To give these lines their full weight—indeed, even to begin to interpret them—means addressing other digressions that interrupt the narrative surface of the poem. Typically, it does so through the character’s own reminiscences and reflections on his previous achievements or position. Therefore, Themis counseled, let Thetis marry a mortal instead and see her son die in war.
Why does Achilles convey his request to Zeus through his mother, rather than directly? Once married to either of them, Thetis would be settled and beyond the other’s reach; the possibility of her subsequently—δίς (“a second time”)—causing a similar rivalry would be unlikely.
Such a procedure is unknown elsewhere in the πολλάκι γάρ σεο πατρὸς ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ἄκουσα εὐχομένης ὅτ᾽ ἔφησθα κελαινεφέϊ Κρονίωνι οἴη ἐν ἀθανάτοισιν ἀεικέα λοιγὸν ἀμῦναι, ὁππότε μιν ξυνδῆσαι Ὀλύμπιοι ἤθελον ἄλλοι, Ἥρη τ᾽ ἠδὲ Ποσειδάων καὶ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη·ἀλλὰ σὺ τόν γ᾽ ἐλθοῦσα, θεά, ὑπελύσαο δεσμῶν, ὦχ᾽ ἑκατόγχειρον καλέσασ᾽ ἐς μακρόν Ὄλυμπον, ὃν Βριάρεων καλέουσι θεοί, ἄνδρες δέ τε πάντες Αἰγαίων᾽—ὁ γὰρ αὖτε βίην οὗ πατρὸς ἀμείνων— ὅς ῥα παρὰ Κρονίωνι καθέζετο κύδεϊ γαίων·τὸν καὶ ὑπέδεισαν μάκαρες θεοὶ οὐδ᾽ ἔτ᾽ ἔδησαν. But Themis fears another “banishment,” the effects of a Themis, the guardian of social order, is apparently trying not simply to avert a quarrel prompted by sexual jealousy between the brothers (a quarrel that would always be reparable), but a catastrophic .
It claims a divine consent—and consensus—that is significantly tacit. Once having loosed the bonds, she summons Briareos, not to perform, but simply to sit beside Zeus as a reminder of Zeus’s final mastery in the succession myth struggle.
In the previous chapter, I drew attention to the motifs and attributes common to myths about immortal goddesses who have mortal lovers. Briareos and his brothers, in Hesiod (as later in Apollodorus), are never instigators, but agents; Thetis’s power to summon the (“hundred-handed one”) here—beyond what the insurgent gods are capable of—recalls Zeus’s own successful use of Briareos and his brothers.
To express Achilles’ sadness with particular force, the poet has replaced ὣς ἔφατ’ εὐχόμενος with #ὣς φάτο δάκρυ χέων. In comparison to Thetis’s anguish, an episode like the wounding of Aphrodite in Book 5 (334ff.) is a parodic one, which serves to illustrate that the Olympians are beyond anything more than the most transient pain.
The deletion of εὐχόμενος may be a covert statement that Achilles is less a man addressing a goddess than a god addressing a goddess, or, which is similar, a man addressing his mother who happens to be a goddess. There is nothing anywhere in the Her inferiority to the Olympian hierarchy is spelled out in Book 20.Instead of asking for a favor based on Achilles’ past, she is to ask on the basis of her own. If we want to square the inferior place in the ranks to which the speeches of Apollo and Aeneas appear to relegate Thetis with the rest of her history as we have seen it, we may consider the suggestion in Erwin Rohde’s (although Rohde does not address himself to this particular problem) that an explanation for such disparity is to be found in the prevailing influence of pan-Hellenism, through which the Homeric view of the gods was shaped.It can be no trivial service that is recalled in exchange for reversing the course of the war, with drastic results that Zeus can anticipate; Thetis need say no more than is shared exclusively by Achilles, Apollo, and Zeus. The impetus of this unifying perspective, of which the Homeric poems themselves are a monumental and influential example, is evident in the Homeric poems’ conception…and consistent execution of the picture of a single and unified world of gods, confined to a select company of sharply characterized heavenly beings, grouped together in certain well-recognized ways and dwelling together in a single place of residence above the earth. While the deities whose cult-worship was most widespread throughout the city-states are elevated to the superior status of Olympians, those divinities with a more restricted range of influence are treated as lesser in importance and authority, however significant they may have been in local belief.Where within the framework of the here the poem seems to point to an alternative structure of cosmic relations, one that was neither overthrown by the Olympian order (insofar as Thetis—unlike, say, the Titans—still functions) nor upheld by it (insofar as no challenge to the Olympian order remains), but whose relation to it was otherwise resolved. Not only does she generate strife between Zeus and Poseidon because of their love for her, but her potential for bearing a son greater than his father threatens the entire divine order.We do not have far to look for explicit confirmation of this in the poem. The rivalry she arouses between Zeus and Poseidon because of their love for her is unprecedented, but her greatest power does not lie there.For I have often heard you in my father’s hallsavowing it, when you declared that from Kronos’ son of the dark cloudsyou alone among the immortals warded off unseemly destructionat the time when the other Olympians wanted to bind him, Hera and Poseidon and Pallas Athena;but you went, goddess, and set him free from his bonds,quickly summoning the hundred-handed one to high Olympos,the one whom the gods call Briareos, but all men call Aigaion—for he is greater in strength than his father— who, rejoicing in his glory, sat beside the son of Kronos. In the tragedy, Gaia (there identified with Themis) has made known to her son Prometheus the secret of Zeus’s future overthrow: that Thetis, whom Zeus plans to “marry,” is destined to bear a child who will be mightier than his father.And the blessed gods feared him, and ceased binding Zeus. While the danger to Zeus posed by the attempt of Hera, Athena, and Poseidon (1.396ff.), therefore, was averted by Thetis, she herself presented the greatest challenge of all to his supremacy, according to the myth as recovered in Pindar and Aeschylus.?And they allscattered their wands to the ground, struck by man-slaughtering Lykourgos, with a cattle prod; but Dionysos in panicplunged under the sea’s wave, and Thetis took him, terrified,to her bosom. In their midst Wise-counselling Themis said That it was fated for the sea-goddess To bear for son a prince Stronger than his father, Who shall wield in his hand a different weapon More powerful than the thunderbolt Or the monstrous trident, If she wed Zeus or among the brothers of Zeus.“Put an end to this.Together with the episode described by Hephaistos in Book 18, this account associates Thetis in a divine past—uninvolved with human events—with a level of divine invulnerability extraordinary by Olympian standards. Let her have a mortal wedlock And see dead in war her son With hands like the hands of Ares And feet like the lightning-flashes.” 8 thus reveals Thetis as a figure of cosmic capacity, whose existence promises profound consequences for the gods.Once again, it does not come from Thetis; she does not refer to her own power. Themis advises Zeus and Poseidon against marriage with Thetis, not in terms suggesting that their competition over her would be dangerous, but rather that marriage between Thetis and any of the Olympians (Διὸς παρ᾽ ἀδελφεοῖσιν, “among the brothers of Zeus”) would be disastrous in itself.Rather, it is made part of Achilles’ appeal to Zeus in Book 1, and it stands out in high relief because of the anomalous form of the plea. If the issue were simply that of ending a conflict between the brothers, that presumably could be resolved by assigning Thetis to either of them.