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Timē and aretē in Homer

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

Margalit Finkelberg
Tel Aviv University


Much effort has been invested by scholars in defining the specific character of the Homeric values as against those that obtained at later periods of Greek history. The distinction between the ‘shame-culture’ and the ‘guilt-culture’ introduced by E. R. Dodds, and that between the ‘competitive’ and the ‘cooperative’ values advocated by A. W. H. Adkins, are among the more influential ones. Although Adkins's taxonomy encountered some acute criticism, notably from A. A. Long, it has become generally adopted both in the scholarly literature and in general philosophical discussions of Greek ethics. Objections to Adkins's approach have mainly concentrated on demonstrating that his denial of the cooperative values to Homer is untenable on general grounds and is not supported by Homeric evidence. Characteristically, Adkins's thesis concerning the centrality to Homer's ethics of the so-called ‘competitive values‘ has never received similar attention, probably owing to the fact that this is the point at which his picture of the Homeric society concurs with the influential reconstructions by W Jaeger and M. I. Finley. The present study of timē and aretē, generally held to be the two competitive values central to the Homeric poems, purports to address this issue.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1998

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1 Dodds, E. R., The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley, 1951), pp. 2863Google Scholar; Adkins, A. W. H., Merit and Responsibility. A Study in Greek Values (Oxford, 1960), pp. 3085.Google Scholar

2 ‘Morals and values in Homer’, JHS 90 (1970), 121–39.

3 See e.g. A. Macintyre, After Virtue. A Study in Moral Theory2 (Notre Dame, IN, 1984), p. 133: ‘A. W. H. Adkins has usefully contrasted the co-operative and the competitive virtues. The competitive he sees as Homeric in their ancestry; the co-operative represent the social world of the Athenian democracy.’

4 See Long, JHS 90 (1970), 121–39; Lloyd-Jones, H., The Justice of Zeus2 (Berkeley, 1983), pp. 1220Google Scholar; Schofield, M., ‘Euboulia in the Iliad’, CQ 36 (1986), 631CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Williams, B., Shame and Necessity (Berkeley, 1993), pp. 81–4, 100–2Google Scholar; Cairns, D.L., Aidōs. The Psychology and Ethics of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greek Literature (Oxford, 1993), pp. 50146Google Scholar; Zanker, G., The Heart of Achilles. Characterization and Personal Ethics in the Iliad (Michigan, 1994), pp. 145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 W. Jaeger, Paideia, vol. 1, tr. G. Highet (Oxford, 1965), pp. 3–14; Finley, M. I., The World of Odysseus2 (Harmondsworth, 1978), pp. 118–21Google Scholar. Cf. Adkins, A. W. H., JHS 91 (1971), 12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 Adkins (n. l), p. 6.

7 Cf. e.g. Hes. Erga 291; Tyrt. 12.43 West; Pi. N. 6.23.

8 Pelop. 19.4. Tr. J. Dryden, rev. A. H. Clough, with slight changes

9 Symp. 182bc. Cf. Ar. Pol. 5.11 1313a39–b6, 1314a5–8

10 This point was admirably expressed by Peter, Brown (The Making of Late Antiquity [Cambridge, MA, 1978], p. 31Google Scholar) in his discussion of philotimia at the age of the Antonines. After quoting R. MacMullen's saying that ‘no word understood to its depths goes further to explain the Greco-Roman achievement’, he writes: ‘On the one hand, it committed the members of the upper class to a blatant competitiveness on all levels of social life.… On the other hand, the competitiveness of philotimia still assumed and needed, as it had done for centuries, an audience of significant others who were potential competitors. Without these the exercise of philotimia would have been deprived of a large part of its meaning.’

11 N. 11.29–32; my translation. See also N. 3.70–1 Cf. I. 1.68–70; Parth. 1. 6–10.

12 Etk Nic 1.8 1099a3–7, tr. D. Ross. These words were paraphrased by Pierre de Coubertin at the Berlin Olympics as follows: ‘The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. Just as in life, the aim is not to conquer, but to struggle well.’ See N. Spivey, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger?’ (without acknowledging the Greek source), in TLS July 19,1996.

13 Finley (n. 5), p. 118.

14 Homer on Life and Death (Oxford, 1980), pp. 14–15.

15 EtkNic 1.5 1095b23–4.

16 Il. 1.278, 15.189; Od. 5.335, 11.338; H.Aphr. 37; Hes. Th. 414,426; cf. II. 9.616; Od. 8.480; Hes. Erga 347; Theogn. 234 West. Note that this is the only context in which the perfect appears in Homer.

