Multiformity in Myth: The Children of Odysseus

[Inspired by the Almeida Theater’s live performance of the Odyssey today, we are reposting some of our favorite passages]

(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.

We can start with the simplest fact: Homer gives Odysseus one son (Telemachus).

Hesiod gives him five, two with Kalypso (Nausithoos and Nausinoos) three with Kirke (Agrios, Latinus, and Telegonos). Although, to be fair, some editors think that the Telegonos passage is interpolated to acknowledge the tradition of Eugammon of Cyrene in the poem the Telegony. Regardless of this, the Telegonos tradition is still probably pre-Classical period. But later, presumably Western Mediterranean Traditions, provide different geographical names for the children of Circe and Odysseus (Dionysus of Halicarnassus):

“Xenagoras writes that three children were born from Circe and Odysseus, Rhomos, Antias, and Ardias. Because they founded three cities, they gave them their own names…”

Dionys. Hal. A. R. I, 72.: Ξεναγόρας δὲ ὁ συγγραφεὺς, ᾿Οδυσσέως καὶ Κίρκης υἱοὺς γενέσθαι τρεῖς, ῾Ρῶμον, ᾿Αντίαν, ᾿Αρδέαν• οἰκίσαντας δὲ τρεῖς πόλεις, ἀφ’ ἑαυτῶν θέσθαι τοῖς κτίσμασι τὰς ὀνομασίας.

In the tradition, Odysseus has sons with both of the goddesses we see him with in the Odyssey, but they are not the number or the names we find here in this reference to the Greek historian Xenagoras. Hesiod names Odysseus’ sons by goddesses near the end of the Theogony (1011-1018):

“Kirkê, the daughter of Helios, Hyperion’s son,
After having sex with Odysseus, gave birth to
Agrion and Latînos, blameless and strong.
And she also gave birth to Telegonos thanks to golden Aphrodite.
Her sons rule far away in the recess of the holy islands
Among the glorious Tursênians.
Kalypso the shining goddess gave birth as well to Nausithoos
And Nausinoos after having lovely sex with Odysseus.”

Κίρκη δ’ ᾿Ηελίου θυγάτηρ ῾Υπεριονίδαο
γείνατ’ ᾿Οδυσσῆος ταλασίφρονος ἐν φιλότητι
῎Αγριον ἠδὲ Λατῖνον ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε•
[Τηλέγονον δὲ ἔτικτε διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην•]
οἳ δή τοι μάλα τῆλε μυχῷ νήσων ἱεράων
πᾶσιν Τυρσηνοῖσιν ἀγακλειτοῖσιν ἄνασσον.
Ναυσίθοον δ’ ᾿Οδυσῆι Καλυψὼ δῖα θεάων
γείνατο Ναυσίνοόν τε μιγεῖσ’ ἐρατῇ φιλότητι.

Note that Odysseus, famous for being an only son of an only son and having only one son of his own, has at least two sons with each goddess, and perhaps three with Kirke (whose company he kept for a much shorter time—only one year!). Note as well the association with toponyms related to Italy and the ‘ship’ names Nausinoos and Nausithoos which may be echoed among the Phaeacians with the princess Nausicaa and the narrator’s reference to the Nausithoos who founded the Phaeacian homeland of Skheria (ἔνθεν ἀναστήσας ἄγε Ναυσίθοος θεοειδής, 6.7;cf. 7.56-63; 8.565)

The Tyrsenians may correlate to (1) pre-Greek inhabitants of the Balkans; (2) Etruscans; (3) Italic peoples. West (Theogony 1966, 435-6) accepts the pairing of Agrios and Latinus with the Tyrsenians as a mythical memory of the Etruscans.

Here’s a Byzantine commentary passage on his family that lists another lover and more children. The big surprise? Telemachus has a brother!

Eustathius on the Sons of Odysseus, Commentarii ad Homeri Od 2.117

“It is known that Arkesios descends from Euryodia and Zeus. In turn, Laertes was born from him and Khalkomedousê. He sired Odysseus with Antikleia. And Odysseus gave birth to Telemachus with Penelope. Telemachus then, with Nestor’s daughter Polycastê, gave birth to Perseptolis, according to Hesiod (fragment):

And the well-girdled daughter of Nestor, the son of Neleus,
the youngest daughter Polycastê gave birth to Perseptolis
after having sex with Telemachus, thanks to golden Aphrodite

Aristotle in Constitution of the Ithakans and Hellanicus say that Telemachus married Nausikaa, Alkinoos’ daughter, and that they were the parents of Perseptolis. Some others chime in with these sort of words. According to Hesiod, Odysseus also had sons with Kirke: Agrios and Latinos; and also Nausithoos and Nausinoos from Kalypso. The Cyrenaion poet who wrote the Telegony claimed that Odysseis gave birth to Telegonos or Teledamos with Calypso and that he had Telemachus as well as Arkesilaos with Penelope. According to Lysimachos, Odysseus’ son with Euippes the Thesprotian was named Leontophron, one others call Dorucles; and Sophocles says that Euryalos was born from her, the man Telemakhos killed. The Kolophonian poet who composed the Nostoi says that Telemakhos later married Kirke, and that Telegonos married Penelope as an exchange. These things are extraordinary and empty titillation. If they are considered narrowly, however, the harm is small.”

᾿Ιστέον δὲ ὅτι γενεαλογοῦσι Διὸς μὲν καὶ Εὐρυοδίας ᾿Αρκείσιον• αὐτοῦ δὲ καὶ Χαλκομεδούσης Λαέρτην• τοῦ δὲ καὶ ᾿Αντικλείας ᾿Οδυσσέα• οὗ καὶ Πηνελόπης Τηλέμαχον• αὐτοῦ δὲ καὶ Πολυκάστης τῆς Νέστορος Περσέπτολιν, ὡς ῾Ησίοδος.

Τηλεμάχῳ δ’ ἂρ ἔτικτεν ἐΰζωνος Πολυκάστη
Νέστορος ὁπλοτάτη κούρη Νηληϊάδεω
Περσέπτολιν μιχθεῖσα διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην. ᾿

Αριστοτέλης δὲ ἐν ᾿Ιθακησίων πολιτείᾳ καὶ ῾Ελλάνικος δὲ Τηλέμαχόν φασι Ναυσικάαν γῆμαι τὴν ᾿Αλκινόου καὶ γεννῆσαι τὸν Περσέπτολιν• τινὲς δὲ καὶ τοιούτοις λόγοις ἐνευκαιροῦσιν. ἐκ Κίρκης υἱοὶ καθ’ ῾Ησίοδον ᾿Οδυσσεῖ ῎Αγριος καὶ Λατῖ-νος, ἐκ δὲ Καλυψοῦς Ναυσίθοος καὶ Ναυσίνοος. ῾Ο δὲ τὴν τηλεγόνειαν γράψας Κυρηναῖος ἐκ μὲν Καλυψοῦς Τηλέγονον υἱὸν ᾿Οδυσσεῖ ἀναγράφει ἢ Τηλέδαμον• ἐκ δὲ Πηνελόπης Τηλέμαχον καὶ ᾿Αρκεσίλαον• κατὰ δὲ Λυσίμαχον υἱὸς αὐτῷ ἐξ Εὐίππης Θεσπρωτίδος Λεοντόφρων, ὃν ἄλλοι Δόρυκλόν φασί. Σοφοκλῆς δὲ ἐκ τῆς αὐτῆς Εὐρύαλον ἱστορεῖ, ὃν ἀπέκτεινε Τηλέμαχος. ὁ δὲ τοὺς νόστους ποιήσας Κολοφώνιος Τηλέμαχον μέν φησι τὴν Κίρκην ὕστερον γῆμαι, Τηλέγονον δὲ τὸν ἐκ Κίρκης ἀντιγῆμαι Πηνελόπην. περιττὰ ταῦτα καὶ κενὴ μοχθηρία. εἰ δ’ οὖν στενῶς φράζοιντο, μικρὸν τὸ βλάβος.

