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Ares πολισσόος (Homeric Hymn 8.2): A New Interpretation

Laura Massetti

University of Copenhagen

The Eighth Homeric Hymn celebrates the war-god Ares and has long been recognized as an intruder in the collection of the Homeric Hymns (Gelzer 1987). Several stylistic traits speak in favor of a late age of composition (West 1970). For instance, the opening of the hymn features an accumulative set of epithets, among which the hapax eiremenon πολισσόος* ‘guarding the cities’ (LSJ s.v.), cf.

Ἆρες ὑπερμενέτα, βρισάρματε, χρυσεοπήληξ,

ὀβριμόθυμε, φέρασπι, πολισσόε, χαλκοκορυστά

“Ares haughty in spirit, heavy on chariot, golden-helmed; grim-hearted, shieldbearer, city-savior, bronze-armored [...]” (West 2003)

In the paper, I endeavor to show that πολισσόος* (v. 2) should be interpreted as ‘stirring up the city’ or ‘rousing the city’ (τὴν πόλιν σoῶν*) and not, as currently assumed, ‘saving the city / guarding the cities’ (τὴν πόλιν σῴζων*). I make the case that the epithets attributed to Ares in the very opening of the poem rely upon ancient phraseological models: Ares is depicted as a warlike, dangerous god, although the hymn progressively shifts the focus on him as a planetary god who also provides peace and protection to the men. Furthermore, since πολισσόος* might be ultimately based on an ancient model, I would like to discuss the case of a formal parallel evidenced in the Old Indic tradition, which is linguistically related to the Greek one.

More specifically, I argue that:

     (a) As a phraseological commentary to the first three lines of the poem clearly shows, most of the epithets attributed to Ares in the very opening of HH 8 rely upon ancient phraseological matrices, take, for instance, ὑπερμενέτης*, based on ὑπερμενής (Il. 2.116+); ὀβριμόθυμος (Ares in Panyassis fr. 16.1 Matthews), reminiscent of ὄβριμος Ἄρης (Il. 5.845+). In this connection, I propose that ‘Ares πολισσόος*’ may be modeled on Ἄρης λαοσσόος ‘Ares, rouser of armies’ (Il. 17.399). This assumption is corroborated by a comparison with Proclus 7.3–4 (Hymn to Athena), in which West (1970) identified a variety of stylistic traits similar to those of HH 8. In Proclus’s hymn, Athena is called δορυσσόε ‘wielding the spear’ (v. 4), which is reminiscent of Hom. Ἀθηναίη λαοσσόος (Il. 13.128, Od. 22.210).

     (b) From the formal point of view, Gk. πολισσόος* perfectly matches a collocation evidenced in RV 6.18.8d, i.e. [(to) put in motion (cyautná‑ ‘shaking’) – city (purā́m ‘of the strongholds’)]. Ved. [cyautná‑purā́m] exhibits the very same lexemes as Gk. πολισσόος*, namely: a derivative of Ved. cyav ‘shake, put in motion’ (IE *ki̯eu̯‑, Gk. κινέω, σεύω, cf. García Ramón 1994) and pū́r‑ ‘stronghold’ (cf. IE *pl̥h1‑, cf. Gk. πόλις, cf. Strunk 1969).

Despite the formal match, the Greek compound and the Vedic collocation have different meanings: ‘stirring / rousing up the city’ vs. ‘shaking of the city.’ In addition, given the late putative age of composition of HH. 8, the two phraseological structures are likely to have originated independently. Nevertheless, it is possible that both Gk. πολισσόος and Ved. [cyautná‑purā́m] came into existence through similar ‘phraseological dynamics’. In particular, πολισσόος* ‘stirring up the city’ was remade on a model λαοσσόος ‘rousing the armies’, while Old Indic [purā́ṃ cyautná‑] ‘shaking (: putting in motion) of the strongholds’ exists beside a collocation [rousing up – men / people], attested in at least three variants in the Rigveda: [(pra)cyavnár/ jána‑ / kr̥ṣṭíacc.] ‘to rouse the men / people / folk’.

At any rate, the Vedic collocation [shak(ing) – (of) the city] finds a perfect semantic match in Gk. [shake (κινέω : *ki‑neu̯‑) – cityacc. (πόλις)], documented in Euripides’s Supplices 752, cf. ἐπεὶ ταραγμὸς πόλιν ἐκίνησεν δορός “while the tumult of war (lit. of the spear) shook the city”. This Euripidean collocation can thus be added to the rich dossier of phraseological matches that Ved. cyav and Gk. κινέω have in common (cf. García Ramón 1993).

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Greek and Latin Linguistics

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