17 II. 9,328–33. Tr. M. Hammond, with slight changes.

18 II. 1.165–8, 2.225–34.

19 That it would be wrong to take the Achilles of this speech as a social ‘outsider’ who rejects the ethical values of his society has recently been argued in Gill, C., Personality in Greek Epic, Tragedy, and Philosophy. The Self in Dialogue (Oxford, 1996), pp. 124–54.Google Scholar

20 See Hainsworth, J. B., The Iliad; A Commentary, vol. 3 (Cambridge, 1993) on II. 9.333, pp. 105–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

21 Adkins (n. 1), p. 56.

22 II. 23.884–97.

23 Patroclus II. 16.709; Aegisthus Od. 3.250; Menelaus II. 7.103–19; 23.578, 588, 605; Agamemnon II. 23.891–2; Ajax II. 2.768–9. As the range of the application of the formula shows, full equality was reserved only for such homogeneous groups as the sons of the same father or the suitors of Penelope; see II. 14.118; Od. 4.629,21.187,22.244.

24 Seeesp.II. 6.119–211 (Glaucus and Diomedes), 20.176–258 (Achilles and Aeneas).

25 II. 9.318–19

26 Hainsworth (n. 20), p. 104. Characteristically, Aristotle in Pol. 2.7 1267al-2 quotes Achilles' ‘Coward and hero are given equal honour’ in support of his argument that the distribution of honour must be proportionate to one's contribution to the well-being of the state.

27 Finley (n. 5), p. 115.

28 II. 12.310–21; cf. Griffin (n. 14), p. 14. While I agree with Gill (n. 19), pp. 131–6, that comparison of Sarpedon's speech to Achilles' great speech in Iliad 9 does not prove Achilles a ‘social outsider’, I cannot share his marginalizing of Sarpedon's speech into a private statement which has very little to do with the so-called ‘heroic code’. As Gill himself points out, Achilles' deviatory behaviour and social criticism as expressed in Iliad 9 directly result from the breach in the normative behaviour on the part of Agamemnon, his social equal, who ‘has undermined the relationship of generalized reciprocity which should exist between chieftains’ (p. 135, cf. also p. 149). However, the reciprocity meant in Sarpedon's speech is the one between the chieftains and their vassals, a sort of contrat social intended to regulate the division of functions between the nobles and the commoners, and therefore it can hardly be relevant to the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon, both of whom belong to the class of the nobles. Cf. Cairns (n. 4), p. 95: ‘while one hero may have more time than another, in dealing with his fellow heroes he is never dealing with one who has a negligible claim to time of his own.’

29 II. 11.408.

30 See Gill (n. 19), pp. 69–74.

31 Cf. Cairns (n. 4), p. 101: ‘It is certainly not part of the structure of Homeric values that any and every action of an agathos is legitimized by his arete.’

32 JHS 90 (1970), 123–6. See also Zanker (n. 4), pp. 1–45.

33 II. 6.442, 22.105

34 Cf. Cairns (n. 4), p. 81: ‘Hector's education will have taught him how society expects him to behave, and so contributes to the formation of his social role; in as much as his thumos and his aidōs combine in leading him to pursue this role, he has obviously made the values under which he acts his own, made the expectations of society equivalent to his own expectations of himself.’

35 The subject is discussed in Cairns (n. 4), pp. 43–4,139–40.

36 II. 6.208, 11.784 Cf. Jaeger (n. 5), p. 7.

37 Od. 17.322–3 . Tr. S. H. Butcher and A. Lang, slightly changed.

38 II. 15.642; Od. 18.204; Od 5.725, 815; 22.268; cf. Od. 13.45.

39 Od. 18.251, 19.124; Od. 12.211; II. 9.498; cf. II. 23.578

40 Pol. 1.1.9 1253a; F.E., Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (Berkeley, 1957), p. 2.Google Scholar

41 As Long, JHS 90 (1970), 126–8, has shown, the prevailing function of the corresponding adjective agathos is to denote high social status rather than moral excellence. On the Homeric arete as encompassing birth and wealth and therefore never being affected by anyone's disapproval, see Cairns (n. 4), p. 101.

42 II. 11.603–4.

43 See N. Austin, GRBS7 (1966), 306; Edwards, M. W., in Bremer, J. M. et al. (edd.), Homer Beyond Oral Poetry (Amsterdam, 1987), p. 48.Google Scholar

44 II. 11.762–4.

45 Greek Popular Morality in the Time of Plato and Aristotle (Berkeley, 1974), p. 166.

46 II. 16.29–32.

47 II. 16.97–100.

48 II. 18.98–106. According to Gill (n. 19), p. 124 and n. 95, the widespread interpretation of Achilles' situation in the Iliad in terms of ‘crime and punishment’ would be inappropriate and misleading. However, Gill's interpretation, which is almost exclusively based on Iliad 9, fails to acknowledge what Zanker (n. 4), p. 9, aptly defined as ‘the change in moral temper between Achilles before and after the conflict with Agamemnon and the death of Patroclus’.

