A sampling of comments on Iliad Rhapsody 18

2016.11.25 / updated 2018.09.20 | By Gregory Nagy

The centerpiece of Iliad 18 is the shield of Achilles, envisioned as a work of art that defines the universe. The divine artisan Hephaistos makes this shield by way of metalwork, but Homeric poetry reconfigures the artistry of this metalwork by way of verbal art. And the artistry of Homeric poetry will now create or re-create a cosmos that is meant to contain the Iliad itself.

The 'Shield of Achilles', Illustration originally published in the September 22, 1832 issue of 'The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge'.
“The Shield of Achilles.” Illustration originally published in The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, September 22, 1832.


The centerpiece of Iliad 18 is the shield of Achilles, envisioned as a work of art that defines the universe. The divine artisan Hephaistos makes this shield by way of metalwork, but Homeric poetry reconfigures the artistry of this metalwork by way of verbal art. And the artistry of Homeric poetry will now create or re-create a cosmos that is designed to contain the Iliad itself. [[GN 2016.11.25.]]


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

Before he has even been told about the death of Patroklos, Achilles is feeling anxious, and his anxiety is a premonition of the bad news coming his way. He is already thinking a thought that matches what has already happened, I.18.004, that Patroklos has been killed. In thinking this thought, Achilles reminds himself of something that his divine mother Thetis had once foretold to him: that the ‘best of the Myrmidons’ would be killed while Achilles was still alive, I.009–011. But why had Achilles failed to think this thought at an earlier time? Why did this thought about death for the best of the Myrmidons never occur to him when he sent out Patroklos to fight as his own substitute? It is as if Achilles had already recognized, back then, that Patroklos as his substitute had thereby already taken over, at least for the moment, the identity of Achilles as ‘best of the Achaeans’. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 33.]]


subject heading(s): mourning for Patroklos, mourning for Achilles; lament; akhos ‘grief’; a man of constant sorrow

At I.18.015–021, Achilles gets the grim news: that Patroklos has been killed by Hector, and that the fighting to recover his body, despoiled of the armor of Achilles, is still underway. Immediately, Achilles feels akhos ‘grief’, I.18.22. But the mourning and lamentation that is caused by this grief is aimed not only at Patroklos but also at Achilles in the narrative that follows, I.18.021–073. Within this narrative, Achilles gets to have his own wake, as it were. And the akhos ‘grief’ that is now felt by Achilles will never leave him, even after he unsays his mēnis ‘anger’ later on in Iliad 22. Unlike the goddess Demeter in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, for whom the akhos ‘grief’ that she felt at verses 40 and 90 will go away at verse 436 as soon as she is reunited with Persephone, the akhos ‘grief’ of Achilles will never go away. As Thetis the lamenting mother of Achilles declares at I.18.061–062, this hero will never again stop ‘grieving’, akhnusthai, I.18.062. From now on, Achilles will be a man of constant sorrow (on precedents for this expression, see H24H 1§54). See the comments on I.09.249–250 and on I.23.046–047. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 80, 94, 113; also HTL 132.]]


subject heading(s): lament; lament by Thetis; góos ‘lament’; group performance of lament

Thetis not only mourns her son Achilles as if he were already dead: she formally laments him in song. The wording of the verses spoken by Thetis here at I.18.051–060 corresponds morphologically to the wording of a song that could actually be sung as a lament. Leading her Nereid sisters, Thetis begins the singing at I.18.051, as signaled by the verb ex-arkhein ‘lead off [in performing]’, which indicates a performance by a lead performer in a song of lament performed by a group (see also PH 362). In this case, that group is represented by the Nereid sisters of Thetis. Such a performance involves not only singing but also a kinetic system of stylized movements—which is a kind of dancing that is integrated with the singing. On this point, see already the anchor comment on I.08.407–439. The movements of this kind of a kinetic system can be formalized by way of gestures such as swaying, tearing the cheeks, beating the chest, and so on, and it must be kept in mind that the singing of lament could regularly include the kind of stylized dancing that I describe here. As for the overall practice of singing this kind of lament, it is indicated here by a special word, góos, I.18.051. As we will see when we encounter further occurrences of this word, the góos is ordinarily sung only by relatives or close friends of the person who died. A typical theme in such a lament is what we see being sung by Thetis here at I.18.056–057, evoking the image of a tender young seedling that has tragically been cut down before its time. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 183–184.]]


subject heading(s): Achilles as a prefigured corpse

The grieving Achilles, shown lying prone here as if he himself were a corpse that needed to be mourned, is now held by the head from behind by her lamenting mother Thetis, Ι.18.071. This gesture re-enacts what typically happens at a real wake: the primary mourning woman will hold the head of the corpse from behind as she sings her song of lament. As we will see at I.24.724, such is the stance of Andromache when she cradles the head of her husband’s corpse while she sings her lament for him. See the comment on I.24.720–776. And the act of mourning performed by Thetis for Achilles here in Iliad 18 actually prefigures what will happen at the funeral of Achilles, which is of course not shown in the Iliad. At that funeral, which is shown only toward the end of the Odyssey, the corpse of Achilles will lie in state, and he will be mourned then by Thetis together with her Nereid sisters, O.24.058–059. Earlier in that narrative, as the corpse of Achilles is first seen lying in the dust after his death in battle, he is described there as larger than life in size, O.24.040: ‘you lay there, so huge in all your hugeness’ (κεῖσο μέγας μεγαλωστί). So also Achilles here in the Iliad is now being pictured as lying in the dust, and he is described here too in the same way, I.18.026–027: ‘all stretched out, so huge in all his hugeness, he lay there’ (μέγας μεγαλωστί τανυσθεὶς | κεῖτο). So, Achilles is already being prefigured here as a corpse that is larger than life. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 113.]]


subject heading(s): penthos ‘grief’