In another passage, Eustathius writes:

“The Cyrenaion poet who wrote the Teleg0ny claimed that Odysseus gave birth to Telegonos or Teledamos with Calypso and that he had Telemachus as well as Arkesilaos with Penelope.”

῾Ο δὲ τὴν τηλεγόνειαν γράψας Κυρηναῖος ἐκ μὲν Καλυψοῦς Τηλέγονον υἱὸν ᾿Οδυσσεῖ ἀναγράφει ἢ Τηλέδαμον• ἐκ δὲ Πηνελόπης Τηλέμαχον καὶ ᾿Αρκεσίλαον•

As far as the antiquity of the testimony goes, Eustathius is rather late. I can’t seem to find a single additional reference to an Arkesilaos as a son. Proclus’ summary of Eugammon’s Telegony (probably 2nd century CE or later but perhaps hailing from Hellenistic epitomes) says nothing about another son with Penelope (although it does mention Telegonos, Odysseus’ son Polypoietes with Kallidikê and the dual marriage of Penelope to Telegonos and Telemachus to Kirke). It would make sense, in a way, for Eugammon not to mention another son of Penelope: it would screw up his ending.

The fragmentary Greek historian Dictys has Odysseus killed by Telegonos and leaving three sons behind him (FGH 1a49F fr. 10):

“When Odysseus was half dead, he was taken back to Ithaka and ended his life soon after. He left his dynasty to his offspring Telemachus and Ptoliporthos. Telemachus was in charge and he himself ruled all of Ithaca; he gave the lowland to Telegonos, and made Ptoliporthos the governor of midlands.”

12 ἡμιθανὴς οὖν ὢν ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐκομίσθη εἰς τὴν ᾿Ιθάκην καὶ μετ’ ὀλίγον τελευτᾶι τὸν βίον. (13) κατέλιπε δὲ τὴν δυναστείαν Τηλεμάχωι καὶ Πτολιπόρθωι τῶι ἐκγόνωι• ὁ δὲ Τηλέμαχος διαιρεῖ τὴν ἡγεμονίαν, καὶ αὐτὸς μὲν πάσης ᾿Ιθάκης κρατεῖ, Τηλεγόνωι δὲ τὰ πορρωτέρω δίδωσι, τῆς δὲ μέσης χώρας Πτολίπορθον ἡγεμόνα κατέστησε.

This son, Ptoliporthos, is mentioned (with the form Ptoliporthês) by Pausanias (8.12.7) as well. But the name gives me a little pause since it is also clearly related to one of Odysseus’ epithets in the Odyssey (9.504):

“Say that city-sacking [ptoliporthion] Odysseus blinded you!”

φάσθαι ᾿Οδυσσῆα πτολιπόρθιον ἐξαλαῶσαι

I would love to think that this name is a clever and nodding echo to another tradition where Odysseus fathers a second son with Penelope (a child whose existence marks their reunion and stands against all his subsequent sons with princesses), but that seems like a hard argument to make. Altogether, the tradition of a brother for Telemachus seems less solidly founded than the others.

Although, in light of this possibility, it is interesting that the epic so specifically insists upon Telemachus’ status as an only child. Telemachus himself describes this in the Odyssey (16.117-120):

“Kronos’ son made our line single:
Arkesios fathered a single son, Laertes,
And he in turn fathered a single son, Odysseus. And Odysseus
Left after fathering only me in his home…”

ὧδε γὰρ ἡμετέρην γενεὴν μούνωσε Κρονίων•
μοῦνον Λαέρτην ᾿Αρκείσιος υἱὸν ἔτικτε,
μοῦνον δ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Οδυσῆα πατὴρ τέκεν• αὐτὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
μοῦνον ἔμ’ ἐν μεγάροισι τεκὼν λίπεν, οὐδ’ ἀπόνητο.

Doth Telemachus protest too much? Of course, this passage does not preclude the possibility of children born after the homecoming. But the Odyssey doesn’t seem too interested in this.

Children with Goddesses

After children with Penelope, most common in the tradition, however, are children ascribed to Odysseus and Kirkê. The earliest mention of this comes from Hesiod’s Works and Days (1011-1017):

“Kirkê, the daughter of Helios, Hyperion’s son,
After having sex with Odysseus, gave birth to
Agrios and Latînos, blameless and strong.
And she also gave birth to Telegonos thanks to golden Aphrodite.
Her sons rule far away in the recess of the holy islands
Among the glorious Tursênians.”

Κίρκη δ’ ᾿Ηελίου θυγάτηρ ῾Υπεριονίδαο
γείνατ’ ᾿Οδυσσῆος ταλασίφρονος ἐν φιλότητι
῎Αγριον ἠδὲ Λατῖνον ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε·
[Τηλέγονον δὲ ἔτικτε διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην·]
οἳ δή τοι μάλα τῆλε μυχῷ νήσων ἱεράων
πᾶσιν Τυρσηνοῖσιν ἀγακλειτοῖσιν ἄνασσον.

There’s more to be said about these three children (and Telegonos will get his own post), but before I get to them, I did mention earlier that Dionysus of Halicarnassos mentions three children from Kirkê (with the fragmentary historian Xenagoras as his authority), but gives them very different names (Dionys. Hal. A. R. I, 72):

“Three children were born from Circe and Odysseus, Rhomos, Antias, and Ardias. Because they founded three cities, they gave them their own names…”

No other tradition presents these three sons. Their names and their association with Italian geographical sites, however, do align with general trends in the sons of Kirkê and Odysseus, (again) with the exception of Telegonos. The Hesiod passage lists Agrios and Latinus and has her sons ruling among the Tyrsenians, who seem to be a reference to Etruscans. The line concerning Telegonos is considered by some an interpolation, which makes it easy to discuss him elsewhere. But, it is worth noting that some authors pair them together: the Geopontica ( makes Latinus the brother of Telegonos and child of Kirkê (ασὶ γὰρ Λατῖνον τὸν Τηλεγόνου μὲν ἀδελφόν, Κίρκης δὲ παῖδα) who established/founded the Roman akropolis before Aeneas (κτίζοντα τὴν ἀκρόπολιν πρὸ τῆς Αἰνείου παρουσίας).

Locations associated with Odysseus' sons
Locations associated with Odysseus’ sons

The passage pairing these two establishes that basic theme of Kirkê’s sons with Odysseus (those from Xenagoras and those from Hesiod excepting Telegonos): they are associated with toponyms in the Western Mediterranean/Adriatic. This is part of Odysseus’ position as a cult-hero and ancestor of city-founders during the period of colonization (on which, in general, see Irad Malkin’s The Returns of Odysseus (1998)).

Lykophron (and others) add another son to this mix, Ausôn, whose name was reflected in the Ausones (and whom Scymnus gives to Kalypso) and whose geographical localization extend Odysseus’ genealogical reach past Sicily. Here are passages from Eustathius, Scymnus and the Scholia to Lykophron.

