Two Poets, Homer & Odysseus

Homer. Iliad,  11.401-410.

Spear-famed Odysseus was alone. Not one Argive
was at his side, as fear had gripped them all.
So, his mood raw, he spoke to his own proud heart:
“Ay, what happens next? It’s wrong to cut and run
Scared of the throng, yet worse to be taken alone.
(Zeus has sent the other Danaans scrambling.)
But why is my dear heart debating with me?
I already know cowards steer clear of war
but the best fighter must absolutely
stand firm, whether he’s struck or strikes another.”

οἰώθη δʼ Ὀδυσεὺς δουρὶ κλυτός, οὐδέ τις αὐτῷ
Ἀργείων παρέμεινεν, ἐπεὶ φόβος ἔλλαβε πάντας·
ὀχθήσας δʼ ἄρα εἶπε πρὸς ὃν μεγαλήτορα θυμόν·
ὤ μοι ἐγὼ τί πάθω; μέγα μὲν κακὸν αἴ κε φέβωμαι
πληθὺν ταρβήσας· τὸ δὲ ῥίγιον αἴ κεν ἁλώω
μοῦνος· τοὺς δʼ ἄλλους Δαναοὺς ἐφόβησε Κρονίων.
ἀλλὰ τί ἤ μοι ταῦτα φίλος διελέξατο θυμός;
οἶδα γὰρ ὅττι κακοὶ μὲν ἀποίχονται πολέμοιο,
ὃς δέ κʼ ἀριστεύῃσι μάχῃ ἔνι τὸν δὲ μάλα χρεὼ
ἑστάμεναι κρατερῶς, ἤ τʼ ἔβλητʼ ἤ τʼ ἔβαλʼ ἄλλον.


The Scholia

One scholiast remarks that Homer arranged the scene to achieve an effect of particular importance to a performance artist: 

“Odysseus was alone: He [Homer] once again besets Odysseus with struggles, with the consequence that he [Homer] completely engages the [song’s] audience.”

 οίώθη δ’ Όδυσεύς: αγώνας πάλιν κινεί επί τω Όδυσσεϊ· ώστε εκ παντός συνέχει τον ακροατήν. (Schol. T. 401)


Another scholiast presents Odysseus as though he too is a self-conscious artist: 

“He spoke to his proud heart : He [Odysseus] poetically translates his thoughts as if they were spoken [aloud].” 

είπε προς δν μεγαλήτορα Θυμόν: ποιητικώς τά ένθυμηθέντα ώς είρημένα διατυποϊ. (Schol. 403-410. b[BCEE].T.)

Roland Barthes

A quotation of Barthes’ brought to mind–and gratuitously included–by Odysseus’s address to himself: 

“Soliloquy makes me a monster: an enormous tongue.” 

Le soliloque fait de moi un monstre, une énorme langue. (Fragments d’un Discours Amoureux.)

Photograph of two modern performance poets on stage mid performance
I googled “battling poets jam.” These two are
known as “Twin Poets.”

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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