Epithets in Homer

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A characteristic of Homer's style is the use of epithets, as in "rosy-fingered" dawn or "swift-footed" Achilles. Epithets are used because of the constraints of the dactylic hexameter (i.e., it is convenient to have a stockpile of metrically fitting phrases to add to a name) and because of the oral transmission of the poems; they are mnemonic aids to the poet and the audience alike.[1]

Epithets in epic poetry from various Indo-European traditions may be traced to a common tradition. For example, the phrase for "everlasting glory" or "undying fame" can be found in the Homeric Greek as kléos áphthiton and the Sanskrit as śrávo ákşitam. These two phrases were, in terms of historical linguistics, equivalent in phonology, accentuation, and quantity (syllable length). In other words, they descend from a fragment of poetic diction (reconstructable as Proto-Indo-European *ḱlewos n̥dʰgʷʰitom) which was handed down in parallel over many centuries, in continually diverging forms, by generations of singers whose ultimate ancestors shared an archetypal repertoire of poetic formulae and narrative themes."[2]

Epithets alter the meaning of each noun to which they are attached. They specify the existential nature of a noun; that is to say, Achilles is not called "swift-footed" only when he runs; it is a marker of a quality that does not change. Special epithets, such as patronymics, are used exclusively for particular subjects and distinguish them from others, while generic epithets are used of many subjects and speak less to their individual characters. In these examples, the epithet can be contradictory to the past state of the subject: in Odyssey VI.74, for instance, Nausicaa takes her "radiant clothing", ἐσθῆτα φαεινήν, to be washed; since it is dirty, it is unlikely to be radiant.[3]



  • men
    • shining, divine (δῖος dîos)
    • god-like (ἀντί-θεος antí-theos, θεοειδής theoeidḗs)
    • high-hearted
  • leaders
    • lord of men
  • women
    • white-armed (λευκ-ώλενος leuk-ṓlenos)
    • lovely-haired (ἐυπλοκάμις, ἐυπλόκαμος eüplokámis, eüplókamos)
    • ox eyed
  • day
    • the day of return (νόστιμον ἦμαρ nóstimon hêmarnostalgia also comes from nóstos)
  • sea
    • loud-roaring (πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης)
    • grey
    • wine-colored (οἶνοψ)


  • Abantes
    • swift (θοοί thooí)
    • sporting long hair (ὄπιθεν κομόωντες ópithen komóōntes)
  • Achaeans
    • hairy-headed (κάρη κομόωντες kárē komóōntes)
    • bronzed-armored (χαλκο-χίτωνες chalko-chítōnes)
    • strong-greaved (ἐυ-κνήμιδeς eü-knḗmides)
    • glancing-eyed (ἑλίκ-ωπες helík-ōpes)
    • with hollow ships


