid, there is one obvious choice: the Greek adjective philos and its abstract noun philotēs, which is systematically and literally opposed to mēnis. Before going on to discuss the semantics of this hypothetical connection, it is worth noting that Virgil’s aesthetic is highly compatible with double meanings, puns on words and names, including bilingual puns between Greek and Latin words and names, as has been noted and catalogued by Thomas, O’Hara, and Paschalis, among others; furthermore, there is evidence for the aspirated pronunciation of initial p- in Latin, so that the sounds of pietas and philotēs may well qualify as paronomastic. [14]
On the level of meaning, the contrast between mēnis and philotēs has an overarching structural role in the Iliad that encapsulates the trials of Achilles in a way that is similar to the role of the conflict between furor and pietas for the hero of the Aeneid. The mēnis of Achilles alienates him from the Achaeans, his wider social group, whose role in the disastrous conduct of Agamemenon he criticizes and which he explicitly wishes to subject to lethal harm (Iliad 1.231-244; 338-344); at the same time, Achilles’ mēnis binds him to his mother, at the expense of the host of fighting men. Even so, he is unable to sustain his own antisocial behavior, which harms his thumos from the moment mēnis takes him over (1.488-492). Achilles is continually spying on activities on the battlefield from scrolls 3 to 11 until finally, and decisively, he sends Patroclus out to discover if it was really Makhaon, the healer, who was wounded, at Iliad 11.602-615. That moment is the beginning of the aristeia of Patroklos, as signaled by the expression ἔκμολεν ἶσος Ἄρηι (‘he went out equal to Ares,’ 11.604) applied to him; [15] thus the poet alerts us of this very early, but Patroclus’ literal role as a fighting warrior does not begin until he puts on Achilles’ armor (everything, at least, but his spear) and sets foot on the battlefield five scrolls later, in scroll 16. At that point, the narrator tells us this about the response of the Trojans to their first sight of Patroclus dressed in Achilles’ armor:
Τρῶες δ’ ὡς εἴδοντο Μενοιτίου ἄλκιμον υἱὸν
αὐτὸν καὶ θεράποντα σὺν ἔντεσι μαρμαίροντας,
πᾶσιν ὀρίνθη θυμός, ἐκίνηθεν δὲ φάλαγγες
ἐλπόμενοι παρὰ ναῦφι ποδώκεα Πηλεΐωνα
μηνιθμὸν μὲν ἀπορρῖψαι, φιλότητα δ’ ἑλέσθαι ·
πάπτηνεν δὲ ἕκαστος ὅπῃ φύγοι αἰπὺν ὄλεθρον.
When the Trojans beheld the stout son of Menoitios
him and his henchman sparkling with their weapons and armor,
the spirit in all of them was stirred, and the ranks shifted,
since they thought that beside the ships the swift-footed son of Peleus
had cast aside his mēnis and chosen philotēs;
each one looked around for a way to flee sheer destruction.
I have described Achilles’ trajectory from mēnis to philotēs in detail elsewhere. [16] Suffice it to say here that the Iliad turns on a motif in the story of Meleagros as told to Achilles in scroll 9 by his teacher Phoinix and attested in local folklore traditions that have survived in Greece to the present era. [17] In those traditions, the person defined as most dear (philtatos) to a hero is his dearest friend, as against his closest blood-relative. That is the role played by Kleopatra in the Meleagros tale. Meleagros had withdrawn from battle and abandoned his people to the enemy because his mother cursed him for killing her brother — note that mother and brother are the hero’s blood relatives — whereupon Kleopatra, his wife and emphatically not a blood relative, persuades him to return and rescue his city at the very last moment, when attempts by all others, from priests to his father and even his mother and his dearest friends, have failed. The same role is played by Patroklos, whose name is derived from the same two nouns (kleos ‘glory’, patr– ‘ancestors’) as Kleopatra, Iliad scroll 16, with a critical difference: at the decisive moment cited above (Iliad 16.278-283), when the Trojans set fire to the ships, it is not Achilles himself but his dearest friend, Patroklos, who emerges from withdrawal to save the larger group, but he is dressed in Achilles’ armor. I have argued that the substitution reflects the metonymic relationship of these two characters to one another. The notion that friends are functionally ‘joined at the hip’, that they share in a single identity, is an aspect also of this culture’s own definition of the word philos. Proverbs in ancient sources define a friend as ἄλλος ἐγώ, literally, an alter ego, a ‘he’ who is at the same time ‘I’: philos is a person who is near and dear and attached in the same way as one’s own limbs are philoi in the parlance of epic. [18]
In the Aeneid, unlike mēnis, furor has become a force that only comes into play in relationships with those who are not related to Aeneas by blood: his wife, Dido, Pallas, Turnus, the Trojan women in Sicily who are unable to bear more than seven years of wandering before the founding of not Rome, not even Alba Longa, but Lavinium (V.604-663). For his relationship to his son and his father and his mother, furor is to be discouraged and suppressed. So when Aeneas tries to embrace Anchises in Book VI, his imago ‘image, mask’ disappears, like Creusa and Patroclus, into thin air.

