From http://www.shkaminski.com/Classes/MNGT5590/dv.htm; please cite that site not this, with apologies
This text is reproduced solely for
the limited academic use of students in Webster University MNGT 5590.
Numbers in brackets indicate the
start of a page in the original text.
Although the full text of
the article is reproduced here, the class reading is an excerpt as indicated in
Detienne, Marcel and Jean-Pierre Vernant. Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and
Society. Trans. Janet Lloyd. Chicago:
U of Chicago P, 1991, 1-54.
Just as, at the end of a journey, one may look back over the
ground covered so, on completing a book, one may, in introducing it, pause to
reflect on the work done and attempt to define what has been accomplished. As
long as the enquiry is in progress one is pushed in one direction after another
so that it is not possible to see clearly the way it is taking you or where it
is leading. We have been working on mêtis
with a few interruptions, for about ten years.
One of the greatest surprises it has afforded us has been to see how, the
further we advanced, the wider the scope of our study became. Each time we
thought we were on the point of coming to an end the frontiers of the domain
which we were attempting to explore receded before us. If there is one point
which seems to have emerged as indisputable it is that the field that we
undertook to investigate—a field until then neglected by Greek scholars who had
never thought to enquire into the place held by mêtis in Greek civilisation—this
field includes vast tracts of virgin ground which will have to be explored in
subsequent investigations. So our book in no way covers the whole subject of mêtis. We will mention just two examples
of areas where further work is necessary. The first includes the whole range of
craftsman’s skills where we may refer to the study of Daedalus already
completed by Francoise Frontisi; the second covers the various forms of wiley
intelligence connected with particular divine powers where Laurence Lyotard-Kahn
has undertaken research on the figure of Hermes.
But the reader has every right to ask a number of questions:
what is the domain of studies which we have compared to virgin territory? What
is its place in Greek society and  culture? How should it be approached? In
sum, what precisely is the object of this book and from which disciplines are
our methods derived? For various kinds of reasons there is no simple or easy
reply to these questions. In the first place the type of intelligence we are
attempting to define operates on many different levels. These are as different
from each other as are a theogony and a myth about sovereignty, the
metamorphoses of a marine deity, the forms of knowledge of Athena and
Hephaestus, of Hermes and Aphrodite, of Zeus and Prometheus, a hunting trap, a
fishing net, the skills of a basket-maker, of a weaver, of a carpenter,
the mastery of a navigator, the flair of a politician, the experienced eye of a
doctor, the tricks of a crafty character such as Odysseus, the back-tracking
of a fox and the polymorphism of an octopus, the solving of enigmas and riddles
and the beguiling rhetorical illusionism of the sophists. Our enquiry thus
encompasses the whole extent of the cultural world of the Greeks from its most
ancient technical traditions to the structure of its pantheon. It operates at
every level, probing it in all its many dimensions, constantly shifting from
one area to another to seek out, by means of apparently heterogeneous evidence,
a single attitude of mind, a single image relating to how the Greeks
represented a particular type of intelligence at grips with objects which must
be dominated by cunning if success is to be won in the most diverse fields of
action. We have been obliged to find different methods of approach, to collate
different viewpoints and perspectives, to suit the different cases considered.
In certain respects our work is a linguistic study, an analysis of the semantic
field of mêtis and of its coherence
and amazing stability throughout Greek history. Sometimes it touches upon the
history of technology and that of practical intelligence as manifested in the
skills of the artisan. It includes whole chapters devoted to the analysis of
myths and the decoding of the structures of the pantheon. Finally, it also
involves historical psychology since it aims to define one major category of
the mind at every stage of Greek culture and in every type of work in which it
was involved. This mental category is affected by conditions of time and place
and we seek to define its structure and activity, the series of  procedures
by which it operates and the implicit rules of logic which it obeys. We use the
term mental category advisedly, rather than speaking of a concept. We are not
writing a history of ideas. It would have been impossible to do so. For the
forms of wiley intelligence, of effective, adaptable cunning which the Greeks
brought into play in large sectors of their social and spiritual life, which
they valued highly within their religious system and which we have attempted,
acting rather as archaeologists, to reconstruct, were never explicitly
formulated, never the subject of a conceptual analysis or of any coherent
theoretical examination. There are no treatises on mêtis as there are treatises on logic, nor are there any
philosophical systems based on the principles of wiley intelligence. It is not
difficult to detect the presence of mêtis
at the heart of the Greek mental world in the interplay of social and
intellectual customs where its influence is sometimes all-pervasive. But
there is no text which reveals straightforwardly its fundamental
characteristics and its origins.
This brings us to the second type of reason for the
difficulties and—we believe—the interest of our undertaking. Although mêtis operates within so vast a domain,
although it holds such an important position within the Greek system of values,
it is never made manifest for what it is, it is never clearly revealed in a
theoretical work that aims to define it. It always appears more or less below
the surface, immersed as it were in practical operations which, even when they
use it, show no concern to make its nature explicit or to justify its
procedures. To this extent Modern Greek scholars, who have neglected the
importance of its role, its impact or even its existence, have remained
faithful to a particular image Greek thought created of itself, in which mêtis is conspicuous by its absence.
There is no doubt that mêtis is a
type of intelligence and of thought, a way of knowing; it implies a complex but
very coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behaviour which combine
flair, wisdom, forethought, subtlety of mind, deception, resourcefulness,
vigilance, opportunism, various skills, and experience acquired over the years.
It is applied to situations which are transient, shifting, disconcerting and
ambiguous, situations  which do not lend themselves to precise measurement,
exact calculation or rigorous logic. Now, in the picture of thought and
intelligence presented by the philosophers, the professional experts where
intelligence was concerned, all the qualities of mind which go to make up mêtis, its sleights of hand, its
resourceful ploys and its stratagems, are usually thrust into the shadows,
erased from the realm of true knowledge and relegated, according to the
circumstances to the level of mere routine, chancey inspiration, changeable
opinion or even charlatanerie, pure and simple. So failure would be inevitable
if one tried to discover mêtis from
an enquiry into what Greek intelligence had to say about itself when it
composed theoretical treatises on its own nature. Mêtis must be tracked down
elsewhere, in areas which the philosopher usually passes over in silence or
mentions only with irony or with hostility so that, by contrast, he can display
to its fullest advantage the way of reasoning and understanding which is
required in his own profession.
To be sure, these remarks must be qualified. Aristotle’s
position on this point is not identical to Plato’s. For Plato dexterity (euchireia),
sureness of eye (eustochia) and sharpwittedness (agchinoia)
operate in enterprises in which mêtis
attempts to reach the desired goal by feeling its way and guessing. They belong
to a type of cognition which is alien to truth and quite separate from episteme,
knowledge. In contrast, for Aristotle, ‘practical intelligence’ at least retains
in its aims and in the way it operates many features of mêtis. One could even suggest that Plato too brings into operation
a kind of selection where mêtis is
concerned. He picks out from the skills of the artisan anything that can, by
its use of measuring instruments, be integrated into a mathematical type of
knowledge and that can provide the philosopher with a model of the activity of
the demiourgos who, starting from the Forms, produces in the world of
Becoming creations that are as real, stable and organised as is possible.
Finally, and most important, we shall have to study from
this viewpoint the contribution of the sophists who occupy a crucial position
in the area where traditional mêtis
and the new intelligence of the philosophers meet. Nevertheless in the main it
is true to say that the philosophers’ writing and  teaching, as they
developed during the fourth century, mark a break with a type of intelligence
which, although it continued to operate in large areas such as politics, the
military art, medicine and the skills of the artisan, nevertheless appears to
have been displaced and devalued in comparison with what henceforth represented
the key element in Greek learning.
In the intellectual world of the Greek philosopher, in
contrast to that of the thinkers of China or India, there is a radical
dichotomy between being and becoming, between the intelligible and the
sensible. It is not simply that a series of oppositions between antithetical
terms is set up. These contrasting concepts which are grouped into couples
together form a complete system of antimonies defining two mutually exclusive
spheres of reality. On the one hand there is the sphere of being, of the one,
the unchanging, of the limited, of true and definite knowledge; on the other,
the sphere of becoming, of the multiple, the unstable and the unlimited, of
oblique and changeable opinion. Within this framework of thought there can be
no place for mêtis. Mêtis is characterised precisely by the
way it operates by continuously oscillating between two opposite poles. It
turns into their contraries objects that are not yet defined as stable,
circumscribed, mutually exclusive concepts but which appear as powers in a
situation of confrontation and which, depending on the outcome of the combat in
which they are engaged, find themselves now in one position, as victors, and
now in the opposite one, as vanquished. These deities, who have the power of
binding, have to be constantly on their guard in order not to be bound in their
turn. Thus, when the individual who is endowed with mêtis, be he god or man, is confronted with a multiple, changing
reality whose limitless polymorphic powers render it almost impossible to
seize, he can only dominate it—that is to say enclose it within the limits of a
single, unchangeable form within his control—if he proves himself to be even
more multiple, more mobile, more polyvalent than his adversary. Similarly, in
order to reach his goal directly, to pursue his way without deviating from it,
across a world which is fluctuating and constantly oscillating from one side to
another, he must himself adopt an oblique  course and make his intelligence
sufficiently wiley and supple to bend in every conceivable way and his gait so
‘askew’ that he can be ready to go in any direction. In other words, to use the
Greek term, you could say that the task of the agkulometes one, who
possesses twisting mêtis, is to
devise the straightest way to achieve his end.
