Sunday, September 15, 2013

TFBT: The Unrighteous Request

“the unrighteous prayer that Thetis

had made of him, Zeus” (Iliad 15:599)

Thetis is just a mother, trying to do the best for her only child.  She is a Nereid, a gentle wave-goddess of the Mediterranean Sea.  Homer call her, Thetis the “silver-footed”.  So, I was somewhat surprised to find her request characterized by “presumptuous in some translations of the Iliad (A. T. Murray) 

 I find “unrighteous” surprisingly judgmental for a poet so famously non-judgmental.  In the Iliad there are no bad guys, just people, some of them quite honorable, doing the best they can in a bad situation.  Contrary to popular belief it isn’t really about the Trojan War.  It is about the anger of Thetis’ son, Achilles, That is often the subtitle of the Iliad; “The Wrath of Achilles”.  Her son Achilles is the greatest hero of the age and in the opening scene of the Iliad he is unrighteously insulted by Agamemnon the leader of the Greek forces at Troy.  Her request to Zeus the king of the gods, is simply that he right this wrong. 

 That doesn’t seem too “unrighteous”.  Plus, the wrath of Achilles is pretty much the story line of the Iliad.  When his wrath is quenched in mutual tears with King Priam the story ends.  The plot line of the Iliad turns on “Thetis’ unrighteous request”.  Without her request, there would be no story for Homer to sing.    

 So I decided to look at the Greek version  to better understand why Homer called her request for justice; “unrighteous”.  If I read the Greek correctly, (If!) the word in Homeric Greek is  ἐξαίσι-ος .   Which means; beyond what is ordained or fated,   This is the famous “beyond-destiny” the “hyper moron” I’ve discussed elsewhere.   TFBT: Hyper-moron or Beyond Destiny, Part II

 “Beyond-destiny”  is an event the gods cannot allow to happen for their own sakes; an event contrary to the Will of Zeus or whatever little side plot one of his kinfolks has going; or contrary to the decrees of Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, the three Fates.  So, regardless of the English translations, Thetis’ request is not unrighteous, it is just outside the scheme of things.   

 And what is the scheme of things?  What is the Will of Zeus?  In the lost epic “Cypria”.  Mother Earth begs Zeus to relieve her of the burden the tribes of demi-gods living on her surface.  In answer Zeus and the goddess of order Themis, mother of the Fates conspire to wipe the heroes from the world with wars at Thebes and Troy.

 So who is Thetis to overthrow the decrees of destiny?  She is the foster  daughter of Hera, the sharp tongued Queen of Olympus.  It was Thetis who rescued King Zeus when his enemies bound him, and they dared not raise a finger to object.  It was Thetis who rescued the smithy of the gods Hephaestus when he was tossed from Olympus .  It was Thetis who rescued the wine god Dionysius.  And it was Thetis who could be mother to the next king of the gods.  Instead she was the mother of Achilles, star of the Iliad and the plot of the Iliad seemed to center on the Will of Thetis.


 For further information on Thetis, I would recommend  Laura Slatkin’s  book The Power of Thetis.





  1. In my Bulgarian translation (by Alexander Milev), the adjective is "sadbovna", fateful.

  2. Maya,

    I kind of like "fateful" better. It sort of suggests that Zeus didn't have that much choice in the matter. Considering Thetis' influence and the number of deities that owed her, I don't know that he had any choice.