ille autem: ‘tua me, genitor, tua tristis imago,
saepius occurrens haec limina tendere adegit;
stant sale Tyrrheno classes. da iungere dextram
da, genitor, teque amplexu ne subtrahe nostro.’
sic memorans largo fletu simul ora rigabat.
ter conatus ibi collo dare bracchia circum;
ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
par leuibus uentis uolucrique simillima somno.

Aeneid VI.695-702
and he responded: “You, father, your sad image,
coming to mind so often drove me to attain this gateway;
the fleet is at anchor in the Tyrhenian sea. Give me your right hand to join to mine,
give it, father, do not withdraw from my embrace.”
So speaking he drenched his face in a flood of tears.
Three times he tried to put his arms around his neck;
three times the image vainly grasped fled his hands,
so much like light winds and a fleeting dream.

The physical expression of affection is inadmissible in a relationship marked for pietas, as we have seen in Aeneas’ ‘kissing’ of Ascanius on the helmet. More movingly and more generally, the trajectory of the hero in the poem is a tale of pathos, of death, separation, and loss, because the hero of pietas, the son of Venus herself, must be trained to acquire an absence of affect in his relations to others whom he holds most dear.

In sum, what has happened in the Aeneid is that the notion of philotēs that is the ultimate goal for the hero of the Iliad, where philotēs applies to what we call friends, to those tied to each other by affection, as distinct from blood relatives, has almost become its opposite in being transformed into pietas. The key terms pius and pietas concern the hero’s ties to his blood relatives in the male line, to his son and father, and to the destiny of Rome (which is certainly a social obligation), and as such they apply to the dominant goals that he struggles to internalize and attain. Accordingly, they are stripped of affection, which has been assigned to furor, and physical and emotional connection to blood relatives is discouraged. Come to think of it, this transformation closely parallels what has happened to Iliadic mēnis, the rage that is the hallmark of the hero of the Iliad, Achilles. Since its descendant, furor, is the natural force that the hero is trying to master in himself and others, it becomes the hallmark of the hero’s ultimate enemy, Turnus, rather than his own. The twist in meaning from philotes to pietas is even more telling when we observe that Aeneas is actually mentioned in the Iliad as one of the very few heroes other than Achilles who has mēnis, where it is said to be aimed at no one less than Priam himself. Given the extended meaning of the word, this tiny nugget of information implies a whole otherwise unattested tradition that would place Aeneas in close parallel with Achilles against Agamemnon, who is after all the Achaean equivalent of Priam. [19] Furthermore, an intimate connection with mēnis and its consequences unites father and son in the Greek epic tradition. As we learn from the conclusion of the Hymn to Aphrodite, Anchises was a victim of the mēnis of Zeus for revealing his sexual encounter with the goddess Aphrodite — but he lived to survive it, though his inability to walk is probably the symptom of his encounter with the thunderbolt. [20] The theme of Homeric mēnis, however, was clearly not compatible with Virgil’s portrayal of Aeneas as a hero in the male line who bears not just his father, son, and the gods of his hearth, but also the destiny of his people on his shoulders from Troy. But the solution is clear: as mēnis is to furor, so philotēs is to pietas. Just as the primacy of ties of affection have been reassigned from philotes to furor, so the primacy of blood ties and relations to blood kin have been reassigned from mēnis to pietas. [21]
As we learn from the work of Ioannes Kakridis, however, other classical texts as well as modern fieldwork actually attest two forms of the motif that he calls the ascending scale of affection, both the one reflected in the stories of Meleagros, of Patroklos and Achilles, and of others in the Iliad, in which the person most dear is the person to whom one is tied by the strongest bonds of affection, plus another, in which the ties of blood are most dear. [22] The variant that we see in the semantics of pietas, which promotes above all the relationship of son to father and father to son as against to wife or to other persons based on affection, is parallel to the one attested in Antigone’s speech explaining why she buried her brother (Sophocles, Antigone 905-912). It also occurs in the tale of the wife of Intaphrenes in Herodotus 3.119, where it is again the brother who is preferred and which is often (and probably unnecessarily) thought to be the source of Sophocles’ text. In Modern Greek folklore like the folksong about the Bridge of Arta, the story is in complete conflict with the Iliadic variant in which it is the wife or best friend of the protagonist who is most dear: in this variant, all blood kin are preferable to one’s wife. There is a spirit who dwells in the earth, the story goes, who will not permit the bridge to stand unless a human victim is buried alive beneath it. In the version from Carpathos cited by Kakridis, all the workmen building the bridge draw lots, and it falls to the foreman to choose a member of his family as the sacrificial victim:

Τσ᾿ ήκαστε τσ᾿ ελοάριζε να ᾿ει μτοσιό θεν να ᾿άλει:
Να ᾿άλω γιώ τημ μάνναμ-μου, πού θά ᾿βρω άλλη μάννα;
Να ᾿άλω γιώ το τσύρημ-μου, πού θά ᾿βρω άλλο τσύρη;
Να ᾿άλω απού τ᾿ αέρμφια-μου, πού θά ᾿βρω άλλα αέρφια;
Να ᾿άλω τηγ γυναίκαμ-μου, τσ᾿ άλληγ γυναίκα βρίσκω.
And he sat down and bethought himself whom he should choose:
“Should I offer my mother, where can I find another mother?
Should I offer my father, where can I find another father?
Should I offer one of my brothers, where can I find another brother?
I shall offer my wife, since I can find another wife.” [23]

Concluding: More on Relations of Affection vs. Relations of Blood in Iliad and Aeneid

In the Iliad as well as the Aeneid, however, the situation is not as simple as my analysis to this point and folksongs like the one just cited may make it appear. Ajax’s decisive speech to Achilles (IX.632-638), the speech that moves Achilles to stop talking about going home and to adopt the model of Meleagros and wait until the fire reaches the ships before returning to battle, exhibits both versions of the motif. Earlier in scroll 9, Achilles had spoken of his attachment to Briseis. He told them that he loved her even though she was taken by the spear (phileon douriktētēn per eousan, IX.341-343). Ajax begins his speech by not even addressing Achilles, by referring to him in the third person singular, and he strongly deprecates Achilles’ refusal to accept compensation for Briseis. By line 636 Ajax is addressing him directly in the second person singular:

9.628    …αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς
9.629    ἄγριον ἐν στήθεσσι θέτο μεγαλήτορα θυμὸν
9.630    σχέτλιος, οὐδὲ μετατρέπεται φιλότητος ἑταίρων
9.631    τῆς ᾗ μιν παρὰ νηυσὶν ἐτίομεν ἔξοχον ἄλλων
9.632    νηλής· καὶ μέν τίς τε κασιγνήτοιο φονῆος
9.633    ποινὴν ἢ οὗ παιδὸς ἐδέξατο τεθνηῶτος·
9.634    καί ῥ’ ὃ μὲν ἐν δήμῳ μένει αὐτοῦ πόλλ’ ἀποτίσας,
9.635    τοῦ δέ τ’ ἐρητύεται κραδίη καὶ θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ
9.636    ποινὴν δεξαμένῳ· σοὶ δ’ ἄλληκτόν τε κακόν τε
9.637    θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι θεοὶ θέσαν εἵνεκα κούρης
9.638    οἴης· νῦν δέ τοι ἑπτὰ παρίσχομεν ἔξοχ’ ἀρίστας,
9.639    ἄλλά τε πόλλ’ ἐπὶ τῇσι· σὺ δ’ ἵλαον ἔνθεο θυμόν,
9.640    αἴδεσσαι δὲ μέλαθρον· ὑπωρόφιοι δέ τοί εἰμεν
9.641    πληθύος ἐκ Δαναῶν, μέμαμεν δέ τοι ἔξοχον ἄλλων
9.642    κήδιστοί τ’ ἔμεναι καὶ φίλτατοι ὅσσοι Ἀχαιοί.

