Multiformity in Myth: The Children of Odysseus


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(For a more conventional paper-based version of the following, go here)

When Odysseus and Telemachus finally meet in book 16 of the Odyssey, the father is suddenly stripped of his disguise to reveal himself to his son. Telemachus, shocked, believes that this is instead some god come to trick him. Odysseus, frustrated by the slight delay in reunion, tells his son that “no other Odysseus will come home to you” (16.204). Although from the perspective of the narrative the audience knows that this is in fact Odysseus (and even though Telemachus immediately relents and embraces his father), the line prompts us to think of what it means to say that this man is Odysseus and to ponder what “another” Odysseus might be.

One of the things nearly everyone knows is that Odysseus, the son of Laertes, has a son named Telemachus. This fact is asseverated early in the Iliad when Odysseus makes an oath based on his identity (2.260-64):

“May I be called the father of Telemachus no longer
If I don’t grab you and strip the fine clothes from your back,
The cloak and the tunic that hides your genitals;
And then I will send you wailing among the swift ships
As I beat you from the assembly with unseemly blows.”

μηδ’ ἔτι Τηλεμάχοιο πατὴρ κεκλημένος εἴην
εἰ μὴ ἐγώ σε λαβὼν ἀπὸ μὲν φίλα εἵματα δύσω,
χλαῖνάν τ’ ἠδὲ χιτῶνα, τά τ’ αἰδῶ ἀμφικαλύπτει,
αὐτὸν δὲ κλαίοντα θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας ἀφήσω
πεπλήγων ἀγορῆθεν ἀεικέσσι πληγῇσιν.

Odysseus also refers to himself as  “Telemachus’ dear father who fights in the forefront” (Τηλεμάχοιο φίλον πατέρα προμάχοισι μιγέντα, 4.354) later in the epic. These moments are exceptional because every other hero defines himself by his patronym, by his father and past rather than his son and his future.

Most scholars seem to understand this as a nod to the Odyssey and Odysseus’ different character. The scholia present the common reaction to this from Aristonicus: The Iliad is aware of the Odyssey (Τηλεμάχοιο: ὅτι προτετυπωμένος τὰ κατὰ τὴν ᾿Οδύσσειαν μνημονεύει τοῦ Τηλεμάχου. τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἄρα ποιητοῦ καὶ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια, Schol. A ad Il. 4.354a 1-3).

What if this reference is not exclusive and specific (i.e. pointing to our Odyssey as we have it), but is instead selecting out and constructing one of many possible Odysseis? Yes, it is true that this notion is not incompatible with the presumption that Odysseus’ words in the Iliad ‘shout out’ to the identity of the Odysseus in the Odyssey. But at the same time, it seems to engage in a Homeric pattern of omitting or marginalizing other traditions for Odysseus—traditions that describe the events after he gets home, or provide different details about what happened after he left Troy; and traditions that transgress the strong identification between Odysseus and his son Telemachus. The larger mythical tradition, it seems, knew a different Odysseus who had many more sons.

Odysseus is said to have heard a prophecy that he would be killed by his son. So, according to some (Dictys, Hyginus) he sent Telemachus away. But what Odysseus didn’t know, allegedly, is that it had more than one son. How many? That depends on whom you believe.

What is really in Kirke's cup?

What is really in Kirke’s cup?

The question–and the various answers we can generate–illustrate both the importance of Odysseus as a figure (in terms of geography and time) and the malleability of myth. To start, here’s the list of all the named children I could find: 17 names for sons (for, I think, 13 individuals) and a daughter:

The Sons:

Telemakhos and Arkesilaos/Ptoliporthes (Penelope) [Eustathius/Pausanias]
Agrios, Latinus and Telegonos (Kirke [Hesiod]) or Auson [Lykophron]
Rhomos, Antias, Ardeas (Kirke) [Dionysus of Halicarnassos]
Nausithoos and Nausinoos (Kalypso) [Hesiod]
Leontophron or Dorukles or Euryalos (Euippê, Epirote Princess) [Eustathius]
Polypoitês (Kallidikê, Thesprotian Princess) [Proklos]
Leontophronos (Daughter of Thoas, Aitolian Princess) [Apollodoros]

The Daughter:
Kassiphone (Kirke) [Lykophron]

Now, it is fair to note that much of the attestation for these children is later than the classical period. But, with the exception of Lykophron (and more on him later), these are not authors who seem to be in the habit of making things up.
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Housman’s Contempt for Jowett

“The Regius Professor of Greek throughout Housman’s time was Jowett, and from the single lecture of Jowett’s which he attended, Housman came away disgusted by the Professor’s disregard for the niceties of scholarship.”

-A.S.F. Gow, A.E. Housman: A Sketch (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press) p.5

In his review of Gow’s book, G.L. Hendrickson circulates a rather embarrassing story about Jowett:

“The story is current in Oxford, I am told, that the particular offense of the Regius Professor was a false quantity, that cardinal crime of English tradition, the pronunciation of ἀκριβῶς, which from the English habit of applying Latin rules to Greek pronunciation yielded a monstrosity…”

-G. L. Hendrickson, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 58, No. 4 (1937), pp. 463

This is not the only instance of Housman’s contempt for Jowett, who produced translations of Plato’s works, as well as a large commentary on The Republic. Housman noted of Jowett’s Platonic endeavours:

“Jowett’s Plato: the best translation of a Greek philosopher which has ever been executed by a person who understood neither philosophy nor Greek.”

