Bring Home Hektor’s Bones

The Iliad ends with the burial of Hektor, but the mythographical tradition would not let him lie in peace. There is a tradition for the exhumation and the reburial of his remains.

Aristodemos BNJ383 F7 [“Brill’s New Jacoby”=Schol. AB ad Il. 13.1]

“the Trojans and Hektor”: He has separated Hektor in particular from the rest of the Trojans. Following the sack of Troy, Hektor the son of Priam obtained honor from the gods after death. For the Thebans in Boiotia were beset by evils and solicited a prophecy about their deliverance. The oracle told them that they would stop the troubles if they would transfer the bones of Hektor from Ophrunion in the Troad to a place in their land called the “birthplace of Zeus”. They, once they did this and were freed from the evils, maintained the honors for Hektor and during hard times they used to call for his manifestation. This is the account in Aristodemos.

Τρῶάς τε καὶ ῞Εκτορα] κεχώρικε τῶν λοιπῶν Τρώων τὸν ῞Εκτορα κατ᾽ ἐξοχήν. μετὰ δὲ τὴν ᾽Ιλίου πόρθησιν ῞Εκτωρ ὁ Πριάμου καὶ μετὰ τὸν θάνατον τὴν ἀπὸ θεῶν εὐτύχησε τιμήν· οἱ γὰρ ἐν Βοιωτίαι Θηβαῖοι πιεζόμενοι κακοῖς ἐμαντεύοντο περὶ ἀπαλλαγῆς· χρησμὸς δὲ αὐτοῖς ἐδόθη παύσεσθαι τὰ δεινά, ἐὰν ἐξ ᾽Οφρυνίου τῆς Τρωάδος τὰ ῞Εκτορος ὀστᾶ διακομισθῶσιν εἰς τὸν παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς καλούμενον τόπον Διὸς γονάς. οἱ δὲ τοῦτο ποιήσαντες καὶ τῶν κακῶν ἀπαλλαγέντες διὰ τιμῆς ἔσχον ῞Εκτορα, κατά τε τοὺς ἐπείγοντας καιροὺς ἐπικαλοῦνται τὴν ἐπιφάνειαν αὐτοῦ. ἡ ἱστορία παρὰ ᾽Αριστοδήμωι.

Pausanias, 9.18.5

“At Thebes there is also the grave of Hektor, Priam’s son. It is next to a spring called the Oedipus Spring. The Thebans say that they brought the bones from Troy to this place because of the following oracle:

Thebans living in the in the city of Kadmos,
If you want to live in a country with blameless wealth
Bring the bones of Hektor, Priam’s son, home
From Asia to be honored as a hero in accordance with Zeus

The spring was named after Oedipus because it was the same place where Oedipus washed off the blood from his father’s murder

Ἔστι δὲ καὶ Ἕκτορος Θηβαίοις τάφος τοῦ Πριάμου πρὸς Οἰδιποδίᾳ καλουμένῃ κρήνῃ, κομίσαι δὲ αὐτοῦ τὰ ὀστᾶ ἐξ Ἰλίου φασὶν ἐπὶ τοιῷδε μαντεύματι·
Θηβαῖοι Κάδμοιο πόλιν καταναιετάοντες,
αἴ κ᾿ ἐθέλητε πάτραν οἰκεῖν σὺν ἀμύμονι πλούτῳ,
Ἕκτορος ὀστέα Πριαμίδου κομίσαντες ἐς οἴκους
ἐξ Ἀσίης Διὸς ἐννεσίῃσ᾿ ἥρωα σέβεσθαι.

Lykophron in his Alexandra alludes to a strange tale of the transfer of Hektor’s remains from Troy to Thebes.  Since Lykophron is virtually unreadable, here is the account from scholia (Schol. In Lykrophon 1194):

“They say that when there was a famine in Greece Apollo decreed that they should transfer the bones of Hektor, which were at the place called Ophrunos, from Troy to some city in Greece which did not take part in the expedition against Troy.* When the Greeks realized that Thebes in Boiotia had not fought against Troy, they retrieved the remains of the hero and installed them there.”

φασὶν ὅτι λοιμοῦ κατασχόντος τὴν ῾Ελλάδα ἔχρησεν ὁ ᾿Απόλλων τὰ τοῦ ῞Εκτορος ὀστᾶ κείμενα ἐν ᾿Οφρυνῷ τόπῳ Τροίας μετενεγκεῖν ἐπί τινα πόλιν ῾Ελληνίδα ἐν τιμῇ <οὖσαν> μὴ μετασχοῦσαν τῆς ἐπὶ ῎Ιλιον στρατείας. οἱ δὲ ῞Ελληνες εὑρόντες τὰς ἐν Βοιωτίᾳ Θήβας μὴ στρατευσαμένας ἐπὶ ῎Ιλιον ἐνεγκόντες τὰ τοῦ ἥρωος λείψανα ἔθηκαν αὐτὰ ἐκεῖσε.

* In the Iliad, though the Boiotians (2.494-510) are named prominently in the catalogue of ships alongside the prominent city of Orchomenos (511-516), only Hypothebes is mentioned alongside recognizable topographical features of Thebes (οἵ θ’ ῾Υποθήβας εἶχον ἐϋκτίμενον πτολίεθρον, 505). One explanation for this is that “The place below Thebes” is the settlement surviving after the Epigonoi sacked the city. Diomedes, prominent in the Iliad, was instrumental in that expedition. In mythical time, then, Thebes was a ruined city for the advent of the expedition against Thebes.

The transfer of heroic remains is reported frequently in ancient texts. For Theseus’ bones see: Plut. Vit. Cim. 8.57; Vit. Thes. 36.1–4; Paus. 1.17.6, 3.3.7.  Cf. Hdt. 167-68; Paus 3.3.6 for Orestes’ bones. McCauley (1999) identifies 13 different instances of the transfer of remains in ancient Greece, with 9 of them being clearly political in motivation.

Simon Hornblower accepts that the cult of Hektor at Thebes was historical. One suggestion for this (Schachter 1981-94: 1.233-4) is that when Kassandros re-founded Thebes in 316 BCE he consciously affiliated with Hektor in response to Alexander’s earlier association with Achilles (Kassandros had a great enmity for Alexander). Hornblower (427) also posits the bone tale as an instance of rivalry between Thebes and Athens as part of Thebes establishing a connection in the Hellespont to challenge Athenian commercial interests in the region. The first suggestion places the bone transfer tale after 316 BCE; the second dates it back to 365. Hornblower suggests that there were two stages involved with an oracle being reported c. 465 BCE (428) and the bones being retrieved near the end of the century.

Image result for Hector ancient greek vase

A. Schachter, Cults of Boeotia1–4 (London, 1981-1994).

Hornblower, Simon 203. Lykophron: Alexandra. Oxford.

McCauley, B. 1999. “Heroes and Power: The Politics of Bone Transferal.” In R. Hägg (ed.) Ancient Greek Hero Cult. Stockholm, 1999:85-98

Phillips, D. D. 2003. “The Bones of Orestes and Spartan Foreign Policy.” In Gestures: Essays in Ancient History, Literature, and Philosophy Presented to Alan L. Boegehold, edited by G. W. Bakewell and J. P. Sickinger, 301–16. Oxford.

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s