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  • Hades’ Famous Foals and the Prehistory of Homeric Horse Formulas
  • Ryan Platte (bio)

The adjective κλυτόπωλος (of famous foals) appears five times in early Greek poetry, thrice in the Iliad as an epithet of Hades, once in the fragmentary Hesiodic Catalogue in reference to the hero Ion, and later in a very brief fragment from Pindar where it refers to Poseidon.1 The Iliadic corpus, however, provides us the best forum for understanding the word’s usage in oral poetry and opens a special window into the generation of Homeric horse formulas generally.2 In what follows I will show that κλυτόπωλος and a wide array of Homeric expressions used to describe horses should be viewed as part of a unified network of historically and linguistically connected oral formulas. All of the formulas in this network will be shown to relate to ὠκέες ἵπποι (swift horses), one of the oldest and best attested formulas preserved in Greek from Indo-European poetry’s ancient past. I will argue that the origin of κλυτόπωλος is linked to a wide range of formulas that all convey the idea of “good horses” and that recognizing the position of κλυτόπωλος within this formulaic network helps us to chart the diachronic evolution of this network as a whole. This analysis will, I hope, prove especially useful since existing scholarship does not approach the epithet from the perspective of oral verse mechanics or consider its relationship to other Homeric formulas, but instead focuses exclusively on the mythological and religious significance of the term’s application to Hades, which is difficult to discern.3 Since I will argue that the Hadean epithet is an extension of a broad formula network, I will ultimately need to address the concerns of such scholarship and explain why such an extension to Hades makes sense, but my first and primary task is to investigate this and related terms’ function within the mechanics of oral verse.

An exposition and analysis of this network must begin with the most basic of Homer’s equine formulas, the aforementioned ὠκέες ἵπποι (swift horses), the unique features of which provide a key to identifying related expressions. This formula itself is applied to horses quite frequently in the Iliad, but does not, of course, occur in only one shape, but rather in a range of grammatical forms. The following chart tallies the occurrences of the formula in its various forms in the Iliad (the phrase very rarely occurs outside of this text):

Formula Il.
ὠκέες ἵπποι / 10
ὠκέες … ἵπποι / 1
ὠκέας ἵππους / 18
ἵππους / ὠκέας 2
ἵππων ὠκειάων / 2
ἵππων … ὠκειάων / 1

At first glance this formula is relatively ordinary. Its declensional distribution, for example, is the most common: the accusative is most prolific, followed by the nominative, and then the genitive.4 In this case the dative and vocative are unknown.5 It also happens to be of very common shape and position. The two most common inflections of ὠκέες ἵπποι happen to be of the shape – ◡ ◡ – – and occur always at verse end, a very common formulaic shape and position. This formula does not occur outside of the plural.

This is the most common and important equine formula in Homer, but there are several others that serve much the same semantic function even if they differ in precise diction. Through comparison of some of these formulas to ὠκέες ἵπποι we are able to identify a common underlying phonetic structure. Observe the following two formulas that are semantically related to the ὠκέες ἵπποι formula but that occur grammatically in the dual number rather than in the more common plural:6

Formula Il.
ταχέ’ ἵππω 2
χαλκόποδ’ ἵππω 2

The formula, ταχέ’ ἵππω (fast horses), is essentially synonymous with ὠκέες ἵπποι, and χαλκόποδ’ ἵππω (bronze-footed horses), although not technically synonymous, does describe the horses’ feet.7 Their feet are the instrument of their speed, so there is a semantic overlap at the metonymic level. The most interesting element of these substitutions for the current argument is their phonic similarity to each other as well as the ὠκέες ἵπποι formula. In their first word, all the expressions contain an unvoiced velar stop, either of the unaspirated kappa variety, of ὠκύς, or that of its aspirated counterpart, khi, as in ταχέ’. The word χαλκόποδε even exhibits two unvoiced velars, one in echo of the other. Although ὠκέες ἵπποι itself does not appear in the dual, these alternative dual formulas bear a resemblance to...

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