The akhos ‘grief’ experienced by Achilles at I.18.022 upon hearing the news about the death of Patroklos is here called a penthos ‘grief’. As in other Homeric contexts, we can see a synonymity here. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 94, 102; also HTL 132.]]


subject heading(s): Will of Zeus

In this retrospective narrative, I.18.074–077, Thetis recalls what Achilles had originally prayed for: the hero had wished that Zeus would allow the Trojans to succeed in their onslaught against the Achaeans—to the point where the attackers would reach the sterns of the beached ships of the Achaeans. At that point, the Achaeans would surely recognize how much they needed Achilles. Now that this wish of Achilles has already been translated into the Will of Zeus, what is to happen next? That is the point of the question asked by Thetis, but of course the answer of Achilles will have to be framed in terms of the consequences resulting from his original wish. Now that Patroklos has been killed, what is Achilles to do? [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 82, 334, 336.]]


subject heading(s): sterns of the Achaean ships

This compressed reference to the positioning of the beached ships of the Achaeans needs to be seen in the broader context of the expanded references, on which see especially the comment on I.08.220–227. [[GN 2016.11.24 via HPC 160.]]


subject heading(s): Patroklos; philos ‘near and dear’; hetairos ‘companion’

The restoration of honor for Achilles can now give him no pleasure, since the price for this restoration has been the death of the hetairos ‘companion’ who was most philos ‘near and dear’ to him. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 102, 105; PH 253.]]


subject heading(s): armor of Achilles

The armor of Achilles has been stripped from the body of Patroklos by Hector, who is now wearing it. This armor represents what Achilles has inherited from his immortal mother. By contrast, the ash spear as described at I.16.140–144 represents what Achilles has inherited from his mortal father. See the comment on I.16.140–144. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 158–159, 325.]]


subject heading(s): ōku-moros ‘soon to have a fated death’

Thetis calls Achilles ōku-moros ‘soon to have a fated death’, I.18.095, since she sees that the hero is resolved to kill Hector despite the consequences—which will be fatal for Achilles. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 102.]]


subject heading(s): hetairos ‘companion’

Achilles, recognizing his immeasurable loss in having caused the death of Patroklos, who was all along his nearest and dearest hetairos ‘companion’, has only now come to recognize his commensurate loss in having also caused the deaths of many other hetairoi ‘companions’ who died defending the ships of the Achaeans from Hector’s fire. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 106.]]


subject heading(s): kleos ‘glory’ (of poetry); esthlo– ‘real, genuine, good’; arnusthai ‘struggle to win as a prize’

Now that Patroklos has been killed, Achilles can finally recognize what he has to do. He has to kill Hector, thus ensuring his own death soon thereafter, and by doing so he will win for himself a kleos ‘glory’ that is esthlon ‘real, genuine, good’. The verb arnusthai, which takes kleos ‘glory’ here as its direct object, means ‘struggle to win as a prize’. For more on this verb, see the comment on O.01.05. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 102.]]


subject heading(s): bay of Hellespont

Now that Patroklos has been killed, the Trojans are on the attack again, and they pursue the Achaeans all the way to the last point of refuge for those notional ancestors of Greek civilization. That point, once again, is visualized as the shores of the bay of Hellespont. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 343.]]


subject heading(s): therapōn ‘attendant, ritual substitute’

Yet again, a retrospective: Patroklos has been killed as a therapōn of Achilles. [[GN 2016.08.04 via the comment at I.17.164.]]


subject heading(s): fire streaming from the head of Achilles; phlox ‘burst of flame’

As Achilles gets ready to rejoin his companions in the war against the Trojans, his head catches on fire, lit up by the power of the goddess Athena. This fire is described at I.18.206 as a phlox ‘burst of flame’.  [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 323.]]


subject heading(s): fire from the head of Achilles; selas ‘flash of light’

The word here for the fire bursting from the head of Achilles is selas ‘flash of light’. On this word, which signals the Will of Zeus, see especially the note on I.19.003.017. [[GN 2016.11.26.]]


subject heading(s): fire streaming from the head of Achilles

The word here for the fire emanating from the head of Achilles is simply pūr ‘fire’, I.18.225. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 323.]]


subject heading(s): kratero- ‘having the power to win’; kratos ‘winning-power’

I note here only in passing the association of this adjective kratero-, in the sense of ‘having the power to win’, with the noun kratos ‘winning-power’. For more about this noun, see the comments on I.01.509 and I.11.317–319. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 85.]]


subject heading(s): assembly of the Trojans; antagonism between immortal and mortal; mētis ‘mind, intelligence’

At this assembly, Polydamas advocates a defensive strategy now that Achilles has re-entered the war. But Hector insists on a strategy of maintaining the offensive, and his opinion prevails. The Master Narrator comments: this was a bad decision by the assembly, to approve the strategy of Hector, since the goddess Athena had taken away from them their senses, that is, their phrenes ‘thinking’, I.18.311. If the assembly had been sensible, they would have recognized that Hector’s mētis ‘mind, intelligence’ had failed him, I.18.312. As noted in the comments on I.06.286–311, I.07.017–061, I.08.538–541, I.10.043–052, I.11.200, and I.13.825–829, there is a pattern of personal hostility felt by the goddess Athena toward Hector as a hero who aspires to some of the same qualities that Athena herself exemplifies. Like the goddess, Hector can be seen as an exponent of (1) defensive tactics in the warfare of protecting a citadel from sieges and (2) mētis ‘mind, intelligence’—two qualities that are now tragically taken away from him when he most needs to have them in the macro-narrative of the Iliad. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 147, GMP 204.]]


subject heading(s): rhapsodic sequencing

The particle de (δέ) of I.18.356 is syntactically correlated with the particle men (μέν) in a preceding verse, I.18.354. But a rhapsode (rhapsōidos) could begin his performance with the de-clause, thus “stranding,” as it were, the preceding men-clause. Here is an example, with reference to the performance of a rhapsode in the Ptolemaic era of Alexandria:

