LECTURE 3 Achilles and women's laments / love songs. Meleager's "ascending scale of affection": a hero's mode of defining the self.

1. Key words for today: akhos and penthos, both meaning 'grief' OR 'song of grief' = 'lament'

1a. The word akhos is connected with the name of Achilles in the Iliad. Similarly, the word penthos is connected with the name of an Amazon called Penthesileia, on whom see Sourcebook I p. 212n1.

1b. For the story of Penthesileia the Amazon, see the ancient plot summary as printed in Sourcebook I p. 375. Question: when Thersites says that Achilles was in love with Penthesileia, why is Achilles angry enough to kill him?

2. When you and I cry, we just cry. When you cry in a song culture, you lament. That means you sing while you cry, you cry while you sing, and this kind of singing is crying; this kind of crying is singing. Tears flowing, choking of the voice, etc.

2a. For an example of lament, see "A Hungarian lament."

3. Laments and love songs are performed mostly by women.

4. Laments can switch to love songs and vice versa. Most love songs are preoccupied with the themes of unrequited love.

4a. Compare the fusion or "confusion" of grief and love in Classical opera. Reminder: Classical opera is a Renaissance "reinvention" of ancient drama and, by extension, of epic themes transmitted by drama.

5. If a performer of epic "quotes" a woman who is singing a lament or love song, then he is singing a lament or love song.

5a. The word "quote" is anachronistic. From the standpoint of ancient Greek song culture, it would be better for us to say perform.

5b. When a hero like Achilles is "quoted", his quoted words become a super-star performance.

5c. When a super-star performer "quotes" the words of a hero, he becomes the hero in the moment of performance.

5d. Hero and singer develop a reciprocal relationship. The hero becomes a super-star performer in his own right, while the singer becomes heroic, larger-than-life, even god-like in sacred moments (just as the hero becomes god-like in sacred moments).

5e. Achilles is a super-star performer in his own right: note that he sings the klea andrôn to himself at IX 189.

6. Iliad XXIV 540: Achilles is pan-a-(h)ôr-ios 'the most unseasonal of them all'. His unseasonality is a major cause for his grief, which makes him "a man of constant sorrow."

7. Thetis' lament, Iliad XVIII 54-60: a mother's expression of her son's grief. Here is my literal translation (Best of the Achaeans pp. 182-183):

Ah me, the wretch! Ah me, the mother, so sad it is, of the very best.

I gave birth to a faultless and strong son,

the very best of heroes. And he shot up like a seedling.

I nurtured him like a shoot in the choicest spot of the orchard,

only to send him off on curved ships to fight at Troy. And I will never be

welcoming him back home as returning warrior, back to the House of Peleus

8. The emotions of Achilles, which shape the macro-Narrative of the Iliad, can be understood by thinking through the emotions of Meleager, which shape the micro-narrative told by Phoenix in Iliad IX. A key to these emotions is the principle of an ascending scale of affection. This principle is activated in the Meleager narrative, which calls itself klea andrôn, told in the midst of philoi, IX 528.

9. The Meleager narrative is a micro-narrative meant for Achilles and for the Iliad, which is the macro-Narrative about Achilles; in its compressed form, the Meleager narrative "replays" ("repeats") some of the major themes of the expanded form that is the Iliad.

10. The key word is philos, which measures the hero's ascending scale of affection: elders, priests, father, sisters, mother, companions [hetairoi], {wife}

10a. The sequence in which these characters are presented in the narration corresponds to the ordering of the hero's ascending scale of affection.

10b. Notice how the wife gets into the sequence. The logic of the narrative dictates it, not the logic of the narrator Phoenix.

11. The name of the wife is significant:

Cleopatra = Kleopatra = Kleopatra

12. Compare the name of Achilles' nearest and dearest comrade:

Patroklos = Patrokleês

13. Why is the lament of Cleopatra essential to the plot of the micro-narrative? It is because this lament is a performance.

13a. The poetry and song of kleos is itself a performance. It is a speech-act.

13b. On the concept of "speech-act," see J. L. Austin, How to do things with words. A speech-act has authority, but you have to say it in the right context. Examples: "You're fired!" [but only in a context where the employer says it to the employee]; "I do" [but only in the context of answering the question: "Do you take this woman/man to be your lawfully-wedded wife/husband"?]; "All hands on deck" [but only in the context of a ship, when the commanding officer says it].

14. The epic of Homer is a speech-act. It comes to life only in performance. Live performance. Compare, in today's world, a concert in a concert-hall; a lecture in a lecture-hall; a sermon in church.

