Achilles Can Sack Cities: Or, How Aristarchus Can be Wrong

At several key points in the Iliad Achilles receives the epithet ptoliporthos–and while ancient commentators took some issue with this, the epithet applies quite well to the hero at several key points, something which I am convinced by from the epic and some work I have read by the Homerist Dr. Emily Austin. Her future publications will show the value of this; I just wanted to take an opportunity to highlight some of the arbitrariness of ancient editors.

Il. 8.372 (=15.77)

“[Thetis] was begging me to honor Achilles the city-sacker”

λισσομένη τιμῆσαι ᾿Αχιλλῆα πτολίπορθον.

Schol A. ad. Il 15.56a

“For line 77 Aristarchus says that [the poet] never calls Achilles a city-sacker but “swift of foot and swift-footed.”

ἐν δὲ τῷ „λισσομένη τιμῆσαι” (Ο 77) φησὶν ὁ ᾿Αρίσταρχος ὅτι οὐδαμῆ τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα „πτολίπορθον” εἴρηκεν, ἀλλὰ „ποδάρκη” (cf. Α 121 al.) καὶ „ποδώκη” (cf. Θ 474 al.). A

Schol. T ad Il. 15.77

[city-sacker] “he calls only Odysseus thus concerning Troy. But elsewhere he says, “then he noticed city-sacking Achilles”. For he sacked twenty cities.”

ex. <πτολίπορθον:> ᾿Οδυσσέα μόνον οὕτω καλεῖ διὰ τὴν ῎Ιλιον. ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀλλαχοῦ λέγει ”αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’ ὡς ἐνόησεν ᾿Αχιλλῆα πτολίπορθον” (Φ 550)· ἐπόρθησε γὰρ εἴκοσι πόλεις. T

Iliad 21.550

“But when he noticed Achilles the city-sacker…”

αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’ ὡς ἐνόησεν ᾿Αχιλλῆα πτολίπορθον…

Schol AT. ad. Il. 21.551 ex

A: “Achilles the city-sacker: because it is excessive to apply ptoliporthos so much to Odysseus, now it is applied once to Achilles. This is according to those Separatists*, for they use these texts. Some have “Achilles Peleus’s son” because they are astonished by the epithet.

T: Some have “Achilles’ Peleus’ son” because they are surprised by the epithet [city-sacking] but Achilles himself says, “I sacked 12 cities with my ships”

Ariston. ᾿Αχιλλῆα πτολίπορθον: ὅτι πλεονάζει ἐπ’ ᾿Οδυσσέως τὸ πτολίπορθος (sc. Β 278. Κ 363. θ 3 al.), νῦν δὲ ἅπαξ ἐπ’ ᾿Αχιλλέως. πρὸς τοὺς Χωρίζοντας (fr. 10 K.)· τούτοις γὰρ χρῶνται. τινὲς δὲ „᾿Αχιλλέα Πηλείωνα” ποιοῦσι, ξενισθέντες πρὸς τὸ ἐπίθετον. A

ex. (Ariston.) ᾿Αχιλλῆα πτολίπορθον: τινὲς „᾿Αχιλλέα Πηλείωνα”, πρὸς τὸ ἐπίθετον ξενισθέντες. ἀλλ’ ἤδη αὐτὸς εἶπε „δώδεκα δὴ σὺν νηυσὶ πόλεις ἀλάπαξα” (Ι 328)…T

* χωρίζοντες was a term applied to ancient scholars who believed that the Iliad and Odyssey were composed by different poets.

Iliad 24.108

“For nine days a conflict arose among the immortals
Over Hektor’s corpse and city-sacking Achilles.”

ἐννῆμαρ δὴ νεῖκος ἐν ἀθανάτοισιν ὄρωρεν
῞Εκτορος ἀμφὶ νέκυι καὶ ᾿Αχιλλῆϊ πτολιπόρθῳ·

There are no scholia in Erbse’s edition which contest “city-sacker” here. If the logic applied by earlier scholia obtains, however, there should be similar objections. As some have observed, however, the death of Hektor is both symbolically the death of the city and in actuality a guarantee that the city will fall. By killing Hektor, Achilles is in fact a city-sacker (in the Iliad’s) terms. Some ancient scholars would still like the preserve the epithet as part of Odysseus’ special heroic identity.

 

Schol. E ad Od. 1.2 ex.

“Why does Homer not call Achilles [city-sacker] but Odysseus instead even though Achilles sacked countless cities? Indeed, we say that although Achilles overcame those cities, Odysseus sacked famous Troy though his own intelligence—the very city the Greeks were willing to take a share of great suffering over. This is why [Homer] calls not Achilles but Odysseus city-sacker.”

ἔπερσε] διὰ τί ῞Ομηρος οὐ τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα ὀνομάζει, ἀλλὰ τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα πτολίπορθον, καὶ ταῦτα πόλεις ἀπείρους τοῦ ᾿Αχιλλέως πορθήσαντος; καὶ λέγομεν, ἐπεὶ ὁ ᾿Αχιλλεὺς πολίδριά τινα ἐπέσχεν, ὁ δὲ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς διὰ τῆς οἰκείας φρονήσεως τὴν περίφημον Τροίαν ἐπόρθησε, δι’ ἣν οἱ ῞Ελληνες πολλῆς κακοπαθείας μετέσχηκαν κατα-σχεῖν αὐτὴν θέλοντες, διὰ τοῦτο οὐ τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα, ἀλλὰ τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα ὀνομάζει πτολίπορθον. E.

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