Identifying the Structural Symmetry of an Oral ‘Ur-Iliad’ through the Reconstruction of Agamemnon’s Earlier Embassies to Achilles

Some time ago, in the present journal I made an attempt [Khintibidze, 2016] to argue that all the oddities, revealed by the Analytical theory and caused by the duals of “Iliad” 9.182-99, might be explained and thus, they should not be considered as structural flaws. However, in the process of interpretation of Achilles’ double ‘greeting’ of Agamemnon’s embassy (9.198 and 9.204) a new inconsistency has been revealed; the essence of the words - τὼ δὲ βάτην (“so the twain went”), or the formula depicting at 9.182a the whole embassy sent by Agamemnon to Achilles, appears to be somewhat changed at 9.192a: the ‘formula’ 2+3 (“so the twain went”) – depicting in the previous case (9.182a) the whole delegation, or all the five persons portrayed as the virtual pair consisting of two heralds and three ambassadors - appears to be altered into another ‘formula’ – 2+2 depicting the virtual pair of only four envoys, that is, Ajax-Phoenix and Odios-Eurybates (“so the twain went” – 192a) for the next half line - ἡγεῖτο δὲ δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς (“and goodly Odysseus led the way”, 192b) constitutes already the third unit of the same delegation! As a result, at this point (192a), instead of the previous ‘formula’ (2+3 in 182a) a new one is observed: 2+2+1. In this new ‘formula’ (192a), unlike the previous (182a), the same words - τὼ δὲ βάτην (“so the twain went”) comprise only the 2+2 part of the 2+2+1=2+3 ‘equation’, that is, only four envoys and not all the five members of the delegation. While making an attempt to explain this new inconsistency, I made an assumption that, initially, in the earliest and, perhaps, an oral and the shortest version of the Homeric embassy-scene the members of the embassy should be only three in number: two heralds and Odysseus; the other two ambassadors, Ajax and Phoenix, not yet included in the delegation, unlike the present version of the “Iliad”. (The possibility of such an assumption has never been taken into account by the researchers of the issue under consideration.)

And again, not so long ago, I made an attempt to argue that the end of Book 9, in particular the so-called misleading report of Odysseus to Agamemnon (9.676-692), might be regarded as evidence that in the previous (that is, immediately preceding the present Book 9), and already recorded, or fixed in writing, version of Book 9 (which, however, remained, still, comparatively short in reference to the present version), although Ajax and Phoenix were by then already members of the envoy group, they did not, yet, take part in the conversation between Odysseus and Achilles (details in [Khintibidze, 2012]). Therefore, now, when the evidence appears that initially Odysseus was, perhaps, the only ambassador (accompanied by two heralds) sent by Agamemnon to Achilles (see the previous paragraph, above), we may assume that before the present (or known to us and been enlarged in writing) version of Book 9 and again, earlier, still, another version, which existed prior to the present version and was already recorded, or fixed in writing (but remained, all the same, small due to ‘silence’ of Phoenix and Ajax), there might have existed an even earlier and original version of the embassy (the oral and the shortest one; and again Homeric), in which the sole negotiator with Achilles was Odysseus, accompanied only by the silent heralds (cf. [Khintibidze, 2005: 317-8]).

Is there any evidence supporting this above assumption, in the present version of our “Iliad”? I submit the answer might be positive: in Book 19, in the scene of Agamemnon and Achilles being reconciled, the former assures the latter that all the gifts that were promised on his behalf by Odysseus will be handed over. But, Agamemnon does not mention that the embassy consisted of anyone else; here are his words: as for the gifts, here I am to offer all that goodly Odysseus promised yesterday, when he came to your dwelling (δῶρα δ᾽ ἐγὼν ὅδε πάντα παρασχέμεν ὅσσά τοι ἐλθὼν / χθιζὸς ἐνὶ κλισίῃσιν ὑπέσχετο δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς, 19.140-1). Of course, skeptics may deny that it was Odysseus that was the one that really offered these gifts (although, cf.: Phoenix also offering the same gifts - 9.515-9, 9.602b-5; and Ajax, as well - 9.638-9a). But the words by Agamemnon state that it was Odysseus, and only Odysseus, that came to Achilles’ dwelling (τοι ἐλθὼν […] ἐνὶ κλισίῃσιν) and offered him the gifts. (Cf. also Agamemnon’s words to Odysseus, at 19.194-5a: δῶρα […], ὅσσ᾽ Ἀχιλῆϊ / χθιζὸν ὑπέστημεν δώσειν – the gifts […] that we [i.e., perhaps, Agamemnon and Odysseus - the two other ambassadors, or Ajax and Phoenix, being ‘forgotten’ again] promised yesterday to give Achilles.)

