A sampling of comments on Iliad Rhapsody 10

2016.09.15 / updated 2018.09.11 | By Gregory Nagy

There is a pronounced shift in mood in Rhapsody 10. Unlike the narratives in the rest of the Iliad, this narrative focuses on how heroes behave at nighttime, as distinct from daytime. What dominates now is a poetics of ambush, which is a different kind of warfare. And a prime exponent of such poetics is the wolfish figure of Dolon. My comments here on Rhapsody 10 are mere supplements to the extensive commentary of Dué and Ebbott 2010.

Dolon. Detail from an Attic red-figure lekythos (460 BCE). Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Dolon. Detail from an Attic red-figure lekythos (460 BCE). Image via Wikimedia Commons.


There is a pronounced shift in mood in Rhapsody 10. Unlike the narratives in the rest of the Iliad, this narrative focuses on how heroes behave at nighttime, as distinct from daytime. What dominates now is a poetics of ambush, which is a different kind of warfare. And a prime exponent of such poetics is the wolfish figure of Dolon. My comments here on Rhapsody 10 are mere supplements to the extensive commentary of Dué and Ebbott 2010. [[GN 2016.09.14.]]



At the very beginning of the Iliadic text of Rhapsody 10, we find an interesting claim in the accompanying annotations known as the T scholia, which stem from Homeric research ongoing in the ancient world. According to that claim, this rhapsōidíā had been composed by Homer separately, not as part of the Iliad, and the separate composition was later arranged, tetákhthai, by Peisistratos to fit into the Iliad. Such a sense of separateness in the content of Rhapsody 10—a separateness that was noted, as we have just seen, in the ancient world—is due at least in part to a basic fact: the actions of heroes here take place at night, not in the daytime. The tactics and even the ethics of nighttime warfare are in many ways different from the protocols of daytime warfare as narrated in the rest of the Iliad, and the differences are traced in the commentary of Dué and Ebbott 2010. And I would add that there are cognate patterns of nighttime warfare in Iranian epic traditions: see Davidson 2013:95–97 (for relevant observations on the figure of Dolon in Rhapsody 10 of the Iliad, see also Davidson 1979). As for the ancient claim that Rhapsody 10 was supposedly inserted into a pre-existing series of 23 rhapsodies, I have serious problems even with the chronology of such a claim. Whereas Peisistratos of Athens lived in the sixth century BCE, the division of the Iliad and Odyssey each into 24 performance-units or rhapsōidiai can now plausibly be dated as far back as the late eighth and early seventh century BCE: see Nagy 2015.12.24 following Frame 2009 ch. 11. My view here supersedes an earlier view of mine as noted in PasP 181–182, where I considered the era of Demetrius of Phaleron, late fourth century BCE, as a possible setting for the division of the Iliad and Odyssey into 24 rhapsōidiai. [[GN 2016.09.14.]]


subject heading(s): the expression ‘(and) he was honored [tīein] as a god [theos] in the district [dēmos]’ (θεὸς [δ’] ὣς τίετο δήμῳ); hero cult; cult hero

Agamemnon in his role as king here is described in a way that goes beyond the epic action of the moment: the idea that he is honored as a god in his community back home evokes the further idea of his being worshipped there as a cult hero. See anchor comment at I.05.077–078. [[GN 2016.09.14 via BA 149, GMP 132–133.]]


subject heading(s): antagonism between immortal and mortal; boulē ‘wish, plan’; mētis ‘mind, intelligence’

In these verses, Agamemnon worries about the partiality shown by Zeus to Hector. According to Agamemnon, Zeus favors Hector because of the hiera ‘sacrifices’ offered by that hero to the god, I.10.046, and Zeus shows his favor by letting Hector win against the Achaeans. That is why the Achaeans now need to devise a boulē in the specific sense of a clever ‘plan’, I.10.043, which is kerdaleē ‘crafty’, I.10.044—a plan that is crafty enough to counter the many baneful things that Hector will do to damage the Achaeans by way of his mētis ‘mind, intelligence’, I.10.048. The idea of ‘doing by way of mētis’ here at I.10.048 is expressed by the derivative verb mētīesthai (aorist mētīsasthai)—which is later picked up by the verb mēdesthai ‘devise’ at I.10.52, referring again to the many baneful things that Hector will do—or ‘devise’—against the Achaeans. You would think, adds Agamemnon, that Hector was the son of some god or of some goddess, I.10.050. This wording about Hector evokes the reality of an ongoing antagonism between the goddess Athena and the hero Hector. Already at I.07.047, the wording of the seer Helenos is referring to such a reality: Helenos addresses his brother Hector by describing him as comparable to the god Zeus himself with respect to Hector’s qualities of mētis ‘mind, intelligence’, and the wording of this description is a direct affront to the divinity Athena, who is the very personification of mētis ‘mind, intelligence’. [[GN 2016.09.11 via BA 145.]]


subject heading(s): ep’ anthrōpous ‘throughout humankind’

Nestor is speaking to the assembled Achaean chieftains about a spying mission to be undertaken by a volunteer Achaean: whoever succeeds in accomplishing such a mission will have kleos ‘glory’ because he will be remembered and named in a song of praise that will be sung about him, I.10.212, and such a song will be sung ep’ anthrōpous ‘throughout humankind’, I.10.21. [[GN 2016.09.14.]]

