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Dossier : Serments et paroles efficaces

Achilleus’ Vow of Abstinence: Iliad XIX, 205-210

David G. Martinez

Résumé

Dans l’Iliade (XIX, 205-10) Achille lance un défi et fait un serment solennel : « Je voudrais, moi, donner aux fils des Achéens l’ordre de combattre à jeun, avant tout repas ; et c’est le soleil couché qu’ils prépareraient le grand repas du soir, notre honte une fois vengée. Jusque là nulle nourriture ni boisson ne saurait passer ma gorge, alors que mon ami est mort ». La longue discussion autour du refus par Achille de manger et de boire (Iliade XIX, 145-237) et son désir d’imposer son abstinence à toute l’armée ont longtemps troublé les commentateurs. Nous le comprendrons mieux à ce point si l’on voit pointer à l’arrière-plan la croyance que le renoncement à la nourriture et à la boisson, jusqu’à ce qu’un but donné soit atteint, rend plus solennel l’engagement de celui qui vise ce but et en sanctifie la réalisation en la liant au monde surnaturel. Le but de cet article et de montrer qu’Achille opère conformément à un type de vœu d’abstinence incluant une auto-malédiction bien connu dans de nombreuses cultures.

In Iliad XIX, 205-10 Achilleus issues a challenge and swears a solemn vow: «No, but I would now enjoin the sons of the Achaians to go into battle fasting and without food, but at sunset to prepare a great feast, once we have avenged the outrage. But until then, for my part, drink or food will by no means pass down my throat, seeing that my friend is dead». The lengthy preoccupation with Achilleus’ refusal to eat and drink in Iliad XIX, 145-237 and his desire to impose his abstinence on the entire army has long disturbed interpreters. We will best understand him at this juncture if we see lurking in the background the belief that the renunciation of food and drink until a goal is attained solemnizes one’s commitment to that goal and sanctifies its accomplishment within the supernatural realm. The purpose of this paper is to establish that Achilleus is operating within the context of a type of self-imprecating abstention vow which is well documented in many cultures.

Entrées d'index

Texte intégral

  • 1 I am grateful to the Chicago-Paris Workshop on Ancient Religions for the opportunity to present my (...)
  • 2 History and the Homeric Iliad, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966, p. 314. On Page’s view and others, s (...)
  • 3 The practice appears in numerous cultures (Edward Westermarck, «The Principles of Fasting», Folklor (...)

1The lengthy preoccupation with Achilleus’refusal to eat and drink in Iliad XIX, 145-337 and his desire to impose his abstinence on the entire Greek army has long disturbed interpreters1. The comment of D. Page, who holds this passage in low esteem, exemplifies scholarly bewilderment: «More than 180 lines have now passed since luncheon stole the limelight, and nothing has been achieved»2. The most obvious reason for Achilleus’ fasting is mourning for Patroklos, as he himself states (306 sq., 319 sq., et al.)3. But the grounds of Achilleus’ abstinence center as much in the future as the past. His grief over the death of his hetairos erupts in rage and headlong determination to gain revenge, a determination which is sealed and consecrated by a pledge not to eat or drink until vengeance is accomplished. I wish to demonstrate that Achilleus, in making this pledge, is operating within the context of a self-imprecating abstention vow which is well documented in many cultures. I will begin by comparing the Iliad passage with an episode from the Saul narrative in the Old Testament, since both involve the use of a similar vow in a military context. Proceeding from those two examples, I will then turn to other parallel vow formulations, Greco-Roman, biblical, and Egyptian, with the intent of setting the type of vow and the Homeric text into sharper relief.

2It is the forward-focusing aspect of the fast, described in the previous paragraph, to which Achilleus summons the entire army in Iliad 19.205-210:

  • 4 Grammatically the rich Homeric usage of the optative mood dominates this brief passage. ἂν --- ἀνώγ (...)

τ᾿ ἂν ἔγωγε
νῦν μὲν ἀνώγοιμι πτολεμίζειν υἷας Ἀχαιῶν
νήστιας ἀκμήνους, ἅμα δ᾿ ἠελίῳ καταδύντι
τεύξεσθαι μέγα δόρπον, ἐπὴν τεισαίμεθα λώβην.
πρὶν δ᾿ οὔ πως ἂν ἔμοιγε ϕίλον κατὰ λαιμὸν ἰείη
οὐ πόσις οὐδὲ βρῶσις, ἑταίρου τεθνηῶτος4.

3No, but I would now enjoin the sons of the Achaians to go into battle fasting and without food, but at sunset to prepare a great feast, once we have avenged the outrage. But until then, for my part, drink or food will by no means pass down my throat, seeing that my friend is dead.

  • 5 The motif of war as a feast or banquet is treated exhaustively by Emily Vermeule, Aspects of Death (...)
  • 6 Literalism extends to morbidity later in his expressed desire to consume Hektor raw (XXII, 345; Ver (...)
  • 7 On this see J. B. Hainsworth, «Joining Battle in Homer», Greece and Rome 13, 1966, p. 158-166, esp. (...)
  • 8 Book XXIV, 599-620 presents a kind of role-reversal to this episode, where a fasting Priam comes to (...)

4The force of this formal vow is buttressed by rich imagery and suggestive metaphor in book XIX. Achilleus does not wish to partake of Agamemnon’s banquet of reconciliation, but of the banquet of Zeus, who serves up war to men as ταμίης πολέμοιο (224), of which the rest of the army has had their fill (221)5. He does not want food to enter his own mouth, but he will be satisfied only when he enters the mouth of bloody war (313). In this remarkable episode Achilleus lifts the conception of war itself as a man-devouring feast from the realm of metaphor and rhetoric and infuses it with a certain literalism6. He substitutes it, at least temporarily, for the typical meal which is part of the ritual for joining battle7. Violent conflict and revenge become the only feast he wants or needs8.