Another moment on which we may focus our attention, is that, along with the two principals, neither heralds are mentioned by Agamemnon; however, this argument may not be convincing, because the heralds do not take part in the negotiation with Achilles, they are simply present, and, therefore, may be omitted by Agamemnon. Besides, another motive for such an omission might well be their close association with the first, or the herald’s, embassy, causing Achilles’ wrath in Book 1, which is why Agamemnon replaced his personal herald Talthybios with more ‘neutral’ Odios for the second embassy, depicted in Book 9 (cf. [Hainsworth, 1993: 83 n. 170]). The above still leaves unexplained the omission of the two ambassadors, Ajax and Phoenix, unmentioned at this point by Agamemnon, unless they were a late Homeric addition in the Embassy-scene of Book 9.

If my argument is convincing, then it may explain very well all the ‘structural flaws’ of Book 9 - noticed by Analytical theory – and the ‘neutralization’ of which has bothered Unitarians for such a long period. I mean the oddities, arising in the process of the mission being carried out: Phoenix is to be regarded as the head of the envoy group (9.168), however, instead, Odysseus is leading the way (9.192b); Nestor giving each envoy a knowing wink ‘anonymously’ (granted, in the previous version – if the passage was already existing - these might have been the heralds and Odysseus), but especially at Odysseus (9.180b); Ajax giving a sign to Phoenix to begin the negotiations with Achilles (perhaps, another late and, again, Homeric addition in the present version), although it is Odysseus who starts the conversation with Achilles (9.223-5a); at last, why only Odysseus is mentioned sitting at the table in front of Achilles (9.218) and besides, why Odysseus is the only person asked by Agamemnon to report to him the results of the mission (9.672-3)?! Nagy’s observation - “[t]his pattern of self-assertion on the part of Odysseus reflects in particular on one of his many traditional roles, that of the trickster” ([Nagy, 1979/1981: 51 §§14], and cf. also [Gordeziani, 1978: 77-9]) - is useful for our understanding of why Homer might have left unaltered the above oddities in the present version of the Embassy-scene after its final enlargement.

My answer, however, is simply that in the earliest and perhaps, oral version of the “Iliad” 9, the other principals were absent: the embassy consisted solely of Odysseus and … the silent heralds; it was just a combined embassy of the two different missions from Book 1, both ordered by Agamemnon, as he does it here in Book 9, as well (cf. [Louden, 2002: 64]; the first mission, taking away Briseis from Achilles by two heralds, at 1.327-48a; and the second mission, returning Chryseis to her father by Odysseus, at 1.430b-87). So, in the initial, or an oral and the shortest, version of the Embassy-scene, the duals should depict the heralds and the sole ambassador, in other words the virtual pair, again: 2+1. These duals remained unchanged, although before the scene was recorded, or fixed in writing, two ‘silent’ ambassadors were added (that is, Ajax and Phoenix - the latter, obviously, had not yet been regarded as the head of the envoy group; even so, their inclusion in the delegation already indicated the beginning of the process of overshadowing Odysseus' traditional image, that of unsurpassed negotiator, or the launch of the process of the transformation of Achilles into the only protagonist of the present “Iliad”): a poetic flair might have dictated to Homer, that from the artistic point of view, the changed reference of the formula (τὼ δὲ βάτην), at 9.192, could cause undoubtedly less damage to the whole composition of the Embassy-scene than the consequences of its neutralization (details in [Khintibidze, 2012: 3) b)]).

