Monday, July 4, 2016

TFBT:Nagy and the Epigoni

Agamemnon in Iliad 2.115 complains "go ingloriously back to Argos with the loss of much people. Such is the will of strong Zeus, who has laid many a proud city in the dust"
In Iliad 4.405 Sthenelos brags "We boast ourselves as even better men than our fathers; we took seven-gated Thebes, though the wall was stronger and our men were fewer in number, for we trusted in the omens of the gods and in the help of Zeus, whereas they perished through their own sheer folly;"
Gregory Nagy in a recent article (A Sampling of Comments on Iliad Scroll 2). Says "The words of this challenge directed against the over-king Agamemnon by Sthenelos, charioteer of Diomedes, recall the epic traditions of the Epigonoi = Sons-of-the-Seven-against Thebes. Since Sthenelos figures as a character in two epic traditions, both the Iliadic and the Epigonic, his wording here can be seen as a cross-reference from the Iliadic tradition to the Epigonic. The cross-reference sets up a rivalry between the two epic traditions: the question is, are the Epigonoi as heroic characters superior to the heroic characters of the Iliad? "
For those who don't recall the Thebaid, the Epigoni conquered Thebes in a relatively short time.  The Achaeans took ten years to conquer Troy.  I don't believe they suffered the wrath of the gods afterwards
So what do you think?  We're the Epigoni or the Army of Agamemnon the best of the Achaeans? 


  1. Two of the Epigoni (at least) are among Agamemnon's army and do not speed up the conquest of Troy. If I remember correctly, Sthenelos brags loudly while doing little. Diomedes did a lot, but only with Athena's help.

    Sthenelos himself says that the Seven perished through their folly, while the Epigoni won by the will of Zeus. So he himself empties his pretence to be a superior warrior and, if he is logical, should give the glory to Zeus and be satisfied with a claim to read omens well.

    Actually, Zeus also deserves no glory. For, if only a successful blitzkrieg qualifies one as a Best warrior, then the Titanomachy disqualifies Zeus.

    1. For me the point of Sthenelos' tirade is that the Epigoni obeyed the omens, where as their fathers knowing perfectly well they were doomed attack Thebes any way. If Agamemnon had done the same at Aulis, turned around and went home he wouldn't have ended up in a bathtub.

      Of course , the will of Zeus was to kill off the demigods. What if Agamemnon had called his bluff and gone home when the winds went against them?


    2. Zeus would make another try. As Agatha Christie said, when someone has decided to commit a murder, it is not easy to stop him.

      I've recently thought of Theogony 550-570. Why does Hesiod put the sacrifice trick before the theft of fire and not the other way round, as is logical? What "mischief against mortal men" thought Zeus when he realized that he would be left with bare bones? He decided not to give fire to the Melian race of men. This would make sacrifice impossible. We know from the Works and Days what happened to the Silver race of men when they failed to sacrifice - they were exterminated. Although it is not safe to extrapolate from W&D to the Theogony, I suppose that this was what Zeus intended for the Bronze (Melian) humans as well - to deprive them of fire and, hence, of any opportunity to keep their contract duties; and then he would use this as an excuse to downgrade their conservation status.

      I even considered a possibility that the Five Ages in W&D do not represent consecutive "races" of men but alternative fates of a single developing human race.

  2. I have wondered about the real military skills of Achilles. He has a high reputation, that's true. But was it fully deserved? He was taking part in the siege of Troy from the beginning, and the city was still intact 9 years later.

    When he retreated after the Great Quarrel, the Trojans got military advantage after Zeus promised Thetis to manage it. We never know whether Achilles' absence from the battlefield would be noticed without the fateful request of Thetis. Achilles himself was apparently also far from sure, because he felt a need to ask his mother for this favor.

    Later on, Achilles is impressive at the battlefield, but only after Poseidon threatens Zeus with divine rebellion unless the Achaeans win. And Achilles fails a test that other great heroes have passed, that is, to win over a river.

    I'd add that Achilles, unlike most of his enemies, wears divine armor, but we have already discussed that it is of little use.

    1. Maya,

      I recall seeing a body count once. I think Achilles was the big winner followed by Diomedes. But I dont have a reference


  3. We have already sought explanations why the Seven perished and the Epigoni won, but the one we came to - that this would guarantee maximum devastation - is not fully satisfying to me. Although it is of course more satisfying than Sthenelos' lame bragging. Do you know of other comments (ancient or modern) on this subject?

  4. Maya,

    How about this difference between the the fathers and sons; the cursed robe and necklace? Aphrodite gave it as a wedding present to Cadnus and her own daghter Harmonia Didn't the Epigoni return it to Aphrodites' temple before attacking Thebes. Maybe I should write an article

  5. From Wikipedia:

    "Through Alcmaeon, the son of Eriphyle, the necklace then came into the hands of Phegeus' daughter Arsinoe (named Alphesiboea in some versions), then to the sons of Phegeus, Pronous and Agenor, and lastly to the sons of Alcmaeon, Amphoterus and Acarnan. Amphoterus and Acarnan dedicated the Necklace to the Temple of Athena at Delphi, to prevent further disaster amongst human wearers."

    No reference, unfortunately