καὶ ὁ μὲν ῥαψῳδὸς εὐθὺς ἦν διὰ στόματος πᾶσιν, ἐν τοῖς Πτολεμαίου γάμοις ἀγομένου τὴν ἀδελφὴν καὶ πρᾶγμα δρᾶν ἀλλόκοτον <νομιζ>ομένου καὶ ἄθεσμον ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ τῶν ἐπῶν ἐκείνων·

Ζεὺς δ᾿ Ἥρην ἐκάλεσσε κασιγνήτην ἄλοχόν τε [I.18.356]

The rhapsode [rhapsōidos] was the talk of everybody—the one who, at the wedding of Ptolemy who, in marrying his own sister was considered to be committing a deed unnatural and unholy, began with the following words: ‘And [de] Zeus summoned Hērā his sister, his wife’ [I.18.356]

Plutarch Table Talk 736e

The historical occasion is the wedding, in the first quarter of the third century before our era, of Ptolemy II Philadelphus to his sister, Arsinoe, in accordance with the practice of Egyptian pharaohs—and in violation of Hellenic practices. Evidently, then, the particle de could be used to begin a rhapsodic performance, even in contexts were such a use was dependent on a preceding men-clause. For an example of such a de at the beginning of a Homeric rhapsody, see the comment on O.03.001. [[GN 2017.03.29 via PP 161–162.]]


subject heading(s): aphthito– ‘imperishable’

The domos ‘abode’ of Hephaistos, I.18.369, is described as aphthitos ‘imperishable’, I.18.370, and khalkeos ‘made of bronze’, Ι.18.371. More in a later comment about the implications. [[GN 2016.11.24 via BA 179.]]


subject heading(s): Ōkeanos

The cosmic river Ōkeanos is described here at I.18.399 as apsorrhoos ‘backward-flowing’ (ἀψορρόου Ὠκεανοῖο). Since this river is visualized as flowing around the world in a circle, its flow always comes back to where it started. Since the flow comes back full circle, the Ōkeanos is ‘backward-flowing’. [[GN 2016.11.20 via HC 2§165.]]


subject heading(s): wishes correlated with premises

Here is what the divine artisan wishes as he proceeds to make a new set of armor for Achilles: ‘|464 If only I could have the power to hide him from sorrowful death, |465 when his dreadful fate comes upon him |466 —as surely as there will be fine armor for him!’ (|464 αἲ γάρ μιν θανάτοιο δυσηχέος ὧδε δυναίμην |465 νόσφιν ἀποκρύψαι, ὅτε μιν μόρος αἰνὸς ἱκάνοι, |466 ὥς οἱ τεύχεα καλὰ παρέσσεται’). What follows is an epitome from GMP 296. Hephaistos is here wishing for something that is uncertain, and the wish is linked by the adverb hōde (ὧδε) ‘so’ with the conjunction hōs (ὡς) ‘as’ introducing an absolute certainty, that Achilles will have fine armor. In other words, the uncertainty of the wish, that Achilles be saved from death, is correlated with the certainty of the premise, that Achilles will have fine armor. I highlight the wording ai gar (αἲ γάρ + optative) ‘if only’, which expresses the wish, and the wording hōde… hōs (ὧδε…ὡς) ‘as surely as’, which connects this wish to the premise. We see here a parallelism with the wording ei gar (εἰ γάρ + optative) ‘if only’ when Hector expresses his wish to become an immortal, I.08.538 and I.13.825, and with the wording hōs/houtō…hōs (ὣς/οὕτω…ὡς) ‘as surely as’, which connects his wish to his premise as expressed at I.08.538-541 and I.13.825–828—that disaster will surely befall the Achaeans. In some cases, as in the three I have just highlighted, it sounds as if the speaker of the wish were expressing an obvious impossibility. But there are many cases where the wish being expressed is not at all meant to sound impossible: for an example, see I.04.313–314 and the comment there. Other such examples include O.03.218–220, O.14.440–441, O.15.341–342, O.17.494, O.17.496, O.18.235–240. For a more complicated example, see I.16.722–723 and the comment there. I save for a later comment some further examples. [[GN 2016.11.24 via GMP 294–301.]]


subject heading(s): making new armor for Achilles; ring-composition; Ōkeanos as ring-composition

The god Hephaistos makes a new set of metallic armor for Achilles to wear, replacing the older set that is now worn by Hector. The divine metalworker commences the work at I.18.468 and completes it at I.18.613. Then at I.18.614 the narrative announces that the overall work on the armor has now been completed. The metalwork itself is described as primarily bronzework, I.18.474, since bronze is the very first kind of metal that the god ‘was casting in the fire’ (ἐν πυρὶ βάλλεν), and then there are three secondary metals that are mentioned in succession at I.18.474–475: tin, gold, and silver. But bronze dominates the narrative. And the very first piece of armor to be made by the divine metalworker, as announced at I.18.478–479, is the sakos or ‘shield’, I.18.478, which is the centerpiece of the entire process of manufacturing the new set of armor for Achilles. The narrative that describes the making of the shield, which is already a description of the shield in the making, lasts from I.18.478 all the way to I.18.608. Then at I.18.609 the narrative announces that the work on the shield has now been completed. Just as the beginning of the narrative about the making of the shield announces the word sakos ‘shield’ at I.18.478, so also the ending that announces the completion of the work also announces again the same word sakos ‘shield’ at I.18.609, and thus the narrative has come full circle in a spectacular display of ring-composition. This ring-composition expresses here the circularity of the shield, but that circularity is also expressed by way of the adornment that encircles the shield. This adornment is the rim of the shield, presumably imagined as blue, and its encirclement of the shield is said to represent the cosmic river Ōkeanos, I.18.607–608. Such an encirclement of the shield by a representation of the Ōkeanos corresponds to the encirclement of the cosmos by the ever-circular flow of the Ōkeanos itself. See the comment on I.18.399. So, the correspondence shows that the shield in the making is in fact the cosmos in the making. As soon as the shield, as a narration in the making, is finally complete, the shield as an object in the making can finally be seen as a made object. What then follows at I.18.610–613 is the making of other parts of the armor: breastplate, helmet, greaves. And then comes the announcement at I.18.614, as already noted, that the work is now complete. Thus the beginning and the completion of the work on the shield, signaled in the ring-composition that starts at I.18.478 and comes full circle at I.18.608, is enveloped by a wider ring-composition that starts at I.18.468 and comes full circle at I.18.614. [[GN 2016.11.20 via BA 325; also GMP 238.]]