All the same, Homer might have made some minor changes, in ‘endings’ of few words, when necessary (cf.: “[…] Goold’s ‘progressive fixation of the text’ […] proceeded entirely without deletion or revision [made in a previously existing text] is highly improbable […]” [Mueller, 1984/1986: 166]): in particular, the virtual plural στὰν, at 9.193a – depicting in the present version all the five envoys divided already into the three units, that is, 2(heralds)+2(ambassadors)+1(Odysseus, “leading the way”) – initially, might have been in the form of dual number, i.e., στήτην (however, with the function of a virtual dual, unlike the real dual στήτην referring only to the two heralds in Book 1 at 332a) depicting all the three envoys divided into only two units, or 2(heralds)+1(Odysseus, “leading the way”). As for the Achilles’ present dual greeting, at 9.197 (χαίρετον / ἱκάνετον) - likewise in Book 1 at 334a and 335a with the two heralds (χαίρετε / ἴτ᾽) – initially, it might have been in the plural, as well, and not necessarily in the dual; while the verbs and the ‘famous’ “the most dear friends”, at 9.198, as well as at 9.204 (if by then there was already a need for Achilles’ dual ‘greeting’, or repeating of 9.198 at 9.204) - instead of the present dual (ἐστον) and plural (φίλτατοί / φίλτατοι ἄνδρες / ὑπέασι) - might well have been in the singular, depicting by that time the sole ambassador, or Odysseus, for the transition from the Achilles’ plural greeting (χαίρετε – “welcome”, in the plural) of the whole delegation to the singular “the most dear friend” (obviously impossible in the present version due to the enlarged number of ambassadors - from one to three) might have depicted clearly that only Odysseus is “the most dear friend” to Achilles and not the heralds (as well). In such case, however, after the insertion of the other two ambassadors into the Embassy-scene of a later version, the depiction of Achilles’ diverse attitude towards the ambassadors and heralds (details in [Khintibidze, 2016: 1)]) would have appeared impossible: for the direct transition from the plural (the whole embassy, or all the five envoys, as a “truly friends” to Achilles – 9.197) to the virtual dual - 2+1 (only three ambassadors – the two principals, or Ajax-Phoenix, and Odysseus, “leading the way”, as “the most dear friends” to Achilles – 9.198) might have made the above transition too sharp for listening. Besides, it would sound rather vague (who are “the most dear friends” to Achilles – heralds, ambassadors or both of them?) for the heralds were two in number and therefore, they were also appropriate to be portrayed by the dual number (this time, through real dual and not virtual, both forms, however, being identical). Presumably, this is the reason why Homer finally depicted the Achilles’ greeting at this point (9.196-8) only in dual (for transition from the virtual dual depicting the whole delegation – 3+2 to the same virtual dual now depicting only ambassadors – 2+1 might have sounded more smooth and unnoticed for a Homeric audience); and afterwards (9.204), when the context was clear, or indicating directly to only the three ambassadors, already separated  from heralds, the poet repeated the same greeting from Achilles in the plural. And finally, the present dual “front pair” (προτέρω) of 9.199 might have been also in the singular (if the heralds were not invited to the table by Achilles, as it is in the present version, as well), with the meaning “front” portraying the only envoy invited to the table by Achilles, i.e., Odysseus, “leading the way”. Thus, Achilles’ greeting the embassy in the initial, or the earliest – oral and the shortest – version of “Iliad” 9 might have been more easily comprehensible to a Homeric audience.

The issue of the dual forms, at 182-99, in the Embassy-scene of Book 9 has repeatedly been used as evidence in support of the Analytical theory of multiple authorship of the “Iliad” ([Page, 1959/1976: 297-315, 324-35], and others), as well as in support of the concepts of both, ‘Written Homer’ ([Goold, 1977: 10-12], [West, 1978: 44 n. 1], and others) and ‘Oral Homer’ ([Nagler, 1974, 95-96 n. 35], for the discussion on the issue [Jensen, 1982: 43-44], [Nagy, 1979/1981: 53-4 §§17-9], and others; more recently [Louden, 2002]); which of the above approaches gives more convincing answer(s) to the question(s) which arise by the problem of duals in Book 9 of the “Iliad”?

