In book 19 of the Odyssey, Odysseus (in disguise) confirms for Penelope that he saw Odysseus (in the past) as he was traveling to Troy by describing the woolen cloak and golden brooch he was wearing. Fewer than two hundred lines later, Eurykleia recognizes Odysseus by his scar. In Greek, the words used for the “wool”[oúlê] cloak and the scar [oulé] differ only in accent. Later in the Odyssey, Dolios uses another word that sounds the same but means something else to address Odysseus. How might audiences distinguish between these meanings? How might the epic capitalize upon their similarity? (see below for some answers)
“Glorious Odysseus had a purple wool [oúlên] cloak with a double fold
And the brooch on it was made of gold with double clasps
On the surface it had an intricate design.”
χλαῖναν πορφυρέην ‖ οὔλην ἔχε δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς,
διπλῆν· ἐν δ’ ἄρα οἱ περόνη χρυσοῖο τέτυκτο
αὐλοῖσιν διδύμοισι· πάροιθε δὲ δαίδαλον ἦεν·
“Immediately he pondered in his heart how she might not take him
And recognize his scar [oulén] and bring everything out in the open.
But she came near and took him up for bathing. Immediately
She recognized the scar [oulén] which long ago a boar gave him with its white fang
When he went to Parnassus to see Autolykos and his sons.”
αὐτίκα γὰρ κατὰ θυμὸν ὀΐσατο, μή ἑ λαβοῦσα
οὐλὴν ἀμφράσσαιτο καὶ ἀμφαδὰ ἔργα γένοιτο.
νίζε δ’ ἄρ’ ἄσσον ἰοῦσα ἄναχθ’ ἑόν· αὐτίκα δ’ ἔγνω
οὐλήν, τήν ποτέ μιν σῦς ἤλασε λευκῷ ὀδόντι
Παρνησόνδ’ ἐλθόντα μετ’ Αὐτόλυκόν τε καὶ υἷας,
Od. 24.402 (Dolios to Odysseus)
“Be well [oule] and be of great cheer. May the gods give you blessings”
οὖλέ τε καὶ μέγα χαῖρε, θεοὶ δέ τοι ὄλβια δοῖεν.
How might audiences tell the difference between these two words in addition to accent? Usage in the hexameter line indicates some separation. “Scar” tends to come at the beginning of the line:
19.464 οὐλὴν ὅττι πάθοι· ὁ δ’ ἄρα σφίσιν εὖ κατέλεξεν,
19.507 θερσόμενος, οὐλὴν δὲ κατὰ ῥακέεσσι κάλυψε.
21.221 ὣς εἰπὼν ῥάκεα μεγάλης ἀποέργαθεν οὐλῆς.
23.74 οὐλήν, τήν ποτέ μιν σῦς ἤλασε λευκῷ ὀδόντι·
24.331 “οὐλὴν μὲν πρῶτον τήνδε φράσαι ὀφθαλμοῖσι,
“Woolly” tends to come before a caesura:
4.450 ἀμφὶ δ’ ἄρα χλαίνας ‖ οὔλας βάλον ἠδὲ χιτῶνας (=10.451, 17.89)
4.299 χλαίνας τ’ ἐνθέμεναι ‖ οὔλας καθύπερθεν ἕσασθαι. (=7.338)
The one exception to this separation in the Odyssey seems to be when Odysseus is transformed into a better looking version of himself in books 6 and 23. Here, the “woolly hair” begins the line, placing the same sounds in the same position as his defining scar.
“She made the woolly hair come from his head like a hyacinth flower.”
6.230-231 …οὔλας ἧκε κὄμας, ὑακινθίνῳ ἄνθει ὁμοίας. (=23.158).
In this, Dolios’ hapax legomenon greeting to Odysseus seems potentially playful and interesting: οὖλέ τε καὶ μέγα χαῖρε, θεοὶ δέ τοι ὄλβια δοῖεν. Here the imperative could sound like a vocative for “wool”. But, it might also recall another word that sounds the same, οὖλος “destructive”, which appears in the Iliad but not in the Odyssey.
Ancient authors associate this imperative with “wholeness, and healthiness”:
Schol. H ad. Hom. Od. 24.402
“Oule: “be healthy, from “wholeness”. This is only said once.
οὖλε] ὑγίαινε· παρὰ τὸ ὅλην. τῶν ἅπαξ εἰρημένων. H.
“The Milesians and Delians call Apollo Oulios, as if he his a bringer of health and healing. For, to oulein is to “to be healthy” [hugiainein], from which we get the word “scar” [oulê] and the [greeting] “be well and be very happy”.
Οὔλιον δ’ ᾿Απόλλωνα καλοῦσί τινα καὶ Μιλήσιοι καὶ Δήλιοι, οἷον ὑγιαστικὸν καὶ παιωνικόν· τὸ γὰρ οὔλειν ὑγιαίνειν, ἀφ’ οὗ καὶ τὸ οὐλὴ καὶ τό „οὖλέ τε „καὶ μέγα χαῖρε.”
The aural similarity between these four terms (“scar”, “wool”, “ruinous”, “whole”) and their potentially intentional juxtapositions and interplay in the Odyssey help to map out different variations on Odysseus’ character and his development in this particular epic. In folk etymology, the name (whence Roman Ulysses through Doric Olisseus?. cf. Oulikseus below “Alternatives…”) may mark him as the “scarred man”, evoking the tale of his naming and thus an essential aspect of his character.
