Andromache and her virtuosity as a singer of laments in the Homeric Iliad, Part I

2015.03.06 | By Gregory Nagy



In the Homeric Iliad, Andromache is shown in the act of singing three songs of lamentation. Each one of these songs, as “quoted” by the narrative of Homeric poetry, can be considered a masterpiece of lament. You will find these three songs at:

(1) Iliad 6.407–439

(2) Iliad 22.477–514

(3) Iliad 24.725–745

In my book The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (2013) [hereafter H24H], when you look at the Table of Contents, only one of these three laments is mentioned, the first one. And you will find the relevant analysis when you read the subsection entitled “The first lament of Andromache,” which starts at H24H Hour 3§26. The analysis is introduced, somewhat abruptly, already at Hour 3§19, but the song that I start to analyze there is not the first lament of Andromache but the second one. And then, in Text C of Hour 3, I show the text of Iliad XXII 460–476, but these lines only *introduce* the words of Andromache’s second song of lament. The actual words of her lament come *after* these introductory lines. These words, as “quoted” by Homeric poetry, are at Iliad 22.477–514. Then at Hour 3§21, I describe this second lament as “arguably the most artistic and elaborate of all the laments quoted in the Iliad.” And, in the same context, I observe that this song of Andromache is the lengthiest of all laments quoted in the Iliad. **But I never quote in H24H the actual words of this second lament.** Nor do I quote the actual words of the third lament, as “quoted” by the Master Narrator at Iliad 24.725–745. So, I propose to share with you the texts of the second and the third laments. In this post, which I call Part I of a set of posts that will continue, I concentrate on the text of the second lament, which I will now quote. And please note, before we start, that I use the word quote within quotation marks when Homeric poetry embeds the words of a speaker inside its narrative, while I avoid quotation marks when I quote a text in the modern sense of the word quote.

Andromache’s Second Lament

|477 “Hector, I too am wretched. For we were born sharing a single fate, |478 the two of us—you in Troy, in the palace of Priam, |479 and I in Thebe, the city at the foot of the wooded mountain of Plakos |480 in the palace of Eëtion, who raised me when I was little |481 —an ill-fated father and a daughter with an equally terrible fate. If only he had never fathered me. |482 But now you [= Hektor] are headed for the palace of Hades inside the deep recesses of earth, |483 that is where you are headed, while I am left behind by you, left behind in a state of hateful mourning [penthos], |484 a widow in the palace. And then there is the child, not yet bonded to you, so young he is, |485 whose parents we are, you and I with our wretched fate. Neither will you be for him, |486 no you will not, Hektor, of any help, since you died, nor will he be of any help for you, |487 even if he escapes the attack of the Achaeans, with all its sorrows, |488 still, for the rest of his life, because of you, there will be harsh labor for him, |489 and sorrows. For others will take his landholdings away from him. The time of bereavement |490 leaves the child with no agemates as friends. |491 He bows his head to every man, and his cheeks are covered with tears. |492 The boy makes his rounds among his father’s former companions, |493 and he tugs at one man by the mantle and another man by the tunic, |494 and they pity him. One man gives him a small drink from a cup, |495 enough to moisten the boy’s lips but not enough to moisten his palate. |496 But another boy whose parents are living hits him and chases him from the banquet, |497 beating him with his fists and abusing him with words: |498 “Get out, you! Your father is not dining with us!” |499 And the boy goes off in tears to his widowed mother, |500 the boy Astyanax, who in days gone by, on the knees of his father, |501 would eat only the marrow or the meat of sheep that were the fattest. |502 And when sleep would come upon him after he was finished with playing, |503 he would go to sleep in a bed, in the arms of his nurse, |504 in a soft bed, with a heart that is filled in luxury. |505 But now he [= our child] will suffer many things, deprived of his father, |506 our child Astyanax, as the Trojans call him by name. |507 That is what he is called because you all by yourself guarded the gates and long walls. |508 But now, you are where the curved ships [of the Achaeans] are, far from your parents, |509 and you will be devoured by writhing maggots after the dogs have their fill of you. |510 There you lie, naked, while your clothes are lying around in the palace. |511 Fine clothes they are, marked by pleasurable beauty [kharis], the work of women’s hands. |512 But I will incinerate all these clothes over the burning fire. |513 You will have no need for them, since you will not be lying in state, clothed in them. |514 But there is to be fame [kleos] [for you] from the men and women of Troy.”

Iliad 22.477–514 [1]

What happens then . . .

|515 So she [= Andromache] spoke, weeping, and the women mourned in response.

