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A Note on Iliad 9.524–99: The Story of Meleager*

  • S. C. R. Swain (a1)


The story of Meleager as it is told in Greek literature clearly reflects two discrete versions, which may be termed the epic and the non-epic. The latter, as retold by Apollodorus(Bibl. 1.8.1–3), shows the folktale elements of love and the life-token (the brand which must not be rekindled). The other version, as told by Homer(Iliad 9.524-99) followed by Apollodorus (1.8.3), is an epic story where Meleager is the great hero whose μῆνις keeps him from fighting for his native Calydon against the neighbouring Curetes of Pleuron.



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1 Cf. Thompson, S., Motif-Index of Folk Literature2 (Copenhagen, 1956), E765.1.2; Kakridis, J., Homeric Researches (Lund, 1949), pp. 127–48 (on modern survivals in Greece and elsewhere).

2 For a basic bibliography of the question, see Bannert, H., WS 15 (1981), 69 n. 1.

3 For my approach, cf. esp. Rosner, J., Phoenix 30 (1976), 314–27.

4 This is convincingly shown by Kakridis, op. cit. (n. 1), pp. 14ff.

5 The other cycles are the Theban cycle and the Troy cycle; see West, M. L., The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women. Its Nature, Structure, and Origins (Oxford, 1985), p. 137. For the Deucalionids, see pp. 138ff.

6 West, op. cit. (n. 5), p. 139.

7 Of the summaries of the Trojan Cycle from Proclus the Cypria and perhaps the Telegony appear to have contained enough in the way of mystery/magic together with love and travel (Castor and Polydeuces, Iphigeneia, Helen and Paris, Achilles and Deidameia; Telegonus' unknowing murder of Odysseus, Telegonus and Penelope, Telemachus and Circe) to set them apart from Homeric epic; but the other poems (Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Iliou Persis, Nostoi) appear quite close to Homer in their concern with life and death, and the monstrous or magical (Memnon, Laocoon) are perhaps exceptions. On Homer's own tendency to exclude monstrous or magical material (along with other‘unheroic’ elements), see Griffin, J., JHS 97 (1977), 3948, esp. 45, id.Homer on Life and Death (Oxford, 1980), pp. 165–7; cf. further on differences between Homer and theCycle, Munro, D. B., Homer's Odyssey. Books XIII–XXIV (Oxford, 1901), pp. 340–84; Severyns, A., Le cycle épique dans I'école d'Aristarque (Liege, 1928), pp. 141–9.

8 West, op. cit. (n. 5), pp. 164ff., suggests before 776 B.C. for the Elean–Aetolian genealogies. See also Petzold, K.-E., Historia 25 (1976), 151 on Meleager's probable 8th century integration into the heroic network; beware his seductive speculation (162f.) on the epithets applied to Calydon in the Iliad – ἐραννή in the Meleager story rather than αἰπεινή and πετρήεσσα in other books reflects the pre-Homeric power and prosperity of the city and therefore Homer is incorporating earlier material: in fact all three epithets are consistent with what is known of Mycenaean Calydon (Simpson, R. Hope and Lazenby, J., The Catalogue of the Ships in Homer's Iliad [Oxford, 1970], p. 109).

9 See Parker, R. in Interpretations of Greek Mythology, ed. Bremmer, J. (London, 1987), pp. 187–90, 193ff.; West, op. cit. (n. 5), pp. 132–3 on political affiliations of Erechtheus and Pandion invented in the sixth century (cf. p. 164, ‘the Attic section [of the Eoiai] as a whole is not necessarily any more ancient’).

10 Earlier scholars, trying to identify the sources of the Eoiai, saw what is now fr. 25.13 M–W (μαρνάμενος Κουρῆσι περὶ Πλευρῶνι μακεδνῆι) as a reworking of Homer by reading μαρνάμενος Κουρῆσι ϒυναικὶ δὲ πείθετο κεδνῆι (A. Hunt, P.Oxy. 2075 fr. 1 col. i [1927]; Schwartz, J., Pseudo-Hesiodeia [Leiden, 1960], pp. 321, 404); the true reading was assured by E. Lobel, P.Oxy. 2481 fr. 5 (b) col. ii (1962).

11 On the duals, see Schadewaldt, W., Iliasstudien (Leipzig, 1938), p. 136; Lohmann, D., Die Komposition der Reden in der I lias (Berlin, 1970), pp. 229–31; Thornton, A., Köhnken, A., Glotta 56 (1978), 1–4, 5–14 respectively.

