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In Chapter 2 of Hansen and Quinn we are introduced to the ancient Greek verb through the paradigmatic verb παιδεύω, ‘I am educating’. As we consider ancient Greek heroes it also makes sense to consider their education. Why? The education of the hero helps to show the functions of the hero both during their lives as depicted in epic, lyric and other genres, and in the context of their afterlives as envisioned through cult.

Below are just a few passages describing the education and training of heroes such as Patroklos, Achilles, and Herakles. As you can see, heroes had to master much more than fighting. What other skills do you see and how might these skills reflect the function of the hero in ancient Greek society? (See “Relevant facts about ancient Greek hero cults”)

  • Also Actor’s son [Menoitios departing on the voyage Argonauts] leaves his child [Patroklos] in Chiron’s cave, side by side with his dear Achilles, to study the chords of the harp [lyre], and side by side to hurl a boy’s light javelins, and to learns to mount and ride upon the back of the genial master.
    (Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 406, trans. J.H. Mozley)
  • In Homer skill in treating the wounded and persons in need of medicine goes back as far as the third generation of pupil and master. Thus Patroklos, son of Mentoitios, is taught the healing art by Akhilleus, and Akhilleus, son of Peleus, is taught by Kheiron (Chiron), son of Kronos (Cronus).
    (Aelian, On Animals 2. 18, trans. Scholfield)
  • [Eurypylos addresses Patroklos in the Trojan War:] ‘Cut the arrow out of my thigh . . . and put kind medicines on it, good ones, which they say you have been told of by Akhilleus, since Kheiron (Chiron), most righteous of the Kentauroi (Centaurs), told him about them.’
    (Homer, Iliad 11. 832, trans. Lattimore)
  • [103] And Heracles, called now the son of Amphitryon of Argos, waxed under his mother’s eye like sapling set in a vineyard. Letters learned he of a sleepless guardian, a Hero, son of Apollo, aged Linus; and to bend a bow and shoot arrows at the mark, of one that was born to wealth of great domains, Eurytus; and he that made of him a singer and shaped his hand to the box-wood lyre, was Eumolpus, the son of Philammon. Aye, and all the tricks and falls both of the cross-buttockers of Argos, and of boxers skilly with the hand-strap, and eke all the cunning inventions of the catch-as-catch-can men that roll upon the ground, all these learnt he at the feet of a son of Hermes, Harpalycus of Phanotè, who no man could abide confidently in the ring even so much as to look upon him from aloof, so dread and horrible was the frown that sat on his grim visage.[119] But to drive horses in a chariot and guide the nave of his wheel safely about the turnpost, that did Amphitryon in all kindness teach his son himself; for he had carried off a multitude of precious things from swift races in the Argive grazing-land of steeds, and Time alone had loosed the harness from his chariots, seeing he kept them ever unbroken. And how to abide the cut and thrust of the sword or to lunge lance in rest and shield swung over back, how to marshal a company, measure an advancing squadron of the foe, or give the word to a troop of horse – all such lore had he of horseman Castor, when he came an outlaw from Argos, where Tydeus had received the land of horsemen from Adrastus and held all Castor’s estate and his great vineyard. And till such time as age had worn away his youth, Castor had no equal in war among all the demigods.
    (Theocritus, Idyll XXIV, 103-133, trans. J. M. Edmonds)

It is worth noting that heroes might also be envisioned as educators in the sense that worshipers who made mental and physical connection with the hero during cult activities could gain access to truths about the mythic past. In fact, through the work of Philostratus (second century CE) we can see that heroes were seen as authoritative experts in topics such as cultivation and epic narration. For more on the role of learning in the context of hero cult, see On Heroes by Philostratus.

  • Phoen.: [§4.5]Vinedresser, how were you trained in speaking? You do not seem to me to be among the uneducated.

