Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edward O. Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschall. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5: “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschall. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5:  “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

Apropos of Nothing, Achilles Calls the Commander-in-Chief a Dog[-face]

Tuesdays seem to be tawdry enough these days without Greek and Latin profanity. Here are some dog insults from ancient Greece and and a little bit on how their meaning relies on immanent misogyny.

Homer, Iliad 1.158–168 [Achilles addressing Agamemnon]

“But, you great shamepot, we follow you so that you feel joy,
As we collect honor for Menelaos and you, dog-face,
From the Trojans—you don’t shudder at this, you don’t care.”

ἀλλὰ σοὶ ὦ μέγ’ ἀναιδὲς ἅμ’ ἑσπόμεθ’ ὄφρα σὺ χαίρῃς,
τιμὴν ἀρνύμενοι Μενελάῳ σοί τε κυνῶπα
πρὸς Τρώων· τῶν οὔ τι μετατρέπῃ οὐδ’ ἀλεγίζεις·

Iliad 1.224–228 [Achilles Addressing Agamemnon]

“Wine-sod! Dog-eyes! You have the heart of a deer!
You never suffer to arm yourself to enter battle with the army
Nor to set an ambush with the best of the Achaeans.
That seems like death itself to you!”

οἰνοβαρές, κυνὸς ὄμματ’ ἔχων, κραδίην δ’ ἐλάφοιο,
οὔτέ ποτ’ ἐς πόλεμον ἅμα λαῷ θωρηχθῆναι
οὔτε λόχον δ’ ἰέναι σὺν ἀριστήεσσιν ᾿Αχαιῶν
τέτληκας θυμῷ· τὸ δέ τοι κὴρ εἴδεται εἶναι.

Elsewhere in Homer, the insult is used primarily for women and it builds on basic Greek associations between women and dogs—dogs as animals of shame who are expected to be loyal.

Odyssey 4.154-146 [Helen speaking]

“…Telemachus, whom that man left when he was just born,
In his house, when the Achaeans went down to Troy
On account of dog-faced me, raising up their audacious war.”

Τηλεμάχῳ, τὸν ἔλειπε νέον γεγαῶτ’ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
κεῖνος ἀνήρ, ὅτ’ ἐμεῖο κυνώπιδος εἵνεκ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἤλθεθ’ ὑπὸ Τροίην, πόλεμον θρασὺν ὁρμαίνοντες.”

Odyssey, 11.424-426

“…that dog-face
Went away and did not dare—even though I was on my way to Hades
To close my eyes with her hands or cover my mouth.”

… ἡ δὲ κυνῶπις
νοσφίσατ’ οὐδέ μοι ἔτλη, ἰόντι περ εἰς ᾿Αΐδαο,
χερσὶ κατ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς ἑλέειν σύν τε στόμ’ ἐρεῖσαι.

In Greek myth , the ‘dog’ nature of women comes as well from forces outside the home—a dog is a thieving creature.

Hesiod, Works and Days 67–68 [from the creation of Pandora]

“And Hermes, the slayer of Argos, that master guide,
Ordered that she possess a dog’s mind and a thief’s nature.”

ἐν δὲ θέμεν κύνεόν τε νόον καὶ ἐπίκλοπον ἦθος
῾Ερμείην ἤνωγε, διάκτορον ᾿Αργεϊφόντην.

But in the crown jewel of Greek mythology, Semonides’ “Diatribe against women”—which presents a lists of complaints about women categorized by different kinds of animals—emphasizes the inability of men to control female voices through the symbol of a dog. Note, as well, that violence is described as a regular reaction but is considered useless.

Semonides of Amorgos, fragment 7

“One women is from a dog, a sinful beast, a thorough mother—
She listens to everything and wants to know everything,
Lurking around everywhere and wandering
She barks even when she doesn’t see anyone.
She can’t stop this, not even if her husband threatens her
Nor if he is angry enough to bash her teeth
With a stone. You can’t change her by talking nicely either.
Even when she happens to be sitting among guests,
She keeps on an endless, impossible yapping.”

τὴν δ’ ἐκ κυνός, λιτοργόν, αὐτομήτορα,
ἣ πάντ’ ἀκοῦσαι, πάντα δ’ εἰδέναι θέλει,
πάντηι δὲ παπταίνουσα καὶ πλανωμένη
λέληκεν, ἢν καὶ μηδέν’ ἀνθρώπων ὁρᾶι.
παύσειε δ’ ἄν μιν οὔτ’ ἀπειλήσας ἀνήρ,
οὐδ’ εἰ χολωθεὶς ἐξαράξειεν λίθωι
ὀδόντας, οὐδ’ ἂν μειλίχως μυθεόμενος,
οὐδ’ εἰ παρὰ ξείνοισιν ἡμένη τύχηι,
ἀλλ’ ἐμπέδως ἄπρηκτον αὑονὴν ἔχει.

Franco, Cristina. 2014. Shameless: The Canine and the Feminine in Ancient Greece. Translated by Michael Fox. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

4: “In the ancient Greek imagination the figure of the dog seems, in fact, to be interwoven with the disparaging discourse on the nature of woman in afar from casual manner…Moreover, the dog appears as a paradigm for the base nature of women in two cornerstone texts of Greek misogyny” (referring to the creation of Pandora in Hesiod and Agamemnon’s comments on Clytemnestra in the Odyssey).

To call a woman–and a person of color–a dog is to use an ancient dehumanizing symbol which expresses implicitly the expectation that the insulted party should be subservient and under control of the speaker. The frustration evoked is both about controlling the ability to speak and the ability to consume. To make such a comment is baldly misogynistic and clearly also racist in the modern context.

See also:

Graver, Margaret. 1995. “Dog-Helen and Homeric Insult.” Classical Antiquity 14: 41–61.