Here then, is a whole gamut of operations in which the
intelligence attempts to make contact with an object by confronting it in the
guise of a rival, as it were, combining connivance and opposition. It is this
that we have tried to define at every level and in every form in which we have
thought it is possible to detect it.
In this enquiry into the wiles of intelligence we have
restricted ourselves to the Greek data. As is natural when dealing with a
mental category so deeply rooted in religious thought, we have devoted the
greater part of our analysis to establishing the place, functions and modes of
action of Metis in myth and to illuminating the precise distribution of her
manifold abilities among the various divine powers. Mêtis enables us to formulate certain
general problems concerning the organisation of the pantheon. Some gods possess
mêtis while others are without it.
How do the two groups differ from each other and, within the first category,
what differentiates its various members? In what way is the mêtis of Kronos or of the Titan,
Prometheus, different from that of Zeus, the Olympian, the sovereign of the
universe? What is it that distinguishes the mêtis
of Athena from the closely similar mêtis
of Hephaestus or Hermes or Aphrodite? Why do the oracular knowledge of Themis
and Apollo and the magic of Dionysus lie outside the field of mêtis? In this part of our enquiry, in
this book, we have concentrated our investigation on and around Athena,
daughter to Metis, whose divine power she represents in the organised world of
the Olympian gods. Given this orientation, our studies have inevitably led us
on to problems which lie outside the Greek domain and consequently also beyond
the scope of the framework we have adopted. The figure of Metis and her role in
myths about sovereignty and—where the Orphic writers are concerned—in
cosmogonical myths, call for a comparison with the mythical traditions of the
Near-East,  in particular with the accounts in which the Sumerian god,
Enki-Ea also appears as the master of the waters, the inventor of
technology and the possessor of a knowledge that is rich in cunning. In more
general terms, Greek mêtis raises the
problem concerning the position which is held, in the myths of a large number
of peoples, by the figure that Anglo-Saxon anthropologists refer to as
the ‘trickster’, the deceiver. Although our book does not tackle these
questions directly, it does add certain new evidence to that already collected
in comparative studies. However, by not restricting our enquiry to the position
of Metis in myth and to the role she plays there, by studying the particular
form of intelligence that she represents, her methods of operation and the
means she employs to bring about her designs we shall perhaps also have helped
to direct comparative studies into a new avenue of research. Now that we have completed
our own study, the programme of research we might suggest is an analysis of the
methods of operation that govern the logic of wiley intelligence in religious
thought, that are responsible, in myth, for the successes of that intelligence
and that have appeared to us to be expressed for the Greeks in the images of
the reversal, the bond and the circle.
From a terminological point of view, mêtis, as a common noun, refers to a particular type of
intelligence, an informed prudence; as a proper name it refers to a female
deity, the daughter of Ocean. The goddess Metis who might be considered a
somewhat quaint figure seems, at first sight, to be restricted to no more than
a walk-on part. She is Zeus’ first wife and almost as soon as she
conceives Athena she is swallowed by her husband. The king of the gods brings
her mythological career to an abrupt conclusion by relegating her to the depths
of his own stomach. In the theogonies attributed to Orpheus, however, Metis
plays a major role and is presented as a great primordial deity at the
beginning of the world.
With regard to the common noun, the German philologist,
appeared to have settled its fate when he noted, by way of an aside in one of
his works, that after playing what was, by and large, a limited role in Homer’s
epic, mêtis survived only as a poetic
memory. However, Henri Jeanmaire reopened the subject and pursued the enquiry
with more rigour. Two conclusions
may be drawn from his study, La naissance d’Athéna et la royauté magique de
Zeus. In the first place, the intelligent
ability referred to as mêtis comes
into play on widely varying levels but in all of them the emphasis is always
laid on practical effectiveness, on the pursuit of success in a particular sphere
of activity: it may involve multiple skills useful in life, the mastery of the
artisan in his craft, magic tricks, the use of philtres and herbs, the cunning
stratagems of war, frauds, deceits, resourcefulness of every kind. Secondly,
the term mêtis is associated with a
whole series of words which together make up quite a wide, well-defined
and coherent semantic field.
 The history of mêtis
is a long one, extending over more than ten centuries down to the time of
Oppian. We shall start by consulting our first testimony, Homer.
The text of Homer most suited to reveal the nature of mêtis comes in Book XXIII of the Iliad, in the episode of the Games [See
the text of this passage]. Everything is ready for the chariot race. Old
Nestor, the very model of the Sage, the advisor expert in mêtis, lavishes
advice upon his son Antilochus.
The boy is still very young but Zeus and Poseidon have taught him ‘all the ways
of dealing with horses’.
Unfortunately, his race horses are not very fast; his rivals are better
equipped. The young man seems bound to lose. How could he triumph over his
adversaries with their faster horses when he drives slower ones?
In just such a context mêtis comes
into its own. Placed at a disadvantage so far as his horses are concerned, Antilochus,
as a true son of his father
has more tricks of mêtis up his
sleeve than his rivals dream of. ‘It’s up to you, my lad’, says Nestor, ‘to
fill your head with a metin pantoien (‘manifold’) so as not to let the
prize elude you’. Then follows a passage which sings the praises of mêtis ‘It is through mêtis rather than through strength that
the wood-cutter shows his worth. It is through mêtis that the helmsman guides the speeding vessel over the wine-dark
sea despite the wind. It is through mêtis
that the charioteer triumphs over his rival’.
In the case of Antilochus his mêtis
as a driver conceives a manoeuvre which is more or less a cheat and which
enables him to reverse an unfavourable situation and to triumph over
competitors who are stronger than he is. Nestor puts it like this: ‘The man who
knows the tricks (kerde) wins the day even with mediocre horses’.
So what are these tricks of Antilochus? Following the advice of his father, the
young man takes advantage of a sudden narrowing of the track, which has been
worn away by storm rains, and drives his chariot obliquely across in front of
that of Menelaus at the risk of causing a crash: the manoeuvre takes his
adversary by surprise and he is forced to rein in his horses. Taking full
advantage of his disarray, Antilochus gains the advantage necessary to outstrip
him in the last stretch of the race.
1. However ordinary the episode may appear it nevertheless
demonstrates certain essential features of mêtis.
Firstly,  it shows the opposition between using one’s strength and
depending on mêtis. In every
confrontation or competitive situation—whether the adversary be a man, an
animal or a natural force—success can be won by two means, either thanks to a
superiority in ‘power’ in the particular sphere in which the contest is taking
place, with the stronger gaining the victory; or by the use of methods of a
different order whose effect is, precisely, to reverse the natural outcome of
the encounter and to allow victory to fall to the party whose defeat had appeared
inevitable. Thus success obtained through mêtis
can be seen in two different ways. Depending on the circumstances it can arouse
opposite reactions. In some cases it will be considered the result of cheating
since the rules of the game have been disregarded. In others, the more surprise
it provokes the greater the admiration it will arouse, the weaker party having,
against every expectation, found within himself resources capable of putting
the stronger at his mercy. Certain aspects of mêtis tend to associate it with the disloyal trick, the perfidious
lie, treachery—all of which are the despised weapons of women and cowards.
But others make it seem more precious than strength. It is, in a sense, the
absolute weapon, the only one that has the power to ensure victory and
domination over others, whatever the circumstances, whatever the conditions of
In effect, whatever the strength of a man or a god, there
always comes a time when he confronts one stronger than himself. Only superior mêtis can give supremacy the two
qualities of permanence and universality which turn it into truly sovereign
power. If Zeus is the king of the gods, more powerful than all the other
deities, even when they band together against him, it is because he is, par excellence,
the god who possesses mêtis.
The Greek myths which tell the story of how the son of Kronos won power and
established his definitive sovereignty emphasise the fact that victory in the
struggle for power had to be won not by force but by a cunning trick, thanks to
Kratos and Bie, Domination and Brute Force flank the throne of Zeus, as
servants forever following at his heels. But they only do so inasmuch as the
power of the Olympian god is more than mere strength and is unaffected by the
vicissitudes of time. Not content to  unite himself to Metis by his first
marriage, Zeus made himself pure mêtis
by swallowing her. It was a wise precaution: once she had conceived Athena,
Metis would—if Zeus had not
forestalled her—have given birth to a
son stronger than his father, who would have dethroned him just as he himself
had overthrown his own father. Henceforth, however, there can be no mêtis possible without Zeus or directed
against him. Not a single cunning trick can be plotted in the universe without
first passing through his mind. There can no longer be any risk to threaten the
duration of the power of the sovereign god. Nothing can surprise him, cheat his
vigilance or frustrate his designs. Thanks to the mêtis within him Zeus is now forewarned of everything, whether good
or bad, that is in store for him. For him there is no gap between a plan and
its fulfillment such as enables the unexpected to intervene in the lives of
other gods and mortals.
2. The second feature illuminated by the episode in the Iliad concerns the temporal framework
within which mêtis is at work. It
operates on a shifting terrain, in uncertain and ambiguous situations. Two
antagonistic forces confront each other. Over this fraught and unstable time of
the agon mêtis gives one a hold
without which one would be at a loss. During the struggle, the man of mêtis—compared with his
opponent—displays at the same time a greater grip of the present where nothing
escapes him, more awareness of the future, several aspects of which he has
already manipulated, and richer experience accumulated from the past. This
state of vigilant premeditation, of continuous concentration on activity that
is in progress, is expressed by the Greeks in images of watchfulness, of lying
in wait, when a man who is on the alert keeps watch on his adversary in order
to strike at the chosen moment. Consider how Nestor warns Antilochus of the
dangers which await whoever is too sure of his strength and ceases to be on his
guard; ‘One man will trust himself to his chariot and his horses and stupidly
take the turn too widely, swerving from one side to the other... another, who
is driving less swift horses knows a couple of tricks to make up for this. He
keeps his eyes fixed on the post and takes the turn very sharply; he does not
forget to control  his animals with the leather reins; he drives on
steadily with his eyes fixed on the competitor who is ahead (dokeuei)’.
