Sunday, December 16, 2012

TFBT: Proper Pray and Personal Conversations in the Iliad

Here I present examples of the proper  prayers and personal conversations styles in the epic.  The “typical structure of prayer” in epic is; the invocation of the divine, a reminder of the reciprocal obligations between the god and man and the specific request. 1  I am under the impression there is a similar structure for personal conversation; touch, say a word, call by name and then speak.  And naturally there are examples of combining the two.

PRAYER can most famously be illustrated by Iliad 1:33.  Apollo’s priest Chryses just failed to ransom his daughter and was summarily expelled from the Achaean camps;
·        “when he had gone apart,
·        the old man invoked Apollo by praying; "Hear me, god of the silver bow,”
·        reminded Loxias of their relationship with a “if ever I roofed over a temple to your pleasing, or if ever I burned to you fat thigh-pieces of bulls and goats,”
·        then requested specifically “fulfill this prayer for me: let the Danaans pay for my tears by your arrows." 

Many of the twenty prayers in the Iliad listed by Ian Johnston2  are performed similarly.  For example, Tenth book starting at line 227 when Odysseus and Diomedes depart on their night mission.
·        they went their way and left there all the chieftains.
·        Odysseus invokes” Child of aegis-bearing Zeus, untiring goddess, hear me.
·        Reminds her of their relationship, “You’ve always stood  beside me in all sorts of troubles. I don’t move without you watching me.
·        Then requests, “Grant that we two come back to the ships
covered in glory, “
Likewise Diomedes,  
·        Invoked  Child of Zeus, invincible goddess, hear me.”
·        Requests “Stand by me…”
·        And then reminds  her of her affection and relationship his family ”as you did my father, lord Tydeus, at Thebes, …       and I’ll sacrifice to you an unbroken yearling ox with a broad head.”  (Often the prayer of prayers mentioned mutual obligations of the past and promises of favors to come on the part the prayer.) 

PERSONAL CONVERSATION style  involving touch;  say a word, call by name and then speak,   might best be demonstrated with Iliad 1:347 where a distraught Achilles is comforted by his mother Thetis.  Achilles:
·        withdrew apart from his comrades, and sat down on the shore of the grey sea,”
·        His mother Thetis “stroked him with her hand,”
·        “and spoke to him,”
·        and “called him by name:”
·        Then spoke, "My child, why do you weep?" 

Another conversation that surprising follows the convention for personal conversation rather than prayer can be found in Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo around line 3003 
·        Hera “went apart from the gods, being very angry.”
·        She said some words, that is “Hera prayed,
·        She touched the goddess Gaia by “striking the ground flatwise with her hand”,
·        Called “ Gaia and wide Uranus above, and you Titans who dwell beneath the earth about great Tartarus,
·        She requested; “grant that I may bear a child apart from Zeus, no wit lesser than him in strength--nay, let him be as much stronger than Zeus as all-seeing Zeus than Cronus.”
Notice the lack of claim to relationship or promise of favors as in a prayer.

PERSONAL CONVERSATIONS AS PRAYERS is a style of conversation in the Iliad that continues to follow the formula above; usually, when the approaching party needs something from the other.  For example in Iliad 14.222 after lying to Aphrodite something awful and using neither formula;
·        “Hera darted down and left the peak of Olympus;”
·        “she clasped him by the hand,”
·        and spake
·        “and addressed him: "Sleep, lord of all gods and of all men” 
At which point a standard use of another’s name became an invocations and the conversations continued in the tradition of prayer,
·        Hera created a relationship between herself and the son of Night by stating, “ if ever thou didst hearken to word of mine, so do thou even now obey,  and I will owe thee thanks all my days.” (“And gifts will I give thee,”)
·        Then asks specifically  “Lull me to sleep the bright eyes of Zeus” 

Thetis uses a similar formula when asking of Zeus the favor that her son Achilles never quite finished formally;  Iliad 1.493
·        she found the far-seeing son of Cronus sitting apart from the rest upon the topmost peak of many-ridged Olympus.
·        So she sat down before him, and clasped his knees with her left hand, while with her right she touched him beneath the chin,
·        and she spoke in prayer to king Zeus, son of Cronus:
·        called his name or invoked him, "Father Zeus,
·        reminded him of their relationship, “if ever amid the immortals I gave you aid by word or deed”  An understatement if ever there was one considering she rescued him when bound by the other gods.. 
·        “grant me this prayer: do honor to my son, who is doomed to a speedy death beyond all other men; yet now Agamemnon, king of men, has dishonored him, for he has taken and keeps his prize by his own arrogant act. But honor him, Olympian Zeus, lord of counsel; and give might to the Trojans, until the Achaeans do honor to my son, and magnify him with recompense." 

King Priam uses the same personal conversation turned prayer strategy at Iliad 24.468;
·        “he found Achilles, but his comrades sat apart”
      ·        “clasped in his hands his knees, and kissed his hands, the terrible, man-slaying hands that had slain his many sons. “
At this point formula for conversation or prayer would require the calling or invoking of the name of Peleus’ son.  Doomed and heartbroken, Priam might be forgiven his inability to say that terrible name.   He moves onto to the prayer formula.
     ·        He says "Remember thy father, O Achilles like to the gods, whose years are even as mine, on the grievous threshold of old age”.  Which we might understand as in “If ever you remember your father…”  Priam tries and affectively creates a relationship between Achilles a man who will never again embrace his father and the Priam who will never know his son’s embrace again. “and I bear with me ransom past counting”
     ·        He states his specific need  I now come to the ships of the Achaeans to win him back from thee 

I should mention that in my experience since working on this paper that all three styles of speaking in the Iliad are also affective in modern life. 


1        Laura Slatkin The Power of Thetis page 62, speaking on Meullner Meaning of the Homeric EYXOMAI 

2       Speakers and Speeches in Homer’s Iliad   by Ian Johnston

3           trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th - 4th B.C.

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