I.10.213/ anchor comment on: ep’ anthrōpous ‘throughout humankind’, used in combination with words referring to remembrance by way of song

Homeric occurrences of ep’ anthrōpous ‘throughout humankind’: I.10.213 (with kléos [κλέος] at I.10.212); I.24.202 (with kleesthai [ἔκλε(ο)] at the same verse); I.24.535 (with kekasthai [ἐκέκαστο] at the same verse); O.01.299 (with kleos [κλέος] at O.01.298); O.03.252 (in this context, the question is where Menelaos was wandering when Agamemnon was killed by Aigisthos: the question is about that story, but the word for ‘story’ or ‘song’ here is not made explicit); O.14.403 (with eükleiē [ἐϋκλείη] at O.14.402); O.19.334 (with kleos [κλέος] at O.19.333); O.23.125 (there is a reference here to the storied fame of the mētis ‘intelligence, mind’ of Odysseus, but the word for ‘fame’ here is not made explicit); O.26.094 (with kleos [κλέος] at the same verse); O.24.201 (with aoidē [ἀοιδή] ‘song’: here the song about Klytaimestra is not glorious but inglorious); Homeric Hymn to Apollo 82 with poluōnumos [πολυώνυμος] at the same verse: the temple of Apollo will have great fame and thus it will be ‘having many names’]

The syntax of this expression ep’ anthrōpous, meaning ‘throughout humankind’, is unusual in Homeric diction, since there are no obvious parallels to be found for the combination of the preposition epi, ordinarily meaning ‘on’, with the accusative of anthrōpoi ‘humans’. Here and in other occurrences of this expression, what holds the syntax together, it appears, is the idea of a song that spreads the remembrance or even the fame and glory of a story throughout all of humanity. The anchor comment here at I.10.213 accounts for all the occurrences of this expression in Homeric diction. [[GN 2016.09.13 via BA 37.]]


subject heading(s): noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’

In the wording of Diomedes here, it all comes down to the need for noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’ in the special sense of ‘taking the initiative’, as the verb is used at I.10.224 and at I.10.225, both times in conjunction with the related noun nóos ‘mind’ at I.10.226. See also anchor comment at I.05.669 on: noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’. [[GN 2016.09.14 via BA 51.]]


subject heading(s): ‘best of the Achaeans’

The catalogue here of heroes who volunteer to accompany Diomedes on his nighttime spying mission is organized by way of repeating the verb (e)thelein ‘wish’ in the specialized sense of ‘volunteer’, and the various heroes who do volunteer are figured as the subjects of the repeated verb. Each one of these heroes is a potential candidate for the title ‘best of the Achaeans’. As the narrative proceeds, Odysseus will emerge as the most qualified for that title at this moment. [[GN 2016.09.14.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’; therapontes of Ares; ‘the two Ajaxes’

In contexts where the plural therapontes in combination with Arēos ‘of Ares’ is applied to the Achaeans=Danaans=Argives (here, to the ‘two Ajaxes’) as a grouping of warriors, the deeper meaning is more evident than in other contexts. [[GN 2016.08.04 via the comment on I.08.079 via BA 293–295; GMP 48; H24H 6§32.]]


subject heading(s): ‘best of the Achaeans’

Diomedes has to choose among the volunteers who are willing to accompany him on his nighttime spying mission. Agamemnon addresses Diomedes at this point, urging him to choose the hero who is truly most qualified, truly aristos ‘best’, I.10.236, and not to defer to someone who is superior in social status but inferior in heroic status, I.10.237–238. Agamemnon fears for the life of his brother, Menelaos, who is one of the volunteers, I.10.240. Evidently, Agamemnon fears that at least one of the other volunteers in fact superior to Menelaos. But the wording of Agamemnon betrays his own potential inferiority: he says explicitly to Diomedes that he should not chose a hero just because that hero may be basileuteros ‘more kingly’, I.10.239. The same wording, ironically, is used by Agamemnon in another context, where he claims superiority to Achilles himself on the grounds that he, Agamemnon, is basileuteros ‘more kingly’, Ι.09.160. In the present context, Agamemnon neglects to think of himself as a potential referent, since he was not one of the heroes who volunteered for the nighttime mission. See also I.09.392, where Achilles sarcastically uses the same word in rejecting the offer of Agamemnon: let the over-king choose as his son-in-law someone who is basileuteros ‘more kingly’ that I am. [[GN 2016.09.14 via BA 34; see also Dué and Ebbott 2010:283–284.]]


subject heading(s): noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’; nosteîn ‘have a safe homecoming [nostos]’.