-C.O. Brink, English Classical Scholarship (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1986), p. 130

It seems, however, that some of Jowett’s students held him in more reverential awe than Housman. When Jowett was Master of Balliol College, the following rhyme was popularly circulated:

“Here come I, my name is Jowett.
All there is to know I know it.
I am Master of this College,
What I don’t know isn’t knowledge!”

Housman on Lucan and Manilius

“Of the three poets whom he edited, Juvenal was chosen for him; Lucan and Manilius were certainly not chosen because they were special favourites. For he made no pretence of admiring them, wrote of the first that his vocabulary was as commonplace as his versification, and called the second a facile and frivolous poet, the brightest facet of whose genius was an eminent aptitude for doing sums in verse.”

-A.S.F. Gow, A.E. Housman: A Sketch (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press) p.13

“Let it Go” from Frozen is now μέθες τό: How Do you Say “O Tempora” in Ancient Greek?


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The other day while my toddlers forced me to hear “Let it Go” the thousandth or hundred-thousandth time, I found myself wondering how to express the idea in Ancient Greek (because, you know, that’s how I roll). Then, I thought it might be fun to have some students work on it.

But all of my daydreaming is for naught, a student let me know that the act has already been done (and with higher production values than I would have achieved).

Now, one might quibble with the missing accents (it drives me nuts) or even question the basic idea that “let it go” should be a second person singular active imperative (and not middle, plural or, more daringly, some type of first-person subjunctive injunction). One might definitely have a bit of a fit over the vowel length given to τό.

But I won’t. This just entertains me too damn much. I am going to convert this to an Mp3, switch it out when my kids ask for Frozen and see what happens.

Remorse for 10,000 Drachmas? Aulus Gellius on Demosthenes and the Courtesan Lais


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Attic Nights 1.VIII

8 A detail excerpted from the writings of the philosopher Sotion about the prostitute Lais and the orator Demosthenes

Sotion was a rather well known man from the peripatetic school. He wrote a book filled with varied and extensive anecdotes and named it The Horn of Amaltheia, which in our tongue is pretty close to saying The Horn of Plenty.

In that book he included this anecdote about Demosthenes the orator and Lais the prostitute. “Lais”, he says, “the Corinthian, used to earn a lot of money through the elegance and beauty of her body. Often, some of the most well-known wealthy men from all of Greece came to see her, but not a one was admitted unless he gave what she asked: and she used to ask for no small amount.” He says that this is where the common saying was born among Greeks that “It is not possible for everyman to sail to Corinth”, since a man went to Corinth to Lais in vain if he could not give what she asked.

“And the famous Demosthenes went to her in secret and asked for her services. But she asked for 10,000 drachmas” [1]–an amount which would be exchanged for ten thousand of our denarii—“Struck dumb by the woman’s daring and by the great heap of money, Demosthenes turned away pale and said “I cannot buy regret for such a price”. But the Greek which he is said to have spoken is more charming: “I will not buy remorse for 10,000 drachmas.”

8 Historia in libris Sotionis philosophi reperta super Laide meretrice et Demosthene rhetore.
1 Sotion ex peripatetica disciplina haut sane ignobilis vir fuit. Is librum multae variaeque historiae refertum composuit eumque inscripsit Κέρας Ἀμαλθείας. 2 Ea vox hoc ferme valet, tamquam si dicas “cornum Copiae”. 3 In eo libro super Demosthene rhetore et Laide meretrice historia haec scripta est: “Lais” inquit “Corinthia ob elegantiam venustatemque formae grandem pecuniam demerebat, conventusque ad eam ditiorum hominum ex omni Graecia celebres erant, neque admittebatur, nisi qui dabat, quod poposcerat; poscebat autem illa nimium quantum.” 4 Hinc ait natum esse illud frequens apud Graecos adagium:

Οὐ παντὸς ἀνδρὸς ἐς Κόρινθον ἔσθ᾿ ὁ πλοῦς

quod frustra iret Corinthum ad Laidem, qui non quiret dare, quod posceretur. 5 “Ad hanc ille Demosthenes clanculum adit et, ut sibi copiam sui faceret, petit. At Lais myrias drachmas poposcit”, hoc facit nummi nostratis denarium decem milia. 6 “Tali petulantia mulieris atque pecuniae magnitudine ictus expavidusque Demosthenes avertitur et discedens “ego” inquit “paenitere tanti non emo”. Sed Graeca ipsa, quae fertur dixisse, lepidiora sunt: οὐκ ὠνοῦμαι μυρίων δραχμῶν μεταμέλειαν.

[1] If we use the popular idea that a drachma was worth one day of a skilled worker’s wages, then Lais’ services cost 10,000 working days. Perhaps less overwhelming, but still impressive is valuing a drachma at $25 USD: A nigh with Lais is only $250,000 dollars. But maybe that’s just because it was Demosthenes….

Aeschylus, Persians 598-602

“Friends, whoever is well-versed in misfortune knows that when the wave of evils surges on mortals, he has a habit of fearing everything. But when godly grace flows favorably, he is wont to believe that happy winds will always blow.”
φίλοι, κακῶν μὲν ὅστις ἔμπειρος κυρεῖ,
ἐπίσταται βροτοῖσιν ὡς ὅταν κλύδων
κακῶν ἐπέλθῃ πάντα δειμαίνειν φιλεῖ:
ὅταν δ᾽ ὁ δαίμων εὐροῇ, πεποιθέναι
τὸν αὐτὸν αἰεὶ δαίμον᾽ οὐριεῖν τύχην.

NOTE: The sense of the Greek could not be more clear, but the metaphoric language, as well as the notoriously untranslatable “daimon” made this a really tough passage to render into intelligible English. I welcome improving suggestions!



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