 

Image result for ancient greek dogs

Some Roman stuff too:

Arrogant, Lawless and Abnormal: Judging Homer’s Kyklôpes

Earlier we posted about the ancient debate of whether or not the Kyklôpes only had a single eye. Here is a longer post about Homer’s depiction of their character and customs.

Homer, Odyssey 105–115

“From there we went on sailing, even though our hearts were pained,
To the land of the overbearing, lawless Kyklôpes
Who especially rely on the immortal gods
And do not grow plants or plow the land
But everything grows for them, unplanted and unplowed:
The grain, barley and vines which bear
Thick wine, and Zeus’ rain makes them grow.
They don’t have council-bringing assemblies nor laws,
But they inhabit the peaks of high mountains
In their hollow caves, and each governs his
Children and wives—they do not care for one another.”

ἔνθεν δὲ προτέρω πλέομεν ἀκαχήμενοι ἦτορ.
Κυκλώπων δ’ ἐς γαῖαν ὑπερφιάλων ἀθεμίστων
ἱκόμεθ’, οἵ ῥα θεοῖσι πεποιθότες ἀθανάτοισιν
οὔτε φυτεύουσιν χερσὶν φυτὸν οὔτ’ ἀρόωσιν,
ἀλλὰ τά γ’ ἄσπαρτα καὶ ἀνήροτα πάντα φύονται,
πυροὶ καὶ κριθαὶ ἠδ’ ἄμπελοι, αἵ τε φέρουσιν
οἶνον ἐριστάφυλον, καί σφιν Διὸς ὄμβρος ἀέξει.
τοῖσιν δ’ οὔτ’ ἀγοραὶ βουληφόροι οὔτε θέμιστες,
ἀλλ’ οἵ γ’ ὑψηλῶν ὀρέων ναίουσι κάρηνα
ἐν σπέεσι γλαφυροῖσι, θεμιστεύει δὲ ἕκαστος
παίδων ἠδ’ ἀλόχων, οὐδ’ ἀλλήλων ἀλέγουσι.

Image result for Ancient Greek sculpture Cyclops

Schol. ad Od. 9.106 31-58 (Some of which is attributed to Porphyry)

Overbearing, lawless: The phrase has double significance: the great size of their bodies and the lawlessness of not following customs. For they say that “Each one governs his own children and wives”. For if they were lawless instead of unjust, how would he add “they rely on the gods”? But, then, someone might add how Polyphemos says “the Kyklôpes don’t care about aegis-bearing Zeus”. We should, of course, consider the proposal that it comes from Polyphemos, the flesh-eating, beast.  Hesiod also says “[Zeus] made it right for fish, beast and birds to eat one another because they do not have justice. Justice he gave to men” [see below]. Thus he depicts only Polyphemos as arrogant and unjust, while the rest of the other Kyklôpes are righteous, just people who obey the gods. This is why the earth gives them crops of its own accord.”

ὑπερφιάλων ἀθεμίστων] ἢ τῶν μεγαλοφυῶν τῷ σώματι, τῶν δισήμων γὰρ ἡ λέξις, ἀθεμίστων δὲ τῶν νόμοις μὴ χρωμένων· φησὶ γὰρ “θεμιστεύει δὲ ἕκαστος παίδων ἠδ’ ἀλόχων.” εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἀθεμίστων ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀδίκων, πῶς λέγει “οἵ ῥα θεοῖσι πεποιθότες;” εἰ δ’ εἴπῃ τις, καὶ πῶς ὁ Πολύφημός φησιν “οὐ Κύκλωπες Διὸς αἰγιόχου ἀλέγουσι,” (275.) σκοπείτω τὸ πρόσωπον, ὅτι Πολυφήμου ἐστὶ  τοῦ ὠμοφάγου καὶ θηριώδους. καὶ ῾Ησίοδος “ἰχθύσι μὲν καὶ θηρσὶ καὶ οἰωνοῖσι πετεινοῖς ἔσθειν ἀλλήλους, ἐπεὶ οὐ δίκη ἐστὶν ἐν αὐτοῖς, ἀνθρώποισι δ’ ἔδωκε δίκην.” ὥστε Πολύφημον μόνον λέγει ὑπερήφανον καὶ ἄδικον, τοὺς δὲ λοιποὺς πάντας Κύκλωπας εὐσεβεῖς καὶ δικαίους καὶ πεποιθότας τοῖς θεοῖς, ὅθεν καὶ ἀνῆκεν αὐτοῖς αὐτομάτως ἡ γῆ τοὺς καρπούς. H.

“When he claims that the Kyklôpes are arrogant, lawless and abnormal, how can [the poet] claim that they have good things from the gods freely? We must concede that they are “overbearing” because of the excessive size of their bodies, that they are “lawless”, because that do now use an established law but govern through their individual private interest: “each governs his own children and wife”, which is a sign of lawlessness. And Antisthenes says that only Polyphemos is unjust. For this one is even dismissive of Zeus. Therefore, the rest are just. For this reason, the earth provides to them everything of its own accord. And it is their just task not to work it. But they face violence violently, for “they attacked them” just as the giants.” “and who ruled as king of the arrogant giants” and, the fact that Phaeacians were forced to move because they were harmed by them.”

