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HADES AND HERACLES AT PYLOS: DIONE'S TALE DISMANTLED

  • Karolina Sekita (a1)
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The fifth book of the Iliad contains a curious story about the fight between Heracles and Hades at Pylos, told by Dione (395–7): τλῆ δ' Ἀΐδης ἐν τοῖσι πελώριος ὠκὺν ὀϊστόν, | εὖτέ μιν ωὐτὸς ἀνὴρ υἱὸς Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο | ἐν Πύλῳ ἐν νεκύεσσι βαλὼν ὀδύνῃσιν ἔδωκεν; the tale seems to have no clear mythological reference or at least not any known to us. Neither can one be found for the most puzzling element of this passage: the bizarre phrase in line 397 that Hades was wounded ἐν Πύλῳ ἐν νεκύεσσι, as we know nothing about a myth which might have been connected with this event. The lines in question have not been of great interest to scholars hitherto and tend to be mentioned only cursorily; even if some attempts at explanation have been made, no satisfactory solution has yet been offered. In this paper I would like to address two issues: (a) the myth(s) involved in the story and the meaning of ἐν Πύλῳ ἐν νεκύεσσι within it, and (b) the mechanisms through which the confusion of the transmitted versions of the motif of Heracles fighting various gods might have originated, amalgamating separate tales into an apparently unitary story. The motif of Heracles’ fight with Hades is particularly interesting and deserves careful examination.

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1 See Kirk, G.S., The Iliad: A Commentary, vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1990), ad loc. and Gantz, T., Early Greek Myth (Baltimore, 1993), 454–7. Both scholars follow the scholia in their interpretations and propose to connect the event either with the battle at Messenian Pylos, where Heracles slew the sons of Neleus (alternatively, according to Kirk, the reference is to the hero's support for Orchomenus against Thebes), or with Heracles' taking Cerberus away from the Underworld. Ganz ([this note], 456) argued also that a number of red-figure vases (dated to the first quarter of the fifth century b.c.) representing Heracles accompanied by, shaking hands with, or carrying on his back a bearded (sometimes white-haired) semi-naked god holding a cornucopia may be connected with the myth related in these lines of the Iliad. One of the representations, on a bell-krater (Berlin: PM inv. 31094), shows Heracles with the god on his back led by Hermes through water, indicated by fish around their feet. Ganz proposes to interpret the scene thus: ‘after wounding the lord of the Underworld, [Heracles] takes him up to the earth or Olympus to be cured, with the water crossed perhaps the Acheron or Styx, and Hermes quite appropriately in attendance.’ Yet, according to the Iliad, Hades went to Olympus alone (Il. 5.398–9). Furthermore, neither Homer nor any other ancient author mentions Olympus in connection with any river or sea. Overall, the vase representation does not seem to indicate the journey from the Underworld, since a) the fish depicted seem to be alive, whereas, if Pausanias (10.28.1) is to be trusted, the fish in the river Acheron depicted by Polygnotus were dead (and no ancient testimony provides us with information about any living creatures in the Underworld waters); b) although lakes were considered in antiquity to be the entrances to the Underworld (cf. Paus. 2.37.5), Heracles is nowhere said to enter or leave it through water. I believe that the scenes represented on the vases in question belong to a myth connected with the sanctuary of Pancrates and Palaemon by the river Ilissus (see K. Sekita, ‘The figure of Hades/Plouton in Greek beliefs of the archaic and classical periods’ [Diss., University of Oxford, 2016]). On the lines in question, see also Sammons, B., The Art and Rhetoric of the Homeric Catalogue (Oxford, 2010), 2138, who suggests (29–30) that the catalogue form of Dione's speech is resistant to the scholiasts’ interpretation that the wounding of Hera and Hades took place on the same occasion, although he does not speculate as to the explanation of the story behind the lines in question.