Dokeuein, to watch closely, is a technical term in fishing, hunting and
warfare. The author of the Shield, attributed to Hesiod, uses it to
describe a crouching fisherman lying in wait, ready to trap the fish with his
large net. The
description in the Iliad of the hound
hunting a boar has it glued to the heels of the animal ‘sticking close to its
side, to its hindquarters, watchful of its every move’.Antilochus
too knows how to watch his enemy carefully in battle. In the melee in which
Hector brings terror and death, the young Greek stands aside, on the watch: ‘He
keeps watching Thoon; as soon as the latter turns round he pounces, and wounds
The man of mêtis
is always ready to pounce. He acts faster than lightning. This is not to say
that he gives way to a sudden impulse, as do most Homeric heroes. On the
contrary his mêtis knows how to wait
patiently for the calculated moment to arrive. Even when it originates from a
sudden burst of action, the operation of mêtis
is diametrically opposed to that of impulsiveness. Mêtis is swift, as prompt as the opportunity that it must seize on
the wing, not allowing it to pass. But in no way does it act lightly (lepte).
With all the weight of acquired experience that it carries, it involves thought
that is dense, rich and compressed (pukine).
Instead of floating hither and thither, at the whim of circumstance, it anchors
the mind securely in the project which it has devised in advance thanks to its
ability to look beyond the immediate present and foresee a more or less wide
slice of the future.
In this connection, the text of the Iliad contains some suggestive evidence. At the decisive moment in
the race, Antilochus says to his horses: ‘Go as fast as you can. I will be
responsible for finding a way and an opportunity, if the path narrows, of
slipping in front of the son of Atreus, without letting the moment pass’.
The term kairos, opportunity, does not appear in the passage but the
idea is certainly there, although in a form which we must define more closely
and which the text stresses emphatically. This is an opportunity which, far
from coming as a surprise to Antilochus, enables him to put into practise the
plan which he has had in mind  from the start. It is mêtis which, overtaking the kairos, however fleeting it may
be, catches it by surprise. It can ‘seize’ the opportunity in as much as, not
being ‘light’, it has been able to foresee how events will turn out and to
prepare itself for this well in advance. This mastery over the kairos,
is one of the features which characterised the art of the charioteer. When
Pindar celebrates the art of the charioteer Nichomachus, who is renowned for
his ability, he praises him for having known how ‘to give the horses their
heads at the right moment’ (kata kairon).
Of the two divine horses that make up the invincible team of Adrastus, one is
named Areion, denoting his excellence; the other is called Kairos.
Having the swiftest horses is not enough, one must know how to spur them on at
the decisive moment.
[Class reading continues at characteristic
On emerging from the race in which his mêtis has triumphed, Antilochus realises that owing to a lack of
maturity it has not yet acquired all the weight and consistency desirable.
Menelaus showers him with reproaches for his unfair manoeuvres—his dolos.
He calls upon the gods to witness the wrong that has been done him and insists
that Antilochus should swear an oath. The young man finds himself obliged to
make honourable amends. Acknowledging that he was in the wrong he pleads the
thoughtlessness of youth, the impulsiveness which makes the mêtis of an adolescent ‘light’: ‘Can you
not imagine the excesses of a young man? His mind is hasty (kraipnoteros)
and his mêtis lepte.
Carried away by his desire to win, Antilochus lacked weighty reflection.
Absorbed in the plot he was hatching, he did not look beyond the victory to see
what the consequences of his cheating would be. The craftiness of the young man
saw no further than the end of his own nose. Experience gives the old man, on
the other hand, a much broader vision. With the weight of all the knowledge he
has accumulated over the years, he can explore in advance all the many avenues
of the future, weigh up advantages against disadvantages and make decisions
with a full knowledge of the situation. In Book III of the Iliad, at the turning point in the story when it seems that reason
will win the day and that the war will be brought to an end by an agreement,
 Menelaus insists in the name of the Greeks that, before the pact is
sealed, the aged Priam should come forth in the company of his young sons: ‘The
minds of young men can be turned by any gust of wind (eerethontai); when
an old man accompanies them he can see, by comparing the future and the past, (hama
prosso kai opisso leussei), how it will be possible to arrange everything
for the best for both parties concerned’.
The gift of comparing the future with the past is precisely what, unfortunately
for the Greeks, their own king lacks. Absorbed in his anger, Agammemnon ‘is not
capable of seeing, by comparing the future with the past, how the Greeks can
fight unscathed close to their ships’.
The Trojans are in almost as bad a position. At their assembly, the wise
Polydamus does indeed
lavish his prudent advice upon them. He implores them to examine the situation
from all points of view, even to look ahead to see what is going to happen’.
But they pay him no heed; he alone is capable of ‘seeing at the same time both
the past and the future’.
All the Trojans are won over by Hector’s appeal to give battle outside the
walls. It is a fatal decision: the great Hector, forgetful of the past and
blind to the future, overcome by hatred and a desire to do battle, is totally
light-headed, swept away by the vicissitudes of the situation. Misled by
their passions and short-sighted, the two kings, each in his camp, behave
like thoughtless youths. They resemble the women Sappho describes, with their
‘changeable minds, who in their lightness think only of the present’.
Furthermore, the temporal horizon remains limited even for the mature man of
stable common sense: for mortal creatures the future is as opaque as the night.
When Diomedes volunteers for night patrol behind the enemy lines, he asks for a
companion: ‘When two men walk together if it’s not one it’s the other who sees
the advantage (kerdos) to be seized. On one’s own one can see too but
one’s sight is shorter and one’s mêtis
One must be old with all the experience of a Nestor or endowed with a mêtis as exceptional as that of Odysseus
to be capable—to use the expression which Thucydides applies to the political
flair of Themistocles—‘of arriving at the most correct idea concerning the
future, taking the widest point of view and  foreseeing, as far as
possible, the hidden advantages and disadvantages in what cannot be seen’.
It should be added that among men one never comes across
this exceptional prometheia or pronoia, this foresight in the
true sense of the word, without also encountering its opposite. Prometheus, the
one who reflects in advance, has as his twin brother, his double and opposite,
Epimetheus, the one who understands after the event.
Together with fire and all the artificial skills which men need, Prometheus
presents them with an intelligence which dares to take on the cunning of Zeus,
and fool him. But the Titan’s mêtis
always recoils against him in the end; he is caught in the trap which he
himself set. Prometheus and Epimetheus represent the two faces of a single
figure just as the prometheia of man is simply the other side to his
radical ignorance of the future.
[Class reading continues]
3. Homer gives mêtis
one other characteristic. It is not one, not unified, but multiple and diverse.
Nestor calls it pantoie.
Odysseus is the hero who is polumetis as well as polutropos and polumechanos.
He is an expert in tricks of all kinds (pantoious dolous),
polumechanos in the sense that he is never at a loss, never without
expedients (poroi) to get himself out of any kind of trouble (aporia).
When taught by Athena and Hephaestus, the deities of mêtis the artist also possesses a techne pantoie,
an art of many facets, knowledge of general application. The polumetis
is also known by the name of poikilometis
The term poikilos is used to refer to the sheen of a material
or the glittering of a weapon,
the dappled hide of a fawn,
or the shining back of a snake mottled with darker patches.This
many-coloured sheen or complex of appearances produces an effect of
irridescence, shimmering, an interplay of reflections which the Greeks
perceived as the ceaseless vibrations of light. In this sense, what is poikilos,
many-coloured, is close to what is aiolos, which refers to fast
movement. Thus it is
that the changing surface of liver which is sometimes propitious and sometimes
the reverse is called poikilos
just as are good fortune which is so inconstant and changing
and also the deity which endlessly guides the destinies of men from one side to
the other, first in one direction and then in the other. Plato associates  what is poikilos with what is never the same as
itself, oudepote tauton
and, similarly, elsewhere opposes it to that which is simple, haplous.
Shimmering sheen and shifting movement are so much a part of
the nature of mêtis that when the
epithet poikilos is applied to an
individual it is enough to indicate that he is a wiley one, a man of cunning,
full of inventive ploys (poikiloboulos) and tricks of every kind. Hesiod
calls Prometheus poikilos as well as aiolometis.
Aesop remarks in a fable that if the panther has a mottled skin, the fox, for
its part, has a mind which is poikilos.
In The Knights, Aristophanes has one of the protagonists warned against a
particularly dangerous adversary: ‘The man is poikilos, crafty; he can easily find ways of getting himself out of
difficulties (ek ton amechanon porous eumechanos porizein)’.
As we have already mentioned, aiolos, is a term which
is close to poikilos. E. Benveniste
has connected it with the root at aion (skrt. ayu): this denotes,
first, the life force realised in human existence and, then, continuity of
life, duration of life, a period of time.
A linguistic analysis reveals that the fundamental meaning of aiolos, is: swift, mobile, changing.
L.Parmentier has claimed that in epic ailos means many-coloured, (versicolor),
marked with colours that overlap.
But even if it is true that aiolos, applied,
for example, to the horse of Achilles, a bay with white socks,
applies to the colour of its coat, the fact is that for the lexicographers and
scholiasts who commented on the term
it conveyed, first and foremost, the image of turbulent movement, of incessent
change. When applied to objects, the word is used to refer to shields which
glitter as they move;
where animals are concerned, to worms,horseflies,
a swarm of bees, all
creatures whose wriggling and moving mass is never still; on connection with
men, to those whose wiley mind is able to twist and turn in every direction.