πῶς ὑπερφιάλους καὶ ἀθεμίστους καὶ παρανόμους εἰπὼν τοὺς Κύκλωπας ἄφθονα παρὰ θεῶν αὐτοῖς ὑπάρχειν λέγει τὰ ἀγαθά; ῥητέον οὖν ὅτι ὑπερφιάλους μὲν διὰ τὴν ὑπεροχὴν τοῦ σώματος, ἀθεμίστους δὲ τοὺς μὴ νόμῳ χρωμένους ἐγγράφῳ διὰ τὸ ἕκαστον ἴδιον ἄρχεσθαι· “θεμιστεύει δὲ ἕκαστος παίδων ἠδ’ ἀλόχου” (115), ὅπερ ἀνομίας σημεῖον. ᾿Αντισθένης δέ φησιν ὅτι μόνον τὸν Πολύφημον εἶναι ἄδικον· καὶ γὰρ οὗτος τοῦ Διὸς ὑπερόπτης ἐστίν.  οὐκοῦν οἱ λοιποὶ δίκαιοι· διὰ τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ τὴν γῆν αὐτοῖς τὰ πάντα ἀναδιδόναι αὐτόματον, καὶ τὸ μὴ ἐργάζεσθαι αὐτὴν δίκαιον ἔργον ἐστίν. ἀλλ’ ἔμπροσθεν βιαίως βιαίους, “οἵ σφεας σινέσκοντο” (Od. ζ, 6), ὥσπερ καὶ τοὺς Γίγαντας· “ὅσπερ ὑπερθύμοισι Γιγάντεσσιν βασίλευεν” (Od. η, 59), ὥσπερ καὶ τοὺς Φαίακας βλαπτομένους ὑπ’ αὐτῶν μεταναστῆναι. T.

“The Kyklôpes are just except for Polyphemos. The mention of their “overbearing” character is about their size; their “lawlessness” is due to the fact that they each privately govern their wives and children. How then did they also bring grief to the Phaeacians? It is because of the lawlessness of their state.”

δίκαιοι οὗτοι πλὴν Πολυφήμου. ὅθεν τὸ μὲν ὑπερφιάλων, νῦν μεγάλων, τὸ δὲ θεμίστων, μὴ ἐχόντων χρείαν νόμων διὰ τὸ θεμιστεύειν ἕκαστον παίδων ἠδ’ ἀλόχων. πῶς οὖν ἠδίκουν τοὺς Φαίακας καὶ ἐλύπουν (ζ, 5. 6.); διὰ τὸ ἀνόμοιον τῆς πολιτείας. V.

Hesiod, Works and Days 274-281

“Perses, put these thoughts in your mind
And heed justice, banish force altogether.
Kronos’ son assigned this right to human beings—
It is permitted for the fish, beasts and winged birds
To eat one another, since they don’t have justice.
But Kronos’ son gave humans, which is the best thing by far.
For if someone who understands argues cases publicly,
Wide-browed Zeus will grant him good fortune…”

῏Ω Πέρση, σὺ δὲ ταῦτα μετὰ φρεσὶ βάλλεο σῇσι
καί νυ δίκης ἐπάκουε, βίης δ’ ἐπιλήθεο πάμπαν.
τόνδε γὰρ ἀνθρώποισι νόμον διέταξε Κρονίων,
ἰχθύσι μὲν καὶ θηρσὶ καὶ οἰωνοῖς πετεηνοῖς
ἔσθειν ἀλλήλους, ἐπεὶ οὐ δίκη ἐστὶ μετ’ αὐτοῖς·
ἀνθρώποισι δ’ ἔδωκε δίκην, ἣ πολλὸν ἀρίστη
γίνεται· εἰ γάρ τίς κ’ ἐθέλῃ τὰ δίκαι’ ἀγορεῦσαι
γινώσκων, τῷ μέν τ’ ὄλβον διδοῖ εὐρύοπα Ζεύς·

“Magnetic Inspiration”: My Favorite Passage (and Metaphor) from Plato

Plato’s Ion 533d-534e

“I also see, Ion, and I am about to show you what I think this means. For talking well about Homer is not some skill within you—as I was just saying—but it is a divine power that moves you, just as in that stone which Euripides calls a ‘Magnet” but which most people call Herakleian. For this stone not only moves iron rings but it also imbues the rings with the same power so that they can do the same thing as the stone in turn—they move other rings and as a result there is a great chain of iron and rings connected to each other. But the power from that stone runs through them all. In this way, the Muse herself makes people inspired, and a linked chain of inspired people extend from her.

All the good poets of epic utter those beautiful poems not because of skill but because they are inspired and possessed—the good lyric poets are the same, just as the Korybantes do not dance when they are in their right minds, so too the lyric poets do not compose their fine lines when they are sensible, but when they embark upon their harmony and rhythm, they are in revelry and possessed. They are just like the bacchants who draw honey and milk from rivers when they are possessed, not when they are in their normal state of mind. The soul of the lyric poets does this too, which they themselves admit: for they claim, as I see it, that they bring to us their songs by gathering from the honey-flowing springs from certain gardens and glades of the Muses like bees—and they fly too!

And they speak the truth. For a poet is an empty thing—winged, and sacred and not capable of composing before it is inspired and out of mind, when thought is no longer inside. Until one has gained this state, every person is incapable of composing or giving oracles. Because they compose not by skill—when they say many fine things about their subjects—but by divine dispensation, as you do about Homer, each is only capable of composing well in the arena where the Musa compels—one person composes dithyramb, one encomia, another dance songs, another epic and another iambic poetry. But each is useless in the other genres.”

