Common Grief: Weeping Over Hector and Rāma

One of the main advantages of the line of inquiry opened by the path-breaking works of Milman Parry and Albert Lord is its comparative dimension. [1] Formula and theme became not only distinct matrices for analyzing a given epic text or a given tradition; these notions also supply scholars with patterns for formal comparison between various texts and various traditions. The idea of formula underlies the present studies of the Indo-European poetic language, [2] while the category of theme provides a firm foundation not just for confronting at random disjointed elements of poetic content—motifs, characters, etc.—but for comparing clear-cut poetic structures parallel both in their subject and organization. I will try to give an example of this possibility of comparison, both on the level of formula and theme, between the Greek and Indic epic traditions. I will argue that one of the main goals of such a comparison (and at the same time one of the most decisive proofs justifying it) is the elucidation through it of problematic aspects in each of the traditions compared. In my case, these would be problems concerning the Homeric text and its interpretation.
I have chosen for my case study the theme of lament over a hero’s corpse in Greek and Sanskrit traditions because of the important role lament has played in the study of both Greek poetic culture and epic poetry more generally. In Greek tradition as such, the structure of ritual lament in Greek culture from Homer up to modern times has been thoroughly investigated in the classic work of Margaret Alexiou (2002). Since then, a number of works have appeared dealing with Greek lament in both diachronic and synchronic prospectives. [3] Within studies of the latter type, several monographs have appeared containing detailed analyses of various types of ancient Greek literary, especially epic, lament. [4] In more general terms, the folklore genre of lament has often been understood as the most important stage in the generic evolution of epic. It was marked as such already by Cecil Maurice Bowra in his Heroic Poetry (1952). Albert Lord himself took lament as one of the most vivid examples of a traditional ritual song and, again, he used Iliadic laments as an example of how folklore songs could be transformed into epic form. [5] Recently, the complex interrelations between folklore lament and epic have been investigated by several scholars, for example by Katharine Derderian (2001) and Reyes Bertolin Cebrian (2006). A comparative perspective might well cast some additional light upon this much-discussed topic. [6]
Indic tradition gives rich material for such a comparison: it is well known that in the Mahābhārata alone the entirety of Book 11—the Stri Parva (Book of the Women)—consists practically of laments only. I would like to say here that in my treatment of Indic material (and certainly not in that only) I am very much indebted to my late father, Pavel Grintser, the leading Russian Sanskritologist. In his study of Indic epic laments he distinguished between the narrative frame, describing the behaviour and actions of the mourner, and the lament itself, which is divided into segments of praise, complaint, and reproach that alternate freely without any rigid structure. [7] As for Homeric laments, their compositional structure has been frequently analyzed, and already Dieter Lohmann showed that they are specifically marked by ring composition. [8] This is revealed, among other things, by symmetrical framing with formulaic beginnings and endings like τῇσιν δ᾿ αὖθ’ … ἐξῆρχε γόοιο (“and among them (s)he started the lament”) at the beginning and ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσα, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες (“so she said, groaning, and women cried in response”) at the end. One might find similar formulas in the narrative framing of Indic laments; for instance when Yudhisthira stops his mourning over Karna’s corpse, “all men and women suddenly wailed in reply” (tato vineduḥ sahasā strīpuṃsās, 11.27.22). [9] This parallel may be traced back to the ancient ritual practice of antiphonal lament of the leader and the chorus. [10] In this ritual context the aforementioned formula ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες—where γυναῖκες ‘women’ may be replaced by πολῖται ‘citizens’ or γέροντες ‘elders’, as at Iliad 22.429 and 19.338—should be understood, as Deborah Beck has argued, as “cried, groaned in response”, not just “groaned after him.” [11] The same is true for the verb ἐξάρχω in the formula ἐξῆρχε γόοιο, where it certainly means not just ‘to begin’, but as Christos Tsagalis supposes, also ‘to act as a leader’ of the mourning chorus. [12] Here the sequence of the three laments of Andromache, Hecabe, and Helen over Hector’s corpse in Book 24 of the Iliad is quite suggestive. Each of the three “solo parts” is introduced by ἐξάρχω, although all three of them are included within one and the same female lament defined by one and the same “term,” γόος. [13] One might cite as a parallel the lament of the Muses over the corpse of Achilles in Book 24 of the Odyssey, when they grieve for nine days singing “in turn” (ἀμειβόμεναι). [14] As for the sequence of the Iliadic laments, it also turns out to be rather significant. When Hecabe replaces Andromache, taking from her the role of the main mourner (reflected in the use of ἐξάρχω) she appears to follow the ritual mentioned in the Sanskrit Stri Parva: “Reproaching you in such a way, the best of the ladies stopped, but the other wives pick up her lament as if she were their daughter-in-law” (ty evaṃ garhayitvaiṣā tūṣṭīm āste varāṅganā / tām etām anuśocanti sapatnyaḥ svām iva snuṣām, Mahābhārata 24.20). Here we seem to be dealing with a ritual rule according to which the dead man should be mourned by his widow, but if she for some reason stops or pauses in the course of the lament it should be taken up and continued by her mother-in-law. As Hecabe in the Iliad also follows this rule, the Greek parallel may point at the possibility of reconstructing it already on the Indo-European level.