5Metaphor aside, Achilleus’ obsessive behavior and his wish that the army follow his lead annoy Odysseus as much as modern commentators. With ruthless logic infused with sarcasm, he reasons that, were it advisable to mourn the dead with abstinence, the Greeks would never eat; besides, soldiers need their nourishment to fight (155 sq.; 216 sq.). He also underscores the importance of Achilleus dining with Agamemnon, to bring ritual closure to the rift between the best of the Achaians and the lord of men (179-180). Odyssean rationality, however, neither illumines nor influences Achilleus’ thoughts and actions. We will best understand him at this juncture if we see lurking in the background the belief that the renunciation of food and drink until an end is attained solemnizes one’s commitment to that goal and sanctifies its accomplishment within the supernatural realm. In other words, abstinence and emptiness generates a kind of «power made perfect in weakness», to borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul (2Cor. 12: 9), a force which binds and energizes the resolve to complete the stated task.

  • 9 In lines 303-08 the elders gather about him, urging him to eat, but he refuses, citing his grief ov (...)
  • 10 Edwards, op. cit. (supra n. 2), p. 253. This vindication, however, is not without irony. The nectar (...)

6Odysseus’ forceful rhetoric, however, prevails and Achilleus stands alone in his resolve9. Yet Athene, at the behest of Zeus, by distilling nectar and ambrosia within him (XIX, 347-354) vindicates his action against the victorious Odysseus. In forsaking human sustenance, he has received the food of the gods, which advances his stature beyond that of the other heroes10. It enhances his might on the one hand, but his isolation on the other, two qualities which also characterize another great hero and general of antiquity in the biblical tradition.

  • 11 Cf. Peter Kyle McCarter, I Samuel, Anchor Bible 8, Garden City, NY, 1980, p. 26-27; Walter Brueggem (...)
  • 12 The translation of the clause reflects the MT. LXX: καὶ Σαουλ ἠγνόησεν ἄγνοιαν μεγάλην ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ (...)
  • 13 The Hebrew הלא can have either sense. Cf. Josef Scharbert, «הלא» TDOT, vol. I, p. 263. Brichto, op. (...)
  • 14 Hebrew םע like Greek λαός can bear that sense, which is certainly the meaning here. The Hebrew word (...)
  • 15 The basic parallelism between Saul’s and Achilleus’ vows was noticed as long ago as 1658 by Zachary (...)
  • 16 On the topos of sundown as the time of breaking the fast, cf. P. Rudolf Arbesmann, Das Fasten bei d (...)
  • 17 In this regard he is more parallel to Agamemnon, as he also is with respect to the «evil spirit fro (...)
  • 18 The Achilleus — Saul and the Odysseus — Jonathan correspondence in these two passages (and, in some (...)
  • 19 McCarter, op. cit. (supra n. 11), p. 249.

7The account of Saul’s engagement of Israel’s sworn enemies the Philistines in 1Samuel 13-14 belongs to what some scholars have called «the Saul cycle», perhaps compiled around the latter part of the ninth century BC11. In 14: 24 we read: «And the men of Israel were distressed that day12; for Saul laid an oath on the people» (or, «put the people under a curse»)13 «saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.”». Since the word «people» here means «army»14, the parallels between this passage and the Homeric text are striking15. First, the empowering force of the abstinence focuses on military victory and vengeance, which will occur by sundown16. Second, Saul, like Achilleus, wishes to impose the abstention vow on the entire community which, unlike the Achaian hero, he can mandate as king and commander of all the troops17. Third, as we read further in the account, Saul’s son Jonathan in the biblical narrative corresponds to Odysseus as the voice of moderation; both questioned the wisdom of renouncing food and drink in the case of soldiers who will fight more effectively with nourishment (compare especially I Sam 14: 29-30 with Iliad XIX, 160-172)18. This communal abstinence is not simply «a grandiose gesture of self-denial» to secure the favor of Yahweh, as one recent commentator says19. Neither the Greek nor the Hebrew warrior undertakes the fast in the context of prayer to a deity or asking a deity’s favor. We rather have here to do with an act of self-cursing or communal self-cursing in which divine names are sometimes not mentioned. Saul’s act, as Achilleus, constitutes a solemnizing and empowering of a stated goal by declaring oneself bound to abstinence, itself an accursed state, until that goal be accomplished.

8These ideas are particularly compelling in another biblical example in the New Testament Acts of the Apostles 23: 12. At this juncture we are in the midst of the account of the apostle Paul’s evangelistic activity in Jerusalem, after he was arrested and questioned before the Sanhedrin: οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἀνεθεμάτισαν ἑαυτοὺς λέγοντες μήτε ϕαγεῖν μήτε πιεῖν ἕως οὗ ἀποκτείνωσιν τὸν Παῦλον. «The Jews put themselves under a curse saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they killed Paul». Here ἀναθεματίζειν ἑαυτοὺς makes clear that we are in the sphere of self-cursing. The vow, as in the previous examples, empowers and consecrates the participants’ determination to commit an act of violence.

  • 20 For the רסא, see Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and (...)
  • 21 For a detailed discussion of the numerous applications and adaptations of the issar formula, see Da (...)

