“Two Beautiful Girls”: The Song of Achilles and Deidamia

I really wish antiquity had bequeathed to us this entire poem…

Bion, The Wedding song of Achilles and Deidamia

Mursôn
Lukidas, will you sing me some sweet Sicilian song,
A love song full of sweetness and longing—the very kind
The Kyklôps Polyphemos once sang on the shore for Galatea?

Lucidas
I’d love to play too, Myrsôn, but what should I sing?

Mursôn
The love story of Skyros, which you used to be praised for singing,
Peleus’ son’s secret kisses, his secret love affair,
how the boy dressed in a robe to disguise his form
And how among those daughters of Lucomêdes who had no worries
Dêidameia knew Achilles in her bedroom.

Lucidas
When the cowboy Paris kidnapped Helen and took her to Ida
It was terrible for Oinônê. And Sparta was filled with rage,
Enough to gather the whole Achaean host—no Greek
From Mycenaea or Elis or Sparta was staying
At his own home to flee miserable Ares.

But Achilles all alone escaped notice among the daughters of Lykomêdes
Where he learned about weaving instead of weapons
And held a maiden’s tools in his white hand—he looked just like a girl.
For he acted as feminine as the daughters did—the bloom
Which reddened on his white cheeks was as great, he walked
With a maiden’s step, and he covered his hair with a veil.

But he possessed a man’s heart and he had a man’s lust too.
From dawn until dusk he used to sit next to Deidameia—
Then he used to kiss her hands and often he would
Lift the fine warp and compliment her intricate weaving,
He never ate with another friend and did everything he could
To get her to sleep with him. He actually used to say this to her,

“Other sisters sleep in bed with one another,
But I sleep alone and you, princess, you sleep alone.
We are two girls of the same age, two beautiful girls,
But we sleep along in separate beds—that wicked
Space keeps me carefully distant from you…”

ΜΥΡΣΩΝ
Λῇς νύ τί μοι, Λυκίδα, Σικελὸν μέλος ἁδὺ λιγαίνειν,
ἱμερόεν γλυκύθυμον ἐρωτικόν, οἷον ὁ Κύκλωψ
ἄεισεν Πολύφαμος ἐπ’ ᾐόνι <τᾷ> Γαλατείᾳ;

ΛΥΚΙΔΑΣ
κἠμοὶ συρίσδεν, Μύρσων, φίλον, ἀλλὰ τί μέλψω;

ΜΥΡΣΩΝ
Σκύριον <ὅν>, Λυκίδα, ζαλώμενος ᾆδες ἔρωτα,
λάθρια Πηλεΐδαο φιλάματα, λάθριον εὐνάν,
πῶς παῖς ἕσσατο φᾶρος, ὅπως δ’ ἐψεύσατο μορφάν,
χὤπως ἐν κώραις Λυκομηδίσιν οὐκ ἀλεγοίσαις
ἠείδη κατὰ παστὸν Ἀχιλλέα Δηιδάμεια.

ΛΥΚΙΔΑΣ
ἅρπασε τὰν Ἑλέναν πόθ’ ὁ βωκόλος, ἆγε δ’ ἐς Ἴδαν,
Οἰνώνῃ κακὸν ἄλγος. ἐχώσατο <δ’> ἁ Λακεδαίμων
πάντα δὲ λαὸν ἄγειρεν Ἀχαϊκόν, οὐδέ τις Ἕλλην,
οὔτε Μυκηναίων οὔτ’ Ἤλιδος οὔτε Λακώνων,
μεῖνεν ἑὸν κατὰ δῶμα φυγὼν δύστανον Ἄρηα.
λάνθανε δ’ ἐν κώραις Λυκομηδίσι μοῦνος Ἀχιλλεύς,
εἴρια δ’ ἀνθ’ ὅπλων ἐδιδάσκετο, καὶ χερὶ λευκᾷ
παρθενικὸν κόρον εἶχεν, ἐφαίνετο δ’ ἠύτε κώρα·
καὶ γὰρ ἴσον τήναις θηλύνετο, καὶ τόσον ἄνθος
χιονέαις πόρφυρε παρηίσι, καὶ τὸ βάδισμα
παρθενικῆς ἐβάδιζε, κόμας δ’ ἐπύκαζε καλύπτρῃ.
θυμὸν δ’ ἀνέρος εἶχε καὶ ἀνέρος εἶχεν ἔρωτα·
ἐξ ἀοῦς δ’ ἐπὶ νύκτα παρίζετο Δηιδαμείᾳ,
καὶ ποτὲ μὲν τήνας ἐφίλει χέρα, πολλάκι δ’ αὐτᾶς
στάμονα καλὸν ἄειρε τὰ δαίδαλα δ’ ἄτρι’ ἐπῄνει·
ἤσθιε δ’ οὐκ ἄλλᾳ σὺν ὁμάλικι, πάντα δ’ ἐποίει
σπεύδων κοινὸν ἐς ὕπνον. ἔλεξέ νυ καὶ λόγον αὐτᾷ·
“ἄλλαι μὲν κνώσσουσι σὺν ἀλλήλαισιν ἀδελφαί,
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ μούνα, μούνα δὲ σύ, νύμφα, καθεύδεις.
αἱ δύο παρθενικαὶ συνομάλικες, αἱ δύο καλαί,
ἀλλὰ μόναι κατὰ λέκτρα καθεύδομες, ἁ δὲ πονηρά
†νύσσα† δολία με κακῶς ἀπὸ σεῖο μερίσδει.
οὐ γὰρ ἐγὼ σέο. . . . .”

