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When mortals become equal to immortals,


Hour 5. When mortals become ‘equal’ to immortals: death of a hero, death of a bridegroom

Continuing with the theme started last time of mortals becoming immortal or godlike in the eyes of others. We looked at the song of Sappho when the bridegroom and the bride are said to be theoeikeloi ‘looking just like the gods [theoi] at the climax of the wedding ceremony. The climactic moment of the ritual occasion of fighting in war is likewise signalled by the equating of mortal humans with immortal gods.

There was a lot of reading for this hour. I didn’t have time to write it all up so a lot of the below is copied straight from the course book by Mr Nagy.

Key words

daimōn (plural daimones) meaning ‘superhuman force’. This word is used to refer to an unspecified god or hero intervening in human life. The word daimōn is to be contrasted with theos ‘god’, which is used to refer to a specified god.

In this connection, we may compare the words polytheism and monotheism. Also henotheism. The term henotheism refers to the worshipping of one divinity at a time.

The expression ‘equal to a daimōn

The ritual of war collapses the distinction between human and divine – but only at the precise moment when the warrior comes face-to-face with his own death. The warrior may not necessarily die when he faces death. Still, the warrior’s identity is defined by the ritual need for him to face death in war. As we will also see, the medium of epic records the actual moment when the hero faces death in war by applying to the hero the epithet daimoni īsos ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’.

In the first passage the hero, Patroklos, comes face-to-face with death as he confronts the god Apollo. At this climactic moment of god-hero antagonism, Patroklos is described as ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]:

Text A

|698 The sons of the Achaeans could now have taken Troy |699 by the hands of Patroklos, for he was raging in all directions with his spear, |700 if Phoebus Apollo had not made his stand at the well-built wall, |701 standing there and thinking destructive thoughts against him [= Patroklos], since he [= Apollo] was supporting the Trojans. |702 Three times did he [= Patroklos] reach the base of the high wall, |703 that is what Patroklos did, and three times was he beaten back by Apollo, |704 who struck with his own immortal hands the luminous shield [of Patroklos]. |705 But when he [= Patroklos] was coming on for yet a fourth time, equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [ daimōn ], |706 he [= Apollo] shouted to him with a terrifying voice and spoke winged words: |707 “Draw back, Patroklos, you who are descended from the gods in the sky. It is not your destiny [aisa] |708 to destroy with your spear the city of the proud Trojans, |709 nor will it be the destiny of Achilles, who is a far better man than you are.” |710 That is what he [= Apollo] said. On hearing this, Patroklos drew quite a way back, |711 thus avoiding the anger [mēnis] of Apollo who shoots from afar. ( Iliad XVI 698-711)

Here is a moment of “fatal attraction,” signalled by the expression daimoni īsos ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’. The word daimōn itself partially conceals the identity of the god but the context gives us the answer. The daimōn with whom Patroklos is equated here is the god Apollo himself who is about to kill Patroklos.

This can be seen as a “dress rehearsal.” The real moment of identification between hero and god comes the next time, when Patroklos doesn’t back away from Apollo after three attempts but faces him at the fourth attempt. In this next passage, we see that climactic moment of god-hero antagonism, “the real thing”: when Patroklos becomes equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [ daimōn ]

Text B

|783 Then Patroklos rushed ahead toward the Trojans, with the worst intentions. |784 Three times he rushed at them, and he was equal [atalantos]to swift Arēs. |785 He [= Patroklos] was making a terrifying shout, and he killed three times nine men. |786 But when he [= Patroklos] rushed ahead for yet a fourth time, equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [ daimōn ], |787 then, O Patroklos, the end of your life made its appearance to you. |788 Facing you now was Phoebus [Apollo], ready to fight you in grim battle. |789 He [= Apollo] was terrifying. But he [= Patroklos] did not notice him as he [= Apollo] was coming at him in the heat of battle. |790 For he [= Apollo] was covered in a great cloud of mist as he made contact with him. |791 He [= Apollo] stood behind him and he struck him on his back and his broad shoulders |792 with the downturned flat of his hand, making his eyes spin. |793 His helmet was knocked off his head by Phoebus Apollo, |794 and it rolled rattling off under the horses’ hooves. |795 That is what happened to this helmet, and its horse-tail plumes were all begrimed |796 with blood and dust. Before this time, it was not sanctioned |797 that this horse-hair helmet should ever get begrimed in the dust, |798 while it was protecting the head and comely forehead of that godlike man, |799 protecting the head of Achilles. But now Zeus gave it to Hector |800 for him to wear on his head. And his [= Hector’s] destruction was near. |801 Broken completely in his [= Patroklos’] hands was that spear of his that casts a long shadow, |802 a huge and heavy and massive piece of weaponry, and from his shoulders |803 his shield, strap and all, fell to the ground, with its beautiful edgework. |804 Taken away from him was his breastplate, removed by lord Apollo son of Zeus. |805 And his [= Patroklos’] mind was seized by derangement [atē]; his limbs failed him, |806and he just stood there in a daze. (Iliad XVI 783-806)

