Swelling Women: Formulaics in the Hesiodic Catalogue

Citation with persistent identifier:

Kirk, Athena. “Swelling Women: Formulaics in the Hesiodic Catalogue.” CHS Research Bulletin 5, no. 2 (2017). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:KirkA.Swelling_Women.2017

§1The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, despite its name, is not what one imagines it might be.  While it does indeed begin from the premise that it (via the muse) will tell “how many [women]” (ὅσσαις, Fr. 1MW) various gods went to bed with, it is hardly a simple tallying of the numbers or a list of names.  Rather, it is a complex, if fragmentary, web of interwoven lineages, occasional digressive narrative, and above all a glorification of a race of bygone hemitheoi.[1] Moreover, it enjoys a complex relationship with the broad Greek poetic tradition, though it is not always treated as such.  As Slatkin puts it, “the Catalogue of Women is often over–pinned down, or rigidly classified as a transparent genealogical list, and this contributes to a kind of reification of genre that in turn may limit our sense of its possibilities.”[2]  I hope here not to fall into this sort of interpretive trap, but rather to examine a particular poetic device of the Catalogue and its relationship to Homeric epic and the Theogony.

§2 The women of the Catalogue represent as thorny a problem as its genre.  Is this collection of fragments even about women at all?  Are they, as Fowler once put it, the  “glue” (rather than the building blocks) of the poem,[3] or, more generously, the “connection points of human-divine family trees”?[4] Have scholars made too much of their presence (Ormand’s contention), or, (as Doherty argues) have they not made enough?[5]  I would like to explore both the issue of genre and the presence of women in the Catalogue through one formulaic piece of womanly syntax.  I shall ultimately suggest that this phrase provides a window into the tradition of genealogical catalogues and the placement of women within it, but that it also compresses their significance to the progression of generations.

§3 Within this framework, the remainder of this paper examines the formulaic phrase ἣ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη, which appears throughout the fragments of the Hesiodic Catalogue.  While its context within that text is often difficult to determine, further examination of its appearances in Homer and the Theogony reveals that it regularly appears following a description of an extraordinary or noteworthy union.  I argue that this formula, like the phrase e hoie that structures the poem, belongs to the traditional poetics of genealogy and woman-catalogue and is incorporated into the Hesiodic tradition as a discourse marker that resumes the genealogy following the sexual encounter.  As a way of describing the women of genealogy and catalogue, however, the phrase compresses their role, highlighting instead the fathers and sons on either side of them.

§4 Six times in the fragments of the Catalogue, we find a similar collocation describing a woman as she bears a new generation of offspring.  The phrase consists of the article/pronoun ἥ followed by a particle δὲ and the participle ὑποκυσαμένη, “pregnant.” One example occurs in the description of Thuia’s sons, fr. 7 MW lines 1-3:

ἣ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη Διὶ γείνατο τερπικεραύνωι
υἷε δύω, Μάγνητα Μακηδόνα θ’ ἱππιοχάρμην,
οἳ περὶ Πιερίην καὶ Ὄλυμπον δώματ’ ἔναιον

And she, becoming pregnant, bore to Zeus who delights in the thunderbolt
two sons, Magnes, and Macedon who delights in the horse-chariot,
who lived in palaces around Pieria and Olympus.

§5 The participle ὑποκυσαμέν (< ὑποκύω), literally “swelling” and hence “pregnant,” invariably appears near one of two main verbs of generation – either γείνομαι, as in this case, or elsewhere with τίκτω, as at, for example, the genealogy of the Myrmidons (fr. 205 MW line 1):

ἣ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη τέκεν Αἰακὸν ἱππιοχάρμην…

And she, becoming pregnant, gave birth to Aiacus who delights in horse-chariot.

§6 In both these examples the main verb appears fairly close to the participle, but other placements of γείνομαι or τίκτω are possible.  The participle, however, appears only in one context, following ἣ δ᾽ at the start of the line.  And though the simplex verb κύω is rather more common, the compound ὑποκύω is rare, used only in the middle and only in this context;[6] indeed, the scholia and lexicographers gloss it repeatedly, perhaps because of its opacity to later audiences.  For these reasons, it is worth considering where this formal feature appears and what its significance in the Catalogue might be.  I offer in what follows a working analysis.