What was Achilles’ name when he was living as a girl?

Achilles on Skyros, 1656 painting by Nicolas Poussin

A Hero Shot A Man, Just to…Kill Me: Achilles and Odysseus, Again

Sophocles, fr. 965

“I am called Odysseus for evil deeds correctly:
For many who have been my enemy hate me.”

ὀρθῶς δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς εἰμ’ ἐπώνυμος κακῶν•
πολλοὶ γὰρ ὠδύσαντο δυσμενεῖς ἐμοί

Yesterday, I was editing a manuscript and thinking about Odysseus’ so-called “lying tales” in books 13-20 of the Odyssey. In one of them, he talks casually about murdering the son of Idomeneus. A song burst fully formed into my head. I made a poll. Over 3500 people voted.

(And, yes, as twitter let me know, it should be “shot” not killed”). To be honest, I thought the answer was clear and tried to direct it a bit:

And I was not the only one to consider Odysseus’ character the crueler one:

I suspect that the issue here for most voters was really: who’s your favorite hero and who seems violent to you. Everyone knows Achilles is a cross between the Hulk and Superman and he just kills everything. Most people forget that Odysseus leaves a trail of slaughter in his wake too.

Earlier polls I have run seem to indicate that while the Iliad and Odyssey are pretty close in popularity people have a more positive view of Odysseus. I have spent several years working on a book on Odysseus (after working on the Iliad for over a decade). I think these evaluations of the characters are from an overall feeling and not an actual engagement with the texts.

I continued this conversation on and off line with Justin Arft:

Erik, who is in Germany, had some comforting words over text:

Erik text

I received another text from an actual resident of Reno, who had some thoughts:

Jed Text

My emotional stability did not increase during the day:

There were some cogent responses:

Achilles is intense, like super intense, like there is extra and then there is Achilles extra. He gets his feelings hurt and then asks for Zeus to make his own people die. Patroklos dies because Achilles is so damn sensitive. Achilles’ rage is the point of the whole poem. But he is not calculating. He feels. He reacts. He regrets.

But behind all the arguments is a basic misunderstanding of what it means to be a hero in ancient Greece. They are not simple figures. They are not heroic in the modern sense. The word heros: can mean a man in the prime of his youth; or, a member of a race of superpeople before our current race of mortals; or, a person who follows a particular narrative/paradigmatic arc. It is value neutral when it comes to “good” and “evil”.

Erwin Cook writes well about this, noting that what marks heroes out in Greek myth and poetry is their ability to suffer or cause suffering to others.

Fortunately for the next 24 hours I found like-minded people to suffer with:

Despite Achilles’ constant lead, there was a chorus of objection:

My friend Sean texted this morning with the most plausible explanation for the outcome:

Sean Text

And I think people just didn’t get the question:

But, come on, Odysseus kills 108 unarmed people, has the slave-women hanged and does many other totally questionable things in his epic. In the Iliad, he lies to Dolon and has Diomedes kill him after he has informed on the Trojans. He’s a dark mage, a necromancer! And even the Odyssey is deeply ambivalent about his crimes: Teiresias implies that the suitors are only in Ithaca because of Odysseus’ mistakes!  The epic ends with the people of Ithaca splitting a vote whether to try to kill him or not.

Outside of the epics: he frames Palamedes and has him stoned to death; he tricks Achilles into coming to war; he strands Philoktetes for being wounded and then gets him to come back to Troy; he tries to stab Diomedes in the back; he is known for arranging for the killing of Astyanax. He probably killed Hecuba too.

He is also known in later traditions for wanting to kill Telemachus. Otherwise, he’s busy in myth having children all over the Mediterranean. When he gets home, he cries about his dog but not his wife.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Odysseus is important, but Emily Wilson is totally right in saying he is a “complicated man”. He is a survivor- and he teaches us about the compromises one must make and risks one needs take to survive. He is not a hero, he is not divine. He is like us.  And this is not always good. He minimizes slavery and manipulates his slaves, he is definitely more into truthiness than truth. And he is his own worst enemy: he needs to figure this out before he can even start to go home.

Achilles’ rage is big and easy to conceptualize, easier to blame; Odysseus’ calculation is harder to understand and frame. We want to be like Achilles, I think, because we can blame our faults on emotions. That’s nature, right? We can’t control nature! It is harder to admit where we are like Odysseus because then we need to take responsibility for our faults. People who love Odysseus too often explain away his faults. (Which is why so much of Homeric scholarship refuses to acknowledge that Odysseus is crossing a line in killing the slave women, the suitors, blinding Polyphemos and more).

Not everything was about bashing Odysseus:

And some people worked hard to bring greater context to the song and the identification:

This probably undermines the entire enterprise:

Some people couldn’t play the game right!

There may have been some salutary effects:

Thank you to Carly Maris (@carmarky) for making this so I didn’t have to

thanks to everyone who played along and took what was a lark seriously. Apologies to all the wits and wiseacres I didn’t include in this post. The thread on twitter is pretty cool. But, as with everything, Plato did it first and better.

Plato, Hippias Minor 

364c

“Homer made Achilles the best man of those who went to Troy, Nestor the wisest, and Odysseus the most shifty.”