Eustathius Comment. Ad Od. 1.1.

“This is also clearly different among many others, that both the Latinus of history and Ausôn are sons from Odysseus and Kirkê according to some. They each held power over their eponymous lands; and the tribes there were named from them. The name of the city in Iberia, Odyssea, agrees with these accounts….”

καὶ τοῦτο δηλοῖ δίχα πολλῶν ἄλλων, καὶ ὁ τῆς ἱστορίας Λατῖνος, καὶ ὁ Αὔσων, οἱ ἐξ ᾿Οδυσσέως καὶ Κίρκης κατά τινας. οἳ καὶ τῆς ὁμωνύμου αὐτοῖς χώρας ἐκράτησαν, καὶ ἀφ’ ἑαυτῶν τὰ ἔθνη ἐκάλεσαν. ὁμολογεῖ δὲ τούτοις καὶ ἡ ἐν ᾿Ιβηρίᾳ πόλις ᾿Οδύσσεια.

Scymnus ad Nicomedem Regem 222-230

“The Pelagian islands lie in the approach, Kyrnos and Sardis, which is said to be the biggest island after Sicily. Once before these were called the Seirenides and the Islands of Kirkê. Below these are the Ombrikoi, which are not the islands which Latinus who was born from Kirkê and Odysseus settled. The Ausonians have hold of the land there, and it was Ausôn it seems who settled it, a child of Odysseus and Kalypso.”

᾿Εν τῷ πόρῳ κεῖνται δὲ νῆσοι πελάγιαι,
Κύρνος τε καὶ Σαρδὼ, μεγίστη λεγομένη
μετὰ τὴν Σικελίαν νῆσον, αἵ τε πρίν ποτε
Σειρηνίδες Κίρκης τε νῆσοι λεγόμεναι.
Εἰσὶ δ’ ἐπάνω μὲν τῶν Πελασγῶν ᾿Ομβρικοί, …
οὓς ᾤκισ’ οὐκ Κίρκης ᾿Οδυσσεῖ γενόμενος
Λατῖνος, Αὔσονές τε μεσόγειον τόπον
ἔχοντες, Αὔσων οὓς συνοικίσαι δοκεῖ,
᾿Οδυσσέως παῖς καὶ Καλυψοῦς γενόμενος.

Scholia to Lykophron, 44.1-8: Reports both parentages for Auson

Αὔσονες δὲ οἱ ᾿Ιταλοὶ s Αὐσονῖτις ἡ ᾿Ιταλικὴ T ἀπὸ Αὔσονος τοῦ παιδὸς ᾿Οδυσσέως καὶ Κίρκης. ss4 cf. EM 17115 sch. DP 78 ἄλλοι δὲ ἀφ’ ἑτέρου Αὔσονος εἶπον (702). s4 Αὔσων ὁ ᾿Ιταλὸς <ἀπὸ Αὔσονος, ὃς ἐκ Καλυψοῦς ἐγεννήθη τῷ ῎Ατλαντι.> Steph.

So Latinus and Auson are paired as ethnonyms connecting myth, history and geography to an Odysseus, or better, a possible Odysseus. The variations themselves are interesting because despite their origin and time, they use Odysseus, the wandering wayfarer, as a touchstone. Note how Ausôn shifts from son of Odysseus and Kirkê to son of Kalypso and Odysseus and then, according to the Lykophron scholion, a son of Atlas and Kalypso. Similar shifting occurs with Latinus and Herakles.

Of the named sons of Kirkê, Latinus is the easiest to trace. Even traditions that don’t make him a direct son of Odysseus, still aim to link the founding of a city in Italy to Odysseus (as in the strange combining of Aeneas and Odysseus I mentioned earlier). For example, some traditions have Kirkê giving birth to Latinus with Telemachus (see West 1966, 434: see Hyginus fab. 127).

To be fair there are multiple Latini and, in a motif that is repeated, he is sometimes said to be from the line of Herakles instead of Odysseus (Dio. Hal. Rom. Ant βασιλεὺς μὲν ᾿Αβοριγίνων ἦν Λατῖνος ὁ Φαύνου, γόνος δὲ ῾Ηρακλέους, πέμπτον δὲ καὶ τριακοστὸν ἔτος ἔχων τὴν ἀρχήν). The Suda provides some similar information.

“Latinoi: They are now called Romans. For, the son of Herakles, Telephos, was called Latinus and he changed the name of the people who long-ago were called Ketians to Latini….”

Suda s.v Latinoi: Λατῖνοι· οἱ νῦν ῾Ρωμαῖοι· Τήλεφος γὰρ υἱὸς ῾Ηρακλέους, ὁ
ἐπικληθεὶς Λατῖνος, μετωνόμασε τοὺς πάλαι Κητίους λεγομένους Λατί-ους.

Generally speaking, it is clear then that Latinus is a toponym/ethnonym that connects Odysseus to the west genealogically from an early period. Conflicting genealogies that attach him to Herakles are unsurprising given the overlapping journeys of the two heroes and the waxing and waning of Odyssean popularity. The early account of Hesiod strengthens the Odyssean claim, for me. Other records are a bit late.

But this alteration of fathers and the act of choosing between heroic genealogies makes me rethink a famous passage in the Odyssey. When Athena asks Telemachus if Odysseus is his father, Telemachus responds (petulantly or enigmatically, depending on your perspective):

“My mother says I am his son. But I don’t know it myself.
For no one is a witness to his own begetting.”

μήτηρ μέν τέ μέ φησι τοῦ ἔμμεναι, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε
οὐκ οἶδ’· οὐ γάρ πώ τις ἑὸν γόνον αὐτὸς ἀνέγνω.

This doubt about parentage, lineage and identity is clearly a necessary part of the Odyssean tradition if we imagine (1) multiple children and (2) shifting genealogies available/known to the audience of the Odyssey. Even without that as a certainty, I cannot now read Telemachus’ comments without imagining the epic ‘winking’ at other possible fathers and sons.

When it comes to that other brother mentioned, the evidence isnt’t nearly as good. Attempts have been made to associate Agrios with Italy (just like Latinus, obviously; Agrios is positioned as an ancestor of the Thracian Agrianes). For a brief survey, see West 1966, 433-4). But others have believed that Agrios is later Faunus (or Silvius) who is a rural king and understood by Nonnus to be a son of Poseidon and Circe (see West 1966, 434; Nonnos 13.328-42).


In our version of Hesiod’s Theogony, Telegonos appears in a disputed line as one of the sons of Kirkê and Odysseus. It is thought that the line was interpolated to keep Hesiod ‘current’ with the Cyclic poem the Telegony by Eugammon of Cyrene (which is lost):
“Kirkê, the daughter of Helios, Hyperion’s son,
After having sex with Odysseus, gave birth to
Agrios and Latînos, blameless and strong.
And she also gave birth to Telegonos thanks to golden Aphrodite.
Her sons rule far away in the recess of the holy islands
Among the glorious Tursênians.”

Κίρκη δ’ ᾿Ηελίου θυγάτηρ ῾Υπεριονίδαο
γείνατ’ ᾿Οδυσσῆος ταλασίφρονος ἐν φιλότητι
῎Αγριον ἠδὲ Λατῖνον ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε•
[Τηλέγονον δὲ ἔτικτε διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην•]
οἳ δή τοι μάλα τῆλε μυχῷ νήσων ἱεράων
πᾶσιν Τυρσηνοῖσιν ἀγακλειτοῖσιν ἄνασσον.