     ΣΩ. Καὶ ὁρῶ, ὦ ῎Ιων, καὶ ἔρχομαί γέ σοι ἀποφανούμενος ὅ μοι δοκεῖ τοῦτο εἶναι. ἔστι γὰρ τοῦτο τέχνη μὲν οὐκ ὂν παρὰ σοὶ περὶ ῾Ομήρου εὖ λέγειν, ὃ νυνδὴ ἔλεγον, θεία δὲ δύναμις ἥ σε κινεῖ, ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ λίθῳ ἣν Εὐριπίδης μὲν Μαγνῆτιν ὠνόμασεν, οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ ῾Ηρακλείαν. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη ἡ λίθος οὐ μόνον αὐτοὺς τοὺς δακτυλίους ἄγει τοὺς σιδηροῦς, ἀλλὰ καὶ δύναμιν ἐντίθησι τοῖς δακτυλίοις ὥστ’ αὖ δύνασθαι ταὐτὸν τοῦτο ποιεῖν ὅπερ ἡ λίθος, ἄλλους ἄγειν δακτυλίους, ὥστ’ ἐνίοτε ὁρμαθὸς μακρὸς πάνυ σιδηρίων καὶ δακτυλίων ἐξ ἀλλήλων ἤρτηται· πᾶσι δὲ τούτοις ἐξ ἐκείνης τῆς λίθου ἡ δύναμις ἀνήρτηται. οὕτω δὲ καὶ ἡ Μοῦσα ἐνθέους μὲν ποιεῖ αὐτή, διὰ δὲ τῶν ἐνθέων τούτων ἄλλων ἐνθουσιαζόντων ὁρμαθὸς ἐξαρτᾶται.

πάντες γὰρ οἵ  τε τῶν ἐπῶν ποιηταὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ οὐκ ἐκ τέχνης ἀλλ’ ἔνθεοι ὄντες καὶ κατεχόμενοι πάντα ταῦτα τὰ καλὰ λέγουσι ποιήματα, καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ ὡσαύτως, ὥσπερ οἱ κορυβαντιῶντες οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες ὀρχοῦνται, οὕτω καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες τὰ καλὰ μέλη ταῦτα ποιοῦσιν, ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὰν ἐμβῶσιν εἰς τὴν ἁρμονίαν καὶ εἰς τὸν ῥυθμόν, βακχεύουσι καὶ κατεχόμενοι, ὥσπερ αἱ βάκχαι ἀρύονται ἐκ τῶν ποταμῶν μέλι καὶ γάλα κατεχόμεναι, ἔμφρονες δὲ οὖσαι οὔ, καὶ τῶν μελοποιῶν ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦτο ἐργάζεται, ὅπερ αὐτοὶ λέγουσι. λέγουσι γὰρ δήπουθεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς οἱ ποιηταὶ ὅτι ἀπὸ κρηνῶν μελιρρύτων ἐκ Μουσῶν κήπων τινῶν καὶ ναπῶν δρεπόμενοι τὰ μέλη ἡμῖν φέρουσιν ὥσπερ αἱ μέλιτται, καὶ αὐτοὶ οὕτω πετόμενοι· καὶ ἀληθῆ λέγουσι. κοῦφον γὰρ χρῆμα ποιητής ἐστιν καὶ πτηνὸν καὶ ἱερόν, καὶ οὐ πρότερον οἷός τε ποιεῖν πρὶν ἂν ἔνθεός τε γένηται καὶ ἔκφρων καὶ ὁ νοῦς μηκέτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐνῇ· ἕως δ’ ἂν τουτὶ ἔχῃ τὸ κτῆμα, ἀδύνατος πᾶς ποιεῖν ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν καὶ χρησμῳδεῖν. ἅτε οὖν οὐ τέχνῃ ποιοῦντες καὶ πολλὰ λέγοντες καὶ καλὰ περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων, ὥσπερ σὺ περὶ ῾Ομήρου, ἀλλὰ θείᾳ μοίρᾳ, τοῦτο μόνον οἷός τε ἕκαστος ποιεῖν καλῶς ἐφ’ ὃ ἡ Μοῦσα αὐτὸν ὥρμησεν, ὁ μὲν διθυράμβους, ὁ δὲ ἐγκώμια, ὁ δὲ ὑπορχήματα, ὁ δ’ ἔπη, ὁ δ’ ἰάμβους· τὰ δ’ ἄλλα φαῦλος αὐτῶν ἕκαστός ἐστιν.

535e-536a

“Do you understand that the audience is the last of the rings which I was describing as transmitting through one another the power from the Herakleian stone and that you are the middle as the rhapsode and interpreter—that the poet himself is the first ring? The god moves the soul of all of these people wherever he wants, stringing the power from one into another.”

οἶσθα οὖν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ θεατὴς τῶν δακτυλίων ὁ ἔσχατος, ὧν ἐγὼ ἔλεγον ὑπὸ τῆς Ἡρακλειώτιδος λίθου ἀπ᾽ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν λαμβάνειν; ὁ δὲ μέσος σὺ ὁ ῥαψῳδὸς καὶ ὑποκριτής, ὁ δὲ πρῶτος αὐτὸς ὁ ποιητής ὁ δὲ θεὸς διὰ πάντων τούτων ἕλκει τὴν ψυχὴν ὅποι ἂν βούληται τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἀνακρεμαννὺς ἐξ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν.

Fresco of women dancing in a line

Fresco, Museo Nationale, Naples. c. 400 BCE

Graves, Signs, and Glory

Homer, Iliad 7.89-91

“…They will heap up a mound [sêma] on the broad Hellespont
And someone of the men who are born in the future may say
As he says over the wine-faced sea in his many-benched ship:
This is the marker [sêma] of a man who died long ago,
A man whom shining Hektor killed when he was at his best”
So someone someday will say. And my glory will never perish”

σῆμά τέ οἱ χεύωσιν ἐπὶ πλατεῖ ῾Ελλησπόντῳ.
καί ποτέ τις εἴπῃσι καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἀνθρώπων
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι πλέων ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον·
ἀνδρὸς μὲν τόδε σῆμα πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος,
ὅν ποτ’ ἀριστεύοντα κατέκτανε φαίδιμος ῞Εκτωρ.
ὥς ποτέ τις ἐρέει· τὸ δ’ ἐμὸν κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται.