2 Seneca's account is not discussed in this paper, because it does not add any new information, but follows Homeric lines: see J.G. Fitch, Seneca's Hercules Furens. A Critical Text with Introduction and Commentary (Ithaca, NY and London, 1987), on 560–5, and Billerbeck, M., Seneca Hercules Furens. Einleitung, Text, Übersetzung und Kommentar (Leiden and Boston, 1999), on 560–5.

3 [Hes.] Scut. 357–67 says that Ares was also wounded by Heracles in the battle at (sandy) Pylos.

4 Confirmed by lines 382–4: τέτλαθι τέκνον ἐμόν, καὶ ἀνάσχεο κηδομένη περ· | πολλοὶ γὰρ δὴ τλῆμεν Ὀλύμπια δώματ' ἔχοντες | ἐξ ἀνδρῶν χαλέπ' ἄλγε' ἐπ' ἀλλήλοισι τιθέντες. Cf. Σb 5.392: διὰ μειζόνων δὲ προσώπων παρεμυθήσατο τὴν Ἀφροδίτην and West, M.L., The Making of the Iliad. Disquisition and Analytical Commentary (Oxford and New York, 2011), on lines 392–7 (‘this may have been the poet's model for Diomedes fighting against the gods’).

5 Il. 5.311–18, 330, 336, 376–8.

6 Respectively Il. 5.354 (ἀχθομένην ὀδύνῃσι) and 5.399 (ὀδύνῃσι πεπαρμένος).

7 Respectively Il. 5.367 and 5.398. Lines 398–402 were deleted by West, as an interpolation caused by rhetorical expansion, added to enhance the dramatic effect or graphic vividness of the narrative; according to him, these lines were not ‘an essential part of the original myth’ (West, M.L., Studies in the Text and Transmission of the Iliad [Munich–Leipzig, 2001], 192). However, Hades’ journey to Olympus and his treatment by Apollo did not have to be essential parts of the myth (about which we know little) in order to occur in the poem. Complementarity with Dione's consolatory speech (and not, as West insists, with Ares’ healing in Il. 5.899–904) seems to be a satisfactory justification for these lines.

8 Il. 5.405.

9 Cf. Od. 11.625, Paus. 6.25.2.

10 Kirk (n. 1), on 5.385.

11 ΣA Il. 5.392: Ἡρακλῆς παρεγένετο εἰς Πύλον χρῄζων καθαρσίν. οἱ δὲ Πύλιοι ἀποκλεισάντης τὰς πύλας οὐκ εἰσεδέξαντο αὐτόν· ἐφ' ᾧ ὀργισθεὶς ὁ ἥρως ἐπόρθησε Πύλον. συνεμάχουν δὲ τῷ μὲν Νηλεῖ τρεῖς θεοὶ, Ποσειδῶν, Ἥρα, Ἀϊδωνεὺς, τῷ Ἡρακλεῖ δύο, Ἀθηνᾶ καὶ Zεύς.

12 See also ΣT 11.690. However, cf. W. Leaf's commentary ad loc. (Homer, The Iliad, ed. with English notes and introduction [London, 1886–1888]), noting that it could not have been a Homeric story because there is no trace of purification for blood in Homer, and thus the story has to belong to Heracles’ Underworld journey. For the purification of Heracles, see Parker, R.C.T., Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion (Oxford, 1983), 382.

13 ΣbT Il. 5.392–4: οἱ μὲν ἐν τῇ πρὸς Πυλίους μάχῃ, οἱ δὲ διὰ τὸ μὴ ἐᾶσαι αὐτὴν νήπιον ὄντα σπάσαι τὸν ἴδιον μαζόν. Cf. Σ Lycoph. 39.