Iliad 9.628-642
“…As for Achilles,
he has made the generous spirit in his chest savage,
cruel man, nor does he turn his attention to the philotēs of his companions,
the very philotēs with which we honor him beyond all others beside the ships,
pitiless man. Even someone whose brother has been killed
or his very own child accepts compensation for the dead person;
the one [the murderer] remains there in the district after paying much in exchange,
and the other, his heart and proud spirit are restrained
when he accepts the compensation. But unstoppable and bad
the gods have made your spirit because of a girl,
just a girl; and now we are offering you seven of them who are by far the best,
and lots of other things beside them. So make your spirit appeasable,
and show respect for the roof: we are in fact under your roof,
of all of the Danaans, and beyond all the others we are eager
to be the most cherished and dearest to you as many as there are Achaeans.”

He characterizes Briseis as a ‘girl’ (κούρης, 9.637-638), contrasting her with someone whose blood relative, a brother or a child, has died. Such a person accepts compensation and ‘[his] heart and proud thumos are restrained’ (ἐρητύεται κραδίη καὶ θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ, 9.635); whereas Achilles has rejected compensation for a “girl.” This same comparandum, of a person accepting poinē ‘compensation’ for a dead person, seems to be the one invoked in the courtoom scene on the Shield of Achilles, where a figure is staunchly refusing to accept any compensation for an andros apophthimenou ‘a man who has perished’ (18.499). The courtroom scene on the Shield of Achilles sets up, by way of analogy to this speech of Ajax’s, a clear parallel to the conduct of the bearer of the shield himself. [24] But there is also a revealing contradiction in Ajax’s use of the analogy in the first place. Posing the acceptability of compensation for the loss of a blood relative as a belittling parallel to Achilles’ refusal to accept compensation for ‘only a girl’ (κούρης 9.638-639) relies on the notion that blood relatives are more philos than friends, even though the overarching point of Ajax’s speech is that he and others of those offering Achilles compensation are, as he puts it in his last line, κήδιστοί τ’…καὶ φίλτατοι ‘most treasured and dearest’ (9.642). And the notion that Achilles should accept the seven other women as fair compensation for Briseis participates in the same idea that we see in the Bridge of Arta tradition, that a preferred woman is easily replaceable by another (a fortiori, seven others!). It is clear, however, that Ajax makes his comparison to the compensation of a dead blood-relative not because he considers blood-relatives more dear than the philoi who are present, but because the comparison relies on a culturally-resonant contrast that belittles the importance of the woman Achilles loves in order to promote, by contrast with her, the philotēs of the men present: it is Achilles’ philotēs for them that he is seeking to activate. After all, the two opposed variants in the folklore motif would not exist or survive in the same cultural context if a preference for the claims of blood-relatives did not resonate in that context as much as the preference for relationships based on affection. An awareness of the possible contradiction between this appeal and the strong Iliadic preference for bonds of affection over bonds of blood perhaps explains why, in the parallel scene on Achilles’ shield, the murdered person is described in neutral (as well as masculine) terms as andros apophthimenou ‘a man who had perished’ (18.499) — that victim could be either a blood relative or a friend.

More strikingly, and more consequently as well, the parallelism between the loss of a loved one and the death of a blood relative comes up again, this time in one of the most emotionally powerful moments in the whole Iliad, Achilles’ own lament for Patroklos, the only lament sung by a male in the poem:

νῦν δὲ σὺ μὲν κεῖσαι δεδαϊγμένος, αὐτὰρ ἐμὸν κῆρ
ἄκμηνον πόσιος καὶ ἐδητύος ἔνδον ἐόντων
σῇ ποθῇ· οὐ μὲν γάρ τι κακώτερον ἄλλο πάθοιμι,
οὐδ’ εἴ κεν τοῦ πατρὸς ἀποφθιμένοιο πυθοίμην,
ὅς που νῦν Φθίηφι τέρεν κατὰ δάκρυον εἴβει
χήτεϊ τοιοῦδ’ υἷος· ὃ δ’ ἀλλοδαπῷ ἐνὶ δήμῳ
εἵνεκα ῥιγεδανῆς Ἑλένης Τρωσὶν πολεμίζω·
ἠὲ τὸν ὃς Σκύρῳ μοι ἔνι τρέφεται φίλος υἱός,
εἴ που ἔτι ζώει γε Νεοπτόλεμος θεοειδής.

