BkI:1-21 Invocation and Introduction
Goddess, sing me the anger, of Achilles, Peleus’ son, that fatal anger that brought countless sorrows on the Greeks, and sent many valiant souls of warriors down to Hades, leaving their bodies as spoil for dogs and carrion birds: for thus was the will of Zeus brought to fulfilment. Sing of it from the moment when Agamemnon, Atreus’ son, that king of men, parted in wrath from noble Achilles.
Which of the gods set these two to quarrel? Apollo, the son of Leto and Zeus, angered by the king, brought an evil plague on the army, so that the men were dying, for the son of Atreus had dishonoured Chryses the priest. He it was who came to the swift Achaean ships, to free his daughter, bringing a wealth of ransom, carrying a golden staff adorned with the ribbons of far-striking Apollo, and called out to the Achaeans, above all to the two leaders of armies, those sons of Atreus: ‘Atreides, and all you bronze-greaved Achaeans, may the gods who live on Olympus grant you to sack Priam’s city, and sail back home in safety; but take this ransom, and free my darling child; show reverence for Zeus’s son, far-striking Apollo.’
All foundation myths about Hamaxitus in Classical Antiquity were related to the foundation of the nearby temple of Apollo Smintheus (Ἀπόλλων Σμινθεύς). The subject attracted much interest in Antiquity because in the opening of Homer’s Iliad the Trojan priest of Apollo, Chryses, addresses the god in the vocative as Σμινθεῦ (Smintheu, ‘O, Sminthian’) when imploring him to send a plague against the Greeks because Agamemnon had seized his daughter Chryseis and refused to ransom her. The epithet Σμίνθος (Sminthos) caused some confusion to Greek speakers since they did not recognize it as being Greek in origin, and attributed it to the Pelasgian or Mysian languages. The consonantal string –nth– (also found in place names such as Corinth) is considered by philologists to be non-Greek, and possibly Luwian, in origin. The passage of Homer gives no indication as to its meaning, and so myths about Apollo Smintheus primarily arose from attempts to aetiologize the epithet.
The earliest tradition comes from Callinus, an elegiac poet from Ephesus who lived in the mid-7th century BC. He relates that Hamaxitus was founded by a band of Teucrian (i.e. Trojan) Cretans who were told by an oracle to found a city wherever the ‘earth-born’ (γηγενεῖς) attacked them. When they reached the area of Hamaxitus, a great horde of field mice ate all the leather on their equipment, and so they settled on the spot, interpreting the ‘earth-born’ of the oracle to have been the mice. This myth thus glosses the term sminthos as ‘mouse’. Callinus’ aetiology takes into account both Apollo’s role as a god of disease and the fact that it was in precisely this role that Chryses had invoked him as ‘Sminthian’ in the Iliad. However, in discussing the cult, the Augustan Greek geographer Strabo of Amaseia noted that the epithets of gods worshipped at several other Greek sanctuaries were also explained by reference to a god bringing an end to a plague of small animals, and so it is not clear how Callinus arrived at this specific explanation of sminthos as ‘mouse’. The term appears again as a poetic word for mice several centuries later in a fragment of the early 5th century BC tragedian Aeschylus, indicating that by this time Callinus’ aetiology of ‘Sminthian’ had been generalized from an explanation of a particular epithet into an independent lexeme.
Callinus’ version predominated in Classical Antiquity and is reflected in the local traditions of Hamaxitus. Coins minted by the city in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC feature Apollo Smintheus, and after Hamaxitus was synoecized, coins depicting Apollo Smintheus continued to be produced by the mint of Alexandreia Troas until the reign of the Empreror Gallienus (AD 260–268). In the early 1st century AD, Strabo described the sanctuary of Apollo Smintheus as having a statue of Apollo with his foot on a mouse created by the sculptor Scopas of Paros (c. 395 – c. 350 BC), while the Roman scholar Aelian (c. AD 175 – c. 235) related that mice were kept at public expense in the sanctuary and nested beneath the altar. The extensive remains of the Hellenistic temple can now be seen on the northern outskirts of the modern village of Gülpınar. The most recent Turkish excavations indicate that the Hellenistic temple was constructed c. 150–125 BC, and therefore at about the same time that the main festival of Alexandreia Troas changed from being the Πύθια ἐν Τρωάδι (Pythia en Troadi, ‘the Pythia in the Troad’) to the Σμίνθια (Sminthia, ‘the Sminthia’). The cult spread to the island of Rhodes, where a month was named Σμίνθιος (Sminthios) and a festival known as the Sminthia was held which the scholar Philomnestus discussed in On the Sminthia at Rhodes.
“Of the (Plague of) Mice.” A surname of Apollo, which is derived by some from σμίνθος (sminthos), a mouse, and by others from the town of Sminthe in Troas.1 The mouse was regarded by the ancients as inspired by the vapors arising from the earth, and as the symbol of prophetic power. In the temple of Apollo at Chryse there was a statue of the god by Scopas, with a mouse under its foot,2 and on coins Apollo is represented carrying a mouse in his hands.3
Temples of Apollo Smintheus and festivals (Smintheia) existed in several parts of Greece, as at Tenedos, near Hamaxitos in Aeolis, near Parion, at Lindos in Rhodes, near Coressa, and in other places.4
- Homer. Iliad i, 3.9; Ovid. Fasti vi, 425; Metamorphoses xii, 585; Eustathius on Homer, p. 34.
- Strabo. Geography xiii, p. 604 ff.; Eustathius on Homer, p. 34.
- Müller. Ancient Art and its Remains, 361, note 5.
- Strabo. Geography x, p 486; xiii, pp. 604, 605.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.
Then the rest of the Achaeans shouted in agreement, that the priest should be respected, and the fine ransom taken; but this troubled the heart of Agamemnon, son of Atreus, and he dismissed the priest harshly, and dealt with him sternly: ‘Old man, don’t let me catch you loitering by the hollow ships today, and don’t be back later, lest your staff and the god’s ribbons fail to protect you. Her, I shall not free; old age will claim her first, far from her own country, in Argos, my home, where she can tend the loom, and share my bed. Away now; don’t provoke me if you’d leave safely.’
So he spoke, and the old man, seized by fear, obeyed. Silently, he walked the shore of the echoing sea; and when he was quite alone, the old man prayed deeply to Lord Apollo, the son of bright-haired Leto: ‘Hear me, Silver Bow, protector of Chryse and holy Cilla, high lord of Tenedos: if ever I built a shrine that pleased you, if ever I burned the fat thighs of a bull or goat for you, grant my wish: Smintheus, with your arrows make the Greeks pay for my tears.’
So he prayed, and Phoebus Apollo heard him. Down he came, in fury, from the heights of Olympus, with his bow and inlaid quiver at his back. The arrows rattled at his shoulder as the god descended like the night, in anger. He set down by the ships, and fired a shaft, with a fearful twang of his silver bow. First he attacked the mules, and the swift hounds, then loosed his vicious darts at the men; so the dense pyres for the dead burned endlessly.