14 ΣbT Il. 5.395–7: φασὶν Ἡρακλέα ἐπιταχθέντα ὑπὸ Πλούτωνος ἄνευ ἀσπίδος καὶ σιδήρου χειρώσασθαι τὸν Κέρβερον, τῇ μὲν δορᾷ χρήσασθαι ἀντὶ ἀσπίδος, τοῖς δὲ βέλεσι λιθίνας ἀκίδας κατασκευάσαι. μετὰ δὲ τὴν νίκην πάλιν ἐναντιουμένου τοῦ θεοῦ τὸν Ἡρακλέα ὀργισθέντα τοξεῦσαι αὐτόν.

15 It seems that even for the ancients the identification of ‘the right’ Pylos was a problem (cf. Strab. 8.3.7): it was localized variously in Elis, Triphylia and Messenia. This uncertainty may reflect an ancient view that Homer himself refers to more than one Pylos or it may simply indicate general confusion: Maddoli, G., ‘L'Elide in età arcaica. Il processo di formazione dell'unità regionale’, in Prontera, F. (ed.), Geografia storica della Grecia antica (Rome and Bari, 1991), 150–73, at 155–64. On the geographical differences between the Iliad and the Odyssey, cf. West (n. 4), 8; for the view that Pylos of the epic legend was the one in Triphylia: West (n. 4), on 2.591, Coleman, J.E., Excavations at Pylos in Elis (Princeton, 1986), 161–5, Dörpfeld, W., ‘Alt-Pylos. III. Die Lage der homerischen Burg Pylos’, AM 38 (1913), 97139. See also Maddoli, G., Nafissi, M., Saladino, V., Pausania, Guida della Grecia, Libro VI L'Elide e Olimpia (Milan, 2003), 371 (on Paus. 6.22.6); and Hansen, M.H., Nielsen, T.H. (edd.), An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis (Oxford, 2004), 501–2 (no. 263, Elis), 541 (Triphylia), 554 (S81, Messenia). We may compare the similar case of Oechalia (also sacked by Heracles), which in the Iliad is localized in Thessaly (Il. 2.730), by Sophocles (Trach. 237, 750) in Eretria, by Pausanias (4.2.3) and probably Creophylus (see Huxley, G.L., Greek Epic Poetry: from Eumelos to Panyassis [London, 1969], 105) in Euboea, and by Strabo in Arcadia (8.3.6).

16 For instance, Il. 11.689; with an epithet: ἐν Πύλῳ ἠγαθέῃ (Il. 1.252) or ἐν Πύλῳ ἠμαθόεντι (Od. 4.599, 11.257, 11.459).

17 Whether there existed ‘a primitive idea that Pylos was the gate to the underworld’, as claimed by Leaf (n. 12), or not, I am not convinced by the etymological explanation given by Sergent (Sergent, B., ‘Pylos et les Enfers’, RHR 203 [1986], 539) that Messenian Pylos might have been considered as the ‘Underworld’ and Neleus as a manifestation of Hades.

18 See Kirk's commentary (n. 1), ad loc.; cf. ΣT Il. 5.397: Ἀρίσταρχος “πύλῳ” ὡς “χόλῳ” καὶ ἑσπέρῳ. ἀλλὰ πληθυντικῶς ἀεὶ λέγει· “ὠΐγνυντο πύλαι”, “πύλας Ἀΐδαο”. ἐν τῇ Πύλῳ οὖν φησιν; for further discussion of this point, see Meyer, E., RE 23 (1959), s.v. Pylos, cols. 2135–6. However, the metaplasm was noticed explicitly in ΣT Il. 16.203b: ἔστι δὲ ὡς Σάμος ἀντὶ τοῦ Σάμη καὶ “ἐν πύλῳ ἐν νεκύες<ς>ιν” ἀντὶ τοῦ πύλῃ.

19 Matthews's interpretation of Panyassis’ fr. 6 (Matthews, V.J., Panyassis of Halikarnassos: Text and Commentary [Leiden, 1974]) as related to the twelfth labour led him to discuss a probable entrance to the Underworld in Elis—this remains, however, sheer speculation, since Euripides (HF 23–4) and Apollodorus (Bibl. 2.5.12) tell us that Heracles entered the Underworld through the cave in Taenarus in Laconia (according to Xen. An. 6.2.2, the hero descended at the Acherusian Chersonese). Cf. Paus. 3.25.5, according to whom there was no road leading underground in Taenarus.