§7 The attestations in the Catalogue leave us little context; in most of them the phrase comes at the beginning of the fragment.[7] To excavate further let us turn to its attestations in Homeric epic, which number three.[8] Significantly, in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, it always appears as part of a genealogical or catalogic section of the poem.[9]  At the start of Iliad 6, it describes the nymph Abarbarea, mother of Pedasos, whose lineage is given as Euryalos kills him.  Pedasos is the child of the nymph and the shepherd Boukolion, who lay with Abarbarea as he was tending his flock (Iliad 6.25-26):

ποιμαίνων δ’ ἐπ’ ὄεσσι μίγη φιλότητι καὶ εὐνῇ,
ἣ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη διδυμάονε γείνατο παῖδε.

While shepherding his flocks he lay with the nymph and loved her,
and she conceiving bore him twin boys. (Lattimore)

§8 Abarbarea is described as ὑποκυσαμένη following a brief description of the sexual encounter—line 25. In line 26, ἣ δ᾽coupled with the participle serves to connect the offspring and their birth to the moment of conception.  This may seem to be an over-obvious point, but genealogical passages do not always trace out all the steps of succession, often skipping blithely from one generation to the next with little mention of the birds and bees.  Thus it is at the will of the poet to choose which milestones to include.  I would suggest that the presence of ἣ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη does not merely state the obvious but recapitulates the lasting importance of the sexual encounter and links it chronologically and biologically to the ultimate important content of the passage – the names of the offspring.  The verbal and structural connection of the sex act to the offspring in this way legitimizes both the act and the woman whose body links the generations of men.  For this reason, the specific choice ὑποκύω, a word that implies the physical, visual manifestation of conception and pregnancy, becomes all the more pointed: the woman in question demonstrates the efficacy and significance of what initially may sound like just a gratuitous mention of a tryst.  Meanwhile, in its resumptive force, ἣ δ᾽ snaps us abruptly out of the bedroom (so to speak) and back into the archival world of the verbal genealogy, from voyeur to diagrammer.  The image of the woman swollen and pregnant provides a transition, a final snapshot of the union before we move back to the names.

§9 The story of Abarbarea and Boukolion in its abbreviated form does not include an elaborated sex scene from which to divert our attention; but an example from the Odyssey does.  There ἣ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη appears again at the start of another catalogic passage – the catalogue of women in the first Nekuia, in Book 11, describing Tyro.  Particularly important for our study of the Hesiodic catalogue is that the phrase here is doubly embedded in catalogue and genealogy, first within the catalogue of women, and then Tyro’s genealogy therein.  It describes her following a detailed account of her union with Poseidon, a most vivid and memorable encounter (Odyssey 11.238-246):

ἣ ποταμοῦ ἠράσσατ’ Ἐνιπῆος θείοιο,
ὃς πολὺ κάλλιστος ποταμῶν ἐπὶ γαῖαν ἵησι,
καί ῥ’ ἐπ’ Ἐνιπῆος πωλέσκετο καλὰ ῥέεθρα.
τῷ δ’ ἄρα εἰσάμενος γαιήοχος ἐννοσίγαιος
ἐν προχοῇς ποταμοῦ παρελέξατο δινήεντος·
πορφύρεον δ’ ἄρα κῦμα περιστάθη οὔρεϊ ἶσον,
κυρτωθέν, κρύψεν δὲ θεὸν θνητήν τε γυναῖκα.
λῦσε δὲ παρθενίην ζώνην, κατὰ δ’ ὕπνον ἔχευεν.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ’ ἐτέλεσσε θεὸς φιλοτήσια ἔργα,
ἔν τ’ ἄρα οἱ φῦ χειρὶ ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζε·
‘χαῖρε, γύναι, φιλότητι· περιπλομένου δ’ ἐνιαυτοῦ
τέξεαι ἀγλαὰ τέκνα, ἐπεὶ οὐκ ἀποφώλιοι εὐναὶ
ἀθανάτων· σὺ δὲ τοὺς κομέειν ἀτιταλλέμεναί τε.
νῦν δ’ ἔρχευ πρὸς δῶμα καὶ ἴσχεο μηδ’ ὀνομήνῃς·
αὐτὰρ ἐγώ τοί εἰμι Ποσειδάων ἐνοσίχθων.’
ὣς εἰπὼν ὑπὸ πόντον ἐδύσετο κυμαίνοντα.
ἡ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη Πελίην τέκε καὶ Νηλῆα,
τὼ κρατερὼ θεράποντε Διὸς μεγάλοιο γενέσθην ἀμφοτέρω·