  • Achilles
    • son of Peleus (Πηληϊάδης Pēlēïádēs)
    • swift-footed (πόδας ὠκύς pódas ōkús; ποδ-άρκης pod-arkēs; ποδ-ώκεος pod-ṓkeos)
    • breaking through men (ῥηξ-ήνωρ rhēx-ḗnōr)
    • lion-hearted (θῡμο-λέοντα thūmo-léonta)
    • like to the gods (θεοῖς ἐπιείκελος theoîs epieíkelos)
    • shepherd of the people
    • son of sleek-haired Leto
  • Aeneas
    • son of Anchises (γχῑσιάδης Anchīsiádēs)
    • counselor of the Trojans
    • lord of the Trojans
    • father
    • loyal/pious
  • Agamemnon
    • son of Atreus (Ἀτρείδης Atreídēs: also transliterated Atrīdēs)
    • wide-ruling
    • the lord marshal
    • powerful
    • shepherd of the people
    • brilliant
  • Aias/Ajax
    • swift
    • gigantic (πελώριος pelṓrios)
      • the mighty
  • Aphrodite
    • laughter-loving (φιλομμειδής philommeidḗs)
    • daughter of Zeus
    • goddess of love
    • fair (δῖ’ dî’)
  • Apollo
    • Phoebus, i.e. the Bright or Pure, (Φοῖβος Phoebus)
    • with unshorn hair; i.e., ever-young (ἀ-κερσε-κόμης a-kerse-komēs)
    • destroyer of mice (Σμινθεύς Smintheus)
    • distant deadly Archer (ἑκηβόλος ekēbólos)
    • rouser of armies
    • son of Zeus
    • god of the silver bow
  • Ares
    • curse of men
    • sacker of cities
    • of the glinting helmet
    • women raping
  • Athena
    • Pallas (Παλλάς Pallás)
    • gray-, bright-eyed (γλαυκ-ῶπις glauk-ôpis)
    • daughter of Zeus
    • third-born of the gods
    • whose shield is thunder
    • hope of soldiers
    • tireless one
  • Artemis
    • the archer-goddess
    • of the golden distaff
  • Calypso
    • beautiful nymph
    • softly-braided nymph
    • divine
    • goddess most divinely made
    • daughter of Atlas
    • cunning goddess (δεινὴ θεός deinē theos)
  • Cronus (Kronos)
    • crooked-counselling, devious-devising (ἀγκυλομήτης ankulomḗtēs)
    • all-powerful
  • Diomedes
    • son of Tydeus
    • great spearman
    • master of the war cry
    • powerful
  • Eos Dawn
    • with her rose-red fingers, rosy-fingered (ῥοδο-δάκτυλος Ἠώς rhodo-dáktylos Ēṓs)
  • Hector
    • tall
    • shepherd of the people
    • of the glinting helmet, of the shining helm (κορυθ-αίολος koruth-aiolos)
    • man-killing
  • Helen
    • long-dressed
    • daughter of a noble house
  • Hera
    • ox-eyed (βο-ῶπις bo-ôpis)
  • Hephaestus
    • the famous craftsman
    • the famous lame god
    • of the strong arms
  • Hermes
    • messenger of the gods and conductor of men (διάκτορος diáktoros)
    • son of Zeus
    • giant-killer
    • the strong one
    • keen eyes emissary
  • Menelaus
    • red-haired, fair-haired, flaming-haired
    • master of the war-cry
    • son of Atreus (Ἀτρείδης Atreídes)
    • war-like
    • spear-famed
  • Nestor
    • Godly Nestor
    • Gerenian charioteer
    • son of Neleus (Νηληιάδης Nēlēiádēs)
    • Pylos born king
    • sweet spoken
  • Odysseus
    • resourceful, man of many resources, of many turns, man of twists and turns (πολύ-τροπος polú-tropos)
    • much-enduring (πολύ-τλᾱς polú-tlās)
    • great-hearted (μεγαλ-ήτωρ megal-ḗtōr)
    • sacker of cities (πτολι-πόρθιος ptoli-pórthios)
    • wise
    • loved of Zeus
    • great glory of the Achaeans
    • master mariner
    • mastermind of war
    • hotheaded
    • man of action
    • the great teller of tales
    • man of exploits
    • man of pain
    • that kingly man
    • the hero
    • Raider of Cities
    • the great tactician
    • cunning (πολύ-μητις polú-mētis)
  • Penelope
    • cautious, circumspect, discreet, wise, self-obsessed
  • Patroclus
    • son of Menoitius (Μενοιτιάδης Menoitiádēs)
    • horseman
  • Poseidon
    • Earth-shaker (ἐννοσίγαιος enno-sígaios or ἐνοσί-χθων enosí-chthōn)
    • earth-moving, earth-carrying (γαιή-οχος gaiḗ-ochos)
  • Zeus
    • mighty
    • son of Kronos (Κρονίδης Kronídēs)
    • wide-seeing
    • cloud-gatherer (νεφελη-γερέτᾱ nephelē-gerétā)
    • father of gods and men
    • of the dazzling bolt (ἀργι-κέραυνος argi-kéraunos)
    • loud-thundering (ἐρί-γδουπος ἐρί-δουπος erí-gdoupos, erí-doupos)
    • delighting in thunder (τερπι-κέραυνος terpi-kéraunos)
    • aegis-holding (αἰγί-οχος aigí-ochos)
    • who marshals the thunderheads


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parry 1928: 5-10
  2. ^ John Curtis Franklin, Structural Sympathies in Ancient Greek and South-Slavic Heroic Singing.
  3. ^ Parry 1971: 121


  • Parry, Milman. "L'Épithète traditionelle dans Homère: Essai sur un problème de style homérique." Paris: Société d'Éditions "Les Belles Lettres", 1928.
  • Parry, Milman, ed. Adam Parry. "The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry." Oxford: The Clarendon PRess, 1971.
  • V.J. Howe, "Epithets in Homer." Available online at http://www.angelfire.com/art/archictecture/articles/008.htm. (Retrieved October 16, 2007.)
  • Fagles, Robert. "The Odyssey." Penguin Books, 1996.