9In Hebrew this pledge to abstain is called the issar (רסא)20. I will use this Hebrew word as a convenient term of designation for this type of vow, which occurs over a broad cultural and chronological continuum and has diverse applications21. In the light of the foregoing examples of it, I offer the following generalizations concerning the nature and religious significance of this vow, which Achilleus, Saul, and the Jewish conspirators take. I begin by comparing it with two acts of religious devotion with which it has much in common, fasting and oath-taking.

  • 22 Priam’s fasting in sorrow for Hektor has already been noted. Cf. Arrian, Anab. VII, 14, 8, where he (...)
  • 23 νηστεῖαι --- θεῶν μὲν οὐδενὶ δαιμόνων δὲ ϕαύλων ἀποτροπῆς ἕνεκα (De Def. Orac. 14 [Mor. 417c]). The (...)
  • 24 σιτουμένων γὰρ ἡμῶν προσίασι καὶ προσιζάνουσι τῷ σώματι (οἱ δαίμονες), «When we eat, daimones appro (...)

10Fasting never gained general importance as a cultic act or pious exercise in Greek religion of the archaic and classical periods. It occurs in a limited number of contexts (such as mystery cults) and does not play the vital role which it has, for example, in Judaism, Christianity, and Greco-Oriental mystery cults. In our passage and occasionally elsewhere it appears in connection with mourning22. With regard to the mysteries, Plutarch catalogues it among the initiatory rituals, practiced not for the purposes of piety, but to ward off hostile daimones23. In general, where demonic beings are present, food and drink can provide vehicles for their entry24.

  • 25 Such as Arbesmann, op. cit. (supra n. 16), p. 28 (see also idem, «Fasten», RAC, vol. VII, col. 447- (...)
  • 26 For the scholiast see Leaf’s comm. on line 212, and cf. in general Erwin Rohde, Psyche, 8th ed., Tü (...)

11Thus, in some cases the mourning fast may have an apotropaic component, since, as long as the soul of a dead person is near (for example, with one as yet unburied), there is danger from demonic infestation through eating and drinking. Some scholars in fact have employed this motif to elucidate Achilleus’ actions in our passage25. Shortly after it, in lines 211 sq., a scholiast adduces an apotropaic explanation for the bizarre rite of turning the feet of Patroklos’ corpse to the door, supposedly to prevent the return of his ghost26. However, as a rationale for Achilleus’ fasting and his desire to impose it on the entire army, this explanation does not do justice to the mood of his words, which focus on grief and revenge, not fear of demonic forces.

12More apropos to our context is another common theme connected with the practice of fasting, that is, isolation. Groups or individuals who fast deny themselves for a prescribed period of time the most fundamental of human experiences and so isolate themselves from normal human society for the purpose of devotion to prayer, repentance, study, mourning, or the like. Fasting, therefore, by nature, is usually an ancillary discipline. It isolates and empowers the participant for some other religious exercise. In the issar vow fasting consecrates and energizes the resolve to reach a goal, and here aspects of the oath enter the picture.

  • 27 In general, and for further bibliography, see Robert Parker, Miasma, Oxford, 1983, p. 186. For the (...)

13The one who takes an oath often does so under the threat of a self-imposed curse27. For example, in Iliad III, 298-300 the Achaians and Trojans, while pouring libations, finalize their oaths sworn on the occasion of the duel between Menelaos and Paris with the following prayer:

Ζεῦ κύδιστε μέγιστε, καὶ ἀθάνατοι θεοὶ ἄλλοι
ὁππότεροι πρότεροι ὑπὲρ ὅρκια πημήνειαν,
ὧδέ σϕἐγκέϕαλος χαμάδις ῥέοι ὡς ὅδε οἶνος.

Zeus, illustrious, greatest, and you other immortal gods, whoever are first to attack in violation of the oaths, may their brains be spilled on the ground as this wine.

14Self-cursing in oaths takes many forms, but this one is a representative type, and helpful to compare with the vow of the issar style. In this oath curse and others like it, persons or groups pronounce themselves accursed if the commitment is not fulfilled. In the abstention vow they bind themselves under a pledge of abstinence, which itself may be viewed as a kind of curse, until a goal is fulfilled. The oath-taker enforces a curse upon himself if by his actions he brings about accursed circumstances; his state will parallel the evil he causes. The abstention vow, however, presumes the existence of an accursed state of affairs in the present: for Achilleus, Patroclus’ death unavenged, for Saul, incomplete revenge against the Philistines, for the Jewish conspirators, Paul’s evangelism. In refusing what is most normal, the vow-taker protests the abnormality of the current situation and by his abstaining makes himself parallel to the state of dearth that surrounds him, a situation that will only be righted by some decisive action to which he consecrates himself. Thus, the fasting of the abstention vow is both self-dedicating and self-imprecating.

15So it is the temporal framework that contrasts the self-cursing of the two speech acts. The oath projects the curse entirely in the future and conditions it upon failing to accomplish the stated commitment, a failure that will bring about dire circumstances. The abstention vow may indeed include a non-specific future curse, but the differentiating factor is the pledge to abstain, which makes the curse an existential reality, a present experience to parallel the present evil, until some redemptive goal is accomplished.

  • 28 For these and other varieties of the abstention vow, see Jeremias, op. cit. (supra n. 20), p. 204 s (...)

16I would like now to expand on this basic scheme by way of a few more examples and then return to the Iliad. The issar could entail abstention from many things besides food and drink. It could include the renunciation of only certain kinds of food, certain kinds of clothing, sleep, sex, speaking, bathing, cutting hair, business dealings, entry into a house or town, anything that, like fasting, produces isolation from normal society28. We may take as a case in point a vow by Julius Caesar as recorded by Suetonius:

Diligebat quoque usque adeo, ut audita clade Tituriana barbam capillumque summiserit nec ante dempserit quam vindicasset.

