Friday, August 18, 2017

Multiformity, Tradition, and the Aktorione Molione in early Greek Poetry and Art

[615] Those who inhabited Bouprasion and radiant Elis,
[616] as much as Hyrmine and Myrsinos on the furthest edge
[617] and the Olenion rock and Alesion contain with them,
[618] of these there were four leaders, and ten for each man
[[619] swift shifts followed, and many Epeians embarked on them.
[620] Of these Amphimakos and Thalpios were the leaders,
[621] sons, the one of Kteatos, and the other of Eurytos, the two sons of Aktor. 

A line drawing of the fibula discussed in this post (Public Domain)
A large bronze fibula in the National Museum in Athens, described as being of the so-called Attic-Boeotian type and from the Idaean Cave on Crete, and dated to 700-675 BCE, appears to show the Aktorione Molione fighting another figure. The Aktorione Molione are conjoined twins in Greek myth who were evidently formidable opponents in battle. Eventually killed in an ambush by Herakles, they fought Nestor in his youth, as Nestor recounts in books 11 and 23 of the Iliad. Their mother was Molionē, but they seem to have had both a divine father, the god Poseidon, and a mortal father, Aktor. Although they each had a name (Kteatos and Eurytos), the twins are frequently referred to in the dual with the patronymic and matronymic Aktorione Molione. The scholia in the Venetus A manuscript of the Iliad refer to the twins' paternity as being ambiguous in a comment on 11.709, where Nestor refers to them as simply the Molione:
Μολίονε: Ἄκτορος καὶ Μολίνης παῖδες Κτέατος καὶ Εὔρυτος. Κατά τινας δὲ, Μολιόνης καὶ Ποσειδῶνος...

Molione: Kteatos and Eurytos were the children of Aktor and Moline. But according to some, [they were the children] of Molione and Poseidon...
(The note goes on to discuss why Nestor might be referring to them only as the Molione, instead of the Aktorione Molione.) 

A fragment of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, however, recounts their conception (the following partially reconstructed text and translation come from Most's 2007 Loeb edition of the Hesiodic fragments, this is fragment 17A in Merkelbach and West's edition):
καὶ τὴν μέν ῥ' Ἄ]κτωρ [θαλ]ερὴν ποιήσατ‘ ἄκοι[τιν
                              ]εος γαιηό̣χ̣ου ἐννοσιγαίου·
ἣ δ' ἅρ' ἐνὶ μεγ]άροις διδυ̣μάονε γείνατο τέκ[νω 
Ἄκτορι κυσαμ]ένη καὶ ἐρικτ̣ύ̣π̣ω̣ι̣ ἐννοσιηγαί̣[ωι,
ἀπλήτω, Κτέα]τ̣ό̣ν τε καὶ Εὔ̣ρυτον, οἷσι πόδες [μ]έ̣ν̣.[
ἦν τέτορες, κ]εφα̣λ̣α̣ὶ̣ δ̣ὲ̣ δ̣ύ̣ω̣ ἰ̣δ̣ὲ̣ χ̣εῖρες εεισ̣[. .]ν̣
                            ὤ]μων δ̣.φ̣υ̣[. .]κ̣α̣π̣ι̣σ̣χι[. . . . .]μ̣ε̣ν̣[          