It is worth noting that both Andromache and Hecabe are mourning for Hector not for the first time in the Iliad. One might notice that Andromache’s final lament is anticipated already in her speech to Hector (alive then) in Book 6; [15] it is interesting, therefore, that in Book 6 Hector meets with all three of his future mourners, but in a different order: first with Hecabe, and then with Helen and Andromache. [16] Moreover, in Book 22, immediately after the hero’s death, he is mourned first by Priam, and then by Hecabe and Andromache. Priam’s speech is not specified as a γόος, although he acts like other mourners performing a lament (not only using typical phraseology, but, for instance, rolling in dust out of grief, as both Greek and Indic mourners do), and after his words we have a variant of the standard formula for concluding a lament: ὣς ἔφατο κλαίων, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο πολῖται (“So he spoke, grieving, and his fellow-citizens wailed in response,” 22.429). [17] As for Hecabe, her speech starts with the usual formulaic qualification ἐξῆρχε γόοιο (22.430) and almost ends with the usual closural formula: the final line begins, as is regular, ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσα (437). But instead of the expected ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες we have ἄλοχος δ᾽ οὔ πώ τι πέπυστο (“but the spouse didn’t know anything yet”). Anybody brought up upon oral-formulaic theory should know what a striking effect is achieved when a well-known part of a well-known formulaic line is replaced by unusual phrasing. The audience is immediately alerted to be most attentive to the contents of this “unforeseen” part of the verse. [18] Hence, we may assume that the singer here wished to draw attention to the fact that the ritual sequence of lament (“wife first”) has been broken, and Hecabe has replaced Andromache as the first mourner. [19]
This supposition is confirmed by the following lament by Andromache herself, which is the most extensive one and ends with the proper concluding formula, ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσα, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες (22.515). Her speech, full of pain and sorrow, is defined as “lament” by the participle γοόωσα ‘lamenting’, but her action is given a specific characteristic by the additional modifier ἀμβλήδην (ἀμβλήδην γοόωσα, 22.476). This adverb ἀμβλήδην is a Homeric hapax having a rather obvious morphological structure (ἀμβλήδην < ἀνά ‘up’ + βάλλω ‘throw’). It is usually interpreted by commentators as something like “with deep sobs.” [20] The semantic shift seems to be rather problematic. In later usage ἀμβήδην presumes an action that is done anew (cf. Aratus Phaenomena 1069–1070: πάντα δέξαμεναι, πάλιν αὖτις ἀναβλήδην ὀχέωνται [“after mating with the male they mate again”], as opposed to the usual practice of mating only once). Moreover, in the Iliad itself we have the cognate noun ἀνάβλησις with the rather certain meaning of ‘delay’, as at Iliad 24.655: ἀνάβλησις λύσιος νεκροῖο γένηται (“there is a delay with releasing the corpse”; cf. Iliad 2.380). In my view, the unique Homeric expression ἀμβλήδην γοόωσα bears the same semantics: Andromache mourns “with delay,” both because she didn’t know about her husband’s death and because, after knowing about it, she fell down unconscious. [21] In the ritual context it means that the first person to pronounce the γόος was not she, but her mother-in-law, a fact that has already been stressed by the variation of the formulaic line at the end of Hecabe’s lament.
The sequence of laments in Book 22, having Andromache at the end, follows the rule once proposed by Johannes Kakridis, according to which, when a number of relatives or friends addresses a person, the closest and dearest (in our case, Andromache) is the last to speak. [22] The sequence of laments in Book 24, however, contradicts this principle: here Hector’s widow speaks first, and the wailing at his funeral is finished by his sister-in-law, Helen. [23] But the parallels with Indic tradition show that, apart from literary considerations, we are dealing here with an ancient ritual scheme reproduced in the last book of the Iliad and (markedly) inversed in Book 22.
Together with its narrative frame (consisting of description of the mourner’s actions and opening/closing formulas), the lament forms a tripartite structure. The same is true for the lament proper, which usually consists of 1) address to the deceased, 2) narrative, and 3) renewed address. [24] The direct addresses to the deceased at the beginning and the end of a lament are characteristic also for Indic epic. Compare, for example, in Rāmāyaex the brief lament of Ravana over his killed son beginning, “Alas! My child, the chief of the army of demons, having extraordinary might! Having conquered Indra, how have you been subjected to the power of Lakṣmaṇa now?,” and concluding, “Deserting us without taking away my tormentation, while Sugrīva, Lakṣmaṇa and Rāghava are still alive, where have you gone?” (VI 92.6–7, 15, trans. K. M. Murthy). But one might notice that such addresses could be perceived throughout the entire lament, so that it is rather hard to draw the border between the narrative part and the final address (cf., for instance, the laments of Uttara over Abhimanyu in Mahābhārata XI 20.4–27 or that of Mandodari, the wife of Ravana in Rāmāya.4 VI 113.3–86). Indeed, the same continuous addressing of the dead can be observed in Homer as well: in fact, this is true for all three laments for Hector in Iliad Book 24. One might say that the ring compositional scheme can be rather loose, but the direct addressing of the deceased with the words of grief, praise, complaint, or reproach is the indispensable crucial element of an epic lament.