So too did he love (sc. his men) that when he heard of the murder of Titurius, he allowed his beard and hair to grow long and did not cut them until he had taken vengeance (Jul. 67, 2).

  • 29 Cf. also Tac. Hist. IV, 61; Germ. 31; and (although not in a military context) NT Acts 18: 18 with (...)

17Here the act of denial is different, but the motivation of vengeance is the same as in the former vows29.

  • 30 On this text see Kaiser, op. cit. (supra n. 20), p. 255.
  • 31 Cf. Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, A Commentary on Psalms 101-150, Hermeneia, Psalms 3, Mi (...)

18In another biblical vow, Ps. 132: 1-5, both abstinence and motivation are different. A Hebrew psalmist prays, «Remember, O Lord, in David’s favor, all the hardships he endured; how he swore to the Lord and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob, “I will not enter my house or get into my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes nor slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob”»30. Quite possibly this Psalm was composed as part of a liturgy of thanksgiving when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem after David had taken that city (events which are recorded in 2Sam. 6)31. Again we see here that whatever the act of abstinence may be, it effects self-consecrating and self-cursing for the purpose of empowerment. The empowerment may come through compelling another as well as compelling oneself, as the following example will show.

19The myth of Demeter offers some interesting variations on these themes. Like Achilleus, grief and desire for revenge motivate her actions, and, also as in the case of Achilleus, these emotions issue in a solemn vow. When Zeus (via Iris) invites the goddess, who is grieving her loss of Persephone, to return to Olympus, she responds as follows (h. Dem. 331-333):

οὐ μὲν γάρ ποτἔϕασκε θυώδεος Οὐλύμποιο
πρίν γἐπιβήσεσθαι, οὐ πρὶν γῆς καρπὸν ἀνήσειν
πρὶν ἴδοι ὀϕθαλμοῖσιν ἑὴν εὐώπιδα κούρην.

For she claimed that she would never set foot on fragrant Olympus, nor let spring up earth’s fruit, until she saw with her eyes her fair daughter.

20These lines underscore some important issar motifs: first, Demeter, like David in the Psalm, swears not to go home until she realizes her aim, for her the homecoming of her daughter. We may compare a passage from the Nekuia (Od. XI, 187-196), when Antikleia tells Odysseus of the dismal state of his father Laertes because of Odysseus’long absence.

πατὴρ δὲ σὸς αὐτόθι μίμνει
ἀγρῷ, οὐδὲ πόλινδε κατέρχεται· οὐδέ οἱ εὐναὶ
δέμνια καὶ χλαῖναι καὶ ρήγεα σιγαλόεντα,
ἀλλ γε χεῖμα μὲν εὕδει ὅθι δμῶες ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
ἐν κόνι ἄγχι πυρός, κακὰ δὲ χροὶ εἵματα εἷται·
αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν ἔλθῃσι θέρος τεθαλυῖά τὀπώρη,
πάντῃ οἱ κατὰ γουνὸν ἀλωῆς οἰνοπέδοιο
ϕύλλων κεκλιμένων χθαμαλαὶ βεβλήαται εὐναί·
ἔνθ γε κεῖτἀχέων, μέγα δὲ ϕρεσὶ πένθος ἀέξει
σὸν νόστον ποθέων.

21Your father just stays in the field and does not go back to town. His bedding is not a bedstead and quilts and bright coverlets, but he sleeps with the slaves in a house during the winter in the ashes near the fire, wearing foul clothing. But when summer comes and lush late summer, his bed of strewn leaves is spread on the ground, here and there about the hill of his vineyard, where he lies grieving, cherishing deep sadness in his heart, longing for your homecoming.

22It is not specifically stated, but I think it is strongly implied, that Laertes had taken a similar vow, not to resume domestic and social normalcy until he sees his son return safely.

  • 32 In a fascinating passage from the Theogony (793-805) we see similar motifs of social alienation con (...)

23In her Homeric Hymn, Demeter temporarily enforces a similar state of isolation on herself, including abstinence from nectar and ambrosia in the earlier part of the narrative (47-50) and withdrawal from the divine assembly, as we see in the passage just cited32. We also learn in the lines following that, just as Achilleus sought to impose his fasting upon the Achaians and king Saul upon the hosts of Israel, Demeter incorporates the larger community of the human race into her abstinence, in fact threatening to destroy it completely by the cessation of vegetation on the earth. By so doing, she forces Zeus to do business with her and ultimately to allow Persephone to return.

  • 33 P. Brem. 63, 25-28 = Victor A. Tcherikover, Alexander Fuks and Menachem Stern, Corpus Papyrorum Jud (...)
  • 34 See the CPJ edition (cf. previous note) on lines 25-28 (p. 246).
  • 35 For the use of threats by humans against the gods, esp. in Egypt, see Ulrich Wilcken, Grundzüge und (...)

24Centuries and worlds removed from this archaic, mythical setting, a woman of Roman Egypt named Eudaimonis, whose son is away at war, hopes for a similar result by use of a similar vow. In a letter to her daughter she asserts33: ἴσθι δὲ ὅτι οὐ μέλλω θεῷ σχολάζειν, εἰ μὴ πρότερον ἀπαρτίσω τὸν υἱόν μου, «Be assured that I am not going to concern myself with god, until (lit. unless before) I receive back my son safely». The usage and meaning of the verb ἀπαρτίσω in this text is problematic and much discussed. My translation reflects Ulrich Wilcken’s interpretation, which I think makes the best sense34. If this is correct, on a small and personal scale, she inflicts the same threat on the deity35 as does Demeter on a cosmic scale, the cessation of the honors of the cult. In Demeter’s hymn (310-313) it is indeed the impending loss of those honors, if the human race perishes, that induces Zeus eventually to yield to Demeter’s demands.