Actor made her his [vigorous] wife.  
                             ] of the Earth-holder, Earth-shaker;
she] bore [in the] halls two twin sons, 
pregnant by Actor] and by the loud-sounding Earth-shaker,
dreadful both, Cteatus] and Eurytus, whose feet
were four in number,] and their heads two, and hands [
                            ] from shoulders
The Iliad never indicates explicitly that the Aktorione Molione are conjoined twins (and other closely associated figures are referred to in the dual in this way in the poem), but the Hesiodic passage certainly appears to be depicting them as being conjoined. Moreover, in Iliad 23.638–42, Nestor tells a story in which he loses a chariot race to the Aktorione Molione. Snodgrass [1998:29] has pointed out in connection with this passage that both twins participate in what seems to be a one-man race with Nestor, and indeed their conjoined nature seems to be (at least in part) why they are so formidable: they are two men fighting as one (and one of those two is the son of a god!).  It is difficult to be absolutely sure as to what the Hesiodic fragment is saying about their paternity, but other figures in Greek myth have both a mortal and a divine father: Helen, for example is biologically the daughter of Zeus, but was raised as the daughter her mortal "father" Tyndareus, and her twin brothers, Kastor and Polydeukes, are biologically the sons of Tyndareus and Zeus respectively, one mortal, one divine. The Hesiodic text then may be saying that both Aktor and Poseidon are the biological fathers of the twins, in a pattern found elsewhere in Indo-European myth, as Douglas Frame has explored in his work Hippota Nestor (2009):
The Molione, who are rescued from Nestor’s path by Poseidon, are another pair of Indo-European twins with clear distinctions between them. Like the Dioskouroi they have dual paternity, being sons of a god, Poseidon, and a mortal, Aktor: their patronymic Aktoríōne contains their mortal father’s name. In the Catalogue of Ships, where two of the four leaders from Bouprasion and Elis are sons of the Molione, the Molione themselves are given individual names, Kteatos and Eurytos. Pindar Olympian 10.26–27 calls Kteatos the son of Poseidon, and Eurytos must therefore be the son of Aktor. (Frame, Hippota Nestor, Part II Chapter 2)
In addition to the early Greek poetic references we have noted so far, there are numerous depictions of the Aktorione Molione in Late Geometric art: Snodgrass notes that there are at least fourteen from this time period. As Coldstream has pointed out, their presence on ceramic vases and elsewhere allows us to find narrative in early Greek art where we might otherwise assume a representation of daily life. For example, a monumental vase attributed to the workshop of the "Dipylon master" (Louvre A519), used as grave marker, shows warriors in battle. If it weren't for the discernable presence of the Aktorione-Molione, we would not know that this a mythical, epic scene (see the drawing in Coldstream 1991, p. 50). Here are some of my own photos of another similar vase in the Louvre, where once again a four-legged figure appears to be fighting (and once again, we only seem to have the legs preserved!):

Other surviving examples are far more clear in their depiction of two men fighting as one (see examples in Snodgrass 1998). These vases are telling a story, and an epic one at that. 

The popularity of the Aktorione Molione as a subject in art may have to do with the way that their distinctive conjoined body allows the artist to invoke a recognizable story, rather than because of any poetic fad. Much ink has been spilled on the question of whether or not Late Geometric artists knew their Homer, and the differences between Nestor's tales about the Aktorione Molione in the Iliad and surviving visual representations have been extensively analyzed. I submit that of course the artists knew their Homer. What they might not have known is our Homer—that is to say, the Iliad and Odyssey as we now know them. As I have argued in my published work and in previous posts, the oral epic poetic tradition in which our Iliad was composed predates these works of art by at least a thousand years, but the tradition was a dynamic and multiform one. The Iliad and Odyssey surely existed as recognizable songs by this time, but they were being composed anew in performance every time within a system that was still very creative and generative. The myths that were being narrated by the poets in epic songs existed in multiple, at times competing versions, and they were being performed by competing epic poets who did not all sing the story in exactly the same way. The painters too must have had their own traditional ways of telling these stories visually (handed down as they were from master to apprentice over generations) that did not depend on what the poets were doing. What seems clear is that when Nestor recalls the Aktorione Molione as part of his youthful exploits, he alludes to what would have been a well established mythological tradition known to poets, artists, and their audiences. He refers to them hypertextually as it were, activating in the audience's mind their knowledge of another epic cycle of tales now largely lost to us. (For more on the concept of "hypertextual" references in Homer, see previous posts.)

