BMCR 1997.02.10

1997.2.10, Muellner, Anger of Achilles

, The anger of Achilles : mēnis in Greek epic. Myth and poetics. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1996. ix, 219 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9780801432309. $39.95.

In a collection of essays entitled Apollon sonore (1982), published towards the end of his life, Georges Dumézil—a key figure for Muellner’s approach—recommended that scholars re-read the Iliad once a year “sans poser de questions” (p. 73). It is a conspicuous sign of the times that, within the space of a single year now, two books on Homer have appeared with the title “Homeric Questions.” And in this process, the longstanding issue known as “The Homeric Question” has been re-formed into a plural as questions multiply. This conjunction is just one index of a highly active period in Homeric scholarship which has produced a remarkable exercise of critical intelligence. It is, however, a necessary part of that exercise to pause occasionally to question the question(s). For each question has its own trail of often unquestioned presuppositions, and, as we know, the formulation of the question plays a determining role in shaping the scope and character of possible answers. One might consider, for example, some of the implications of a statement made ten years ago: “I hope that the problem of the precise meaning and lexical relationships of ‘the first word of European literature,’ the theme-word of the Iliad, may now be considered solved” (Considine, 1986, p. 59). The mighty resonance of that powerful opening word of the Iliad, menis, becomes muted in its treatment by the philologist as a problem to be solved. To be sure, there is a philological quest for etymology which may be (more or less) satisfied. But the “lexical relationships” (which might include the poetic possibilities and profound implications for meaning) in the opening word of the epic significantly resist the limitations of the paradigm which consists of problem and solution. The long history of valuable contributions to the study of the word menis prior to 1986 renders Considine’s claim to a definitive solution rather precarious, as does the flow of contributions since that confident declaration.

If the possibilities of significance evoked by menis are, without exaggeration, immense, so too is the history of studies of that word. Even if we commence from only relatively recent publications, we are working in a field which stretches back almost exactly a century to the landmark of Antoine Meillet’s consideration of the root *men- in 1897, which is not to overlook the preceding work of Babad (1874), nor indeed, Schmidt’s valuable study in Synonymik der griechischen Sprache in 1879 (see pp. 551-72). In the intervening period one should recognize at least the significant contributions of Schwyzer (1931), Frisk (1946) and Irmscher (1950). And this is without returning to a considered examination of ancient interpretations of the word, in particular, the ancient literary readings of the significance of menis as articulated in, for example, what Fraenkel (vol. 2, p. 93) described as the “monumental” sentence of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon or the noteworthy echo in Vergil’s Aeneid I.4. The point is not to argue that the task is overwhelming, but that, like the word itself, these studies of menis are all highly suggestive and form part of a rich tradition available to today’s scholar. They do not constitute a map of erratic shots at a target sighted truly only today or ten years ago, efforts displaced and rendered obsolete by each new discovery of the truth of menis. Even where one might disagree with, for example, the ancient association of menis with the verb menis, significant aspects of menis are often reflected in what may appear to be random fragments of linguistic relations gathered and held up at one time or another across the course of scholarship. That menis is generally something which endures (“der anhaltende, im tiefsten sitzende ‘Groll’,” Schwyzer, p. 13), that the first word of the poem evokes a sense of epic duration from the very opening, is just one notable facet of this highly striking choice of a word and theme for Homer’s Iliad.

Another particularly significant aspect of menis, and one easily overlooked, has been preserved in the tradition of scholarship to which I have just referred. Schmidt’s early definition of the specific meaning of menis was “den andauernden Zorn den man aus einer gerechten Ursache gegen jemanden hat oder aus einer solchen Ursache die einem selbst als eine gerechte erscheint” (p. 565). This aspect of menis has been reinforced by Frisk, for example: menis is aroused by “der Kränkung von Recht und Sitte” (p. 30), and has the “Grundbedeutung eines gerechten, ethischen Zornes” (p. 31). Chantraine condenses these observations in his summation of menis as “colere durable, justifiee par un desir de vengeance legitime” (p. 696). This is particularly important for a reading of book 1 of the Iliad, reminding us that while “wrath, anger, rage” is destructive and often judged negatively, there is also a just sense of rage, a sense of righteous indignation in response to outrage.