Iliad 19.319-327 (translation below by G. Nagy)
|319 But now there you are, lying there, all cut up, and my heart |320 is wanting, though I have drink and food [in my shelter], |321 because of my longing for you. There is nothing I could possibly suffer that would be worse than this, |322 not even if I were to hear news that my father died |323 – who is now in Phthia weeping gently |324 about losing the kind of son that he has, and here I am, this son that I am, in a foreign country, |325 and I am waging war here for the sake of that dreadful Helen |326 – or if I heard news that my son died, the one who is being brought up in Skyros – |327 if in fact godlike Neoptolemos is still living.

In this moving passage Achilles is negatively equating (οὐ τι κακώτερον ‘in no way worse’) the grief he feels for Patroklos with that he would feel if he were to hear that his own father died, or that which his own father is at that very moment feeling about his own (Achilles’) death, or still further what Achilles himself would feel if he heard that his own son, Neoptolemos, were dead. In other words, the two variants about who is the most important of the philoi are coalescing into an ever wider whole in Achilles’ grief for Patroklos, where the sadness their death would bring is indistinguishable from what he now feels for the lost of his dearest friend. So here it is the reciprocal bond along the whole male line of Peleus, Achilles, and Neoptolemos that is equated to the bond of grief between Patroklos and Achilles. [25]

If we then move forward to the end of the Iliad, we see Achilles acting out this very parallelism as he grieves with Priam. The two concepts of what is most near and dear coalesce in both word and deed in that scene, in the context of an exchange between the best of the Achaeans and the father of Hector, the fallen champion of the Trojans, whose dead body Achilles is returning to his father, Priam, even though that champion slew Achilles’ dearest friend, and even though Achilles slew Priam’s favorite son. Achilles’ empathy for Priam in itself brings to a climax a remarkable broadening of the purview of philoi that extends it not just across the boundaries between blood relatives and dearest friends, but also between Greeks and Trojans: when the two meet, the narrator makes a point of vividly depicting the bond between them, referring to them in the dual, and of their parallel grief: Achilles’ for Patroklos and for own his father, then the grief of Priam for his dead son, Hector:

Ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἄρα πατρὸς ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο·
ἁψάμενος δ’ ἄρα χειρὸς ἀπώσατο ἦκα γέροντα. [26]
τὼ δὲ μνησαμένω ὃ μὲν Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο
κλαῖ’ ἁδινὰ προπάροιθε ποδῶν Ἀχιλῆος ἐλυσθείς,
αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς κλαῖεν ἑὸν πατέρ’, ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε
Πάτροκλον· τῶν δὲ στοναχὴ κατὰ δώματ’ ὀρώρει.

Iliad 24.507-512
So he [Priam] spoke, and indeed he roused in him [Achilles] a longing for lament of his father;
then grasping him by the hand, he pushed the old man away a little bit;
and the pair of them brought to mind, the one man-slaying Hector,
weeping uncontrollably, huddled before the feet of Achilles,
and then Achilles weeping for his own father, and again at other times
for Patroklos: their wailing rose up all along the dwellings.

One can imagine Virgil responding here to what he could have felt as an association of pietas and philotēs, of bonds between fathers and sons and the hero’s love for his friend, which may have been the spark that turned Iliadic philotēs into Virgilian pietas, two ingredients that are transformed in order to portray elements of both overarching forces in the life of Aeneas. Perhaps this is also the point to close a dutiful and affectionate tribute to a most generous teacher and a most treasured friend, philos to me as to a multitude of grateful colleagues, students, and family members who have also taken this opportunity to express their gratitude and affection.