But the tales of the Aktorione Molione are not entirely lost; multiform though those tales seem to have been, they can be at least partially reconstructed from the surviving references to them. Here are the key passages from Iliad 11.707ff concerning the Aktorione Molione (in which Nestor is telling a story about a battle he fought when he was still a youth): 

[707]                                 οἳ δὲ τρίτῳ ἤματι πάντες
[708] ἦλθον ὁμῶς αὐτοί τε πολεῖς καὶ μώνυχες ἵπποι
[709] πανσυδίῃμετὰ δέ σφι Μολίονε θωρήσσοντο
[710] παῖδ᾽ ἔτ᾽ ἐόντ᾽οὔ πω μάλα εἰδότε θούριδος ἀλκῆς...  

[717]                                                οὐδέ με Νηλεὺς
[718] εἴα θωρήσσεσθαιἀπέκρυψεν δέ μοι ἵππους:
[719] οὐ γάρ πώ τί μ᾽ ἔφη ἴδμεν πολεμήϊα ἔργα.
[720] ἀλλὰ καὶ ὧς ἱππεῦσι μετέπρεπον ἡμετέροισι
[721] καὶ πεζός περ ἐώνἐπεὶ ὧς ἄγε νεῖκος Ἀθήνη...

[737] ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δὴ Πυλίων καὶ Ἐπειῶν ἔπλετο νεῖκος,
[738] πρῶτος ἐγὼν ἕλον ἄνδρα, κόμισσα δὲ μώνυχας ἵππους,
[739] Μούλιον αἰχμητήν: γαμβρὸς δ᾽ ἦν Αὐγείαο,
[740] πρεσβυτάτην δὲ θύγατρ᾽ εἶχε ξανθὴν Ἀγαμήδην,
[741] ἣ τόσα φάρμακα ᾔδη ὅσα τρέφει εὐρεῖα χθών.
[742] τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ προσιόντα βάλον χαλκήρεϊ δουρί,
[743] ἤριπε δ᾽ ἐν κονίῃσιν: ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἐς δίφρον ὀρούσας
[744] στῆν ῥα μετὰ προμάχοισιν: ἀτὰρ μεγάθυμοι Ἐπειοὶ
[745] ἔτρεσαν ἄλλυδις ἄλλος, ἐπεὶ ἴδον ἄνδρα πεσόντα
[746] ἡγεμόν᾽ ἱππήων, ὃς ἀριστεύεσκε μάχεσθαι.
[747] αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν ἐπόρουσα κελαινῇ λαίλαπι ἶσος,
[748] πεντήκοντα δ᾽ ἕλον δίφρους, δύο δ᾽ ἀμφὶς ἕκαστον
[749] φῶτες ὀδὰξ ἕλον οὖδας ἐμῷ ὑπὸ δουρὶ δαμέντες.

[750] καί νύ κεν Ἀκτορίωνε Μολίονε παῖδ᾽ ἀλάπαξα,
[751] εἰ μή σφωε πατὴρ εὐρὺ κρείων ἐνοσίχθων
[752] ἐκ πολέμου ἐσάωσε καλύψας ἠέρι πολλῇ.

[707]                                        On the third day they all
[708] came, both the many men themselves and the solid-hoofed horses,
[709] at great speed. And with them the two Molione armed themselves,
[710] although they were still young, not yet knowing much about rushing combat [alkê]...

[717]                                                Neleus did not
[718] allow me to arm myself, but hid my horses;
[719] for he said that I did not yet know the deeds of war at all.
[720] But even so I stood out among our horsemen,
[721] although I was on foot, for so Athena led the fighting [neikos]...