Here we can see that the partially concealed superhuman force or daimōn here is the god Apollo himself. And, at this moment, Patroklos is struck down by the divine hand of Apollo, who is the direct cause of the hero’s death. After this blow is delivered by the god himself, Patroklos finds himself dazed and without armor, and now he receives a second blow from the spear of the hero Euphorbos (XVI 806-815); then comes the third and final blow, from the spear of the hero Hector (XVI 816-854). After these three blows, Patroklos finally dies (XVI 855-857)

The narrative of the Iliad makes it clear that Hector succeeded in killing Patroklos only because that hero had first been struck down by the divine hand of the god Apollo himself and had thus been deprived of the protective armour of Achilles. So, if any Achaean now wants to rescue the corpse of Patroklos from the field of battle, he will be fighting not only Hector but also the god Apollo himself. Just as Patroklos was killed because he fought Apollo, so also any other Achaean hero will surely be killed if he now stands up to Hector, since the Achaean will first have to face the god Apollo himself. Such is the thinking of the Achaean hero Menelaos, who says to himself that he would not dare to stand up alone to Hector by attempting to rescue the corpse of Patroklos:

Text C

|98 When a man is willing, face-to-face with a daimōn, to fight another man |99 whom the god honours, then it becomes a sure thing that a big pain [pēma] will roll down [kulindesthai] upon him. (Iliad XVII 98-99)

The expression pros daimona ‘face-to-face’ with a daimōn‘ recurs at verse 104, where Menelaos is thinking further, asking himself whether he would dare to make the attempt even if he is backed up by Ajax, arguably the greatest of all Achaean warriors next to Achilles. In this context, the use of the word daimōn is mystical in not naming the god – but it is ostentatiously mystical. By that I mean that the identity of thedaimōn is obvious. That daimōn is Apollo.

We see another “dress-rehearsal” at an earlier point in the Iliad: the Achaean hero Diomedes is described as daimoni īsos ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’ at Iliad V 438 and 459 when he makes his own four-stage attempt at facing Apollo in battle. In fact, Diomedes makes two successive four-stage attempts, but he ultimately backs down both times. The god Apollo causes the death of the hero Patroklos in the Iliad, and the death is signalled by the marking of Patroklos as daimoni īsos ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’. By way of this marking, the killer daimōn is identified as the god Apollo himself. In fact, Patroklos is the only hero in the Iliadwho gets struck down directly by the hand of Apollo – or by the hand of any other god.

Patroklos here is a stand-in for Achilles. Later on Patroklos, at the moment of his death, becomes the ritual substitute of Achilles.

Apollo as divine antagonist of Achilles

The god Apollo causes the death of not only Patroklos but also Achilles. Just as Apollo initiates the killing of Patroklos, which is completed by Hector, so he initiates the killing of Achilles, which is completed by Paris. But this greatest of all killings happens not in the Iliad. It happens instead in the epic Cycle, specifically, in the Aithiopis or ‘Song of the Ethiopians’:

Text D

|7 Achilles, while routing the Trojans and |8 rushing into the citadel, is killed by Paris and Apollo. |9 When a heated battle starts over the corpse, |10 Ajax picks it up and carries it off to the ships while |11 Odysseus fights off the Trojans. (plot-summary by Proclus of the Aithiopis by Arctinus of Miletus p. 106 lines 7-11)