In the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa the beginning of the lament (or sometimes its narrative frame) usually contains the description of the corpse itself, often maintaining the contrast between its condition now and before: “Those illustrious heroes who used formerly to sleep on costly beds with their limbs smeared with sandal paste and powdered aloe, alas, now sleep on the dust!” (Mahābhārata XI 16.33); “He who was formerly encircled by kings vying with one another to give him pleasure, alas, he, slain and lying on the ground, is now encircled by vultures! He who was formerly fanned with beautiful fans by fair ladies is now fanned by (carnivorous) birds with flaps of their wings!” (17.12–13, trans. K.M. Ganguli). We find a similar picture in Andromache’s first lament over Hector: “But now by beaked ships far from your parents will writhing worms devour you, when the dogs have had their fill, as you lie a naked corpse; yet in your halls lie clothes, finely woven and fair, fashioned by the hands of women” (Iliad 22.508–511). Along with forming the characteristic antinomy of wonderful past and painful present, living hero and dead corpse, we have here one more subordinate motif. [25] The dead hero’s body is not just lying in dirt and dust, [26] it is being devoured by worms, birds, and (wild) beasts. In Sanskrit poems we have here mainly vultures and jackals (e.g. Mahābhārata XI 17.13–15), but also hawks, kites, and dogs; in Homer, as a rule, dogs and vultures (γῦπες).
Mutilation of Hector’s corpse becomes the prominent theme in the final books of the Iliad, making not only the characters but also readers and commentators express some hard feelings about Achilles’ treatment of his dead enemy, or try to find some excuse for his cruelty. Comparative parallels could prompt us to look at the problem from a slightly different viewpoint. The motif of beasts devouring dead corpses on the battlefield naturally is not limited to Indic or Greek epic. For instance, Francis Magoun had identified it as one of the permanent themes of Anglo-Saxon epic poetry. [27] Certainly, in the Iliad it is not confined to Hector alone, as Charles Segal has shown. [28] Already in the famous proem to the poem Achilles is said to make the heroes become “the spoil for dogs and birds of every kind.” This is the usual threat that a hero may address to his opponent, as done by Agamemnon (2.393), Athena (8.379) and Hector himself (13.831–832; 15.351). This is the fate Hector promises for Patroclus’ body after he kills Achilles’ friend (17.125–127); it is from this outrageous abuse that Ajax, Menelaus, Athena, and Iris call on the Greeks to save the body of the dead hero (17.241, 255, 558; 18.179–180). It is worth noting that Priam, in his turn, just before his son’s encounter with Achilles, longs for the hateful Greek to be torn apart by vultures and dogs (αἴθε θεοῖσι φίλος τοσσόνδε γένοιτο / ὅσσον ἐμοί· τάχα κέν ἑ κύνες καὶ γῦπες ἔδοιεν / κείμενον [“I wish that he were as much loved by the gods as he is by me! Then would the dogs and vultures speedily devour him as he lay unburied!,” 22.1–43]), and at the same time draws a picture appropriate for his future lament over Hector, imagining that his own body will be devoured by dogs (22.66). To close the list, Hecabe foretells the gloomy fate of Hector himself: “by the ships of the Argives will swift dogs devour you” (Ἀργείων παρὰ νηυσὶ κύνες ταχέες κατέδονται, 22.89).
It is quite clear that this recurrent motif becomes a symbol of (pitiful, unworthy) death, and Achilles (22.335–336, 348, 354) just “picks up” an idea frequently expressed by other characters. Only, in his case, unlike all others, he transforms the symbolic metaphor, the potential wish, into actual deed. The death of a hero is the moment of culmination of his heroic achievements, the implementation of his heroic choice, like the one Achilles makes between a long happy life and posthumous glory. In fact death is this “imperishable fame,” κλέος ἄφθιτον, as the latter begins at the moment of death. At the same time death is the moment of utmost grief, of the mighty hero’s downfall. Lament transforms this two-sidedness of epic death into the contrasting images of the hero’s past beauty and power and his present miserable condition. The death of Hector is the death of the Iliad, anticipating both the future death of Achilles and the fall of Troy. As such, it is marked with a specially elaborated system of laments, making Hector’s figure a personification of Trojan hope and Trojan might now lost forever. It may not be an accident, therefore, that the universally pitiful picture of a hero’s body torn by beasts also becomes somewhat real in the case of Hector, so that the main death of the poem can receive the most impressive and “justified” mourning. In this respect, Achilles somehow “helps” his main enemy to get the top lamentation inside the Iliad. What initially was no more than a common formula of lament develops into a central image and a striking theme of the entire poem.