[737] But when the fighting [neikos] began between the Pylians and the Epeians,
[738] I was the first to slay a man, and I took his solid-hoofed horses,
[739] the spearman Moulios; he was the son-in-law of Augeias
[740] and had his oldest daughter, golden-haired Agamede,
[741] who knew as many drugs as the wide earth grows.
[742] Him I hit with my bronze-tipped spear as he advanced,
[743] and he fell in the dust; and I, leaping onto his chariot,
[744] stood with the champions in front; and the great-hearted Epeians
[745] fled in all directions when they saw that man fallen,
[746] the leader of their horsemen, who was the best at fighting.
[747] But I rushed ahead, same as a dark whirlwind,
[748] and I seized fifty chariots, and on either side of each two
[749] men bit the ground with their teeth, subdued by my spear.
[750] And I would also have destroyed the young Aktorione Molione
[751] if their father, the wide-ruling earthshaker,
[752] had not saved [sôzô] them from the battle, covering them with a great mist.*           
In these passages we learn that the young Aktorione Molione, like the young Nestor, were eager for war even before they were properly of age to fight. During Nestor's tremendous aristeia, in which he destroys fifty chariots and their warriors among many others, the Aktorione Molione are held up as the only ones Nestor couldn't stop, and that only because their father Poseidon covered them in a mist—to which we can compare Apollo's of preservation of Hektor by similar means in Iliad 20 (as well as Poseidon's preservation of Aeneas in that same book and Aphrodite's rescue of Alexander in Iliad 3). Likewise in Iliad 23, the Aktorione Molione are the only ones who can defeat Nestor in a chariot race:
[638] οἴοισίν μ᾽ ἵπποισι παρήλασαν Ἀκτορίωνε
[639] πλήθει πρόσθε βαλόντες ἀγασσάμενοι περὶ νίκης,
[640] οὕνεκα δὴ τὰ μέγιστα παρ᾽ αὐτόθι λείπετ᾽ ἄεθλα.
[641] οἳ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔσαν δίδυμοι: ὃ μὲν ἔμπεδον ἡνιόχευεν,
[642] ἔμπεδον ἡνιόχευ᾽, ὃ δ᾽ ἄρα μάστιγι κέλευεν.
[638] Only with horses did the two Aktorione surpass me,
[639] surging ahead because of their greater number, ever so eager for victory
[640] because the biggest prizes were left for that event.
[641] They were twins, you see; the one steadfastly held the reins,
[642] steadfastly held the reins, and the other urged on with the whip.*
Obviously, Nestor has reason to portray them as formidable, but he/the poet could have chosen any number of opponents to fill the narrative function for which the Aktorione Molione are used here. It seems likely that the Aktorione Molione were traditionally associated with fearsome prowess, and that in the poetic traditions in which Nestor featured as a youth they were traditionally opposed to him. Those traditions are primarily known to us now through Nestor's memories related in the Iliad, but they may well have been at one time the subject of their own songs. 

The Aktorione Molione were heroes of an earlier generation than those of the Trojan War, much like Herakles, who was one of the Argonauts and who was responsible for an earlier sack of Troy (alluded to in Iliad 7.451-453, 20.145-148, and 21.442-45) amidst his other labors, but who did not fight in the later Trojan War. So it is not surprising that in fact the Aktorione Molione and Herakles did fight each other, and indeed it is Herakles who ultimately kills them. The story is preserved in Pindar (Olympian 10.26–34) and Apollodorus (2.7.2). (See also Ibycus fr. 4.) Here are the relevant verses from Pindar:
ἐπεὶ Ποσειδάνιον 
πέφνε Κτέατον ἀμύμονα, 
πέφνε δ᾽ Εὔρυτονὡς Αὐγέαν λάτριον 
ἀέκονθ᾽ ἑκὼν μισθὸν ὑπέρβιον 

πράσσοιτολόχμαισι δὲ δοκεύσαις ὑπὸ Κλεωνᾶν δάμασε  
καὶ κείνους Ἡρακλέης ἐφ᾽ ὁδῷ, 
ὅτι πρόσθε ποτὲ Τιρύνθιον 
ἔπερσαν αὐτῷ στρατὸν 
μυχοῖς ἥμενον Ἄλιδος 
Μολίονες ὑπερφίαλοι.

