The Metrics of Sex: Iliad 20.223-225

τάων καὶ Βορέης ἠράσσατο βοσκομενάων,
ἵππῳ δ’ εἰσάμενος παρελέξατο κυανοχαίτῃ·
αἳ δ’ ὑποκυσάμεναι ἔτεκον δυοκαίδεκα πώλους.

Aeneas, in the course (Iliad 20.200-258) of relating his genealogy to Achilles on the battle field, mentions in passing his ancestor Erichtonios (the father or Tros [230]) and his vast herds of horses – for which Boreas conceived a great passion. (223-225).

I wanted to take a few minutes to investigate these three lines in some detail.

It has long been recognized

————————————————————————

BOLDT H.  1884.  De liberiore linguae Graecae et Latinae collocatione verborum.  (Dissertation:  Göttingen).  Pages 82-83.

STEVENS E.B.  1953.  ‘Uses of hyperbaton in Latin poetry.’  CW 46:200-5.  Pages 203-204.

CONRAD C.  1965.  ‘Word order in Latin epic from Ennius to Virgil.’  HSCPh 69: 194-258. Pages 252-3.

NISBET R.G.M.  1999.  “Word Order in Horace’s Odes,” in Aspects of the Language of Latin Poetry.  J.N. Adams & R.G. Mayer [editors].  Proceedings of the British Academy 93.  (Oxford University Press): 135-154.  Page 146.

————————————————————————

that both Greek and Latin poets sometimes will locate a word (or phrase) in one line at a given metrical sedes – or ‘seat’, slot — and then in the same sedes in a subsequent line (which may be immediately subsequent or within a few lines) place another word that is somehow (usually by syntax or semantics) related to the first.  Nisbet (above) calls it ‘vertical responsion’, and I’ve also seen it referred to as ‘stacking’ (I’m not sure who first used that term, but I think I saw it used by Donald Lateiner in an article on the phenomenon in Latin poetry).

Just a few examples from Homer alone will suggest how common this feature is even at the very beginning of Greek literature.

Iliad 5.49/51
— –|
υἱὸν δὲ Στροφίοιο Σκαμάνδριον αἵμονα θήρης
᾿Ατρεΐδης Μενέλαος ἕλ’ ἔγχεϊ ὀξυόεντι
ἐσθλὸν θηρητῆρα· δίδαξε γὰρ ῎Αρτεμις αὐτὴ
—      –|

Iliad 7.472-477
ἔνθεν οἰνίζοντο κάρη κομόωντες ᾿Αχαιοί,
 ἄλλοι μὲν χαλκῷ, ἄλλοι δ’ αἴθωνι σιδήρῳ,
ἄλλοι δὲ ῥινοῖς, ἄλλοι δ’ αὐτῇσι βόεσσιν,
ἄλλοι δ’ ἀνδραπόδεσσι· τίθεντο δὲ δαῖτα θάλειαν.
παννύχιοι μὲν ἔπειτα κάρη κομόωντες ᾿Αχαιοὶ
δαίνυντο, Τρῶες δὲ κατὰ πτόλιν ἠδ’ ἐπίκουροι
ἔνθεν οἰνίζοντο κάρη κομόωντες ᾿Αχαιοί,
 ἄλλοι μὲν χαλκῷ, ἄλλοι δ’ αἴθωνι σιδήρῳ,
—    — | —     –|   —   — | —

—    — | —   –| —    — |  —
 ἄλλοι δὲ ῥινοῖς, ἄλλοι δ’ αὐτῇσι βόεσσιν,
 ἄλλοι δ’ ἀνδραπόδεσσι· τίθεντο δὲ δαῖτα θάλειαν.
παννύχιοι μὲν ἔπειτα κάρη κομόωντες ᾿Αχαιοὶ
—     ◡ ◡|–

—  — | —
δαίνυντο, Τρῶες δὲ κατὰ πτόλιν ἠδ’ ἐπίκουροι

Iliad 14.443-5
Σάτνιον οὔτασε δουρὶ μετάλμενος ὀξυόεντι
᾿Ηνοπίδην, ὃν ἄρα νύμφη τέκε νηῒς ἀμύμων
῎Ηνοπι βουκολέοντι παρ’ ὄχθας Σατνιόεντος.
Iliad 24.352-3
τὸν δ’ ἐξ ἀγχιμόλοιο ἰδὼν ἐφράσσατο κῆρυξ
῾Ερμείαν, ποτὶ δὲ Πρίαμον φάτο φώνησέν τε·
(cf. 24.500-1)
Odyssey 4.500-501
 Γυρῇσίν μιν πρῶτα Ποσειδάων ἐπέλασσε
πέτρῃσιν μεγάλῃσι καὶ ἐξεσάωσε θαλάσσης
And so forth.

Now, a question presents itself to me:  is this metrical phenomenon a stylistic feature that functions as nothing more than a mere aesthetic tic as it were, or as some kind of rhetorical ostentation?  Or is there a deeper import here, perhaps some form of ludic iconicity (cf. my related comments on Catullus)

————————————————————————

Holtsmark, E.B. (1987): A Note on Logotactic Iconicity (Catullus 1 and 47), LCM 12, 130-132.

————————————————————————

at work?  Certainly Iliad 7.472-477 (above) is remarkable enough to wave attention to itself; and although such impressions are bound to be highly subjective, it strikes me that the piled on and quintupled use of ἄλλοι (with five parallel ‘datives of price’) might well be meant to suggest something of the frantic clamor for wine at the night-long bash that is just getting under way.

In the passage under discussion (Iliad 20.223-225) Boreas gets an itch for the mares of Erichthonios and, as such characters will (cf. Ovid Metamorphoses 6.706-7), disguises himself in order to satisfy his lust.  Here, appropriate to the occasion, he elects to turn himself into a stallion.  Keeping this business of ‘stacking’ or ‘vertical responsion’ in mind, now look once more at 20.223-225:

τάων καὶ Βορέης ἠράσσατο βοσκομενάων,
ἵππῳ δ’ εἰσάμενος παρελέξατο κυανοχαίτῃ·
αἳ δ’ ὑποκυσάμεναι ἔτεκον δυοκαίδεκα πώλους.

How do the three words Βορέης, εἰσάμενος, and ὑποκυσάμεναι sit metrically in their respective lines?  And what about ἠράσσατο, παρελέξατο, and ἔτεκον?

— — | —    ◡   ◡|–  –| —     ◡ ◡ |  —   ◡ ◡| — —
τάων καὶ Βορέης ἠράσσατο βοσκομενάων,

—    — |    —  ◡  ◡ | —     ◡ ◡ | —  ◡ ◡| — ◡ ◡| — —
ἵππῳ δ’ εἰσάμενος παρελέξατο κυανοχαίτῃ·

—    ◡ ◡ | —  ◡  ◡ | — ◡ ◡ | —  ◡ ◡ | — ◡ ◡|   —    —
αἳ δ’ ὑποκυσάμεναι ἔτεκον δυοκαίδεκα πώλους.
There is an undeniable ‘vertical responsion’ here, both at the level of subjects and verbs (a similar if not quite as striking a passage appears at Iliad 6.20-28 [note especially 25-26], which also shares the typology of the Anthemion passage [4.473-489];  cf., too, Odyssey 11.253-4).  The verbs, indeed, constitute a rather abrupt telescoping of sexual lust and its aftermath:  Boreas loved and lay, they bore.  His (καὶ Βορέης) disguising himself (εἰσάμενος) is coupled metrically quite intimately to their conceiving (-κυσάμεναι), and the disguise (εἰσάμενος) and conception (-κυσάμεναι) are tightly connected also through the metrical, morphological and phonic equality of the participial formants (‑σάμενος / ‑σάμεναι).

I think this is, iconically speaking, rather brilliant – a literally graphic picture of sex painted by the inextricable interaction between lexicon and meter.  And, finally, the pièce de resitance, there is the “extra-metrical” ὑπο‑ which, being “extra-metrical,” is topicalized and, though semantically integral to the lexical unit ὑποκυσάμεναι, nonetheless still carries its primitive locative force of ‘under, beneath’, just where these mares (αἳ δ’ ὑπο) lay – physically — as the stallioned Boreas (ἵππῳ δ’) got – literally — on top of them.

What a poet!

[If you really want to know more about how meter works in ancient Greek poetry, check out my ‘course’ (with exercises) on the matter here!]

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One Response to The Metrics of Sex: Iliad 20.223-225

  1. heather says:

    what a critic!

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