Andromache's Aristeia

Sean Signore

University of Georgia

When Andromache rushes towards the walls of Troy (Iliad 22.460), she is described in the translation of Lattimore as "equal to a raving woman."  Other translations follow suit.  

ὣς φαμένη μεγάροιο διέσσυτο μαινάδι ἴση

"Raving woman" does not allow for the full poetic resonance of mainádi isê in the epic diction.  Thus, in light of formulaic comparison with another well-known Homeric formula, daímoni îsos, I propose a new translation of the phrase mainádi isê as "equal to a maenad/female divinity". 

From the work of Albert Lord (1960) we know that the Homeric Kunstsprache is a language system that utilizes mechanisms of formulae and themes, which are woven together by the singer under the exigencies of performance.  The formula is defined, according to Lord, as a word or group of words with similar metrics that express an essential idea.  The formula daímoni îsos, "equal to a divinity" – a poetical distinction that appears nine times in the Iliad describing Diomedes, Patroklos, and Achilles – and has been treated in various places (Nagy 1979, Muellner 1996).  It is a form localized in the bucolic diaresis to the line-end, and marks a thematic pattern wherein a hero transcends his mortality and becomes a divinity for a time by achieving something extraordinary in his finest hour of battle. Previously this transcendent state has been applied solely to men at their finest moment, their aristeia, upon the battlefield. 

Through the sheer greatness of achievement imbedded in the daímoni îsos formula, the attendant associations of transcendence ought to be applied to Andromache as well.  Mainádi isê "equal to a maenad/female divinity," is a paradigmatic formula (using the definition of formula found in Martin 1996), metrically and syntactically equivalent to daímoni îsos.  Where the Achaean heroes achieve divine status on the battlefield, Andromache transcends within the gender-specific sphere of influence, surpassing all women in lamentation and capacity for grief.  Hence, Andromache's transcendance – an aristeia of grief at the death of her husband – is the equivalent of the transcendence achieved by those Achaean warriors at their apex.  This reading enriches our experience of Andromache and marks the singer's intention to communicate the enormity of her suffering by Andromache's achievement of an aristeia equivalent to the heroics of the Achaeans.


Back to 2006 Meeting Home Page