20 Il. 5.646, 9.312, Od. 14.156, cf. Aesch. Ag. 1291.

21 I elaborate on this claim and its consequences for our understanding of this deity in Sekita (n. 1). See also LfgrE s.v. εὐρώεις with Clarke, M., Flesh and Spirit in the Songs of Homer. A Study of Words and Myths (Oxford, 1999), 192 n. 71.

22 Although Odysseus pours a libation to all the corpses (πᾶσιν νεκύεσσι, Od. 11.26), these are ψυχαί who speak with him, and not the corpses (cf. 11.90). For corpses, see especially Il. 10.349: ὣς ἄρα φωνήσαντε παρὲξ ὁδοῦ ἐν νεκύεσσι κλινθήτην; also Il. 23.13–14, where Patroclus is lying dead and warriors are driving their chariots thrice round his corpse; and Il. 23.34: the blood of the victims is flowing copiously ἀμφὶ νέκυν of Patroclus; at Il. 23.65–8 the ψυχή of Patroclus is speaking to Achilles. On the meaning of the noun and the various contexts in which it appears, see LfgrE s.v. νέκυς, and Clarke (n. 21), 157–228 (for νέκυς / νεκρός vs ψυχή and εἴδωλον, see esp. Clarke [n. 21], 191–2; on ψυχή, see also Page, D., The Homeric Odyssey [Oxford, 1955], 22). Contra: Kirk (n. 1), on 5.396–7.

23 For the comparison of Diomedes to Herakles in these myths, see West (n. 4) and Sammons (n. 1), 33–4.

24 Sammons (n. 1), 24 (with nn. 6 and 7 for references): ‘The catalogue form seems […] perfectly suited to amplify the rhetorical effect that paradigmatic reasoning clearly aims at.’

25 Molyneux, J.H., ‘Two problems concerning Heracles in Pindar Olympian 9.28–41’, TAPhA 103 (1972), 301–27, at 309–13. He rejects the third possibility: that Pindar intends to refer to three separate incidents. Contrast Carey, C., ‘Three myths in Pindar’, Eranos 78 (1980), 143–62, at 151–2 n. 36: ‘It remains possible, and not at all improbable, that Pindar refers to three separate incidents, but in order to aggrandize Heracles’ achievement he a) uses ἁνίκα only once, thus implying that Heracles faced three gods at once; b) identifies only the first locale and omits the other two, thus suggesting that all three encounters took place on the same spot.’ To Molyneux's statement ([this note], 306) that it would be ‘most natural for Pindar to quote them [to the audience] the version they would recognize’, Carey (this note) responds: ‘a) Greek myths can be altered freely for rhetorical purposes, either explicitly or by implication, since there was no one canonical form of a given myth; b) as this is orally delivered poetry, the audience can accept only such facts and interpretations as the poet chooses to give.’

26 Cf. Molyneaux (n. 25), 310.

27 Poseidon: Boardman LIMC V Herakles 3369–70; Apollo: Lambrinudakis LIMC I Apollo 1009–40, Woodford LIMC V Herakles 2947–3063.

28 Gerber, D.E., A Commentary on Pindar Olympian Nine (Stuttgart, 2002), 34–9. For Pindaric variations and alterations of myths, see Köhnken, A., Die Funktion des Mythos bei Pindar (Berlin, 1971), esp. 221–3, 225–8, 231–2; Buxton, R.W.B., Pindar's Pythian Odes. Essays in Interpretation (Oxford, 1962), 83–4; Carey, C., A Commentary on Five Odes of Pindar. Pythian 2, Pythian 9, Nemean 1, Nemean 7, Isthmian 8 (Salem, New Hampshire, 1981), 33, 74–5, 195; and Kirkwood, G., Selections from Pindar. Edited with an Introduction and Commentary (Chico, CA, 1982), 15–16, 27.

