The Inhuman Lust for Civil War

Homer Iliad 9.63–64

“Brotherless, lawless, and homeless is that man,
Who desires ruinous civil war.”

ἀφρήτωρ ἀθέμιστος ἀνέστιός ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος
ὃς πολέμου ἔραται ἐπιδημίου ὀκρυόεντος.

Schol. A ad Il. 9.63a

“Brotherless: commonly, one who takes no part of his tribe or kin, inhuman.”

<ἀφρήτωρ:> κοινῶς <ὁ> φρατρίας καὶ συγγεν<ε>ίας μὴ μετέχων,ἀπάνθρωπος.

Schol. bT ad Il. 9.63

“Athemistios: like wild beasts, lawless, the way the Kyklopes distribute laws to only their children and wives—they preserve what is just for those related to them.

ἀθέμιστος: θηριώδης, ἄνομος, ὅπου καὶ Κύκλωπες θεμιστεύουσι „παίδων ἠδ’ ἀλόχων” (ι 115), οἱονεὶ τὸ περὶ τὴν συγγένειαν φυλάσσουσι δίκαιον.

Schol. bT ad Il. 9.63c

“hearthless: for one who cares for a hearth and honors a stable life restrains himself from conflict against his neighbors”

ex. ἀνέστιος: ὁ γὰρ ἑστίαν νέμων καὶ βίον ἑδραῖον τιμῶν τῆς πρὸς τοὺς οἰκείους ἀπέχεται στάσεως·

Words for Civil Conflict:

ἔρις: “strife, conflict”

στάσις: “civil strife, conflict”

διχοστασίη: “split-strife; civil strife”

Zenobius, 3.77 (h/t Matt Simonton @profsimonton)

“In a time of civil strife, even a complete bastard gets ahead”

᾿Εν δὲ διχοστασίῃ καὶ ὁ πάγκακος ἔμμορε τιμῆς

Michael Apostolius, 17.74

“The boar surges up”: A proverb applied to violent [people] and competitive [people or circumstances]”

῟Υς ὀρίνει: ἐπὶ τῶν βιαίων λέγεται καὶ ἐριστικῶν.

Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians

“Because [Solon] noticed that his city was often breaking out into civil strife and that some of the citizens welcomed the results because of ambivalence, he made a law particularly aimed at these people: whoever did not pick up arms for one side or the other during a time of civil conflict was to be disenfranchised and have no part of the state.”

ὁρῶν δὲ τὴν μὲν πόλιν πολλάκις στασιάζουσαν, τῶν δὲ πολιτῶν ἐνίους διὰ τὴν ῥᾳθυμίαν [ἀγα]πῶντας τὸ αὐτόματον, νόμον ἔθηκεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἴδιον, ὃς ἂν στασιαζούσης τῆς πόλεως μ[ὴ] θῆται τὰ ὅπλα μηδὲ μεθ’ ἑτέρων, ἄτιμον εἶναι καὶ τῆς πόλεως μὴ μετέχειν.

Giorgio Agamben, Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm. Stanford, 2015, 16:

“The stasis…takes place neither in the oikos nor in the polis, neither in the family nor in the city; rather, it constitutes a zone of indifference between the unpolitical space of the family and the political space of the city. In transgressing the threshold, the oikos is politicized; conversely, the polis is ‘economised’, that is, it is reduced to an oikosThis means that in the system of Greek politics civil war functions as a threshold of politicisation and depoliticisation, through which the house is exceeded in the city and the city is depoliticized in the family.”

In book 18 of the Iliad, when Achilles laments the events that led to the death of Patroklos, he also makes an impossible wish for the gods to erase conflict from the lives of men. Rather than seeing this as an emotional–and somewhat reasonable–desire on Achilles’ part, the presocratic philosopher Heraclitus is alleged to have taken issue.

The comments appear in two traditions of Scholia to the Iliad. Both attempt to explain Heraclitus’ mistakes.

Homer, Iliad 18.107: “I wish that the gods would erase strife from men”

Schol A ad Iliad 18.107: “Heraclitus criticizes Homer because he believes that the nature of things as they are depends upon strife, and here Achilles then seems to be praying for the collapse of the cosmos. To this someone might reply that he is not saying here that strife is something in opposition but rather that it is hateful—this is the reason he adds in the next line “and anger as well” [kholos]. For, the opposition of things [e.g. Heraclitus’ principle of nature] does not drive prudent men out of their powers of reason.”

Schol T. “Heraclitus says that Achilles is praying for the collapse of everything, since all things depend upon their opposites. But Achilles means that this strife is has led to worse affairs. Otherwise [if he doesn’t mean this], this should be allowed, since he is afire with suffering [over the death of Patroklos]”

ex. ὡς ἔρις ἔκ τε θεῶν :

῾Ηράκλειτος (fr. 28 p. 133 M.; Vors. 6 A 22) τὴν τῶν ὄντων φύσιν κατ’ ἔριν συνεστάναι νομίζων μέμφεται ῞Ομηρον, σύγχυσιν κόσμου δοκῶν αὐτὸν εὔχεσθαι. πρὸς ὃν ἄν τις εἴποι ὅτι οὐ λέγει νῦν τὴν ἐναντίωσιν ἔριν, ἀλλὰ τὴν ἔχθραν· ὅθεν ἐπιφέρει „καὶ χόλος” (Σ 108)· οὐ γὰρ ἡ τῶν πραγμάτων ἐναντίωσις τοὺς φρονίμους ἐξίστησι τῶν λογισμῶν. A
ὡς ἔρις ἔκ τε θεῶν: ῾Ηράκλειτος σύγχυσιν αὐτὸν εὔ-
χεσθαι ἁπάντων φησί· κατὰ γὰρ ἐναντίωσιν τὰ πάντα συνέχεσθαι. ἀλλὰ τὴν ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ἄγουσαν ἔριν νῦν φησιν. ἄλλως τε δοτέον τοῦτο, φλεγμαίνοντος τοῦπάθους


I published a paper on Strife in the epic poetic tradition last year: Christensen, J. P. (2018). “Eris and Epos Composition, Competition, and the Domestication of Strife” , Yearbook of Ancient Greek Epic Online, 2(1), 1-39. doi: Email if you want a copy.

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