Pindar calls Odysseus aiolos, a man
of shifty cunning.
Alometis and aioloboulos correspond to poikilometis and poikiloboulos.
He whose cleverness enables him to turn his hand to anything (panourgos),
who is wiley enough to discover an escape from every trap (euporos) is,
Eustathius tells us an Aeolus, Aiolos, a Poikilos.
 Why does mêtis
appear thus, as multiple (pantoie) many-coloured (poikile)
shifting (aiole)? Because its field of application is the world of
movement, of multiplicity and of ambiguity. It bears on fluid situations which
are constantly changing and which at every moment combine contrary features and
forces that are opposed to each other. In order to seize upon the fleeting kairos,
mêtis had to make itself even swifter
than the latter. In order to dominate a changing situation, full of contrasts,
it must become even more supple, even more shifting, more polymorphic than the
flow of time: it must adapt itself constantly to events as they succeed each
other and be pliable enough to accommodate the unexpected so as to implement
the plan in mind more successfully. It is thus that the helmsman pits his
cunning against the wind so as to bring the ship safely to harbour despite it.
For the Greeks, only like could be affected by like. Victory over a shifting
reality whose continuous metamorphoses make it almost impossible to grasp, can
only be won through an even greater degree of mobility, an even greater power
There is one feature of Metis mentioned by Apollodorus which
one might have thought to be secondary or a late addition but whose full
importance can now be recognised. Zeus’ spouse is endowed with the power of
metamorphosis. Like other marine deities (which are also “primordial” beings)
such as Nereus, Proteus and Thetis, she can take on the most widely differing
appearances. She can, in succession, become a lion, a bull, a fly, a fish, a
bird, a flame or flowing water. We are told that, to escape Zeus’ embrace, as
Thetis eluded Proteus, Metis ‘changed herself into all kinds of forms’.
Deities of this type nearly always appear, in myth, in the
context of a trial imposed upon a hero who may be human or divine. At some
crucial point in his career the hero has to confront the spells of some god of
great cunning who holds the secret to his success. The god possesses the power
to assume all kinds of different forms and, as the contest proceeds, this makes
him a kind of polymorphous monster, a terrifying opponent, impossible to seize.
To conquer him it is necessary to take him by surprise with a trick, a 
disguise, an ambush—as Menelaus does with the ancient Proteus. The hero must
grasp him unexpectedly and not let go whatever happens. Once his magic power is
disarmed by the bond which grips him, the deity with the power of metamorphosis
reassumes his original form and surrenders to his conqueror. If it is a goddess
she agrees to have intercourse with him and this marriage is the crowning point
of the hero’s career. If it is a god such as Nereus or Proteus, he reveals the
secrets of his oracular wisdom. In either case a mistrustful, mobile elusive
being is taken by surprise, seized and secured by an unbreakable bond.
Zeus masters Metis by turning her own weapons against
herself. These are premeditation, deceit, the surprise attack and the sudden
assault. Conversely, in her attempts to loosen the god’s grip, Metis imitates
those elusive beings which baffle men with their constant transformations and
thus escape from their planned hold over them and slip through their fingers.
The many-coloured, shimmering nature of mêtis is a mark of its kinship with the divided, shifting world of
multiplicity in the midst of which it operates. It is this way of conniving
with reality which ensures its efficacity. Its suppleness and malleability give
it the victory in domains where there are no ready-made rules for
success, no established methods, but where each new trial demands the invention
of new ploys, the discovery of a way out (poros) that is hidden.
Conversely, the ambiguous, disparate, unstable realities with which men attempt
to come to grips may, in myth, take on the appearance of polymorphic monsters,
powers of metamorphosis which delight, in their cunning, to disappoint all
expectations and constantly to baffle the minds of men.
Mêtis is itself a
power of cunning and deceit. It operates through disguise. In order to dupe its
victim it assumes a form which masks, instead of revealing, its true being. In mêtis appearance and reality no longer
correspond to one another but stand in contrast, producing an effect of
illusion, apate which beguiles the adversary into error and leaves him as
bemused by his defeat as by the spells of a magician. Antilochus’ trick, as
described in the Iliad, is indeed a
‘trap’,  a dolos
of this kind. The young man has thought out his plan carefully in advance; he
has inspected the terrain and taken note of the narrowing of the track. In
hatching his plot, he showed himself to be, as his father advised him, prudent
and careful not to act in an impetuous manner (aphradeos)
as would a driver not endowed with mêtis.
His plan furthermore demands that he should be in complete command of his horses.
At the moment when they veer towards the chariot alongside he should leave
nothing to chance and make sure that he is at all times in full control of
chariot and team. However, to be effective, the manoeuvre must fool Menelaus
and appear to be opposite of what it really is. When he sees the chariot of
Antilochus veer towards his own, the king of Sparta imagines that the young man
has, through lack of experience, lost control of his team. ‘Antilochus’, he
shouts, ‘you’re driving like a madman, aphradeo’.
It is the very expression used by Nestor to describe the driver without mêtis who, instead of remaining in
control of his horses and making them go in the direction he chooses, allows
himself to be led by them, as does the poor helmsman by the winds and waves,
with the chariot swerving from one side to the other of the track, at the will
of the horses. The prudent
trick of Antilochus adopts the guise of its opposite in order to fool Menelaus,
and simulates madness. The calculating young man drives his horses along the
predetermined course, feigning thoughtlessness and lack of control just as he
pretends not to hear Menelaus shouting out to him to take care, his ouk
These features in the behaviour of Antilochus take on their full significance
when they are compared to the behaviour of Odysseus, the polumetis one,
the very embodiment of cunning. Consider the most subtle and most dangerous
orator of Greece preparing, before the assembled
Trojans, to weave the glittering web of his words: there he
is, standing awkwardly with his eyes fixed on the ground, not raising his head;
he holds the staff quite still as if he did not know what to do with it. He
looks like a tongue-tied yokel or even a witless man (aphrona). At
the moment when he is about to speak the master of tricks, the magician of
words pretends to have lost his tongue, as if he were unskilled  in the
rudiments of oratory (aidrei photi eoikos).
Such is the ‘duplicity,’ of mêtis
which, giving itself out to be other than it is, is like those misleading
objects, the powers of deception which Homer refers to as dolos: the Trojan Horse,
the bed of love with its magic bonds,
the fishing bait are all
traps which conceal their inner deceit beneath a reassuring or seductive
The Fox and the Octopus
 The episode of Antilochus enabled us to give a general
outline of the semantic field of mêtis
and of the essential features of this particular type of intelligence, taking
the Homeric epic as our starting point. Mêtis,
informed prudence, allows Antilochus, in the Games, to gain a lead in the
chariot race over adversaries with faster teams of horses than his own.
Cunning, dolos. tricks, kerde,
and the ability to seize an opportunity, kairos, give the weaker
competitor the means of triumphing over the stronger, enabling the inferior to
outdo the superior rival. Throughout the race Antilochus drives intently,
keeping his eyes on the man in front of him, dokeuei. To bring about a
reversal of the position mêtis must
foresee the unforeseeable. Engaged in the world of becoming and confronted with
situations which are ambiguous and unfamiliar and whose outcome always lies in
the balance, wiley intelligence is only able to maintain its hold over beings
and things thanks to its ability to look beyond the immediate present and
forsee a greater or lesser section of the future. Vigilant and forever on the
alert, mêtis also appears as
multiple, pantoie, many-coloured, poikile and shifting, aiole.
They are all qualities which betray the polymorphism and polyvalence of a kind
of intelligence which, to render itself impossible to seize and to dominate
fluid, changing realities, must always prove itself more supple and more
polymorphic than they are. Finally, mêtis,
wiley intelligence possesses the most prized cunning of all: the ‘duplicity’ of
the trap which always presents itself as what it is not and which conceals its
true lethal nature beneath a reassuring exterior.
This is our first model of mêtis with the features that appear in the Iliad and the Odyssey. We shall now compare  it to the
model presented by our second source of evidence, namely the works ascribed to
[Class reading continues at the end of this
The Treatise on Fishing, composed by Oppian during
the second century A.D. and the Treatise on Hunting by the author known
by the same name introduce
us into a world of traps. These include not just baits, nets, weels, nooses and
snares, but also in a certain respect those animals and men which appear
alternately first as hunted and then as hunter. In the two treatises, the words
dolos, techne mechane recur
constantly, associated with the term mêtis.
In the world of animals as in that of men, relations of force are constantly
upset by the intervention of mêtis.
It is not necessarily the rule that the bigger creatures eat the smaller:
‘Those which have not been allotted strength by some god and which are not
equipped with some poisonous sting to defend themselves have as their weapons
the resources of an intelligence fertile in cunning tricks and stratagems (doloi).
They can kill a fish which is easily their superior in size and strength (kai
krateron, kai huperteron)’. The defeat of the weak and the
frail is not a foregone conclusion. Prawns are small, says Oppian, and their
strength is commensurate with their size: ‘Yet, thanks to their cunning tricks
(doloi) they are able to kill the sea basse which is one of the most
The mêtis of fish
can take a thousand forms. It abounds in inventiveness and is full of
surprises. This, for example, is how the fishing frog operates: ‘The fishing
frog is a sluggish creature with a soft body and a hideous aspect. Its mouth opens
exceedingly wide. Nevertheless, it is a possessor of mêtis, for all that, and it is mêtis
that procures its food. What it does is crouch, motionless, deep in the wet
mud. Then it stretches out a little fleshy appendage which grows below its
lower jaw; the appendage is thin, white and has an unpleasant smell. The frog
waves it about continuously, using it as a bait (dolos) to attract small fish. As soon as these catch sight of it
they fall on it in order to seize it. Then, imperceptibly, the frog draws this
sort of tongue back towards it and continues to wave it gently about a couple
of finger-lengths away from its mouth. Without the slightest suspicion that
it is a trap (krupton dolon) the little fish follow the bait. Soon they
are swallowed up one after another within the wide jaws of this huge mouth’.