25The last two examples betray a latent connection between the issar and the motif of threatening divine powers. Demeter of course deals with Zeus as an equal and the threat which her vow imposes on him is real. In a more Egyptian context, which Eudaimonis represents, humans threaten gods as well, because the gods depend on the cult for both honor and survival. In religious perspectives where this is not the case, those of Greeks (at least of the classical period), Jews, and Christians, humans cannot threaten gods, at least not openly and explicitly. They instead turn the deprivation of the vow upon themselves, consecrating themselves to action instead of agonistically compelling God or the gods.

26Demeter, Laertes, and the woman from Roman Egypt take their vows with determination to recover their loved ones. Achilleus, however, can entertain no such hope in the case of Patroklos. The best he can do, through his self-consecrating renunciation, is empower himself toward righting the situation through revenge and justice. As we have seen, Saul and Caesar took similar vows, but an important factor separates him from them. Achilleus knows, as he has learned from Thetis, that this act of vengeance will be that which heralds and seals his own impending death. In committing himself to avenge Patroklos through the vow of abstinence, on another level he consecrates himself to his own demise and ritualizes his acceptance of fate. In his vow not to eat or drink, Achilleus begins his journey from the land of the living.

Notes

1 I am grateful to the Chicago-Paris Workshop on Ancient Religions for the opportunity to present my research and for stimulating conversation and feedback on my paper. The following biblical reference works will be cited in abbreviated form: ABD = David Noel Freedman et al. (ed.), Anchor Bible Dictionary, New York, 1992; TDNT = Gerhard Kittel et al. (ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1964; TDOT = G. Johannes Botterweck et al. (ed.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, trans. John T. Willis, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1998.

2 History and the Homeric Iliad, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966, p. 314. On Page’s view and others, see Mark W. Edwards, The Iliad: A Commentary, vol. V (bks. XVII-XX), Cambridge, 1991, p. 253. Edwards himself seeks to understand the passage on the basis of J. B. Hainsworth’s (see infra n. 7) observation that in many cases in the Iliad (e.g., II, 399; VIII, 53 sq.) the meal constituted part of the ritual of joining battle. Achilleus’ refusal to dine therefore stresses the theme of his differentiation from the rest of the Greeks.

3 The practice appears in numerous cultures (Edward Westermarck, «The Principles of Fasting», Folklore 18, 1907, p. 397-409) and elsewhere in the Iliad; cf. Priam grieving for Hektor, XXIV, 601-620, 641-642 (see further infra n. 8 and 22). Fasting does not, however, emerge as a regular feature of Greek and Roman mourning rites (Ludwig Ziehen, «Νηστεία», RE XVII, 1, 95).

4 Grammatically the rich Homeric usage of the optative mood dominates this brief passage. ἂν --- ἀνώγοιμι is a «wünschenden Potentialen»; cf. Eduard Schwyzer, Griechische Grammatik, 2 vols., München, 1939-1950, vol. II, p. 330; and esp. Friedrich Slotty, Der Gebrauch des Konjunktivs und Optativs in den griechen Dialekten, I Der Hauptsatz, Forschungen zur griechischen und lateinischen Grammatik 3, Göttingen, 1915, p. 99 sq., 133 sq. (§ 315). οὔ πως ἂν --- ἰείη is a «voluntive» optative of emphatic denial, on which see Raphael Kühner and Bernhard Gerth, Ausführliche Grammatik der griechischen Sprache, Zweiter Teil: Satzlehre, 2 vols., Hannover-Leipzig 1898, 1904, vol. I, p. 233; Schwyzer, op. cit., vol. II, p. 324; Jebb on Soph. OT 343; and esp. Slotty, op. cit., p. 132 sq. (Homer), 143 (Attic); cf. also p. 93-99. The optative in 208, ἐπὴν τεισαίμεθα, according to M. M. Willcock, «can only be explained as influenced by the main verb ἀνώγοιμι ἄν; it would not of course occur with ἐπήν in Attic Greek. The aorist optative preserves its past time: “when we have avenged”» (The Iliad of Homer XIII-XXIV, London, 1984, p. 275). Similarly XXIV, 226 sq. (spoken by Priam), αὐτίκα γάρ με κατακτείνειεν Ἀχιλλεὺς ἀγκὰς ἑλόντἐμὸν υἱόν, ἐπὴν γόου ἐξ ἔρον εἵην, «Let Achilleus kill me, once I have taken my son in my arms and put away my desire for mourning». Here again εἵην is assimilative, and again with ἐπήν, although the governing optative does not have ἄν. Cf. Heinrich Duentzer apud Heinrich Ebeling (ed.), Lexicon Homericum, 2 vols., Stuttgart, 1885, s.v. ἐπήν (vol. I, p. 442) and Colin W. Macleod’s comment ad loc. (Iliad Book XXIV, Cambridge, 1982, p. 108). Similarly Leaf ad loc. (vol. II, p. 553) describes εἵην as an «opt. by attraction», but he seems to over-interpret its assimilative character when he says, «We should express the idea by a conditional, not a temporal particle: “let Achilleus kill me, so I might weep my fill”».

5 The motif of war as a feast or banquet is treated exhaustively by Emily Vermeule, Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry, Berkeley, 1979, p. 83-117 and esp. 105 for Zeus presiding over it.