The idea of the hero’s corpse being devoured by beasts can be traced back also to another motif typical of lament. That is the reproach addressed to the murderer—not just for the killing itself but for doing it in an unrighteous way or for some improper behavior before or after it. So Hecabe curses Achilles both for maltreating Hector’s body and for selling her other sons into slavery (Iliad 24.751–756). In a similar way, in the Mahābhārata Gandhari blames Bhimasena for drinking blood from the corpse of her son Duhshasana, who has been killed by Bhima (XI 18.28). The reproaches may concern the way the killer performed the killing: so Gandhari blames Bhima for the illicit blow by which he killed her eldest son, Duryodhana (13.17–19, cf. 24.4–16). There are parallel cases also in Greek tradition—the most obvious is, however, not from the epic, but the lament of Electra and Orestes in Aeschylus’ Choephori (491ff.). [29]
The reproaches could be addressed not to the murderer but to the dead hero himself. They may be general, of the “Why did you desert me” type (Andromache to Hector in Iliad 22.481–484 or Uttara to Abhimanyu in Mahābhārata XI 20.14), or more specific, for example, “you promised something and didn’t fulfill the promise” (Briseis to Patroclus in Iliad 18.295–300 or Sītā to Rāma in Rāmāyaṇa VI 32.21). One most remarkable sort of such an address is the question, “Why don’t you talk to me?,” which we come across already in Tablet VIII of the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, when Gilgamesh grieves over Enkidu: “You are lost in the dark and cannot hear me!” (trans. N. K. Sandars). In Indic epic poems this thought is usually expressed by the formula, “Why don’t you answer me? (kiṃ māṃ na pratibhāṣase: Sītā to Rāma in Rāmāyaṇa VI 32.21), with many variations, e.g. “Why don’t you answer me, brother, when I am weeping over you” (vilapantaṃ ca māṃ bhrātaḥ kimarthaṃ nābhibhāṣase: Rāma to Lakṣmaṇa in Rāmāyaṇa VI 102.21). In the Iliad (24.741–745) we have it in the lament of Andromache:

ἀρητὸν δὲ τοκεῦσι γόον καὶ πένθος ἔθηκας
῞Εκτορ· ἐμοὶ δὲ μάλιστα λελείψεται ἄλγεα λυγρά.
οὐ γάρ μοι θνῄσκων λεχέων ἐκ χεῖρας ὄρεξας,
οὐδέ τί μοι εἶπες πυκινὸν ἔπος, οὗ τέ κεν αἰεὶ
μεμνῄμην νύκτάς τε καὶ ἤματα δάκρυ χέουσα.
and accursed grief and sorrow have you brought upon your parents, Hector; and for me beyond all others will woeful sorrows be left. For at your death you did not stretch out your hands to me from your bed, nor speak to me any word full of meaning that I might have recalled night and day with shedding of tears.
It is worth noting here another motif that proves to be common to the Greek and Indic traditions. This is the comparison between the grief of a widow and that of the parents of the deceased, which Andromache makes here in claiming that her sorrow is much deeper. Interestingly enough, we have the same pattern present in the Rāmāyaṇa where the exemplary wife of India, Sītā, is twice mourning over her allegedly killed husband, Rāma. In both cases she is especially concerned about the hero’s mother, Kausalya (Rāmāyaṇa VI 32.25–27, 48.20–21), but, comparing her pain to the mother’s grief, she says, quite contrary to Andromache: “I do not repent so much for Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa or for myself or even my mother but for my unfortunate mother-in-law, Kausalya” (VI 48.20). Thus we may assume such a comparison to be a universal motif for archaic lament, one that could be used differently on different occasions. Moreover, the difference between Greek and Indic usage may be treated as an additional hint at the various stages of epic development that those poems reflect, the Indic counterpart, with its emphasis on respect for parents and elders in general, reflecting a much more “ethicized” version of epic values. On the other hand, Andromache’s preference of conjugal bonds over blood ties could seem rather suggestive in light of this opposition’s further treatment in Greek tragedy, in particular (with the Oresteia as the most vivid example).
Among a lot of other thematic parallels that could be perceived in Greek and Indic epic laments I would like to draw attention only to one more. That is the idea of early, premature death. In Stri Parva it permeates Gandhari’s lament in its entirety, and is stressed specifically when she is grieving about the younger generation of heroes, “the sons of the sons” (Mahābhārata XI 20.31–32, 25.26–27); Sītā weeps over the false image of the dead Rāma: “O, Rāma! It was mentioned even by soothsayers that your life span is lengthy. O, Rāma! Their words are wrong. You are short lived” (Rāmāyaṇa VI 32.12). Andromache starts her lament in Book 24 of the Iliad in a similar way: “Husband, perished out of your life you are, still in your youth …” (725: ἆνερ ἀπ᾽ αἰῶνος νέος ὤλεο). The same idea is maintained by Priam when he grieves over his sons whom Achilles killed in their prime (22.423: τόσσους γάρ μοι παῖδας ἀπέκτανε τηλεθάοντας), and by Thetis in her “prospective” lament [30] over destined-to-die Achilles, who “shot up like a sapling; when I had reared him like a tree in a rich orchard plot [I sent him off to fight]” (18.56–57 = 437–438: ὃ δ᾽ ἀνέδραμεν ἔρνεϊ ἶσος· / τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ θρέψασα φυτὸν ὣς γουνῷ ἀλωῆς). Here we observe a metaphorical transformation, whereby the hero is described literally as a plant faded away. The same image can be perceived in Sanskrit texts: for instance, “two brothers of Avanti, Vinda and Anuvinda, lying there on the field, like two blossoming shala trees in the spring overthrown by the tempest” (Mahābhārata XI 25.26).