Iliad 24.801–804

“After heaping up the mound [sêma] they returned. Then
Once they were well gathered they shared a fine feast
In the halls of the god-nourished king, Priam.
Thus they were completing the burial of horse-taming Hektor.”

χεύαντες δὲ τὸ σῆμα πάλιν κίον· αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
εὖ συναγειρόμενοι δαίνυντ’ ἐρικυδέα δαῖτα
δώμασιν ἐν Πριάμοιο διοτρεφέος βασιλῆος.
῝Ως οἵ γ’ ἀμφίεπον τάφον ῞Εκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο.

Hektor’s grave is described a little differently earlier. (I explain the “emptiness” of the tomb in another post)

Homer, Il. 24.797–800

“They quickly placed the bones in an empty trench and then
They covered it with great, well-fitted stones.
They rushed to heap up a marker [sêma], around which they set guards
In case the well-greaved Achaeans should attack too soon.”

αἶψα δ’ ἄρ’ ἐς κοίλην κάπετον θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
πυκνοῖσιν λάεσσι κατεστόρεσαν μεγάλοισι·
ῥίμφα δὲ σῆμ’ ἔχεαν, περὶ δὲ σκοποὶ ἥατο πάντῃ,
μὴ πρὶν ἐφορμηθεῖεν ἐϋκνήμιδες ᾿Αχαιοί.

Odyssey 11.72-78 (Elpenor asking to be buried)

“Don’t leave me unmourned, unburied when you turn around
And go back—so that I might not be a reason for the gods to rage—
But burn me with my weapons and everything which is mind
Then build a mound [sêma] for me on the shore of the grey sea,
For a pitiful man, and for those to come to learn of me.
Finish these things for me and then affix an oar onto my tomb,
The one I was rowing with when I was alive and with my companions”

μή μ’ ἄκλαυτον ἄθαπτον ἰὼν ὄπιθεν καταλείπειν
νοσφισθείς, μή τοί τι θεῶν μήνιμα γένωμαι,
ἀλλά με κακκῆαι σὺν τεύχεσιν, ἅσσα μοί ἐστι,
σῆμά τέ μοι χεῦαι πολιῆς ἐπὶ θινὶ θαλάσσης,
ἀνδρὸς δυστήνοιο, καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι·
ταῦτά τέ μοι τελέσαι πῆξαί τ’ ἐπὶ τύμβῳ ἐρετμόν,
τῷ καὶ ζωὸς ἔρεσσον ἐὼν μετ’ ἐμοῖσ’ ἑτάροισιν.’

Odyssey 11.126–129 (Teiresias’ prophecy)

I will speak to you an obvious sign [sêma] and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar into the ground

σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν

Death from the Sea and Cities of Men: Odysseus and Mortality

Homer, Odyssey 11.119–137 [cf. 23.265–284]

“But after you kill the suitors in your home
Either with a trick or openly with sharp bronze,
Then go, taking with you a well-shaped oar,
until you come to people who know nothing of the sea,
men who do not eat food that has been mixed with salt.
These people also know nothing of purple-prowed ships,
Nor well-shaped oars which give the ships their wings.
I will speak to you an obvious sign and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar in the ground
And once you sacrifice a bull a a boar which has loved sows,
Go home again and complete holy hekatombs
To the immortal gods, who live in the broad sky,
All of them in order. And then from the sea death will come
To you in a gentle way, and it will kill you
Already taken by a kind old age. Your people
Will be prosperous around you. I speak these things truly.”

αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν μνηστῆρας ἐνὶ μεγάροισι τεοῖσι
κτείνῃς ἠὲ δόλῳ ἢ ἀμφαδὸν ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
ἔρχεσθαι δὴ ἔπειτα, λαβὼν εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν,
εἰς ὅ κε τοὺς ἀφίκηαι, οἳ οὐκ ἴσασι θάλασσαν
ἀνέρες οὐδέ θ’ ἅλεσσι μεμιγμένον εἶδαρ ἔδουσιν·
οὐδ’ ἄρα τοὶ ἴσασι νέας φοινικοπαρῄους,
οὐδ’ εὐήρε’ ἐρετμά, τά τε πτερὰ νηυσὶ πέλονται.
σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν,
ἕρξας ἱερὰ καλὰ Ποσειδάωνι ἄνακτι,
ἀρνειὸν ταῦρόν τε συῶν τ’ ἐπιβήτορα κάπρον,
οἴκαδ’ ἀποστείχειν ἕρδειν θ’ ἱερὰς ἑκατόμβας
ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσι,
πᾶσι μάλ’ ἑξείης. θάνατος δέ τοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ σε πέφνῃ
γήρᾳ ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον· ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται. τὰ δέ τοι νημερτέα εἴρω.’

Why does Odysseus leave home again and how does he die? According to the prophecy, he still has to make amends with Poseidon. From this perspective, his journey is a type of expiation. As with many details in the Odyssey, however, we have only Odysseus to trust: he is the one who narrates the prophecy! One slight difference between the two versions of the prophecy gives me pause.

Odysseus does not come straight out and tell the story to his wife. Instead, he merely outlines that there will be more troubles and uses language of toil and suffering which is familiar from the rest of the epic.

Odyssey 23.248–253

“Wife, we have not yet come to the end of our struggles
But toil without measure is still in front of us,
Great and hard toil, all the things which I have to complete.
For the spirit of Teiresias prophesied this to me
On that day when I went to the home of Hades
To inquire about my companions’ homecoming and my own.”