Q&T via HC 2§164
subject heading(s): making a new shield for Achilles

As noted in the previous comment, which analyzes the wider narrative, the narrower narrative about the making of the shield begins at I.18.478 and comes full circle at I.18.608, followed by an announcement of the completion at I.18.609. For the wider narrative, see again the comment on I.18.468–613. As for the narrower narrative here, the analysis will require a different perspective. As the camera zooms in, as it were, on the world of images that are being worked into the surface of the shield by the divine metalworker Hephaistos, the artistic microcosm that we now see being pictured here represents a physical macrocosm that turns out to be the Homeric cosmos itself, defined by the world-encircling river Ōkeanos as its outer limit. The cosmic essence of this Ōkeanos, signaled at I.18.607–608, has already been analyzed in the earlier comment on I.18.468–613. Also, as noted in the still earlier comment on I.14.245–246–246a, the Homeric traditions about Ōkeanos coexisted with older traditions attributed to Orpheus, and, already in the ancient world, various interpreters developed various influential theories about the cosmos by viewing such Orphic traditions about the Ōkeanos together with the corresponding Homeric traditions. One such interpreter was Crates of Mallos, for whom the Ōkeanos was an essential part of an allegory about the cosmos: see the comment on I.14.245–246–246a. For Crates, his interpretation of the verses about the Ōkeanos at I.14.245–246–246a as a cosmic allegory was evidently coextensive with his interpretation of the verses about the shield being made for Achilles here at I.18.478–609. And there is a further extension: for Crates, the verses at I.11.032–040 about the images worked into the shield of Agamemnon were likewise a cosmic allegory: see the comment on I.11.032–040. [[GN 2016.11.20 via HC 2§§165–167; also HPC 289, 358–359.]]


subject heading(s): antux ‘rim’; triplax ‘three-fold’; marmareē ‘gleaming’

The antux ‘rim’ that is being made for the shield of Achilles, mentioned here at I.18.479 and again at I.18.608, is triplax ‘threefold’, I.18.480, and the outermost fold or circle of this antux is the Ōkeanos, I.18.608. For Crates, as noted in the comment on I.18.478–609, this design representing the Ōkeanos is part of an overall cosmic allegory. In Eustathius Commentary on the Iliad vol. 4 p. 218 lines 14–17, the commentator draws attention to the morphological parallelism of triplax ‘threefold’ with diplax ‘twofold’, the second of which words refers at I.03.126 and at I.22.441 to a pattern-woven fabric. So, Eustathius recognizes here a crossover between the artistic worlds of metalwork and weaving. On the diplax, see already the comment on I.03.125–128. The epithet for antux ‘rim’ as marmareē ‘gleaming’ at I.18.480 is relevant, since the same word is attested as an epithet for the woven fabric that is called a diplax at both I.03.126 and I.22.441 in the medieval manuscript tradition. As we see from the attested medieval texts, the epithet marmareē ‘gleaming’ varies with porphureē ‘purple’ at both I.03.126 and I.22.441. For more on the interchangeable worlds of metalworking and weaving, see I.18.590 and the relevant comment on I.18.590–606. [[GN 2016.11.20 via HC 2§165, C§16n; also HPC 358–359.]]


subject heading(s): narrating the Shield of Achilles; ecphrasis; athetesis; Zenodotus; Aristarchus; Crates

Beginning at I.18.483 and ending at I.18.603 are the verses that actually narrate the images that are worked by the divine metalworker into the surface of the Shield of Achilles. So far in the comments on Iliad 18, I have not capitalized the first letter of the word referring to the Shield, since I have been viewing this object primarily as an object in the making. But now, as I begin to view this imagined object primarily as a narrative in the making, I write Shield, not shield. And I now apply the technical term ecphrasis to this core narrative, by which I mean the narration of visual—or at least visualized—art by way of verbal art. From the start, I find it most noteworthy to report what we learn from the testimony of the scholia A for I.18.483: that Zenodotus of Ephesus (see under Zenodotus in the Inventory of terms and names) athetized this entire ecphrasis, that is, all the verses that narrated, by way of verbal art, the visual or at least visualized narrative of the Shield, I.18.483–608. (On athetesis and athetizing, see the Inventory of terms and names.) But Zenodotus retained these verses in the base text of his edition. (On base text, see the Inventory of terms and names). We know this from the fact that Aristarchus, in his edition of Homer, reported a variant textual reading that had been attested by Zenodotus in the case of one of these athetized verses, I.18.499. See the comment below on I.18.499. By contrast with Zenodotus, an editor like Crates of Mallos considered the entire narrative of the Shield to be an all-important part of the Iliad writ large: see the comment on I.18.478–609. [[GN 2016.11.20 via PP 151; also HC 2§§152, 165, 168, 173, 195, 198; also HPC 352.]]