Iliad 22.515 [2]

For the moment, I concentrate on the emotion of pity as evoked in this passage. Here I find it relevant to quote again a text I had quoted in the Introduction to H24H:

Hour 0 Text G

{Socrates is speaking:} Hold it right there. Tell me this, Ion—respond to what I ask without concealment. When you say well the epic verses and induce a feeling of bedazzlement [ekplēxis] for the spectators [theōmenoi]—as you sing of Odysseus leaping onto the threshold and revealing himself to the suitors and pouring out the arrows at his feet, or of Achilles rushing at Hector, or something connected to the pitiful things about Andromache or Hecuba or Priam—are you then in your right mind, or outside yourself? Does your mind [psūkhē], possessed by the god [enthousiazein], suppose that you are in the midst of the actions you describe in Ithaca or Troy, or wherever the epic verses have it?

Plato Ion 535b–c [3]

I summarize here what I say about this passage in Homer the Classic (online 2008, 4§§260–262):

In this passage, Socrates is enumerating some highlights of Homeric poetry as performed by rhapsodes like Ion at the Panathenaia. The enumeration takes the form of a set of accusatives of the rhapsodic subject following the verb āidein ‘sing’ (ᾄδῃς): [1] Odysseus at the epic moment when he leaps upon the threshold, ready to shoot arrows at the suitors; [2] Achilles at the epic moment when he lunges at Hector; or [3] some other highlighted thing, here unspecified (ti, accusative), from epic moments involving Andromache, Hecuba, or Priam.

There are five epic moments recounted here in ever-increasing compression and non-specificity. The first two moments have to do primarily with the emotion of terror, and they feature the main heroes of the Odyssey and the Iliad respectively, [1] Odysseus and [2] Achilles. The next three moments have to do primarily with the emotion of pity, and they feature the main heroes on the other side of the Trojan War: [3b] Andromache, [3c] Hecuba, and [3d] Priam. The link between the two moments of terror and the three moments of pity is [3a] Hector, who exemplifies the emotion of terror when he is about to be killed by the one who hates him most of all, his enemy Achilles, but who also exemplifies the emotion of pity when he says his last farewell to the one who loves him most of all, that is, [3b] his wife Andromache. In the wording of Plato’s Ion, the pairing of [3a] Hector and [3b] Andromache creates a thematic link for the transition from terror to pity.

Plato’s reference to ‘something connected to the pitiful things about Andromache’ indicates that the epic character of Andromache is specially connected to the emotion of pity. In the language of epic, this emotion is formally expressed by way of lamentation. In all three of Andromache’s appearances in the Iliad, there is an element of lament. When we hear her speak in Iliad XXIV (725–745), she is performing a formal lament for Hector; when we hear her in Iliad XXII (477–514), much of what she says corresponds morphologically to the words of a formal lament. Already in her first appearance, in Iliad VI (407–439), the language of lament is evident in her words as she and Hector part forever, she going back to her weaving at the loom while he goes off to his death. In short, the Homeric character of Andromache displays a distinct virtuosity in the art of lamentation.



