Monday, January 29, 2007



Homer, Iliad 1.494-516 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):

                    Nor did Thetis forget the entreaties
of her son, but she emerged from the sea's waves early
in the morning and went up to the tall sky and Olympos.
She found Kronos' broad-browed son apart from the others
sitting upon the highest peak of rugged Olympos.
She came and sat beside him with her left hand embracing
his knees, but took him underneath the chin with her right hand
and spoke in supplication to lord Zeus son of Kronos:
'Father Zeus, if ever before in word or action
I did you favour among the immortals, now grant what I ask for.
Now give honour to my son short-lived beyond all other
mortals. Since even now the lord of men Agamemnon
dishonours him, who has taken away his prize and keeps it.
Zeus of the counsels, lord of Olympos, now do him honour.
So long put strength into the Trojans, until the Achaians
give my son his rights, and his honour is increased among them.'
  She spake thus. But Zeus who gathers the clouds made no answer
but sat in silence a long time. And Thetis, as she had taken
his knees, clung fast to them and urged once more her question:
'Bend your head and promise me to accomplish this thing,
or else refuse it, you have nothing to fear, that I may know
how much I am the most dishonoured of all gods.'

In Ingres' 1811 painting of this scene, Thetis grasps Zeus' chin with her left hand and clasps his knees with her right hand:

But in Homer, she grasps Zeus' chin with her right hand and clasps his knees with her left hand.

F.S. Naiden, Ancient Supplication (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 43-44:
Greek gestures and words differ from Roman and Hebrew ones, which happen to resemble one another. Greek gestures begin with the knee clasp (prominent in Homer and tragedy) and include touching other parts of the body, extending hands to the supplicandus but not touching him, and depositing boughs on altars. Roman and Hebrew gestures begin with falling low, which also avoids contact with the supplicandus, and include donning mourning dress as well as extending hands.
Naiden's book also contains useful appendices listing Acts of Supplication in Greek Authors (1a, pp. 301-338) and Latin Authors (1b, pp. 339-364). I don't know if these lists are intended to be exhaustive, but Euripides, Hypsipyle, fr. 757.57-60 (tr. M.J. Cropp), could be added to the Euripidean examples on pp. 315-316:
O, by your knees I fall in supplication, Amphiaraus, and by your chin and your Apolline art, for you have come here just in time amidst my troubles: save me, for I am dying because of my service to you.

ὦ πρός σε γονάτων ἱκέτις, Ἀμφιάρεω, πίτνω,
κ]αὶ πρὸς [γ]ενείο[υ τ]ῆς τ᾽ Ἀπόλλωνος τέχνης,
κ]αιρὸν γὰρ ἥκεις τοῖς ἐμοῖσιν ἐν κακοῖς,
ῥ]ῦσαί με· διὰ γὰρ σὴν ἀπόλλυμαι χάριν.

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