Oppian goes on to remark that it is thus, by duping them, that the feeble frog
catches the fish. The domain of mêtis
is one ruled by cunning and traps. It is an ambiguous world, composed of
duplicity and deceit—apate. The fleshy appendage growing on the fishing
frog is a true fishing bait and as such has a double character: to the little
fish it looks for all the world like food but it is food which soon changes
itself into a voracious maw. With this type of ligament dangling from its neck
which it can stretch out and draw back at will, the fishing frog sets up a
manoeuvre which equals the art of line fishing; and because of this ploy or sophisma
the Greeks gave it the fitting name of ‘angler-fish’ or halieius.
The fish which possess mêtis
are living traps. The Torpedo fish appears as a flabby body, quite without
vigour but, Oppian tells us, ‘its flanks conceal a cunning trick, a dolos, its strength in weakness’.
Its dolos, consists of the sudden electric
shock which its harmless appearance masks and which takes its adversary by
surprise, leaving it at the torpedo fish’s mercy. The sea is like a world full
of snares, inhabited as it is by ambiguous creatures whose harmless appearance
belies their true, deadly nature. A rock looks like a greyish mass, unalarming
and still. But all the time it is an octopus. Oppian says that it is by techne
that the octopus merges in with the rock to which it clings.
In this way, thanks to the illusion (apate) which they thus create, they
have no difficulty in eluding the pursuit of fishermen as well as that of the
fish whose strength they fear. If, on the other hand, some weak creature comes
within their reach, they immediately cast off their appearance of a rock and reassume
that of an octopus. The same trick is their means of both acquiring food and
escaping death. The world of duplicity is also a world of vigilance: both the
fishing frog squatting in the mud and the octopus plastered to its rock are on
the alert; they keep a look out, are on the watch for the moment to act. Every
animal with mêtis is a living eye
which never closes or even blinks.
 In this world of hunting and of fishing, victory is
only to be won through mêtis. There
is one unalterable rule for animals and men alike, be they hunting or fishing:
the only way to get the better of a polumetis one is to exhibit even
more mêtis. Menelaus can only seize
Proteus, the polymorphic god, by resorting to ambush and disguise.
Herakles can only triumph over Peryclemenes, the elusive warrior with a
thousand forms, with the aid of Athena and all her mêtis.
How does Oppian see this type of man hunter or fisherman, confronted with a
world of traps and at grips with animals full of cunning? There are several
passages in the Treatise on Fishing and the Treatise On Hunting
which enable us to distinguish his essential features and to discern his most
important qualities. The first quality of the hunter as of the fisherman is
agility, suppleness, swiftness, mobility. Oppian insists that a good fisherman
must have agile limbs, be able to leap from stone to stone, run along the bank
and move as swiftly as his prey.
As for the hunter, he must be energetic and hardened to withstand fatigue, but
he must also be a good runner, fleet of foot
like the accomplished warrior as depicted in Homer.
When Plato, in the Laws, writes that there is no more warrior-like
quality than agility of body—of the feets and hands for example—his remark is
equally applicable to the type of man we are attempting to define.
Certain points found in myth also stress this fundamental quality. When Hermes
sets out to hunt at nightfall, he plaits himself a pair of ‘swift sandals’
which enable him to move as fast as the wind.
According to Nonnos, Agreus and Nomios, two mythical patrons of the hunt, were
the owners of magical shoes: when Dionysus wants to give a mark of his favour
to Nicaia, who is passionately devoted to the hunt, these are what he gives
Tradition has it that these same shoes are also a part of the equipment of
Artemis when she sets out on her great hunts.
Their name makes it quite clear what they stand for: they are known as endromides,
The second quality of the hunter and of the fisherman is
dissimulation, the art of seeing without being seen. True, Oppian nowhere says
this in so many words. But we are justified in inferring it from a number of
recommendations,  and precepts which make the same point. In the first
place, there is some purely technical information: the line on which the bait
is suspended must be as fine as a hair; the snares laid on the tracks
frequented by the game must be undetectable among the branches, the weel must
merge in with the background of the undersea world in the same way as the octopus
which adopts the colour and shape of the rock to which it clings.
These recommendations concerning the instruments of fishing and hunting are an
integral part of a whole series of precepts which Oppian produces for those who
desire to catch fish or game: they must be very quiet, move without noise and,
however fleet of foot they may be, they must also when necessary be capable of
remaining quite still for hours on end.
When one wants to catch a shoal of fish detected by a look-out, one must
as far as possible avoid making any sound with the oars and nets. The nets must
be thrown out far enough away so that the sound of the oars and ‘the lapping of
the water against the boat will not be heard by the fish. All those taking part
in a fishing expedition must proceed in total silence until the fish are
‘encircled’ (kukloun), imprisoned within the circular sweep of the huge
In this marine world in which, as Plutarch says, every living creature harbours
presentiments which change in no time into suspicions,
dissimulation is to no avail without the preliminary skill of laying the bait
and setting the trap.
Silent and invisible, hunters and fishermen must themselves become traps.
Being silent and ever on the alert, remaining invisible,
missing nothing, constantly on the qui-vive: all this is covered
by a technical term relating to hunting and fishing whose importance in Homeric
terminology we have already noted, namely dokeuein, to be on the look
out, on the watch. The third quality of this type of man is vigilance. On this
point Oppian is quite explicit: a keen eye is essential for hunting and
fishing. Hunters and fishermen must always keep their eyes open and their wits
about them, never succumbing to the desire to sleep.
The animals for which they lie in wait never relax their vigilance. The
question of whether fishes ever slept was a much debated one among the ancient
writers, to such an extent that in his Historia Animalium, Aristotle
 spends a long time attempting to show that they do sleep, and moreover
very deeply. Some
authors of technical treatises such as Seleucus of Tarsus claimed, on the other
hand, that no fish sleeps except one which is, paradoxically, known as the
‘leaping’ fish, skaros.
Oppian is of the same opinion: fishes are creatures which never close their
eyes, even during the night. They are characterised by a noos panaupnos,
an intelligence which is never overcome by the power of sleep.
In a sense, Seleucus of Tarsus and Oppian are in the right against Aristotle
despite his naturalist’s knowledge: if fish possess mêtis it is not possible that they should sleep; they resemble
Zeus, the god who is the embodiment of mêtis,
who never sleeps, whose eyes never close.
The hunter must be like Hermes,
euskopos, a good lookout. In his list of hunting epithets Pollux, having
noted that the hunter must be swift (kouphos), a good runner (dromikos)
and alert (agrupnos) insists that he should also be oxus, that he
must have a sharp eye, a piercing glance.
When, a little further on, Pollux gives the hunter advice as to how to tackle a
wild boar, this detail takes on its full importance: he must have a piercing
eye to aim (stochcazesthai) at the vital parts (kairia), the spot
where a wound is fatal.
If the hunter and fisherman show a capacity for vigilance’
they will make good catches, they will be dear to Hermes, the god of windfalls
who is the most alert of the gods in the Greek pantheon, after Zeus whose
nature is entirely alien to sleep. Mobility, vigilance and the art of seeing
without being seen are all included in the quality that Oppian insists the
accomplished fisherman must possess: he must be polupaipalos, full of
finesse. The term
may seem surprising: the literal meaning of paipale or paipalema
is ‘the finest flour’ but, as used by Aristophanes, it is a metaphor which is
applied to one who is cunning, subtle and shrewd.
To be polupaipalos is to be a master of finesse. The expression is
analogous to a whole series of terms which associate closely together the ideas
of cunning and of multiplicity: polumetis, the epithet applied to
Odysseus, Hephaestus and Hermes,
polutropos which refers both to the octopus and to the man of mêtis,
and polumechanos which describes the intelligence of Odysseus.
To be a master of finesse, polupaipalos, does  not only involve
traps, weels, snares and nets, all the doloi which are the weapons of
the hunter and the fisherman. The context shows that it has a wider meaning:
‘The fisherman must possess a mind full of finesse (polupaipalos) and
intelligence (moemon), for the fish, having fallen unexpectedly into the
trap, devise a thousand cunning tricks to escape from it (polla kai aiola
It is the mêtis of the fish which
obliges the fisherman to deploy an intelligence full of finesse. Oppian states
this clearly on several occasions: ‘It is not only in relations with each other
that fish display the finesse of their intelligence, their shrewdness and their
cunning (noema puknon, mêtis epiklopos). Indeed, very often, they deceive
the cleverness of those who seek to catch them; they often escape even when
already hooked or caught in the net. Winning the battle of wits (boulei
nikesantes), they often triumph over the ‘artifices of men’.
Even when they are caught animals may, thanks to their mêtis, themselves remain traps: they have all the cunning of the
sophist, the poikilos schemer ‘who is
never without a way (porous eumechanos porizein) of escaping from
Their mêtis even rivals Promethean
cunning ‘capable of extricating itself even from the inextricable’.