when he [Herakles] had slain the son of Poseidon,
the faultless Kteatos,
and he had slain Eurytos, in order that from the unwilling Augeas,
who was overwhelming in his might, his servant's wages
he might willingly recover;
Herakles overcame them after keeping a lookout for them in a thicket below Kleonai
and slew them by the roadside,
because once before they had destroyed
his Tirynthian army,
when it was encamped in an innermost recess of Elis,
the excessively arrogant Moliones.
Mary Ebbott and I discuss Herakles' ambush of the Aktorione Molione as an example of the epic pattern in which a formidable enemy who can't be defeated in battle is taken down instead by ambush tactics (see Dué and Ebbott 2010:98). Rhesos, who is killed by Odysseus in and Diomedes in Iliad 10, is one such hero, but there are quite a few other examples. Apollodorus adds additional details to the story as told in Pindar: Herakles had made a truce with the Aktorione Molione because he was ill, but they attacked his army and killed many while Herakles retreated. He then ambushes them on their way to the Isthmian games. The key sequence is that Herakles ambushes them because earlier he could not defeat them in a standing battle. Within the tradition of the Trojan War, the primary example of this kind of ambush is the use of the wooden horse to ambush and defeat the Trojans when ten years of polemos alone cannot.

The surviving sources, some poetic and some visual, strongly suggest that the Aktorione Molione were at one time deeply embedded in the mythological and poetic system in which the Iliad and Odyssey were composed, and that they were featured in epic songs about events that take place chronologically prior to the Trojan War. Their sons are included in the Catalogue of Ships, and one of them, Amphimakhos, son of Kteatos, son of Aktor, is killed by Hektor in Iliad 13.185. Nestor can refer to them, and the poet can expect his audience to know their backstory, and how frightening and skilled they were, whether in battle or chariot racing. The Aktorione Molione had a story, and although our evidence suggests that there were some variations on that story (such as the exact nature of their paternity) in antiquity, it was a story that was known to tradition and could be invoked in the process of composition in performance. For that reason, Nestor could not have killed them during his youthful aristeia. Poseidon had to rescue them, because, much like Aeneas in his encounter with Achilles in Iliad 20, death at the hands of Nestor would have have been ὑπερ μόρον. (See also Frame 2009, citing Cantieni 1942:76.)

And now finally I return to the bronze fibula with which I began. We now know that the Aktorione Molione are depicted, and we know why they look as they do, with seemingly one body, four arms and four legs. But who are they fighting? The museum's description says they are fighting Herakles. But if indeed the Aktorione Molione, like Rhesos, could only be killed by ambush, it is much more likely that they are fighting Nestor (or another warrior) in conventional battle. 

Works cited

Cantieni, R. 1942. Die Nestorerzählung im XI. Gesang der Ilias (V. 670–762). Zurich.
Coldstream, J. 1991. "The Geometric style: the birth of the picture." In T. Rasmussen and N. Spivey, eds., Looking at Greek Vases. Cambridge.
Dué, C. and M. Ebbott, eds. 2010. Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush. Washington, DC. 
Frame, D. Hippota Nestor. 2009. Washington, DC.
Snodgrass, A. 1998. Homer and the Artists: Text and Picture in Early Greek Art. Cambridge.
*My translations from Iliad 11 and 23 were made together with Douglas Frame, Mary Ebbott, Leonard Muellner, and Gregory Nagy. See also Frame, Hippota Nestor (Center for Hellenic Studies, 2009), Part II chapter 4:

1 comment:

  1. Nicely done and very helpful. Persuasive on the traditionality of Molione. But why must traditional myth/epic be conflated with Homeric epic, however flexible, fluid, prototypical, etc., especially when Nestor's tales are external to the narrative boundary of the Iliad? I find it a curiously vestigial romanticism among oralists to conceive of ancient Greek myth and epic as always Homeric in some way, as teleologically Homeric....