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Paper #4 - Metaphor in the Speech of Achilles

Andreas Thomas Zanker

Amherst College

Proponents of conceptual metaphor theory (CMT) – and of cognitive approaches in general – have focused primarily on systematic aspects of Homeric language found throughout the epics, for instance metaphors for the mind (e.g. Cairns 2014), death (e.g. Horn 2018), surprise (e.g. Forte 2018), and time (e.g. Zanker 2019). This has been crucial for the demonstration of the pervasiveness of conceptual metaphor within the corpus, but the approach has yet to be tested on an individual block of text spoken by a Homeric hero.

In this paper, I shall consider the (first) Speech of Achilles in Iliad 9 (308-429) through the lens of CMT. There was intense metrical, stylistic, and lexical analysis of this speech in anglophone scholarship in the late 20th century (see originally Parry 1956; on the debate, see Martin 1989), the main point being to prove or disprove the thesis that Achilles is using language in a special way. I do not seek to supplant these contributions, but simply to view the text from a new perspective. I shall build on Martin 1989 in particular in arguing that CMT has something to contribute to our understanding of what is special about Achilles’ charged delivery.

In the first place, I shall simply demonstrate the existence in Achilles’ speech of conceptual metaphors well attested throughout the rest of the Iliad; we find, for example, metaphors for thinking as building, the mind as a container, time as movement, life as a journey, self-control as object-possession, words as instruments, etc. I shall also demonstrate how metaphor is embedded in Homeric grammar as well as the lexicon – for instance, in the use of the locatival dative for the expression of time-at-which (ἤματί κε τριτάτωι, Iliad 9.363) and the accusative of extension in order to describe movement through time (ἀΰπνους νύκτας ἴαυον, Iliad 9.325).

I shall then move on to describe more idiosyncratic uses of metaphor within Achilles’ speech. Martin 1989 has assembled an important list of collocations unique to this piece of text, several of which build on standard metaphors but apply them in a fresh way; we find, for example, the expression ἤματα δ’ αἱματόεντα διέπρησσον (Iliad 9.326), which makes use of the accusative of extension but gives the metaphor a new twist – these days are “bloody” by metonymy (they “contain” acts of violence). As has been noted by many (e.g. Schmitt 1967), however, the passage also likely reveals a primordial metaphor that depicts fame as a living being, κλέος ἄφθιτον (Iliad 9.413). Examples of each end of the CMT spectrum (a creative extension and an inherited phrase) are found in the speech.

Finally, I shall argue that Achilles attempts to undermine the metaphors by which others live. For example, Achilles rates his ψυχή, which he is currently risking (παραβαλλόμενος, Iliad 9.322) by fighting, as an object of greater worth the riches of Troy (οὐ γὰρ ἐμοὶ ψυχῆς ἀντάξιον, Iliad 9.401); once it departs, it can never come back (Iliad 9.408). This idea challenges the standard operational metaphor that serves as the prime incentive for the hero to fight, whereby material rewards are equated with τιμή; compare e.g. the Speech of Sarpedon (Iliad 12.310-328).

In other situations, Achilles subverts the metaphors that others apply; for example, as Martin 1989 notes, Odysseus had reminded Achilles to set aside his χόλον θυμαλγέα (Iliad 9.260), but Achilles demands that Agamemnon make good the θυμαλγέα λώβην (Iliad 9.387) that he has done him. On the other hand, Achilles repeats metaphors he had himself used in Book 1, for instance his description of Agamemnon as αἰὲν ἀναιδείην ἐπιειμένος (Iliad 9.372), which echoes his attack on the king of Mycene: ὤι μοι, ἀναιδείην ἐπιειμένε (Iliad 1.149); the αἰέν in the Book 9 passage may be meaningful. This particular metaphor is moreover an ironic variation on the standard ἐπιειμένοι ἀλκήν (e.g. Iliad 7.164) – Achilles is giving his own version of the diction.

Session/Panel Title

Metaphor in Early Greek Poetry

Session/Paper Number

12.4

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