Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TFBT: M.L. West's Translation of Argeiphontes

I need your help in preparing talking points for a symposium (in the Ancient sense) next week.  Hour 25 is hosting a Book Club on Pandora on Tuesday, August 30 at 11 a.m.EDT.   We are all reading Hesiod in translation and the Attican (Greek) Study Group is translating the pertinent passages.  If you don’t know the story of Pandora, she was the Eve of Greek mythology.  You know how Eve had that poisoned apple?  Pandora dowry included a box full of evils, ills and ailments for mankind. 

I was assigned a few lines of her story to translate from Ancient Greek.  They included the pseudonym “᾿Αργεϊφόντης”.

πάντα δέ οἱ χροῒ κόσμον ἐφήρμοσε Παλλὰς ᾿Αθήνη.
ἐν δ' ἄρα οἱ στήθεσσι διάκτορος …..

Easy enough; "Argeiphontes" is a name for  the god Hermes,  universally translated as ‘Argus-slayer’.  Argus was a giant guarding a cow.  Hermes lulled him to sleep and killed him.  Famous story. 

Meanwhile, I am reading M.L. West's translation of Hesiod.  West translates Argeiphontes as "dog-killer".   Okay, I know that is a big difference and a little odd.  Keep in mind that Odysseus named his guard-dog Argus.

I would dismiss this, except for a problem I have with the gifts the gods give Pandora.  

"he (Zeus) ordered Hephaistos, renowned all over, to shape some wet clay as soon as possible, and to put into it a human voice           and strength, and to make it look like the immortal goddesses, with the beautiful and lovely appearance of a virgin. And he ordered Athena to teach her own craft to her, weaving a very intricate web. And he ordered Aphrodite to shed golden charm over her head; also harsh longing, and anxieties that eat away at the limbs.  And he ordered Hermes, the messenger and Argos-killer, to put inside her an intent that is doglike and a temperament that is stealthy."  (Work&Days 60ff trans. by Gregory Nagy)
So here is the problem I see in the above.  The Olympian craftsman Hephaestus makes a woman.  Athena, the goddess of weaving makes her a gown. (Elsewhere the Graces give her, well grace and Peitho, goddess of persuasion, makes her persuasive.)  Aphrodite, goddess of Love gives her the attributes of love.  See the pattern here?  Next the god that guides the dead and slew a giant; gives her doggishness and sly temperate.  How does that fit?   Shouldn't Hermes be giving her the skill to be a travel agent and a giant-killer?   I hate to say this but dog-slayer fits the pattern better.

My solution is this. It’s a pun!  Famously Argus was guarding a cow. So a guard dog, like Odysseus', is an "argus", every guard dog becomes an "argus", hence killing Argus is killing a dog.  So, M.L. West could be be right

Does this makes sense?


  1. I think that this really makes sense. I found a little more on some blog:

    "The word argos in Greek usually means “shining”, but appears often of dogs in Homer, in the phrases πόδας ἀργοί, “swift-footed”, and κύνες ἀργοί, “swift dogs.” The usual explanation is that swift motion can appear to flicker or shine. This connection is supported by the Sanskrit cognate ṛjrá-, which also means both “shining” and “fast.” There is an epithet of the god Hermes, Argeiphontes, which is usually explained as the slayer of Argus, but Martin West has argued that in fact it refers to his function as a god of thieves, helping them past guard dogs, and that argos here refers to dogs, the slayer of dogs."

    I have before found it curious that "slayer of Argus" is a constant epithet of Hermes in Homer but there is no hint of Io.

    By the way, although Hesiod claims that Pandora was given gifts from all the gods, we do not see the contributions of Hera, Demeter, Poseidon, Hestia and Leto's children.

  2. Maya,

    Interesting. Four of the six you listed fought on the sign of the Trojans. hmm.

    Thanks for the response!

  3. I think Demeter didn't take part in the war, and Hestia does not appear in Homer.

  4. I had forgotten Ares - he also does not contribute.

  5. Maya,

    Helene pointed out today, the what we are witnessing in Hesiod is the dressing (arming) of Pandora. The actual gifts are the daemons they stuff into Pandora's dowry-box. Some hope-chest. Now that you bring up Demeter... Ugh! took me forever to find this reference! Demeter angry at the destruction of her sacred grove, sent Linos (starvation) to the transgressor Since there is that taboo of the Olympians actually fraternizing with the children of Eris she sent an Oread with the message (Ovid Metamorphosis 8.791 ) Irony, eh? The goddess of the harvest commanding the daemon of starvation. So my suggestion is that each god on Olympus stuffed into Pandora's box the worst aspect of themselves as manifested in the children of Nyx and Eris.


    1. Makes sense. I limit the content of my Pandora's jar to infections, so the prestigious job of filling it naturally goes to Apollo, the god of plague.

      "Irony, eh? The goddess of the harvest commanding the daemon of starvation."
      I think it perfectly fits into the logic of Greek mythology. In the Iliad, the main role of the alleged god of healing Apollo is to produce a plague. In the Hymn to Demeter, the alleged goddess of agriculture produces starvation herself, without even summoning a special daemon.