φημὶ γὰρ Ὅμηρον πεποιηκέναι ἄριστον μὲν ἄνδρα Ἀχιλλέα τῶν εἰς Τροίαν ἀφικομένων, σοφώτατον δὲ Νέστορα, πολυτροπώτατον δὲ Ὀδυσσέα.

365b

“Achilles is true and simple; Odysseus is shifty and false.”

ὡς ὁ μὲν Ἀχιλλεὺς εἴη ἀληθής τε καὶ ἁπλοῦς, ὁ δὲ Ὀδυσσεὺς πολύπροπός τε καὶ ψευδής

366a

Soc. “People who are many-wayed are deceptive because of their foolishness and thoughtlessness, or because of wickedness and some thought?

Hippias: Most of all, because of wickedness and intelligence.

Soc. So, it seems, they are really intelligent.

Hip. Yes, by Zeus, wicked smart.

Soc. And men who are smart—are they ignorant of what they do or do they understand it?

Hip. They really understand what they are doing. For this reason, they also do evil.

Soc. So, is it the ignorant or the wise who know these things which they understand?

Hip. The wise know these very things, how to deceive.

—ΣΩ. Πολύτροποι δ’ εἰσὶ καὶ ἀπατεῶνες ὑπὸ ἠλιθιότητος καὶ ἀφροσύνης, ἢ ὑπὸ πανουργίας καὶ φρονήσεώς τινος;

—ΙΠ. ῾Υπὸ πανουργίας πάντων μάλιστα καὶ φρονήσεως.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι μὲν ἄρα εἰσίν, ὡς ἔοικεν.

—ΙΠ. Ναὶ μὰ Δία, λίαν γε.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι δὲ ὄντες οὐκ ἐπίστανται ὅτι ποιοῦσιν, ἢ ἐπίστανται; —

—ΙΠ. Καὶ μάλα σφόδρα ἐπίστανται· διὰ ταῦτα καὶ κακουργοῦσιν.

—ΣΩ. ᾿Επιστάμενοι δὲ ταῦτα ἃ ἐπίστανται πότερον ἀμαθεῖς εἰσιν ἢ σοφοί;

—ΙΠ. Σοφοὶ μὲν οὖν αὐτά γε ταῦτα, ἐξαπατᾶν.

Achilles’ Other Son, a Dream

Eustathius, on Homer, Odyssey, 11.538, 1696.40

“You should know that while Homer and many other authors say that the only child of Achilles and Deidameia was Neoptolemos, Demetrios of Ilion records that here were two, Oneiros [“dream”] and Neoptolemos.

They say that Orestes killed him in Phôkis accidentally and when he recognized that he did, he built him a tomb near Daulis. He dedicated the sword he killed him with there and then went to the “White Island”, which Lykophron calls the “foaming cliff”,and propitiated Achilles.”

ἰστέον δὲ ὅτι ῾Ομήρου καὶ τῶν πλειόνων ἕνα παῖδα λεγόντων Δηιδαμείας καὶ ᾽Αχιλλέως τὸν Νεοπτόλεμον, Δημήτριος ὁ ᾽Ιλιεὺς δύο ἱστορεῖ, ῎Ονειρόν τε καὶ Νεοπτόλεμον· ὃν ἀνελών φησιν ἐν Φωκίδι ᾽Ορέστης ἀγνοίαι, ὕστερον δὲ γνούς, τάφον αὐτῶι ἐποίησε περὶ Δαυλίδα, καὶ ἀναθεὶς τὸ ξίφος ὧι ἀνεῖλεν αὐτὸν ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὴν Λευκὴν νῆσον, ἣν ὁ Λυκόφρων (Al. 188) ῾φαληριῶσαν σπῖλον᾽ καλεῖ, καὶ τὸν ᾽Αχιλλέα ἐξιλεώσατο.

 

BNJ 59 F 1b Ptolemy ChennosNovel History, Book 3 = Photios, Bibliotheca 190, 148b21

“And [he says] that there were two children of Achilles and Deidamia, Neoptolemos and Oneiros. Oneiros was killed accidentally by Orestes in Phôkis while they fighting over erecting a tent.”

καὶ ὡς ᾽Αχιλλέως καὶ Δηιδαμίας δύο ἐγενέσθην παῖδες Νεοπτόλεμος καὶ ῎Ονειρος· καὶ ἀναιρεῖται κατ᾽ ἄγνοιαν ὑπὸ ᾽Ορέστου ἐν Φωκίδι ὁ ῎Ονειρος, περὶ σκηνοπηγίας αὐτῶι μαχεσάμενος.

Achilles fathered these children when he was sheltered at Skyros. Bion wrote a poem about the romance.Achilles also had a sister…

Fresco from the House of the Dioscuri in Pompei depicting Achilles between Diomedes and Odysseus at Scyros

Achilles’ (Missing) Sister

Reading over Merkelbach and West’s Fragmenta Hesiodea often reminds me of many things I have forgotten. I am too young to blame this forgetfulness on senility; and yet too old to blame it on youthful ignorance.

Today’s particular disturbance comes from fragment 213 which tells us that Achilles, like Odysseus, has a sister (fragment included within the scholia below).

At first, I thought that this was some sort of Lykophrontic fantasy. But, alas, upon looking into the details, she is actually mentioned in the Iliad!

Iliad, 16.173-178

“Menestheus of the dancing-breastplate led one contingent,
son of the swift-flowing river Sperkheios
whom the daughter of Peleus, beautiful Poludôrê bore
when she shared the bed with the indomitable river-god, Sperkheios
although by reputation he was the son of Boros, the son of Periêrês
who wooed her openly by offering countless gifts.”