6 Literalism extends to morbidity later in his expressed desire to consume Hektor raw (XXII, 345; Vermeule, op. cit. [supra n. 5], p. 94), a sentiment which Zeus ascribes to Hera with regard to all the Trojans (IV, 34 sq.; Vermeule, op. cit., p. 110).

7 On this see J. B. Hainsworth, «Joining Battle in Homer», Greece and Rome 13, 1966, p. 158-166, esp. 162.

8 Book XXIV, 599-620 presents a kind of role-reversal to this episode, where a fasting Priam comes to Achilleus’ hut to ask for the body of his son, and Achilleus urges him to eat despite his grief. In a skyphos portrait of this scene by the Brygos painter (c. 490 BC) Achilleus is himself eating as Priam petitions him; see Irène Aghion, Claire Barbillon et François Lissarrague, Héros et dieux de l’antiquité, Paris, 1994, p. 12 (Eng. trans. Gods and Heroes of Classical Antiquity, Paris-New York, 1996, p. 12-13).

9 In lines 303-08 the elders gather about him, urging him to eat, but he refuses, citing his grief over Patroklos, and reiterates that he will persist in his fast until sundown. As Martin West has noted (The East Face of Helicon, Oxford, 1997, p. 391), his behavior and the whole scene closely parallels David’s mourning of Abner (2Sam. 3.35): «Then all of the people came to persuade David to eat bread while it was yet day; but David swore, saying “God do so to me and more also, if I taste bread or anything else until the sun goes down!”» (for the topos of sunset as the conventional time for ending a fast, see infra n. 16). After the crowd of elders dissipates, a smaller group of six, consisting of the three who had approached him earlier in the embassy plus the two Atreidai and Idomeneus, stay on and continue their efforts (309 sq.) Achilleus, however, will not be comforted until he enters the mouth of war, and persists in refusing nourishment.

10 Edwards, op. cit. (supra n. 2), p. 253. This vindication, however, is not without irony. The nectar and ambrosia do not impart immortality, the effect when Tantalos stole it (Pind. Ol. 1, 60-64), and the intended effect when Demeter anointed Demophoon with it (h. Dem. 237). On another level it further seals and binds his unity with the dead Patroklos, who received a similar infusion from Thetis earlier in the book (37-40) to retard the decay of his flesh, since Achilleus refuses to allow his burial until he avenges him (XVIII, 333-335, which is another vow of sorts). Similar to Thetis’ motivation with Patroklos, Zeus’ intent in sending Athene with the divine substance was to slow the ravages of Achilleus’ fast. In general for the ambivalence of nectar and ambrosia where humans are concerned, see Vermeule, op. cit. (supra n. 5), p. 127, 131.

11 Cf. Peter Kyle McCarter, I Samuel, Anchor Bible 8, Garden City, NY, 1980, p. 26-27; Walter Brueggemann, «Samuel, Books of 1-2», ABD, vol. V, p. 963.

12 The translation of the clause reflects the MT. LXX: καὶ Σαουλ ἠγνόησεν ἄγνοιαν μεγάλην ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ, «And Saul committed a grave error on that day», which puts a different complexion on the entire passage, indicating that Saul’s binding of the soldiers by the vow was misguided. McCarter, op. cit. (supra n. 11), p. 245, accepts the Septuagintal reading as more congruent with the context and rejects the MT as corrupt. I, however, concur with the earlier judgment of Samuel Rolles Driver, Notes on the Hebrew Text and the Topography of the Books of Samuel, 2nd ed., Oxford, 1913, p. 112, that the LXX does in fact not agree with the bigger picture. Indeed the Israelites routed the Philistines convincingly that day (v. 31), and Yahweh’s displeasure at the oath being unheeded is obvious from the failure of the divination because of sin in the camp (v. 37) and the condemning lot falling upon Jonathan as the guilty party (v. 42); see Herbert Chanan Brichto, The Problem of “Curse” in the Hebrew Bible, JBL Monograph Series 13, Philadelphia, 1963, p. 80.

13 The Hebrew הלא can have either sense. Cf. Josef Scharbert, «הלא» TDOT, vol. I, p. 263. Brichto, op. cit. (supra n. 12), p. 45 sq., argues for the latter meaning and understands that Saul merely pronounces a curse upon or “adjures” the army, as if he were standing outside the process, inflicting it on others. In the context of the parallels adduced in this paper, however, Scharbert is surely right when he says «לאיו = er liess dass Volk eine Selbstverfluchung sprechen» (Biblica 39, 1958, p. 4 n. 6). This may have taken the form of Saul articulating the curse for the entire community (including himself) and the rest responding with «Amen», a common way of communal acceptance of an oath with its self-imprecation; see Sheldon H. Blank, «The Curse, Blasphemy, the Spell, and the Oath», Hebrew Union College Annual 23.1, 1950-51, p. 89 n. 53 and 54.

14 Hebrew םע like Greek λαός can bear that sense, which is certainly the meaning here. The Hebrew word is so used both for the various armies of the gentiles (Ex. 14: 6, 17: 13; Num. 21: 33-35, etc.) and, as in our passage, for the hosts of Israel (Josh. 10: 7; IChron. 11: 13, 19: 11, etc.). With regard to the latter, Norbert Lohfink examines the phrase ההוי םע as «army of Yahweh» («Beobachtungen zur Geschichte des Ausdrucks ההוי םע», in Hans Walter Wolff (ed.), Probleme biblischer Theologie: Gerhard von Rad um 70. Geburtstag, München, 1971, p. 275-303 passim, esp. 281 sq.) In general see Edward Lipinski, «םע» TDOT XI, p. 176; Hermann Strathmann, «λαός», TDNT IV, p. 34. We see the same force of the word in the early epic usage of Greek λαός (Martin Schmidt, «λαός», Lexikon des Frühgriechischen Epos, 14. Lieferung, Göttingen, 1991, p. 1638-1642; Strathmann, op. cit., p. 30 sq.) In Homer the word has a pronounced social dimension, that of the fighting masses over against the ἄριστοι, who often distinguish themselves in elaborate arming scenes and ἀριστεῖα (see Hainsworth, op. cit. [supra n. 7], p. 164-165). In our Iliad passage, υἷας Ἀχαιῶν (XIX, 206) is equivalent or nearly equivalent to λαός (on this Homeric phrase and its biblical parallels, see West, op. cit. [supra n. 9], p. 226).