“ὦ γύναι, οὐ γάρ πω πάντων ἐπὶ πείρατ’ ἀέθλων
ἤλθομεν, ἀλλ’ ἔτ’ ὄπισθεν ἀμέτρητος πόνος ἔσται,
πολλὸς καὶ χαλεπός, τὸν ἐμὲ χρὴ πάντα τελέσσαι.
ὣς γάρ μοι ψυχὴ μαντεύσατο Τειρεσίαο
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε δὴ κατέβην δόμον ῎Αϊδος εἴσω,
νόστον ἑταίροισιν διζήμενος ἠδ’ ἐμοὶ αὐτῷ.

For someone who has suffered so much in this epic with not knowing the outcome of events, with the paralysis that comes from grief that is unresolved, Penelope is compelled to ask Odysseus to tell her (256-262) ending with a gnomic plea that “it is not at all worse to know right away” (πεύσομαι, αὐτίκα δ’ ἐστὶ δαήμεναι οὔ τι χέρειον). Odysseus winds up his story and prepares to recite the prophecy, but he begins differently.

Odyssey 23.265–279

“But I will tell you and I will not hide it.
My heart will not take pleasure in it. For I take no joy
Since he ordered me to go again through many cities of men
Holding a well-shaped oar in my hands…”

…αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ μυθήσομαι οὐδ’ ἐπικεύσω.
οὐ μέν τοι θυμὸς κεχαρήσεται· οὐδὲ γὰρ αὐτὸς
χαίρω, ἐπεὶ μάλα πολλὰ βροτῶν ἐπὶ ἄστε’ ἄνωγεν
ἐλθεῖν, ἐν χείρεσσιν ἔχοντ’ εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν.

After building up the suffering and forestalling any clarification, he seems almost to protest too much that he will not enjoy what the future brings. His curse, he claims, is that he is ordered to go through many cities of men. The absence of this line in the original narration alone would be telling, but it is even more marked because it recalls the third line of the epic’s proem: πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω (“he knew the cities and the mind of many people”. This traveling through many cities for which Odysseus is famous enough to be marked at the beginning of the poem does not really happen in our epic.

Note as well, that Odysseus’ tale of the future undoes much of what the Homeric Odyssey accomplishes. His future toils are his alone: there is no room for the lives of his son, elderly father, or wife. So, even though Odysseus is home and reunited with his family, this new revelation is enough to imply, perhaps, that when this story is over, Odysseus returns to himself, the one before the Odyssey brought him home again.

This is, I think, the inspiration behind Cavafy’s startling poem on the topic.

C. P. Cavafy, Second Odyssey [Walter Kaiser, trans.]

A great second Odyssey,
Greater even than the first perhaps,
But alas, without Homer, without hexameters.

Small was his ancestral home,
Small was his ancestral city,
And the whole of his Ithaca was small.

The affection of Telemachus, the loyalty
Of Penelope, his father’s aging years,
His old friends, the love
Of his devoted subjects,
The happy repose of his home,
Penetrated like rays of joy
The heart of the seafarer.

And like rays they faded.

The thirst
For the sea rose up with him.
He hated the air of the dry land.
At night, spectres of Hesperia
Came to trouble his sleep.
He was seized with nostalgia
For voyages, for the morning arrivals
At harbors you sail into,
With such happiness, for the first time.

The affection of Telemachus, the loyalty
Of Penelope, his father’s aging years,
His old friends, the love
Of his devoted subjects,
The peace and repose of his home
Bored him.

And so he left.

As the shores of Ithaca gradually
Faded away behind him
And he sailed swiftly westward
Toward Iberia and the Pillars of Hercules,
Far from every Achaean sea,
He felt he was alive once more,
Freed from the oppressive bonds
Of familiar, domestic things.
And his adventurous heart rejoiced
Coldly, devoid of love.

Another reception of Odysseus that echoes some of these themes is Tennyson’s “Ulysses”. The poem begins with frustration, the complaint that it is useless for a king to sit and rule men less than he with an aging wife, a crowd that cannot understand him (1–5). Tennyson’s Odysseus has retreated into an interior life, rejecting the dismal repetition of his life at home, and imaging him self as he once was. For this hero, a life at home is a life of wasted opportunities. The poem’s Ulysses confesses “I cannot rest from travel: I will drink / Life to the lees…” (6–7). This Ulysses understands his coming transformation: “…I am become a name” (11) and this name is made up of his travels, his suffering, and his joys (11–20). The narrator continues (20–30):

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

Although in the next portion of the poem, Ulysses looks briefly back at the world he leaves to his son (31–42), this passage homes in on the Odyssey’s hero in a different light. Odysseus is looking forward to the boundary of death and although he concedes it is closer than ever before, he seems determined to inhabit it and atomize it, turning what remains of life to something like Zeno’s paradox, as if by filling every portion of it, he may always have another portion to fill. As will become clear from the prophecy itself, boundaries and limits are at the very core of his worry.

Tennyson’s Ulysses returns to the sea just as the Odyssey’s protagonist promises. He narrates a journey through the space of the sea that is also a straining against the bounds of time. This final battle, personal if epic still, culminates in Tennyson’s final, grasping boast: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

But to what is this Odysseus yielding? The story of the prophecy is ultimately that of an externally imposed compulsion. In its simplest form, this is death. In the more complex vision of the poem, this is fate, the very thing Zeus says men make worse through their own recklessness at the beginning of the epic.

Perhaps what is really chilling is that Odysseus is looking forward to the end of his story, to his own death. Few of us embrace the idea of our own ending. And when we know that the milestones of life and perhaps our greatest accomplishments are behind us, we often have little choice but to look toward the end on the horizon. This is a different type of helplessness from what Odysseus endures during his ‘exile’ with Kalypso–when he is stranded on Ogygia he has no where to go and all the time in the world. Once he gets home, he can go anywhere, but where has all that time gone?