Although the death of Achilles doesn’t happen Iliad his best friend, Patroklos, stands in for him as the victim of Apollo. In the Iliad, after Patroklos is killed in battle, Achilles takes the place of his best friend in challenging Apollo by rushing at Hector four times, and Achilles too is given the epithet daimoni īsos ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’ at the precise moment of his fourth try (XX 447), just as Patroklos had been given that same epithet at the moment of his own fourth try.The fourth try of Achilles is not fatal in the Iliad, because the god Apollo intervenes and hides Hector in a huge cloud of mist (XX 443-444). There are three further moments when Achilles is given the epithet daimoni īsos ‘equal [īsos] to a superhuman force [daimōn]’ in the Iliad (XX 493; XXI 18, 227), but, in each one of these three moments, the epithet fails to activate the death of Achilles. That death is postponed for a moment that will take place outside the Iliad as we know it.

Arēs as divine antagonist of Achilles

The death of Achilles is an epic theme so all-encompassing that it transcends even the divine antagonism of the god Apollo toward these two heroes. Achilles has two divine antagonists Apollo and Arēs.

In the second of the two passages centring on the death scene of Patroklos the hero is being compared to Apollo moment of god-hero antagonism and also to Arēs, is the god of war or, more specifically, the god of martial fury.

Achilles as ideal warrior and ideal bridegroom

We have seen that Patroklos in the Iliad is a stand-in for Achilles as a warrior. So when Patroklos at the moment of his death is ‘equal’ to both Arēs and Apollo, it is because Achilles in his own right is ‘equal’ to these two gods as an ideal warrior. But now we will see that Achilles is also ‘equal’ to these same two gods as an ideal bridegroom.

We already started to explore in Hour 4 the ritualized equation of bridegrooms with gods. In Song 44 of Sappho, for example, the generic bridegroom is equated to a god at the moment when he gets married. Now we will see that the identity of the god who is being compared to the bridegroom is manifested in the ritual convention of imagining the bridegroom not only as a god but also as a hero, especially as Achilles. There are two divine models for Achilles as an ideal bridegroom: Arēs and Apollo, we will see their active presence in the songs of Sappho.

Arēs and Aphrodite as models for the bridegroom and the bride

We cannot consider Arēs without considering also the symmetrical goddess Aphrodite.

In the wedding songs of Sappho, the god Arēs is a model for the generic gambros  ‘bridegroom’, who is explicitly described as īsos Areui ‘equal [īsos] to Arēs’ in Sappho Song 111.5. Correspondingly, there are many instances of implicit equations of the generic bride with the goddess Aphrodite: in Sappho Song 112, for example, the bridegroom is said to be infused with the divine charisma of Aphrodite, evidently by way of his direct contact with the bride.

A wedding is a ritual of initiation in terms of ancient Greek song culture, the likening of the bridegroom and the bride to a god and a goddess leads to death. But this death is only figurative. That is because death in rituals of initiation is not physical but psychic. From cross-cultural surveys of rituals of initiation as practiced in traditional societies around the world, it becomes evident that initiates, who are identified with divinities at the moment of initiation, are imagined as dying to their old selves as members of a given age-class and being reborn into their new selves as members of the next age-class. A prime example of such psychic death at a wedding is Song 31 of Sappho.

Song 31 of Sappho

Text E

|1 He appears [phainetai] to me, that one, equal to the gods [īsos theoisin], |2that man who, facing you |3 is seated and, up close, that sweet voice of yours |4 he listens to, |5 and how you laugh a laugh that brings desire. Why, it just |6 makes my heart flutter within my breast. |7 You see, the moment I look at you, right then, for me |8 to make any sound at all won’t work any more. |9My tongue has a breakdown and a delicate |10 – all of a sudden – fire rushes under my skin. |11 With my eyes I see not a thing, and there is a roar |12 my ears make. |13 Sweat pours down me and a trembling |14 seizes all of me; paler than grass |15 am I, and a little short of death |16 do I appear [phainomai] to myself. (Song 31 of Sappho)

The form phainetai ‘he appears’ at line 1 of this song and the form phainomai ‘I appear’ at line 16 are the third and the first persons of a verb related to the noun phantasia, a derivative form that means ‘fantasy’ in later Greek prose. Or, to put it more accurately, phantasia means ‘imagined vision’ or ‘imagination’. The English word fantasy, derived from phantasia, is misleading as a translation, since this word implies a vision that is unreal. In ancient Greek song culture, however, there is no ‘fantasy’ about the kind of vision that is seen here in Song 31 of Sappho. This kind of vision is an epiphany. An epiphany is a vision that is felt to be real, not unreal. It is the appearance of something divine, something that is understood to be absolutely real.