15 The basic parallelism between Saul’s and Achilleus’ vows was noticed as long ago as 1658 by Zachary Bogan, Homerus Ἑβραΐζων sive comparatio Homeri cum scriptoribus sacris quoad normam loquendi; cf. West, op. cit. (supra n. 9), p. 390, and on Bogan see (Preface) p. x.

16 On the topos of sundown as the time of breaking the fast, cf. P. Rudolf Arbesmann, Das Fasten bei den Griechen und Römern, RGVV XXI 1, Giessen, 1929, p. 78 sq.; Westermarck, op. cit. (supra n. 3), p. 399.

17 In this regard he is more parallel to Agamemnon, as he also is with respect to the «evil spirit from the Lord» (ISam. 16: 14) that possesses him and drives his actions (Diana Vikander Edelman, «Saul», ABD, vol. V, p. 990). Possession by this spirit forms a foundational motif in the long episode of Saul’s conflict with David, as does Agamemnon’s ἄτη sent from Zeus in his conflict with Achilleus, which lies at the heart of the Iliad.

18 The Achilleus — Saul and the Odysseus — Jonathan correspondence in these two passages (and, in some respects, in general) is fascinating from a number of angles. The former pair has in common a brooding demeanor which is unpleasing and causes them to pale in comparison with the reasonableness and likableness of the latter two. Achilleus and Saul both experience vindication through divine acts and signs (see further below), which, however, does not mitigate their frustration and ill destiny, which hovers over them and all of their accomplishments.

19 McCarter, op. cit. (supra n. 11), p. 249.

20 For the רסא, see Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, New York, 1950, s.v.; Joachim Jeremias, Die Abendmahlsworte Jesu, 4th ed., Göttingen, 1967, p. 204-207 (Eng. trans., The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, Philadelphia, 1966 [based on the third German ed. 1960], p. 212-216). For parallels from other Semitic languages, see Richard S. Tomback, A Comparative Semitic Lexicon of the Phoenician and Punic Languages, SBLDS 32, Missoula, Mont., 1978, p. 27. More generally, for vows in the Hebrew scriptures and Judaism, see Walter Kaiser, «דנר», TDOT, vol. IX, p. 242-255; Tony W. Cartledge, Vows in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, JSOT Supplements 147, Sheffield, 1992. For ancient Greek vows, which center on the votive gift, see esp. William H. D. Rouse, Greek Votive Offerings, Cambridge, 1902; Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, Cambridge, Mass., 1985, p. 68-70; Folkert T. Van Straten, «Gifts for the Gods», in Henk S. Versnel (ed.), Faith, Hope, and Worship, Leiden, 1981, p. 65-151. Cartledge (p. 36-39) classes some of the biblical texts which I discuss, such as the above 1Sam. 14: 24, as oaths rather than vows. But the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, 2nd ed., Oxford, 2011, p. 764-765 s.v. «Vows and Oaths», seems correct in pointing out that the line between the two speech acts often blurs (cf. also various scholars surveyed by Cartledge on the cited pages). For my own attempt to distinguish between the temporal frameworks of the oath and the issar vow in particular, see the discussion of oaths below.

21 For a detailed discussion of the numerous applications and adaptations of the issar formula, see David G. Martinez, «“May she neither eat nor drink until…”: Love Magic and Vows of Abstinence», in Marvin Meyer and Paul Mirecki (ed.), Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, Leiden, 1995, p. 335-359.

22 Priam’s fasting in sorrow for Hektor has already been noted. Cf. Arrian, Anab. VII, 14, 8, where he reports that Alexander, until the third day after the death of Hephaistion, μήτε σίτου γεύσασθαι μήτε τινὰ θεραπείαν ἄλλην θεραπεῦσαι τὸ σῶμα, ἀλλὰ κεῖσθαι γὰρ ὀδυρόμενον πενθικῶς σιγῶντα, «neither tasted food nor paid attention to his body in any other way, but lay either moaning or keeping a mournful silence».

23 νηστεῖαι --- θεῶν μὲν οὐδενὶ δαιμόνων δὲ ϕαύλων ἀποτροπῆς ἕνεκα (De Def. Orac. 14 [Mor. 417c]). The list in which νηστεῖαι occurs, which includes ὠμοϕαγία, specifically relates to the Dionysiac cult. Cf. also De Is. et Os. 26 (Mor. 361b), where Plutarch ascribes the sentiment to Xenokrates (head of the Academy from 339-314 BC). On both passages see Guy Soury, La Démonologie de Plutarque, Paris, 1942, p. 50-53; Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), Plutarch’s Theological Writings and Early Christian Literature, Leiden, 1975, p. 54, 154.

24 σιτουμένων γὰρ ἡμῶν προσίασι καὶ προσιζάνουσι τῷ σώματι (οἱ δαίμονες), «When we eat, daimones approach and cleave to the body» (Porphyr. De Philos. ex Orac 149).

