Monday, March 23, 2009


Chiara Aceti, Daniela Leuzzi, Lara Pagani, Eroi nell'Iliade: personaggi e strutture narrative. Pleiadi 8. Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2008. Pp. xiii, 496. ISBN 9788884984982. €64.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Maria Serena Mirto, Università di Pisa (

Table of Contents

This volume includes contributions by Chiara Aceti, Daniela Leuzzi and Lara Pagani, and is the result of the research that has enriched and amplified their respective degree theses, presented at the University of Genoa between 1999 and 2001, under the supervision of Franco Montanari (who wrote the preface). Besides their affinity, the common theme, method and critical perspective -- with particular attention to the instruments of narratology used to underline the mechanisms of traditional oral poetry -- give the three essays the necessary cohesion for them to be collected together; however, that of Aceti, which is much longer than the other two, could have been presented as an autonomous publication.

Aceti (Sarpedone fra mito e poesia, pp. 1-269) combines the analysis of Sarpedon as a character of the Iliad with a study on the figure of this Lycian hero in myths outside the Trojan saga and on the links of his cult with southwestern Anatolia. The aim of this wide-ranging, well-documented investigation is to pinpoint what the Homeric text selected and re-elaborated, distinguishing in the profile of the hero of the Iliad the characteristics that are linked with a mythical and religious tradition foreign to epic poetry, and those that are functional for narrative requirements, i.e., for the fact that the poem has made him the illustrious victim of Patroclus. The essays by Leuzzi (La morte dell'eroe nell'Iliade: scene e sequenze narrative, pp. 271-325) and Pagani (Il codice eroico e il guerriero di fronte alla morte, pp. 327-418) are focused on the theme of the death of the hero. Leuzzi studies the formal symmetries and the echoes between the narrative sequences of the death of Patroclus and that of Hector, in an ideal continuation of the preceding essay on Sarpedon (pp. 123-128, pp. 276, 280, 320 f.). The combat between Patroclus and Sarpedon inaugurates the series of mortal duels between great heroes, slayings in which also the gods are involved, emotionally or actively, but which also prefigure the death of Achilles, the event which, though it is not included in the narrative panorama of the Iliad, marks the special quality of the protagonist: he is the only one among the warriors of the poem who knows his own destiny in advance, and resolutely faces up to it. Pagani then offers an interesting study on the relationship between death in battle and the heroic code of behavior, describing a much more varied and complex situation than is suggested by the popular stereotype, according to which the true ideal of the heroic enterprise, the only way to acquire glory, is the "belle mort" to which real heroes devote their existence.1 The volume is completed by a list of abbreviations and several indexes (of passages quoted; of ancient names; of noteworthy facts).

The first part of Aceti's essay (Sarpedone nell'Iliade, pp. 3-154) is an accurate analysis of the episodes in the poem where Sarpedon gradually reveals his peculiar character and assumes a leading role. Sarpedon first appears in a concise presentation at the end of the list of Trojan forces in Book II, as the commander of the Lycians, their main allied contingent. Already in book V he expresses a different point of view compared with Hector and the other defenders of the besieged city: as an exponent of the claims of troops who are fighting far away from their homeland for wealth and glory, without the urgency of defending their own possessions and families, Sarpedon sharply criticizes the Trojan prince, reminding him what the duties of a commander are, and accusing him of leaving the most onerous task to his allies, without adequately recognizing their merits ( V 471-492). His physiognomy thus acquires distinctive qualities, in status and pathetic potential; these emerge long before his death, both in the autobiographical details, and in the considerations that he expresses about honor, bravery and glory: the responsibilities of a ruler toward his community, in exchange for the privileges that he is granted, force him to be brave in war, but apart from the material tokens of honor, it is the ephemeral condition of man that makes glory desirable, even at the price of one's life. This concept of heroic behavior is thus at first based on social obligations (deserving honors during one's lifetime), but then it gives way to the awareness that only by handing down to posterity the memory of an exemplary life is it possible to compensate ideally for the limited existence granted to man (XII 310-328). The narratological analysis is the privileged way to underline, together with the thematic and structural affinities with other passages in the poem, the variation in the typical patterns, revealing original adaptations, or at least the narrator's controlled strategy. Several observations are perspicacious and convincing, and I will limit myself here to pointing out a few cases in which I believe that the relationship with a narrative model does not receive an adequate evaluation. I would like to repeat, however, that apart from the occasional disagreement about the interpretation of single episodes, I share the general approach and the results of the essay, which should not be ignored by future studies on the figure of Sarpedon.