…she was in love with a river, godlike Enipeus, by far
the handsomest of all those rivers whose streams cross over
the earth, and she used to haunt Enipeus’ beautiful waters;
taking his likeness, the god who circles the earth and shakes it
lay with her where the swirling river finds its outlet,
and a sea-blue wave curved into a hill of water reared up
about the two, to hide the god and the mortal woman;
and he loosened her virgin girdle and drifted a sleep upon her.
But when the god had finished with the act of lovemaking,
he took her by the hand and spoke to her and named her, saying:
“Be happy, lady, in this love, and when the year passes
you will bear glorious children, for the couplings of the immortals
are not without issue.  You must look after them, and raise them.
Go home now and hold your peace and tell nobody
my name, but I tell it to you; I am the Earthshaker Poseidon.”
So he spoke and dived back into the heaving water
of the sea, but she conceived and bore Pelias and Neleus,
and both of those grew up to be strong henchmen of mighty
Zeus…                                                                            (Lattimore, modified)

§10 We see here an extended and elaborated lovemaking scene in the midst of the genealogy.  But the passage itself also prefigures the formula in etymological play with the notion of swelling and the root κυ-: first in the form of the wave (κῦμα) that rises, like a mountain, to cover the two lovers, then in the swell of the sea (κυμαίνοντα) as Poseidon dives back in.  This same swell is then transferred to Tyro herself, who ends up ὑποκυσαμένη. As before, I would argue that here, too, the phrase ἡ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη returns us to the succession, linking (here etymologically) the moment of conception with the subsequent offspring through the figure of the pregnant woman. As such, it rivals some of the functions that scholars have identified for the formula e hoie in the Hesiodic Catalogue.  While Ormand has lamented that “nothing like the ehoie formula surfaces” in the Odyssean catalogue of women, I would contend that ἡ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη may be just such an element.[10]  Indeed, it is perhaps this very passage that represents the point of reference for the formula in the Hesiodic Catalogue. Certainly it is ripe with Hesiodic intertext, as has often been discussed (though not resolved).[11]  If we accept the hypothesis of Rutherford that the Catalogue “is the culmination of a tradition of catalog poems, sharing key formal and thematic features…such as the ehoie-formula,”[12] it would seem that this formula, too, belongs to a tradition of genealogy.[13]  Rutherford has further suggested that the ehoie formula once functioned to signal an abrupt transition from one branch of a family to another, becoming a formal device.[14]  In a similar way, ἣ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη may have once highlighted the resumption of the genealogy after a digression (however long or brief) to a particularly elaborate or extraordinary union scene.  This might be Poseidon disguised as a river sleeping with a woman under a wave; or, equally extraordinary, a group of mares impregnated by the North Wind disguised as a stallion, the story we find in the Trojan genealogy, about the mares of Erichthonius (Iliad 20.219-225):

Δάρδανος αὖ τέκεθ’ υἱὸν Ἐριχθόνιον βασιλῆα,
ὃς δὴ ἀφνειότατος γένετο θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων·
τοῦ τρισχίλιαι ἵπποι ἕλος κάτα βουκολέοντο
θήλειαι, πώλοισιν ἀγαλλόμεναι ἀταλῇσι.
τάων καὶ Βορέης ἠράσσατο βοσκομενάων,
ἵππῳ δ’ εἰσάμενος παρελέξατο κυανοχαίτῃ·
αἳ δ’ ὑποκυσάμεναι ἔτεκον δυοκαίδεκα πώλους.

Dardanos in turn had a son, the king, Erichthonios,
who became the richest of mortal men, and in his possession
were three thousand horses who pastured along the low grasslands,
mares in their pride with their young colts; and with these the North Wind
fell in love as they pastured there, and took upon him
the likeness of a dark-maned stallion, and coupled with them,
and the mares conceiving of him bore to him twelve young horses. (Lattimore)

§11 Again we find an unusual tale of divine disguise: like Poseidon, Boreas shifts shapes between natural phenomenon and animate character (but in reverse); following this episode the participle of the pregnant woman breaks and transitions us to the topical focus: the offspring, about whose wondrous powers we hear in the subsequent lines.

§12 Regrettably, the Hesiodic Catalogue as it stands is too tattered to know what immediately preceded the attestations of the phrase there, and test the hypothesis I have laid out above.  Most of the time, the phrase appears at the beginning of a fragment, so whatever preceded it is lost.  But if the rest of the Hesiodic tradition is any indication, it may have accompanied the introduction of certain extraordinary unions and offspring there too.  The phrase also appears twice in one last genealogical place, the Theogony.  It first modifies Echidna, who unites with Typhon to produce a series of new monsters (308-310):

τῇ δὲ Τυφάονά φασι μιγήμεναι ἐν φιλότητι
δεινόν θ᾽ ὑβριστήν τ᾽ ἄνομόν θ᾽ ἑλικώπιδι κούρῃ:
ἣ δ᾽ ὑποκυσαμένη τέκετο κρατερόφρονα τέκνα.