    Vinedr.: [§4.6]At first, we spent our life in a city, and we were provided with teachers and studied. But my affairs were really in a bad way because the farming was left to slaves, and they did not bring anything back to us. Hence it was necessary to take loans with the field as security and to go hungry. [§4.7]And yes, on arriving, I tried to make Protesilaos [the first Greek hero to die at Troy] my advisor, but he remained silent, since he was justifiably angry at me because, having left him, I lived in a city. [§4.8] But when I persisted and said that I would die if neglected, he said, “Change your dress.” [§4.9]On that day, I heard this advice but did nothing; afterwards, examining it closely, I understood that he was commanding me to change my way of life. [§4.10]From that point on, after I was suitably dressed in a leather jacket, carrying a hoe, and no longer knew my way to town, Protesilaos made everything in the field grow luxuriously for me. Whenever a sheep, a beehive, or a tree became diseased, I consulted Protesilaos as a physician. Since I spend time with him and devote myself to the land, I am becoming more skilled than I used to be, because he excels in wisdom.
    (Philostratus, On Heroes, trans. Ellen Bradshaw Aitken and Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean)

  • Phoen.: [§7.1]You know at least what I long to learn. I need to understand this association which you have with Protesilaos, what he is like, and if he knows a story about Trojan times similar to that of the poets, or one unknown to them. [§7.2]What I mean by “Trojan times” is this sort of thing: the assembling of the army at Aulis and the heroes, one by one, whether they were handsome, brave, and clever, as they are celebrated. After all, how could he narrate the war round about Troy when he did not fight to the end, since they say that he was the first of the entire Hellenic army to die, the instant he disembarked there?

    Vinedr.: [§7.3]This is a foolish thing for you to say, my guest. To be cleansed of the body is the beginning of life for divine and thus blessed souls.[204] For the gods, whose attendants they are, they then know, not by worshipping statues and conjectures, but by gaining visible association with them. And free from the body and its diseases, souls observe the affairs of mortals, both when souls are filled with prophetic skill and when the oracular power sends Bacchic frenzy upon them.[§7.4]At any rate, among those who critically examine Homer’s poems, who will you say reads and has insight into them as Protesilaos does?[§7.5]Indeed, my guest, before Priam and Troy there was no epic recitation, nor had anyone sung of events that had not yet taken place. There was poetry about prophetic matters and about Herakles, son of Alkmênê, recently arranged but not yet developed fully, but Homer had not yet sung. Some say that it was when Troy was captured, others say it was a few or even eight generations later that he applied himself to poetic composition. [§7.6]Nevertheless, Protesilaos knows everything of Homer and sings of many Trojan events that took place after his own lifetime, and also of many Hellenic and Median events.
    (Philostratus, On Heroes, trans. Ellen Bradshaw Aitken and Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean)


Heroes & Hero Cult

As early as the Geometric period, ancient Greeks were venerating the spirits of dead men, women, and children (even babies) through cult activities focused around the location of the dead individual’s putative grave sites.[1] (Nagy 2001:xv) Individuals who received such honor, often denoted by the words τιμή and γέρας, were called ἥρως or “hero.” Although these mortal heroes were envisioned as figures from the remote past with immortal ancestry, they lived and died in ways that forever linked them to seasonality and to the present of those who remembered the hero. (Nagy 1979) For instance, after death heroes maintained superhuman powers to influence the world of the living and therefore required propitiation and reverence, through seasonally recurring cult worship. (Burkert 1985:203) If the hero was honored correctly, this could be signified by community-wide prosperity and fertility among animals, plants and humans. If the hero did not receive appropriate honors, even on account of one person or action, the whole community could be plagued by cosmic sanctions such as sterility and infertility.[2] For these reasons, hero cult is generally a community-wide but local tradition. In fact by the 8th century BCE, hero cult is the primary means of creating group identity within the polis. (Burkert 1985:204)

Originally, hero worship was ancestor worship, but by the classical period these two traditions had become differentiated. Gregory Nagy has show that this transition was brought about by the convergence of two forces: the evolution of the polis and Panhellenism.[3]

… the Greek hero is a product of the polis, in that the cult of heroes is historically speaking a transformation of the worship of ancestors on the level of the polis. Furthermore, the Greek hero is a product also of Panhellenism, in that the epic of heroes as represented by Homeric poetry is an artistic and social synthesis on the level of Panhellenic diffusion. (Nagy 1990:143)

