How “Long” From Sparta to Pylos? Time and Distance in the Odyssey

In the Odyssey Telemachus goes from Ithaka to Sparta (via Pylos) and back. When he travels in both directions, he makes a stop for the night in a scene that I think most of us often forget:
Od. 15.185-188 (=3.486-490)

“All day long they shook the yoke around their necks.
The sun set and the wide ways were shadowed.
They arrived at Phêrai, the home of Diokles,
The son of Ortilokhos, the child whom Alpheios fathered.
There they spent the night and he gave them guest-gifts.”

οἱ δὲ πανημέριοι σεῖον ζυγὸν ἀμφὶς ἔχοντες.
δύσετό τ’ ἠέλιος σκιόωντό τε πᾶσαι ἀγυιαί·
ἐς φηρὰς δ’ ἵκοντο Διοκλῆος ποτὶ δῶμα,
υἱέος ᾿Ορτιλόχοιο, τὸν ᾿Αλφειὸς τέκε παῖδα.
ἔνθα δὲ νύκτ’ ἄεσαν, ὁ δὲ τοῖς πὰρ ξείνια θῆκεν.

Though he stops at this town twice, we get very little information about it from the epic itself. The scholia do provide some information:

Scholia HQ Ad Od. 15.186-193:

“Phêrai: the name of a town in Laconia. The journey from Sparta to Phêrai is one day; and it is nearly another day from Phêrai to Pylos… This is the same night that Odysseus sleeps at Eumaios’ place.”

ἐς Φηρὰς] διὰ τοῦ η τὴν πόλιν τὴν Λακωνικήν. H. ἀπὸ Λακεδαιμονίας ἕως Φηρᾶς ἡμέρας ὁδὸς, ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς Φηρᾶς ἄχρι καὶ Πύλου ἄλλη ἡμέρα…. Q. ταύτην πρώτην νύκτα κοιμᾶται παρὰ Εὐμαίῳ ᾿Οδυσσεύς. H

Most interesting for me here is the almost throw-away line from the scholiast that this night spent in Phêrai is the same night during which Odysseus is entertained by Eumaios. Although some scholars entertain this seriously (e.g. Olson 1995, 91ff) a more standard take is presented by De Jong in her Narratological Commentary… (2001, 588):

De Jong 2001

If we count the days from Odysseus’ return to Ithaca (when Athena leaves him to go find Telemachus (13.439-440: ἡ μὲν ἔπειτα / ἐς Λακεδαίμονα δῖαν ἔβη μετὰ παῖδ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος.), we get a slightly different timeline for the second half of the Odyssey:

Day 1
14: Odysseus goes to Eumaios, they sleep (14.523)

15: Telemachus leaves Sparta, sleeps at Diokles’ house (Simultaneous action shown in parallel)

Day 2
15.301-494: Eumaios and Odysseus dine again and talk through most of the night

15: Telemachus bypasses Pylos for his ship,(15.296-300) (Simultaneous action shown in parallel)

Day 3
15.495-500: Telemachus arrives arrives in Ithaca and goes to Eumaios’ home (16); the suitors return from their ambush; Eumaios, Telemachus and Odysseus sleep (16)

Day 4
17: Telemachus and Odysseus go to their home separately; the suitors go home to sleep (18.427-428); Penelope sleeps (19.600-604); Odysseus sleeps (20.54-55)

Day 5
20.91: Dawn comes and the suitors return; 21: The Bow; 22: Mnesterophonia; 23.342-43: They sleep

Day 6
23.345-349 Dawn comes, Odysseus wakes and goes to see his father; the second Nekyuia; Testing of Laertes; Ithacan Assembly; Final showdown

Of course, thanks to a thing called “Zielinski’s Law” (see De Jong 2001, 590 for a bibliography and Cook 2009, 148 for a brief discussion) Homerists tend not to believe that Homeric narrative shows simultaneous actions…

Who is Diokles? Why do we care if the end of the Odyssey takes 6 or 7 days? Tune in next week….

Leave a Reply