Following Gregory Nagy, [31] I would like to refer this common image to the vegetation imagery perceived in the already mentioned Indo-European formula “imperishable fame,” as in the Sanskrit phrase śrávaḥákṣitam (RigVeda I 9.7 bc), which has a famous and much-discussed parallel in Greek, κλέος ἄφθιτον. [32] As Nagy has shown, the φθι- stem in the Greek epithet denotes exactly the idea of ‘fading away, wilting’ of plants, and the notion of “imperishable fame” thus “conveys the cultural negation of a natural process, the growing and the wilting of plants, and also, by extension, the life and the death of mortals.” Moreover, we may think of the lamentation context as a possible place where this “negation” could have taken place, as the lament is both acknowledging the end of the hero’s physical existence and proclaiming his past and future glory. Containing this imagery, it is not by chance that lament, on the whole, and Thetis’ γόος, in particular, was linked by Nagy and then by others with the notion of immortality and κλέος as main themes of the epic. [33] The Indic parallels do nothing but support the idea that the formula itself could be hypothetically related to the genre of lamentation. “Imperishable fame” vs. a hero’s “fading away” would be a perfect antithesis, a compositional device that is, as Calvert Watkins (1995) has demonstrated, [34] so characteristic both of folklore and epic lament, as well as of Indo-European poetic language on the whole.
In connection with the lamentation theme, I would like to mention one lexical parallel that can also be traced back to the Indo-European level. In Sanskrit poems the description of a dead hero or an address to him often contains the formula hataḥ śete ‘he lies slain’. We have here the collocation of two verbal roots, han– ‘to kill’ (in participial form) and śi– ‘to lie’, that can be reconstructed as Indo-European *guhen– and *kei-. Their mutual link and interchange was thoroughly analyzed by Calvert Watkins in his persuasive reconstruction of the formulaic structure of the Indo-European poetic description of a hero killing his enemy. [35] As a possible parallel he quoted a passage from Hecabe’s lament where she describes Hector in the following way: νῦν δέ μοι ἑρσήεις καὶ πρόσφατος ἐν μεγάροισι / κεῖσαι, τῷ ἴκελος ὅν τ᾽ ἀργυρότοξος Ἀπόλλων / οἷς ἀγανοῖσι βέλεσσιν ἐποιχόμενος κατέπεφνεν (“all dewy-fresh you lie in my halls as if you were newly slain, like one whom Apollo of the silver bow has assailed with his gentle shafts and slain,” Iliad 24.757–759). Watkins convincingly argued that Greek πρόσφατος (the semantics of which are often debated by commentators [36] ) should also be traced back to the Indo-European *guhen-, meaning ‘newly slain’. He also paid attention to some variations of the formula both in Homer and in later poetry. In Iliad 19.31–32 we have a cognate compound in the expression “men slain by Ares” (φῶτας ἀρηϊφάτους), in a strikingly similar context. The passage is not a lament, but here Thetis consoles Achilles and says that she will protect dead Patroclus (who “lies” [κεῖται] on the ground) from flies that are eager to devour the bodies of heroes “slain by Ares.” So the situation described is akin to the lamentation motif analyzed before: a dead hero’s body is devoured by birds, beasts, worms, and the like. Moreover, the examples Watkins drew from later sources come directly from laments. In Sophocles’ Ajax, lines 898–899, Tekmessa uses a similar expression (changing one of the stems, but not the meaning), at the very beginning of her mourning dialogue with the chorus: “Here lies Ajax newly slain” (Αἴας ὅδ᾽ ἡμῖν ἀρτίως νεοσφαγὴς κεῖται). In Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes Antigone and Ismene address their dead brothers with the expression πρόκεισαι κατακτάς, changing the meaning from passive into active: “you lie, having slain.” One might add that corresponding Indic formulas are also frequently used in epic laments, mainly in their opening parts: for instance, Gandhari in the opening of her lament for her son Vikarna says that “he lies slain on the ground … lies slain among the elephants” (bhūmau vinihataḥ śete gajamadhyaṃ hataḥ śete, Mahābhārata XI 19.1–2). Likewise when she weeps over Shalya: “here lies Shalya slain” (eṣa śalyo hataḥ śete, 23.1). Similar instances are numerous. A possible additional parallel to Hecabe’s phrasing is that Sanskrit śete always occupies in these formulas the marked position at the end of the odd padas, [37] whereas Greek κεῖσαι in the Homeric hexameter (as well as κεῖται in tragic examples) occupies the marked position at the beginning of the verse. As for the 2nd person κεῖσαι vs. the Sanskrit 3rd person śete, in Indic poems we also have the 2nd person form when addressing the deceased directly: e.g. “Alas, o righteous one, you lie on the ground, slain unfairly by two foes” (eko dvābhyāṃ hataḥ śeṣe tvam adharmeṇa dhārmikaḥ, Mahābhārata XI 24.15). So we can tentatively restore the Indo-European poetic formula *guhento– + *kei– (+ personal ending) as a sort of opening for lament. [38]
