“As in a dream he isn’t able to pursue the one fleeing
Nor in turn is he able to escape him, nor again can the other overtake him
So he can’t catch up to him with his feet and the other can’t get away”
“Lycambes offered his daughter Neobule to Archilochus and promised a dowry which he refused to give later. So Archilochus composed invective in iambic meter about him and talked so savagely about him and his wife and his daughter that he compelled them to hanging. For they preferred dying over living with such foul abuses.”
Lycambes Neobulen, filiam suam, Archilocho desponsavit et dotem promisit; quam quia postea negavit, Archilochus in iambico metro invectivam in ipsum fecit et tam turpia de eo dixit quod ipsum et uxorem et filiam ad laqueos coegit: maluerunt enim mori quam sub turpibus obprobriis vivere.
Eustathius, Commentary in Hom. Od. 11.277 (1684.45)
“You should know that many have hanged themselves over grief. This is why the ancient account has the daughters of Lykambes doing so thanks to Archilochus’ poems because they could not endure the rumors from his insults. The man was skilled at offending. For this reason we have the proverb “you’ve tread on Archilochus” which is for people who are good at insults, as if someone claims you stepped on snake or a sharp thorn.”
The sacrifice of Iphigenia is a pivotal moment in the tale of the House of Atreus—it motivates Agamemnon’s murder and in turn the matricide of Orestes—and the Trojan War, functioning as it does as a strange sacrifice of a virgin daughter of Klytemnestra in exchange for passage for a fleet to regain the adulteress Helen, Iphigeneia’s aunt by both her father and mother. The account is famous in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and the plays Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia among the Taurians by Euripides. Its earliest accounts, however, provide some interesting variations:
Hes. Fr. 23.13-30
“Agamemnon, lord of men, because of her beauty,
Married the dark-eyed daughter of Tyndareus, Klytemnestra.
She gave birth to fair-ankled Iphimede in her home
And Elektra who rivaled the goddesses in beauty.
But the well-greaved Achaeans butchered Iphimede
on the altar of thundering, golden-arrowed Artemis
on that day when they sailed with ships to Ilium
in order to exact payment for fair-ankled Argive woman—
they butchered a ghost. But the deer-shooting arrow-mistress
easily rescued her and anointed her head
with lovely ambrosia so that her flesh would be enduring—
She made her immortal and ageless for all days.
Now the races of men upon the earth call her
Artemis of the roads, the servant of the famous arrow-mistress.
Last in her home, dark-eyed Klytemnestra gave birth
after being impregnated by Agamemnon to Orestes,
who, once he reached maturity, paid back the murderer of his father
and killed his mother as well with pitiless bronze.”
This fragment presents what is possibly the earliest account of the tale of Iphigenia and contains the major elements: the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter is tied to vengeance against Helen; the daughter is rescued by Artemis, made immortal and made her servant. [In some traditions she is either made immortal or made into a priestess of Artemis at Tauris]. Orestes kills the murderer of his father and his mother. Continue reading “The Names of Agamemnon’s Daughters and the Death of Iphigenia”→
“That [female] substance, even though it possesses all segments of the body in potential, actually exhibits none of them. For it contains those kinds of elements in potential by which the female is distinguished from the male. For just as it happens that at times deformed children come from deformed parents and at times they do not, so too in the same way sometimes female offspring come from females and sometimes they don’t, but males do instead. For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”
“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.
Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character. The first beginning of this is when a female was born instead of a male.
But this is necessary by nature since a race of things divided by male and female must be preserved and since the male may at times not be in control because of age or youth or some other reason, it is necessary for species to have female offspring. Monstrosity is not necessary for any reason or specific ends, but it is necessary by probability of accident—since its origin must be considered as residing here.”
τέρας: can mean ‘monster’ (as translated here) or divine sign/omen. In cognates and parallel forms it is also associated with magic and the unnatural.
πηρόω (πεπηρωμένον) is a denominative verb from the noun πηρός, which means “infirm, invalid” (hence: “blind or lame”)
Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.