To triumph over these creatures which are so resourceful, to thwart even their
most startling ploys and be ready even for what is most unpredictable, hunters
and fishermen must be capable of showing mêtis
superior to theirs, they must have more tricks up their sleeves than their
victims. It is by drawing on experience from the animal world that mêtis, can fortify itself and become
full of all the resources essential to it. In his treatise on The Intelligence
of Animals, Plutarch stresses this point: octopus hunting, he writes,
develops a man’s skill (deinotes) and practical intelligence (sunesis).
Conversely when, in the Laws, Plato violently condemns line fishing, the
hunting of aquatic creatures, the use of weels, the hunting of birds and all
forms of hunting with nets and traps, he does so because all these techniques
foster the qualities of cunning and duplicity which are diametrically opposed
to the virtues that the city of the Laws demanded from its citizens.
If they are masters of finesse hunters and fishermen can
 display an unrivalled duplicity: there is no end to their stratagems, they
can devise a thousand tricks to equal the ploys of animal mêtis. Some fish can be caught by some fairly crude bait. An
octopus grilled over charcoal easily lures a sea bream into the weel. But this
facile type of fishing can become a marvel when, instead of using an ordinary
snare which can catch only one prisoner, the fisherman uses a type of trap which
remains open. Patiently, he allows the fish to become accustomed to the
‘device’, to get used to finding their food there and then, all of sudden, he
captures the entire group by closing the opening of the weel with a well-fitting cover.
Other victims are less naive and for them more subtle methods are necessary. To
catch the anthias, Oppian’s advice is to fix to a double-pronged
hook a living sea basse, if this be possible.
If a living bait is not available, the fisherman should resort to the following
subterfuge: he should attach, just above the fish’s mouth, a piece of lead,
known as a ‘dolphin’, the pressure of which gives the lifeless body the
movements of an authentic living creature. Deceived by the appearance of the
fish which seems to be fleeing from them, the anthias fall upon it.
Here again the cunning trick of the fisherman is simply an imitation—a replica
of the trick perpetrated by the fishing frog.
[Class reading continues]
Countless animals are endowed with mêtis. Oppian describes at length the pranks (kerde) of the
ichneumon and the
cunning tricks (dolos) of the Ox-ray;
and he marvels at the mêtis of the
starfish and the urchins
and at the techne of the crab with its twisted gait.
But of all the animals which are outstanding for their mêtis, there are two which call for particular attention: the fox
and the octopus. In Greek thought they serve as models. They are, as it were,
the incarnation of cunning in the animal world. Each represents one essential
aspect of mêtis in Particular. The
fox has a thousand tricks up its sleeve but the culminating point of its mêtis appears in the way it, so to
speak, reverses itself. In the infinite suppleness of its tentacles the
octopus, for its part, symbolises the unseizability that comes from polymorphy.
 When Oppian describes the cunning of the fishing frog squatting in the
mud, motionless and invisible, he compares it to the fox: ‘The scheming fox (agkulometis
kerdo) devises a similar trick; as soon as it spots a flock of wild birds
it lies down on its side, stretches out its agile limbs, closes its eyelids and
shuts its mouth. To see it you would think that it was enjoying a deep sleep or
even that it was really dead, so well does it hold its breath as it lies
stretched out there, all the while turning over treacherous plots (aiola
bouleuousa) in its mind. No sooner do the birds notice it than they swoop
down on it in a flock and, as if in mockery, tear at its coat with their claws,
but as soon as they are within reach of its teeth the fox reveals its cunning (dolos) and seizes them unexpectedly’.
The fox is a trap; when the right moment comes the dead creature becomes more
alive than the living. But the skill of the fox lies in its ability to lie low,
crouching in the shadows. This is how the author of the Treatise on Hunting
sees it: ‘The most scheming (aioloboulos) of wild animals ... it lives,
in its intelligence, in the depths of an earth which is admirably laid out. The
dwelling that it digs itself has seven different entrances linked by as many
corridors and the openings are situated a long way from each other. Thus it
has less cause to fear that hunters, laying a trap at its door, will make it
fall into their snares’.
It is within this lair that it devises its plots. The misleading, enigmatic,
polymorphic earth of the fox is matched by the animal’s equally impenetrable
mind. An animal as artful as this cannot fail to be elusive: ‘The fox is not to
be captured by ambush nor by noose nor by net for it has no equal in
smelling out an ambush; it is clever at severing ropes and
escaping death through the subtlety of its cunning tricks’
Oppian here uses a typical verb for ‘to escape’: olisthanein, which
conveys the image of an athlete whose body, rubbed with oil, slips through the
grasp of his adversary.
For the Greek world, the fox is cunning; in Greek a cunning trick can be called
alopex or fox. The most common adjectives applied to the fox are aioloboulos,
It is a master of doloi: in fables, its words are more beguiling (haimuloi
logoi) than those of the sophist.
The panther  can boast a many-coloured coat but the fox’s rejoinder
to this is that beneath its uniformly rust-coloured fur it hides a mind
of many nuances and a polymorphic intelligence which can adapt to any
It is known as Kerdo, the profiteer and ‘fox’ can also mean the rascal (panourgos)
or, equally, it can refer to an area of the body which is hairless and, so,
difficult to grasp.
Even as early as the time of Alcaeus,
the fox appears as the model for a certain type of man: Pittacos is a fox. He
knows how to lie low, but also knows the art of scheming in battle. Pittacos
the Fox was believed to have killed the Athenian general, Phrynon, the Olympic
champion of the all-in wrestling, in a duel. Under his shield, the ‘Fox’
had hidden a net which he threw over his adversary, taking him by surprise.
The mind of the fox is full of crafty wiles.
Consider how it catches bustards: it droops its head downward and gently wags
its tail. Aelian claims that the deluded (apatetheisai) bustards
approach this object which they mistake for one of their own kind. When they
are within reach, the fox suddenly turns round (epistrephein) and leaps
upon them. If the mêtis of the fox is immediately
detectable in its skill at playing dead., it is dazzlingly apparant in this
sudden reversal. In effect, the fox holds the secret of reversal which is the
last word in craftiness. In the fourth Isthmian, Pindar gives a very
significant description of the mêtis
of the fox: in many instances, he says, ‘the cunning of the weaker has taken
the stronger by surprise and brought about his downfall (kai kresson’
andron cheironon esphale techna katamarpsais’). The courage of Ajax, the
greatest of all after Achilles, is brought down by the craftiness of Odysseus,
the polumetis: it is a victory for the Wolf over the Lion.
In this way Pindar comes to praise Melissos of Thebes, victor in the all-in
wrestling. Although small of stature, his energy is daunting: ‘His courage in
battle resembles the valiance of wild animals which roar so terribly.’ He is a
lion, but a lion which is also a fox and which reversing its position, brings
to a halt the flight of the eagle.
Melissos is a past master at the feint employed in wrestling (palaisma)
of eluding the grasp of the adversary and then, by reversing one’s body,
turning against him the force of his own thrust.
Similarly, when the eagle  swooping down on it, the fox suddenly reverses
its own position. The eagle is outwitted, its prey escapes it and the positions
are reversed. This is the fox’s masterstroke. But the carnivorous fox is not
the only creature in the animal world to possess this talent. There is also a
fish which is reputed to be able to get itself out of an inextricable
situation. As soon as it is caught on a hook it swims rapidly up and severs the
line half way up or sometimes even higher. Plutarch tells us more about it: ‘It
generally avoids bait (dolos) but if
it is caught it gets rid of it. Thanks to its energy and flexibility’ (hugroteta)
it is able to change its body (metaballein to soma) and turn it inside
out (strephein) so that the interior becomes the exterior: the hook
falls out (hoste ton entos ektos genomenon apopiptein agkistron).Aelian
provides full confirmation on the subject of this manoeuvre. ‘It unfolds its
internal organs and turns them inside out, divesting itself of its body as if
it were a shirt (heautes to entos metekdousa estrepsen exo hosper oun
chitona to soma anelixasa).
This fish turns itself inside out like a glove. It is the ultimate in reversal.
And the name given this aquatic creature by the Greeks is ‘fox fish’.
There is no positive evidence based on observation to corroborate the amazing
behaviour which so many writers attribute to the fox—be it the actual fox or
the fish. It was not in nature that the Greeks found this type of reversal
behaviour in animals, but rather in their own minds, in the conception that
they formed of mêtis, its methods and
effects. The fox, being the embodiment of cunning, can only behave as befits
the nature of an intelligence full of wiles. If it turns back on itself it is
because it is, itself, as it were, mêtis,
the power of reversal.
While the fox is as supple and as slim as a lassoo, the
octopus reaches out in all directions through its countless, flexible and
undulating limbs (aiola guia).
To the Greeks, the octopus is a knot made up of a thousand arms, a living,
interlacing, network, a poluplokos being.
The same adjective is also used to describe the snake with its coils and folds;
and the labyrinth, with its mazes and tangle of halls and passages.
The monster Typhon, too, is poluplokos: a multiple creature ‘with a hundred
heads’ whose trunk tapers out into its eel-like limbs.
 The octopus is renowned for its mêtis.
Oppian compares it to a burglar who emerges under cover of night to catch his
prey by surprise.
The octopus is elusive: its mechane enables it to merge with the stone to which
it clings. Not only
is it able to take the shape of the bodies to which it clings perfectly, but it
can also imitate the colour of the creatures and things which it approaches.
The elusive octopus is a being of the night. Like Hermes, called nuchios, it too knows how to disappear into
the night, but it is a night which it can itself secrete, as can other
creatures of its kind and, in particular, the cuttle-fish or sepia. The
cuttle-fish, which is dolometis and dolophron,
is reputed to be the most cunning of all the molluscs. It possesses one
infallible weapon to deceive its enemy and to fool its victim, namely its ink
which is a kind of cloud (tholos).