So lament starts over the corpse of the hero who “lies slain” and aims (at least on a compositional and thematic, if not formulaic, level) at securing for him “imperishable fame” through praise, reproach, and blame. [39] Parallel imagery, motifs, and phrasing prove that the theme of epic lament bears in both traditions the same typology. Moreover, sometimes these parallels cast additional light on some controversial issues, like the sequence of laments within the Iliad or the disputed meaning of a single Greek word. On the other hand, the discrepancies can be even more telling than coincidences. The treatment of the parents/spouse opposition gave us one instance of this; I would like to end my paper with another. One idea that turns out to be quite popular with Homer is not attested in the epics of ancient India. That is the idea of getting pleasure or benefit from mourning. Achilles incites the Myrmidons to “enjoy the dire lamentation” (ὀλοοῖο τεταρπώμεσθα γόοιο, Iliad 23.10; cf. 23.98, 24.513), the mourners have “a yearning to wail” (ἵμερος γόοιο, 23.108, 24.507), they are satiated with lament (τώ κε κορεσσάμεθα κλαίοντέ τε μυρομένω τε, Iliad 22.427; cf. ἄσεσθε κλαυθμοῖο, 24.717) like they are with food or drink. One might argue that we are dealing here with remnants of ancient ritual or magic therapy, [40] or with the later process of epic aestheticization of ritual that makes lament akin to poetry with its main aim at τέρπειν ‘giving pleasure’. [41] Be that as it may, we should assume that this idea is quite natural for the Homeric presentation of lament, but proves to be totally alien to the moral values of the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa. [42] The sages of ancient India persuaded their audience to lay the lament aside and turn to higher wisdom, like Vaishampayana does at the end of Stri Parva: “Dead or lost, the person that grieves for what has already occurred, obtains more grief. By indulging in grief, one increases it two-fold” (Mahābhārata XI 26.4). The heroes of the Iliad obtain such knowledge and inner comfort through the lament itself, and this difference tells us a lot not only about these two epic traditions, but about the two cultures as such.


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[ back ] 1. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to David Elmer and to the anonymous reader for that volume for many suggestive remarks that proved to be very useful in revising my paper. Certainly, all remaining faults and inconsistencies are my own.
[ back ] 2. See the fundamental work of Schmitt 1967, with its continuation in Watkins 1995 and Costa 1998.
[ back ] 3. See especially, Holst-Wahrhaft 1992. On the contemporary Greek tradition, see Danforth and Tsiaras 1982, Seremetakis 1991.
[ back ] 4. On epic laments see Dué 2002, and especially the book of Tsagalis 2004, which tried to improve Alexiou’s scheme of lament’s structure by applying to it Albert Lord’s category of ‘theme’. Certainly, laments remain also in the focus of the analysis of Greek tragedy. See Loraux 2002, Schauer 2002, Dué 2006.
[ back ] 5. See Lord 1991:110–111.
[ back ] 6. The interest in lament has been also stimulated by gender studies. As both in ancient and living folklore traditions laments are performed mostly by women (see, e.g., Vidan 2003 on laments in Bosnian female songs); it has been argued that lament reflects some specific female world outlook contrasted to the traditionally ‘heroic’ (and thus, male) epic prospective (see on that Murnaghan 1999; Sourvinou-Inwood 2004:167–170; Perkell 2008). The article by B. Wenbaum (2001) claiming that female tradition based on lament shaped the entire body of classical Western literature could be cited as the most radical example of such an approach.
[ back ] 7. Grintser 1978.
[ back ] 8. Lohmann 1970:108–112.
[ back ] 9. All quotations from Indic epics are given according to the following critical editions: Mahābhārata, the Great Epic of India, vv. 1–17 (Poona, 1927–1966); The Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa, vv. 1–7 (Baroda, 1960–1975).
[ back ] 10. Cf. Alexiou 2002:22.
[ back ] 11. Beck 2005:245–247.
[ back ] 12. Tsagalis 2004:69.
[ back ] 13. The terminology of lament has caused some discord among scholars. In Iliad 24 the sequence of three women’s γόοι is preceded by the appearance of certain ‘singers’ (ἀοιδοί) who are called “the beginners (ἔξαρχοι) of lament,” where “lament” is denoted by a different term, θρῆνος (Iliad 24.720–722). Later on, this very word became the general term for ritual lament (cf., for instance, Sophocles Electra 88). The θρῆνος—γόος dichotomy is often treated as an opposition of funeral songs of male professionals to the extemporaneous shrieking and crying of female relatives (Alexiou 2002:12, Tsagalis 2004:6). The opposition is stressed by the fact that γόος is always given in direct speech, whereas θρῆνος is rendered indirectly (Nagy 1979:12). However, this dichotomy doesn’t seem universal; for instance, Achilles in Odyssey 24.60–61 is wept over by quite professional female mourners, that is, the Muses, who perform θρῆνος. It seems that epic burial presumes the possible participation of some singers whose task might have been to sing the glory of the deceased. It is worth noting that the ἀοιδοί of Iliad 24 are also accompanied by the wailing of women (ἐπὶ δἐ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες, 24.722); the same formula recurs just a few lines later in the description of Andromache’s “non-professional” lament (24.746). These considerations might lead to the conclusion that θρῆνος and γόος do not differ so much in their contents and manner of performance. In fact, it is only γόος that is described at any length in the Homeric poems; θρῆνος is usually only mentioned (Derderian 2001:33ff.).