The narrative sequence of the clash between Sarpedon and Tlepolemus, respectively son and grandson of Zeus, is analyzed in all its formal elements (V 628-654; pp. 22-33), but too much space is dedicated to the comparison (already suggested by Fenik) with the exhortation to fight addressed by Agamemnon to Diomedes (IV 370-410).2 However, the hypothesis that the same compositional model (rebuke pattern) is so versatile as to be adapted to antithetic situations (the exhortation of an ally and the challenge launched to an enemy), forcing the poet to introduce complicated variations, does not offer any advantages with respect to the more modest probability of minor conventional segments, freely used in the various contexts: a poetic work with such a high degree of formalization requires prudence on the part of the interpreter. Tlepolemus indeed insinuates that his adversary does not possess the courage that one would expect from his lineage, but the correspondence between the two scenes is limited to the recurrence of this motif (the chart on p. 28 presents a few inaccuracies), and the only specific analogy is the initial unjust accusation of cowardice. It may be noted that in the comparison, element (2) is represented in one case by the example of Tydeus' bravery, pointed out to his son, Diomedes, by his commander; in the other, the exemplary hero is the father of Tlepolemus, and the boast has the function of casting doubt on the paternity of Sarpedon (with threatening overtones: the destruction of Troy accomplished by Heracles has an ominous sound for an ally of the Trojans!). Element (3) consists, on the one hand, of the comparison between the courage of Tydeus and the inertia of Diomedes, and on the other, in an outright insult to the adversary, who would not be worthy of true sons of Zeus like Heracles, the father of Tlepolemus. Lastly, element (4) has a completely different aspect and function: in the episode in Book IV, a third person takes part (while Diomedes keeps quiet, and decides not to react, in contrast with what is written on p. 28), namely Sthenelus, who rejects the accusation of Agamemnon, defending the bravery of the sons, compared with the generation of their fathers; in Book V, Sarpedon replies directly, as the addressee of the offence, but instead of rejecting it, he agrees as regards the bravery of Heracles, pointing out that the punitive expedition against the king of Troy, Laomedon, was revenge for a wrong that had been suffered (therefore the warning of Tlepolemus is out of place); after these words, Sarpedon immediately kills his adversary, thus proving that he, in turn, is a son of Zeus. This confirms the traditional idea on which Agamemnon based his rebuke of Diomedes: the greater distance that separates Tlepolemus, who is destined to die in the duel, from Zeus indicates a tendential decline in bravery from each heroic generation to the next one (as well as the reduced sentimental involvement for Zeus, who, for the moment, avoids death for his son: cf. V 662). I do not believe, therefore, that the episode of the clash between Sarpedon and Tlepolemus is skillfully constructed in accordance with the structure of the rebuke pattern: even if a typical element of exhortations to an ally is included in the challenge, the dominant model is not the rebuke, but rather the genealogical boast of intimidation between enemies, which is varied in this particular circumstance of two blood relatives, who decide by armed conflict which of them has more right to call himself a descendant of Zeus. In the famous scene of VI 119-236, it is sufficient for Diomedes and Glaucus to recognize the bond of xenia that links their respective families in order to put aside their hostility, interrupt the preliminaries of the challenge, and avoid clashing in future; as for Sarpedon and Tlepolemus, their common divine descent gives an uncommon aspect to their rivalry, but does not extinguish it: it serves for their verbal skirmishes without avoiding the clash.