West (1966, 434-5) considers the line about Telegonos to be a Byzantine interpolation. Though I do not aim to argue strenuously against troubling this line, it is important to note that Telegonos’ name (“born far away”; “begotten far away”) may be echoed in the line after the supposed interpolation (μάλα τῆλε). Both his and Telemakhos’ names in marking their distance, their ‘farness’, seem to echo the far-flung traveling nature of their father.

(And though Telemakhos is obviously in the Odyssey and mentioned in the Iliad, neither he nor Telegonos have a large presence in the larger body of myth. Both are largely absent from Archaic and Classical Greek art…)

Eustathius (Comm. Ad Od.1.142.35) explains such naming for sons: “Concerning being born far off, it is sufficiently clear in the Iliad. And now it will be addressed to an extent. Among the ancients, that someone is far-born is not only about where he was born, as the only son of Menelaos was Megapenthes, but that he was born when he father was far away or grew up in this way after he was born. A first example of this is Telegonos who was born from Kirkê when Odysseus was far away.”

Περὶ δὲ τοῦ τηλύγετος, ἱκανῶς ἡ ᾿Ιλιὰς δηλοῖ. νῦν δὲ εἰς τοσοῦτον ῥητέον. ὡς τηλύγετος παῖς παρὰ τοῖς παλαιοῖς, οὐ μόνον μεθ’ ὃν οὐκ ἔστι τεκνώσασθαι, ἢ ὁ μόνος υἱὸς ὡς ὁ Μεγαπένθης ἐνταῦθα τῷ Μενελάῳ, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ τῆλε ὄντι τῷ πατρὶ γεννηθεὶς, ἢ καὶ αὐξηθεὶς μετὰ γέννησιν. παράδειγμα τοῦ πρώτου, Τηλέγονος ὁ ἐκ Κίρκης τῆλέ που γεννηθεὶς τῷ ᾿Οδυσσεῖ.

While there are tidbits about Telegonos spread here and there—and he is certainly the best attested son of Odysseus after Telemachus—his most well-known appearance is in the summary of the Epic Cycle poems to be found in Proclus’ Chrestomathia (“useful knowledge”):
“In that epic [Telegony] Telegonos left home sailing in search of his father and arrived in Ithaca. Odysseus was called out by him and then killed by his own son out of ignorance.
When Telegonos recognized the mistake he transferred the corpse, Telemakhos and Penelope to his mother. She made them immortal and he lived with Penelope while Telemakhos lived with Kirkê.”

κἀν τούτῳ Τηλέγονος ἐπὶ ζήτησιν τοῦ πατρὸς πλέων ἀποβὰς εἰς τὴν ᾿Ιθάκην τέμνει τὴν νῆσον• ἐκβοηθήσας δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὑπὸ τοῦ παιδὸς ἀναιρεῖται κατ’ ἄγνοιαν.
Τηλέγονος δ’ ἐπιγνοὺς τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τό τε τοῦ πατρὸς σῶμα καὶ τὸν Τηλέμαχον καὶ τὴν Πηνελόπην πρὸς τὴν μητέρα μεθίστησιν• ἡ δὲ αὐτοὺς ἀθανάτους ποιεῖ, καὶ συνοικεῖ τῇ μὲν Πηνελόπῃ Τηλέγονος, Κίρκῃ δὲ Τηλέμαχος.

This is, as most would admit, both a conventional and an odd tale. First, the son unknowingly killing a father is a reflex of paternal replacement anxiety (and a replay of the family drama). And there is a way in which the second step—where the sons marry the stepmothers—fulfills the son’s taking of the father’s place rather literally but without the actual incest of the Oedipus tale.
Telegonos’ killing of his father, not dissimilar to Perseus’s accidental killing of his, is not just a form of the paternal replacement myth; it is also connected in more than one way to our Odyssey. In book 11 of the Odyssey, Teiresias prophesies Odysseus’ death: (11.134-137):
“A gentle death will come to you from the sea
The sort which will take you when you are already
hard-pressed by a comfortable old age. Your people
will be prosperous. I have spoken these things truly.”

… θάνατος δέ τοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ σε πέφνῃ
γήρᾳ ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον• ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται. τὰ δέ τοι νημερτέα εἴρω.’

A simple interpretation of Proclus’ summary of the Telegony makes it the fulfillment of the prophecy: Telegonos comes “sailing” (πλέων) from the sea and kills his father without either of them knowing the truth. A little harsh, maybe, but deaths in Greek myth are rarely pleasant. Lucian, in his True History, places Odysseus in the Islands of the Blessed and has him tell the story quite simply: “After I killed everyone else, I was later killed by Telegonos who was born from me and Kirkê. And now I am in the Islands of the Blessed!” (2.35.13: ἀποκτείνας δὲ ἅπαντας ὑπὸ Τηλεγόνου ὕστερον τοῦ ἐκ Κίρκης μοι γενομένου ἀνῃρέθην, καὶ νῦν εἰμι ἐν τῇ Μακάρων νήσῳ πάνυ).

Telegonos’ involvement in Odysseus’ death is not just attested in Proclus’ summary: Aristotle refers to it in the Poetics (1453b ὁ Τηλέγονος ὁ ἐν τῷ τραυματίᾳ ᾿Οδυσσεῖ). But it also seems that in some traditions it was not enough that Odysseus be killed by someone who came from the sea. Against the variant tradition (preferred by West 2013!) that Odysseus died from some kind of an infection caused by bird feces, a secondary feature of Telegonos’ narrative is that he had a special sting-ray spear made either by Kirkê or by Hephaistos.

A scholiast to the Odyssey glosses the “death will come to you from the sea” line as follows: “Some also say that Hephaistos at the bidding of Kirkê fashioned a spear from Telegonos from a sea sting-ray’s stinger, which Phorkys had killed while it was trying to eat fish in his harbor. The spear-base was adamantine and the handle was gold and that killed Odysseus.” (καί φασιν ὡς ἐντεύξει τῆς Κίρκης ῞Ηφαιστος κατεσκεύασε Τηλεγόνῳ δόρυ ἐκ τρυγόνος θαλασσίας, ἣν Φόρκυς ἀνεῖλεν ἐσθίουσαν τοὺς ἐν τῇ Φορκίδι λίμνῃ ἰχθῦς• οὗ τὴν μὲν ἐπιδορατίδα ἀδαμαντίνην, τὸν δὲ στύρακα χρυσοῦν εἶναι, τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα ἀνεῖλεν, Schol. ad. Od. 11.134).

This is the story recorded in Apollodoros’ Epitome 7.36:

“Telegonos, after learning from Kirkê that he was the child of Odysseus, sailed out looking for him. After he arrived in Ithaka, he began to steal some of the Island’s cattle and he wounded Odysseus in the hand, who came out to help against him, with a spear that had a point made of a sting-ray’s spine. Then Odysseus died.”
[36] Τηλέγονος δὲ παρὰ Κίρκης μαθὼν ὅτι παῖς Ὀδυσσέως ἐστίν, ἐπὶ τὴν τούτου ζήτησιν ἐκπλεῖ. παραγενόμενος δὲ εἰς Ἰθάκην τὴν νῆσον ἀπελαύνει τινὰ τῶν βοσκημάτων, καὶ Ὀδυσσέα βοηθοῦντα τῷ μετὰ χεῖρας δόρατι Τηλέγονος τρυγόνος κέντρον τὴν αἰχμὴν ἔχοντι τιτρώσκει, καὶ Ὀδυσσεὺς θνήσκει.

