You are here

1.4.Fenno

The battle narrative of the Iliad includes several obscure references to the war being stretched out equally (e.g., ἐπὶ ἶσα μάχη τέτατο, Il. 12.436 = 15.413). This vague expression, as scholars have recognized, suggests the extension of a figurative rope, though its exact meaning has eluded interpretation. (E.g., Hainsworth 1993, ad 11.336: “the image is difficult to understand precisely....” Edwards 1991, ad 17.400–1: “The metaphor seems to be from stretching a rope over something [for an awning or a tent?] but it is not clear exactly what is envisaged.”) Many difficulties can be resolved, I propose, by recognizing that the underlying notion involves the ancient practice of extending a cord over an area in order to set out or measure equivalent distances. Accordingly, in this paper I shall discuss those passages in which the fighting is tightened in equal portions, exploring the development of this and related imagery for ropes, stretching, and measuring in the Iliad. Symbolic surveying of the battlefieldis typically accomplished by Zeus, though occasionally others also pull on the figurative rope, competing for control of this authoritative device. If my interpretation is accepted, this surveyor’s cord would be closely analogous to, but distinct from, the scales which Zeus elsewhere employs to determine the outcome of fighting (e.g., 19.223–24).

Notched measuring rods and knotted ropes are well attested as early as the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia and Egypt, where they are held by gods and kings as emblematic symbols of justice or authority. (E.g., Robson 2007a, 223–24, 246–47. Frankfort 1970, 102–4, 110–12, 119–21, 202. Rossi 2004, 148–59.) Such basic instruments were also known to Homer’s world, and so the Greek king of the gods might at times wield a comparable device. (For evidence about surveying instruments in ancient Greece, see Lewis 2001, 5, 19–22; Kiely 1947, 18–19.) For example, when Zeus threatens to throw other Olympians into Tartarus, challenging them to a kind of cosmic tug-of-war with a golden rope, he observes, as a measure of his superiority, that the distance between heaven and earth is equal to that between Hades and Tartarus (Il. 8.10–27). Though the exact significance of this golden cord has baffled interpreters, who since antiquity have treated it allegorically, I would observe that it conveniently serves as a measuring device by which Zeus effectively determines the equally divided dimensions of the cosmos and asserts his mastery over all.

I shall proceed by interpreting the relevant passages in narrative order: especially Il. 11.336–37 and 12.436 = 15.413, but also 13.358–59 with 14.389. (Cf. 16.662, 17.400–1, 543, 735; 20.100–2.) I shall focus on the meaning of particular words in the Homeric texts: the verbs tanuô, teinô, and titainô (“to stretch”); and the adjective isos (“equal, equitable”) with its adverbs isa, ison. I shall draw particular attention to three similes which precede and so serve as poetic glosses for the expression “the war was stretched out equally”: rival surveyors holding metra (“measuring rods or ropes”) (12.421–24); a woman holding a balance (12.433–35); and a ship-builder holding a carpenter’s string (15.410–12). These passages lead to discussion of Homeric instruments which involve cords: stathmê, tornos, and staphylê.

In conclusion, a “measuring rope” seems an apt symbol for the authority of the “ruler” of gods and men, comparable in its way to his scepter and scales. The device accords well with early Greek conceptions of justice: “straight” judgements are made along the line or rule, while “crooked” ones are not (Thgn. 543–44). Even the term dikê, if derived from deiknumi (see Palmer 1950), suggests a directive, a pointing in the right direction along a straight line (Hdt. 1.96.2–3).

