Some Truth Behind Odysseus’ Pseudonyms

Odyssey 24.303–307

“Certainly, I will explain everything to you truly.
I am from Alybas where I live in a glorious home,
I am the son of Apheidas, the son of lord Polypêmôn.
My name is Epêritos. But some god struck me
So I came here from Sicily even though I was unwilling.”

“τοιγὰρ ἐγώ τοι πάντα μάλ’ ἀτρεκέως καταλέξω.
εἰμὶ μὲν ἐξ ᾿Αλύβαντος, ὅθι κλυτὰ δώματα ναίω,
υἱὸς ᾿Αφείδαντος Πολυπημονίδαο ἄνακτος·
αὐτὰρ ἐμοί γ’ ὄνομ’ ἐστὶν ᾿Επήριτος· ἀλλά με δαίμων
πλάγξ’ ἀπὸ Σικανίης δεῦρ’ ἐλθέμεν οὐκ ἐθέλοντα·

The names that Odysseus chooses here from his family tree are interesting as a reflection of his persona and his experience. The most obvious, on the surface, is Apheidas which means “unsparing”; the grandfather’s name, Polu-pêmôn, means “of many pains”. The final element, his personal name Epêritos, is the least transparent—Eustathius argues that it derives from the verb erizein, “to engage in strife.” Eustathius also interprets the paternal name, Apheidas, positively, suggesting that it anticipates the projected liberality of the speaker in terms of gift giving. The name could also indicate however, a person taken to risk or unsparing of others: to wit, Odysseus is in this scene rather unsparing of his father who suffers much grief because of him.

Eust. Comm. Ad Hom. Od. II 324

“He says that he is the son of Apheidas [“unsparing”] because he wants to emphasize his own liberality and great gift-giving. This is the very thing Laertes understands and says in a bit that “Odysseus would have responded and sent you away with gifts. He lies in saying his father’s name is Polu-pêmôn as a riddle for the many sufferings which he has suffered.

The name Epêritos is similar to “contentious” [perimakhêtos] and comes from “to engage in strife” [erizô] since Odysseus was this way to all and was “conversant in the ways of men,” or it is because he fostered the good strife. Note that by analogy epêristos ought to be similar to amphêristos, but it has introduced a sigma for the sake of the dactyl. This happens also in the phrase nêrthiton oros and euktiton [well-built] and euktimenên [“well-built”] and others. This is the same type of composition we find in Epêritos.”

(Vers. 305.) ᾿Αφείδαντος δὲ υἱὸς εἶναι λέγει, ἐμφαίνων τὸ ἑαυτοῦ ἐλευθέριον καὶ μεγαλόδωρον· ὃ συνιστῶν καὶ ὁ Λαέρτης ἔφη πρὸ ὀλίγων, ὅτι δώροις ἄν σε ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἀμειψάμενος ἀπέπεμπε. Πολυπήμων δὲ αὐτῷ καταψεύδεται πάππος πρὸς αἴνιγμα τῶν πολλῶν πημάτων ὧν ἔπαθε. (Vers. 306.)

Τὸ δὲ ᾿Επήριτος ταυτόν πώς ἐστι τῷ περιμάχητος ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐρίζω, ἐπεὶ πᾶσιν ἔμελλε καὶ ἐπίστροφος ἦν ἀνθρώπων ᾿Οδυσσεὺς, ἢ καὶ ὅτι τὴν ἀγαθὴν ὑπέτρεφεν ἔριν. ᾿Ιστέον δὲ ὅτι κατὰ ἀναλογίαν ἐπήριστος ὤφειλεν εἶναι ὁμοίως τῷ ἀμφήριστος ἀπήγαγε δὲ τὸ σίγμα διὰ χρείαν δακτύλου. ὃ γίνεται καὶ ἐν τῷ, νήρθιτον ὄρος, καὶ εὔκτιτον καὶ εὐκτιμένην καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις. καὶ τοιοῦτος μὲν ὁ πλαστὸς οὗτος ᾿Επήριτος.

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