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Diomedes, Dione, and Divine Insecurity in Iliad 5-8

Rebecca Ann Deitsch

Harvard University

After Diomedes wounds Aphrodite in Iliad 5, the goddess of love flees the battlefield and seeks comfort from her mother, Dione.  Dione’s response (5.382-415), the only detailed divine perspective on Diomedes’ audacity, offers a key to interpreting human-divine interactions throughout Diomedes’ aristeia. Dione attempts to subordinate the human to the divine and to assure Aphrodite that a sharp dichotomy remains between mortal and immortal, but her speech only serves to blur the distinction further. Subsequent events demonstrate that the power and superiority of the gods is predicated on Zeus alone; the other gods emphasize the weakness of humans to avoid facing this fact.

While many scholars have examined this mother-daughter scene’s connections with Near Eastern mythology (e.g. West, Andersen, and Burkert), only Andersen discusses the function of the scene within the framework of the Iliad. Even he, however, does not analyze Dione’s speech itself; neither do Ferrari and Allen-Hornblower, who are concerned with the broader context of Diomedes’ relations with the gods. My paper thus enters new territory by investigating the themes, strategies, and failures of Dione’s speech. This in turn allows me to approach Diomedes’ anomalous behavior from a new angle: Dione’s idealistic and ultimately flawed perspective.

Dione’s speech (5.382-415) can be divided thematically into two parts, both of which affirm Aphrodite’s divine status. Lines 382-404 emphasize solidarity and provide examples of other gods (Ares, Hades, and Hera) who have suffered at the hands of mortals, while 405-415 focus on Aphrodite’s specific situation and how Diomedes will be punished. As she soothes her daughter, Dione also seeks to reestablish the boundary between the human and divine that Diomedes has crossed. One of her priorities is to transfer responsibility for Aphrodite’s wound away from Diomedes and toward Athena (5.383-384, 405). Another example of Dione’s agenda comes when she describes Diomedes as νήπιος (5.406): he is ‘disconnected’ from reality both mentally and socially (cf. Edmonds), since he fails to respect the established hierarchy of divine over mortal. According to Dione, he will pay for his lack of understanding with an early death, for “he who fights the immortal ones is not very long-lived” (μάλ᾽ οὐ δηναιὸς ὃς ἀθανάτοισι μάχηται, 5.407).

Despite her intentions, Dione ends up further blurring the line between human and divine. For example, the stories that she chooses to comfort Aphrodite introduce mortal transgressors (the Aloadae in 5.385-391 and Heracles in 5.392-404) who are liminal figures, half-human, half-god, and whose very existence denies her neat dichotomy. Even more problematically, the lynchpin of Dione’s defense is the false statement that Diomedes will suffer for attacking a god: Diomedes does not die young as she predicts. On the contrary, he is one of the few Iliadic heroes granted a safe homecoming (Odyssey 3.180-182). Given the emphasis on Heracles in Il. 5.392-404, the audience might even recall the tradition of Diomedes’ apotheosis (cf. Pindar Nem. 10.7; scholia AbT Il. 5.126).

Dione wants to believe in a strictly ordered system in which any human who challenges any god is automatically punished, but she ignores the truth, that Diomedes is immune because he has the support of Athena and through her of Zeus. Ares (5.872-887), Apollo (5.440-444, 454-459), and Poseidon (7.446-453) also display various insecurities about divine status, and the explanation for this divine-human blurring does not come until the beginning of Book 8. In 8.19-27, Zeus declares his individual power with the image of the golden cord; he cannot be challenged, not even by all the other gods combined, let alone by mortals. In short, Dione is determined to preserve the distinction between gods and humans because she wants to obscure this hierarchy within the gods and to ignore the excessive preeminence of Zeus. But in spite of her eloquent attempts to maintain it, the sharp dichotomy between gods and humans fades away and what remains is a sharp dichotomy between Zeus and everyone else.

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Homer and Hesiod

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