[1] |477 Ἕκτορ ἐγὼ δύστηνος· ἰῇ ἄρα γεινόμεθ’ αἴσῃ |478 ἀμφότεροι, σὺ μὲν ἐν Τροίῃ Πριάμου κατὰ δῶμα, |479 αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ Θήβῃσιν ὑπὸ Πλάκῳ ὑληέσσῃ |480 ἐν δόμῳ Ἠετίωνος, ὅ μ’ ἔτρεφε τυτθὸν ἐοῦσαν |481 δύσμορος αἰνόμορον· ὡς μὴ ὤφελλε τεκέσθαι. |482 νῦν δὲ σὺ μὲν Ἀΐδαο δόμους ὑπὸ κεύθεσι γαίης |483 ἔρχεαι, αὐτὰρ ἐμὲ στυγερῷ ἐνὶ πένθεϊ λείπεις |484 χήρην ἐν μεγάροισι· πάϊς δ’ ἔτι νήπιος αὔτως, |485 ὃν τέκομεν σύ τ’ ἐγώ τε δυσάμμοροι· οὔτε σὺ τούτῳ |486 ἔσσεαι Ἕκτορ ὄνειαρ ἐπεὶ θάνες, οὔτε σοὶ οὗτος. |487 ἤν περ γὰρ πόλεμόν γε φύγῃ πολύδακρυν Ἀχαιῶν, |488 αἰεί τοι τούτῳ γε πόνος καὶ κήδε’ ὀπίσσω |489 ἔσσοντ’· ἄλλοι γάρ οἱ ἀπουρίσσουσιν ἀρούρας. |490 ἦμαρ δ’ ὀρφανικὸν παναφήλικα παῖδα τίθησι· |491 πάντα δ’ ὑπεμνήμυκε, δεδάκρυνται δὲ παρειαί, |492 δευόμενος δέ τ’ ἄνεισι πάϊς ἐς πατρὸς ἑταίρους, |493 ἄλλον μὲν χλαίνης ἐρύων, ἄλλον δὲ χιτῶνος· |494 τῶν δ’ ἐλεησάντων κοτύλην τις τυτθὸν ἐπέσχε· |495 χείλεα μέν τ’ ἐδίην’, ὑπερῴην δ’ οὐκ ἐδίηνε. |496 τὸν δὲ καὶ ἀμφιθαλὴς ἐκ δαιτύος ἐστυφέλιξε |497 χερσὶν πεπλήγων καὶ ὀνειδείοισιν ἐνίσσων· |498 ἔρρ’ οὕτως· οὐ σός γε πατὴρ μεταδαίνυται ἡμῖν. |499 δακρυόεις δέ τ’ ἄνεισι πάϊς ἐς μητέρα χήρην |500 Ἀστυάναξ, ὃς πρὶν μὲν ἑοῦ ἐπὶ γούνασι πατρὸς |501 μυελὸν οἶον ἔδεσκε καὶ οἰῶν πίονα δημόν· |502 αὐτὰρ ὅθ’ ὕπνος ἕλοι, παύσαιτό τε νηπιαχεύων, |503 εὕδεσκ’ ἐν λέκτροισιν ἐν ἀγκαλίδεσσι τιθήνης |504 εὐνῇ ἔνι μαλακῇ θαλέων ἐμπλησάμενος κῆρ· |505 νῦν δ’ ἂν πολλὰ πάθῃσι φίλου ἀπὸ πατρὸς ἁμαρτὼν |506 Ἀστυάναξ, ὃν Τρῶες ἐπίκλησιν καλέουσιν· |507 οἶος γάρ σφιν ἔρυσο πύλας καὶ τείχεα μακρά. |508 νῦν δὲ σὲ μὲν παρὰ νηυσὶ κορωνίσι νόσφι τοκήων |509 αἰόλαι εὐλαὶ ἔδονται, ἐπεί κε κύνες κορέσωνται |510 γυμνόν· ἀτάρ τοι εἵματ’ ἐνὶ μεγάροισι κέονται |511 λεπτά τε καὶ χαρίεντα τετυγμένα χερσὶ γυναικῶν. |512 ἀλλ’ ἤτοι τάδε πάντα καταφλέξω πυρὶ κηλέῳ |513 οὐδὲν σοί γ’ ὄφελος, ἐπεὶ οὐκ ἐγκείσεαι αὐτοῖς, |514 ἀλλὰ πρὸς Τρώων καὶ Τρωϊάδων κλέος εἶναι.

[2] |515 Ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες.

[3] ΣΩ. Ἔχε δή μοι τόδε εἰπέ, ὦ Ἴων, καὶ μὴ ἀποκρύψῃ ὅτι ἄν σε ἔρωμαι· ὅταν εὖ εἴπῃς ἔπη καὶ ἐκπλήξῃς μάλιστα τοὺς θεωμένους, ἢ τὸν Ὀδυσσέα ὅταν ἐπὶ τὸν οὐδὸν ἐφαλλόμενον ᾄδῃς, ἐκφανῆ γιγνόμενον τοῖς μνηστῆρσι καὶ ἐκχέοντα τοὺς ὀιστοὺς πρὸ τῶν ποδῶν, ἢ Ἀχιλλέα ἐπὶ τὸν Ἕκτορα ὁρμῶντα, ἢ καὶ τῶν περὶ Ἀνδρομάχην ἐλεινῶν τι ἢ περὶ Ἑκάβην ἢ περὶ Πρίαμον, τότε πότερον ἔμφρων εἶ ἢ ἔξω {c} σαυτοῦ γίγνῃ καὶ παρὰ τοῖς πράγμασιν οἴεταί σου εἶναι ἡ ψυχὴ οἷς λέγεις ἐνθουσιάζουσα, ἢ ἐν Ἰθάκῃ οὖσιν ἢ ἐν Τροίᾳ ἢ ὅπως ἂν καὶ τὰ ἔπη ἔχῃ;

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