[ back ] 14. Pucci 1993 argued also for the antiphonal nature of the laments of Briseis and Achilles over the corpse of Patroclus in Iliad 17.282–338.
[ back ] 15. Cf. Tsagalis 2004:120ff. on Andromache’s final lament as a sort of response to her own words during the meeting with Hector. On the generic proximity of Andromache’s speech in Book 6 to lament see Foley 1999:188–196. It is worth noting that in general a great majority of female speeches by Homer tend to be rather close to laments (Murnaghan 1999; Dué 2002:5).
[ back ] 16. On the symmetry of Books 6 and 24 see Macleod 1982:140.
[ back ] 17. Therefore, some of the scholars treat Priam’s speech as a formal lament (see Pantelia 2002:24).
[ back ] 18. This might be true also for a single epithet implanted into a formulaic frame. So M. Edwards treats the epithet λευκώλενος ‘white-armed’ in Andromache’s lament in Book 24.723 (τῇσιν δ’ ᾿Ανδρομάχη λευκώλενος ἦρχε γόοιο) as specifically aimed at creating a particularly tragic picture: “It is hard not to think that the change of the adjective is intended to evoke more vividly the picture of her bare arms around the corpse” (Edwards 1987:314). Tsagalis 2004:62 perceives in this case (in J. M. Foley’s terms) “immediate referentiality combined with traditional.”
[ back ] 19. In that case the particle δέ in the second part of the line (ἄλοχος δ᾽οὔ πώ τι πέπυστο) should bear causative sense: “So she said wailing, because the wife didn’t know yet.” Cf. Chantraine 1981:357–358.
[ back ] 20. Tsagalis 2004:57. Understood in such a way, ἀμβλήδην turns out to be quite close to another, much more frequently signaled characteristic of lament: it is semantically similar to the epithet ἁδινóς (sometimes translated as ‘sobbing’) that is quite common in the opening lines of laments. Cf. Iliad 18.316 = 13.18: τοῖσι δὲ Πηλεΐδης ἁδινοῦ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο (“the son of Peleus began the sobbing lament among them”; cf. 22.430 = 24.747, of Hecabe). The adverbs ἁδινῶς and ἁδινóν, ἁδινά in an adverbial sense are also used in the context of lamentation (Iliad 18.124, 19.314, Odyssey 24.317, etc.). But in this case the semantic development from ‘dense, thick’ to something like ‘vehement, unceasing’ seems more feasible.
[ back ] 21. In doing so, she behaves exactly like her Indic counterparts usually do (cf. Mahābhārata XI 17.1, 16.14–15, 21.10, 15.11; Rāmāyaṇa VI 32.6, 93.5 etc.). At that moment she can’t fall upon the body of the deceased and hold his head in her hands as she will do in Iliad 24.723–724. This ritual behavior also has parallels in Indic tradition (e.g. Mahābhārata XI 20. 4–18; Rāmāyaṇa VI 113.7, 114. 8). In the Iliad Briseis also embraces the body of Patroclus (19.484). See Neumann 1965:89, 196 on this ritual gesture.
[ back ] 22. See Kakridis 1949:19–20 on this “ascending scale of affection.” On the other hand, belatedness of Andromache’s lament could be interpreted as a specific device making the audience intensely anticipate her appearance. Additionally, with such a sequence the singer avoids exact duplication of the laments in Books 22 and 24. See Segal 1971b, Beck 2005:255.
[ back ] 23. Helen’s lament (Iliad 24.761–776), being clearly opposed to those of Andromache and Hecabe (see Richardson 1993:350), emphasizes the symmetry existing between Book 6 and 24 (cf. Macleod 1982:149). On the one hand, the figure of Helen is specifically connected in the Iliad with the theme of war, and hence, with the posthumous glory of warriors established and proclaimed in songs. Thus, her lament, together with those of the other two, is the first song for the glory of Hector (Pantelia 2002). On the other hand, her taking part in the funerary rites may be interpreted as a sort of establishing of her own status that grows more and more important in the course of the poem (see Roisman 2006:28–32). Similarly, as Dué 2002:76 has argued, Briseis by her lamenting over the body of Patroclus (Iliad 19.282–301) also tries to maintain her role in Achilles’ house. It is not by chance, therefore, that Helen constantly points at her family relations with Hector himself and his next of kin; her speech is permeated by kinship terminology: δαέρων φίλτατε (“dearest of brothers-in-law); πóσις (“husband”); ἄλλος … δαέρων ἢ γαλόων ἢ εἰνατέρων (“another of my brothers-in law or sisters-in-law”); … ἢ ἑκυρή, ἑκυρὸς δὲ πατὴρ ὣς ἤπιος αἰεί (“… or my mother-in-law—my father-in-law has always been like a tender father”). The importance of stressing within the lament family relations with the deceased was underlined already by A. Fingerle in his study of epic speeches (Fingerle 1939:167). See Suzuki 1989:21–29 and Taplin 1992:212–218 on the parallelism between Helen and Briseis in their role and functions.
