Deianeira's Neck in Bacchylides, ODE 5

Article excerpt

In Bacchylides' fifth ode, Heracles asks the ghost of Meleager if he has a sister still living. Meleager responds in the affirmative:

[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

"Is there, in the house of Oineus, dear to Ares, an unmarried daughter, resembling you in stature? I willingly would make her my brilliant wife." And the soul of Meleager, steady in war, replied, "I left at home khloros-necked Deianeira, still unknowing of golden Cypris, the charmer of mortals." (5.165-75)

We may detect in this passage an echo of Hesiod's remark that the blasts of the North wind do not harm a young woman: (1)

[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

And it [Boreas] does not blow through a tender-skinned maiden who stays inside the house beside her own mother, not yet knowing the works of very golden Aphrodite. (WD 519-21)

Each poet pictures a parthenos, applies to her a compound adjective of physical description (she is tender-skinned in Hesiod, khloros-necked in Bacchylides), situates her safely indoors, and with a careful use of adverbs suggests that the maiden is on the cusp of sexual maturity: although she may not yet know the things of Aphrodite, she soon will be ready to learn. Alongside these similarities I would like to note two differences. First, Hesiod depicts the young woman keeping company inside with her mother, but Heracles asks Meleager if there is an available daughter in the house of the father, Oineus. Since the marriageability of Meleager's sister is under discussion, such a parental shift makes sense in the ode: the father will arrange to give her away, and it is from the household of her father to the home of a husband that marriage will lead her. The second difference concerns the physical descriptions of the two parthenoi: Hesiod refers to his maiden, protected from Boreas, as generally soft-skinned, wh ile Bacchylides has Meleager present Deianeira more specifically as khlorosnecked. It is on this pointed depiction of Deianeira that I will concentrate in what follows. My aim is not to reduce khloraukhen to a single definitive meaning, but rather to examine the various work that it performs within the ode and to explore both the figurative and physical force of this "strange and rather beautiful" (2) adjective.

In considering khloraukhen, we need first to review the meaning and applications of the first half of the compound. Onians and Irwin substantiate and demonstrate what should be our understanding of khloros in general. (3) Although the association with chlorophyll might bring "green" to mind as an immediate translation of the adjective, khloros is better understood as meaning "sappy" or "having sap." It may refer to plants that are indeed green, but it is not primarily singling out greenness per se. Instead, khloros signals liquid liveliness or moist freshness, and while we might be most comfortable applying the adjective to vegetation alone, the ancient Greeks could call drops of wine or even human blood and tears khloros. (4) When applied to animate things, khloros means that they are moist with vital fluid, that they have their vital juices flowing. The compound khloraukhen appears twice in Greek literature. Bacchylides presumably comes to it by way of Simonides, who calls nightingales khlorosnecked [LANGUA GE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], PMG 586.2), while Simonides himself is adapting Homer's description of the nightingale as khloreis (Od. 19.518). Scholars have explained these related adjectives as conveying the "gushing," "throbbing," or "full-throated" liquidity of nightingales' singing. (5) Since none of these explanations seems to provide an easy gloss for Bacchylides' description of Deianeira, (6) we still must ask what khloraukhen may convey here.

In light of Kirkwood's suggestion that Bacchylides has a tendency to borrow epithets and apply them without any particular force or meaning, (7) I believe it is worthwhile first to point out why I think khloraukhen signifies at all in Ode 5. …