25 Such as Arbesmann, op. cit. (supra n. 16), p. 28 (see also idem, «Fasten», RAC, vol. VII, col. 447-493, esp. 464-465).

26 For the scholiast see Leaf’s comm. on line 212, and cf. in general Erwin Rohde, Psyche, 8th ed., Tübingen, 1921, p. 23 sq., n. 2 (English trans., New York, 1923, vol. I, p. 47, n. 26).

27 In general, and for further bibliography, see Robert Parker, Miasma, Oxford, 1983, p. 186. For the self-curse of the Achaians and Trojans, see the essays of Faraone and Polinskaya in this issue.

28 For these and other varieties of the abstention vow, see Jeremias, op. cit. (supra n. 20), p. 204 sq. = Eng. trans. p. 213. It is not difficult to understand why there is a close connection and even at times conflation between the issar and rituals of mourning. What Plutarch suggests regarding the latter also applies to the former: πένθους μὲν οἰκεῖον τὸ μὴ σύνηθες, «Whatever is not customary is proper in mourning» (Quaest. Rom. 14 [Mor. 267a]). See further on this passage in the next note.

29 Cf. also Tac. Hist. IV, 61; Germ. 31; and (although not in a military context) NT Acts 18: 18 with Jeremias, op. cit. (supra n. 20), p. 205 (Engl. trans. p. 214). With regard to mourning Plutarch observes, «Among the Greeks, whenever any sort of trouble» (i.e., bereavement) «comes, women cut their hair, but men let it grow long, since for men it is customary to cut their hair, but for women to let it grow» (Quaest. Rom. 14 [Mor. 267b]). On the inversion of normality in mourning, see previous note. For the opposite scenario with regard to hair, see Herodotus I, 82, 7: Ἀργεῖοι μέν νυν ἀπὸ τούτου τοῦ χρόνου κατακειράμενοι τὰς κεϕαλάς, πρότερον ἐπάναγκες κομῶντες, ἐποιήσαντο νόμον τε καὶ κατάρην μὴ πρότερον θρέψειν κόμην Ἀργείων μηδένα μηδὲ τὰς γυναῖκάς σϕι χρυσοϕορήσειν, πρὶν Θυρέας ἀνασώσωνται, «Since this time the Argives, although before this they habitually wore their hair long, cropped their hair and passed a law, putting themselves under a curse, that no Argive would let his hair grow, nor their wives wear gold jewelry, until they recover Thyreae». ἐποιήσαντο νόμον τε καὶ κατάρην indicates a communal vow and ritual of self-cursing, as Saul imposed on the Israelites and Achilleus wished to impose on the Achaians.

30 On this text see Kaiser, op. cit. (supra n. 20), p. 255.

31 Cf. Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, A Commentary on Psalms 101-150, Hermeneia, Psalms 3, Minneapolis, 2011, p. 457.

32 In a fascinating passage from the Theogony (793-805) we see similar motifs of social alienation connected with oath violation among the gods. Hesiod tells us that any god who breaks an oath that he or she swears by the river Styx will be cursed by being cut off from the divine community. Such ostracism includes being denied nectar and ambrosia for one full year. This compulsory abstinence results in a state of comatose illness for that year, followed by nine more years in which the offender is barred from the feasts and councils of the gods on Olympus.

33 P. Brem. 63, 25-28 = Victor A. Tcherikover, Alexander Fuks and Menachem Stern, Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum, 3 vols., Cambridge, MA, 1947-64, vol. II, n° 442. Cf. another letter by the same Eudaimonis to her son (P. Flor. III, 332): οὔτ [’ ] λουσάμην [οὔ]τε προσεκύνησα θεοὺς ϕοβουμένη σου τὸ μετέωρον, «I have neither washed nor worshipped the gods, fearing your unfinished business», on which see Henk S. Versnel, «Religious Mentality in Ancient Prayer», in Henk S. Versnel (ed.), Faith, Hope, and Worship, Leiden, 1981, p. 1-64, esp. p. 41 n. 169. For the Eudaimonis correspondence in general, see Jacques Schwartz’s introduction to P. Alex. Giss. 57 and his article «En marge du dossier d’Apollonios», Chr. d’Égypte, 37, 1962, p. 348-358 (for the date of the P. Brem. text as 16 July AD 116 see ibid. p. 354); Roger S. Bagnall and Raffaella Cribiore, Women’s Letters from Ancient Egypt, Ann Arbor, 2006, p. 139-63 passim.

34 See the CPJ edition (cf. previous note) on lines 25-28 (p. 246).

35 For the use of threats by humans against the gods, esp. in Egypt, see Ulrich Wilcken, Grundzüge und Chrestomathie der Papyruskunde, 2 vols., Leipzig-Berlin, 1912, vol. 1, part 1, p. 125; William Brashear, «Ein Neues Zauberensemble in München», Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 19, 1992, p. 79-109, esp. p. 80 n. 7; and esp. Robert K. Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 54, Chicago, 1993, p. 1, 5-6, 9, 21-22 with n. 92, and passim (see index p. 311). Wilcken cites Porph. Epist. ad Aneb. 29, where the Neo-Platonist expresses amazement at this practice as a peculiar feature of Egyptian religion. There are, however, Greek, Roman, and even Christian echoes of the practice; cf. Harold Bell, “Popular Religion in Egypt: I. The Pagan Period”, JEA 34, 1948, p. 82-97, esp. 96; Versnel, op. cit. (supra n. 33), p. 37-42; David G. Martinez, Michigan Papyri XVI: A Greek Love Charm from Egypt, American Studies in Papyrology 30, Atlanta, 1991, p. 69-74.

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University of Chicago

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