Oops! That Was Anaxident

Dear Reader, though I know that it stretches the bounds of credulity to be informed that such shining exemplars of erudition and Wissenschaft as Joel and I can make a mistake, I write today to personally apologize for publishing an error which, though it did not originate with us, was nevertheless perpetuated by our monumental work of scholarship, The Homeric Battle of the Frogs and Mice:


The first time I remember hearing this claim was years ago when listening to the audio recordings of Donald Kagan’s lectures on Greek history, in one of which he claims that Agamemnon is the only mortal to receive the title of anax in Homeric poetry. Currently, the Wikipedia article on the word basileus reads: “In the works of Homer wanax appears, in the form ánax, mostly in descriptions of Zeus (ánax andrōn te theōn te, “king of men and of the gods”) and of very few human monarchs, most notably Agamemnon.” A cursory glance at the list compiled below will show that even the claim that anax is applied to very few humans is also false. It is not surprising that the main players receive the title more often than minor characters, but the most anax-heavy book of the Iliad is Book II, where a number of mooks are given anax status in the catalogue of ships. (Indeed, even the Wikipedia article’s claim that Zeus is the primary divine recipient of the title is false: Apollo and Poseidon are called anax frequently, but I did not compile these references.)

The Wikipedia article on anax has this slightly different claim: “The word Anax in the Iliad refers to Agamemnon (ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν, i.e. “leader of men”) and to Priam, high kings who exercise overlordship over other, presumably lesser, kings. This possible hierarchy of one “anax” exercising power over several local “basileis” probably hints to a proto-feudal political organization of Aegean civilizations.” The suggestion that an anax is a king who rules over other kings can also be dismissed when looking at the list of references compiled below.

To be sure, these articles hardly represent the latest and hardest scholarship in the field, but I am not concerned with that. Rather, I am concerned with a misconception among the general audience of Greek readers which seems to have some currency and has apparently been readily transmitted through some generations of scholars who (alas, like us) did not investigate the claim in detail. As such, here is a list of the occurrences of the word anax with mortal individuals named (i.e. not alluded to or understood) in the sentence. This list also does not include the many references to Agamemnon or one of the gods as anax.

By way of general observation:

  1. Agamemnon is by far the person to whom the phrase is applied the most, usually in the line-final phrase ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν ᾿Αγαμέμνων·
  2. Priam is generally a genitive anax in conjunction with his city (astu or polis).
  3. Though not included, Zeus, Apollo, and Poseidon among the immortals are given the title frequently. Awarded the title anax but with less frequency are Hades and Hephaestus.


“Nestor, who was the king of sandy Pylos…”

Νέστωρ, ὅς ῥα Πύλοιο ἄναξ ἦν ἠμαθόεντος [2.77]


“The city of king Priam…”

πόλις Πριάμοιο ἄνακτος [2.373]


“…and the king Idomeneus…”

καὶ ᾿Ιδομενῆα ἄνακτα [2.405]


“Third came Euryalus, a mortal equal to a god, the son of Mekistes, son of king Talaus.”

τοῖσι δ’ ἅμ’ Εὐρύαλος τρίτατος κίεν ἰσόθεος φὼς

Μηκιστέος υἱὸς Ταλαϊονίδαο ἄνακτος· [2.555-556]


“The son of king Agasthenes, son of Augeias…”

υἱὸς ᾿Αγασθένεος Αὐγηϊάδαο ἄνακτος. [2.624]


“Nireus, the son of Aglaie and king Charopos…”

Νιρεὺς ᾿Αγλαΐης υἱὸς Χαρόποιό τ’ ἄνακτος [2.672]


“…the two sons of king Thessalus, son of Heracles.”

Θεσσαλοῦ υἷε δύω ῾Ηρακλεΐδαο ἄνακτος· [2.679]


“…the sons of king Euenos, son of Selepius.”