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Cairns, D.L., 2004. “Ethics, ethology, terminology: Iliadic anger and the cross-cultural study of emotion.” Ancient Anger: Perspectives from Homer to Galen. Ed. S. Braund, pp. 1-49, Cambridge [Eng.].
Clausen, W.V., 1987. Virgil’s Aeneid and the Tradition of Hellenistic Poetry. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Hahn, E.A., 1931a. “Pietas versus Violentia in the Aeneid I.” The Classical Weekly, 25(2), pp.9–13.
————, 1931b. “Pietas versus Violentia in the Aeneid II.” The Classical Weekly, 25(3), pp.17–21.
Heinze, R., 1972. Virgils epische Technik. 5., unveränderte Aufl., Stuttgart.
Kakridis, J. T., 1949. Homeric Researches. Lund.
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Lowenstam, S., 1981. The Death of Patroklos: A Study in Typology. Hildesheim.
Muellner, L., 1976. The Meaning of Homeric EUXOMAI through its Formulas. Innsbruck.
————, 1996. The Anger of Achilles: mēnis in Greek Epic. New York.
————, 2011. “Homeric Anger Revisited.” Classics@ (9), http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Classicsat.
————, forthcoming. “Metonymy and Metaphor in the Iliad.”
Nagy, G., 1979. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Revised ed. with new introduction, 1999, Johns Hopkins University Press. Available at: http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/nagy/BofATL/toc.html.
————, 2003. Homeric Responses. Austin.
O’Hara, J., 1996. True Names: Vergil and the Alexandrian Tradition of Etymological Wordplay. Ann Arbor.
Otis, B., 1964. Virgil, a study in civilized poetry. University of Oklahoma Press. Available at: http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=d9InFQjD5hkC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=Virgil+A+Study+in+Civilized+Poetry&ots=SlmINxTY5E&sig=hwnx6e_RQI_a6WyDOL7xyRZyhco
Paschalis, M., 1997. Virgil’s Aeneid : Semantic Relations and Proper Names. Oxford.
Patton, K. C. 2013 (forthcoming). Gemini and the Sacred: Twins and Twinship in Religion and Mythology. London
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————, 1995. Virgil’s Aeneid : interpretation and influence. Chapel Hill.
Schwartz, M., 1982. “The Indo-European Vocabulary of Exchange, Hospitality, and Intimacy.” Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, pp. 188–204.
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[ back ] 1. See Vaan 2008: 468-469 s.v. pius, although there is dispute about one step in the phonology. The word is related to Latin pūrus ‘clean, pure’, Skt. punãti ‘to clean’, pávate ‘to become clean’, from PIE *puH-io- ‘purifying’. I owe heartfelt thanks to Jeremy Rau, Douglas Frame, and Claudia Filos for helping me prepare this text.
[ back ] 2. The antiquity of the image of Aeneas as a hero devoted to his father and the gods is unquestionable. His piety towards the gods is already attested in Iliad 20.298-299, and in Lycophron’s Alexandra 1370 he is called εὐσεβέστατος in connection with them and his father. On these points, see Heinze 1972, p.29 and 29n.3, citing Wissowa 1887. But the broader themes and images that are associated with the words pius and pietas in the Aeneid and its contrast with furor and its synonyms are likely to be poetic constructs, not part of the language in general or the prior tradition. For example, Catullus 76 repeatedly uses the word pietas in a context in which any such built-in contrastive associations would have confounded the pathos of a basic message in the text, namely that the conduct of a passionate love affair by the poet’s persona was exemplary for its pietas.
[ back ] 3. In 1931 E. A. Hahn collected and compiled examples of the terminology associated with pietas in its opposition to that associated with furor: see Hahn 1931a and Hahn 1931b). She posits violentia as the term opposed to pietas, but in fact violentia , though relevant, is a severely restricted term, as Clausen 1987, pp.89–90, showed: only Turnus has it. Among others, see Putnam 1965, who himself credits Knox 1950, for close readings of selections from the Aeneid that treat the semantic fields and imagery of both words, and Otis 1964, pp.93–94, 220–236, etc. for the deployment of these conflicting forces in the poem as a whole. Otis posits as a rough rule that the conflict takes place within the hero himself in Books I-V and with others whom he encounters and strives to master in Books VI-XII, but the distinction between inner and outer aspects of these forces is not necessarily so neatly or easily distinguished.