This poisonous sting-ray weapon, as you might imagine, is exactly the type of thing Hellenistic authors might get excited about. The fragmentary historian Dictys tells a bit of a more complicated story: he has Odysseus send Telemachus away because dream-interpreters told him he would be killed by his son. According to Dictys, Telegonos struck him in the lung (τιτρώσκει τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα κατὰ τοῦ πλευροῦ) “with a sting-ray’s point given to him by Kirkê” (ὅπερ ἔδωκε κέντρον θαλάσσιον τῆι Κίρκηι, FGH 1a49F fr. 10).

When Eustathius discusses Odysseus’ death from the sea (Comm. ad Od. 1.404) he first makes it clear that what is interesting is that Odysseus doesn’t die on the sea (ἀλλ’ ὁ θάνατός σοι οὐκ ἐν αὐτῇ ἔσται ἀλλ’ ἔξω αὐτῆς.) He then presents features both from the scholia (the special sting-ray spear) and Dictys while also explaining that Oppian tells us more about this in the Halieutica. Eustathius explains that the spear-point made from a sting-ray was considered especially sharp by some (αἰχμὴ δὲ τρυγόνος τὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ἀδάμαντι ὀξύτατον). A basic point to be drawn from his extensive discussion is that the sting-ray spear was a generally well-known motif.

It is so well-known, of course, that the Scholia to Lykophron must present an alternative. There, Telegonos does kill Odysseus but Kirkê resurrects him with her drugs, only after which was Telegonos married to Penelope and Telemakhos was married to Kassiphone, his half-sister. (ἄλλοι δέ φασιν ὅτι ἀναιρεθεὶς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὑπὸ Τηλεγόνου πάλιν ὑπὸ τῆς Κίρκης φαρμάκῳ ἀνέστη καὶ ἐγήματο *Κασσιφόνην* Τηλεμάχῳ, Πηνελόπη δ’ ἐν Μακάρων νήσοις ἐγήματο Τηλεγόνῳ, Schol ad. Lykophron 805). But that’s a story for another day.

As with Latinus, Telegonos has some diverse geographical and genealogical associations. According again to the cabinet of the strange (the Scholia to Lykophron, 115), Proteus was married to a Thracian named Torônê who gave birth to Tmolos, and Telegonos. It is not clear that this has to be the same Telegonos as the one who kills Odysseus, but it is worth considering.

Schol ad. Lykophron 115:

“Husband of the Phlegarian woman”: Thrace used to be called Phlegaria because the giants were burned there. Proteus’ wife, Torônê, was Phlegarian by birth and from them, I mean Proteus and Torônê, two children were born, Tmolos and Telegonos. It is said that Proteus married her after he came from Egypt.”

Φλεγραίας πόσις• Φλεγραία τὸ πρὶν ἐκαλεῖτο ἡ Θρᾴκη διὰ τὸ τοὺς Γίγαντας ἐκεῖ πεφλέχθαι, Τορώνη δὲ γυνὴ Πρωτέως Φλεγραία τὸ γένος οὖσα ἐξ ὧν γεγέννηνται παῖδες, τοῦ Πρωτέως λέγω καὶ Τορώνης, Τμῶλος καὶ Τηλέγονος• λέγεται γὰρ ταύτην γεγαμηκέναι ἀπὸ Αἰγύπτου ἐλθών.

This association with the name Telegonos (for this is probably not intended to be the ‘same’ Telegonos as Odysseus’ son) and the geographical periphery occurs in other genealogical variants. A scholion to Euripides’ Orestes connects a Telegonos with the Eastern Mediterranean: he makes him the son of Epaphos and brother of Libya (Επάφου δὲ Λιβύη καὶ Τηλέγονος, Λιβύης Βῆλος καὶ ᾿Αγήνωρ• Βήλου δὲ Αἴγυπτος ἐγένετο καὶ Δαναός, Schol. In Eurip. Orestes 932). Like his brothers Latinus and Ausôn (or even Rhomos, Antias and Ardeas), Telegonos is associated with founding a city in Italy:

Aristocles, Paradoxa fr. 2: Telegonos founded a city in Italy?

“Telegonos the son of Odysseus and Kirkê after he was sent in search of his father learned that he was to found a city where he saw farmers who were crowned and dancing. Once he came to a certain part of Italy and saw farmers crowned with holm-oak [prinion] branches and dancing, he founded a city which he named Prinistos after this incident, a name the Romans interpreted as Praenestos, as Aristocles records in the third book of his Italian histories.”

Τηλέγονος ᾿Οδυσσέως καὶ Κίρκης, ἐπ’ ἀναζήτησιν τοῦ πατρὸς πεμφθεὶς, ἔμαθε πόλιν κτίσαι, ἔνθα ἂν ἴδῃ γεωργοὺς ἐστεφανωμένους καὶ χορεύ-οντας. Γενόμενος δὲ κατά τινα τόπον τῆς ᾿Ιταλίας, καὶ θεασάμενος ἀγροίκους πρινίνοις κλάδοις ἐστεφανωμένους καὶ ὀρχήσει προσευκαιροῦντας, ἔκτισε πόλιν, ἀπὸ τοῦ συγκυρήματος Πρίνιστον ὀνομάσας, ἣν ῾Ρωμαῖοι παραγώγως Πραίνεστον καλοῦσιν, ὡς ἱστορεῖ ᾿Αριστοκλῆς ἐν τρίτῳ ᾿Ιταλικῶν.

With Telegonos, then, we retain some of the geographical associations and separations given to the other sons of Kirkê but we also find a family drama that brings Odysseus’ Homeric nuclear family into its orbit. The constellation of details in other authors provides hints of a rich tale replete with oracles from both father and son, a tragic case of mistaken identities and a fantastic ‘happy ending’ in the afterlife. Many of these details are common to other families from the end of the heroic age, including the house of Atreus and the family of Achilles. It is not difficult to imagine some of the plot elements coalescing around Odysseus’ ‘clan’ too and the antiquity of the Telegonos details in generals indicates that this happened at a rather early period.

Children With Kalypso

Hesiod names the sons of Kalypso at the end of the Theogony:

“Kalypso the shining goddess gave birth as well to Nausithoos
And Nausinoos after having lovely sex with Odysseus.”

Ναυσίθοον δ’ ᾿Οδυσῆι Καλυψὼ δῖα θεάων
γείνατο Ναυσίνοόν τε μιγεῖσ’ ἐρατῇ φιλότητι.

Eustathius records this genealogical information alongside other fantastic bits, calling them “extraordinary and empty titillation” (περιττὰ ταῦτα καὶ κενὴ μοχθηρία, Commentarii ad Homeri Od 2.117). Apart from Hesiod and Eustathius’ citation of the Theogony, there is no other mention of Nausinoos in extant Greek literature.

Both names are ‘speaking names’ for sea people (“Swift-Ship” and “Ship-Minded”) which are echoed in the name of the Phaeacian Princess Nausikaa. It seems entirely possible that the pair are simply ancient place-holders for children rather than indicating actual mythical traditions. And yet, Homer has Phaeacian Nausithoos in the Odyssey.