All the above approaches, in my view, provide only “a partial solution of the problem” [cf. Louden, 2002: 62]: the analytical theory focused our attention on the problem, which obviously exists; the traditional Unitarian approach, as it seems to me, finally succeeded in an explanation of why Homer might had left unchanged the duals after enlargement of the Embassy-scene with its new members (I mean the possibility of novel comprehension by Homer himself - again through duals - of the already enlarged text, cf. [Khintibidze, 2012: 3) a)]); due to the Oral Theory achievements, now we better understand both formulaic and thematic nature of Homeric composition, which plays, by any means, an important role in the composition of the Embassy-scene; finally, the newly established, let us say, the neo-Unitarian theory gives chance to demonstrate the oral and written stages of enlargement of the Embassy-scene. The attempt to ‘reconstruct’ these stages, in my view, provides possibility to “sketch the development” [cf. Mueller, 1984/1986: 172] of the process, in the end of which Embassy-scene obtained its present shape. (The following observation depends mostly on my present argument; the additional reasoning is subject for further discussion).

Although we know next to nothing about the initial, or an oral and the shortest, version of the Embassy-scene - the skeleton of which, in my view, was undoubtedly the integral part of the oral “Ur-Iliad” (but cf. [Mueller, 1984/1986: 173-4]) - we may, still, assume that the scene under question was as ‘concise’ and ‘fully’ narrated (i.e., with minor number and size of dialogic parts) as it is depicted, at 327-48a and 430b-87, in Book 1 of the present “Iliad” (that is, in the case of two similar embassies). Neither can we say definitely whether the embassy ended with failure, as it is in the present version or, on the contrary, with success; if (taking into account the traditional image of Odysseus, that of unsurpassed negotiator) the latter (such possibility, however, requires even more detailed reasoning, which exceeds our present observation), then, the Embassy-scene, perhaps, framed the end of the hypothetical oral ‘Ur-Iliad’, that is, the reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon in the absence of Patroclus’ death, and this explains a lot in the present text of the poem, in particular, why it was so important and significant for the poet to achieve structural balance between present Books 1 and 9, or by then the beginning and the end of his orally created small “Iliad” (cf. the exact symmetry between the first and last songs even in the present monumental “Iliad”, discovered by Bowra [Bowra, 1930: 15-6] and Whitman [Whitman, 1958: 157-83]). The successful embassy, perhaps, was immediately followed by the respective parts of the present Book 19, that is, the reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon. (Cf. somehow vague “yesterday” – χθιζὸς, at 19.141a, and χθιζὸν, at 19.195a [see the details above], comprising, actually, the numerous events of Books 9-18.242 – instead of, perhaps, the initial and more precise “night-time”, which might have become impossible due to the final enlargement of the poem: in the earliest version the night embassy, presumably, was immediately followed by the morning reconciliation, although at the time of the present reconciliation-scene, however, one more night has passed since the embassy-night necessitating, at this point, the change from the initial “night-time” to the present “yesterday”.)

Thus, the structural symmetry (short version without commentary) of the initial, middle and final sections of a hypothetical oral ‘Ur-Iliad’ might have been as follows:

A. Conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles due to Briseis

B. On behalf of Agamemnon, taking away Briseis from Achilles by two heralds and returning

    Chryseis to her father by Odysseus, resulting in the wrath of Achilles

C. Agamemnon announcing spuriously the termination of the Trojan War (Book 2 of the present  

    "Iliad" without "The Catalog of Ships")

D. The consequences of Achilles’ withdrawal from the battle (the respective – mainly, narrated

     and not dialogic - parts of Book 8 of the present “Iliad” depicting the defeat of Greeks by 