Diomedes chooses Odysseus as the most qualified to accompany him, saying at I.10.247 that he and Odysseus would have the best chance at ‘having a (successful) homecoming’, expressed here by the verb nosteîn, because Odysseus has superior expertise in ‘taking note’, expressed here by the verb noeîn ‘take note (0f), notice’, take note’. Here we see the special links of the hero Odysseus with the Odyssean themes expressed by the noun/verb nóos/noeîn, basically meaning ‘mind’ / ‘take note (of), notice’, and the noun/verb nóstos/nosteîn, basically meaning ‘homecoming’/’have a homecoming’. On the ideas expressed by noeîn in connection with Odysseus, see the anchor comment at I.05.669. [[GN 2016.09.14 via BA 34–35, 51.]]


Q&T via BA 34, 240
subject heading(s): aineîn ‘praise’; neikeîn ‘quarrel with’; language of praise/blame

The words of Odysseus here, I.10.249–253, spoken in response to the preceding words of Diomedes, I.10.241–247, highlight the need for balancing the positive force of praise poetry and the negative force of blame poetry, as expressed respectively here by way of aineîn ‘praise’ and neikeîn ‘quarrel with’. The idea that Diomedes is speaking to a group who are ‘knowing’, eidótes, is a stylized way of referring to the audiences of epic in general: such audiences would be knowledgeable about how much praise and how much blame Odysseus deserves. [[GN 2016.09.14 via BA 34, 240; GMP 16; see also Dué and Ebbott 2010:289–290.]]


subject heading(s): podōkēs ‘swift-footed’

Except for this verse, where Dolon is described as podōkēs ‘swift-footed’, the only hero in the Iliad who is described by way of this same epithet—together with related epithets—is Achilles. [[GN 2016.09.14 via BA 326.]]


subject heading(s): ístō ‘let him/her be a witness’

This expression, imperative perfect of eidénai, which is normally translated ‘know’, needs to be compared with the corresponding agent noun (h)ístōr ‘witness, arbitrator’. [[GN 2016.09.14 via PH 251.]]


subject heading(s): boulē ‘wish, plan’

Hector here is reportedly ‘planning plans’: boulas bouleuei, at the sēma ‘tomb’ of Ilos, cult hero of Ilion, that is, of Troy. By implication, Hector achieves mental connectivity with the spirit of Ilos. [[GN 2016.09.14 via BA 145 and PH 293.]]


subject heading(s): thematic links for the swiftness of horses, the violence of wind, and the role of the war god Ares as a model for warriors

There is a hint here, but only a hint, of a Homeric theme linking the swiftness of horses with the violence of wind, and such a link extends also to the role of the war god Ares as a model for warriors. [[GN 2016.09.14 via BA 327.]]


Q&T via MoM 2§32
subject heading(s): simile

The simile here is activated by the adjective homoio- ‘similar to’, where the likeness expressed by the simile does not have to be permanently applicable. On the concept of a simile, see the anchor comment at I.05.441. [[GN 2016.09.14 via MoM 2§32.]]


subject heading(s): menos ‘mental power’

The goddess Athena is engaged here in the act of en-pneîn ‘breathing into’ the hero Diomedes something called menos ‘mental power’, I.10.482. Such ‘mental power’ makes the hero aware of his physical power and thus energizes him to perform heroic deeds. At highlighted moments in the Odyssey, Athena engages in comparable moments of intervention. [[GN 2016.09.14 via GMP 114.]]


Bibliographical Abbreviations

BA       = Best of the Achaeans, Nagy 1979/1999.

GMP    = Greek Mythology and Poetics, Nagy 1990b.

H24H   = The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Nagy 2013

HC       = Homer the Classic, Nagy 2009|2008

HPC     = Homer the Preclassic, Nagy 2010|2009

HQ       = Homeric Questions, Nagy 1996b

HR       = Homeric Responses, Nagy 2003

MoM   = Masterpieces of Metonymy, Nagy 2016|2015

PasP    = Poetry as Performance, Nagy 1996a

PH      = Pindar’s Homer, Nagy 1990a.



See the dynamic Bibliography for AHCIP.


Inventory of terms and names

See the dynamic Inventory of terms and names for AHCIP.