At the beginning of book 6, as Odysseus sleeps the narrator tells us about the people whose land he has come to occupy (Odyssey, 6.1-12)

“So godly and much-enduring Odysseus slept there
overcome by exhaustion and weariness. But Athena
Went to the land and the city of the Phaiêkian men
who once lived in broad-floored Hyperiê
Near the arrogant Kyklopean men who
Used to raid them since they were superior in strength.
God-minded Nausithoos took them from there
And led them to Skheria, far from other grain-eating men.
He raised a wall around the city and built houses;
He founded temples to the gods and divided the ploughlands.
When he was overcome by death and went to Hades,
Alkinoos, who knows the thoughts of the gods, ruled.”

῝Ως ὁ μὲν ἔνθα καθεῦδε πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
ὕπνῳ καὶ καμάτῳ ἀρημένος• αὐτὰρ ᾿Αθήνη
βῆ ῥ’ ἐς Φαιήκων ἀνδρῶν δῆμόν τε πόλιν τε•
οἳ πρὶν μέν ποτ’ ἔναιον ἐν εὐρυχόρῳ ῾Υπερείῃ,
ἀγχοῦ Κυκλώπων ἀνδρῶν ὑπερηνορεόντων,
οἵ σφεας σινέσκοντο, βίηφι δὲ φέρτεροι ἦσαν.
ἔνθεν ἀναστήσας ἄγε Ναυσίθοος θεοειδής,
εἷσεν δὲ Σχερίῃ, ἑκὰς ἀνδρῶν ἀλφηστάων,
ἀμφὶ δὲ τεῖχος ἔλασσε πόλει καὶ ἐδείματο οἴκους
καὶ νηοὺς ποίησε θεῶν καὶ ἐδάσσατ’ ἀρούρας.
ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ἤδη κηρὶ δαμεὶς ῎Αϊδόσδε βεβήκει,
᾿Αλκίνοος δὲ τότ’ ἦρχε, θεῶν ἄπο μήδεα εἰδώς.

There are some obvious parallels between this Phaeacian Nausithoos and Odysseus: they both are marked off as intelligent (as opposed to strong); they travel beyond the realms of men; and they suffer violence (at the hands of the Cyclops). But this is not the only appearance of Nausithoos in the epic. Later, when Odysseus is about to enter the Phaeacian palace, Athena provides a fuller genealogy (7.56-68):

“Earth-shaking Poseidon first fathered Nausithoos
With Periboia, one of the prettiest women alive and
The youngest daughter of great-hearted Eurymedon
Who ruled as king among the haughty giants.
When he destroyed his reckless host, he perished as well.
Then Poseidon had sex with her and gave birth to
Great-hearted Nausithoos, who ruled among the Phaiacians.
Nausithoos fathered Rhêxênor and Alkinoos.
Silver-bowed Apollo struck down the first one
when he had no son and left only a single daughter in his home,
Arete. Alkinoos made her his wife and he honors her
As no other woman on earth is honored
However many women there are who keep homes for men.”

Ναυσίθοον μὲν πρῶτα Ποσειδάων ἐνοσίχθων
γείνατο καὶ Περίβοια, γυναικῶν εἶδος ἀρίστη,
ὁπλοτάτη θυγάτηρ μεγαλήτορος Εὐρυμέδοντος,
ὅς ποθ’ ὑπερθύμοισι Γιγάντεσσιν βασίλευεν.
ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ὤλεσε λαὸν ἀτάσθαλον, ὤλετο δ’ αὐτός•
τῇ δὲ Ποσειδάων ἐμίγη καὶ ἐγείνατο παῖδα
Ναυσίθοον μεγάθυμον, ὃς ἐν Φαίηξιν ἄνασσε•
Ναυσίθοος δ’ ἔτεκεν ῾Ρηξήνορά τ’ ᾿Αλκίνοόν τε.
τὸν μὲν ἄκουρον ἐόντα βάλ’ ἀργυρότοξος ᾿Απόλλων
νυμφίον, ἐν μεγάρῳ μίαν οἴην παῖδα λιπόντα,
᾿Αρήτην• τὴν δ’ ᾿Αλκίνοος ποιήσατ’ ἄκοιτιν
καί μιν ἔτισ’ ὡς οὔ τις ἐπὶ χθονὶ τίεται ἄλλη,
ὅσσαι νῦν γε γυναῖκες ὑπ’ ἀνδράσιν οἶκον ἔχουσιν.

A few things from this: yes, it seems that Arêtê is both Alkinoos’ wife and niece (something untroubling to commentators on the Odyssey). But also notice the themes coalescing around this family: Nausithoos is born from Poseidon and the daughter of the King of the Giants who perished because of his reckless army. The language here (ἀτάσθαλον) echoes the deaths of Odysseus’ men and the suitors (all of whom are said to perish because of their own recklessness).

In their commentary on the Odyssey, Heubeck, West and Hainsworth (324) suggest it is “idle to enquire how a scion of [giants] should become king of the gentle Phaeacians”. Rather than being idle, I think, the question points to the malleable nature of myth and the extents to which Homer will go to create parallels and advance the themes of his poem.

In this vein, the death of Alkinoos’ brother is also interesting: the name Rhêksênôr (“breaker of men”) appears most commonly as an epithet of Achilles (Iliad e.g. 4.5, 13.324). So, perhaps we can see this family of the Phaeacians as being positioned to contrast with Homer’s Odysseus. By this I mean that where Odysseus is presented as a mortal son of mortal son who inhabits cities and bears witness to the boundaries of civilization (thereby asserting what they may be), the Phaeacians are intentionally connected to a divine lineage that it marked out as savage and cosmically destabilizing.

Such a genealogy does more to separate this Odysseus of Homer from other possible iterations of the same hero. (And it is important that here Poseidon is the father of Nausithoos–the very god who is in conflict with our Odysseus is now also in competition over genealogy.) If Homer and his audiences were conscious of another tradition, one that made Nausithoos the son of him and Kalypso, wouldn’t it be in the interest of this poem to distance itself from that tradition thematically and even aggressively? West in his commentary on the Theogony (1966, 436) notes that it would be “absurd” for the Phaeacians to be descended from Odysseus in Homer, but “typical” for Hesiod.

What he does not pursue is the possibility that this ‘typical’ Hesiodic move was known both to singers of the Odyssey and, more importantly, their audiences. In myth genealogies tell stories that characterize the members of their families and communicate essential ideas (e.g. sacrilege and human sacrifice in the family of Atreus; resistance to oracles and intergenerational conflicts in the family of Oedipus). Changing genealogy is a critical tool for changing the essential elements of a tale.

But that’s about as much as can be said in brief to imagine that Homer is flyting with Hesiodic tradition (or one known to both poems) rather than Hesiod building off Homer’s tale. One thing in favor of another suggestion, that Homer presents an innovation with Kalypso.

Hesiod, fr. 13.30-31

“They went to the tribe of gathered Kephallenians
Whom queen Kalypso gave birth to with Hermaon.”

ἔς τε Κεφαλλ]ήνων ἀγερώχων φῦλον ὄρουσαν,
οὓς τέκεν ῾Ερ]μάωνι Καλυψὼ πότνια νύμφη•

Here, in one of the few other places where Kalypso appears, she is made a possible forebear of the very people associated in Homer with Odysseus. Although Kalypso appears in some genealogies, she is less involved in mythical genealogies than her thematic counterpart Kirkê. (And since Wilamowitz and earlier, Calypso has been scene as a “reduplication of the Circe-motif” (West 1966, 436)). The limited range of her appearances strengthens the possibility that Kalypso’s narrative function orbited almost exclusively around Odysseus (and was perhaps created for his narrative).

