In an article entitled, A Distant Anatolian Echo in Pindar: The Origin of the Aegis Again
, 2000, Calvert Watkins discusses the possible diffusion from Anatolia to Greece of the sacred Hittite symbol of the hunting bag, or KUŠ kursas (where
KUŠ is the Sumerian determiner for objects made from hide and would usually be written superscript). It used to be translated as skin, fleece,
or sometimes shield
, as in E. Neu's 1983 Glossar
. The Greek word, αἰγίς, was also thought by some to mean shield
, but is actually a goatskin or fleece. The most common Homeric formula for the αἰγίς occurs five times in the Iliad
: αἰγίδα θυσσανόεσσαν. At Pythian 4.231, Pindar uses the same word, θύσανος, tassled
, of the immortal golden fleece, which might suggest that the αἰγίς and the golden fleece share a common source (Watkins). Like the Hittite kursas, the
αἰγίς has a double nature, according to Watkins: "it is at once a physical object and a symbolic container of allegorical entities."
Watkins also points out that the Gorgon's head appears on the αἰγίς of Athena as well as on her shield, and notes that after it was severed, it was put in a κίβισις (a loan word), which is glossed as πῆρα, animal skin bag
In one version of the Telepinus myth, the kursas
contains things like long years, progeny, prowess,
etc., and the formula for the list is constant: n=ašta ANDA ... kitta, which consists of a connective, locative particle in ... lies. In several places in Greek poetry where the αἰγίς is mentioned, there also happens to be a repetition of ἐν δέ, similar in sound and meaning to the n=ašta ANDA in Hittite. At Pindar, P. 10.72, we find, ἐν δ’ ἀγαθοῖσι κεῖται πατρώιαι κεδναὶ πολίων κυβερνάσιες (where κεῖται happens to be cognate with Hittite kitta above). He also discusses instances at Pindar O.13.22-23 and Dith.2.10-17. At Iliad 5.733, we find the phrase αἰγίδα θυσσανόεσσαν placed equidistantly between two occurances of the word αἰγιόχοιο, and also:
ἐν δ’ Ἔρις, ἐν δ’ Ἀλκή, ἐν δὲ κρυόεσσα ἰωκή
ἐν δέ τε Γοργείη κεφαλὴ δεινοῖο πελώρου
Watkins compares a passage from pseudo-Hesiod regarding the shield of Heracles:
ἐν δὲ Προίωξίς τε Παλίωξίς τε τέτυκτο
ἐν δ’ Ὅμαδός τε Φόβος τ’ Ἀνδροκτασίη τε δεδήει
ἐν δ’ Ἔρις...
And also of the Shield of Achilles section at Iliad 18.535:
ἐν δ’ Ἔρις, ἐν δὲ Κυδοιμὸς ὁμίλεον, ἐν δ’ ὀλοὴ Κήρ
The example cited above, Pindar O.13.22-23, balances in two lines the arts of war and of peace, the arts of the Muse and Ares:
ἐν δὲ Μοῖσα ἁδύπνοος,
ἐν δ’ Ἄρης ἀνθεῖ νέων οὐλίαις αἰχμαῖσιν ἀνδρῶν
The Old Hittite hymn, Bauritual KUB 29.1 iii 29-34, also shows balance, here of the inside and outside of an allegorical house, respresenting a microcosm of the world:
The Throne says:
"When you plaster a house inside,
Plaster Long Years,
But when you plaster outside,
This selective summary of Watkins' paper does not do justice to his argument for diffusion, but I chose these elements because they remind me of the Shield of Achilles from book 18 of the Iliad. Watkins makes mention of line 18.535 of the shield section, but he doesn't discuss line 483:
ἐν μὲν γαῖαν ἔτευξ᾽, ἐν δ᾽ οὐρανόν, ἐν δὲ θάλασσαν
This line begins the description of the shield of Achilles with a summary division into three parts by the triple repetition of the adverb ἐν: the earth, with the heavens at the center of the shield, and the ocean around the rim. In fact this repetition of ἐν μὲν ... ἐν δ᾽ ... ἐν δὲ (resembling the repetition of the Hittite ANDA ... ANDA ... ANDA
) recurs throughout the description of the shield at lines 485, 490, 541, 550, 561, 573, 487, 490, and 607, and serves to divide the section into scenes.
I find it interesting that the kursas
and the αἰγίς have often been associated with shields and armour, and it is also worth remembering that shields were reinforced with layers of hide. The shield of Achilles, like the allegorical Hittite house, is a microcosm of the world; and, like both the αἰγίς and kursas
, it is at once a physical object which Achilles needs to return to battle, as well as a "container," or symbol, of the experiences which make up earthly life.
Watkins claims in his final paragraph: "Pindar of course knew nothing of such [Anatolian] hymns. But I suggest that he did know at some level of a tradition which linked repeated ἐν δὲ anaphors to Anatolia, to the hieratic object and symbol which is the aegis..." Perhaps the poet responsible for the shield section also intended the ἐν δὲ repetitions to recall this eastern tradition of something that was both a physical object and a symbol, or the idea of a microcosm; and maybe there was also some association of the shield with the αἰγίς, either from a misunderstanding, or to reinforce the idea of this shield as a sacred symbol. At Iliad
5.733-742, Athena removes her gown onto the floor, shows her armour, and puts on the αἰγίς; for Kirk this is a "voluptuous gesture," symbolizing her transformation from peaceful to warlike. The long ekphrasis describing the shield of Achilles also serves as the transition of Achilles from an armourless non-combatant into a fierce warrior, which is the central turning point of the Iliad
There are several images and themes in the shield section which would have, or at least could have, recalled the east. The fundamental notion of a smith-god hammering out the world into a flat disc, for instance. Also the trial scene has been thought to contain Near Eastern legal elements. The appearance of lions was common in Greek art, but, of course, was an eastern motif; and also the decorative use of κύανος might invoke thoughts of the east, from where it originated. The description of the enlarged Athena leading smaller men into battle under her protection is similar to a technique used in Near Eastern depictions of armies marching into battle, and especially to the description of a Hittite god going before (peran ḫuwai
-) a king into battle.