τῆς μὲν ἰῆς στιχὸς ἦρχε Μενέσθιος αἰολοθώρηξ
υἱὸς Σπερχειοῖο διιπετέος ποταμοῖο·
ὃν τέκε Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ καλὴ Πολυδώρη
Σπερχειῷ ἀκάμαντι γυνὴ θεῷ εὐνηθεῖσα,
αὐτὰρ ἐπίκλησιν Βώρῳ Περιήρεος υἷι,
ὅς ῥ’ ἀναφανδὸν ὄπυιε πορὼν ἀπερείσια ἕδνα.

The confusion, shock and horror of this detail—which I presume the vast majority of Homer’s audiences have overlooked or forgotten as with the sad fate of Odysseus’ sister—can be felt as well in the various reactions of the Scholia where we encounter (a) denial—it was a different Peleus!; (b) sophomoric prevarication—why doesn’t Achilles talk about her, hmmm?; (c) conditional acceptance through anachronistic assumptions—she’s suppressed because it is shameful that she is a bastard; (d) and, finally, citation of hoary authorities to insist upon a ‘truth’ unambiguous in the poem.

I have translated the major scholia below. Note that we can see where the ‘fragments’ of several authors come from here (hint: they’re just talked about by the scholiasts). We can also learn a bit about the pluralistic and contradictory voices to be found in the Homeric scholia. The bastard child bit is my favorite part.

 

Schol A. ad Il. 16.175

“Pherecydes says that Polydora was the sister of Achilles. There is no way that this has been established in Homer. It is more credible that this is just the same name, as in other situations, since [the poet] would have added some sign of kinship with Achilles.”

ὃν τέκε Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ: ὅτι Φερεκύδης (Fr. 61-62) τὴν Πολυδώραν φησὶν ἀδελφὴν ᾿Αχιλλέως. οὐκ ἔστι δὲ καθ’ ῞Ομηρον διαβεβαιώσασθαι. πιθανώτερον οὖν ὁμωνυμίαν εἶναι, ὥσπερ καὶ ἐπ’ ἄλλων, ἐπεὶ προσέθηκεν ἂν τεκμήριον τῆς πρὸς ᾿Αχιλλέα συγγενείας.

 

Schol T. ad Il. 16.175

”  “Daughter of Peleus”: A different Peleus, for if he were a nephew of Achilles, this would be mentioned in Hades when they speak about his father and son or in the allegory of the Litai when he says “a great spirit compelled me there” or “my possessions and serving women” he might mention the pleasure of having a sister. The poet does not recognize that Peleus encountered some other woman. Neoteles says that Achilles’ cousin leads the first contingent and gives evidence of knowledge of war. And he gave countless gifts to marry the sister of Achilles. Should he not mentioned her in Hades? Odysseus does not mention Ktimene [his sister].

Pherecydes says that [Polydore] was born from Antigonê, the daughter of Eurytion; the Suda says her mother was Laodameia the daughter of Alkmaion; Staphulos says she was Eurudikê the daughter of Aktôr. Zenodotos says the daughter’s name was Kleodôrê; Hesiod and everyone else calls her Poludôrê.”

ex. Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ: ἑτέρου Πηλέως· εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἀδελφιδοῦς ᾿Αχιλλέως, καὶ ἐμνήσθη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ ῞Αιδῃ περὶ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ ἐρωτῶν (cf. λ 494—537), καὶ ἐν ταῖς Λιταῖς, φάσκων „ἔνθα δέ μοι μάλα <πολλὸν> ἐπέσσυτο θυμός” (Ι 398), „κτῆσιν ἐμὴν δμῶάς τε” (Τ 333), ἔφασκεν ἂν καὶ τῆς ἀδελφῆς ἀπόλαυσιν. Πηλέα τε οὐκ οἶδεν ὁ ποιητὴς ἑτέρᾳ γυναικὶ συνελθόντα. Νεοτέλης δὲ ὡς ἀδελφιδοῦν᾿Αχιλλέως φησὶ τῆς πρώτης τάξεως ἡγεῖσθαι, ὡς καὶ μαρτυρεῖ ἐπιστήμην πολέμου· †ὡς ἀχιλλέως τε ἀδελφὴν γαμεῖν† ἀπερείσια δίδωσιν ἕδνα (cf. Π 178). εἰ δὲ μὴ ἐμνήσθη αὐτῆς ἐν ῞Αιδου· οὐδὲ γὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς Κτιμένης (cf. ο 363 cum λ 174—9). Φερεκύδης (FGrHist 3, 61 b) δὲ ἐξ ᾿Αντιγόνης τῆς Εὐρυτίωνος, Σουίδας (FGrHist 602, 8) ἐκ Λαοδαμείας τῆς ᾿Αλκμαίωνος, Στάφυλος (FGrHist 269,5) ἐξ Εὐρυδίκης τῆς῎Ακτορος. Ζηνόδοτος (FGrHist 19,5) δὲ Κλεοδώρην φησίν, ῾Ησιόδου (fr. 213 M.—W.) καὶ τῶν ἄλλων Πολυδώρην αὐτὴν καλούντων.