The mapping here of earth and sky on the Shield shows the centrality of the physical cosmos in the overall design of the visual narrative. [[GN 2016.11.23 via HC 2§165.]]


subject heading(s): Orion; Ēōs; Arktos

The astral configuration of Orion the Hunter and Arktos the Bear here at I.18.487–489, recurs at O.05.273–275, on which see the comments there. [[GN 2016.11.22 via BA 201–202 and GMP 253.]]


Q&T via HC 2§173
subject heading(s): a tale of two cities

The tale of two cities begins here. So, there is a transition from the realm of a natural world to what seems at first to be the realm of a social world. The narrative connects immediately with the first of the two cities. As this narrative proceeds, it would seem as if the first city were at peace, since the second city is at war: when the narrative actually turns to the second city, starting at I.18.509, we see right away a scene of warmaking. [[GN 2016.11.22 via HC 2§173.]]


subject heading(s): wedding scene on the Shield of Achilles; wallpaper effect

The first scene to be featured in the city at peace is a wedding. But there is not just one wedding: rather, there is a distributive sequence of wedding scenes to be viewed one after the other, as if each viewing were a repetition of the previous viewing. From here on, I will refer to such a visual trope as a wallpaper effect. [[GN 2016.11.22.]]


subject heading(s): numphē ‘local goddess, bride’

This word numphē, meaning ‘local goddess’ as at I.06.420, can refer to a ‘bride’ at the ritual moment of getting married. Such an extension of meaning, where the human can be merged with the divine, is a characteristic of climactic moments in ritual. More in other comments, especially in the comment on I.19.155. [[GN 2016.11.22 via PP 84.]]


subject heading(s): litigation scene on the Shield of Achilles; neikos ‘quarrel’; poinē ‘blood-price’; wallpaper effect

The litigants in this litigation scene are anonymous, but the noun neikos ‘quarrel’ at I.18.497 and the verb neikeîn at I.18.498 are evocative of the quarrel that took place between Achilles and Agamemnon in Iliad 1. If the plaintiff and the defendant in the litigation scene are comparable to Achilles and Agamemnon, then what would be the cause of their quarrel? In terms of the micro-narrative that has been worked into the Shield, the quarrel is about the price of a human life. The quarrel is about payment of a poinē ‘blood-price’, I.18.498, for the life of a man who perished. But who would be this man who perished? In terms of the Iliad as a macro-narrative containing the micro-narrative of this litigation scene, the man who perished could be seen as Patroklos. If Agamemnon had not insulted Achilles in Iliad 1, Patroklos would not have been killed as a substitute for Achilles. So, it would seem justifiable for Achilles to blame Agamemnon for the death of Patroklos. And if Achilles were to prosecute Agamemnon, how much would Agamemnon pay as a blood-price for the life of Patroklos? In the litigation scene, the defendant who is being blamed for the death of the man who perished claims the right to pay the blood-price in full, but the plaintiff refuses to accept any compensation at all. Following the interpretation of Muellner 1976:100–106, I translate as follows the relevant wording at I.18.499–500: ‘The one made a claim [eukheto] to pay back in full, | declaring publicly to the district [dēmos], but the other was refusing to accept anything’ (ὃ μὲν εὔχετο πάντ᾽ ἀποδοῦναι | δήμῳ πιφαύσκων, ὃ δ᾽ ἀναίνετο μηδὲν ἑλέσθαι). In this context, the collocation of the political term dēmos ‘district’ (δήμῳ at I.18.500) with the juridical term eukhesthai ‘make a claim’ (εὔχετο at I.18.499) is cognate with the collocation of the same political term dāmos (da-mo) with the same juridical term eukhesthai ‘make a claim’ (e-u-ke-to = eukhetoi) in the Linear B tablet Ep 704 from Pylos (HR 75–76). In terms of the macro-narrative in the Iliad, there is for Achilles no price that could ever repay the loss of his nearest and dearest companion. But who is to determine how to achieve justice in the course of the litigation as described in the micro-narrative? As we see at I.18.501, both litigants opted for arbitration: ‘both were heading for an arbitrator [histōr], to get a limit [peirar]’ (ἄμφω δ᾽ ἱέσθην ἐπὶ ἴστορι πεῖραρ ἑλέσθαι). The context of the arbitration is narrated at I.18.502–508. Surrounding the litigants is an outer circle of lāoi ‘people’, I.18.502, who shout their approval for one side or the other, and an inner circle of elders who compete with each other in striving to reach the most equitable formula for a successful arbitration, I.18.503–508. These elders are taking turns as each one of them stands up, with scepter in hand, to pronounce their competing formulations (details in H24H 13§36; also GMP 53, 64). Their action is thus distributive, since they make their pronouncements not as a group but individually and competitively (see the scholia A for Iliad 18.506 and the comments in HPC 67). So, when the elders are described at I.18.505 as ‘holding their scepters’, it is not that they are all holding scepters at the same time: rather, each one takes turns in holding the scepter, and you hold it only when it is your turn to speak. Again I see here a wallpaper effect. [[GN 2016.11.22 via BA 109, 312; PH 250–252, 255, 258; GMP 53, 64; HC 2§174.]]


subject heading(s): base text; Aristarchus; Zenodotus

The anonymous dead man whose life has been lost is described at I.18.499 as apophthimenos (ἀποφθιμένου), that is, as someone who ‘perished’. This reading comes from the base text once used by Aristarchus, but there was a variant reading apoktamenos ‘killed’ (ἀποκταμένου) in the base text used by Zenodotus. For the implications of such variation between the base texts of Aristarchus and Zenodotus, see the comment on I.18.483–608. [[GN 2016.11.22.]]


subject heading(s): a city besieged

Now the narrative turns from the first city, viewed in a time of peace, to the second city, viewed in a time of war. The city at war is under siege, and the warriors who are besieging this city have not yet decided whether to destroy it completely if they win—or whether they keep the spoils of war, dividing among themselves whatever they acquire by conquest, I.18.509–512. While the besiegers encircling the city are deliberating at ground level down below, the visual narration turns around and looks upward to view the city walls of the besieged: standing up there on the walls are the women and children and old men, I.18.514–515, awaiting their fate. The whole scene evokes the siege of Troy in the macro-narrative of the Iliad. [[GN 2016.11.22.]]