19: “Perhaps the founding association of femaleness with disability occurs in the fourth book of Generation of Animals, Aristotle’s discourse of the normal and the abnormal, in which he refines the Platonic concept of antinomies so that bodily variety translates into hierarchies of the typical and aberrant.”
20: “What this passage makes clearest, however, is that without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements would collapse.”
20: “This persistent intertwining of disability with femaleness in Western discourse provides a starting point for exploring the relationship of social identity to the body. As Aristotle’s pronouncement suggests, the social category of disability rests on the significance accorded bodily functioning and configuration.”
“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.”
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.”
” “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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
Let Phoinix, dear to Zeus, lead first of all
And then great Ajax and shining Odysseus.
And the heralds Odios and Eurubates should follow together.
Wash your hands and have everyone pray
So we can be pleasing to Zeus, if he takes pity on us.
So he spoke and this speech was satisfactory to everyone.
The heralds immediately poured water over their hands
And the servants filled their cups with wine.
And then they distributed the cups to everyone
And then they made a libation and drank to their fill. They left from Agamemnon’s, son of Atreus’ dwelling.
Gerenian Nestor, the horseman, was giving them advice,
Stopping to prepare each one, but Odysseus especially,
How to try to persuade the blameless son of Peleus.
The two of them went along the strand of the much-resounding sea, Both praying much to the earth-shaker Poseidon
That they might easily persuade the great thoughts of Aiakos’ grandson.
When the two of them arrived at the ships and the dwellings of the Myrmidons They found himthere delighting his heart with a clear-voiced lyre,
A well-made, beautiful one, set on a silver bridge.
Achilles stole it when he sacked and destroyed the city of Eetion.
He was pleasing his heart with it, and was singing the famous tales of men.
Patroklos was sitting there in silence across from him,
Waiting for Aiakos’ grandson to stop singing.
The two of them were walking first, but shining Odysseus was leading.
And they stood in frontof him. When Achilles saw them, he rose
With the lyre in his hand, leaving the place where he had been sitting.
Patroklos rose at the same time, when he saw the men.
As he welcomed those two, swift-footed Achilles addressed them.
“Welcome [you too]–really, dear friends two have come–the need must be great,
When these two [come] who are dearest of the Achaeans to me, even when I am angry.”
Early Greek at some point in its history had a full system of nominal and verbal endings for what we call the dual number. To add to the number distinction between singular and plural, both Greek and Sanskrit have a dual form to describe pairs of things acting together: eyes, twins, people, etc. In most cases the sound marking the dual is quite distinct: the combination wo in two and the long vowel in both are good examples of the vestigial dual persisting in English.
Classical Greek retained a limited use of the dual and Homeric Greek preserves it here and there. The most striking place where it shows up in the Iliad is in describing the movement of two heralds from one place to another. So, when Agamemnon sends heralds to retrieve the captive woman Briseis from Achilles in book 1 of the Iliad, we find dual forms for their pronouns and their verbal endings.
The embassy includes three speakers, Odysseus, Achilles’ older ‘tutor’ Phoenix, and his cousin, the powerful warrior, Ajax the son of Telamon. The two heralds accompany them as well. Yet the pronouns and verbal forms that describe them move between dual and plural forms. The grammarian responds that this is incorrect because there are at least five entities involved here. Modern responses over the past century have been:
The text needs to be fixed, the duals have come from an older/different version of the poem that had a smaller embassy (with several variations)
The traditional use is imperfect, the dual is being used for groups. Some scholiasts suggest that audiences would have just used the dual for the plural
The dual herald scene is merely formulaic and has been left in without regard for changes in the evolution of the narrative
The text is focalized in some way, showing Achilles (e.g.) refusing to acknowledge the presence of someone he dislikes (Odysseus, see Nagy 1979) or focusing on two people he does like (Phoenix and Ajax, Martin 1989)
The text is jarring on purpose, highlighting that something is wrong with this scene
Ancient commenters seem less bothered by the forms: an ancient scholiast suggests that the first dual form refers to Ajax and Odysseus because Phoinix hung back to get more instruction from Nestor (Schol ad. Il. 9.182). Of course, this interpretation doesn’t even try to explain what happened to the actual heralds who were sent along with the embassy. Yet the interaction of forms seems to give some support to a complex reading. The number and entanglement of the forms makes interpolation seem unlikely (if not ludicrous) as an explanation.