Schol. BCE ad Il. 16.175

“They say that she is from another Peleus. For if he were a nephew of Achilles wouldn’t this be mentioned or wouldn’t he ask about his sister in Hades along with his father and son? At the same time, the poet does not know that Peleus encountered some other women. More recent poets say that Menestheus is his nephew and that this is the reason he leads the first contingent and shows knowledge of war and that ‘he gave countless gifts to marry the sister of Achilles’. But if he does not mention it, it is not necessarily foreign to him. For the poet is rather sensitive to certain proprieties.”

ἑτέρου, φασί, Πηλέως· εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἀδελφιδοῦς ᾿Αχιλλέως, πῶς οὐκ ἐμνήσθη αὐτοῦ ἢ τῆς ἀδελφῆς ἐν τῷ ῞Αιδῃ περὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐρωτῶν καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ; ἅμα τε οὐκ οἶδεν ὁ ποιητὴς Πηλέα ἑτέρᾳ συνελθόντα γυναικί. οἱ δὲ νεώτεροι ἀδελφιδοῦν αὐτοῦ λέγουσιν· ὅθεν καὶ τῆς πρώτης τάξεως ἡγεῖται καὶ πολέμων ἐπιστήμων μαρτυρεῖται, καὶ ὡς †ἀχιλλέως ἀδελφὴν γαμῶν ἀπερείσια δίδωσιν. εἰ δὲ μὴ ἐμνήσθη αὐτῆς ἢ τούτου, οὐ ξένον· περὶ γὰρ τῶν καιριωτέρων αὐτῷ ἡ φροντίς.

Schol. b ad Il. 16.175

“Since, otherwise, if Polydora were his sister, she would be a bastard and he would not want to mention her. Or, maybe it is because she has already died.”

ἄλλως τε ἐπειδὴ νόθη ἦν ἡ Πολυδώρη αὐτοῦ ἀδελφή, τάχα οὐδὲ μνημονεύειν αὐτῆς ἐβουλήθη. ἢ ὅτι καὶ αὐτὴ ἤδη τετελευτηκυῖα ἦν.

Schol D ad Il. 16.175

“Did Peleus have a daughter Polydôrê from another? Staphulos says in the third book of his Thessalika that she was born from Eurydike the daughter of Aktôr. Pherecydes says it was the daughter of Eurytion; others says Laodameia, the daughter of Alkmaion.”

ἐκ τίνος Πηλεὺς Πολυδώρην ἔσχεν; ὡς μὲν Στάφυλός φησιν ἐν τῇ τρίτῃ Θεσσαλικῶν, ἐξ Εὐρυδίκης τῆς ῎Ακτορος θυγατρός. Φερεκύδης δὲ ἐξ ᾿Αντιγόνης τῆς Εὐρυτίωνος, ἄλλοι δὲ ἐκ Λαοδαμείας τῆς ᾿Αλκμαίωνος.

What happened to Peleus’ first wife—if they were married? According to John Tzetzes (see Fowler 2013, 444) Peleus accidentally killed his father-in-law during the Kalydonian Boar Hunt, so he had to go abroad and in Iolkos the king’s wife tried to seduce him and told Antigone that Peleus would abandon her. Antigone killed herself, leaving Peleus free to marry Thetis. (But who took care of their daughter?).

It can get more confusing: some traditions (Apollodorus, 3.163 and 168) make a Polymele the daughter of Peleus and Patroklos’ mother whereas Polydora is Peleus’ wife in between Antigone and Thetis. Whatever the case, we can do our own scholiastic justification for Achilles not talking about his sister without creating a second Peleus. She must have been a bit older than Achilles since by all accounts Peleus fathered her before (1) the Kalydonian Boar Hunt, (2) the sacking of Iolkos and (3) the Voyage of the Argo. She would likely have been raised in a separate household from Achilles and married off before he went to study with the centaur Cheiron!

(More importantly: In the poetic world of Homer, sisters just don’t matter. Brothers do. Helen does not mention missing her sisters. Hektor talks to multiple brothers, but where are his sisters? In the Odyssey, Achilles asks about his father and son because Odysseus is interested in fathers and sons. This may make it more, not less, appropriate that Achilles says nothing of his sister: Odysseus just doesn’t care about sisters. Nor, it seems, does Homer.)

Works Consulted (apart from the Greek Texts).

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore, 1993.
Robert Fowler. Early Greek Mythography. Vol. 2:Commentary, 2013.

Image result for ancient greek achilles

“Two Beautiful Girls”: The Song of Achilles and Deidamia

I really wish antiquity had bequeathed to us this entire poem…

Bion, The Wedding song of Achilles and Deidamia

Mursôn
Lukidas, will you sing me some sweet Sicilian song,
A love song full of sweetness and longing—the very kind
The Kyklôps Polyphemos once sang on the shore for Galatea?

Lucidas
I’d love to play too, Myrsôn, but what should I sing?

Mursôn
The love story of Skyros, which you used to be praised for singing,
Peleus’ son’s secret kisses, his secret love affair,
how the boy dressed in a robe to disguise his form
And how among those daughters of Lucomêdes who had no worries
Dêidameia knew Achilles in her bedroom.

Lucidas
When the cowboy Paris kidnapped Helen and took her to Ida
It was terrible for Oinônê. And Sparta was filled with rage,
Enough to gather the whole Achaean host—no Greek
From Mycenaea or Elis or Sparta was staying
At his own home to flee miserable Ares.

But Achilles all alone escaped notice among the daughters of Lykomêdes
Where he learned about weaving instead of weapons
And held a maiden’s tools in his white hand—he looked just like a girl.
For he acted as feminine as the daughters did—the bloom
Which reddened on his white cheeks was as great, he walked
With a maiden’s step, and he covered his hair with a veil.