On p. 59, comparing the attack of Asius (XII 110-172) and that of Sarpedon (XII 290-412) on the wall built by the Greeks, Aceti affirms that the repetition of certain motifs at a short distance serves to emphasize the feat of the Lycian hero, and not only for the customary technique of intensifying the elaboration in the progression of the story. One of the two similes with a blizzard (XII 156-161 and 278-289), which frame the transition from the failure of Asius' attack to the balance subsequently reached between the two fronts, immediately before Sarpedon's assault, is, however, misunderstood. It is not true that the snowflakes represent, in the first case, a term of comparison for the Trojans who are hit, and drop to the ground (indicating the clear superiority of the Greeks!): the snowstorm in both cases illustrates the dense shower of stones flung on both sides, and the difference lies rather in the development of the illustrans, which is much more elaborate in the second simile (the longest one in the whole poem), with the result that the image acquires autonomy with respect to the term of comparison, and expands, to describe the calm of the snow-covered landscape.

On pp. 87-88, Aceti examines the episode in which Sarpedon and Glaucus take part in the action in order to come to the aid of Hector, who is seriously wounded (XIV 421-432). As regards the presence of Glaucus, who had given up his attack on the wall because he had been hit by an arrow shot by Teucer (XII 387-391), I believe that a narrative motif may justify the fact that his wound is ignored here, while subsequently it is mentioned, on the occasion of the death of Sarpedon (XVI 508 ff.). Glaucus still seems to be able to take the field, although his wounded arm did not allow him to climb the wall, and he succeeds in ignoring the seriousness of it, up to the moment when he is exhausted by the pain, and has to invoke Apollo, who heals him miraculously (also Agamemnon goes on killing his enemies, in spite of a similar wound, until the excruciating pain forces him to retreat: XI 251-274). In this way, the narrator keeps him on the scene, so that the dying Sarpedon can address his last words to him; if, on the contrary, he had been completely helpless, Glaucus would have had to remain behind the lines, at a distance from the place of the duel. Thus, precisely because the agony of Sarpedon decidedly transforms the model subsequently used for Patroclus and Hector, who both address their last speech to their adversaries ( pp. 122-128, and Leuzzi, p. 320), it reveals a careful preparation. I believe that the requirement of the plot is more plausible, in this circumstance, than a compositional accident and the hypothesis that "il poeta si sia qui semplicemente dimenticato della ferita" (p. 88).

The second part of the essay by Aceti (Fra mito e storia, pp. 155-224) is a meticulous survey of the testimonies that connect the character of Sarpedon and his deeds with a vast geographical area: from Crete to Thrace in the Greek world, the regions of south-west Asia Minor in the Anatolian world (Lycia, but also Caria and Cilicia). The complex route involves intricate questions: the two genealogies with the different chronology that they imply (according to the Homeric one, he is the son of Zeus and Laodameia; outside the Iliad Sarpedon is the son of Zeus and Europa, and precedes the war of Troy by about three generations); the royalty strangely inherited by Sarpedon by the maternal line (while his cousin, Glaucus, who is subordinate to him, descends from the male branch of the lineage of Bellerophon), and the myth of Lycian matriarchy, which started in Greece in the V century B.C. and was then revived at the end of the XIX century by Bachofen. The links with an ancient religious background and the hypothesis that before entering archaic Greek poetry, Sarpedon was an Anatolian divinity are significant for the origin of the heroic cult: in the Iliad, there is never any mention of this sphere of Greek religious thought, but the almost divine honors that are rendered to the only son of Zeus who fights and dies at Troy, and the special treatment reserved for his body, his funeral and his grave in his faraway homeland, where he is magically transported by divine will, seem to be a veiled allusion to the existence of a cult-like orbit. It would be useful, in this connection, to enquire whether the Homeric adaptation of the character in a new genealogy contributed, by severing his link with Minos and Rhadamanthys, to the dispersion of indications of an extraordinary other-worldly destiny ( pp. 194 ff., 225-228); also the Cretan sovereigns -- the sons of Europa and Zeus, and consequently his brothers in the traditional genealogy -- enjoy a privileged condition, according to the narration of the Odyssey: the first, as the judge of the dead in Hades (XI 568), and the second because he was made immortal and was destined to live for ever in the Elysian Field (IV 564).3

Aceti writes in a simple, generally agreeable style; the only observation to be made regards the insistent use of quotation marks to stress all the terms used with a difference, however slight, with respect to the most common meaning (ironic choice, specialized vocabulary, or other reasons, not all clear): this recurring emphasis proves to be bothersome, and sometimes creates confusion with respect to normal quotations. Perhaps a greater capacity for synthesis would have made her contribution more lively, but there is at least one occasion where it proves to be fruitful to explain all the details of a critical theory: the Appendice (Sarpedone e Memnone, pp. 231-262), dedicated to a refutation of the theory of Neo-Analysis, according to which the epic character of Sarpedon does not possess an independent physiognomy, because his deeds are modeled on those of Memnon. Aceti convincingly demonstrates the circular logic that invalidates the theory, and her discussion of studies which still support it is particularly effective.