29 ναὶ μὴν καὶ τὸν Ἀϊδωνέα ὑπὸ Ἡρακλέους τοξευθῆναι Ὅμηρος λέγει, καὶ τὸν Ἠλεῖον Ἅιδην Πανύασσις ἱστορεῖ· ἤδη δὲ καὶ τὴν Ἥραν τὴν ζυγίαν ἱστορεῖ ὑπὸ τοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἡρακλέους ὁ αὐτὸς οὗτος Πανύασσις «ἐν Πύλῳ ἠμαθόεντι». Cf. Arnob. Adv. Gen. 4.25 (= Panyassis, fr. 21 Matthews [n. 19] above): non ex uobis Panyassis unus est, qui ab Hercule Ditem patrem et reginam memorat sauciatam esse Iunonem?

30 I follow Matthews's conjecture (n. 19), adopted by West (West, M.L., Greek Epic Fragments: from the Seventh to the Fifth Centuries b.c. [Cambridge, MA and London, 2003]), of Ἅιδην for Αὐγέαν in codices and scholia; for the justification, see his commentary on fr. 6 Matthews (n. 19).

31 For the interaction of Panyassis with the Homeric passage in question, see also Sammons (n. 1), 27 with n. 9.

32 μετὰ δὲ τὴν τῆς Ἤλιδος ἅλωσιν ἐστράτευσεν ἐπὶ Πύλον, καὶ τὴν πόλιν ἑλὼν Περικλύμενον κτείνει τὸν ἀλκιμώτατον τῶν Νηλέως παίδων, ὃς μεταβάλλων τὰς μορφὰς ἐμάχετο. τὸν δὲ Νηλέα καὶ τοὺς παῖδας αὐτοῦ χωρὶς Νέστορος ἀπέκτεινεν· οὗτος δὲ νέος ὢν παρὰ Γερηνίοις ἐτρέφετο. κατὰ δὲ τὴν μάχην καὶ Ἅιδην ἔτρωσε Πυλίοις βοηθοῦντα.

33 Las. 702 PMG, Paus. 2.35.9, IG IV 686–91, 715, 1609.

34 See Irving, P.M.C. Forbes, Metamorphosis in Greek Myths (Oxford, 1990), 180 n. 42 for bibliography. He also notices a very interesting correlation, namely that the name of Periclymenus’ brother is Πυλάων and that Hades in Il. 8.367 is called Πυλάρτης; in Apollodorus the second brother's name is Ἀλάστωρ—to my knowledge, it is never used as Hades’ name explicitly, but it occurs in Aesch. Supp. 115 as probably denoting him (θεὸς ἀλάστωρ).