This dark liquid, a viscous cloud, enables it both to elude its enemies and to
capture its adversaries, which become its victims, as if in a net. It is this
ink, this dark cloud, this impenetrable night which defines one of the
essential features of the octopus and of the cuttle-fish. These elusive,
supple cephallopods which develop into a thousand agile limbs are enigmatic
creatures. They have neither front nor rear, they swim sideways with their eyes
in front and their mouth behind, their heads haloed by their waving feet.
When these creatures mate, they do so mouth to mouth and arm to arm. Thus
closely linked, they swim along together: the front of the one is the rear of
the other. They are
oblique creatures the front of which is never distinctly distinguished from the
rear, and in their being and in the way they move, they create a confusion of
directions. Cuttlefish and octopuses are pure aporai and the
impenetrable, pathless night that they secrete is the most perfect image of
their mêtis. Within this deep
darkness, only the octopus and the cuttle-fish can find their way, only
they can discover a poros. The night is their lair. They take shelter in
it to escape from their enemies and emerge unexpectedly from it to catch their
traps as they are, they exploit a device that Plutarch calls sophisma: they have a long, thin
tentacle which they move very slowly to lure the fish.
As soon as they are within reach, they seize  them mercilessly. But the
source of their strength is the cause of their downfall. These creatures so
rich in mêtis can only be taken by their
own traps: to catch them, fishermen throw them as bait a female of their own
kind which they then grasp so tightly that nothing but death can make them let
In order to get the better of these creatures which are truly, themselves,
living traps, the fisherman must turn against them their own power of binding.
Like the fox, the octopus defines a type of human behaviour:
‘Present a different aspect of yourself (epistrephe poikilon ethos) to
each of our friends .... Follow the example of the octopus with its many coils
(poluplokos) which assumes the appearance of the stone to which it is
going to cling. Attach yourself to one on one day and, another day, change
colour. Cleverness (sophie) is more valuable than inflexibility (atropie)’.
Atropie is strictly opposed to polytropie, as immobility and
rigidity to the constant movement of whoever can reveal a new face on every
different occasion. The suggested ideal is the polutropos one,
the man of a thousand tricks, the epistrophos anthropon who can turn a
different face to each person. There is but one name for this man, throughout
Greek tradition: Odysseus, the polumetis one, the man whom Eustathius
actually calls ‘an octopus’.
But the octopus is not simply characteristic of a particular type of human behaviour;
it is also the model for a form of intelligence: the poluplokon noema,
intelligence ‘with many coils’.
This octopus—like intelligence is to be found in two types of men in
particular—the sophist and the politician, whose qualities and functions in
Greek society stand in opposition and yet are complementary just as are the
separate spheres of speech and action. For it is in his shifting speeches, his poikiloi
logoi that the sophist deploys his words of ‘many coils’, periplokai:
strings of words which unfold like the coils of the snake, speeches which
enmesh their enemies like the supple arms of the octopus. For the politician
taking on the appearance of the octopus, making himself poluplokos,
involves not only possessing the logos of the octopus but also proving
himself capable of adapting to the most baffling of situations, of assuming as
many faces as there are social  categories and types of men in the city, of
inventing the thousand ploys which will make his actions effective in the most
varied of circumstances.
From some points of view the polutropos man, as a
type, is hard to distinguish from the man whom the Lyric poets call the ephemerosone.
He is a man of the moment, a man of change: now one thing, now another; he
shifts and slides from one extreme to the other. The ephemeros man is
characterised by his mobility just as is the polutropos. However,
although both are mobile creatures, on one essential point they are radically
different. One is passive, the other active. The ephemeros one is an
inconstant man who at every moment feels himself changing; he is aware of his
state of flux and veers at the slightest puff of wind. One expression used by
Pindar to describe him is ‘the prey of crafty time’ (dolios aion),
time which can make a life alter course. The polutropos one, on the
other hand, is distinguished by the control he possesses: supple and shifting
as he is, he is always master of himself and is only unstable in appearance.
His volte-faces are a trap—the net in which his adversary becomes
entangled. He is not the plaything of movement but its master. He manipulates
it and other people and does so all the more easily in that he gives the
appearance of being ephemeros. The distance separating the polutropos
and the ephemeros man corresponds exactly to that between the octopus
and the chamaeleon: while the metamorphoses of the latter are produced by fear,
those of the octopus are the result of its guile. Its changes, Plutarch
observes, are ‘a manoeuvre (mechane) not a purely physical effect ...
this is a way of eluding its enemies and seizing the fish upon which it feeds’.
It is this ability of the octopus and the polutropos
one, the man of a thousand tricks, to assume every form without becoming
imprisoned within any, that characterises supple mêtis which appears to bow before circumstances only so that it can
dominate them more surely.
The reversals of the fox and the polymorphy of the octopus
and the cuttle-fish represent two complementary models of behaviour which
constitute the two inseparable sides to mêtis,
and they share a common actor—namely, the theme of the bond. The poluplokos
octopus is a knot composed of  thousand interweaving arms; every part of
its body is a bond which can secure anything but which nothing can seize. He,
fox, which is poikilos, lives in a
labyrinth, a poikilon space with passages like tentacles stretching out in
every direction. The fox is a living bond which can bend, unbend, reverse its
own position at will and, like the octopus, it is a master of bonds. Nothing
can bind it but it can secure anything. Bonds are the special weapons of mêtis. To weave (plekein) and to
twist (strephein) are key words in the terminology connected with it.
In the treatises attributed to Oppian we find nothing but bonds, ropes, cords
made from twisted willow and twisted snares (dolos plektos).
For both hunting and fishing, willow withies (lugos) are the basic
material; with two, three or four strands twisted together, the pieces are
joined end to end to form the ‘well twisted withies’ which the good hunter
always carries with him.
But the art of binding is not the prerogative of hunters and fishermen alone.
When Hermes wants to hide the theft of his oxen from Apollo and cause him to
fall into his sly trap, he reverses the tracks of the cattle by driving the
creatures backwards before him while he himself returns over his tracks so that
it seems that he is coming forward at the same time as he is going backwards,
thereby inextricably confusing what is in front with what is behind.
Hermes, who is a living web of interweaving, is also called strophaios,
not only because he often stations himself close to the door which turns on its
hinges (strophigx), but because he is, as the scholiasts put it,
the twisted or sly one, the strophis,
a creature as mobile as the mime, Strophios, the father of Phlogios, also a
mime, known as polustrophos; both of them could imitate the most diverse
living creatures with movements of their agile fingers and hands.
Strophaios is also the name given by the Greeks to the sophist who knows how to
interweave (sumplekein) and twist together (strephein).
speeches (logoi) and artifices (mechanai). If the wrestler is as
pliable as a withy, the sophist is a master at bending and interweaving logoi—at
bending them since he knows a thousand ways of twisting and turning (pasas
how to devise a thousand tricks (mechanasthai strophas),
and, like the fox, how to turn an argument against  the adversary who used
it in the first place. Like Proteus, he can run through the whole gamut of
living forms in order to elude the clutches of his enemy. The sophist is also a
master at interweaving for he is constantly entangling two contrary theses.
Like Zeno of Elea, who is a true Palamedes, he speaks with such skill that he
is able to convince his audience that the same things are now similar to each
other and now dissimilar, now single and now multiple.
Speeches interwoven like this are traps, strephomena
as are the puzzles set by the gods of mêtis,
which the Greeks call griphoi
which is also the name given to some types of fishing nets. With their
twisting, flexing, interweaving and bending, both athletes and sophists—just
like the fox and the octopus—can be seen as living bonds.
However, with the theme of bonds we have not yet reached the
last word on the subject of the mêtis
of the octopus and the fox. The reversal technique of the one corresponds
perfectly to the polymorphism of the other; when the fox turns round on itself
it assumes a circular form where the front becomes the rear and vice versa.
Like the cuttle-fish it no longer has a beginning or an end, a front or a
rear: it is shapeless, a deep night, pure aporia. The circle described
by the fox when it turns round on itself makes it as elusive as the dark cloud
secreted by the cuttle-fish. Now, there is a certain type of fishing net
which, in Greek, is called a cloud (nephele).
The net, an invisible mesh of bonds, is one of the favourite weapons of mêtis. It is by means of the net that
Pittacos triumphs over Phrynon,
that Clytemnestra secures Agammemnon before stabbing him to death
and that Hephaestus catches Aphrodite and Ares.
The trap set for the suitors by Odysseus is a net ‘with countless eyes’;
the chains which fix Prometheus to his rock weave a net of steel mesh around
The net, ‘an endless mesh’ (apeiron amphiblestron),
can seize anything yet can be seized by nothing; its shape is as fluid as it
can be, the most mobile and also the most baffling, that of the circle. To catch
something in a net can be conveyed in Greek, as is well known, by the
expression ‘to encircle’, enkuklein.
There is no difference in kind between the mêtis.
of the fox and the cuttlefish and that of the fisherman. The only way to
triumph over  an adversary endowed with mêtis
is to turn its own weapons against it: the fisherman’s ‘cloud’ is the
unyielding answer to the ‘cloud’, of the cuttle-fish. It is only by
himself becoming, by means of his net, a bond and a circle, by himself becoming
deep night, endless aporia, an elusive shape, that the man of mêtis can triumph over the most cunning
species in the animal world.