The ‘he’ in line 1 of this song refers to a bridegroom, and he is figured as a god at the moment of singing this song. It is as if a god has appeared at a wedding. In the words of line 1 of the song, the bridegroom phainetai ‘appears’ to be īsos theoisin ‘equal [īsos] to the gods’. Appearances become realities here. I say this because phainetai means not only ‘appears’ but also ‘is manifested in an epiphany’, which is felt as real. Literally, the bridegroom ‘appears in an epiphany’, phainetai, in line 1. In ritual terms, the word phainetai ‘he appears’ here signals a real epiphany. And the word kēnos (ekeinos) ‘that one’, as we will see later when we read Philostratus, also signals the epiphany.

Song 1 of Sappho

In Song 1 of Sappho the shift is from ‘you’ to ‘I’. The shift in the ownership of pronouns involves the second-person ‘you’ of the goddess Aphrodite herself and the first-person ‘I’ of Sappho. During an epiphany of Aphrodite, Sappho exchanges identities with the goddess. It is a moment of personal fusion with Aphrodite:

Text F

|1 You with pattern-woven flowers, immortal Aphrodite, |2 child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, I implore you, |3 do not devastate with aches andsorrows,|4 Mistress, my heart! |5 But come here [tuide], if ever at any other time |6 hearing my voice from afar, |7 you heeded me, and leaving the palace of your father, |8 golden, you came, |9 having harnessed the chariot; and you were carried along by beautiful |10 swift sparrows over the dark earth |11 swirling with their dense plumage from the sky through the |12midst of the aether, |13 and straightaway they arrived. But you, O holy one, |14 smiling with your immortal looks, |15 kept asking what is it once again this time [dēute] that has happened to me and for what reason |16 once again this time [dēute] do I invoke you, |17 and what is it that I want more than anything to happen |18 to my frenzied [mainolās] heart [thūmos]? “Whom am I once again this time [dēute] to persuade, |19 setting out to bring her to your love? Who is doing you, |20 Sappho, wrong? |21 For if she is fleeing now, soon she will give chase. |22 If she is not taking gifts, soon she will be giving them. |23 If she does not love, soon she will love |24 even against her will.” |25 Come to me even now, and free me from harsh |26anxieties, and however many things |27 my heart [thūmos] yearns to get done, you do for me. You |28 become my ally in war. (Song 1 of Sappho = Prayer to Aphrodite)

Sappho is pictured here as the lead singer of a choral lyric performance. She starts by praying to Aphrodite to be present, to manifest herself in an epiphany. The goddess is invoked from far away in the sky, which is separated from the earth by the immeasurably vast space of ‘aether’. Aphrodite is implored to fill the aching need caused by the sorrows of love.

What appears to be a private “prayer” uttered by Sappho is at the same time a public act of worship that is notionally sung and danced by the people of Lesbos as represented by a chorus of their women, legendary as they are for their beauty, and as led by the figure of Sappho as their prima donna. What appears to be the most deeply personal experience of Sappho is at the same time the most widely shared communal experience of the people of Lesbos.