[ back ] 4. On this passage, see Putnam 1965, pp.8–13.
[ back ] 5. For more on the relationship of this scene to the opening scene of Iliad 15, see below, n. 11.
[ back ] 6. On the erotic aspect, see Putnam 1995, p.33.
[ back ] 7. She also speaks of nati…communis amorem ‘shared love for [our] son’ (II.789) but, as mentioned above, that remains in the category of a potent obligation, not of affection in the subsequent narrative.
[ back ] 8. Even though the talk her is of blood ties, which suggest pietas, the imagery of Latin sanguis ‘blood’ is always associated with furor, as can be seen below at line 36.
[ back ] 9. The distance here seems less relevant to Turnus and his father, Daunus, than to Achilles and his father Peleus, who is always invoked as distant, at home in Phthia.
[ back ] 10. See note 2 above.
[ back ] 11. For these aspects of Epic mēnis, see Muellner 1996, pp.32–51. For a response to the contestation of these aspects of the word’s meaning by Cairns 2004, see Muellner 2011.
[ back ] 12. For instance, the opening scene involving Neptune, Juno, and Jupiter is strongly reminiscent of the scene in Iliad 15 where Hera, Poseidon, and Zeus encounter a problem around a seduction and the limits of divine spheres that is also reminiscent of the quarrel in Iliad I that is the springboard of the mēnis of Achilles; see Muellner 1996, pp.5–31.
[ back ] 13. For the concept of the divine ritual antagonist of the hero see Nagy 1999, Chapter 8; for the mēnis of gods, see Muellner 1996, pp.5–31.
[ back ] 14. For instances of bilingual Greek-Latin paronomasia in Virgil, see O’Hara 1996, p.63 §2.1a, and for puns on names, see Paschalis 1997. For evidence of the aspirated pronunciation of initial p-, see Allen 1978, pp.12–13. For Virgil’s penchant for complex, layered, multiple meanings of individual words, see Thomas 2001.
[ back ] 15. For the function of the formula ἶσος Ἄρηι to signal a warrior’s aristeia, see Nagy 1999, Chapter 8. “The Death of Hektor.”
[ back ] 16. See Muellner 1996, pp.133–175.
[ back ] 17. The original research on this motif and its survival in folklore local to its telling in the epic is Kakridis 1949.
[ back ] 18. [Aristotle], Magna Moralia 1213a11-13, Diogenes Laertius, Life of Zeno 7.23. For the attested uses of the word φίλος in connection with one’s own body parts, an etymology of the word proposed by Martin Schwartz (Schwartz 1982), who derives it from the locative suffix phi ‘near’ as in ‘near and dear,’ is both pertinent and helpful.
[ back ] 19. For a telling analysis of this theme and the whole encounter in the Iliad between Achilles and Aeneas, see Nagy 1999, Chapter 15, “The Best of the Achaeans Confronts an Aeneid Tradition.”
[ back ] 20. For discussion and explanation, see Muellner 1996, pp.18–25, esp. 19–22 and n.30, referencing Servius on Aeneid 2.649, Sophocles fr. 373P, and Hyginus Fabulae 94.
[ back ] 21. The reader may rightly wonder what blood relatives other than his mother, Thetis, are associated with Achilles in his mēnis. The answer, I believe, is Achilles’ father manqué, Zeus himself; for arguments and the testimonia, see Muellner 1996, pp.94–96. Note that a Hesiodic relationship between Zeus and Thetis is the context in which Zeus is first invoked to further Achilles’ intentions (I.393-406). But Peleus does play a role in the story as well, as we shall see below. In the case of Aeneas’ mēnis against Priam, we are unfortunately underinformed, but if Priam is its object, the parallelism to Achilles’ mēnis would seem to suggest that he withdrew from support for the Trojans and sought recourse to his mother, Aphrodite, instead.
[ back ] 22. Kakridis 1949, pp.152–164, Appendix III, “The Motif of Intaphernes’ [sic] Wife.”
[ back ] 23. Kakridis 1949, p.156.
[ back ] 24. On this passage, see Nagy 2003, pp.71–81, Chapter 8, Westbrook 1992, and Muellner 1976, pp.100–106.
[ back ] 25. The operative but unexpressed term being κῆδος, a form of which we see in the last line of Ajax’s speech quoted above (9.642 κήδιστοι), and on which see Muellner 1996, pp.163–164.
[ back ] 26. Why does Achilles create a little (ἦκα) separation between himself and Priam at this point? It is not for lack of respect, still less a gesture of rejection, but an attempt to create the minimum distance between him and Priam that expresses a no longer metonymic (and thus a newly detached) view of what is philos. For more on the switch from metonymic to a metaphoric relationship, see Muellner (forthcoming).