I have presented the responses in a sequence that I see as both historical (in terms of traditions of literary criticism) and evolutionary. The first response–that the text is wrong–assumes infidelity in the transmission from the past and entrusts modern interpreters with the competence to identify errors and interpolations and to ‘correct’ them. The second response moves from morphological to functional, positing that ancient performers might have ‘misused’ the dual for present during a period of linguistic change. Neither of these suggestions are supported by the textual traditions which preserve the duals without significant exception and which show only a very marked and appropriate use of the dual throughout Homeric epic.
The final three answers depend upon the sense of error explored in the first two: first, a greater understanding of oral-formulaic poetry extends the Parryan suggestion that some forms are merely functional and do not express context specific meaning (#3) while the second option models a complex style of reading/reception that suggests the audience understands the misuse of the dual to evoke the internal thoughts/emotions of the character Achilles in one way or another.
The third explanation is harder to defend based on how integrated the dual forms are in the passage: the dual is used to describe travel to Achilles’ tent, then the scene shifts to Achilles playing a lyre and Patroklos waiting for him to stop followed again by dual forms with what seems like and enigmatic line “and so they both were walking forth, and shining Odysseus was leading” (tō de batēn proterō, hēgeito de dios Odusseus). Ancient commentary remains nonplussed: Odysseus is first of two, the line makes that clear, and Phoinix is following somewhere behind.
Nagy’s and Martin’s explanations are attractive and they respond well to the awkward movement between dual and plural forms as well as Achilles specific use of the dual in hailing the embassy with a bittersweet observation. I think I like taking these two together, leaving it up to audiences to decode Achilles’ enigmatic greeting.
The final option builds on the local context of the Iliad and sees the type scene as functioning within that narrative but with some expectation that audiences know the forms and the conventions. As others have argued, the use of the duals to signal the movement of heralds is traditional and functional in a compositional sense because it moves the action of the narrative from one place to another. In the Iliad, the herald scene marks a movement from one camp to another, building on what I believe is its larger conventional use apart from composition which is to mark the movement from one political space, or one sphere of authority to another. When Agamemnon sends the heralds in book 1 to retrieve Briseis, the action as well as the language further marks Achilles’ separation from the Achaean coalition. In book 9, the situation remains the same–Achilles is essentially operating in a different power-structure–but the embassy is an attempt to address the difference. The trio sent along with the heralds as ambassadors are simultaneously friends and foreign agents. Appropriately, the conventional language of epic reflects this tension by interposing the duals and reflecting the confused situation.
I would suggest that in this situation most of the responses except for the first two are valid. The first two responses–that the text is wrong or the usage is wrong–selectively accept the validity of some of the text but not that they find challenging for interpretive reasons or assume a simplicity on the part of ancient audiences (and many generations in between). My primary qualm with the subsequent responses is the tendency to wholly credit a creative intention rather than the collaborative ecosystem of meaning available to Homeric performance. In the telling of epic tales, it may well have been customary to manipulate conventional language through creative misuse; and yet, if audiences are not experienced enough of the forms or attentive enough to the patterns, such usage would not likely be sustained. Audiences (like the ancient scholar) imagine Phoinix lagging behind, or Achilles focusing just on one character, or sense the pattern of alienation and separation that makes it necessary to treat Achilles as a foreign entity and not an ally.
So, while the text relies on audience competency with epic conventions, this specific articulation also allows for depth of characterization in this moment: The final three interpretive options cannot be fully disambiguated, although we can argue for greater weight to the typological argument.
“However much my work, thought, and toil has added to learning and as much as the progressive consensus in those matters has sketched out and uncovered while men of repute and philosophers compete with each other in these fields, I have now articulated as much as I was able. I did not leave out anything which I knew because I was lazy, as if I looked down on or dishonored some wild beast without reason or speech.