     Trojans, and not necessarily exclusively by Hector; perhaps, some similar parts of Books 4, 5 and 

     7, as well)  

C’. Agamemnon announcing truly the termination of the Trojan War (the beginning of Book 9 of the

      present "Iliad")

B’. On behalf of Agamemnon, Odysseus - accompanied by two heralds - promising

      Achilles the return of Briseis, resulting in the end of Achilles’ wrath

A’. The returning back of Briseis to Achilles by Agamemnon and their reconciliation

Such might have been the Embassy-scene and consequently, the orally created small ‘Ur-Iliad’ before it was recorded, or fixed in writing, for the first time, by Homer himself. Since that crucial moment, the Embassy-scene – along with the whole poem – “grew over a period of many years and in a cumulative fashion” (cf. [Mueller, 1984/1986: 166], both orally (while poet was performing for audience) and in writing (“[…s]sometimes [Homer] must have thought of changes or additions he wanted to make […] to what he [had] already written or dictated; […]” [West, 2011: 391]); “[t]he resulting editorial problem [since the text was already recorded, or fixed in writing] was solved by addition rather than subtraction […]” [Mueller, 1984/1986: 161-2]. As a result, the present embassy text of Book 9 contains:

a) The two successive gatherings of Achaeans (however, cf. also similar scenes in Books 1, 2 and 19 [Lohmann, 1970: 214-27], [Hainsworth, 1993: 60 n. 11-2]), ‘general’, at 9.9-78 and ‘private’, at 9.89-181;

b) The envoy group has two leaders (Phoenix and Odysseus);

c) Achilles twice ‘greets’ the envoy group, in particular, the host repeats how close to him are the ambassadors (at 9.198 and again, at 9.204);

d) When, at 9.222, Odysseus – together with others - had put from him the desire of food and drink, he immediately … fills again a cup with wine, at 9.223b-4 (but cf. 9.92-5);

e) Moreover, due to retardation (9.205-22, which is, perhaps, a late Homeric addition), although Achilles greets ambassadors already at 9.198, Odysseus replies to him in return with a reciprocal greeting only at 9.225, after 26 lines(!);

f) At 9.202-4, Achilles orders Patroclus to mix wine, but immediately after this, at 9.206-17, both of them - instead of wine - start to prepare and serve the food;

g) If Odysseus was the only ambassador in the initial version of the Embassy-scene, then, the present version’s ἑκάστῳ (“for each”, at 9.203; if the passage 9.201-4 was already composed) in that presumably existed version, perhaps, was referring to the heralds, as well, whose presence during the negotiation process remains unclear in the present version;

h) As it turns out (cf. 9.676-95), in the already recorded, or fixed in writing, but still short version of the Embassy-scene there was only one, or definitely negative, answer of Achilles, in response to Odysseus' address, and the two other ambassadors were already present, but they, still, did not participate in the conversation: however, in the immediately following, or the present, version - already been recorded and thus, naturally enough, been enlarged in writing - Phoenix and Ajax, silent before, started to ‘speak’, that echoed in the freshly added encouraging speech by Diomedes, more specifically, in the particular part (9.701-3) of this speech (details in [Khintibidze, 2012]);

i) In the beginning of Book 9 we observe Agamemnon, Diomedes and Nestor; however, at the end of the book Nestor is not present any more (although this does not necessarily mean that in the beginning of the Book 9 Nestor was a late addition, since the end of Book 9 might have been changed, as well);