15. Performance is ritual. To perform Homer, that is.

16. Ritual is doing things and saying things in a special way. Myth is saying things in a special way. So ritual frames myth.


1. Ritual. In small-scale societies, what you do in sacred space is marked activity, any kind of marked activity, most obviously WORSHIP and sacrifice, but also including: hunting, athletics, regulated sexual relations, even warfare.

1a. Specially difficult for us to understand: sacrifice (killing animals, cooking by fire, and distribution in community) and warfare. Sacrifice is a ritualized admission of human guilt about the human capacity to kill other humans, as in warfare. This formulation was developed by Walter Burkert in a book about the anthropological background of sacrifice: Homo necans (as opposed to Homo sapiens).

{Working definition of "sacred space": whatever is set aside by society for communication with the world beyond our everyday world. It is marked space vs. unmarked space. Sacred is the best way to describe marked in the smallest-scale societies. I stay away from words like divine, even supernatural.}

2. Myth. In small-scale societies, what you say in sacred space is marked speech, any kind of marked speech, most obviously WORSHIP and prayer, but also including: oaths, wagers, promises; these are typical speech-acts. In ancient Greece, there were other kinds of speech-acts that we ordinarily would not think of as speech-acts: laments, insults, praise, instruction; in other words, anything formal that is on record, as it were; to say on the record as opposed to off the record; marked vs. unmarked; marked speech is automatically witnessed by the gods or whatever is out there beyond the everyday world, in the sacred world. Myth explains the way things are. In some song cultures, it has maximum truth-value.

2a. An illustration of the power of the speech-act... "The phrase is a holy being. You see, these songs, when they were turned over to the Earth People, were to be used in a certain way. If you leave out those words, then the holy beings feel slighted. They know you are singing, they are aware of it. But if you omit those words, then they feel it and they are displeased. Then, even though you are singing, whatever you are doing ... has no effect." - from an interview with a Navajo shaman.

3. Another illustration of the power of the speech-act... Alcman song 1 lines 39-43: "And I sing the radiance of Agido, as I look upon her like the sun, which Agido summons to shine as witness."

3a. The performance "summons" the sun to shine. The performance equates the girl Agido with the sun.

4. A celebrated case of a song as a speech-act (in this case, a prayer):


Sappho 1
poikilóthron’ athánat’ Aphródîta
pai Díos dolóploke líssomaí se
mê m’ ásaisi mêd’ oníaisi dámna
pótnia, thûmon,
allà tuid’ élth’ ai pota k’âtérôta
tâs émâs audâs aï´oisa pê´loi
éklues, pátros de dómon lípoisa
khrû´sion êlthes
árm’ upasdeúksaisa káloi de s’âgon
ôkées stroûthoi peri gâs melaínâs
púkna dínnentes ptér’ ap’ ôránôíthe-
ros dià méssô
aîpsa d’eksíkonto su d’ô mákaira
meidiaísais’âthanátôi prosô´pôi
ê´re’ótti dêute pépontha k’ôtti
dêute kálêmmi

k’ôtti moi málista thélô génesthai
mainólâi thû´môi tína dêute peíthô
bâis’ ágên es sân philótâta tís s’ô
Psâpph’ adikê´ei?
kai gar ai pheúgei takhéôs diô´ksei
ai de dôra mê déket’ allà dô´sei
ai de mê phílei takhéôs philêsei
k’ôuk ethéloisa
élthe moi kai nûn khalépân de lûson
ek merímnân óssa dé moi teléssai
thûmos imérrei téleson su d’aútâ
súmmakhos ésso

You with varied embroidered flowers, immortal Aphrodite, child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, I implore you, do not devastate with aches and sorrows, Mistress, my spirit! But come here, if ever at any other time hearing my voice from afar, you heeded me, and leaving the palace of your father, golden, you came, having harnessed the chariot; and you were carried along by beautiful swift sparrows over the dark earth swirling with their dense plumage from the sky through the midst of the aether, and straightaway they arrived. But you, O holy one, smiling with your immortal looks, kept asking what is it once again this time that has happened to me and for what reason once again this time do I invoke you, and what is it that I want more than anything to happen to my frenzied spirit? "Whom am I once again this time to persuade, setting out to bring her to your love? Who is doing you, Sappho, wrong? For if she is fleeing now, soon she will give chase. If she is not taking gifts, soon she will be giving them. If she does not love, soon she will love even against her will." Come to me even now, and free me from harsh anxieties, and however many things my spirit yearns to get done, you do for me. You become my ally in war.