Journal Article

THE WIDE BOSOM OF THE SEA AS A PLACE OF DEATH—MATERNAL AND SACRIFICIAL IMAGERY IN ILIAD 21

Margo Kitts

in Literature and Theology

Volume 14, issue 2, pages 103-124
Published in print June 2000 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online June 2000 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/14.2.103
THE WIDE BOSOM OF THE SEA AS A PLACE OF DEATH—MATERNAL AND SACRIFICIAL IMAGERY IN ILIAD 21

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This essay explores a metaphor used by Achilles while cursing over the body of young Lykaon, just after the two have compared the grievous plights of their mothers, and after Achilles essentially has sacrificed Lykaon in response to the boy's anticipation that Achilles will cut his throat in human sacrifice. The metaphor at this point in the narrative is ambiguous and unites a number of themes which run through the entire Iliad, but are especially poignant here. Prominent among these are the poetic link of motherhood, earth, and death and the subtle conflation of killing in sacrifice with killing in war. The latter theme is supported by the imposition of a series of markers for the typical scene of oath-sacrifice over the scene in which Lykaon is cut at the neck, his blood moistens the earth, and Achilles curses over him as he hurls the body into the river. His subsequent curse, ‘Lie there now with the fishes, your mother will not place you on a bier and wail for you, but eddying Scamander will bear you into the wide bosom of the sea’, is a response to Lykaon's four appeals to pity for the sake of his mother. The ‘wide bosom of the sea’ as a substitute bier for Lykaon's corpse is especially ambiguous because Achilles own mother is a sea nymph, and it is to her ‘wide bosom’ that the god Dionysos seeks refuge in another passage.

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Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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