The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

poena sine fine

Achilles and Hector

After reading Donna Wilson’s Ransom, Revenge, and Heroic Identity in the ‘Iliad’ (based on the dissertation she prepared for the University of Texas, Austin) the largest question I have for the author concerns her relationship with her father. Her discussion of the character of reparation in the Iliad emphasizes the role of the father in ransoming captured children to the complete exclusion of other members of the family (I’m thinking primarily of brothers, but one might include uncles, cousins, etc.).1 Nor does she articulate the father’s role as head of the family, rather than referring to him in the emotionally more resonant role of patêr qua daddy.2 Yet I cannot think Priam’s paternal sentiments were foremost in his mind when he was paying the ransom for his idiot son Lycaon (nêpie, Achilles says, 21.99) – or, to be more precise, paying back the xeinos who had bought the boy from Achilles (21.34ff.). It is worth noting, too, that Wilson makes perhaps too nice a distinction between ransom (apoina) and supplication (hikesia) – to supplicate someone is obviously not the same thing as paying a ransom, but the promise of ransom (or some other reward – prayers, dedications, etc.) is an essential component of hikesia and to say they are not related (as Wilson does, with the crisp endnote ‘contra Thornton (1984)’) is at the very least obtuse.3

This is, however, merely nitpicking – the first chapter on the distinction between poinê (retribution) and apoina (reparation/ransom) is wonderfully clear and thoughtfully argued – so well argued, in fact, that the remaining chapters seem almost redundant, though they contain thoughtful readings of bks. 1, 9, & 24.4 (cf. BMCR review.)

Finally, may I request a moratorium on the word ‘poetics’ – be they cultural, structural, or psychobabblistic – please? It is at once an annoying and imprecise term – hardly the qualities one should take pains to nurture.

  1. E.g. Helen expects her brothers Castor and Pollux to fight with the Argives to take her back from Troy (bk. 3); Andromache includes the death of her brothers when detailing her utter dependence on Hector (bk. 6). []
  2. Which works for Priam in bk. XXIV, by when made to be a ‘theme’ seems strained to me. []
  3. Wilkins is differing from Agathe Thornton’s Homer’s Iliad: its Composition and the Motif of Supplication. Hypomnemata 81. Göttingen, 1984; however, Wilkins goes so far as to elide the context in which Lycaon offers ransom, viz., during a formal supplication, which suggests that she has not sufficiently examined the connection. []
  4. Incidentally, Wilkins makes a great to-do about the limitations of poinê as opposed to the vaunted τ’ ἀπερείσι’ ἄποινα (boundless ransom) without considering the metrical limitations; ἀπερεισίην ποινήν (· · — · — – –) cannot scan in dactylic hexameter (juvenile argument, but there it is). One has only to think of the very deus ex machina end to the cycle of poinê in Aeschylus’s Eumenides to sense that Greeks (at least in the heroic model) had a very hazy sense of poinês limits; still, Wilkins has confined herself to Homer, and so to Homer I shall defer. []


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