A Weak King Was Not a King
To rule, after all, is to have power, whether over things, over men (by other men or some god), or over men and gods together (by Zeus). But the bardic formulas sometimes add a little touch that is extremely revealing. In five instances anassein is qualified with the adverb iphi, ‘by might’, so that king’s rule (but never the householder’s) becomes rule by might. This must under no circumstances be taken to imply tyranny, forcible rule in the invidious sense. When Hector prayed for his son to ‘rule by might in Ilion’ ([The Iliad, Book] VI 478), he was asking the gods that the boy succeed to the throne, not that he be endowed with the qualities of a despot….
Iphi quietly directs attention to the limits upon the parallel between head of a household and king. One critical test lay in the succession. The kings, like Hector, were personally interested in pushing the family parallel to the point at which their sons could automatically follow them on the throne as they succeeded them in the oikos. ‘The king is dead! Long live the king!’ That proclamation is the final triumph of the dynastic principle in monarchy. But never in the world of Odysseus was it pronounced by the herald. Kingship had not come that far, and the other aristocrats often succeeded in forcing a substitute announcement: ‘The king is dead! The struggle for the throne is open!’ That is how the entire Ithacan theme of the Odyssey can be summed up. ‘Rule by might’, in other words, meant that a weak king was not a king, that a king either had the might to rule or he did not rule at all.