The “wool” may recall both his physical trait of curly hair (emphasized in his rejuvenations in the Odyssey) and his legendary tale of sneaking out under a ram after the blinding of Polyphemos (depicted in many vase images at an early period and perhaps echoed when Priam describes him as a “ram among the sheep” in the Iliad 3.197–198). But the “wool garment” has intra-textual relevance within our epic (since Odysseus in disguise keeps asking for a cloak) and as the garment that confirms his past identity to Penelope.
Both “scar” and “wool”, then, are intimately connected with the characterization of an Odysseus from a broader mythical perspective and are introduced as positive identification for the hero in this epic. The echo of a “destructive” hero is mostly up to speculation. The meaning of the final imperative “be whole”, however, might be intentionally jarring and telling: at this moment, Odysseus has finally confirmed his identities with everyone and has become whole, combining and transcending his identities as “woolly haired” and “scarred”.
From the Iliad
5.461 Τρῳὰς δὲ στίχας οὖλος ῎Αρης ὄτρυνε μετελθὼν
5.517 εἰ οὕτω μαίνεσθαι ἐάσομεν οὖλον ῎Αρηα.
21.536 δείδια γὰρ μὴ οὖλος ἀνὴρ ἐς τεῖχος ἅληται. [=Achilles]
“Scar” (oulê): This is a healed wound which is still apparent. Others call it a “persistent/painful wound” [epiponaion]”
Οὐλὴ, τὸ ὑγιασθὲν τραῦμα καὶ φαινόμενον· ἄλλοι δὲ ἐπιπόναιον ἕλκος.
“Scar and wound [ôteilê] are different. For a ‘scar’ is a strike healed from an earlier wound; whereas a ôteilê is what the wound [trauma] is called. But Homer has obscured the difference when he said “the same mark [oulê] poured out black blood from the wound [ôteilês].”
Οὐλὴ καὶ ὠτειλὴ διαφέρει· οὐλὴ μὲν γάρ ἐστιν, ἡ ἐκ παλαιοῦ τραύματος ὑγιασμένη πλήγη· ὠτειλὴ δὲ τὸ πρόσφατον τραῦμα· καὶ ῞Ομηρος δὲ τετήρηκε τὴν διαφορὰν εἴπων· οὐλὴν δ’ αὐτὴν ἔρεεν αἷμα κελαινεφὲς ἐξ ὠτειλῆς.
οὐλή, ἡ: “scar”
Chantraine s.v. οὐλή, “cicatrice, blessure, cicatrisée. From *ϝολ-. Cf. lat volnus, eris?
Beekes s.v οὐλή, “scarred wound, scar”,< IE *uel- ‘draw, tear’. But “As a common basis for these nouns, the root *uelh3- ‘to strike’ must be assumed…”
Chaintraine, s.v. οὖλος 2 “Le sense ancient de οὖλος “bouclé, crépu” [“curled, frizzy”] se tire aisément de 2 εἰλέω “tourner, rouler”…Le sens secondaire de “dense” etc. n’impose pas un rapport avec 1 εἰλέω “serrer, presser”.
Beeks s.v. οὖλος, “frizzy, shaggy, woolly, crinkly’ “can be connected with εἰλέω 2 “to roll, rutnr, wind’…” We may reconstruct *uol(H)-no ‘wool’, either from *uel “to twist’ or *uelH- ‘to pluck’ (Lat. Vello).
Note for 19.225 from Merry, Riddell and Montro 1886: οὔλην ‘thick,’ ‘woolly,’ from the same root as Lat. vellus, also lāna (for vlā-na). Whether it is akin to “εἶρος, ἔρια” (Lat. vervēx) is more than doubtful.”
Chantraine, s.v. οὖλος 3 “perniceaux, funeste, destructeur”. Epithet of Ares, Achilles and in the hellinist period, Eros… Ety. Famille ὄλλυμι, *ὄλϝος à côte de *ὀλεϝός >ὀλοός…
Beekes, s.v. οὖλος 3 “baneful”…from IE *H3lh3-u– “destructive”
οὖλος, Chantraine s.v. οὖλος 1 “tout entier”, voir ὅλος.
Schol. B ad Od. 19.393
“Scar”: Attic speakers call a wound that has been healed ôteilê. In Homer, ôteilê is unhealed, and an oulê is healed.”
οὐλὴν] ᾿Αττικοὶ τὸ θεραπευθὲν τραῦμα ὠτειλήν φασι· παρὰ δὲ ῾Ομήρῳ ὠτειλὴ μὲν τὸ ἀθεράπευτον, οὐλὴ δὲ τὸ θεραπευθέν. B.
Alternatives to Odysseus’ name
Eust. Comm. Ad Homeri Il 1.446: ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεύς δέ που ᾿Ολυσσεύς καὶ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια ᾿Ολύσσεια
Herodian, de prosodia cath. 3.1.14: Οὐλιξεύς Ulixes, in quo Doris sequimur
From Brill’s New Pauly s.v Odysseus: Attic inscriptions: Ὀλυττεύς/Olytteús; Corinthian: Ὀλισ(σ)εύς/Olis(s)eús;
For other etymologies for Odysseus’ name, see here.
For “whole” elsewhere in the Odyssey see: 17.342-3
“Têlemakhos called the swineherd over to him and addressed him,
Once he took the whole [oûlon] loaf from the fancy basket”
Τηλέμαχος δ’ ἐπὶ οἷ καλέσας προσέειπε συβώτην,
ἄρτον τ’ οὖλον ἑλὼν περικαλλέος ἐκ κανέοιο