And they say Typhon mixed with her in love,
he fearsome and outrageous and lawless, her the maiden with flashing eyes.
And she becoming pregnant bore dauntless children.

§13 While this episode is not singular, embedded as it is in a long line of monstrous generations, the union here is highlighted as particularly bizarre and incredible, as perhaps marked by the narrative distancing of “φασι,” “they say.” And if the phrase’s function is to resume the genealogical progression and move us from conception to children, it certainly does that: we are introduced to Orthos, Kerberos, and the Hydra, important for their connection to Herakles but also because Echidna bears the next generation too, with Orthos as father.

§14 Finally, in the Theogony the formula also introduces the birth of Hekate, to Asteria (409-412):

γείνατο δ᾽ Ἀστερίην ἐυώνυμον, ἥν ποτε Πέρσης
ἠγάγετ᾽ ἐς μέγα δῶμα φίλην κεκλῆσθαι ἄκοιτιν.
ἢ δ᾽ ὑποκυσαμένη Ἑκάτην τέκε, τὴν περὶ πάντων
Ζεὺς Κρονίδης τίμησε…

And she bore good-named Asteria, whom Perses once
led to his great house to be called his dear wife.
And she becoming pregnant bare Hekate whom above all
Zeus the son of Kronos honored…

§15 In this instance, we hear less about the encounter that produced the pregnancy than about the offspring that resulted from it.  And yet the phrase draws narrative attention to the start of the lengthy and mysterious so-called “Hymn to Hekate,” which intrudes into the text and for which Hesiod “appears to drop everything”.[15] The purpose of the interlude on Hekate remains a matter of debate, but ἣ δ᾽ ὑποκυσαμένη at the very least functions here as a strong indication to pay attention to the offspring that follows it.[16]  Perhaps in the Theogony the phrase functions to flag either a particular union or an especially significant offspring.  As for the Catalogue, we could postulate something similar. Yet as Nagy has explained: “the continuity of narration in the transition from Theogony to Catalogue is an aspect of the same oral traditions that resulted in the texts that we know as the Theogony and Catalogue. Seen in this light, the composition of Hesiodic poetry is an ongoing process;”[17] thus the Catalogue may have used the formula in the kinds of immediate contexts we have seen here, or in some new, performance-specific ways.

§16 So where are we left? First, let us return to the question of women.  On a semantic level the phrase works to keep women out of the Catalogue, to elide, as so often, their role in the entire generative process.  After all, months of gestation, hours of labor and parturition, are encapsulated in a single aorist participle.  Placed directly after the sexual encounter, this reference to a woman’s pregnancy may indeed interrupt the reverie of the erotic scene, but it cannot rival the significance of the genealogical project, for  ἣ δ᾽ ὑποκυσαμένη is not the part of the story that counts.  Osborne may indeed be right in his assessment that the poem runs on male desire, and that its women “all fit into essentially the same order of things, an order where women are sexually attractive to men, made into sexual partners on a more or less permanent basis, and bring forth offspring.”[18]

§17 The lasting significance and recognition of which the phrase deprives women’s bodies, however, it perhaps gives back to the poetic tradition.  By the sixth century BCE, during which the Catalogue as we have it was perhaps composed, ὑποκυσαμένη was not likely a household term.  Instead, it belonged to poetry of the past, and, as I have argued, to specific contexts within that tradition. Like the e hoie formula, ἣ δ᾽ ὑποκυσαμένη signals doubly that “we are in a catalogue of women,” and that “we are in a genealogy.”  If the women serve as nodes, links from one generation of men to the next, they just as well serve as transports from one generation of poets to another.  In the “pregnant” participle, we can recognize a conduit not only between father and son, but within the poetic genealogy of which it forms part.


Cingano, E. 2005. “A Catalogue within a Catalogue: Helen’s Suitors in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women (frr. 196–204).” In Hunter 2005:118-152.

Clay, J.S. 1983. “The Hekate of the Theogony.” GRBS 25:27-38.

Depew, M., and D. Obbink, eds. 2000. Matrices of Genre: Authors, Canons, and Society. Cambridge, MA.