Ten centuries separate Oppian from Homer. Furthermore, the Iliad is separated from the Cynegetica
and Halieutica by all the differences that set apart an epic from a
technical treatise on hunting or fishing. Yet within our field of study there
is a startling continuity between them. The entire semantic field within which
the concept of mêtis is set, and the
network of its various meanings has remained virtually unchanged. We find the
same collection of words—dolos, mechane,
techne, kerdos, apate, aiolos, poikilos, haimulos—to describe the intrinsic
characteristics of this type of cunning intelligence which is sufficiently
quick and supple, wiley and deceitful, to confront the unexpected on every
occasion, to counter the most changeable of circumstances and to triumph, in
unequal combat, over adversaries who are better equipped for a trial of
strength. The inferiority of Antilochus’ chariot and team at the beginning of
the race is exactly matched by the physical weakness of the shrimps or the
torpedo-fish whose only compensation can be an excessive share of mêtis. The concentration and vigilance
which the young man displays throughout the race resembles that of the octopus
constantly lying in wait for its prey. The duplicity of the driver endowed with
mêtis who, with premeditated cunning,
simulates thoughtlessness and madness the better to fool his adversary, is the
image of the living trap embodied by the fox who is really alive but is
shamming dead, or of the tongue of the fishing-frog which, disguised as
food proffered to the fish, masks the voracious maw which will soon engulf
Given the features and modes of behaviour that characterise
it, the fields in which it operates, the stratagems it employs,  to reverse
the rules accepted in a trial of strength, mêtis
does indeed appear fully to represent the Greek concept of one particular type
of intelligence. It is an intelligence which, instead of contemplating
unchanging essences, is directly involved in the difficulties of practical life
with all its risks, confronted with a world of hostile forces which are
disturbing because they are always changing and ambiguous. Mêtis —intelligence which operates in the world of becoming, in
circumstances of conflict—takes the form of an ability to deal with whatever
comes up, drawing on certain intellectual qualities: forethought perspicacity,
quickness and acuteness of understanding, trickery, and even deceit. But these
qualities bring into play the weapons which are their own particular attribute:
elusiveness and duplicity, like spells which they use to oppose brute force. A
being of mêtis slips through its
adversary’s fingers like running water. It is so supple as to be polymorphic;
like a trap, it is the opposite of what it seems to be. It is ambiguous,
inverted, and operates through a process of reversal.
How should we explain this stability of terminology and,
through it, of the images, themes and models associated with mêtis, and what is its significance?
Where Oppian is concerned could it not be simply a matter of a stylistic
feature involving a deliberate use of archaisms and a conscious exploitation of
epic terminology? Even if this were the case, the evidence in Oppian would have
the effect of shedding some light upon the patterns of thought relating to mêtis in Homer. But one cannot fail to
notice that, from Homer to Oppian, throughout a literary tradition which
includes Hesiod, the lyric poets, the tragedians and Plato and Aristotle, some
of the terms most closely associated with mêtis
seem to have a special application to the fields of hunting, fishing and also
warfare to the extent that this last activity is understood as analogous to the
first two. In Book XII of the Odyssey, dolos is the word used to refer to the bait or fish-hook of
In Hesiod, at the end of the conflict in which the mêtis of Zeus is repeatedly opposed by that of Prometheus, the
final trick which confirms the superiority of the king of the gods over the
Titan, is the creation of Pandora, the bait which Epimetheus and all mankind
will fall for. Pandora is a dolos aipus
an unexpected trap from which there can be no escape. The meaning of the term aipus
here is illuminated by the comparable passage in the Agamemnon in which
Clytemnestra boasts that in order to trap her husband she has stretched the
nets of misfortune so high that no leap would be great enough to clear them.
The dolos aipus mechanos is
indeed a trap, a trench so deep as to defy escape from it. When Odysseus snaps
fast the trap laid for the suitors, he is a fisherman pulling in the net full
of quivering fish
and, similarly, Sarpedon, warning Hector of the danger threatening the Trojans,
fears that they will fall into the meshes of a net which will capture them all,
down to the last man.
Pindar writes explicitly of the mêtis
of the fox just as
Ion of Chios describes the techne of the hedgehog.
In the Agamemnon, in which Aeschylus makes a haunting use of the themes
of hunting and fishing,
the king of the Greeks is a hunter tracking down the city of Priam so that he
can throw his net over it, but a hunter who will one day be caught in the
meshes woven by his own wife to trap him in his turn. When Sophocles and
Euripides write of the art of the hunter and the fisherman, they lay emphasis
on the devices, mechanai, invented by their ingenious minds, their many-faceted
intelligence, their poikilia prapidon.
When Plato portrays Eros, he describes him as having inherited from Metis, his
ancestor, those qualities which make him a hunter without equal, thereutes
deinos, always lying in wait, brave, quick, with total concentration, and
always weaving some scheme, aei tinas plekon mechanas.
And again, it is in terms of hunting and fishing that he defines the art of the
sophist who, in contrast to the philosopher whose wisdom is directed towards
the world of ideas, embodies the scheming intelligence of the man of mêtis, plunged into the world of
appearance and of Becoming. By means of his skill and rhetorical ploys, the
sophist can make the weaker argument triumph over the stronger.
Nor is this all. As far back as one can trace it, the
terminology of mêtis associates it
with techniques whose relationship to hunting and fishing is obvious. A mêtis or a dolos is woven, plaited or fitted together (huphainein, plekein,
tektainesthai) just as a net is woven, a weel is plaited or a  hunting
trap is fitted together.
All these terms relate to very ancient techniques
that use the pliability and torsion of plant fibres to make knots, ropes,
meshes and nets to surprise, trap and bind and that exploit the fact that many
pieces can be fitted together to produce a well-articulated whole.
These associations seem to have had a profound effect upon
one whole dimension of Greek thought. The essential features of mêtis revealed by our
analyses—pliability and polymorphism, duplicity and equivocality, inversion and
reversal—imply certain qualities which are also attributed to the curve, to
what is pliable and twisted, to what is oblique and ambiguous as opposed to
what is straight, direct, rigid and unequivocal. The ultimate expression of
these qualities is the circle, the bond that is perfect because it completely
turns back on itself, is closed in on itself, with neither beginning nor end,
front nor rear, and which in rotation becomes both mobile and immobile, moving in
both directions at once. These same qualities find expression in the almost
systematic use of the terminology of the curve to describe mêtis. It is not just a matter of the word agkulometis but
also of an adjective such as skolios, a noun such as strophis,
terms composed from the root *gu used to indicate curving, for example
the epithet amphigueeis used to refer to a creature whose feet are
twisted round or are capable of moving both forwards and backwards; and the
root *kamp, used to refer to whatever is curved, pliable or articulated.
There is a passage which is significant in this respect in the Aristotelian
treatise the Mechanica.
The author writes of his theory of the five instruments which make possible a
reversal of power such as that which is characteristic of mêtis, or—to use the author’s own terms—which enable the smaller
and weaker to dominate the bigger and stronger. He explains this amazing effect
of the ‘machines’ which human ingenuity uses, by the properties of the circle:
because, through its continuous curve which closes on itself, the circle unites
within it several opposites each one giving birth to its opposite, it appears
as the strangest, most baffling thing in the world, thaumasiotaton
possessing a power which is beyond ordinary logic. This same paradoxical effect
of reversal is also noted by Aristotle,  the naturalist, in the Historia
Animalium which contains most of the material on the intelligence of
animals which Oppian, following Plutarch and Athenaeus, was later to develop. Just
as the mêtis of Antilochus made it
possible for him, with slower horses, to overtake faster teams, in the same
way, according to Aristotle, the fishing-frogs, the slowest fishes, bradutatoi,
find a way of consuming the mullet which are the swiftest fish in the sea, ton
However, although it seems quite clear to us that mêtis was of abiding importance in Greek
culture over a period of a thousand years, the historians of ancient thought do
not appear to have paid sufficient attention to it. They were, perhaps,
concerned with emphasising, by a consideration of the key works of the great
philosophers, the distinctive characteristics which mark the originality of
Hellenism in comparison with other civilisations: its logic of identity, its
metaphysics of Being and of the Unchanging. At all events, they have often
tended to neglect this other aspect of Greek intelligence which is writ large
in myth, in the deification of Metis, Zeus’ first wife, the goddess without
whose help the king of the gods would have been unable to establish, implement
and maintain his own supremacy. In order to find its way through a world of
change and instability and to master the Becoming by vying with it in cunning,
intelligence must, in the eyes of the Greeks, in some way adopt the nature of
this Becoming, assume its forms, just as Menelaus slips into the skin of a seal
so as to triumph over the shifting, magic spells of Proteus. By dint of its own
flexibility, then, intelligence must itself become constant movement, polymorphism
reversal, deceit and duplicity.
This is a cunning intelligence for which hunting and fishing
may originally have provided the model but which extends far beyond this
framework as the figure of Odysseus, the human embodiment of mêtis in Homer, clearly shows. There are
many activities in which man must learn to manipulate hostile forces too
powerful to be controlled directly but which can be exploited despite
themselves, without ever being confronted head on, to implement the plan in
mind by some unexpected, devious means: they include, for example, the
stratagems used by the warrior the success of  whose attack hinges on
surprise, trickery or ambush, the art of the pilot steering his ship against
winds and tides, the verbal ploys of the sophist making the adversary’s
powerful argument recoil against him, the skill of the banker and the merchant
who, like conjurors, make a great deal of money out of nothing, the knowing
forethought of the politician whose flair enables him to assess the uncertain
course of events in advance, and the sleights of hand and trade secrets which
give craftsmen their control over material which is always more or less
intractable to their designs. It is over all such activities that mêtis presides.
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