      Note that Zeus, after summoning gods to fill the jar and arm Pandora, finds it necessary to reduce the virulence of the gifts so that to keep humans functional. He makes diseases speechless and forces foreboding to remain in the jar and not be released among humans. (I agree with those who translate "elpis" as "foreboding" rather than "hope".) Aeschylus' Prometheus claims this role for himself.

    2. I'd wish to cite from Yasumura's "Challenges to the power of Zeus in early Greek poetry" (p. 113 ff.), because I saw from the Hour25 discussion that nobody was aware of this viewpoint.

      "There have been many discussions raised by the episode of Pandora's jar in the Works and Days... The story of elpis remaining in the jar is usually taken to mean that at least we have hope in this world which is now full of evils. This interpretation is problematic: according to the logic of the story, the jar had a lid which prevented its contents from coming out; thus elpis, which remained in the jar, is also prevented from coming out. The narrative is explicit: the jar, where elpis remained, is like a house never to be broken into (96); and elpis can never go out of the door (97). In this context, Hesiod clearly pronounces that elpis is now concealed, and is never in this world.
      The main problem here is how elpis should be interpreted. As Verdenius writes, the original meaning of the verb elpomai is not "to hope" but "to anticipate". In later Christian texts, elpis always denotes hope, particularly the hope of salvation... In classical Greek, however, elpis is not only "good hope" but also "anxious thought about the future"... The Iliad offers a very good example of both meanings of the related verb, elpomai" (the example is 17.404-7, Achilles thinking what could happen to Patroclus).

    3. (Continued)
      "...If we disregard the prejudicial, later connotation of the word, elpis means not only "hope" but also "anticipation" or "foresight" in its most neutral sense. To be more precise, which, of "anticipation" and "foresight", should we take as the meaning of Hesiodic elpis?... It is significant to compare how Aeschylus understood the account of elpis remaining in the jar, and how he used it in his tragedy "Prometheus bound"...

      Pr. I made mortals no longer foresee their fate.
      Ch. What kind of remedy did you find for this anguish?
      Pr. I put blind hopes into their minds. (P.V. 248-250)

      ...As Griffith comments, hopes are blind because they make mankind "act without constantly being aware of the exact limits of their expiration"... As Aeschylus rightly suggests, anticipation is something that certainly exists among men, whereas, as is explained in Pandora's story, foresight, clear knowledge of the future, does not. It is, thus, not beyond the bounds of possibility that lines 248-50 of this tragedy offer a relic of the original mythic message and suggest that the loss of foresight is paradigmatic to the Prometheus story."

    4. Maya,

      Prometheus's words fit nicely Janet's suggestion that the jar represents Pandora's body, all our bodies. Good or bad hope is part of us.


    5. I've read some scholars speculate that Pandora's jar is her womb/vagina. However, if so, I think it definitely must have been Epimetheus opening it, not Pandora herself :-). Or else, Hesiod's knowledge about human reproduction must have been as poor as that about bee reproduction.

      To me, Prometheus' words are about inventing a religion. I wonder how this passed in 5th century Athens, with its witch-hunting atmosphere.

  6. So folowing that logic, I am sure that Hephaestus was happy to give up his Lameness, Hera the constant ache in her right breast (heartache?) The opposite of Zeus' rain is Drought, Hebe's endless youth is dreaded Old Age', Love/Hate, Athena's Wisdom/Folly, Hestia, exile...


  7. In line with what you think, Zeus is called "metieta" (wise, counselor, resourceful) in the line stating that he deprived illnesses of voice (i.e. prevented humans from knowing much about them).

  8. About the other interesting topics touched in the Hour25 forum:

    I see no reason to think that Pandora was immortal, or that gifts from Hephaestus could immortalize (as you said before, they rather have the opposite effect).

    About Prometheus & Epimetheus - if, as I suppose, they are incarnations of Yemo and Manu, they were originally mortal, though very exceptional. In fact, the death (sacrifice) of Yemo is needed for the world as we know it to come true. Vedic Yama becomes a god only in the afterlife. Greeks never tell what happens to Epimetheus later, after he fulfils his role in the story. In the versions where Prometheus is eventually released, we do not know what happens to him, either. Sophocles once accommodates him at Colonus and Aristophanes on Olympus.

    Hesiod just had to make Prometheus (and, by extension, Epimetheus) immortal. If you want to glorify Zeus, you cannot do this by describing how he got the upper hand in a conflict with a mortal. It is clear that, no matter now much the mortal suffers in the end, the conflict will give kleos to him, not to Zeus. So Hesiod had to deify Prometheus to supply him urgently with a false immortal pedigree.

    Iapetus came very handy. I think that some old, forgotten layer of progo-Greek mythology includes a combat myth where Iapetus was the adversary, the "satan". Later, Cronus was imported from Asia Minor, leading to the formula "Iapetus & Cronus" seen both in the Iliad and the Theogony. Still later, the story of Iapetus was completely forgotten, and while initially he was used by Hesiod to upgrade the status of Prometheus, in later ages he retained some status only the other way round, as father of Prometheus.