The contribution of Leuzzi is the shortest one, and although the symmetries between the narrative sequences of the death of Patroclus and that of Hector are well-known and have been pointed out in studies and comments, she is successful in her description of the poet's strategy, distinguishing the various forms, and explaining the mechanisms. The way of presenting the story and the system of control of listeners' expectations make use, in both scenes, of various devices of prolepsis, analepsis, false starts of the fatal duel (in a non-decisive clash with the future killer), anticipations and delays, repeated sequences and amplifications; the analysis of the technique by which the traditional structures are re-elaborated and the typical material undergoes a continuous procedure of variatio, makes it possible to focus attention on the exclusive link between the death of Patroclus and that of Hector, distinguishing them from all the other deaths of the minor heroes. The presentation is very clear and concise, and the aims are also regularly announced in advance, and then recapitulated for the benefit of the reader.

It would have been useful to mention the motif of the impenetrability of the arms of Achilles already on p. 294, when it is pointed out that in the case of Patroclus, the stripping of the body precedes his death instead of following it, as is the case in the traditional pattern. Leuzzi subsequently returns to the subject on p. 308, on the occasion of the death of Hector, and there we find a retrospective reference to the scene in which the same armor had been worn by Patroclus. But in the analysis dedicated to his killing, there is no explanation of the concrete reason why Apollo must strip him, after stunning him by hitting him on the back with the palm of his hand (XVI 791 f.). The poem does not emphasize magical elements, but in the need to strip Patroclus of the single pieces of armor that Achilles had lent him (helmet, shield and cuirass), there is not only a symbolic, pathetic meaning. Unlike Hector, Patroclus is left completely defenseless at the mercy of his enemies: it would not have been simple to ignore the miraculous protection of the armor when he received two separate blows, one from Euphorbus between his shoulders, and the fatal blow from Hector in his belly.

Pagani presents a straightforward contribution, which is useful for reflecting on the relationship between the acceptance of the risk of death in wartime and the code of norms and behavior dictated by heroic honor. The precepts and the prohibitions imposed by social control (the system that Dodds calls "shame culture", in line with an anthropological typology) essentially emerge from the speeches of the characters, because the primary narrator never expresses clear moral judgments; thus the study starts with a classification of the various forms of direct speech, bearing in mind the uniformity of the values shared by the two armies. After determining a grid of categories ( table on p. 333), the standard characteristics, patterns and recurrent formulae are described for each type. There then follows a panorama of the most significant episodes in which the desired attitudes are praised, or those considered to be unacceptable are criticized, thus emphasizing the role of the single speakers and the contexts in which they speak (conclusions are presented on pp. 351 f.). Lastly, the reasons given for choosing a courageous kind of behavior in battle are classified (they are first of all social; but also existential, as in the case of fatalistic resignation to a destiny of death; pragmatic; or, lastly, an explicit desire for glory).

In her second chapter (pp. 365-378), Pagani discusses cases which present explicit deviations from the heroic imperatives of self-denial and courage, when flight or retreat in battle are considered possible options, and not disgraceful, in the course of the fighting. It is a pity that the protest of Menelaus (XIII 631-639) has not been taken into consideration, in the framework of a heroic code which is supposed to enforce fighting incessantly and resolutely. The accusation brought against Zeus, for not punishing the arrogant obstinacy with which the Trojans continue to resist the just attacks of the Greeks, is the pretext for an unexpected affirmation: in the end, one gets tired of everything, even of the pleasures of life, which are undoubtedly more to be desired than war, "but the Trojans are insatiate of battle". Here, the war is not the place where courage and bravery are tested, the way to gain eternal glory, but rather a testimony to the hybris of the enemy. In the last chapter (pp. 378-418), Pagani analyzes the phenomenology of kinds of behavior which denote the violation of the heroic code, reviewing the recurrent characteristics of descriptions of flight, the wounds that are the cause of flight, the ways in which individuals find safety, and various other stylistic and structural details that accompany these scenes. Out of twenty-eight cases of successful flight examined, only ten seem to represent a certain violation of the heroic model, while most of them present attenuating circumstances and are not negatively marked (p. 395).