The maiden song of Alcman

Here is another ancient Greek example of a song performed at a seasonally recurring festival. Once more we will see the ritual practice of equating the prima donna – or we can also say prima ballerina – with a goddess. This time, the equation happens at a “coming out” ritual that marks a coming of age from girlhood to womanhood:

Text G

|39 And I sing |40 the radiance of Agido, seeing |41 her as the sun, which for us |42 is shown by Agido – she is the eyewitness – |43 to shine [phainein] with its sunlight. But for me to praise [ep-aineîn] her |44 or to blame [mōmēsthai] her is not allowed by the glorious [kleenna] leader of the chorus [khorēgos = Hagesikhora]. |45 No, she does not at all allow me. For that one [Hagesikhora] appears radiantly to be |46 outstanding, as when someone |47sets among grazing cattle a horse, |49 well-built, a prize-winner, with thundering hooves, |50 something from out of those dreams that happen underneath a rock. (From the Partheneion ‘Maiden Song’ of Alcman, lines 39-49)

Here is a thesis paragraph that is meant to encapsulate the argumentation in the exegesis that follows:

The words in this passage indicate a ritual of female initiation in the public space of Sparta, where the entire male and female population is experiencing contact with the divine. The climactic moment in this ritual is marked by an epiphany, as marked here by the words that I translate ‘shine with light’.

Song 16 of Sappho

In this song as well, we see an identification of the prima donna or prima ballerina with the sun:

Text H

|1 Some say a massing of chariots and their drivers, some say of foot soldiers, |2 some say of ships, if you think of everything that exists on the surface of this black earth, |3 is the most beautiful thing of them all. But I say it is that one thing |4 that anyone passionately loves [erâtai].  |5 It’s really quite easy to make this understandable |6 to everyone, this thing. You see, that woman who was by far supreme |7 in beauty among all mortals, Helen, |8 she […] left her best of all husbands, |9 him she left behind and sailed to Troy, |10 caring not about her daughter and her dear parents, |11not caring at all. She was swept along […] |15 [All this] reminds me right now of Anaktoria. |16 She is [not] here.  |17 Oh, how I would far rather wish to see her taking a dancing step that arouses passionate love [= eraton], |18 and to see the luminous radiance from the look of her face |19 than to see those chariots of the Lydians and the foot soldiers in their armour |20 as they fight in battle […]. (Song 16 of Sappho)

This song captures what could be described as Sappho’s own personal ascending scale of affection. In the first stanza, consisting of four lines, there are three things to compare with ‘that most beautiful thing’ that anyone ‘passionately loves’, erâtai. But each one of these three things pales in comparison to whatever ‘that one most beautiful thing’ may be. And what is ‘that thing’? It is elusive. From the start, the speaker has been speaking about ‘that thing’. But then, the next thing you know, she starts saying ‘this thing’ instead of ‘that thing’ and, as she goes on to say, it is quite easy, really, to explain ‘this thing’.

The three things that pale in comparison to that one thing that is so passionately desired are three radiant visions of beauty. The first of these visions is the dazzling sight of magnificent chariot-fighters in their luminous war-chariots as they are massing for frontal assault against their terrified enemy; the second vision is an army of footsoldiers fighting on the battlefield; and the third vision is a fleet of battleships proudly sailing at sea. But none of these three radiant visions of beauty can match that ultimate brightness radiating from the speaker’s love object, that unique thing of passionate love, who is a beautiful diva called Anaktoria. The song now shows Anaktoria in an exquisite moment of singing and dancing in a chorus, and the words of the song point to her lovely step as she dances, a step that is eraton or ‘arousing passionate love’.

And then there is ‘the luminous radiance from the look of her face’ (k’amarukhma lampron idēn prosōpō line 18). This luminous vision of Anaktoria, the song is saying, cannot be surpassed by anything in the whole wide world. And the radiance of Anaktoria is now directly compared with the radiance of the luminous chariots and the two other luminous foils in the first stanza (lines 1-2).

Another song of Sappho

Text I

Passionate love [erōs] for the Sun has won for me its radiance and beauty. (Sappho Π2 26)

An alternative interpretation, the translation could be …

Passionate love [erōs] has won for me the radiance and beauty of the Sun.

The first of these two interpretations makes the Sun the objective genitive of erōs ‘passionate love’.

Back to song 16 of Sappho

Such a genitive construction, if my interpretation holds, is parallel to the phrase ot|tō tis erātai ‘whatever one loves passionately’ in the first stanza of Song 16 of Sappho. This ‘whatever’ (lines 3-4) is described as kalliston ‘the most beautiful thing’ in the whole wide world (line 3).