υἱέας Εὐηνοῖο Σεληπιάδαο ἄνακτος· [2.693]


“…the ships of king Philoctetes…”

νηυσὶ Φιλοκτήταο ἄνακτος. [2.725]


“…the city of king Priam…”

πόλις Πριάμοιο ἄνακτος [4.18, 4.290]


“Anchises, king of men…”

ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν ᾿Αγχίσης [5.268]


“And then Aeneas, the king of men, would have died…”

Καί νύ κεν ἔνθ’ ἀπόλοιτο ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Αἰνείας [5.311]


“…who bore Orsilochus, king of many men…”

ὃς τέκετ’ ᾿Ορτίλοχον πολέεσσ’ ἄνδρεσσιν ἄνακτα· [5.546]


“The king of broad Lycia honored him graciously…”

προφρονέως μιν τῖεν ἄναξ Λυκίης εὐρείης· [6.174]


“…neither of Hecuba herself nor of king Priam…”

οὔτ’ αὐτῆς ῾Εκάβης οὔτε Πριάμοιο ἄνακτος [6.451]


“…of king Areithous…”

᾿Αρηϊθόοιο ἄνακτος [7.8, 7.137]


“…the great city of king Priam…”

ἄστυ μέγα Πριάμοιο ἄνακτος [7.296]


“You would give blameless gifts to king Achilles…”

δῶρα μὲν οὐκέτ’ ὀνοστὰ διδοῖς ᾿Αχιλῆϊ ἄνακτι· [9.164]


“…Idomeneus the king…”

᾿Ιδομενῆα ἄνακτα· [10.112]


“…the Thracians. Noble Diomedes killed their king…”

Θρηΐκιοι· τὸν δέ σφιν ἄνακτ’ ἀγαθὸς Διομήδης [10.559]


“…and the city of king Priam was unsackable…”

καὶ Πριάμοιο ἄνακτος ἀπόρθητος πόλις ἔπλεν, [12.11]

“…around king Asius…”

῎Ασιον ἀμφὶ ἄνακτα [12.139]


“Deucalion bore me [Idomeneus], the king of many men…”

Δευκαλίων δ’ ἐμὲ τίκτε πολέσσ’ ἄνδρεσσιν ἄνακτα [13.453]


“He went, threatening Elenus the hero, the king…”

βῆ δ’ ἐπαπειλήσας ῾Ελένῳ ἥρωϊ ἄνακτι [13.582]


“…of Helenus the king…”

῾Ελένοιο ἄνακτος [13.578, 13. 781]


“…of Peneleus the king…”

Πηνελέωο ἄνακτος· [14.489]


“These, around Ajax and Idomeneus the king…”

οἳ μὲν ἄρ’ ἀμφ’ Αἴαντα καὶ ᾿Ιδομενῆα ἄνακτα [15.301]


“But swiftly king Polydamas saw this…”

ἄναξ δ’ ἐνόησε τάχιστα Πουλυδάμας [15.453-4]


“The stranger, king of men Euphetes, gave it to him…”

ξεῖνος γάρ οἱ ἔδωκεν ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Εὐφήτης [15.532]


“…of Eurystheus the king…”

Εὐρυσθῆος ἄνακτος [15.639]


“…who was the servant of Sarpedon the king…”

ὅς ῥ᾽ ἠῢς θεράπων Σαρπηδόνος ἦεν ἄνακτος, [16.464]


“…before the huge city of Priam the king…”

προτὶ ἄστυ μέγα Πριάμοιο ἄνακτος [17.160]


“…to Peleus the king…”

Πηλῆϊ ἄνακτι [17.443]


“Ericthonius bore Tros as king to the Trojans…”

Τρῶα δ’ ᾿Εριχθόνιος τέκετο Τρώεσσιν ἄνακτα· [20.230]


“…the great city of Priam the king…”

ἄστυ μέγα Πριάμοιο ἄνακτος  [21.309]


“…the swift-footed king, son of Peleus…”

ἄνακτα ποδώκεα Πηλεΐωνα [23.35]


“First by far rose Eumelus, the king of men…”

ὦρτο πολὺ πρῶτος μὲν ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Εὔμηλος [23.288]


“The noble son of the greathearted king Nestor…”

Νέστορος ἀγλαὸς υἱὸς ὑπερθύμοιο ἄνακτος [23.303]


“Hold off now – I am much younger than you, king Menelaus…”

ἄνσχεο νῦν· πολλὸν γὰρ ἔγωγε νεώτερός εἰμι

σεῖο ἄναξ Μενέλαε [23.588]


“Mekistes, the son of king Talaus…”

Μηκιστῆος υἱὸς Ταλαϊονίδαο ἄνακτος [23.678]


“…then rose the strength of Teucer the king…”

ὦρτο δ’ ἔπειτα βίη Τεύκροιο ἄνακτος [23.859]

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