Homeric Horses: The Affectionate Bond between Horses and Humans/Gods

Abstract of a presentation by Tua Korhonen

“… and the goddess, white-armed Hera, failed not to hearken, but touched her horses with the lash; and nothing loath the pair flew on between earth and starry heaven [… ] so far do the loud-neighing horses of the gods spring at a bound.” (Homer: Iliad 5. 770–2, transl. by A. Vickers)

Homer’s Iliad (put in the written form during the 8th century BCE) is treasured as the first literary artwork in the European Literary History. Thanks to the elaborate animal similes, the poet of the Iliad seems to be interested in the mental and emotional connections between the heroes and their non-human counterparts. The Iliad includes many glimpses of the interaction and affective relationships especially with horses, which not only humans but also the gods have. Besides mortal horses, whose suffering, injuries and death are described, there are also semidivine and divine horses. The most famous horses (revived later, for instance, by modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy and his translator into Finnish, poet Eeva-Liisa Manner), are the pair of divine horses, who cry over  the warrior’s death and even warn their master not to go to the battle. This anthropomorphization seems, however, not to be done in Aesopian way, but by managing to retain the horses still as embodied horses. In this paper, I will ponder the historicity of our experience of horses and how the experience is evoked in this Greek war epics, composed over 2 500 years ago.