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Ileus the ‘Benevolent’ in the Catalogue of Women:The Intersection of Epic Traditions

Elda Granata

Since West’s monograph (1985), and as a result of new papyrological discoveries, there has been a growing interest among scholars towards the Catalogue of Women (e.g. Hunter 2005). However, the origin of this poem ascribed to Hesiod remains controversial. Some scholars have recently pointed out that both the poem’s contents and language (at least in its final version) ultimately reflect a Northwestern milieu (Fowler 1998, Hirschberger 2004, Cassio 2009). This paper aims to support this view by analyzing the use of the name  Ἰλεύς in this poem and further argues that the Catalogue of Women should be seen as an intersection between two different traditions: an archaic one, handed down at a local level in Locris or in adjoining areas, and a more recent one, Ionic-Homeric, but by then Panhellenic. This analysis also allows us to better illuminate the relationship between the Catalogue of Women and the Homeric tradition and its place in the development of Greek epic diction.

Ileus was the king of the Locrians and father of Ajax the Lesser. He is certainly more familiar to us under the Homeric version of the name, Oileus. Thanks to an Etruscan mural, we know that original form *Ϝιλεύς hides behind both  Ἰλεύς and  Ὀϊλεύς (CIE 5264). The Homeric form Ὀϊλεύς likely arose through the phonological resolution of [w] by Ionic speaking bards, whose phonological system no longer contained this sound (Kretschmer 1909, Ruijgh 1998).

Besides adopting the form Ἰλεύς (fr. 112 H. = 235 M.-W.), the Catalogue of Women offers an interesting example of folk etymology, informing the audience that the Locrian king was named Ileus because Apollo conceived him with a benevolent (ἵλεων) nymph. Therefore, the name Ἰλεύς would come from the adjective ἵλεως and would mean ‘the benevolent.’ Folk etymology notwithstanding, we know that the adjective ἵλεως comes from an Indo-European root *selh2- ‘to conciliate’ (e.g. ἵλαμαι, ἱλάσκομαι) and so did not contain an initial [w]. Predictably, the folk etymology is scientifically wrong. However, this game reveals useful information about the provenance of the bards who devised it.

A first guess might be that Ionic bards, who did not pronounce the consonantal [w], made the connection between Ἰλεύς and ἵλεως. This possibility can be ruled out: Ionic bards would have simply used Ὀϊλεύς, the Ionic form of the name. This paper reaches the opposite conclusion: the Ileus folk etymology was a poetic expedient, born in a context in which non-Ionic bards sang epic poetry on the model of Ionic diction. More specifically, behind this etymological game there must have been someone speaking a Northwestern dialect, in which the initial [w] sound was still pronounced (hypothetically Locrian, or possibly Doric or Boeotian). The bard knew that his words pronounced like Ϝαστυ and Ϝεπος automatically became ἄστυ and ἔπος in Ionic poetry; consequently, he deliberately changed *Ϝιλεύς into Ἰλεύς. Once that change was made, the similarity to the adjective ἵλεως would have been obvious. Ultimately the singer of this fragment adapted his performance to advanced Ionic-Homeric diction, but he did not use the actual Homeric form Ὀϊλεύς - that must have sounded obscure and perhaps even wrong to him. Instead, he ‘Ionized’ the form *Ϝιλεύς. This form, likely inherited by the archaic poetic traditions which flourished in Central and Western Greece during the late-Mycenaean and dark ages, must have been still alive in local genealogical songs.

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Metageneric Excursions in Early Greek Epic

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