But he possessed a man’s heart and he had a man’s lust too.
From dawn until dusk he used to sit next to Deidameia—
Then he used to kiss her hands and often he would
Lift the fine warp and compliment her intricate weaving,
He never ate with another friend and did everything he could
To get her to sleep with him. He actually used to say this to her,

“Other sisters sleep in bed with one another,
But I sleep alone and you, princess, you sleep alone.
We are two girls of the same age, two beautiful girls,
But we sleep along in separate beds—that wicked
Space keeps me carefully distant from you…”

ΜΥΡΣΩΝ
Λῇς νύ τί μοι, Λυκίδα, Σικελὸν μέλος ἁδὺ λιγαίνειν,
ἱμερόεν γλυκύθυμον ἐρωτικόν, οἷον ὁ Κύκλωψ
ἄεισεν Πολύφαμος ἐπ’ ᾐόνι <τᾷ> Γαλατείᾳ;

ΛΥΚΙΔΑΣ
κἠμοὶ συρίσδεν, Μύρσων, φίλον, ἀλλὰ τί μέλψω;

ΜΥΡΣΩΝ
Σκύριον <ὅν>, Λυκίδα, ζαλώμενος ᾆδες ἔρωτα,
λάθρια Πηλεΐδαο φιλάματα, λάθριον εὐνάν,
πῶς παῖς ἕσσατο φᾶρος, ὅπως δ’ ἐψεύσατο μορφάν,
χὤπως ἐν κώραις Λυκομηδίσιν οὐκ ἀλεγοίσαις
ἠείδη κατὰ παστὸν Ἀχιλλέα Δηιδάμεια.

ΛΥΚΙΔΑΣ
ἅρπασε τὰν Ἑλέναν πόθ’ ὁ βωκόλος, ἆγε δ’ ἐς Ἴδαν,
Οἰνώνῃ κακὸν ἄλγος. ἐχώσατο <δ’> ἁ Λακεδαίμων
πάντα δὲ λαὸν ἄγειρεν Ἀχαϊκόν, οὐδέ τις Ἕλλην,
οὔτε Μυκηναίων οὔτ’ Ἤλιδος οὔτε Λακώνων,
μεῖνεν ἑὸν κατὰ δῶμα φυγὼν δύστανον Ἄρηα.
λάνθανε δ’ ἐν κώραις Λυκομηδίσι μοῦνος Ἀχιλλεύς,
εἴρια δ’ ἀνθ’ ὅπλων ἐδιδάσκετο, καὶ χερὶ λευκᾷ
παρθενικὸν κόρον εἶχεν, ἐφαίνετο δ’ ἠύτε κώρα·
καὶ γὰρ ἴσον τήναις θηλύνετο, καὶ τόσον ἄνθος
χιονέαις πόρφυρε παρηίσι, καὶ τὸ βάδισμα
παρθενικῆς ἐβάδιζε, κόμας δ’ ἐπύκαζε καλύπτρῃ.
θυμὸν δ’ ἀνέρος εἶχε καὶ ἀνέρος εἶχεν ἔρωτα·
ἐξ ἀοῦς δ’ ἐπὶ νύκτα παρίζετο Δηιδαμείᾳ,
καὶ ποτὲ μὲν τήνας ἐφίλει χέρα, πολλάκι δ’ αὐτᾶς
στάμονα καλὸν ἄειρε τὰ δαίδαλα δ’ ἄτρι’ ἐπῄνει·
ἤσθιε δ’ οὐκ ἄλλᾳ σὺν ὁμάλικι, πάντα δ’ ἐποίει
σπεύδων κοινὸν ἐς ὕπνον. ἔλεξέ νυ καὶ λόγον αὐτᾷ·
“ἄλλαι μὲν κνώσσουσι σὺν ἀλλήλαισιν ἀδελφαί,
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ μούνα, μούνα δὲ σύ, νύμφα, καθεύδεις.
αἱ δύο παρθενικαὶ συνομάλικες, αἱ δύο καλαί,
ἀλλὰ μόναι κατὰ λέκτρα καθεύδομες, ἁ δὲ πονηρά
†νύσσα† δολία με κακῶς ἀπὸ σεῖο μερίσδει.
οὐ γὰρ ἐγὼ σέο. . . . .”

What was Achilles’ name when he was living as a girl?

Achilles on Skyros, 1656 painting by Nicolas Poussin

Achilles’ Name(s), When He Was A Girl

From the Fragments of the Greek Historians–Mythical traditions record that Thetis hid Achilles at Skyros to prevent him from getting taken to fight at Troy where she knew he would die. Most retellings of this focus on how Odysseus tricked him into revealing himself. But it turns out Achilles also took on a girl’s name while he was there.

Aristonikos of Tarentum (57; appearing in Photios)

Aristonikos of Tarentum reports that Achilles, when he was spending time  with the girls at Lykomedes’ home, used to be called Kerkysera and Issa and Pyrrha. He was also called Aspetos and Prometheus.

ὡς ᾽Αχιλλέα μὲν ᾽Αριστόνικος ὁ Ταραντῖνος διατρίβοντα ἐν ταῖς παρθένοις παρὰ Λυκομήδει Κερκυσέραν καλεῖσθαί φησιν καὶ ῎ Ἴσσαν καὶ Πύρραν ἐκαλεῖτο δὲ  καὶ ῎Ασπετος καὶ Προμηθεύς.