Nausithoos does appear in one other tradition that’s worth mentioning in moving on to other children. According, to Plutarch, the Greek historian Philokhoros, says that “Theseus took him as a steersman of his ship to Skiros from Salamis…because the Athenians were not yet accustomed to the sea….” ((fr. 56 B4). Φιλόχορος (FGrH 328 F 111) δὲ παρὰ Σκίρου φησὶν ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος τὸν Θησέα λαβεῖν κυβερνήτην μὲν Ναυσίθοον, πρωρέα δὲ Φαίακα, μηδέπω τότε τῶν᾿Αθηναίων προσεχόντων τῇ θαλάσσῃ, Plutarch, Theseus 17).

Children With Princesses

The primary children in the Odysseus traditions emphasize certain themes: his ‘core’ family in the Homeric Odyssey; his association with western settlements and travel through his children with the goddesses; and the Homeric Odyssey’s willingness to suppress or ignore details inconsonant with its aims. (And, although it is possible some of the children are ‘later’ than our Odyssey tradition, it seems unlikely that this is true for all of them.)

One of the things we can also see is that Odysseus provides a genealogical touchstone for cities outside of the Greek center (observed by Irad Malkin among others) and that in this capacity he often overlaps with Herakles (directly or through their heirs). In his pairing with various princess we also get an idea of his (1) post-Odyssean career; (2) the various ways in which his mythical genealogy spreads; and (3) his malleability as a mythical character. In turn this also helps us learn a bit more about the strategies of our Odyssey which silences most of these traditions but acknowledges the continuation of Odysseus’ tale after the epic’s end.

(And, perhaps, our desire for the tale to go on indefinitely)

Odysseus’ children with princesses are all sons and there are three women, all of them located on Greece’s west coast. We can choose to understand these as variations on the same theme. Conceivably, these are the events barely alluded to when Teiresias prophesies in the Odyssey that Odysseus will have to go on another journey inland.

Leontophron or Dorukles or Euryalos (Euippê, Epirote Princess)

In his commentary to the Odyssey (2.117), Eustathius tells us about Odysseus’ son with the Princess of Epirus, Euippê: “According to Lysimachos, Odysseus’ son with Euippe the Thesprotian was named Leontophron, one others call Dorucles; and Sophocles says that Euryalos was born from her, the man Telemakhos killed” (κατὰ δὲ Λυσίμαχον υἱὸς αὐτῷ ἐξ Εὐίππης Θεσπρωτίδος Λεοντόφρων, ὃν ἄλλοι Δόρυκλόν φασί. Σοφοκλῆς δὲ ἐκ τῆς αὐτῆς Εὐρύαλον ἱστορεῖ, ὃν ἀπέκτεινε Τηλέμαχος)

Though part of this story is ascribed to Sophocles, the fullest account we have of it is in Parthenius’ Narrationes Amatoriae (3) where he describes Odysseus venturing to Epiros to find some oracles:

“Odysseus didn’t only do wrong concerning Aiolos, but also after going to sea, once he murdered the suitors, he arrived at Epirus in search of some oracles and he ruined Tyrimmas’ daughter, Euippê who received him kindly and entertained him with all willingness. Euryalos was born to her from him. When he came of age, his mother sent him to Ithaka with some signs sealed up in a tablet. By chance, Odysseus wasn’t there and Penelope, once she learned these things and because she had guessed about the affair with Euippê already persuaded Odysseus when he returned—but before he knew any of these things—to kill him because he [Euryalos] was plotting against him”

Οὐ μόνον δὲ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς περὶ Αἴολον ἐξήμαρτεν,
ἀλλὰ καὶ μετὰ τὴν ἄλην, ὡς τοὺς μνηστῆρας ἐφόνευσεν,
εἰς ῎Ηπειρον ἐλθὼν χρηστηρίων τινῶν ἕνεκα τὴν
Τυρίμμα θυγατέρα ἔφθειρεν Εὐίππην, ὃς αὐτὸν οἰκείως
τε ὑπεδέξατο καὶ μετὰ πάσης προθυμίας ἐξένιζεν. παῖς
δὲ αὐτῷ γίνεται ἐκ ταύτης Εὐρύαλος.
τοῦτον ἡ
μήτηρ, ἐπεὶ εἰς ἥβην ἦλθεν, ἀποπέμπεται εἰς ᾿Ιθάκην
συμβόλαιά τινα δοῦσα ἐν δέλτῳ κατεσφραγισμένα. τοῦ
δὲ ᾿Οδυσσέως κατὰ τύχην τότε μὴ παρόντος Πηνελόπη
καταμαθοῦσα ταῦτα καὶ ἄλλως δὲ προπεπυσμένη τὸν
τῆς Εὐίππης ἔρωτα πείθει τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα παραγενόμενον,
πρὶν ἢ γνῶναί τι τούτων ὡς ἔχει, κατακτεῖναι τὸν
Εὐρύαλον ὡς ἐπιβουλεύοντα αὐτῷ.

There are some really interesting motifs here: first, we have a more contriving Penelope; the general knowledge of Odysseus’ affairs; and the theme of a son looking for his father repeated from tales like those of Theseus and Odysseus’ own Telegonus (not to mention the reflex of this found in the Odyssey where Telemachus too must search for Odysseus—note, he didn’t need to bring any sealed documents). I also feel badly for Euippê here. But we should perhaps not make too much of Parthenios’ account—he also has Odysseus corrupting Aiolos’ daughter Polymêlê. But note also the difference between Eustathius’ account and Parthenios’: in the former, Telemachus kills the bastard brother. Parthenios does seem more tragic.

The name Leontophron isn’t attested elsewhere (but is probably attracted here from the other narrative). The name Doryklos does appear in Asclepiades (fr. 8, Schol. Ap. Rhodes) where he is in the family of Agênor and is a son of Phoinix (whence the Phoenicians). In Apollodorus (3.125), he is listed as son of Hippokoôn, who drove Ikarios (Penelope’s father) and Tyndarios (Helen’s father) from Sparta. In this same tale, it is Herakles who kills Hippokoôn and his children.

Why bring this up? This admittedly minor name, Dorukles, is thus associated tendentiously with Odysseus’ family, Herakles and a broader geographic range. This doesn’t really prove anything, but it does illustrate why or how the name might come to be re-purposed for one of Odysseus’ sons on the geographical margins.