In a way, Odysseus continues on the journey of his life rather than stopping and facing the reality around him. In other heroic tales–Bellerophon and Herakles especially, but Gilgamesh too–after a hero completes his great deeds, he metaphorically and literally challenges death only, ultimately, to fail. The fall of a hero is an allegory for what happens to us all when we are no longer young but not yet old: we either scan the horizon for our ending, or run to avoid even looking for it.

But I think there may be another allegory beyond this one. As Alex Purves (2006) and John Peradotto (along with Ann Bergren 1983) note, Odysseus’ emphasis the fact that they are not at “the limits of their suffering” (πάντων ἐπὶ πείρατ’ ἀέθλων) and on the “boundless toil” (ἀμέτρητος πόνος) strains against the limits of the narrative and the poem. But this epic is also about the boundaries of a life as it is lived. To look for the experiences of the life beyond the story we are living is to look for the promise that this story that our story will not end.

And, again, in that oar–as Alex Purves notes–we find a promise of transformation as the relationship between signifier and signified breaks down. The oar becomes a thing it isn’t when it is transported into different lands and, once planted, it is a “clear sign”, a sema of what has been accomplished.  In the Iliad (7.81-91), a sema is the burial mound which will tell the story of what has transpired to future generations. It reduces an active, living thing, to a still, singular sign of the past. Here, of course, is the paradox of kleos perhaps articulated by Achilles’ rejection of the Iliadic ethos when he appears in the Odyssey: the story that continues on and does not change is not the self. The memory of the person is not the person remembered.

And in the Odyssey, it has already been established that an oar can function as the marker for a tomb–this is precisely what Elpenor requests when he meets Odysseus after dying (11.68-78). As a marker, a tombstone is final and, without readers, simple rather than complex. The single sign in the future Teiresias promises in the first version of the prophecy stands at odds with the multiplicity of meanings within the Odyssey and the multiple versions of the man whose tale it tells. So, while others have argued well that the prophecy anticipates a day and a place beyond the bounds of the heroic world, of epic meaning, and the range of epic transmission, I would add that this moment also reflects anxiety about the limits of the self.

(for a longer bibliography see at the end of the post)

Porphyry has an allegorical take Odysseus’ death and the tale of the sea.

Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs 35

“And thus one may not escape from his toils, but when he has emerged from the sea altogether that his thoughts are so untouched of the sea and material matters, that he believes that an oar is a winnowing fan because of his total inexperience of the tools and affairs of the sea.”

ἵνα γυμνωθεὶς τῶν ῥακέων καθέλῃ πάντα καὶ οὐδ’ οὕτως ἀπαλλαγῇ τῶν πόνων, ἀλλ’ ὅταν παντελῶς ἔξαλος γένηται καὶ ἐν ψυχαῖς ἀπείροις θαλασσίων καὶ ἐνύλων ἔργων, ὡς πτύον εἶναι ἡγεῖσθαι τὴν κώπην διὰ τὴν τῶν ἐναλίων ὀργάνων καὶ ἔργων παντελῆ ἀπειρίαν.

Of course, in ancient myth, the “death from the sea” bit was not always considered an allegory. Homeric interpreters struggle over whether the phrase “from the sea” means a death that travels from the sea or one that happens away from the sea. Most versions settle on the first interpretation.

According  to Aeschylus’ fragmentary Psychagogoi, Teiresias prophesied to Odysseus that his death would come from the sea in an avian fecal format:

<ΤΕΙΡΕΣ.> ‘ἐρρω<ι>διὸς γὰρ ὑψόθεν ποτώμενος
ὄνθω<ι> σε πλήξε<ι>, νηδύιος χειλώμασιν.
ἐκ τοῦ δ’ ἄκανθα ποντίου βοσκήματος
σήψει παλαιὸν δέρμα καὶ τριχορρυές’.

“As a heron flies on high, he will strike you with shit from his stomach’s end.
And the thorns from that watery food will rot your old and balding skin.”

This may correspond to the Odyssey‘s cryptic note that “death will come from the sea”. For a great discussion, see Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. 1993. 711-712.

A scholiast to the Odyssey glosses the “death will come to you from the sea” line as follows: “Some also say that Hephaistos at the bidding of Kirkê fashioned a spear from Telegonos from a sea sting-ray’s stinger, which Phorkys had killed while it was trying to eat fish in his harbor. The spear-base was adamantine and the handle was gold and that killed Odysseus.” (καί φασιν ὡς ἐντεύξει τῆς Κίρκης ῞Ηφαιστος κατεσκεύασε Τηλεγόνῳ δόρυ ἐκ τρυγόνος θαλασσίας, ἣν Φόρκυς ἀνεῖλεν ἐσθίουσαν τοὺς ἐν τῇ Φορκίδι λίμνῃ ἰχθῦς• οὗ τὴν μὲν ἐπιδορατίδα ἀδαμαντίνην, τὸν δὲ στύρακα χρυσοῦν εἶναι, τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα ἀνεῖλεν,Schol. ad. Od. 11.134).

This is the story recorded in Apollodoros’ Epitome 7.36:

“Telegonos, after learning from Kirkê that he was the child of Odysseus, sailed out looking for him. After he arrived in Ithaka, he began to steal some of the Island’s cattle and he wounded Odysseus in the hand, who came out to help against him, with a spear that had a point made of a sting-ray’s spine. Then Odysseus died.”