The names he takes on surely deserve a little more contemplation. Why did he also have male names while he was there?

Ken Dowden, in his commentary on this fragment, provides the following explanation of the female names:

“The name Pyrrha (red-head, like Pyrrhos the alternative name of his son Neoptolemos) is also found in Hyginus, Fabulae 96. The name Kerkysera is held to be a ‘joke’ (i.e., of Ptolemy Chennos) by A. Cameron, Greek Mythography in the Roman World (Oxford 2004), 141, presumably by association with κέρκος (a tail or penis). M. van der Valk, Researches on the Text and Scholia of the Iliad (Leiden 1963), 369 n. 228, regards the name as corrupt–it should, according to him, be Κερκουρᾶς (Kerkouras) ‘he who urinates by means of his tail’. Even if this is right, it does not, of course, show that the name was invented by Ptolemy Chennos. Cameron, Mythography, 141, views Issa as an out-of-place Latin term of endearment. But it appears in Greek as the name of a Dalmatian island and, more appropriately to Achilles, of a city on Lesbos (named after a daughter of MakarSteph. Byz., s.v. Issa). ‘There is also a feminine form Issas on Lesbos found in Partheniosin his Herakles’ (ἔστι καὶ θηλυκὸν Ἰσσάς ἐπὶ τῆς Λέσβου παρὰ Παρθενίῳ ἐν Ἡρακλεῖ) according to Steph. Byz. ibid. A real Aristonikos, given the range of possible dates (see Biographical Essay), might well have been reading Parthenios, or even vice-versa.”

This text is from Brill’s new Jacoby, a collection of the Fragments of the Greek historians

Image result for Achilles at Skyros

 

How Thersites Makes The Beautiful Body and The Beautiful Mind

Iliad 2.211-224

“The rest of them were sitting, and they had taken their seats.
Only Thersites, a man of measureless speech, was still declaring–
A man who knew many disordered things in his thoughts and who
Strived pointlessly with kings out of order,
–whatever he thought would be amusing to the Argives.
And he was the most shameful man who came to Troy.
He was cross-eyed and crippled in one foot. His shoulders
Were curved, dragged in toward his chest. And on top
His head was mishapen, and the hair on his head was sparse.
He was most hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus
For he was always reproaching them. Then he was shrilly cawing
At lordly Agamemnon again, as he spoke reproaches. The Achaeans
Were terribly angry at him and were finding fault in their heart.
As he shouting greatly, he was reproaching Agememnon.”

῎Αλλοι μέν ῥ’ ἕζοντο, ἐρήτυθεν δὲ καθ’ ἕδρας·
Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι μοῦνος ἀμετροεπὴς ἐκολῴα,
ὃς ἔπεα φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἄκοσμά τε πολλά τε ᾔδη
μάψ, ἀτὰρ οὐ κατὰ κόσμον, ἐριζέμεναι βασιλεῦσιν,
ἀλλ’ ὅ τι οἱ εἴσαιτο γελοίϊον ᾿Αργείοισιν
ἔμμεναι· αἴσχιστος δὲ ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε·
φολκὸς ἔην, χωλὸς δ’ ἕτερον πόδα· τὼ δέ οἱ ὤμω
κυρτὼ ἐπὶ στῆθος συνοχωκότε· αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
φοξὸς ἔην κεφαλήν, ψεδνὴ δ’ ἐπενήνοθε λάχνη.
ἔχθιστος δ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ’ ἦν ἠδ’ ᾿Οδυσῆϊ·
τὼ γὰρ νεικείεσκε· τότ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονι δίῳ
ὀξέα κεκλήγων λέγ’ ὀνείδεα· τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἐκπάγλως κοτέοντο νεμέσσηθέν τ’ ἐνὶ θυμῷ.
αὐτὰρ ὃ μακρὰ βοῶν ᾿Αγαμέμνονα νείκεε μύθῳ·

See here for a handout for a talk using Thersites to explore Homeric poetry from the perspective of disability studies.

Schol T. ad Il. 2.216a

“most shameful: this is also said of an ape.”

ex. αἴσχιστος: τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ πιθήκου.

Schol. BT [Aristonicus] ad Il. 2.217a

“pholkos: this is spoken once. Homeric pholkos means when the eyes are narrowed together, which means turned.”

Ariston. | Ep. φολκός: ὅτι ἅπαξ εἴρηται. Aim b (BCE3)T | ἔστι δὲ Hom. φολκὸς ὁ τὰ φάη εἱλκυσμένος, ὅ ἐστιν ἐστραμμένος. Aim

Homer presents a overlap between ‘beautiful body’ and ‘beautiful mind’. This physiognomic category error pervades a great deal of classical Greek culture. In the Iliad, Thersites transgresses physical boundaries through his unheroic body and ethical boundaries by using the genre of rebuke upward in the social hierarchy. He is hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus because they exemplify in a complementary fashion the ‘center’ or ideal of the heroic person—Achilles is the beautiful body, Odysseus is a beautiful mind. But both of them stay within the boundaries of ‘normal’ in their own deviance (Achilles’ political straying, Odysseus’ aging, imperfect body). Thersites, labelled by many as a comic scapegoat, functions as an inferior in order to define the center as non-transgressive. This is, in particular, why he is hateful to Achilles and Odysseus: without him, their persons might be monstrous or disabled. And this also helps explain why Odysseus must physical beat Thersites in public.

