Thursday, April 26, 2018


What Makes Zeus Laugh

Homer, Iliad 21.385-390 (tr. A.T. Murray, rev. William F. Wyatt):
But on the other gods fell strife momentous
and dire, and in different directions the heart in their breasts was blown.
Together then they clashed with a mighty din and the wide earth rang,
and round about great heaven pealed as with a trumpet. And Zeus heard it
where he sat on Olympus, and the heart within him laughed
with joy as he saw the gods joining in strife.

ἐν δ᾿ ἄλλοισι θεοῖσιν ἔρις πέσε βεβριθυῖα        385
ἀργαλέη, δίχα δέ σφιν ἐνὶ φρεσὶ θυμὸς ἄητο.
σὺν δ᾿ ἔπεσον μεγάλῳ πατάγῳ, βράχε δ᾿ εὐρεῖα χθών,
ἀμφὶ δὲ σάλπιγξεν μέγας οὐρανός. ἄιε δὲ Ζεὺς
ἥμενος Οὐλύμπῳ· ἐγέλασσε δέ οἱ φίλον ἦτορ
γηθοσύνῃ, ὅθ᾿ ὁρᾶτο θεοὺς ἔριδι ξυνιόντας.        390
Nicholas Richardson ad loc.:
Zeus's delight in the gods' quarrels shocked later critics. Aristotle (quoted by schol. Ge on 21.390) discussed the apparent contradiction between this and 5.890-1, where Zeus hates Ares because of his perpetual love of strife. Chamaeleon (fr. 18 Wehrli) found Zeus's apparent malevolence inexplicable. Other commentators compared Od. 8.78, where Agamemnon rejoices at the quarrel of Odysseus and Akhilleus, and Menander (fr. 784 K.), where someone says that conflict between members of his household helps to keep the family together! Cf. also Phld. Hom. col. 10.13, p. 39 ed. Olivieri.

One defence offered was that Zeus was pleased because the gods were contending περὶ ἀρετῆς and yet without risk (T 21.389, schol. Ge 21.390). But there is not much sign of ἀρετή in what follows (cf. Griffin, HLD 183). It is the lack of risk which is perhaps the point: 'Zeus appears to have a just appreciation of the whole combat as a parody of serious fighting. It is only here and in 508 that Homer's Zeus ever goes beyond a smile, like the Zeus of the hymn to Hermes (389), who "laughs aloud" at the tricks of his naughty son' (Leaf on 390).

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