subject heading(s): picturing warriors on the attack; Ares and Athena as divinities of war

The scene picturing the besieged city now shifts to a scene picturing warriors on the attack. Leading them are the divinities Ares and Athena, I.18.516, who are pictured here as pictures, so to speak, since the divine artisan Hephaistos has metalworked them in gold, I.18.517. But these two divinities are at the same time pictured also as life-size, so to speak, since they are metalworked as larger in size than the warriors whom they lead, I.18.519. The pairing of Ares and Athena as divinities of war stems from an old tradition going back to the Bronze Age. See the comments on O.14.216. [[GN 2016.11.23 via HC 4§100.]]


subject heading(s): arizēlo- ‘most visible’

This epithet arizēlo- ‘most visible’, applied here to the divinities Ares and Athena as worked in gold, marks a notionally everlasting vision, pictured by Homeric poetry as a perfect and permanent work of art. [[GN 2016.11.23 via HC 1§§54–55, 2§§170–171.]]


subject heading(s): singing and dancing at a festival; molpē ‘song and dance’

After an extensive description of life in the countryside, I.18.541–566, the vision centers on occasions of festive celebration marking the successful completion of work on the land. Such celebration is figured as a festival featuring ‘song and dance’, molpē, I.18.572. The singers / dancers are parthenikai ‘young unmarried women’ and ēïtheoi ‘young unmarried men’ who have just completed the harvest, I.18.567. Taking the lead in the singing / dancing is a pais ‘boy’ positioned at the center of a group of celebrating singers / dancers, I.18.569. This leader of the song and dance is figured as accompanying himself on a string instrument while he ‘sings the song of Linus’, I.18.570. The whole group sings and dances in response to the leader of song and dance, I.18.571–572. [[GN 2016.18.23 via PH 352–353.]]


Q&T via HPC 152
subject heading(s): pastoral scene; stathmos ‘station’; klisiā ‘shelter’; sēkos ‘enclosure’; metonymy; hero cult; Hellespont

In this compressed pastoral scene, we see at I.18.589 three important words referring to places where herdsmen can shelter their herds: stathmos ‘station’; klisiāshelter’; sēkos ‘enclosure’. In what follows, I epitomize from my analysis of these three words in HPC 152–153. All three of these words are applied here in the context of describing a generic pastoral setting. When we compare the etymologies of these three words with the contexts of their usage in other pastoral settings, we find that their reconstructed meanings are interrelated: stathmos, derived from the root *sta- meaning ‘stand up’, is the makeshift post of a herdsman’s shelter or tent; klisiā, derived from the root *kli- meaning ‘lie down’ or ‘lean’, is the space in the shelter where the herdsman reclines—or, alternatively, it is a ‘lean-to’ covering that affords a makeshift shelter; and sēkos, derived from the root *sak- meaning ‘fill [an empty space]’, is the enclosure where the herdsman’s herd is penned in. By way of metonymy, the klisiā is not only an aspect of the shelter but also the entire shelter; likewise, the stathmos is not only the post of the shelter but also the entire shelter and everything contiguous with the shelter, including the sēkos. In this sense, then, the stathmos is the herdsman’s ‘station’. The pastoral word sēkos refers not only to the enclosure where a herd is penned in but also to the enclosure where a cult hero is entombed and worshipped. And it can be argued that such sacral connotations are attached to the pastoral words klisiā and stathmos as well. On metonymy, see the Inventory of terms and names. All three words connote traditional images typical of cult heroes. In the Iliad, the word klisiā refers to the abode that a hero like Achilles frequents in life: his klisiā is his shelter, which marks the place where his ship is beached on the shores of the Hellespont during the Trojan War, as we see at I.08.224, I.11.007, and so on. See the comments on I.08.227–227 and on I.11.005–016. In later poetry we see a related use of stathmos (plural stathma) with reference to the places where the ships of Achaean heroes are beached on the shores of the Hellespont (“Euripides” Rhesus 43); these places are also called naustathma ‘ship stations’ (Rhesus 136, 244, 448, 582, 591, 602, 673). Among these stathma ‘stations’ lining the coast of the Hellespont is the heroic space occupied by Achilles. [[GN 2016.11.23 via HPC 152–153.]]


Q&T via MoM 4§5
subject heading(s): Homer’s “signature”; khoros ‘place for singing / dancing’, group of singers /dancers’; Daedalus; Hephaistos; Ariadne

|590 Ἐν δὲ χορὸν ποίκιλλε περικλυτὸς ἀμφιγυήεις, |591 τῷ ἴκελον οἷόν ποτ’ ἐνὶ Κνωσῷ εὐρείῃ |592 Δαίδαλος ἤσκησεν καλλιπλοκάμῳ Ἀριάδνῃ. |593 ἔνθα μὲν ἠΐθεοι καὶ παρθένοι ἀλφεσίβοιαι |594 ὀρχεῦντ’ ἀλλήλων ἐπὶ καρπῷ χεῖρας ἔχοντες. |595 τῶν δ’ αἳ μὲν λεπτὰς ὀθόνας ἔχον, οἳ δὲ χιτῶνας |596 εἵατ’ ἐϋννήτους, ἦκα στίλβοντας ἐλαίῳ· |597 καί ῥ’ αἳ μὲν καλὰς στεφάνας ἔχον, οἳ δὲ μαχαίρας |598 εἶχον χρυσείας ἐξ ἀργυρέων τελαμώνων. |599 οἳ δ’ ὁτὲ μὲν θρέξασκον ἐπισταμένοισι πόδεσσι |600 ῥεῖα μάλ’, ὡς ὅτε τις τροχὸν ἄρμενον ἐν παλάμῃσιν |601 ἑζόμενος κεραμεὺς πειρήσεται, αἴ κε θέῃσιν· |602 ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖ θρέξασκον ἐπὶ στίχας ἀλλήλοισι. |603 πολλὸς δ’ ἱμερόεντα χορὸν περιίσταθ’ ὅμιλος |604 τερπόμενοι· μετὰ δέ σφιν ἐμέλπετο θεῖος ἀοιδὸς 
|605 φορμίζων· δοιὼ δὲ κυβιστητῆρε κατ’ αὐτοὺς 
|606 μολπῆς ἐξάρχοντoς ἐδίνευον κατὰ μέσσους.

