Dog-Helen and homeric insult

Classical Antiquity 14 (1):41-61 (1995)

Authors
Margaret Graver
Dartmouth College
Abstract
Helen's self-disparagement is an anomaly in epic diction, and this is especially true of those instances where she refers to herself as "dog" and "dog-face." This essay attempts to show that Helen's dog-language, in that it remains in conflict with other features of her characterization, has some generic significance for epic, helping to establish the superiority of epic performance over competing performance types which treated her differently. The metaphoric use of χύων and its derivatives has not been well understood: the scholiast's gloss "shameless" is no more than a functional equivalent, and interpretations linking it primarily with reckless courage or with sexual misconduct are not well founded. An analysis of contexts suggests that "dog" as an insult has a fundamental association with physical greed and even cannibalism. The implied notion of avarice, however, may also be extended into other behavioral spheres, including those of fighting and sexuality. A character may also be called "dog" for reviling or slandering another unjustly. These strongly negative implications are out of keeping with the character given to Helen in epic. For where tragedy and lyric generally represent Helen as blameworthy, Homeric epic tends to absolve her of blame and to make her personally as well as physically attractive. The unexpected application of dog-terms to her may therefore be read as an allusion to other versions of the Troy legend which were more hostile to Helen. Negative portrayals of Helen are likely to have figured in the ancient kitharodic narrative which was a precursor of both tragedy and lyric; these are perhaps the unfriendly "songs" mentioned by Helen at Il. 6.357. By referring to such defamatory narratives through the dog-insult and through other instances of Helen's self-blame, the epic performer marks his own more favorable treatment as a generic preference
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DOI 10.2307/25000142
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References found in this work BETA

A Greek-English Lexicon. [REVIEW]Paul Maas, H. G. Liddell, Robert Scott & Henry Stuart Jones - 1927 - Journal of Hellenic Studies 47 (1):154-156.
Fragmenta Hesiodea. [REVIEW]P. Walcot, Hesiod, R. Merkelbach & M. L. West - 1969 - Journal of Hellenic Studies 89:126-126.
Metal-Working in Homer.D. H. F. Gray - 1954 - Journal of Hellenic Studies 74:1-15.

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