12 On the autobiography and allegory, see Lohmann, D., op. cit. (n. 11), pp. 245–53, 267; Rosner, , art. cit. (n. 3), 315–22; Bannert, , art. cit. (n. 2), 6982; Heubeck, A., Kleine Schriften zur griechischen Sprache und Literatur (Erlangen, 1984), pp. 134f.; Held, G., CQ 37 (1987), 247–53. The parallels between Phoenix's own life, Achilles, and Meleager, are especially strong (a simple example [cf. Lohmann, p. 259] is the unifying function of the routine ἱππηλάτα used of Phoenix at 432, of Meleager's father Oeneus at 581, and of Peleus by Phoenix in loco parentis [438ff.] at 438). On links with Iliad 11, 16, 23, see Lohmann, , esp. pp. 261–71; Bannert, 91–3.

13 Willcock, M., CQ 14 (1964), 149–50, finds a reference to Pleuron ‘without any warrant’; cf. similarly Rosner, , art. cit. (n. 3), 323. For the correct interpretation, see Lohmann, , op. cit. (n.11), pp. 254, 260, 262–3.

14 Griffin, , op. cit. (n. 7, 1980), pp. 95–6.

15 On these two paradigms, see Willcock, , art. cit. (n. 13), 141–2, 144–5.

16 In the Iliad itself we hear of the Χόλος of Paris (6.326ff.), and ‘the continual μῆνις’ of Aeneas (13.460).

17 Kakridis, op. cit. (n. 1), p. 24: ‘the wife, in whom Phoenix has no reason to be interested’ etc.

18 Cf. Petzold, , art. cit. (n. 8), 157.

19 Lohmann, , op. cit. (n. 11), pp. 255–60.

20 Howald, E., RhM 73 (1924), 411. In support of the idea: Schadewaldt, , op. cit. (n. 11), p. 140; Lohmann, , op. cit. (n. 11), p. 260; Bannert, , art. cit. (n. 2), 82; opposed: Kraus, W., WS 63 (1948), 17; Kakridis, , op. cit. (n. 1), pp. 2930; Willcock, , art. cit. (n. 13), 150 n. 4 (Howald alone thought that Patroclus was based on Cleopatra rather than vice versa). For the love of Achilles and Patroclus, see e.g. Aeschines, , in Timarchum 133, 142 (Dover, K., Greek Homosexuality [London, 1978], p. 197, denies unreasonably, I think, an erotic side to their relationship). On the stress given to Cleopatra herself by her family history, see Bannert, , art. cit. (n. 2), 83–7.

21 Willcock, , art. cit. (n. 13), 153; ‘clear signs of being a paradeigma invented to fit the Iliad story’.

22 As described by Kirk, G. S., The Songs of Homer (Cambridge, 1962), pp. 164–9.

23 Willcock, , art. cit. (n. 13), 149.

24 The close association of Atalanta with Meleager was doubtless established firmly by Euripides' lost Meleager, which spanned the time from the preparations for the hunt to Meleager's death; see Webster, T., The Tragedies of Euripides (London, 1967), pp. 233–6. In art, interest in Atalanta, Meleager, and the boar's hide is not shown until the later fourth century B.C.(Boardman, J., in LIMC II. 1, 942 no. 27ff.). However, her earliest appearances from ca. 580 B.C. are in a series of black-figure vases portraying the hunt (id., 940 no. Iff., 948f.; she is present with Meleager in nos. 2 and 11), and it is not unreasonable to suggest that her part in the origin of the war was known in Homer's time.

25 Although Pausanias (10.31.3) distinguishes between the Erinys in Homer and Apollo in the Eoiai and theMinyas as the cause of Meleager's death, in Homer himself the rôle of the Erinys is unclear and Homer does not contradict the version in which Apollo brings about the hero's death.

26 Cf. Willcock, , art. cit. (n. 13), 153(‘The mother's curse may have existed in a previous epic version, but we have no evidence’). In the situation evisaged by Homer Meleager has so far killed only one of Althaea's brothers before the curse; Apollodorus says he had killed τινας before and killed τοὺς λοιπούς when he returned to action (1.8.3).

27 For the parallelism, see Heubeck, , op. cit. (n. 12), p. 135; Bannert, , art. cit. (n. 2), 78f.

28 Un-Homeric–cf. Page, D. L., History and the Homeric Iliad (Berkeley, 1959), pp. 297, 310ff.; Kirk, , op. cit. (n. 22), pp. 217f.

* I should like to acknowledge the valuable introduction to the problem of Meleager given to me by C. J. Cressey.


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