Epiros, Thesprotia, and Aetolia: Locations for Odysseus' Princesses
Epiros, Thesprotia, and Aetolia: Locations for Odysseus’ Princesses

Polypoitês (Kallidikê, Thesprotian Princess)

What Odysseus does after the Odyssey is more often set in Thesprotia than Epirus (although, to be honest, the places are not too far apart) and mostly known from the summary attributed to Proklos (although some assumed an epic called the Thesprotis):

“After [the events of the Odyssey], Odysseus went to The Thesprotians and married Kallidikê the princess of the Thesprotians. When there was a war between the Thesprotians and the Brygoi, Odysseus led them. Ares was working against Odysseus and Athena stood against him. Apollo intervened in their conflict. After the death of Kallidikê, Polypoitês, Odysseus’ son, received the kingdom, and Odysseus returned to Ithaka”

καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα εἰς Θεσπρωτοὺς ἀφικνεῖται καὶ γαμεῖ Καλλιδίκην βασιλίδα τῶν Θεσπρωτῶν.
ἔπειτα πόλεμος συνίσταται τοῖς Θεσπρωτοῖς πρὸς Βρύγους, ᾿Οδυσσέως ἡγουμένου· ἐνταῦθα ῎Αρης τοὺς περὶ τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα τρέπεται, καὶ αὐτῷ εἰς μάχην ᾿Αθηνᾶ καθίσ-ταται· τούτους μὲν ᾿Απόλλων διαλύει.
μετὰ δὲ τὴν Καλλιδίκης τελευτὴν τὴν μὲν βασιλείαν διαδέχεται Πολυποίτης ᾿Οδυσσέως υἱός, αὐτὸς δ’ εἰς ᾿Ιθάκην ἀφικνεῖται.

Here we find some common traits: Odysseus has a son with a princess inland in North-central Greece. Unlike with the daughter of Tyrimmas, however, Odysseus marries this one and lives with her long enough for their son to grow up and for him to wage war protecting the town. One understands why the Homeric Odyssey might not be interested in this tale.

According to Proklos, this Thesprotian interlude was related in Eugammon’s lost Telegony and provides the time period necessary for Telegonos to grow up and come to Ithaka in search of his father. In some accounts, his Thesprotian trip is not the same trip he takes to satisfy the rage of Poseidon. The new marriage, war, and divine battle, seem to be appropriate to an independent local tradition (not that I have any evidence of one). Apollodorus, nevertheless, has Odysseus meeting Kallidikê after he travels through Epirus to get to Thesprotia, a convenient way to combine the two traditions.

Is this why Odysseus met so many princesses?
Is this why Odysseus met so many princesses?

Leontophonos (Daughter of Thoas, Aitolian Princess)

The final son-princess pair appear only in the story presented at the end of Apollodorus’ epitome (7.40):

“There are some who say that when Odysseus was being accused by the family members of the suitors he killed, he took Neoptolemus as he judge who was king of the islands near Epirus. They also say that Neoptolemus, because believed that if Odysseus were out of the way he could gain control of Kephellania, decided upon exile for Odysseus and that he went to Aitolia to Thoas the son of Andraimôn and married his daughter. He died when he was on old man and left behind a child named Leontophonos.”

εἰσὶ δὲ οἱ λέγοντες ἐγκαλούμενον Ὀδυσσέα ὑπὸ τῶν οἰκείων ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀπολωλότων δικαστὴν Νεοπτόλεμον λαβεῖν τὸν βασιλεύοντα τῶν κατὰ τὴν Ἤπειρον νήσων, τοῦτον δέ, νομίσαντα ἐκποδὼν Ὀδυσσέως γενομένου Κεφαλληνίαν καθέξειν, κατακρῖναι φυγὴν αὐτοῦ, Ὀδυσσέα δὲ εἰς Αἰτωλίαν πρὸς Θόαντα τὸν Ἀνδραίμονος παραγενόμενον τὴν τούτου θυγατέρα γῆμαι, καὶ καταλιπόντα παῖδα Λεοντοφόνον ἐκ ταύτης γηραιὸν τελευτῆσαι

Some clear themes here: continued antipathy between Achilles’ line and Odysseus’; more travels to North-central Greece; an imagined fallout from the death of the suitors; Odysseus dying away from Ithaka. This name—Leontophonos, killer of the lion—is listed in Theocritus, among others, (Idyll 25) as an epithet of Herakles, which gives us another possuble overlap between the two heroes. Although this story plays upon themes and includes details that are by now familiar, the story itself does not seem to be repeated elsewhere.

The later development of this tale is probably based upon the pattern set by the other princess narratives and, I suspect, by details from the Iliad.

The use of Thoas here is intriguing. He is listed in the catalogue as the leader of the Aitolians (2.638) but he is also marked out for being exceptional in speech (Iliad 15.281-4):

“Then Thoas the son of Andraimon spoke among them.
Of the Aitolians he was the most knowledgeable with the spear
And best at running. But few Achaeans could surpass him in the assembly
Whenever the young men used to make a contest of words.

Τοῖσι δ’ ἔπειτ’ ἀγόρευε Θόας ᾿Ανδραίμονος υἱός,
Αἰτωλῶν ὄχ’ ἄριστος ἐπιστάμενος μὲν ἄκοντι
ἐσθλὸς δ’ ἐν σταδίῃ· ἀγορῇ δέ ἑ παῦροι ᾿Αχαιῶν
νίκων, ὁππότε κοῦροι ἐρίσσειαν περὶ μύθων·

I suspect that part of what draws Odysseus and Thoas into the same genealogical orbit is this similarity offered in the Iliad—they are both masters of words. This may be a stretch, but given that he is a king of an area in north central Greece who survived the Trojan war, it makes sense that some people would bring him and Odysseus back together. More interesting? Diomedes, who is sometimes paired with Odysseus, was rightfully a heir to the throne of the Aitolians. The clan of Oeneus expelled Tydeus. The heir, Meleager, died. And that’s how Thoas became king.

But this poor princess doesn’t even get a name–so, at best, I imagine this being a late variation or some sort of imaginative fan fiction.

Altogether, the names of Odysseus’ children and their stories hint at a rich narrative tradition that explored the life of Odysseus beyond the boundaries set by our Odyssey. Given the hints present in the epic itself—and the evidence of early genealogical variants in authors like Hesiod—it seems likely that the Homeric story of Odysseus was willfully ignoring or suppressing those traditions. Their continued vitality despite the Homeric tale, however, attests to the vibrancy of the living mythical traditions and their continuing ability to respond to their audiences’ world. Odysseus moves with the Greeks as they move west. And as literature develops, scholars, authors and audiences seem forever interested in looking for some other Odysseus.

Works Consulted

Albertus Benarbé. Poetorum Epicorum Graecorum. Leipzig: Teubner, 1987.

Jonathan Burgess. The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Howard Clarke. The Art of the Odyssey. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1967.

Cook, E. (1999), “Active and passive heroics in the Odyssey.” CW 93, 149–167.

Malcom Davies. Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta. Göttingen : Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1988.

Malcolm Davies. The Greek Epic Cycle. London: Bristol, 1989.

Robert L. Fowler. Early Greek Mythography II: Commentary. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 Vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1993.

Barbara Graziosi and Johannes Haubold. Homer: The Resonance of Epic. Bristol, 2005.

Jasper Griffin. “The epic cycle and the uniqueness of Homer.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 97 (1977) 39-53.

Alfred Heubeck, Stephanie West, and J. B. Hainsworth. A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey. Volume 1. Oxford, 1988.

Alfred Heubeck and Arie Hoekstra. A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey. Volume 2. Oxford, 1989.

George L. Huxley. Greek Epic Poetry from Eumelos to Panyassis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969.

Marylin Katz. Penelope’s Renown. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Irad Malkin. The Returns of Odysseus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Jim Marks. “The Junction between the Kypria and the Iliad.” Phoenix 56 (2002) 1-24.

  1. Scott Smith and Stephen M. Trzaskoma (trans.). Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae. Indianapolis: Hackett 2007.

Stephen Tracy. The Story of the Odyssey. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1990.

  1. L. West. Hesiod: Theogony. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1966.

Martin L. West.   The Epic Cycle: A Commentary on the Lost Troy Epics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

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