#MythMonth: How Did Odysseus Marry Penelope

A fragment of the mythographer Pherecydes provides an interesting account for how Odysseus came to be married to Penelope (hint: it wasn’t his choice):

Pherecydes, fr. 90 (= Fowler 129)
“Ikarios, the son of Oibalos, married Dôrodokhês, the daughter of Ortilokhos or, according to Pherecydes, Asterôdia, the daughter of Eurypylos, the son of Telestôr. When Laertes heard about Penelope—that she differed from all women in both her beauty and her intelligence, he arranged for her to marry his son Odysseus. She possessed so much virtue that she surpassed even Helen who was born from Zeus in some degree. This is the account of Philostephanos and Pherecydes.”
Schol. Homer. Odyss. Ο, 16: ᾿Ικάριος ὁ Οἰβάλου γαμεῖ Δωροδόχην τὴν ᾿Ορτιλόχου, ἢ κατὰ Φερεκύδην, ᾿Αστερωδίαν τὴν Εὐρυπύλου τοῦ Τελέστορος. Πυθόμενος δὲ Λαέρτης περὶ τῆς Πηνελόπης ὅτι καὶ τῷ κάλλει καὶ ταῖς φρεσὶ διαφέρει πασῶν τῶν καθ’ ἑαυτὴν γυναικῶν, ἄγεται αὐτὴν τῷ παιδὶ ᾿Οδυσσέϊ πρὸς γάμον· ἣ τοσαύτην εἶχεν ἀρετὴν, ὥστε καὶ τὴν ῾Ελένην τὴν ἐκ Διὸς οὖσαν τῷ τῆς ἀρετῆς ὑπερβάλλειν. ῾Η δὲ ἱστορία παρὰ Φιλοστεφάνῳ καὶ Φερεκύδῃ.

This story, of course, runs against a more famous version that isn’t exactly compatible (although one could imagine finding some way to match the two tales):

Apollodorus, 3.132

“When Tyndareus saw the mass of suitors, he feared that once one was selected the rest would start fighting. But then Odysseus promised that if he aided him in marrying Penelope, he would propose a way through which there would be no fight—and Tyndareus promised to help him. Odysseus said that he should have the suitors swear an oath to come to the aid if the man who was selected as bridegroom were done wrong by any other man regarding his marriage. After he heard that, Tyndareus had the suitors swear an oath and he himself chose Menelaos as the bride groom and he suited Penelope from Ikarios’ on Odysseus’ behalf.”

τούτων ὁρῶν τὸ πλῆθος Τυνδάρεως ἐδεδοίκει μὴ κριθέντος ἑνὸς στασιάσωσιν οἱ λοιποί. ὑποσχομένου δὲ ᾿Οδυσσέως, ἐὰν συλλάβηται πρὸς τὸν Πηνελόπης αὐτῷ γάμον, ὑποθήσεσθαι τρόπον τινὰ δι’ οὗ μηδεμία γενήσεται στάσις, ὡς ὑπέσχετο αὐτῷ συλλήψεσθαι ὁ Τυνδάρεως, πάντας εἶπεν ἐξορκίσαι τοὺς μνηστῆρας βοηθήσειν, ἐὰν ὁ προκριθεὶς νυμφίος ὑπὸ ἄλλου τινὸς ἀδικῆται περὶ τὸν γάμον. ἀκούσας δὲ τοῦτο Τυνδάρεως τοὺς μνηστῆρας ἐξορκίζει, καὶ Μενέλαον μὲν αὐτὸς αἱρεῖται νυμφίον, ᾿Οδυσσεῖ δὲ παρὰ ᾿Ικαρίου μνηστεύεται Πηνελόπην.

11 thoughts on “#MythMonth: How Did Odysseus Marry Penelope

  1. Oath of Tyndareus is interesting in that it involves sacrifice/burial of a horse. The suitors were made to swear oath standing on pieces of horse, after which the horse was buried. Pausanias describes this Tomb of Horse in Pausanias 3.14-26.

    [3.20.9] Further on is what is called the Tomb of Horse. For Tyndareus, having sacrificed a horse here, administered an oath to the suitors of Helen, making them stand upon the pieces of the horse. The oath was to defend Helen and him who might be chosen to marry her if ever they should be wronged. When he had sworn the suitors he buried the horse here. Seven pillars, which are not far from this tomb . . . in the ancient manner, I believe, which they say are images of the planets. On the road is a precinct of Cranius surnamed Stemmatias, and a sanctuary of Mysian Artemis.

    I think the myth is pretty old. Very few instances (other than the funeral fire of Patroklos) where horses were sacrificed, along with dogs.
    [170] And thereon he set two-handled jars of honey and oil, leaning them against the bier; and four horses with high arched neeks he cast swiftly upon the pyre, groaning aloud the while. Nine dogs had the prince, that fed beneath his table, and of these did Achilles cut the throats of twain, and cast them upon the pyre. [175] And twelve valiant sons of the great-souled Trojans slew he with the bronze—

      1. I haven’t read that book but have read Horse, Wheels and Language, and a few dothers on P. I. E. esp. by Mallory and Adams. Got interested enough to take Archaeology in China, and the joint studies China is doing with Germany in archaeology. around pre silk road (jade road etc).

        Scythians interested me initially.Amazons. Now I am directing my curiosity to the West, i.e. Beowulf and wheel archaeological finds. I am just a wanderer. My favorite song of the moment A Horse with No Name (recommend you listen to the song). It’s at HR25 with that title, but I’m not there any more so can’t post my latest finds,. 🙂

      2. If you are interested I can give you links to Chinese Archaeology, which shows great interest in Greece, and everything in between.

      3. A couple of years ago, I got interested in archaeological studies in China, and have fun reading what they have to say about the Bronze age Greece or Near East (sometimes comparing them to their own).

        No discipline is entirely politics-free, so it is kind of fun. A bit old but this is what appeared in Chinese Archaeology a couple of years ago.

        Rulers of Mycenaean Laconia: New Insights from Excavations at the Palatial Settlement of Ayios Vasileios near Sparta

        From:Chinese Archaeology Writer: Date:2013-09-03


        I will let you know what they have to say about this one found in Macedonia, Greece


        Here’s another interesting one.

        Silk Road Fashion: Clothes as a means of communication in the 1st millennium BC, Eastern Central Asia: Bridging Eurasia Org.


        The above ties in well with Meyer’s Amazons, and of course Herodotus (on scythians).

        The above is from my post there in another thread. I will gather up other links and give them to you later in a couple of days. The one above is all in English :-).

    1. I am signed up with Vallance22 linear B guy I think he is Canadian. Thanks for the links.

  2. Would you feel comfortable sending me your email address? I think it might be easier for me to send stuff to you.

  3. Footnotes:

    [ back ] 28. Tyndareos made Helen’s former suitors swear an oath to protect her marriage with Menelaos by having them walk between a horse cut in two. The sacrifice of a horse is rare in ancient Greece, but it could point to Helen’s equine affinities (pace De Armond 2009:98): the Trojan Horse, which housed many of the same Achaean suitors, may very well be cultically related. See Ward 1968.
    [ back ] 29. For Helen, see M.L. West Immortal Helen recently endorsed by Hunter 2006:160; also Clader and Boedeker on Helen’s hypostasis of Aphrodite, herself a hypostasis of the Indo-European Dawn goddess.
    [ back ] 30. See Skutsch 1987 and the appendix on the etymology of Helen.

    Did the Helen of the Homeric Odyssey ever go to Troy?
    Guy Smoot

Leave a Reply