49 Ap. 28cd; tr. H. Tredennick, with slight changes. Cf. Symp. 179e

50 This theme emerges also in Ap. 37c–38a; Crito 53b–54b.

51 Eth.Nic 1.8 1098b30–1099a7.

52 Cf. Nussbaum, M.C., The Fragility of Goodness. Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge, 1986), p. 324.Google Scholar

53 Although keeping the conventional translation of the aretē in Nestor's speech as ‘prowess’, Hainsworth in his commentary on II. 11.763 gives a similar interpretation of the general idea that underlies Nestor's message to Achilles: ‘Prowess in Nestor's world is not a private virtue; it must be displayed publicly and for public purposes.’ See Hainsworth (n. 20), p. 306.

54 II. 11.784; see above, n. 36.

55 Cf. Eth. Nic 1.5 1095b26–30: ‘Men seem to pursue honour in order that they may be assured of their merit ; at least it is by men of practical wisdom that they seek to be honoured, and among those who know them, and on the ground of their virtue clearly, then, according to them, at any rate, virtue is better.'

56 CA5 (1986), 127. Cf. Raaflaub, K.A., in Latacz, J. (ed.), Zweihundert Jahre Homer-Forschung (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1991), p. 212: ‘Finleys Argumente sind aus historischen Grunden nicht zwingend, und seine Datierung ist schlecht mit den Charakteristika von oral tradition im allgemeinen und oral poetry im speziellen zu vereinbaren.’Google Scholar

57 F. Gschnitzer, in Latacz (n. 56), pp. 183–4; Seaford, R., Reciprocity and Ritual. Homer and Tragedy in the Developing City-State (Oxford, 1994), p. 10Google Scholar

58 Snodgrass, A.M., ‘An historical Homeric society?’, JHS 94 (1974), 114–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

59 CA 5 (1986), 105–15.

60 D., Gray, ‘Homeric epithets for things’, CQ 41 (1947), 109–21 ═Google Scholar; G.S., Kirk (ed.), The Language and Background of Homer (Cambridge, 1964), pp. 5567.Google Scholar

61 Osborne, R., Greece in the Making, 1200–479 B.C. (London and New York, 1996), p.153.Google Scholar

62 Seaford (n. 57), pp. 5–6.

63 On the traditional poets' individual creativity within the fixed framework of their plots see Finkelberg, M., ‘A creative oral poet and the Muse’, AJP 111 (1990), 293303, and The Birth of Literary Fiction in Ancient Greece (Oxford, 1998), pp. 151–60Google Scholar

64 Nicolai, Cf. W., ‘Rezeptionssteurung in der Ilias’, Philologus 127 (1983), 112. Characteristically, it is first of all in direct speech that such anomalies of language as nonformulaic and metrically faulty expressions, linguistic innovations, etc. are concentrated in HomerCrossRefGoogle Scholar. See further Shipp, G.P., Studies in the Language of Homer2 (Cambridge, 1973)Google Scholar; Griffin, J, ‘Homer's words and speakers’, JHS 106 (1986), 3657, and Homer, Iliad Book Nine (Oxford, 1995), pp. 32–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar; M., Finkelberg, ‘Formulaic and nonformulaic elements in Homer’, CP 84 (1989), 179–97, and ‘Homer, a poet of an individual style’, SCI 16 (1997), 1–8.Google Scholar

65 Homer's famous comment on the inequality of exchange in the Glaucus-Diomedes episode in Iliad 6 provides a good example. Seaford (n. 57), p. 15, sees in it ‘the implicit criticism of the increasingly dangerous institution of gift-exchange from the new perspective of commodityexchange, in which inequality is more surprising’.

66 II. 14.364–9.

67 II. 3.8–9.

68 On the relevance of hoplite tactics to Homer see J., Latacz, Kampfparanäse, Kampfdarstellung und Kampfwirkllchkeit in der Mas, bei Kallinos und Tyrtaios (Munich, 1977)Google Scholar; Wees, H.van, ‘The Homeric way of war’, Greece and Rome 41 (1994), 1–18, 131–55, and ‘Homeric warfare’, in Morris, I. and Powell, B. (edd.), A New Companion to Homer (Leiden, 1997), pp. 668–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

69 On Achilles' ‘institutional obligations’ to Patroclus and the feeling of shame and guilt issuing from his failure in fulfilling these obligations see especially Zanker (n. 4), pp. 16–17, 100.

70 Cf. Nicolai's distinction between the ‘affirmative’ and the ‘kritische Wirkungsabsicht’ in the Iliad in Philologus 127 (1983), 9.

71 A somewhat different line of interpretation of the same theme seems to be pursued in Books 9 and 24, where Achilles' behaviour is criticized, by Ajax and Apollo respectively, as not answering to the accepted social standards of mutual reconciliation; see Il. 9.628–38,24.46–9.