    As for the progeny of the two brothers, Hesiod's Prometheus has none (he never marries). Epimetheus presumably marries Pandora and has daughters from whom later mankind originates, but Hesiod abstains from saying this explicitly.

  9. Maya,

    First, Prometheus had a mortal son DEUKALION who wed Pandora's daughter; according to Hesiod Catalogues Frag 1) (Apollodorus 1.45, Ovid Metamorphoses (Schol. on Apollonius Rhod. 2.1086)

    As to Epimetheus, recall that according to Pindar, "Even immortal Zeus Released the Titans" They relocated to the Isle of the blests where Cronus reigned as he did in the Golden Age.

    I don't recall any source suggesting that the Iapetides were originally mortal. They fit the pattern of the other family of rebellius second-generation Titans; sons of water nymphs.

    Plus was Zeus really all that mad? By the time Hermes was born it was taboo for the gods to eat meat. They always love how much they love the aroma, which would best be provided by fat.

    I never heard that Cronus was from Asia Minor.

    Finally, i have assumed that Hesiod made up or Hellenized all the Titans names. I have assumed that none of the titans had worship outside of Hesiod and Homer 's influence

    What do you think?


  10. The Hesiod Catalogues are as Hesiodic as the Homeric Hymns are Homeric. When the Greek imported the flood myth from Asia (a myth that is not hinted at in either the Theogony or W&D), they made the male survivor Prometheus' son, apparently because some rulers wanted to descend from Prometheus.

    Pindar gives Prometheus an immortal daughter, Aidos (Reverence).

    There isn't a written source that Prometheus eventually died, but he had 2 tombs. More important to me is that his Iranian counterpart Yima was mortal and so were the Caucasian fire-thiefs (though one of them, Pharmat, was apparently immortalized to make the punishment eternal).

    The Homeric Hymn to Hermes reflects a later thinking than the Theogony. Some modern scholars also want to rescue the intelligence of Zeus by insisting that the bones & fat were the better portion and they allegedly made the gods immortal, while the flesh made humans mortal. Can we try to immortalize ourselves by living on bare bones? (Don't try this at home.)
    Early supreme deities were anthropomorphic and enjoyed meat. This is true even about the Hebrew God. "Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect." This sets the stage for the fratricide. I suspect that the Cain & Abel story was borrowed from Indo-Europeans. Abel's killing is sacrifice-like, and Byron makes it such in his poem about Cain, without knowing the Manu & Yemo theory.

    Cronus is thought to be a derivative of Kumarbi, "the chief god of the Hurrians. He is the son of Anu (the sky), and father of the storm-god Teshub... The Song of Kumarbi or Kingship in Heaven is the title given to a Hittite version of the Hurrian Kumarbi myth, dating to the 14th or 13th century BC... The song relates that Alalu was overthrown by Anu who was in turn overthrown by Kumarbi. When Anu tried to escape, Kumarbi bit off his genitals and spat out three new gods. In the text Anu tells his son that he is now pregnant with the Teshub, Tigris, and Tašmišu. Upon hearing this Kumarbi spit the semen upon the ground and it became impregnated with two children. Kumarbi is cut open to deliver Tešub. Together, Anu and Teshub depose Kumarbi" (Wikipedia). No Mycenaean tablets have been found mentioning Cronus, and I suppose that none ever will.

    Hesiod is likely to have made up most Titans, but Iapetus is mentioned in the Iliad, so he "existed" before. This underlies his important position in the Theogony.

    1. Maya,

      apparently because some rulers wanted to descend from Prometheus." Nominal all the kings in the Iliad are a "son of Zeus". I don't recall anyone claiming Prometheus as ancestor. But then again all the royal houses of Europe wanted to claim descent from Troy. So go figure

      I thought the Caucasian fire-thiefs were giants. Still they could be mortal. Just not men

      I think there is much to support your notion that the elder gods ate meat. During the Golden Age up to Mecone men and gods dined together. Cronus was a "Cannibal" and drank mead rather than nectar. (I dont remember where I read that)

      Thanks for reminding me that Cronus is a derivative of Kumarbi along with the succession myth.


    2. In Homer, Prometheus does not exist. Someone, commenting the absence of Palamedes in Homeric epic, wrote that Homer has no interest in culture heroes.

      In classical times, many Greek ruling families claimed divine descent from Prometheus & Epimetheus through the bushy family tree of Hellen. This way, they portrayed themselves biologically superior to the populace, which derived from stones.

      There was also room for those noblemen who wanted to descend from Zeus, because there was a recorded version in which Hellen was actually son of Zeus, not of Deucalion. (In my story, this later stands in the way of an agreement between Prometheus and Zeus, because Prometheus brings it as an argument that Zeus doesn't deserve anything. Zeus' negotiator Hermes tries to deny the fact, but cannot swear by Styx that it is not true.)

      I also have the impression that the Caucasian Narts were larger-than-life. Maybe this is a rule for mythological ancestors.

  11. In the words of Kerenyi: "A god like Hermes... and Hephaestos..., the son of Iapetos fills the place, at the human counter pole of the divine world, which in non-Greek mythology is occupied by a divine primordial man."