35 Other sources claim that Poseidon was the father of Periclymenus: Σ Pind. N. 9.57a (Drachmann), Hyg. Fab. 157.

36 Paus. 6.25.2–3: ὁ δὲ ἱερὸς τοῦ Ἅιδου περίβολός τε καὶ ναός—ἔστι γὰρ δὴ Ἠλείοις καὶ Ἅιδου περίβολός τε καὶ ναός—ἀνοίγνυται μὲν ἅπαξ κατὰ ἔτος ἕκαστον, ἐσελθεῖν δὲ οὐδὲ τότε ἐφεῖται πέρα γε τοῦ ἱερωμένου. ἀνθρώπων δὲ ὧν ἴσμεν μόνοι τιμῶσιν Ἅιδην Ἠλεῖοι κατὰ αἰτίαν τήνδε. Ἡρακλεῖ στρατιὰν ἄγοντι ἐπὶ Πύλον τὴν ἐν τῇ Ἤλιδι, παρεῖναί οἱ καὶ Ἀθηνᾶν συνεργὸν λέγουσιν· ἀφικέσθαι οὖν καὶ Πυλίοις τὸν Ἅιδην συμμαχήσοντα τῇ ἀπεχθείᾳ τοῦ Ἡρακλέους, ἔχοντα ἐν τῇ Πύλῳ τιμάς. ἐπάγονται δὲ καὶ Ὅμηρον τῷ λόγῳ μάρτυρα ποιήσαντα ἐν Ἰλιάδι τλῆ δ' Ἀΐδης ἐν τοῖσι πελώριος ὠκὺν ὀϊστόν, εὖτέ μιν ωὐτὸς ἀνὴρ υἱὸς Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο ἐν Πύλῳ ἐν νεκύεσσι βαλὼν ὀδύνῃσιν ἔδωκεν· εἰ δὲ κατὰ τὴν Ἀγαμέμνονος καὶ Μενελάου στρατείαν ἐπὶ Ἴλιον Ποσειδῶν τῷ Ὁμήρου λόγῳ τοῖς Ἕλλησιν ἐπίκουρος ἦν, οὐκ ἂν ἄπο τοῦ εἰκότος οὐδὲ Ἅιδην εἴη δόξῃ γε τοῦ αὐτοῦ ποιητοῦ Πυλίοις ἀμῦναι. Ἠλεῖοι δ' οὖν ὡς σφίσι τε εὔνῳ καὶ ἀπεχθανομένῳ πρὸς τὸν Ἡρακλέα ἐποιήσαντο <τὸ> ἱερὸν τῷ θεῷ· ἑκάστου δὲ ἅπαξ ἀνοίγειν τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ νομίζουσιν, ὅτι οἶμαι καὶ ἀνθρώποις ἅπαξ ἡ κάθοδος ἡ ἐς τοῦ Ἅιδου γίνεται.

37 Although Triphylia was a part of Elis at least until the end of the fifth century b.c.; I treat it as a separate region for the purposes of clarity only; note, however, that the Triphylians, if Pausanias is to be trusted (5.5.3), reckoned themselves as Arcadian and not as Elean. On Pausanias’ various localizations and confusions of different Pyloi, see Coleman (n. 15), 164–5 with commentary on the passages quoted: 158–9.

38 πρὸς ἕω δ' ἐστὶν ὄρος τοῦ Πύλου πλησίον ἐπώνυμον Μίνθης, ἣν μυθεύουσι παλλακὴν τοῦ Ἅιδου γενομένην πατηθεῖσαν ὑπὸ τῆς κόρης εἰς τὴν κηπαίαν μίνθην μεταβαλεῖν, ἥν τινες ἡδύοσμον καλοῦσι. καὶ δὴ καὶ τέμενός ἐστιν Ἅιδου πρὸς τῷ ὄρει τιμώμενον καὶ ὑπὸ Μακιστίων, καὶ Δήμητρος ἄλσος ὑπερκείμενον τοῦ Πυλιακοῦ πεδίου. I discuss in detail Hades’ cult in both places in Sekita (n. 1).

39 See n. 14.

40 According to Apollodorus (Bibl. 2.5.12), Heracles during his stay in the Underworld (connected, obviously, with the abduction of Cerberus) orchestrated a kind of revolution: he had to wrestle with Menoetes, the herdsman of Hades, he removed the rock from on top of Ascalaphus, the gardener of the lord of the Netherworld, and rescued Theseus (and in Diodorus’ account Pirithous too: 4.26.1).

41 See n. 14.

42 Arist. Hipp. 1058–9; cf. Strab. 8.3.7.

This article is a result of a project funded by the National Centre for Science in Poland (2011/01/N/HS3/00625). I would like here to thank Prof. Robert Parker for his kind support and patience during the process of developing the argument. For various comments and advice I am also very grateful to Dr Adrian Kelly, the late Prof. Martin West, Prof. Włodzimierz Lengauer, Dr Ed Bispham, Dr Lidia Ożarowska and the anonymous reviewer for the journal; all mistakes remain mine.

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