|590 The renowned one [= Hephaistos], the one with the two strong arms, pattern-wove [poikillein] into it [= the Shield of Achilles] a place for singing-and-dancing [khoros]. |591 It [= the khoros] was just like the one that, once upon a time in far-ruling Knossos, |592 Daedalus made for Ariadne, the one with the beautiful tresses [plokamoi]. |593 There were young men there, and young women who are courted with gifts of cattle, |594 and they all were dancing [orkheîsthai] with each other, holding hands at the wrist. |595 The girls were wearing delicate dresses, while the boys were clothed in tunics [khitōn plural] |596 well woven, gleaming exquisitely, with a touch of olive oil. |597 The girls had beautiful garlands [stephanai], while the boys had knives |598 made of gold, hanging from knife-belts made of silver. |599 Half the time they moved fast in a circle, with expert steps, |600 showing the greatest ease, as when a wheel, solidly built, is given a spin by the hands |601 of a seated potter, who is testing it whether it will run well. |602 The other half of the time they moved fast in straight lines, alongside each other. |603 A huge crowd stood around the place of the song-and-dance [khoros] that rouses desire, |604 and they were feeling delight [terpesthai]; in their midst sang-and-danced [melpesthai] a divine singer [aoidos], |605 playing on the special lyre [phorminx]; two special dancers [kubistētēre] among them |606 were swirling as he led [ex-arkhein] the singing-and-dancing [molpē] in their midst

This set of verses is potentially a reference to Homer by Homer, as if he had left behind his own “signature” for the future, marking himself not only as an artisan of words but also as a performer of song writ large. This vision of Homer as a performer predates the later vision of Homer as a reciter of epic verses. In this older vision, Homer sings to the accompaniment of a lyre, and he is not only a soloist: he can lead the singing and dancing performed by a choral group. The word for ‘choral group’ in Greek is khoros, which refers to an ensemble of performers who dance as well as sing—unlike the English borrowing chorus, which refers exclusively to an ensemble of singers. And that is why the word khoros here at I.18.603 refers to the combined singing and dancing that we now see being performed by a festive ensemble of unmarried young women and men. But the same word khoros can also refer to the setting for such singing and dancing, as we see at I.18.590. That is, khoros can refer to the actual place where the singing and dancing happens, and, at I.18.591–592, that place is compared by way of simile to a ritual setting that had been constructed once upon a time in the city of Knossos on the island of Crete. That setting, known in other traditions as the Labyrinth, had been constructed by the prototypical artisan Daedalus for the princess Ariadne, daughter of Minos the king of Knossos. Myth has it that Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, king of Knossos in Crete, who dominated the Aegean Sea as the mighty ruler of the prototypical Minoan Empire: see Nagy 2015.08.26, 2015.09.03, 2015.09.10, 2015.09.17, 2015.09.24. So, the setting that was figured by the divine artisan Hephaistos for the performance of Homer is being compared at I.18.591–592 to a setting that had been figured by the prototypical human artisan Daedalus for a choral performance that had once taken place in the Bronze Age of Minos and Ariadne. For more on Ariadne, see the comment on O.15.001–009. It is as if the choral setting figured by Daedalus the human were a prefiguration of the choral setting figured by Hephaistos the god. But such an impression is an illusion. The god is of course timeless, and his metalwork is an art that must be synchronized with the art of Homer in refiguring what Hephaistos is figuring. For the sake of enhancing the verbal art that refigures the visual art of Hephaistos, the visual art of Daedalus can be envisioned as a precedent. And this art of Daedalus is a most prestigious precedent for Homeric poetry, going back as it does all the way to the Bronze Age. Moreover, the synchronization of the god’s art with Homeric art makes it possible for the god’s art of metalworking to be versatile enough to be comparable to still other prestigious forms of art. A shining example is the Homeric use of poikillein ‘pattern-weave’ at I.18.590 in referring to the metalwork of Hephaistos in figuring the choral scene. We see here once again a crossover between the artistic worlds of metalwork and weaving. See the previous comment on I.18.479–480 and the following comment on I.18.590. Such a crossover is also evident in the myths and rituals that were central to the festival of the goddess Hērā at Argos. In terms of local Argive traditions, the pictures that were metalworked by Hephaistos into the original Shield of Achilles were the same as the pictures that were pattern-woven into the patos or ‘robe’ (Hesychius, under πάτος) that was presented to the goddess in the context of choral singing and dancing performed by celebrants at her festival (Callimachus Aetia F 66; scholia for Pindar Olympian 7.152; Euripides Electra 432–477). [[GN 2016.11.23 via PH 352, HC 2§74; HPC 290, 299–300, 367–368; MoM 4§§5, 14, 156–157, 159.]]


subject heading(s): poikillein ‘pattern-weave’; Shield of Achilles; Shield of Aeneas; metonymy