In Song 16, no vision of beauty can match that ultimate brightness radiating from the speaker’s love-object, who is a beautiful diva called Anaktoria. The song focuses on the divine moment when Anaktoria sings and dances in the chorus, and the wording creates a sublime vision of her beauty. In this vision, the beautiful Anaktoria who is imagined in the wording can now come to life, and I have already highlighted the wording that shows ‘her dancing step that arouses passionate love and the luminous radiance from the look of her face’ (eraton te bāma | k’amarukhma lampron idēn prosōpō lines 17-18). This vision cannot be surpassed by anything else in the whole wide world.

In the logic of Sappho’s poetic cosmos, nothing can surpass the radiance of the sun. So the all-surpassing radiance of ‘whatever’ it is that the speaker says she loves more than anything else on this earth – which is the vision of the singing and dancing Anaktoria – must be the same thing as the sun.

Achilles the eternal bridegroom

Just as the generic bridegroom in the songs of Sappho can be visualized as the hero Achilles, so also the generic bride can be visualized as a heroine in Aeolic traditions, such heroines figured in myths about the conquests of Achilles – not only martial but also amorous conquests – in the years that preceded the destruction of Troy. These myths told of beautiful Aeolic girls of Asia Minor and the outlying island of Lesbos who had once been immune to love and thus unreachable to their frustrated suitors. But then they fall helplessly in love with Achilles – that dashing young Aeolic hero who had sailed across the sea from his home in European Thessaly to attack the Aeolic people of Asia Minor and Lesbos.

Comparable to these once-unreachable Aeolic girls is a prize apple, unreachable to the apple-pickers, which ‘blushes’ enticingly from the heights of a “shooter-branch” in a song of Sappho:

Text J

Just like the sweet apple that blushes on top of a branch, | the topmost apple on the topmost branch. It has eluded the notice of the apple pickers. | Oh, but no. It’s not that they haven’t noticed it. They just couldn’t reach it. (Sappho Fragment 105a )

 The brides of Sappho’s songs are conventionally compared to apples:

Text K

Himerius (Orations 1.16) reports: ‘Sappho compared the girl to an apple […] she compared the bridegroom to Achilles, and likened the young man’s deeds to the hero’s.’

(Sappho Fragment 105b)

Sappho’s prize apple, these contemporary brides are imagined as unreachable. But they are unreachable only up to the moment when they take the place of Aeolic heroines who had once upon a time fallen in love with Achilles, that model bridegroom. These Aeolic girls of the heroic past are imagined as throwing themselves at Achilles. That is, they throw a metonymic extension of themselves at Achilles by throwing an apple at him: such a theme is attested in the bittersweet story of a lovelorn girl from the Aeolic city of Pedasos (Hesiod Fragment 214).  In the logic of myth, the love felt by such heroines is doomed from the start, and, in the end, they die for their love. In the logic of ritual, however, that same love promises to be requited. Such is the love expressed by girls pictured in the act of throwing apples at their prospective lovers in the songs of Sappho (Song 214A).

Briseis as a stand-in for Aphrodite

Achilles in his role as the model bridegroom was imagined as a stand-in for the god Arēs in the songs of Sappho.  Various Aeolic heroines can stand in for a goddess, who is none other than Aphrodite, goddess of love and sexuality. The captive woman Briseis is an example of this. She is overtly associated with the Aeolic women of Lesbos whom Achilles captured as beauty-prizes in the years that preceded the destruction of Troy. Briseis is likened to Aphrodite in a most telling context:

Text L

|282 Then Briseis, looking like golden Aphrodite, |283 saw Patroklos all cut apart by the sharp bronze, and, when she saw him, |284 she poured herself all over him in tears and wailed with a voice most clear, and with her hands she tore at |285 her breasts and her tender neck and her beautiful face. |286And then she spoke, weeping, this woman who looked like the goddesses: |287 “O Patroklos, you have been most gracious to me in my terrible state and most gratifying to my heart. |288 You were alive when I last saw you on my way out from the shelter |289 – and now I come back to find you dead, you, the protector of your people |290 – that is what I come back to find. Oh, how I have one bad thing after the next to welcome me again and again. |291The man to whom I was given away by my father and by my mother the queen |292 – I saw that man lying there in front of the city, all cut apart by the sharp bronze, |293 and lying near him were my three brothers – all of us were born of one mother – |294 they are all a cause for my sorrow, since they have all met up with their time of destruction. |295 No, you did not let me – back when my husband was killed by swift-footed Achilles, |296 killed by him, and when the city of my godlike Mynes [= my husband] was destroyed by him |297– you did not let me weep, back then, but you told me that godlike Achilles |298 would have me as a properly courted wife, that you would make that happen, and that you would take me on board the ships, |299 taking me all the way to Phthia, and that you would arrange for a wedding feast among the Myrmidons. |300 So now I cannot stop crying for you, now that you are dead, you who were always so sweet and gentle.” |301 So she [= Briseis] spoke, weeping, and the women kept on mourning in response. |302 They mourned for Patroklos, that was their pretext, but they were all mourning, each and every one of them, for what they really cared for in their sorrow. (Iliad XIX 282-302)

Most remarkably, Briseis is likened to the goddess Aphrodite here in the context of her beginning to lament for Patroklos, who had been likened to the god Arēs at the moment of his death. The epic quoted Briseis in the act of singing a choral lyric song of lament for the death of Patroklos and this along with the framing narrative concerning the antiphonal response of the women attending Briseis re-enacts most accurately the morphology of a genuine choral lyric lament.

In her lament, Briseis sings her bittersweet sorrow not only over the death of Patroklos but also over the death of her own fondest hope: when he was alive, Patroklos had promised to arrange for her a marriage to Achilles, but, now that Patroklos is dead, the hope of that promise is gone forever. The Iliad pictures Patroklos as a stand-in for Achilles in courtship as well as in war. Just as Achilles is featured as an eternal bridegroom who never gets married, so also Patroklos himself becomes such an eternal bridegroom by virtue of being a stand-in for Achilles.

Fatal attraction

Text M is from a formulation devised by Dio of Prusa (“Dio Chrysostom”), a Greek thinker who lived in a period straddling the first and the second centuries CE. This quote is taken from his Olympic Discourse (Oration 12), Dio is representing a hypothetical speech delivered by the great sculptor Pheidias of Athens, who is speaking about his masterpiece, the colossal statue of Zeus that he sculpted for the temple of Zeus at Olympia in Elis. In the passage Pheidias explains his idealizing of the human form in creating the spectacular statue of Olympian Zeus. To justify the idealized human form that he creates for Zeus, the sculptor speaks about a universal need felt by humans not only to imagine gods as existing in the sky or in the cosmos in general but also to have a feeling of divine immediacy by being physically near them, close to them – a feeling achieved by way of mental or even physical contact with statues and with paintings and with other images of the gods:

Text M

Because of their attraction to the divine unknown [daimonion],  all humans have a powerful erotic desire [erōs] to worship [timân] and to take care of [therapeuein]  the divinity [theion]  that they do know, by being up close to it and near to it, as they approach it and try to touch it in an act of persuasion, and they sacrifice to it and offer it garlands. Quite simply, they are like disconnected [nēpioi] children who have been torn away from their father or mother and who, feeling a terrific urge [himeros] and longing [pothos], often reach out their hands while they are dreaming, in the direction of their parents who are not there, so also are humans in their relationship with the gods, loving them as they do, and justifiably so, because the gods do good things for them and have an affinity with them. And, in their love for the gods, humans strive in all possible ways to be with them and in their company. ( Dio of Prusa 12.60-61)

In the Iliad we find a sinister twist to this kind of attraction: whatever it is that attracts a hero like Patroklos to a god like Apollo on the battlefield makes that hero want to kill the god. In trying to kill the god, of course, the hero only brings about his own death. In other words, the fatal attraction experienced by the hero is not even recognized as fatal until it is too late.



  1. […] biā (biē in the language of Homeric poetry) ‘force, violence’ daimōn, plural daimones ‘superhuman force (= unspecified god or hero) intervening in human […]

  2. […] is being equated with Arēs and Apollo. In texts A and B of Hour 5,  Patroklos is called daimoni īsos ‘equal to a daimōn‘,  or ‘superhuman […]

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