Alternate Names, Assumed Identities, and Secret Codes: Olysseus, Oliseus, Odysseus

Yesterday I posted about etymologies and variants for Odysseus’ names. Eustathius records: ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεύς δέ που ᾿Ολυσσεύς καὶ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια ᾿Ολύσσεια. In a Boiotian inscription his name is Ὀλυσ(σ)εύς (Olusseus) and a few Corinthian inscriptions have Ὀλισ(σ)εύς (Olisseus). Rudolf Wachter (Non-Attic Greek Vase Inscriptions 2001, 267) argues that the Attic Olutteus and the Corinthian form just cited likely display a form that predates the epic spelling (and that it was the epic tradition itself that influenced the regularization).

While it seems these names may be non-Greek, this does not mean that Greek audiences did not hear echoes of the roots they knew for “woolly” (oulos), “scar” (oulê) or “destructive, ruinous” (oulos) in his name. At the same time, it does not matter whether or not one form predated the other–what matters is that Panhellenic audiences may have been familiar with multiple forms.

When Odysseus meets Penelope in disguise, he first describes what ‘Odysseus’ was wearing when he went to war, and then when she weeps, he comforts her by telling her that he has heard that Odysseus is nearby. Throughout his speech there are echoes of both his epic name Odysseus and what Wachter calls his “epichoric” (i.e. ‘local’) name.

Odyssey  19.254–271

“Revered wife of Odysseus, son of Laertes
Don’t harm your fair skin or wear out your heart
At all any longer, mourning your husband. I would not find fault at all.
For someone mourns [ODUretai] when she has lost [OLESasa] a different man,
A husband, one she has slept with and borne children to,
Different from Odysseus, a man they claim is like the gods.
But cease from mourning, take my speech to heart:
For I will speak truly and I will hide nothing.
Since I have already heard about the homecoming of Odysseus
Nearby, in the rich land of the Thesprotian men,
Alive. He took many fine possession there,
Seeking help throughout the country. But his faithful companions,
He lost [Olese] them along with his gray ship on the wine-faced sea
As he traveled from the island of Thrinakia. They were hateful [odusanto] to him,
Zeus and Helios. For his companions Helios’ cattle.
They all perished on the much-sounding sea.
But the waves through him on the keep of the ship to land,
The land of the Phaeacians, who are a race close to the gods.”

ὦ γύναι αἰδοίη Λαερτιάδεω ᾿Οδυσῆος,
μηκέτι νῦν χρόα καλὸν ἐναίρεο μηδέ τι θυμὸν  (255)
τῆκε πόσιν γοόωσα. νεμεσσῶμαί γε μὲν οὐδέν·
καὶ γάρ τίς τ’ ἀλλοῖον ὀδύρεται ἄνδρ’ ὀλέσασα
κουρίδιον, τῷ τέκνα τέκῃ φιλότητι μιγεῖσα,
ἢ ᾿Οδυσῆ’, ὅν φασι θεοῖσ’ ἐναλίγκιον εἶναι.
ἀλλὰ γόου μὲν παῦσαι, ἐμεῖο δὲ σύνθεο μῦθον· (260)
νημερτέως γάρ τοι μυθήσομαι οὐδ’ ἐπικεύσω,
ὡς ἤδη ᾿Οδυσῆος ἐγὼ περὶ νόστου ἄκουσα
ἀγχοῦ, Θεσπρωτῶν ἀνδρῶν ἐν πίονι δήμῳ,
ζωοῦ· αὐτὰρ ἄγει κειμήλια πολλὰ καὶ ἐσθλά,
αἰτίζων ἀνὰ δῆμον. ἀτὰρ ἐρίηρας ἑταίρους (265)
ὤλεσε καὶ νῆα γλαφυρὴν ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ,
Θρινακίης ἄπο νήσου ἰών· ὀδύσαντο γὰρ αὐτῷ
Ζεύς τε καὶ ᾿Ηέλιος· τοῦ γὰρ βόας ἔκταν ἑταῖροι.
οἱ μὲν πάντες ὄλοντο πολυκλύστῳ ἐνὶ πόντῳ·
τὸν δ’ ἄρ’ ἐπὶ τρόπιος νηὸς βάλε κῦμ’ ἐπὶ χέρσου, (270)
Φαιήκων ἐς γαῖαν, οἳ ἀγχίθεοι γεγάασιν·

I am likely pressing this a bit, but the wordplay from a traditional level may be toying with different notions of Odysseus as a destroyer or as one hateful to the gods while on the level of this narrative, Odysseus may be invoking aspects of his name and character in a code for a patient Penelope. Given the ornate prohibition against weeping and the strange comparison to “another man” coupled with these sound games, I am entertaining for an evening at least that Odysseus has passed a secret message (perhaps ἐμεῖο δὲ σύνθεο μῦθον is a clue too). It may be interest to note that Penelope has just said (19.257-260):

“…I will not welcome him again
after he has come home to his paternal country.
Odysseus left with a wicked fate in his empty ship
going out to see Ev(il)-Ilion, which should not be named.”

…. τὸν δ’ οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις
οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν.
τῶ ῥα κακῇ αἴσῃ κοίλης ἐπὶ νηὸς ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
ᾤχετ’ ἐποψόμενος Κακοΐλιον οὐκ ὀνομαστήν

Image result for Odysseus and Penelope

Twitter gave me help with this:

Special thanks also to @Giovanni_Lido.

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