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

5: “related perceptions of corporeal otherness” includes mutilation, deformation, crippledness, or physical disability…”

7: “..the meanings attributed to extraordinary bodies reside not in inherent physical flaws but in social relationships in which  one group is legitimated by possessing valued physical characteristics and maintains its ascendency and its self-identity by imposing the role of cultural or corporeal inferiority on others.”

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependency of Discourse. Ann Arbor. 2000. Cf. Wills, David. 1995. Prosthesis. Stanford.

57: “Whereas the “unmarred” surface enjoys its cultural anonymity ad promises little more than a confirmation of the adage of a “healthy” mind in a “healthy” body, disability signifies a more variegated and sordid series of assumptions and experiences. Its unruliness must be tamed by multiple mappings of the surface. If form leads to content or “embodies” meaning, then disability’s disruption of acculturated bodily norms also suggests a corresponding misalignment of subjectivity itself.”

59: “If the “external effect” led directly to a knowledge of the “internal faculty,” then those who inhabited bodies deemed “outside the norm” proved most ripe for a scrutiny of their moral or intellectual content. Since disabled people by definition embodied a form that was identified as “outside” the normal or permissible, their visages and bodily outlines became the physiognomist’s (and later the pathologist’s) object par excellence. Yet, the “sinister capability” of physiognomy proves more complex than just the exclusivity of interpretive authority that Stafford suggests. If the body would offer a surface manifestation of internal symptomatology, then disability and deformity automatically preface an equally irregular subjectivity. Physiognomy proves a deadly practice to a population already existing on the fringes of social interaction and “humanity.””

60: “Elizabeth Cornelia Evans argues that physiognomic beliefs can be traced back as far as ancient Greece. She cites Aristotle as promoting physiognomic reasoning when he proclaims, “It is possible to infer character from physique, if it is granted that body and soul change together in all natural affections . . . For if a peculiar affection applies to any individual class, e.g., courage to lions, there must be some corresponding sign for it; for it has been assumed that body and soul are affected together” (7). In fact, one might argue that physiognomics came to be consolidated out of a general historical practice applied to the bodies of disabled peoples. If the extreme evidence of marked physical differences provided a catalog of reliable signs, then perhaps more minute bodily differentiations could also be cataloged and interpreted. In this sense, people with disabilities ironically served as the historical locus for the invention of physiognomy.”

 

See Odyssey: 1.302: “I see that you are really big and noble,  and be brave / that a man born in the future might speak well of you” μάλα γάρ σ’ ὁρόω καλόν τε μέγαν τε, / ἄλκιμος ἔσσ’, ἵνα τίς σε καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἐὺ εἴπῃ =3.199–200 (Nestor addressing Telemachus). Cf. 4.141–147 where Helen recognizes Telemachus because he looks like his father and Menelaos responds “I was just now thinking this too, wife, as you note the similarity: /  these are the kinds of feet and hands / the eye glances, and head and hair belonging to that man” (οὕτω νῦν καὶ ἐγὼ νοέω, γύναι, ὡς σὺ ἐΐσκεις· / κείνου γὰρ τοιοίδε πόδες τοιαίδε τε χεῖρες / ὀφθαλμῶν τε βολαὶ κεφαλή τ’ ἐφύπερθέ τε χαῖται, 4.148–150).

Cf. Achilles to Lykaon, Il. 21.108: “Don’t you see what kind of man I am, beautiful and big?” οὐχ ὁράᾳς οἷος καὶ ἐγὼ καλός τε μέγας τε;

 

Minchin, Elizabeth. 2007. Homeric Voices: Discourse, Memory, Gender. Oxford

167–8: Rebuke is a speech genre highly marked for social position: Penelope rebukes Eurykleia, Nausikaa rebukes her handmaidens. Melanthô should not rebuke Odysseus because it would transgress the normative boundaries for a slave to reproach a master.

 

On Thersites as a “bona fide satirist”, see Rosen 2003:123. Halliwell 1991:281 too draws attention to Thersites’ role as a “habitual entertainer”, and points to Plato’s shrewd description of him as a γελωτοποιός (Rep.10.620c3). For Thersites as a blame-poet, see Nagy 1979: 211-75. For Thersites’ in general see Lowry 1991 and Postelthwaite 1998.

Lowry, E. R. Thersites: A Study in Comic Shame.

Marks, Jim. 2005. “The Ongoing Neikos: Thersites, Odysseus, and Achilleus.” AJP 126:1–31.

Nagy, G. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans. Baltimore.

Postlethwaite, N. 1998.Thersites in the Iliad, in Homer: Greek and Roman Studies, eds. I. McAuslan and P. Walcot, Oxford, = 83-95.

Rose, P. W. 1997. “Ideology in the Iliad: Polis, Basileus, Theoi.” Arethusa 30:151-199.

Rosen, R. M. 2003. “The Death of Thersites and the Sympotic Performance of Iambic Mock-ery.” Pallas 61:21–136.

Thalmann, W. G. 1988. “Thersites: comedy, scapegoats and heroic ideology in the Iliad.” TAPA 118:1-28.

Vodoklys, E.1992.. Blame-Expression in the Epic Tradition. New York.

Special thanks to David M. Perry for giving me a starter Bibliography for Disability Studies and to Dimitri Nakassis for adding to the bibliography on Thersites.

Image result for Ancient Greek Vase Thersites comic
A seated terracotta slave from the British Museum (743)