Odysseus, a Deer?

Homer, Iliad 11.473-486.

They found Odysseus, dear to Zeus, swarmed
by Trojans, like when light-brown mountain jackals
crowd round an antlered deer a man’s struck
with an arrow. The deer bolted from him,
scooting while its blood was warm and knees limber.
But when the fast arrow does the deer in,
flesh-eating jackals snarf it down in a glade’s
shade. But a god leads a lion against them,
a hungry one: jackals scurry, lion sups.
Just so, round wise and deft Odysseus
many able Trojans swarmed, but the hero,
flashing his spear, saw off the cruel day.
Ajax with his tower-like shield came
and stood before him. The Trojans scurried pell-mell.

εὗρον ἔπειτʼ Ὀδυσῆα Διῒ φίλον· ἀμφὶ δʼ ἄρʼ αὐτὸν
Τρῶες ἕπονθʼ ὡς εἴ τε δαφοινοὶ θῶες ὄρεσφιν
ἀμφʼ ἔλαφον κεραὸν βεβλημένον, ὅν τʼ ἔβαλʼ ἀνὴρ
ἰῷ ἀπὸ νευρῆς· τὸν μέν τʼ ἤλυξε πόδεσσι
φεύγων, ὄφρʼ αἷμα λιαρὸν καὶ γούνατʼ ὀρώρῃ·
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ τόν γε δαμάσσεται ὠκὺς ὀϊστός,
ὠμοφάγοι μιν θῶες ἐν οὔρεσι δαρδάπτουσιν
ἐν νέμεϊ σκιερῷ· ἐπί τε λῖν ἤγαγε δαίμων
σίντην· θῶες μέν τε διέτρεσαν, αὐτὰρ ὃ δάπτει·
ὥς ῥα τότʼ ἀμφʼ Ὀδυσῆα δαΐφρονα ποικιλομήτην
Τρῶες ἕπον πολλοί τε καὶ ἄλκιμοι, αὐτὰρ ὅ γʼ ἥρως
ἀΐσσων ᾧ ἔγχει ἀμύνετο νηλεὲς ἦμαρ.
Αἴας δʼ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθε φέρων σάκος ἠΰτε πύργον,
στῆ δὲ παρέξ· Τρῶες δὲ διέτρεσαν ἄλλυδις ἄλλος.

From the Scholia:

Schol. ad Il. bT. 11.475a.

475. crowded round an antlered deer: Odysseus is likened to a deer, but he is not pathetic. The demonstrable force of the comparison is not that; rather, it is their similar suffering. It [the simile] likens him to the dying deer in order to emphasize the danger [he, Odysseus, is in].

475 α. άμφ’ ελαφον (κεραόν βεβλημένον): où δειλός ό Όδυσσευs, ότι έλάφω εϊκασται · où yàp Ισχύος δηλωτικὸν τό της παραβολής, άλλα των όμοιων παθημάτων. Θανούσῃ δέ αύτόν έλάφῳ εικάζει, Ινα αύξησῃ τον κίνδυνον.

Color photograph of an oil painting of a deer with antlers in its death throes
Edwin Henry Landseer
Dying Stag (ca.1830)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.


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 featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

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