Nietzsche describes philological reading as both visual and tactile (‘eyes and fingers’), as delicate, cautious, slow, and deep; both ‘with reservations’ and ‘with doors left open’. One might think the philologist was examining objects that had never been seen before, and in many ways, the study of Homeric words actually is a new subject of study. Here is how an articulate scholar of that language, Emile Benveniste, has put it:
the iphthı̄ma head of cattle
which is attested six times in line-final position, where the word κάρηνα means ‘head of cattle’ in metonymic rather than concrete terms, to designate whole animals, as a rancher would speak of a herd of ‘fifty head’. One can compare the parallel formula:
the strengthless (i.e., lacking μένος) heads of corpses
which occurs twice in the first nekuia of the Odyssey (11.29, 11.46), and in which the word κάρηνα is still metonymic, as it is also in the variant κεφαλάς for Iliad 1.3 attested in 11.55.
irty or so years ago that the way to do that was as follows: a problem is worth looking at if you get the same feeling that you get when you are going to lift up a bucket that you think is full and it turns out to be empty. Here’s another, perhaps more concrete strategy for finding a fruitful subject that we used to tell ourselves as graduate students: all you really need to do is pull a thread from the fabric of the poetry and begin to follow it. It’s guaranteed, we used to say, that it will lead somewhere interesting and take you someplace — perhaps not where you thought you would go but somewhere interesting nevertheless. Is the goal, then, to solve the problem you identify, once and for all? Is the goal to begin with a generalization and then try to prove it? No to both: the goal is patiently to rebuild the poetic and cultural fabric that was disclosed as a given to the Epic audience, to reconstitute the resonances and connections of a traditional performance system. It is not a to impose solutions, but to find solutions that impose themselves. The goal is to open the door, in Nietzsche’s terms, in a way that leaves room for others to pass through as well.
on his steady (= iphthı̄mos) head he placed the well-made helmet
In fact, this meaning may be the key to the whole problem: perhaps just like the English word ‘steady, steadfast’, ἴφθιμος has a physical as well as a social shading that stretches from the ability to bear up to loyalty to a group or another individual. That would explain, for example, why it applies to the Laestrygonians and to Odysseus’ companions. As is typical of this peculiar word, ἴφθιμος applies both to an individual Laestrygonian, the nameless daughter of Antiphates whom Odysseus’ companions meet, and to the people as a whole:
θυγατέρ’ ἰφθίμῃ Λαιστρυγόνος Ἀντιφάταο.
they met a girl fetching water in front of the citadel,
the steadfast/loyal (= iphthı̄me) daughter of the Laestrygonian Antiphates.
This girl points out her father’s house to them, where they encounter her mother, an instant object of dread:
ὃν πόσιν, ὃς δὴ τοῖσιν ἐμήσατο λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον.
αὐτίχ’ ἕνα μάρψας ἑτάρων ὁπλίσσατο δεῖπνον.
τὼ δὲ δύ’ ἀΐξαντε φυγῇ ἐπὶ νῆας ἱκέσθην.
αὐτὰρ ὁ τεῦχε βοὴν διὰ ἄστεος· οἱ δ’ ἀΐοντες
φοίτων ἴφθιμοι Λαιστρυγόνες ἄλλοθεν ἄλλος,
μυρίοι, οὐκ ἄνδρεσσιν ἐοικότες, ἀλλὰ Γίγασιν.
and she immediately called famous Antiphates from the assembly,
her husband, who devised grievous destruction for them.
Immediately he snatched one of the companions and made a meal of him.
Then those two rushed off in flight and went to the ships,
but he [Antiphates] raised a shout throughout the city, and they, hearing it,
kept coming, one from one place, another from another, the steadfast/loyal (= iphthı̄moi ) Laestrygonians,
countless ones, not resembling men but Giants.
A terrific disaster follows, the cannibalistic slaughter of all of Odysseus’ men except for those on his own ship, which by a stroke of luck he had anchored outside of the harbor. Why should these hideous Laestrygonians be dignified with any other epithet than one meaning just ‘strong’? What is ‘steadfast’ or ‘loyal’ about them? Precisely what is described here: unlike the other cannibal, the Cyclops Polyphemus, these people have an ἀγορή, they have a cooperative family structure, and the king among them summons the whole populace to cooperate in dining upon Odysseus’s men. If there is one thing that Odysseus’ cunning is supposedly useless to combat, it is massive, socially-coordinated violence — in fact, that seems to be the whole point of this episode. Here is the way that Telemachus puts it to his father when contemplating the prospect of the two of them fighting all the suitors, another hateful group, en masse:
ἄνδρε δύω πολλοῖσι καὶ ἰφθίμοισι μάχεσθαι.
…there’d be no way
for two men to fight with many, steadfast/loyal (= iphthı̄moi) men.
This is axiomatic for Epic, and a useful perspective to have on the successful massacre of the suitors at the end of the poem, which tends to look like shooting fish in a barrel. By contrast, when Odysseus in disguise as a beggar at his own palace sees the servant women going to sleep with the suitors, he addresses his own grief-stricken heart as follows:
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”
striking his chest he rebuked his heart with a muthos:
“Bear up, heart; once you endured something else even worse,
on the day when the Cyclops, whose menos was unrestrained, was devouring, to my grief,
my steadfast/loyal (= iphthı̄mous) companions, but you kept your nerve until cunning
lead you out of the cave, when you supposed that you were about to die.”