[ back ] 24. Cf. Alexiou 2002:132–135, Holst-Warhaft 1992:112, Tsagalis 2004:15. This tripartite scheme could be related to the analogous structure of funerary ritual (Garland 1985:21) and, in a general ritual context, could be compared with the tripartite structure (invocation—narrative—supplication) of ancient hymns (Alexiou 2002:133–134, Tsagalis 2004:30).
[ back ] 25. On antithesis as the basic principle of lament’s structure, see Alexiou 2002:165–171. Griffin 1983:2–3, following W. Schadewaldt, made exactly these very words of Andromache a vivid example of Homer’s individual technique. Indic parallels speak, rather, for a more universal, either typologically parallel or inherited, motif.
[ back ] 26. It is worth noting that sometimes it is not the dead one but the mourner who is described in such a way. For example, in the Iliad Achilles, “the great one, was lying in the dust, stretched far and wide” (αὐτὸς δ’ ἐν κονίῃσι μέγας μεγαλωστὶ τανυσθεὶς κεῖτο, Iliad 18.26–27, cf. 16.775–776) when grieving over Patroclus. The same parallelism between mourner and mourned is a constant feature of Indic laments (see Grintser 1978:29–31). Therefore, this Iliadic scene need not be taken with Neo-Analysts as a specific borrowing from the actual scene of Achilles’ death in the Cycle (pace Seaford 1995:170).
[ back ] 27. Magoun 1955.
[ back ] 28. Segal 1971a.
[ back ] 29. On the tight links connecting tragic laments with epic and folklore, see Loraux 2002:47, 68, etc., and Dué 2006:50ff.
[ back ] 30. Thetis’ speech addressed to the Nereids at the beginning of Iliad Book 18 is clearly anticipating her future lament over Achilles, which should take place, however, after the events of the Iliad; it is mentioned in Odyssey Book 24. The passage in Iliad 18 was for this reason treasured by the Neo-Analysts, beginning from Wilamowitz, and then by Schadewaldt, Kakridis (1949:65–75) and Kullmann (1960:38–39), who argued that it was borrowed from Cyclic tradition, either from the Aethiopis or from a putative Achilleis or Memnonis. However, Lohmann 1970:54 has shown how neatly this speech fits into the poetic structure of the Homeric text. Moreover, as the example of Hector (whom we have just shown to be also lamented “in advance” by Andromache, Priam, and Hecabe) proves, such an anticipation of a hero’s death is characteristic of the Iliad (it is sufficient to mention here how often approaching death is foretold to Achilles, by his mother Thetis, his enemy Hector, and even by his own horse).
[ back ] 31. See Nagy 1979:174–189.
[ back ] 32. Several scholars (see Floyd 1980, Finkelberg 1986 and 2007) have attacked the very idea of the Homeric phrase κλέος ἄφθιτον being an Indo-European inheritance. However, I find the arguments of Nagy 1990:122–127 and Watkins 1995:173–178 on that point most persuasive.
[ back ] 33. See, e.g., Tsagalis 2004:150–151.
[ back ] 34. Watkins 1995:176.
[ back ] 35. Watkins 1995:499–504.
[ back ] 36. In later sources it is usually understood as ‘fresh, recent’. This meaning could be developed from ‘newly slain’ (see Richardson 1993:357).
[ back ] 37. See Grintser 1978:29.
[ back ] 38. The parallels we have considered so far may certainly be regarded as typological. However, in the context of Indo-European “poetic language” theory, which traces such analogous formulas back to the proto-Indo-European language and culture, they could be interpreted as derived from this common genetic origin of Indo-European epic poetry.
[ back ] 39. As we have seen from both Indic and Greek examples, reproaches blaming a dead hero, e.g., for causing sorrow to his family or leaving his parents, wife, and children helpless, serve to stress additionally his premature death and his indispensability for his family, people, etc. In this respect, within epic lament, praise, and blame are deeply interwoven.
[ back ] 40. Cf. “Priam tries to transform the bestial satiety of violence … into the therapeutic satiety of lamentation” (Tsagalis 2004:175).
[ back ] 41. Derderian 2001:67–69.
[ back ] 42. One might argue, however, that the Mahābhārata, since it dedicates an entire book to the presentation of various laments, must also presume some sort of aesthetic pleasure that mourning brings along (I would like to thank David Elmer for drawing my attention to that point). It is worth noting, then, that whereas Homeric epic states “pleasure” explicitly as the utmost goal of lamentation, its Indic counterpart, if it implies it, never reveals such an implication expressis verbis. Once again, we may see here another sign of a more “ethicized” stage of epic development.