No, here too that lust for knowledge which lives deep within me and is native there has set me afire. I am not ignorant of the fact that some of those who look keenly for money and are bewitched by honors, and power, and everything which gains a reputation may attack me if I spent my free time on these projects when I could have been primping myself and frequenting courtyards and courting wealth.
Instead, I have concerned myself with foxes and lizards and bugs and snakes and lions, with what a leopard does, how affectionate storks are to their young, how the nightingale singles sweetly, how wise an elephant is, the shapes of fishes, the migrations of cranes, the natures of serpents and the rest of the things which this carefully written composition contains and preserves.
It is not at all dear to me to be numbered among these wealthy men and to be compared to them. But if, instead, I would try and desire to join that crowd among whom wise poets and men clever at seeking out and examining the secrets of nature and the writers who approach the most extensive experience think it right to join, it is clear that I am a far better judge of the difference than these other people are. Or I would prefer to excel in a single school of knowledge than to gain the praised riches and possessions of your most wealthy people. Well, that’s enough about these things for now.”
“I say that the over-powering son of Kronos assented
On that day when the Argives took to the fast-faring ships
Bringing murder and death to the Trojans,
Showing clear and favorable signs by flashing lightning.
So let no one be compelled to return home,
Before each one has taken a Trojan wife to bed
As payback for the struggles and moans of Helen”
[To pay back the struggles and moans of Helen]: “The separatists say that the poet of the Iliad presents Helen as enduring it badly and groaning because of the trauma of rape by Alexander while the poet of the Odyssey presents her as willing.
This is because they do not understand that the account is not from her perspective, but that we need to understand that it is from outside her perspective, that she is the object. So, there is the interpretation that it is is necessary to take vengeance in exchange for how we have groaned and suffered about Helen.”
The debate here, then, seems to be whether Helen is the actor behind the ὁρμήματά τε στοναχάς τε or the reason the ὁρμήματά τε στοναχάς τε are experienced by others. What I find more interesting in this passage is the assertion that ancient scholars split the authorship of the epics based on whether Helen seems a willing participant or not. Also not to be overlooked here: Nestor is rallying the troops by telling them they won’t go home until each of them “lies alongside” (κατακοιμηθῆναι) a wife of a Trojan.
(Most of our information about the separatists comes from scholia attributed to Aristarchus. There are eleven direct mentions of the scholiasts in Erbse’s edition.)
“Phandicus, in his Deliakon says that Daedalus embarked on a ship in flight for the reasons I mentioned earlier and when those who were following got close, he spread out a large cloth to get the winds to help them and escaped in this way. When his pursuers returned, they announced that “he escaped with wings”.
Phanodicos Deliacon Daedalum propter supradictas causas fugientem navem conscendisse et, cum imminerent qui eum sequebantur, intendisse pallium ad adiuvandum ventos et sic evasisse: illos vero qui insequebantur reversos nuntiasse pinnis illum evasisse.
“Achilles, dear to Zeus, had fifty ships which he led to Troy. In each of the ships there were fifty companions at the benches.” How, people ask, is it that the Poet who typically augments Achilles elsewhere, diminishes him in this passage? Is it because there is no excellence in numbers?
Aristarchus, however, says that there are fifty rowers [only] because of the phrase “on the benches”, meaning sailors as support crew. Dionysus, still, claims that the greatest number of rowers possible was 120 and that most ships had between these two numbers, so that the average amount was 86 men.”
“It would be annoying to list all the people who spent their lives pursuing board games, ball games, or sunbathing. Men whose pleasures are so busy are not at leisure. For example, no one will be surprised that those occupied by useless literary studies work strenuously—and there is great band of these in Rome now too.
This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oarsmen Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”
Persequi singulos longum est, quorum aut latrunculi aut pila aut excoquendi in sole corporis cura consumpsere vitam. Non sunt otiosi, quorum voluptates multum negotii habent. Nam de illis nemo dubitabit, quin operose nihil agant, qui litterarum inutilium studiis detinentur, quae iam apud Romanos quoque magna manus est. Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.