Odysseus uses this same expression in the genitive, iphthı̄mōn hetarōn, for his companions when he retells the Cyclops story to Penelope in Odyssey 23.13. Here he is telling his heart that his men did not lose their solidarity with each other despite the horrible turn of events, and so he, too, must bear up when faced with the betrayal of solidarity by his own servants. The passage features the nexus of associations between the strength and steadiness to endure suffering and the maintenance of group solidarity.
ἀργαλέον δέ μοί ἐστι καὶ ἰφθίμῳ περ ἐόντι
μούνῳ ῥηξαμένῳ θέσθαι παρὰ νηυσὶ κέλευθον·
ἀλλ’ ἐφομαρτεῖτε· πλεόνων δέ τι ἔργον ἄμεινον.
Lycians, why do I see you letting up your furious defense like this?
It is hard for me, all steadfast/loyal (= iphthı̄mōi) as I am,
alone to break through and make a path beside the ships.
So accompany me; the work of more men is a better thing…
Both before and after this passage (12.377, 12.418), the Lycians as a group are called ἴφθιμοι by the narrator, so their group identity is front and center in the narrative here. You may well remember the other point in the narrative of the Iliad when they are so called — at the death of their leader, Sarpedon, as they flee the battle scene en masse.
πᾶσι μάλα, πρῶτον δ’ Ἱκεταονίδην ἐνένιπεν
ἴφθιμον Μελάνιππον. ὃ δ’ ὄφρα μὲν εἰλίποδας βοῦς
βόσκ’ ἐν Περκώτῃ δηΐων ἀπὸ νόσφιν ἐόντων·
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ Δαναῶν νέες ἤλυθον ἀμφιέλισσαι,
ἂψ εἰς Ἴλιον ἦλθε, μετέπρεπε δὲ Τρώεσσι,
ναῖε δὲ πὰρ Πριάμῳ, ὃ δέ μιν τίεν ἶσα τέκεσσι·
τόν ῥ’ Ἕκτωρ ἐνένιπεν ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζεν·
οὕτω δὴ Μελάνιππε μεθήσομεν; οὐδέ νυ σοί περ
ἐντρέπεται φίλον ἦτορ ἀνεψιοῦ κταμένοιο;
οὐχ ὁράᾳς οἷον Δόλοπος περὶ τεύχε’ ἕπουσιν;
ἀλλ’ ἕπευ· οὐ γὰρ ἔτ’ ἔστιν ἀποσταδὸν Ἀργείοισι
μάρνασθαι, πρίν γ’ ἠὲ κατακτάμεν ἠὲ κατ’ ἄκρης
Ἴλιον αἰπεινὴν ἑλέειν κτάσθαι τε πολίτας.
…And Hector urged on his brothers,
really all of them, but first of all he rebuked the son of Hiketaon,
steadfast/loyal (= iphthı̄mon) Melanippus. For a time his spiral-footed cattle
he was tending in Perkote, when the enemy were far distant;
but when the curved ships of the Danaans came,
he came back to Ilium and was conspicuous among the Trojans,
and he lived at Priam’s side, and he [Priam] honored him like his own children.
Hector rebuked this man, and he spoke a word and called him by name:
“Is this the way we will let up, Melanippus? Isn’t especially your
dear heart respectful of your dead cousin?
Don’t you see how they are busy with the arms of Dolops?
Get busy yourself! It’s no longer possible at a distance from the Argives
to fight with them, before we either cut them down or from its height
they seize steep Ilium and destroy its citizens…”
It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that a man said to be ἴφθιμος is singled out by Hector to take up arms in defense of a fallen kinsmen when his own sense of obligation to Troy had brought him there to join the war effort in the first place and when his success as a warrior had made him an adoptive member of the family of Priam.
αὐτοὶ Μαιῶταί τε καὶ ἔθνεα Σαυροματάων,
ἐσθλὸν ἐνυαλίου γένος Ἄρεος· ἐκ γὰρ ἐκείνης
ἰφθίμης φιλότητος Ἀμαζονίδων ἐγένοντο,
τήν ποτε Σαυρομάτῃσιν ἐπ’ ἀνθρώποισι μίγησαν,
πλαγχθεῖσαι πάτρηθεν ἀπόπροθι Θερμώδοντος.
And they dwell near the Maiotic lake,
the Maiotai themselves and the tribes of the Sauromatae,
a noble offshoot of Ares Enualios; for from that
steadfast (= iphthı̄mos) love (= philotēs) of the Amazonides they were born,
the love which they once were mingled in among the Sauromatae people,
when they (= the Amazonides) were driven away from their fatherland, far from the Thermodon.
That ἴφθιμος is an epithet of φιλότης ‘friendship, love, affection’ makes sense in terms of the preceding analysis of its place in the system of Epic diction. Either Dionysius knew his Homer well — he uses ἴφθιμος twice elsewhere in expressions that do have Homeric parallels — and extended the application of the word in this way that suits the ‘grammar’ of Epic, or he borrowed the expression from some other Homeric source now lost to us. Either way, the attestation implies that the cautious use of post-Homerica is a valid resource to Homeric philology, because the Homeric poetic system lived on as a cultural phenomenon in Greece for a very long time. A fortiori, the ability to look back at avatars of the epic tradition before the ones that we have, even when they have been reshaped in the long history of other cultures, is an opportunity for understanding whose value cannot be underestimated.