Friday, November 8, 2013

TFBT: Homer Gives a Nod to Hesiod

Walking home from work yesterday, it occurred to me that if we accept Emily Schurr's Subtext, there might be broader implications about Homer and Hesiod.  Let’s look at some examples of Homer giving a nod to other epic traditions.

In "The Best of Achaeans" Nagy points out that Homer gives a nod to the group of myths about Aeneas (the future Aeneid) when the gods whisk him of the battle field for the sake of his future epic.[1] 

I think we can infer the power of Thetis in the Iliad, that she is someone special.  Thetis can turn the Will of Zeus with a touch to the chin, unbind supernatural bonds, summon forces far greater than the combined strength of the Olympians and do it all without a complaint from her opponents to her face.  Maybe that great favor afforded to a mere mermaid is Homer's nod to Spartan poet Alcman's creation myth in which Thetis is the creatrix.[2]

By her association with mighty Thetis, Eurynome would be Homer's nod to "Orpheus" who makes Eurynome one of the primordial gods. [3]

“Monro's Law” which states that the Odysseynever repeats or refers to any incident related in the Iliad." [4] would suggest that the composer of the Iliad was showing respect to the Odyssey by not trespassing on it. 

Hera’s visit (Iliad 14.200) to Oceanus and Tethys (from who all the gods proceed) could be a nod to a theogony we are not even aware of. (Also Iliad 14. 244)

Okay, having tossed all that out as example, let me ask the question.  Does Schurr's subtext represent a Homeric nod to the Hesiodic Succession myth?    I can’t find in the Iliad anywhere that Homer is as clear about the succession myth as Schurr's subtext suggests .  I am not suggesting Homer is giving a nod to the Theogony, but rather to the collection of myths that Hesiod chose from in composing his own epic. 

[1] Best of the Achaeans, Gregory Nagy 15.3  “There is a conflict going on here between Achilles and Aeneas as warriors in battle and also between the epic traditions about each of the two heroes. Moreover, the Iliad here is actually allowing part of the Aeneas tradition to assert itself at the expense of the Achilles tradition”
[2] Page 179,  Knox, Bernard M. W., “Archaic Choral Lyric,” in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, Vol I. Greek Literature, ed. P.E. Easterling. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press. 1989  Also “The Power of Thetis” (Hellenic Studies) Laura M. Slatkin. Page 82
[3] Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 503 :"He [Orpheus] sang of . . . How, in the beginning, Ophion and Eurynome, daughter of Oceanus, governed the world from snow-clad Olympus; how they were forcibly supplanted, Ophion by Cronus, Eurynome by Rhea; of their fall into the waters of Okeanos."
[4]   by Michael Gilleland, scroll down to “Monro’s Law” Excellent article. Also Monro, 1901 “Homer’s Odyssey” page 325


  1. I think that the complaint of Thetis to Hephaestus that she is the most unfortunate of all goddesses because she alone has been married off to a mortal man against her will is a clear allusion to the succession myth.
    (BTW I do not quite understand what would prevent Thetis after the death of Peleus, or even before it, to take some divine consort. Are gods so squeamish to refuse sex with a goddess who has had sex with a mortal? If so, this would explain why Aphrodite was so anxious to keep her affair with Anchisus secret.)

  2. Maya, Thetis couldn't take a divine consort because the risk of "a son greater than his father" still existed. On the other hand, what if Peleus didn't die? From Wikipedia; "The only other reference to veneration of Peleus comes from the Christian Clement of Alexandria, in his polemical Exhortation to the Greeks. Clement attributes his source to a "collection of marvels" by a certain "Monimos" of whom nothing is known, and claims, in pursuit of his thesis that daimon-worshipers become as cruel as their gods, that in "Pella of Thessaly human sacrifice is offered to Peleus and Cheiron, the victim being an Achaean".[14] Of this, the continuing association of Peleus and Chiron is the most dependable detail.[15]"

  3. The risk of "a son greater than his father" does exist, but I fail to see how marrying off Theits to a mortal could help against it. Why isn't she allowed to remain a virgin, as she seems to wish? In fact, if she wants to become queen mother, having a mortal husband even makes things easier - she could secretly mate with any divine enemy of Zeus, give birth to a son and nobody would become suspicious until too late.
    I strongly suspect that the true reason behind the marriage of Thetis is the need to have Achilles born, and a good story around him :-).

  4. Maya, You make some good points. Plus according to sculpture on a temple some where...Peragomon? Achilles helped in the Gigantomachy.