While worship of the Olympian gods was generally Pahellenic, took place during the day, and was directed towards the sky, hero worship was generally a local tradition associated with the night and the local earth. Physically, cult activities center around the putative tomb of the hero. The immediate area around the tomb could be separated from other burials or localities by a wall or monument. While many Mycenaean tombs later become the locus of cult for unnamed heroes, many other sites present evidence for named heroes, including some found in Homeric traditions. Given that there is no evidence of a continual tradition of cult at the Mycenaean tombs, and since archaeological evidence suggests that many shrines of “named” heroes show no sign of burial, how can we understand the use of these older “burial” sites by classical Greeks?

As it turns out, the very fact that these sites have an unknown past creates an opportunity for elites looking to increase prestige and legitimate their ideological claims to the landscape.

As the evidence of tomb cult suggests, some communities needed to reinvent over and again, in the face of present difficulties and an uncertain future, a “shallow” past emerging from stories of agents and events spanning no more than two or three generations.” (Farenga 1998:185)

Thus, the classical Greeks believed themselves to know the truth of the significance of these locations. (Burkert 1985:205)

Ritual activities at the tombs as attested in literature and the archaeological record include poetic performances, votive offerings, blood sacrifice, lamentation, athletic competitions and feasting. (Antonaccio 1995:1) The blood offerings, which were poured into a pit in the ground were understood to reanimate the soul of the hero, allowing him or her to appear to worshipers in an epiphany. In practice, hero cult was a mystery religion; those who were initiated through secret and appropriate rituals experienced communion with the spirit of the hero and learned truths unavailable to the uninitiated. This communion was experienced both physically and intellectually. (Burkert 1985:205)

Hero cult presents opportunities for collective memory and oblivion through at least three categories of reference: location (the hero’s tomb), identity (the hero himself and the identity created for the individual worshiper in relationship to the hero), and occasion (the moment of hero’s death in the mythic past and the seasonally recurring rituals performed in the here and now of the sacrificer). These memories are often distinctly political in nature.

[1] I use the plural “grave sites” since there were often variant, competing traditions regarding the location of the hero’s corpse.

[2] On Achilles’ anger in the Iliad as a cosmic sanction, see Muellner 1996.

[3] Panhellenism can be understood as “a strong trend of intercommunication among the elite of the city-states” that favored shared traditions over those that were local to an individual polis. Products of Panhellenism include the Olympic games, Panhellenic sanctuaries like Delphi, and Homeric epic. (Nagy 1979:7) Within the archaic period Nagy sees Panhellenism as a defining criterion for ἀλήθεια or truth.



Antonaccio, Carla M.

1995    The Archaeology of Ancestors. Lanham, MD and London: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Burkert, Walter

1985    Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Antonaccio, Carla M.

1995    The Archaeology of Ancestors. Lanham, MD and London: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Burkert, Walter

1985    Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Muellner, Leonard

1996   The Anger of Achilles: Mênis in Greek Epic. Ithaka: Cornell University Press.

Nagy, Gregory

1979    The best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

1990    Pindar’s Homer : the lyric possession of an epic past. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

2001    The Sign of the Hero: A prologue. In Flavious Philostratus: Heroikos. J.K.B. Maclean and E.B. Aitken, eds. Pp. xv-xxxv. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

For a very quick introduction to the ancient Greek hero, read these “Relevant facts about ancient Greek hero cults,” by Gregory Nagy and posted by the University of Houston Classics Department.



Image: Detail from the Venetus A manuscript, showing Iliad 3.1-9. Text at end of post below. urn:cite:hmt:chsimg.VA042RN-0043:0.0712,0.2056,0.49,0.2028


Krissy Birthisel recently came to speak with us about the amazing opportunity to participate in the Homer Multitext Project here at Brandeis. Our student researchers are working with Prof. Leonard Muellner to transcribe, study, and publish the text and scholia found in a medieval manuscript of the Iliad known as the Venetus B.