Doherty, L. E. 2006. “Putting the Women back into the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women.” In Leonard and Zajko 2006:297–325.

Fowler, R. L. 1998. “Genealogical Thinking, Hesiod’s Catalogue, and the Creation of the Hellenes.” PCPhS 44:1-19.

Hirschberger, M. 2004. Gynaikon Katalogos und Megalai Ehoiai: Ein Kommentar zu den Fragmenten zweier hesiodischer Epen.  Munich.

Hunter, R., ed. 2005. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: Constructions and Reconstructions. Cambridge.

Leonard, M., and V. Zajko, eds. 2006. Laughing at Medusa: Classical Myth and Feminist Thought. Oxford.

Merkelbach, R., and M. L. West. 1967. Fragmenta Hesiodea. London.

Montanari, F., A. Rengakos, and C. Tsagalis, eds. 2009.  The Brill Companion to Hesiod. Leiden.

Nagy, G. 2009. “Hesiod and the Ancient Biographical Traditions.” In Montanari, et al. 2009:271-311.

Ormand, K. 2014. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women and Archaic Greece. New York.

Osborne, R. 2005. “Ordering Women in Hesiod’s Catalogue.” In Hunter 2005:5-24. Cambridge.

Rutherford, I. 2000. “Formulas, Voice, and Death in Ehoie-Poetry, the Hesiodic Gunaikon Katalogos, and the Odysseian Nekuia.” In Depew and Obbink 2000:81-96.

Slatkin, L. n.d. “Notes toward a Traffic in Catalogues.” In Donum natalicium digitaliter confectum Gregorio Nagy septuagenario a discipulis collegis familiaribus oblatum: A virtual birthday gift presented to Gregory Nagy on turning seventy by his students, colleagues, and friends. http://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/4657

Tsagalis, C. 2009. “Poetry and Poetics in the Hesiodic Corpus.” In Montanari, et al. 2009:131-179.

[1] Cingano (2005) 123 sees a totalizing function connected to the Theogony: the poem “originates from the need to create a broad, systematic and panhellenic arrangement by families which might accommodate the main genealogies of the entire Greek world, and complement the cosmogonic plan of the Theogony.”  Ormand (2014: 51) reads the poem as nostalgia: “the Catalogue regrets both the end of the age of heroes and the imaginary time when a family’s heroic lineage was an uncontested form of political authority”

[2] Slatkin (n.d.).

[3] Fowler (1998) 6.

[4] Ormand (2014) 49.

[5] Doherty (2008).

[6] Simplex κυομένη appears at Theogony 125 and 405 and in the Catalogue at fragment 17a MW line 15 but in variable position and without the pronoun and conjunction.

[7] The phrase appears at fr. 7.1 MW, 26.27 MW, 145.15 MW, 205.1 MW, 10a.42a MW, 10a 47.

[8] For discussion of scholarly views as to the date(s) of the Catalogue see, e.g., Ormand (2014) 3 n5.

[9] I leave aside for the present its other appearance, in the Homeric Hymn to Selene; this is to be treated in a longer study.

[10] Ormand (2014) 43.

[11] In the Catalogue we find scattered several of its narrative elements of this episode: the loosening of the girdle (as the rubric for the entire catalogue, fr. 1 MW line 4), Tyro herself among its elements, her love for Enipeus and union with Poseidon, and specifically the lines 249-250 (= fr. 31 MW lines 2-3); the catalogue possibly told of Poseidon’s dive back into the water.  For discussion of the relationship of the two texts see e.g. Ormand (2014) 43-44, Rutherford (2000) 93-97.

[12] Rutherford (2000) 89.

[13] Rutherford’s idea of the evolution of the genre is complex; he posits separate traditions of (1) ehoie-poetry and (2) genealogical poetry that fuse together into a new genre of (3) ehoie-catalogues of women (2000:92).

[14] Rutherford (2000) 84.  See also Tsagalis (2008) 160-161, citing Hirschberger (2004: 30): “The e hoie formula is an elliptical expression employed to introduce a story or a genealogy.  It seems that it is a relic of an older epic phase, in which it functioned as an “oral lemma” within a series or chain of women stories.”

[15] Clay (1983) 27; she posits that Hekate’s prominence is due here to her status as an intermediary between old and new order, gods and men (37).

[16] Osborne (2005) 16 emphasizes the contrast between the characterization of women in the Theogony and Catalogue, the latter being far more focused on the physically attractive traits of the women.

[17] Nagy (2009) 295.

[18] Osborne (2005) 17.