j) The dual forms (κήρυκε δύω πεπνυμένω ἄμφω - two heralds, men of prudence both), at 9.689, with, obviously, “specific reference to the heralds” (cf. [Hainsworth, 1993: 86 (6)]) appear within the misleading report of Odysseus to Agamemnon (9.677-92). While commenting on these lines, that is, Odysseus’ speech, Hainsworth focuses on its obviously “diplomatic” nature, since “Odysseus is made diplomatically to report Akhilleus' words  indirectly [to Agamemnon]; he thus avoids offensive language […]” ([Hainsworth, 1993: 147 n. 677-92]); in this connection, as it seems to me, by emphasizing the two heralds in the dual, Odysseus, perhaps, reminds Agamemnon and draws parallel with two heralds’ embassy (cf. in Book 1 Agamemnon, as well, giving the order (again, in the dual) to the two heralds to bring Briseis to him: ἔρχεσθον, at 1.322 and ἑλόντ᾽, at 1.323; at that point, however, use of the duals, especially, in the case of imperative mood - ἔρχεσθον is motivated by logical stress: “both of you”, or “just you two”, will take away Briseis from Achilles, and not me personally - unlike the initial intention of Agamemnon, at 1.137 and 1.161). Odysseus, thereby, explains diplomatically to Agamemnon why the mission failed. Meanwhile, another and more simple explanation of Odysseus using the dual forms (κήρυκε δύω πεπνυμένω ἄμφω), at 9.689, might well be the desire of hero to stress, that not only one but both heralds are “men of prudence” and so, both of them – together with Ajax (9.689a) - will confirm the truth of his words. Hainsworth obviously, in my view, overestimates the so-called argument of the two heralds mentioned in the dual, at 9.689, regarding it, actually, as somehow clear evidence that, since “[…] the dual occurs at 9.689 and perhaps at [9.]170 (ἑπέσθων) with specific reference to the heralds […]” [Hainsworth, 1993: 86 (6)], Homer “[…] improves an embassy of two heralds (Agamemnon's first idea, it appears), […]” [Hainsworth, 1993: 87 (6)]; and Segal, at the end of his remarkable article, quite surprisingly, makes an attempt to demonstrate that even in the present Embassy-scene “[t]he duals of 182-98, when understood in connection with the heralds and the "formal" side of the embassy, can give grammatical sense and harmonize with other details of what I believe to be a unified design[, t]hat design includes […] the recurrence of the heralds in the dual in [9.]689, […]” [Segal, 1968: 113-4]. This approach, followed more recently by other Homerists, as well [Stanley, 1993: 351-3 n. 9, with bibliography], “which leaves Achilles ignoring the great heroes and welcoming only the insignificant heralds”, in Griffin’s convincing view, “seems impossible” [Griffin, 1995: 52]). It should also be noted, however, that if in the initial Embassy-scene the mission was successful, then the line 9.689 might well be a late Homeric addition to the present version of the Embassy-scene;

k) Finally, I focus attention on two other passages of Book 9 (656-7 and 669-70a), depicting in the present version the return of the embassy back to Agamemnon through plural forms: according to the traditional Unitarian explanation, here Homer takes into consideration the heralds, as well [Gordeziani, 1978: 76]. Even though, I would like to focus attention on the issue that these passages, as well as some of the passages discussed above, were obviously transferred by Homer from the earliest version unchanged. So, taking into consideration that in the initial version the envoy group consisted, perhaps, only of Odysseus and the two heralds, the question arises (cf. also [Hainsworth, 1993: 85 n. 182]): what was it about the delegation during its return back to Agamemnon, which made Homer not to use the (so-called virtual) dual number anymore, to depict the return of the embassy? My answer, again, is different from Hainsworth's approach: apart from Odysseus and two heralds, the successful embassy at its return could perhaps also consist of Achilles - who was either alone or accompanied by his fellow Myrmidons and Patroclus, certainly among them - following the delegation to Agamemnon’s place for reconciliation with him; such an enlargement of the returning embassy should already establish the third unit of the delegation making impossible the use of dual number at this point.

All the above oddities, as it seems to me, are evidence for considering that the present Embassy-scene along with Book 9 of the “Iliad” has undergone the perennial process of gradual enlargement carried out by Homer himself; however, the revealing of each reason and exact details of those stages, or the phases of enlargement, conducted (through the oral, recorded, and written modes of the creation of “Iliad”) by Homer himself, is the subject of still further discussion.i

i I would like to express my gratitude to those anonymous opponents who encouraged me at the early stage of writing both this present and the previous articles, especially to the one, whose extremely detailed observation I found very much useful.


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