A particular case of behavior in contrast with the heroic code is the one represented by five scenes of supplication, all involving Trojan warriors, who in vain adopt this expedient in order to be spared by the enemy (pp. 407-415). Pagani does not take any position in the debate about the ritual meaning of this gesture, but I would like to point out the balanced judgment expressed by Robert Parker (quoted on p. 410 n. 231 for the episode of Lycaon):4 the suppliants can place their hopes in the coercive power of the rite only if they are far away from the war context. Killing a warrior while he implores "spare me", assuming the ritual pose, evidently does not arouse moral problems, or divine vengeance, and thus the hapless Trojans of these episodes repeat a desperate gesture, with a strong emotional impact, but they may be spared only if the winner is in the right mood, and chooses to obtain some advantage from showing mercy (a ransom, the price of slavery). Only this hypothesis can explain why impiety is never mentioned in connection with the rejection of supplications in battle. Indeed, in VI 62, the cruel words with which Agamemnon dissuades Menelaus, who seems to be willing to spare his enemy, are defined by the narrator as "sensible", that is to say, "reasonable", "in conformity with the norm" (αἴσιμα παρειπών, an unusual comment, for which cf. p. 413 and n. 240: the interpretation proposed by Goldhill, "swaying him with fateful words" seems to me somewhat unlikely). Not even the supplication of the dying Hector is accepted (XXII 338-343; cf. Leuzzi pp. 316-319), when he implores Achilles at least to give his body back to the Trojans: but the wrath of the gods, to which his last prophetic words refer, does not derive from the arrogant rejection of his supplication, but rather from the following events, when Achilles ill-treats his dead body. I am thus convinced that these scenes are linked with a convention of epic poetry (no wartime code would have deprived the winner of the right to dispose of the life of his adversary), created in order to offer the narrator the opportunity to color even the least heroic behavior with intensely pathetic tones.

The variety of the universe of war that can be inferred from this study should not come as a surprise. In my opinion, direct contact with the text, freeing it from the rhetoric of commonplaces, opens up original perspectives, even for a theme that has been widely studied. In the heroic world, "è sempre presente e gioca un ruolo di primo piano l'angoscia dell'uomo davanti alla morte" (p. 418), and this is true even for the greatest heroes; and if "l'aspirazione all'onore conferito dalla morte in battaglia, caposaldo dell'etica eroica iliadica, si confronta con il naturale desiderio di continuare a vivere e proprio da tale confronto acquisisce il suo significato più pieno e complesso", the very idea that exclusively links heroic glory with sacrifice in war in the story of the Iliad is undermined.

Altogether, this volume represents, albeit to a different extent in the single contributions, a significant stimulus for the contemporary debate on Homeric studies. The approach of these studies, painstakingly conducted in order to "comprendere e definire i termini della dialettica fra tradizione recepita e innovazione voluta" (p. xiii), undoubtedly rewards readers who have the patience to follow the pathway traced out and to verify the method.

The following is a list of corrections and observations referring to the misprints or oversights that I have noted:

[Aceti] p. 28 l. 13: τίς τοι ἀνάγκη instead of τὶ τοι ἀνάγκη; p. 51 n. 124 (cf. also p. 182 n. 470): Thesprotia is not a city, but a region of north-western Greece; p. 71 n. 155: "verso 311... XII 311" instead of "verso 312... XII 312"; p. 112 n. 256: the passages from Pindar, Ol. II 25 and Hesiod, Th. 942, do not refer to the end of Heracles, but to that of Semele (and Nagy correctly quotes them as such); p. 114: (XVI 463) Θρασύμηλον is not the reading of the vulgate to which the comment on the passage refers (pp. 115 f.: Θρασύδημον); p. 136 n. 325: "XIV libro" instead of "XV libro"; p. 156 n. 381, l. 9 f., "cfr. Kirk 1990" instead of "cfr. Janko 1992"; p. 161 n. 394: the trilingual stele discovered in 1973 in the area of the Letoon of Xanthos is "greco-licia-aramaica", not "greco-licia-armena"; p. 172 with n. 438 and p. 196 with n. 514: the Euripidean paternity of the Reso, already doubted in antiquity, is taken for granted, although nowadays the tragedy is almost unanimously considered to be spurious, and is dated to the IV century B.C.; p. 185 n. 479: the oversight attributed to Janko in the quotation of Valeton does not, in reality, exist (Janko correctly refers to p. 126); p. 207 n. 553: "XVI 317-329" instead of "XV 317-329"; p. 209 n. 562: "V 580-589" instead of "vv. 580-589"; p. 218 l. 4 (cf. also p. 269): the text, which can be reconstructed from the mosaic found at Xanthos, must be Λυκίων ἀ[γός], ὡς τ[ὸ] πάρος περ instead of Λῦκίων ἀ[γός], ὦς τ[ὸ] πάρος περ; pp. 232, 235, 237, 238, 245, 246 etc.: the use of the adjective "etiopide" attributed to Memnon is strange, instead of the ethnic "etiope" (in Italian, as "Etiopide" derives from the feminine form Αἰθιοπίς, it exclusively translates the title of the poem of the Epic Cycle).

[Leuzzi] p. 281, fourth line from the bottom: "cinghiale ucciso da un leone" instead of "leone ucciso da un cinghiale"; p. 291 n.51: βουλυτόνδε instead of βουλοτόνδε; p. 295, l. 5: "guerrieri colpiti a morte" instead of "guerrieri defunti"; p. 314 l. 2: παρέστηκεν instead of παρέσηκεν; p. 316 n. 141: "colpo al petto" instead of "colpo alla gola"; p. 319 n. 153: ὃ instead of ὅ; p. 322, fifth line from the bottom: ὄλεθρον instead of ὄλεθρόν.

[Pagani] p. 342 l. 5: οὐδέ σε instead of οὐδὲ σὲ; p. 345 fifth line from the bottom: πρώτοισι instead of πρώτοισιν; p. 404 l. 7: πόλεμόνδε instead of πόλεμονδε; p. 405 n. 211: "Edwards 1991" instead of "Janko 1992"; p. 408, third line from the bottom: ἀκαχμένον instead of ἀκάχμενον; p. 410 n. 231: "Parker 1983, p. 182 n. 207" instead of "Parker 1983, p. 182 n. 107".


1. The definition of the concept, with which scholars frequently express their agreement, was provided by J.-P. Vernant: see, in particular, Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays, ed. by Froma I. Zeitlin, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1991, (chap. 2) "A "Beautiful Death" and the Disfigured Corpse in Homeric Epic", pp. 50-74.

2. B. Fenik, Typical Battle Scenes in the Iliad: Studies in the Narrative Techniques of Homeric Battle Description, Hermes Einzelschriften, 21, Wiesbaden 1968, pp. 66-67, who prudently concludes: "in the present passage a type of exchange that normally appears in one situation has been transferred into another".

3. It is significant that the status of Sarpedon is at the center of the reflections of Ch. Delattre, "Entre mortalité et immortalité: l'exemple de Sarpédon dans l'Iliade", Revue de Philologie, 80, 2006, pp. 259-271 (cf. also Id., "Hemitheos en question: l'homme, le héros et le demi-dieu", Revue des Etudes Grecques, 120, 2007, pp. 481-510, contributions which are too recent for Aceti to have been able to consider them), to try to define more adequately the classes of characters who descend from mortal stock on one side and from divine on the other, distinguishing between the sphere of cults and that of mythology, and focusing on the inconsistencies of these two systems when they interfere with epic narrative logic.

4. R. Parker, Miasma. Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion, Oxford, Clarendon Press 1983, pp. 181 f.: "'Supplication' here is a term of convenience, because, although 'help me' and 'spare me' supplications exploit the same ritual gestures, the second would perhaps not have been described by Homer as hiketeia".

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