At I.18.479–480, we saw a crossover between the artistic worlds of metalworking and weaving. The metalwork of Hephaistos in manufacturing the Shield of Achilles was metaphorized as the pattern-weaving of fabric. There is a comparable crossover here at I.18.590, where the word poikillein ‘pattern-weave’ refers to the metalwork performed by the god Hephaistos in making the Shield of Achilles. Here I epitomize my relevant analysis in HC C§15, where I focus on a comparable crossover in the case of Virgil’s Shield of Aeneas in Aeneid 8. I start by focusing on arma ‘armor, arms’, which is the first word at Aeneid 8.616. To be compared is the beginning of the epic, at Aeneid 1.1: arma virumque cano ‘armor I sing, and the man’. When we read Aeneid 8.616, where the narrative refers to the arma ‘armor’ of Aeneas, the description of this hero’s Shield as a shield has not yet happened. So far, only the armor in general is being described. But there is more to it: the word arma ‘armor’ at Aeneid 8.616, by way of cross-referring to the initial use of arma at Aeneid 1.1, stands metonymically for the whole epic, not only for the ‘armor’ of Aeneas. The arma ‘armor’ at the beginning of Aeneid 1.1 can apply at Aeneid 8.616 if we understand the deployment of arma at Aeneid 1.1 as a masterstroke of metonymy. On metonymy, see the Inventory of terms and names. What is being signaled by the arma at Aeneid 8.616 is a description of the Shield that becomes coextensive with the overall narration of the epic that is the Aeneid in its entirety. But when the actual description of the Shield begins at Aeneid 8.625, the wording makes it clear that this description defies any immediate narration: clipei non enarrabile textum ‘the shield, the weaving [textus] of which is beyond all power to narrate’. To describe the cosmic power of the Shield’s meaning will require an overall epic narration, from beginning to end, which cannot be successful until the story is fully told. Such a narration calls for a metaphor to substitute for the narration: instead of a tale that is being told, the narration is reconfigured as a ‘web’ that is being woven, a textus. The story has to be told from beginning to end, just as a web has to be woven from beginning to end. [[GN 2016.10.20 via HC C§16, HPC 291, MoM 4§6.]]


subject heading(s): ex-arkhein ‘lead off [in performing]’; molpē ‘singing and dancing’

In the Homeric textual tradition, there are traces of a longer version of the narrative here, containing verses 603–604–605–606, to be contrasted with a shorter version containing 603–604–606. The shorter version, which was favored by the editor Aristarchus, elided the “signature” of Homer as analyzed in the comment on I.18.590–606. By contrast, the longer version highlights this “signature.” The shorter version is what was ultimately preserved in the medieval manuscripts of Homer, while the longer version was lost. But this longer version can be reconstructed by way of attestations that we find in a source that dates back to the late second century CE, Athenaeus 5.180c–e and 181a–f. The reconstructed longer version is as follows: ‘|603 A huge crowd stood around the place of the song-and-dance [khoros] that rouses desire, |604 and they were feeling delight [terpesthai]; in their midst sang-and-danced [melpesthai] a divine singer [aoidos], |605 playing on the special lyre [phorminx]; two special dancers [kubistētēre] among them |606 were swirling as he led [ex-arkhein] the singing-and-dancing [molpē] in their midst’ (|603 πολλὸς δ’ ἱμερόεντα χορὸν περιίσταθ’ ὅμιλος |604 τερπόμενοι· μετὰ δέ σφιν ἐμέλπετο θεῖος ἀοιδὸς 
|605 φορμίζων· δοιὼ δὲ κυβιστητῆρε κατ’ αὐτοὺς 
|606 μολπῆς ἐξάρχοντoς ἐδίνευον κατὰ μέσσους). By contrast, the attested shorter version is as follows: ‘|603 A huge crowd stood around the place of the song-and-dance [khoros] that rouses desire, |604 and they were feeling delight [terpesthai]; in their midst sang-and-danced [melpesthai] a divine singer [aoidos], |605 playing on the special lyre [phorminx]; two special dancers [kubistētēre] among them |606 were swirling as they led [ex-arkhein] the singing-and-dancing [molpē] in their midst’ (|603 πολλὸς δ’ ἱμερόεντα χορὸν περιίσταθ’ ὅμιλος |604 τερπόμενοι· μετὰ δέ σφιν ἐμέλπετο θεῖος ἀοιδὸς 
|605 φορμίζων· δοιὼ δὲ κυβιστητῆρε κατ’ αὐτοὺς 
|606 μολπῆς ἐξάρχοντες ἐδίνευον κατὰ μέσσους). The deletions here are in line with the Greek text as I quote it, where we see an omission of the wording μετὰ δέ σφιν ἐμέλπετο θεῖος ἀοιδὸς 
|605 φορμίζων. And my translation here follows the Greek text as I quote it, where we read ἐξάρχοντες and not ἐξάρχοντος. In the longer version, melpesthai ‘sing-and-dance’ at I.18.604 and molpē ‘song-and-dance’ at I.18.606 refer to the combined activities of singing and dancing by the khoros, and ex-arkhein ‘lead off [in performing]’at I.18.606 signals an individuated act of performance that interacts with the collective performance of a khoros. In the shorter version, by contrast, the very presence of such an individuated act in a choral context is elided. In later comments, there will be further analysis of I.18.603–604–(605–)606 by way of comparing O.04.017–018, O.08.370–379, O.13.024–028. Already now, in any case, this much can be said: a formulaic analysis of both the longer and the shorter versions of I.18.603–604–(605–)606 indicates that both versions are compatible with Homeric diction, suiting different phases in the evolution of this diction as a formulaic system. (On formula and formulaic system and Homeric diction, see the Inventory of terms and names.) In an earlier phase of such an evolution, Homer could be appreciated as a lead singer interacting with choral performance; in a later phase, by contrast, he would be recognized only as a soloist who recites epic verses. [[GN 2016.11.23 via MoM 4§§9–19, 21, 22, 30, 33, 34, 37, 38, 112, 115, 123, 124; also HC 2§74, HPC 93n29, 300nn87–88.]]



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.

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