Patrick Considine’s work on the term menis and the subject of “wrath, anger,” which spans some twenty years (in publications from 1966 to 1986), is, even if often tacitly, a focus for Muellner’s discussion. It is significant, therefore, that Considine takes issue with precisely this possibility of an ethical sense for menis. Accounts like that of Frisk—”Sie ist durch das ihm zugefügte Unrecht hervorgerufen. So erhaelt sie eine höhere, ethische Begruendung” (p. 31)—are deemed to be “entirely mistaken” (Considine, 1986, p. 57): “The Iliad does not begin with an infringement of a moral code: it begins with passions which lie far deeper than moral rules and are beyond the scope of reason, with forces operating in human life which seem to be beyond human control…. Morals have nothing to do with it” (pp. 57-58). Considine makes the curious claim that the suggestion that the anger of Achilles has an ethical basis trivializes the central theme of the Iliad (p. 56; for the means by which the term “trivial” is justified cf. pp. 61-2, n. 15; “in the context of the artist’s understanding and portrayal of human life ethical questions, unless presented dynamically in moral struggle and conflict, are technical and to that extent trivial”).

As the comment on morals quoted above underlines, Considine works with a rigid disjunction between “passion” and “reason,” even where the epic vocabulary for “thought” and “emotion” often confounds such rigid segregation. It would appear that his approach to menis owes much to Otto’s work The Idea of the Holy, and in view of the direction in which Considine’s argument proceeds, attention might be given to Otto’s subtitle: An inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the divine and its relation to the rational. In Otto’s account, the “Wrath of God” produces the mysterium tremendum: the essential element of the mysterious is not to be reduced by ethical, “rational” interpretations. “This ‘Wrath’ has no concern whatever with moral qualities” (p. 18). The numinous dread or awe that it evokes dissipates as soon as reason begins to intervene: “The rationalization process takes place when it begins to be filled in with elements derived from the moral reason: righteousness in requital, and punishment for moral transgression” (p. 19).

Another contribution within the history of such study that is particularly important for Muellner’s approach is a 1977 article on menis by Calvert Watkins. The nature of the distribution of the word menis throughout the epic has for some time evoked a number of suggestions. The most generally accepted explanation has been that the term is specifically associated with the divine and that its use has been extended to the anger of Achilles as a means of enhancing the theme of the epic. With regard to distribution, it is notable that the word menis is used with a certain reserve in the Iliad, arguably the better to retain its power. But this relative reticence or “restriction” has been interpreted by Watkins as a taboo. Reticence becomes a sign of unspoken prohibition. “μῆνις is not just a dangerous notion; it is a dangerous word” (p. 695, Watkins’s italics). The often unspoken becomes the unspeakable: “in Homeric Greek one may not speak of his own μῆνις … the word itself is tabu” (p. 695, Watkins’s italics). With this argument, Watkins sought to retrieve Schwyzer’s suggested etymology from the root *mna-: *mna-nis became manis, Attic-Ionic menis. Watkins explains the dissimilation and otherwise “unparalleled” loss of the nasal consonant as a taboo “deformation” (p. 713). However, the notion of verbal taboo does not sit easily with the ethos of the Iliad, and its forthright hero Achilles is precisely the one to shatter this fragile philological construct when he articulates his wrath in book 9. After an initial declaration that he will speak out ἀπηλεγέως (309, “without caring for anything, forthrightly, bluntly”), Achilles gives full vent to his menis in rejecting the embassy’s offer. Confronting its metis (423) with his menis, Achilles forcefully concludes with the intensive and emphatic compound, ἐμεῦ ἀπομηνίσαντος (426; cf. 19.62). It needs to be reasserted that the substantive menis belongs to a system of relations, a Saussurean principle that Watkins generally subscribes to but in this instance conspicuously abandons: “the substantive menis is a formula in itself and for itself” (p. 690). For Muellner, who first unequivocally defended Watkins’s views (“le mot μῆνις etait sans aucun doute un mot tabou,” Muellner, 1992, p. 132) after they had been contested by Turpin (1988) among others, Menis was also “independante et presque hypostatique” (Muellner, 1992, p. 126), if not “un object divin par elle-meme” (p. 125). There has been a tendency in recent studies of the word for the substantive form menis to become not only taboo but also to approach being something of a fetish.

In his new work, The Anger of Achilles: Menis in Greek Epic, Muellner reconsiders his earlier published views in the context of a thorough treatment of the subject of menis and its significance both within the Iliad and in relation to Hesiod. Here Muellner retreats considerably from the assertion that menis is a taboo term, while retaining the (relocated) concept of taboo as a central part of his argument. While Considine (1966) had proposed that menis is not pre-eminently a term for divine wrath, but a solemn epic term for any wrath, divine or human” (p. 21, Considine’s italics), the conclusion of Muellner’s treatment thirty years later is that “[Menis] is not a word for ‘solemn anger’ but the sacred name of the ultimate sanction against tabu behavior” (p. 194). In this revision the “taboo word” becomes the name of “the ultimate sanction against tabu behavior.” It might also be noted that Muellner extends the sphere of menis, such that “wrath, anger” reaches to include successful execution of action: menis is “not separate from the actions it entails” (p. 8). A powerful and effective sanction, menis keeps the world in order; in its outbreak of disorder, it nevertheless “keeps the cosmic categories intact” (p. 14). In this relation, Muellner draws upon the interesting work of Malamoud (1989, particularly chapter 8, “Un dieu vedique: le Courroux”). Within the realm of cosmic order, Muellner does not discuss the concept of nemesis (nor indeed moira), although Muellner’s construction of his concept of menis invites comparison and the distribution of forms merits examination. (On the relevance of nemesis see, e.g., Irmscher, p. 23). He does offer an interpretation of the distribution and associations of menis itself in the epic, offering a conclusion framed as definitive: “I would propose the following rule about the distribution of the word menis, to supplant the older view that only gods and Achilles have menis”: “only gods and heroes have menis” (p. 127, n. 69). Such formulation of “rules” is a recurring feature of the whole treatment of the subject; these formulations, while aiming at precision, often strike the reader as rather precious, given that the refinements applied to received ideas appear somewhat slight. At the same time, Muellner handles well the superficial objection sometimes raised concerning the elevated status of bearers of menis that, in the Odyssey, menis is associated with a “beggar.” The menis of the xenos-Odysseus (book 17) is a fully justifiable possibility: “Nor is the lowly status of a beggar incompatible with an offense worthy of menis” (p. 39).

Muellner distinguishes his approach to menis from all others, in a long chain of studies of both the word and the epic, specifically in terms of the importance of the concept of sequence in his analysis. With an emphasis on the oral character of the poem, this becomes “sequence in performance,” and I shall return later to the dynamics of this relation between sequence, sequel, and the oral. But what many readers with at least some awareness of theoretical developments over the last thirty years will surely find puzzling are the assertions made by Muellner in support of this claim for originality and the context within which he initiates what he considers to be a significant methodological departure from previous approaches. In maintaining that “Sequence in performance is not the usual approach to such a subject” (p. 53), Muellner objects to the approach of Lévi-Strauss in its “repudiation of the cognitive value of the sequential (or syntagmatic) dimension of mythical narrative” (p. 53). The effective critique of this approach in the voluminous structuralist and post-structuralist treatments of language and narrative deprives Muellner’s belated criticism of Lévi-Strauss of its force. Within this highly developed sphere, theorists have long since rejected the monolithic approach and have accepted that Jakobson’s two types of relations (syntagmatic/paradigmatic; metonymic/metaphorical) are not independent but closely interrelated, such that it is an extremely reductive simplification to attempt to separate them as independent and to subordinate one to the other. Muellner, however, is content simply to reverse the hierarchy which he found in Lévi-Strauss: if the paradigmatic axis has been privileged, he will privilege the syntagmatic. The rigid binary opposition itself is left untouched. This bewildering exclusion of a huge volume of work is renewed in Muellner’s claims for innovation. In writing of the order of events in narrative he states, “Yet the rules for such sequences have been a nonsubject, as though they were inaccessible to analysis, trivial, or self-evident” (p. 53). Even if we were to disregard decades of work, including, for example, Bremond’s Logique du recit (1973), there has been, within the field of Homeric studies itself, close and scrupulous consideration of the processes of structuring and sequencing which constitute the sophisticated narrative achievement of the Iliad.

However, to approach the work on its own terms, what exactly are the implications of this concept of sequence within Muellner’s analysis? Firstly, it operates in two domains, within the particular work and beyond it, this additional second realm undoing the very limits that Muellner sees it as reinforcing. Thus there is sequence within a narrative which results in a complete whole at the end; and there is sequence in the relations between two different works or wholes, Hesiod’s Theogony and Homer’s Iliad. To the sequence which ends by perfectly fulfilling a desired whole, there is a sequel, with all the consequences that such an “addition” brings with it for the former whole. Secondly, the sequence is determinedly “linear” and “teleological.” Muellner’s analysis works to identify a necessary and strict sequence as the only possible sequence that can be followed in what is regarded as a rigidly goal-directed and functionally organized social exercise. Muellner’s account must, therefore, struggle with (or disregard), for example, the digressive, the discontinuous, the reversible, and the alternative, among possibilities constantly suggested by both the Theogony and the Iliad. Many will pause to question Muellner’s account of “the goal-driven progress of the Iliad” (p. 143).

Traditionally, Muellner’s dominant term metonymy is defined as the figure which substitutes a part for a whole. This conventional aspect of metonymy, pars pro toto, continues to underlie Muellner’s otherwise distinctively Jakobsonian employment of the term. Stated quite simply, for Muellner, the goal is the whole, and this can be attained only at the end, when the whole is achieved in one final act of absorption of all the preceding parts, so that nothing remains but the whole. “I am calling metonymic an incorporating relation between elements over time” (p. 55). “With a kind of perfect economy, each element generated in one episode of the myth is preserved, assumed and subsumed in the next episode … such that the last episode, logically if not explicitly, incorporates the whole sequence” (p. 54; this articulation raises the whole question of the philosophical paradox of the status of the set of sets). The sequence is construed as one of continuous, progressive improvement; we mount upwards, rolling up with each step the preceding rung of the ladder as we ascend. (Something quite different from what Wittgenstein was proposing when he advised throwing away the ladder after reaching one’s goal.)

But, as in a number of “theoretical innovations” produced recently, we find filtered through many varied accounts distant echoes of (often unread) philosophy. Muellner’s “metonymic rule” recalls, in a number of different ways, the trajectory of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. At the end of that work we are to achieve “das absolute Wissen,” the totality of an absolute knowledge attained only in a philosophical consummation. At the end of Muellner’s analysis we acquire perfect knowledge and intelligence—Metis, πλεῖστα θεῶν εἰδυῖαν ἰδὲ θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων (Hesiod, Theog. 887), now defined by Muellner, following Vernant and Detienne, as “cunning intelligence.” Muellner’s concept of a “perfect economy,” in which each element generated in one episode of the myth is preserved, assumed and subsumed in the next episode” distinctly recalls the Hegelian Aufhebung (from the verb, difficult to translate, aufheben, but which may be rendered “to surpass while maintaining”). It has been said that in the Phenomenology each step along the way is “lifted up and interiorized,” negated and conserved, in the next step. Incorporation is a form of appropriating mastery. Thus the Aufhebung leaves nothing behind; as with Muellner’s metonymy, we are dealing with the desire for a “perfect economy” which insistently denies any possibility of loss and disallows the possibility of anything that cannot be enveloped by the mastering whole. One of Muellner’s metaphors for the metonymic principle is that of a highly efficient train whose capacity to absorb is by design inexhaustible: “Myth is like a train that stops only to take on passengers and never leaves any off. It cannot go backward” (p. 78). No one misses this train which hurtles us towards a single, determined destination: this train is ultimately nothing other than a metaphor for a Durkheimian conception of society.

Both Hegel’s and Muellner’s discourses are explicitly concerned with mastery. Muellner’s is particularly vivid in its concept of the hierarchical processes by which this is to be achieved: in discussing the Theogony he observes that “Competition and exchange are its structuring principles, and they crystallize its metonymic logic. Each move is meant to top the next one, which it also includes and betters” (p. 87). At the summit is sovereignty of the world/mastery of the text. “The metonymic rule” is a rule in more than one sense. More than a regulating principle, it is “rule” in the sense of a state of dominion. “Assumed,” “subsumed,” elements of narrative are ultimately “metonymically consumed” (p. 129, n. 74, endorsing Martin), “swallowed whole” by what follows, until consumption leads to consummation. By this somewhat voracious process of (oral) incorporation, power and sovereignty are secured—although never with complete, guaranteed security. Those in power must always be on the look-out for the engulfing hunger of the larger. On the other hand, and somewhat ironically, the consumed Metis serves to secure sovereignty. Consumed Metis is consummate power—completely interiorized and idealized. This rather abstract analysis should be concluded by stating that many of Muellner’s concepts at work here are imaginatively derived from a highly stimulating reading of Hesiod’s Theogony, the subject in the book for which he shows real zest, and where he succeeds in combining intelligent exegesis, a sense of humour and trenchant criticism of the dissenting views of others. While the analysis owes much to the work of Vernant and Detienne in Cunning Intelligence (particularly part II, “The conquest of power,” pp. 55-130), its own stratagems produce a tour de force, and one would recommend reading this part of the book for its own sake, quite independently of the rest of the work.

This lengthy chapter on Hesiod also tends to stand apart from the rest of the book in other respects. Entitled “The narrative sequence of the Hesiodic Theogony,” the chapter itself produces questions that relate specifically to the meaning or significance of sequence—this time the sequence of Muellner’s book. In the prolonged treatment of the Theogony and methodological principles, metonymy and metis dominate utterly: menis is occluded and disappears from sight. In a text of 194 pages we only begin to approach the first word of the Iliad and the impressive opening of the epic at page 96. And while one appreciates fully that a treatment of menis requires a great deal of preparatory work and exploration, the discursive nature of this structure is questionable. Even readers entertained by the handling of metonymy and metis in Hesiod will be a little disconcerted by Muellner’s admission when he returns to the Iliad that “the word menis is completely absent from the Theogony” (p. 94). Not that Muellner is at all perturbed by this radical discontinuity. He has already prepared for it with the formulation of an improbable principle which he terms “metonymic nominalism” “the principle that a concept is namable upon its recurrence as against its first instance” (p. 71). Again this formulation of a rule or principle seems to be partly informed by the notion of taboo, producing, as it were, a quasi-taboo: a theme is not to be mentioned in its first instance but only on, and after, its second occurrence. Muellner has already had difficulty with metis in the Theogony:“especially worth noting” is that metis at 471 “is the first instance of the common noun metis in the Theogony, a term of capital importance in the poem” (p. 71). Metis has already been named at Theogony 358, but Muellner dismisses the difficulty for his principle of “metonymic nominalism” by distinguishing between proper name and common noun; elsewhere the same principle is invoked in the terms “the second occurrence of a discrete concept … is the one that evokes its proper name” (p. 80; the “proper” name is a term of shifting meaning). Although Muellner repeatedly cites this principle of “the postponement of the proper term for the central theme of the mythical text until after the theme itself has been deployed in narrative” (p. 94), there remains one major stumbling block: menis is the first word of the Iliad.

That highly significant opening to the Iliad is taken by Muellner, not to refute his thesis, but rather to support it. The Theogony must precede the Iliad, and, to argue for this precedence, Muellner provides the notion of “sequence in performance” (p. 52), a relation between the two epics “which may or may not have been actualized in performance” (p. 52, n. 3). The notion which is emphatically stated to be “key” is as fragile as that postulation “may or may not have been.” The Theogony is seen as an “overdeveloped prooemion” to an “an outsized epic,” the Iliad, which is a “sequel” in this hyperbolic concept of a single, continuous performance. And if the virtual performance sequence is not persuasive, Muellner seeks to support it with an argument from content: the Theogony, with its history of the birth of the cosmos, precedes the Iliad‘s tale of the wrath of Achilles. It not only precedes it chronologically in this way, but also provides the “prerequisites” (p. 133) for the Iliad‘s menis theme. Thus, “at the end of the Theogony and not before then, a world order exists for Zeus to preside over and defend with the ultimate sanction, menis” (p. 94). Until the Theogony was composed the Iliad lacked the fundamental prerequisites of foundation and world order.

There are larger issues for Homeric studies at play in this entire conception of sequence. “Sequence” in this approach is derived directly and strictly from a particular cultural practice. In this specific context there is a set sequence and a set goal. It might be seen as rigidly linear and teleological. And within some areas of Homeric studies at least, poetry is now becoming fixedly conceived as ritual, governed by the notion endorsed by Muellner: “in proper ritual sequence” (p. 173, n. 81). The series editor introduces Muellner’s work with the comment: “The fulfilment of the word’s meaning is the teleology of the story. To understand the meaning of the Iliad, Muellner argues, is to follow the sequence of the narration, starting with the word menis; getting the meaning right is getting the sequence right” (Nagy, p. vii). As Mary Douglas (1970) defines it, “Ritualism is taken to be a concern that efficacious symbols be correctly manipulated and that the right words be pronounced in the right order” ( Natural Symbols, p. 9). Elsewhere she also observes that “if the least detail gets into the wrong order, the whole thing is invalid” ( Purity and Danger, 1966, p. 175). If, as it is argued, meaning is “ultimately determined by the rules of performance” (Nagy, Foreword, p. vii), the oral itself now turns into ritual; in this assimilation, the oralist formulates the rules and in so doing tends to revert to that dominatingly prescriptive and normative approach that many readers have long found difficult to accept. Unquestionably, ritual is important for the Homeric epic, and much of the style of the poem may be seen as reminiscent of ritual. But the Iliad operates in the significant margin of difference that does exist between epic and rite. Moreover, the Homeric sense of ritual is something very different from that of Brahmanic ritualism. (Even Dumézil (1943) distinguished Vedic from Roman conceptions here.) For Muellner, the teleology of the Iliad is essentially that maintained by the “functionalist” approach in anthropology; the goal of ritual is ultimately social solidarity. One can observe how this central principle of integration, incorporation and the unity of the whole guides Muellner’s analysis at the textual level as well as on the social plane. In a number of different ways, Muellner’s work reminds us of the extent to which this has been a Durkheimian century. And if Durkheim’s insistence on the idealized unity of the social community has been shown to stand in need of some revision, it is also certain that the Iliad itself calls for a somewhat more refined and subtle analysis. The point on social solidarity is an important and fundamental one, but in making it, one might also consider some of the complexities of a text that constructs its own profundities. The critical reader might like to say a lot more in relation to a number of Muellner’s general pronouncements of this principle, such as the following, which appears in his discussion of kedea: “The basic point is simple: in the Homeric world, no one grieves alone” (p. 164). One has only to reread the first twenty-five lines of the final book of the Iliad to recognize its intense depiction of the solitary grief of Achilles. It is true that the final book leads to the sensitive sharing of their separate griefs on the part of Achilles and Priam. Yet while they share the meal, it also in this context that Achilles signals a highly significant aspect of grief in the brooding figure of the bereaved mother, Niobe, who inhabits the solitary mountains, far from society, in her unceasing sorrow. In their mourning, each participant recognizes and respects the singularity and otherness of another human’s grief. Even as the poem reaches towards a far wider sense of community, the delicate relations constructed between Achilles and Priam are also pervaded by a certain sense of solitude and distance from the surrounding community as the scene unfolds in the private shelter of Achilles. The Iliad is able to comfort and uplift us with its sense of the shared nature of grief, but at the same time it remains penetratingly true to the insight that even in the midst of community one can feel beleaguered, isolated, alone in one’s grief. Perhaps something of the tensions of these combined aspects can be glimpsed in the final articulated lament over the corpse of Hektor. Helen’s lament gives voice to her sense of utter isolation within a community where πάντες δέ με πεφρίκασιν (24,775): ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δ’ ἔστενε δῆμος ἀπείρων (776).

Much of the discussion of menis has long been concerned with the distribution of the word throughout the text. But the larger issues relating to the concept of distribution, or dasmos, are also raised by Muellner. The contextual analyses of menis commence with book 15 of the Iliad. An important work from the beginning of the century also began with a treatment of the cosmic implications of dasmos and book 15: F. M. Cornford’s From Religion to Philosophy. It is interesting to compare and reflect upon the century’s work from this perspective. For we are in danger of losing sight of the history of our endeavours if, like Muellner, we pass over this in silence. The work of Cornford, one of the “Cambridge ritualists,” who brought into the discipline of Classics the approach of Durkheim, stands in an interesting relation to a book today which, in its own way, gives prominence to ritual and remains true to a number of Durkheimian conclusions. The long and rich stream of contributions based on Durkheim has, in general, been most valuable, and many of the complex questions involved call for yet further exploration. It is noteworthy, for example, that Cornford gives particular consideration to an important factor in the cosmos which barely enters into Muellner’s treatment: Moira and its intricate relation to the concept of distribution. In deference to dasmos, and the proper distribution of shares and honours, we should not fail to recognize the history of work throughout the century that has contributed significantly to our understanding of such important concepts. Apart from Cornford’s work, which was to be taken up by Vernant (1965) and handled masterfully in his sustained reading of Hesiod (see particularly Detienne and Vernant, 1989), one might include, for example, Palmer, Thomson and Borecki among a number of scholars to whom we are gratefully indebted for our understanding of the significant implications of the processes of dividing and distributing.

That being said, we should also give Muellner his due. Where Calvert Watkins has stated that “there is always occasion to reexamine the first word, the key word and the key theme of the most beautiful work of literature ever produced” (p. 687), Muellner has provided us with a most valuable reconsideration. It is not simply a matter of welcoming a new book that gives thorough treatment to a subject that will always prove rewarding, since the reverberations of menis penetrate far and deep throughout the Iliad. Muellner has also demonstrated a level of sophistication in his treatment of menis that should be appreciated. A tangible measure of that achievement can be gained quite simply by returning from Muellner’s work to the recent Kirk commentary on the Iliad and rereading the comments there on Iliad I.1. Muellner may well be thought to be overstating the case when he declares that disagreements among scholars regarding the meaning of menis indicate a “crisis in methodology” (p. 3), but he is right to criticize and reject a mode of thinking expressed in Beck’s concluding comment on menis in the Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos:“Finally, could any other anger word … have been used to begin the poem?” A rhetorical question, in this time of Homeric questions, it recapitulates a longstanding heritage of oral theory. Muellner rejects this question from consideration, assessing the line of argument as “a counsel of despair” (p. 3, n. 6).

There still remains much to be pondered and said on the significance of menis. With the impact of that highly charged word, with its dramatic unleashing of ardour and power, the epic strikes fire at once from the flint of its opening note. From rage and clangour the epic will form its composition of song, working with and against the formidable force to which it is juxtaposed at the outset, μῆνιν ἄειδε—a pitch of emotion which the power of song might match, give voice to and gradually tame. In the outbreak of wrath, the protest against conditions of existence, the Iliad will also gradually lend profound meaning and significance to a world in which there is outrage, injustice, bitter suffering, unavoidable death, and inextinguishable grief.

Again, this is only one part of the immense significance of menis. The processes of menis are closely interrelated with the poetic processes of the epic itself. Menis is intense passion, but it is also a process of memory, thought and brooding. Schwyzer helped to remind us of the role of memory in menis, citing Aeschylus’s μνάμων μῆνις ( Agamemnon 155) and Herodotus’s tale of Darius’s outrage: “He commanded one of his servants to repeat to him, three times, whenever he sat down to dinner, the words, ‘Master, remember the Athenians'”—μέμνεο τῶν ἀθηναίων (5.105). The interrelation between anger and memory could also be illustrated from the work Muellner examines, Hesiod’s Theogony, where, for example, Zeus’s anger at the apportioning of the sacrifice is sustained: ἐκ τούτου δἤπειτα χόλου μεμνημένος αἰεί (562). But more pertinently it is within the Iliad itself that wrath and memory interact with undeniable power. Although Achilles agrees in his heart with much that Ajax has spoken to him, memory and anger, anger aroused by memory, intervene (9.646-48):

ἀλλά μοι οἰδάνεται κραδίη χόλῳ ὁππότε κείνων
μνήσομαι, ὥς μ’ ἀσύφηλον ἐν ἀργείοισιν ἔρεξεν
ἀτρείδης, ὥς εἴ τιν’ ἀτίμον μετανάστην

With a subtle modulation of the role of memory, Achilles declares in book 19 that the rage and strife will long be remembered, well after they have passed (61-64). The opening of the final book of the epic offers a profound portrayal of remembering, holding in mind (μεμνημένος, 4; μιμνησκόμενος, 9), and the rage (μενεαίνων, 22, cf. 54) that issues from this. Menis, the memorable first word of the Iliad, therefore, itself evokes the wide epic domain of memory.

In the Homeric conception, memory is a keeping in mind and giving thought to. Menis is not simply blind rage, but includes an important dimension of mindfulness. As Meillet defined it, the root *men- from which scholars are agreed menis derives, signifies “mente agitare, cogitare” “mentionem facere, cogitationem apud aliquem excitare” (pp. 9-10). The mind is aroused (“mentem moveri,” p. 10). And in its opening word the Iliad does exactly that: it not only sets the great epic in motion; it rouses the mind to give thought to, to meditate and ponder upon the word and theme of menis. Hence Curtius was right to locate in “the wrathful” an element of “remaining sunk in thought” (p. 376). But more than that, the Iliad, from its first word, arouses and summons its audience to turn the mind towards and to be attentive to the epic’s thought-provoking song. And it is in that sustained mood of thoughtfulness that menis calls still yet for further reflection.

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