Friday, February 15, 2013

TFBT: The Old Ball-and-Chain or Two Thunderbolts?

Hera lulls Zeus to sleep atop Mt. Ida so that Prince Hector and the Trojan army  can have their way on the battle field below.  Zeus awakens to discover her  trick and threatens, “Dost thou not remember when thou wast hung from on high and from thy feet I suspended two anvils…”  (Iliad 15:21, translated by A.T.Murray)

In the Hanging of Hera and the Meaning of  Greek akmwn Miles C. Beckwith  ridiculous the notion that there were actually duw akmonas.  He follows Cedric Whitman[i] in this and their comments are pretty funny.  Considering “anvils” a ludicrous translation Beckwith marches forth in a well-documented argument to find out what the “akmons”, the anvils, really were.  His tentative conclusion is that Zeus was pointing out to his wife that they wed on Olympus and she was stuck with him and his authority.  Sort of a ball-and-chain argument.   Beckwith’s argument is well-documented, well-written and easy to follow, that’s why I came to the conclusion half way through that he was wrong.

With careful steps and mounting evidence he traces the meaning of “the etymological designation of the proto-form *akmon or better *h2ekmon”.  Half way through his argument he concludes “that  both  ‘heaven’  and ‘stone’ are well attested for *h2ekmon in differing Indo-European traditions, while the status of our third meaning, 'thunderbolt,' is more difficult to judge.”  Okay, I’m not expert and I’ll admit to “having no Greek”, but a stone coming out of heaven would probably sound like a thunderbolt to me. 

Beckwith also says, “Despite the claims of the standard lexical handbooks,there is no evidence that akmwn means 'thunderbolt’.”  Beckwith presents all his arguments for setting aside the pronouncements of all “the standard lexical handbooks”  in a footnote that takes up half the page.  Sadly, I cannot so readily dismiss two and half millennia of scholarship.  In fact….the Perseus translation device[ii] references several lexicologist defines akmwn as “meteoric stone, thunderbolt”.  The ancient Greeks using the same word for meteorite and thunderbolt, makes sense to me.  And if the gods had a few stones laying around Olympus to fling downward on occasion, they were probably pretty heavy considering the damage Zeus’ weapon of choice could inflict[iii].  Probably make great anvils too. 

So, I would argue Hera was hung from heaven with something heavy strapped to her ankles, probably two of the abundant stones Whitman discusses with wit.  Maybe they were even the akmwn that Zeus kept handy until the Cyclopes invented those newfangled keranous.

Image of Zeus with thunderbolt, thanks to NYPL digital gallery

[i] "Hera's Anvils," HSCP 74 (1970) 40.
[iii] The leader of the mixed-blood Titans, outrageous Menoitios whom far-seeing Zeus struck him with a lurid thunderbolt and sent him down to Erebus (Hesiod, Theogony 507)  Athena threw a thunderbolt at the ship of Aias…the ship fell apart (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E5. 22 - E6.)  Typhon (whom) the swift lightning and the rushing fiery thunderbolts laid him low (Oppian, Halieutica 3. 15)  

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