Bibliography

  • Asheri, David. 1963. Laws of Inheritance, Distribution of Land and Political Constitutions in Ancient Greece. Historia 12: 1–21.
  • Benveniste, Émile. 1973. Indo-European Language and Society. Coral Gables, FL.
  • Bergren, Ann. 1975. The Etymology and Usage of PEIRAR in Early Greek Poetry. State College, PA.
  • Björck, Gudmund. 1937. PEIRAR. In Mélanges Émile Boisacq, Vol. 1, *, 143–48. Brussels.
  • Bréal, Michel. 1908–1909. Étymologies latines et grecques. Mémoires de la Société de linguistique de Paris 15: 137–51.
  • Detienne, Marcel & Jean-Pierre Vernant. 1974. Les ruses de l’intelligence. La mètis des Grecs. Paris.
  • Dilke, O.A.W. 1971. The Roman Land Surveyors: An Introduction to the Agrimensores. Newton Abbot.
  • Dilke, O.A.W. 1987. Mathematics and Measurement. London.
  • Edwards, Mark W. 1991. The Iliad: A Commentary. Volume V: Books 17–20. Cambridge.
  • Frankfort, Henri. 1970. The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient. 4th rev. ed. Baltimore, MD.
  • Gagarin, Michael. 1973. DIKÊ in the Works and Days. CP 68: 81–94.
  • Graham, A.J. 1964. Colony and Mother City in Ancient Greece. Manchester.
  • Hainsworth, Bryan. 1993. The Iliad: A Commentary. Volume III: Books 9–12. Cambridge.
  • Janko, Richard. 1992. The Iliad: A Commentary. Volume III: Books 13–16. Cambridge.
  • Jüthner, Julius. 1927. Worterklärungen. In EPITUMBION: Heinrich Swoboda dargebracht, ed. Mariano San Nicolò, 107–13. Reichenberg.
  • Kahn, Charles H. 1960. Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology. New York.
  • Kiely, Edmond R. 1947. Surveying Instruments. Their History and Classroom Use. New York.
  • Kirk, G.S. 1990. The Iliad: A Commentary. Volume II: Books 5–8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Krause, W. 1936. Die Ausdrücke für das Schicksal bei Homer. Glotta. 25: 143–52.
  • Leaf, Walter. 1900–1902. The Iliad. 2 Vols. London.
  • Lévêque, Pierre. 1959. Aurea catena Homeri: Une Étude sur l’Allégorie grecque. Annales Littéraires de l’Université de Besançon ser. 2.27. Paris.
  • Lewis, M.J.T. 2001. Surveying Instruments of Greece and Rome. Cambridge.
  • Lloyd, Alan B. 1975. Herodotus Book II. Introduction. Leiden.
  • Lloyd, Alan B. 1976. Herodotus Book II. Commentary 1–98. Leiden.
  • Lloyd, Alan B. 2007. Book II. In A Commentary on Herodotus Books I-IV, ed. Oswyn Murray & Alfonso Moreno, 219–378. Oxford.
  • Martin, Roland. 1965. Manuel d’architecture grecque. Matériaux et techniques. Paris.
  • Niedermann, Max. 1930. Zur lateinischen und griechischen Wortgeschichte. Glotta 19: 1–15.
  • Onians, Richard Broxton. 1954. The Origins of European Thought. Cambridge.
  • Palmer, L.R. 1950. The Indo-European Origins of Greek Justice. Transactions of the Philological Society. 49: 149–68.
  • Robson, Eleanor. 2007a. Gendered Literacy and Numeracy in the Sumerian Literary Corpus. In Analysing Literary Sumerian: Corpus-based Approaches, ed. Jarle Ebeling & Graham Cunningham, 215–49. London.
  • Robson, Eleanor. 2007b. Mathematics, Metrology, and Professional Numeracy. In The Babylonian World, ed. Gwendolyn Leick, 414–27.
  • Rossi, Corinna. 2004. Architecture and Mathematics in Ancient Egypt. Cambridge.
  • Scodel, Ruth. 1984. Tantalus and Anaxagoras. HSCP 88: 13–24.
  • West, Martin L. 1966. Hesiod Theogony. Oxford.
  • West, Martin L. 1997. The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford.
  • Willcock, M.M. 1978. Homer. Iliad Books I-XII. Vol. 1.London.
  • Willcock, M.M. 1984. Homer. Iliad Books XIII-XXIV. Vol 2. London.

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy