Annotation on How are the epic verses of the Hesiodic Suitors of Helen relevant to Achilles in our Homeric Iliad?

[Editor’s note: Click “Show More” for additional commentary by Joseph F. Nagy.]

This finale to the triad of wonderful posts opens up all sorts of perspectives within Greek and without. Off the top of my head:

1) The whole cattle-and-sheep raiding context in relation to initiation. Both Nestor (Iliad 11) and Odysseus (Odyssey 21.11ff.) had such experiences when young, tied to recovery of stolen flocks and herds. Achilles notably does not, as far as I know, in the tradition—as if he is missing a part of the maturing process (well, he was stuck on Skyros etc).He makes up with a lot of raiding along the Troad coast.

2) To transpose to the Irish generic context (and given the similar structures of society with cattle as legal-tender in marriages): every tochmarc “wooing” seems to require a táin “drive”…of course the tradition is so layered and superheated with stylization upon variation that tales we finally get are more likely to feature intricate combinations thereof. I think of Táin Bó Fraích which starts like a tochmarc (F to get the daughter of the Connacht power couple), then segues into a táin (as F’s wife is meanwhile abducted, with cattle).

3)…which then makes me think how weird and inverted the TBCúailnge is, when set against the seemingly simple (but perhaps nowhere so simply attested?) combo of raid + wooing (assumed by the potential Ajax paradigm: he would in theory go out, get the cattle by force from his regional feeder realms, give them to Tyndareus, get Helen) or wooing + raid (Melampus?). (By the way, Herzfeld’s schema in Poetics of Manhood for how things work with Cretan sheep-stealers is a nice variation of the simpler structure: guys steal and eat sheep; leave evidence enough to get caught and still show how bold they have been in obtaining same; and end up often with the sheep-owner victim of their raid—who has meanwhile tracked them down—becoming their koumbaros for wedding—but not, I think, father-in-law…).

In the TBC, the “wooing” is displayed as re-litigated from the get-go between Ailill and Medb, as if each of them is a wooer contesting with the other about who has more bride-gifts (when in fact one was bride, one was “winning” husband). This brings about the tit-for-tat accounting that uncovers Medb’s lack of a bull (which had deserted to A’s side of the account book). And this perverted “wooing” redux then leads to the (equally screwy) raid which forms the bulk of the TBC….as if you need a táin to re-adjust the pre-nup tochmarc.

Not sure CúChulainn is as innocent of pre-pubescent raiding as Achilles may have been (must revisit “boyhood deeds”…). Yet a final perversity in TBC is the series of real-time “wooing” bride-tests that decimate the Connacht side…once again, as if the composers (more LL than LU?) are seriously messing with traditional genre expectations.



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