If you would like to learn more about the Homer Multitext project, please contact Krissy (kabirthi@brandeis.edu), Prof. Muellner (muellner@brandeis.edu) or visit the Homer Multitext blog.

You may also want to read this interview with HMT researcher Stephanie Lindeborg (Holy Cross) and this interview with HMT Editor Mary Ebbott, both posted on the Center for Hellenic Studies blog. For an example of research being published by HMT researchers, see the following posts:

Identifying Aristarchean Commentary in the Venetus A Scholia, by Thomas Arralde, Class of 2013, College of the Holy Cross

Composition of the Venetus A: numbered similes, by Holy Cross student Christine Roughan



1 Αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ κόσμηθεν ἅμ᾽ ἡγεμόνεσσιν ἕκαστοι,
2 Τρῶες μὲν κλαγγῇ ἐνοπῇ τ᾽ ᾿ΐσαν ὄρνιθες ὣς ·
3 ἠΰτε περ κλαγγὴ γεράνων πέλει οὐρανόθι πρό·
4 αἵ τ᾽ ἐπεὶ οὖν χειμῶνα φύγον καὶ ἀθέσφατον ὄμβρον
5 κλαγγῇ ταί γε πέτονται ἐπ᾽ ὠκεανοῖο ῥοάων
6 ἀνδράσι Πυγμαίοισι φόνον καὶ κῆρα φέρουσαι·
7 ἠέριαι δ᾽ ἄρα ταί γε κακὴν ἔριδα προφέρονται.
8 οἱ δ’αρ’ΐσαν σιγῇ μένεα πνείοντες Ἀχαιοὶ
9 ἐν θυμῷ μεμαῶτες ἀλεξέμεν ἀλλήλοισιν.

And when each of them was marshaled with their leaders,
the Trojans went with a shriek and a war-cry,
like birds, just as the shriek of cranes arises in the sky,
the ones who, fleeing storm and endless downpour,
fly with a shriek over the streams of Okeanos
bringing slaughter and death to Pygmy men;
high in the air, they provoke dread strife;
but the Achaeans went in silence, infused with might,
eager in their hearts to protect one another.
( Il. 3.1–9, text via Homer Multitext, translation L. Muellner)

For more by Prof. Muellner on this passage and Homeric metaphor in general, read “The Simile of the Cranes and Pygmies: A Study of Homeric Metaphor.”

H&Q give us extensive notes on accentuation. Here are a few simple definitions and rules that help to explain everything.

In class we discussed contonation, mora, and the Contonation Rule.

Contonation is the rise and fall of pitch in a word, either in a single syllable (marked by a circumflex) or across two syllables.

  • δρᾶμα     (contonation takes place in the syllable with the initial alpha)
  • ἄνθρωπος     (contonation takes place over the first two syllables. It rises over the α and falls over the ω.

Mora: A single mora is the time it takes to pronounce a short syllable, while a long syllable takes two morae.

The Rule of Contonation:
Not more than one mora can follow a completed contonation within a word. [Note that having no morae after contonation is acceptable.]

  • ἄνθρωπος  (Contonation takes place over the first two syllables. There is one mora at the end of the word.)
  • ἀνθρώπου (The accent can’t stay on the α because that would leave two morae [the diphthong ου is long] after contonation. So the accent MUST move to the second-to-last syllable. Contonation takes place over the last two syllables. There are no morae after contonation.)

The Circumflex Law:
If the next-to-last syllable of a word is long and accented, and the last syllable is short, the accent on the next-to-last syllable must be a circumflex.

  • νῆσος  vs.  νήσου

The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum where our class can work collaboratively to supplement Hansen and Quinn’s Greek: and Intensive Course. We will be adding thematic content, comments, and questions. Notionally we are adding content “in the margins,” but online annotation allows us to add so much more than text. On this site we might share notes clarifying a particular issue of grammar or morphology, but we will also have links to resources and tools on other sites, and even videos or images which we find helpful or inspirational.

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