[36] Τηλέγονος δὲ παρὰ Κίρκης μαθὼν ὅτι παῖς Ὀδυσσέως ἐστίν, ἐπὶ τὴν τούτου ζήτησιν ἐκπλεῖ. παραγενόμενος δὲ εἰς Ἰθάκην τὴν νῆσον ἀπελαύνει τινὰ τῶν βοσκημάτων, καὶ Ὀδυσσέα βοηθοῦντα τῷ μετὰ χεῖρας δόρατι Τηλέγονος τρυγόνος κέντρον τὴν αἰχμὴν ἔχοντι τιτρώσκει, καὶ Ὀδυσσεὺς θνήσκει.

This poisonous sting-ray weapon, as you might imagine, is exactly the type of thing Hellenistic authors might get excited about. The fragmentary historian Dictys tells a bit of a more complicated story: he has Odysseus send Telemachus away because dream-interpreters told him he would be killed by his son. According to Dictys, Telegonos struck him in the lung (τιτρώσκει τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα κατὰ τοῦ πλευροῦ) “with a sting-ray’s point given to him by Kirkê” (ὅπερ ἔδωκε κέντρον θαλάσσιον τῆι Κίρκηι, FGH 1a49F fr. 10).

When Eustathius discusses Odysseus’ death from the sea (Comm. ad Od. 1.404) he first makes it clear that what is interesting is that Odysseus doesn’t die on the sea (ἀλλ’ ὁ θάνατός σοι οὐκ ἐν αὐτῇ ἔσται ἀλλ’ ἔξω αὐτῆς.) He then presents features both from the scholia (the special stin-ray spear) and Dictys while also explaining that Oppian tells us more about this in the Halieutica. Eustathius explains that the spear-point made from a sting-ray was considered especially sharp by some (αἰχμὴ δὲ τρυγόνος τὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ἀδάμαντι ὀξύτατον). A basic point to be drawn from his extensive discussion is that the sting-ray spear was a generally well-known motif.

It is so well-known, of course, that the Scholia to Lykophron must present an alternative. There, Telegonos does kill Odysseus but Kirkê resurrects him with her drugs, only after which was Telegonos married to Penelope and Telemakhos was married to Kassiphone, his half-sister. (ἄλλοι δέ φασιν ὅτι ἀναιρεθεὶς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὑπὸ Τηλεγόνου πάλιν ὑπὸ τῆς Κίρκης φαρμάκῳ ἀνέστη καὶ ἐγήματο *Κασσιφόνην* Τηλεμάχῳ, Πηνελόπη δ’ ἐν Μακάρων νήσοις ἐγήματο Τηλεγόνῳ, Schol ad. Lykophron 805). But that’s a story for another day.

[updated c. 2 hours later with an assist from Erik (see comments for his addition of the Tennyson poem)]

Some works consulted

Benardete, S. 1997. The Bow and the Lyre: A Platonic Reading of the Odyssey. Lanham.

Bergen, Ann, 1983. “Odyssean Temporality: Many (Re)Turns,” in C. A. Rubino and C. W. Shelmerdine, eds., Approaches to Homer. Austin. 38–73.

Buchan, M. 2004. The Limits of Heroism: Homer and the Ethics of Reading. Ann Arbor.

Foley, J. M. 1997. “Traditional Signs and Homeric Art,” in E. Bakker and A. Kahane, eds., Written Voices, Spoken Signs: Tradition, Performance, and the Epic Text. Cambridge, Mass. 56–82.

Nagy, G. 1990. Pindar’s Homer: the Lyric Possession of an Epic Past. Baltimore.

Nagy, G. “The Cult Hero in Homeric Poetry and Beyond”

Olson, S. D. 1997. “Odysseus’ ‘Winnowing-Shovel’ (Hom. Od. 11.119–37) and the Island of the Cattle of the Sun,” ICS 22.7–9.

Purves, Alex. 2006. “Unmarked Space: Odysseus and the Inland Journey.” Arethusa 39: 1-20.

Purves, Alex. 2010. Space and Time in Ancient Greek Narrative. Cambridge.

Peradotto, J. 1985. “Prophecy Degree Zero: Tiresias and the End of the Odyssey,” in B. Gentili and G. Paioni, eds., Oralità: cultura, letteratura, discorso. Rome. 429–59.

_____. 1990. Man in the Middle Voice: Name and Narration in the Odyssey.Princeton.

Ulysses, a Man for Our Time

In honor of Odysseus’ victory in the Homeric Heroes Poll, here are some passages from Latin authors on their favorite villain:

 

Plautus, Bacchides 945

“I heard that Ulysses was bold and wicked, as I am.”

Vlixem audivi, ut ego sum, fuisse et audacem et malum.

 

Vergil, Aeneid 2.43-44:

“Do you think that the enemy have fled? Or do you think that any Greek gifts could be free of treachery? Is Ulysses thus known?”

creditis avectos hostis? aut ulla putatis
dona carere dolis Danaum? sic notus Ulixes?

 

Vergil, Aeneid 2.264:

“…Ulysses, that contriver of evil deeds.”

…scelerumque inuentor Vlixes,

 

Vergil, Aeneid 3.272-273

“We avoided the crags of Ithaca, the kingdom of Laeertes, and we cursed the land that nourished savage Ulysses.”

effugimus scopulos Ithacae, Laertia regna,
et terram altricem saevi exsecramur Ulixi.

 

Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares 10.13.1:

“Whoever finally puts Antony down will be responsible for finishing the war. It is for this reason that Homer calls Ulysses – not Ajax or Achilles – the destroyer of cities.”

qui enim M. Antonium oppresserit, is bellum confecerit. itaque Homerus non Aiacem nec Achillem sed Ulixem appellavit πτολιπόρθιον.

 

Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.34:

“Yet he lives, because he did not accompany Ulysses.”

ille tamen vivit, quia non comitavit Ulixem.

 

Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.62

“Thus is Ulysses to be feared!”

sic est metuendus Ulixes!

 

Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.711-713

“And now they had passed the ports of Dulichium, and Ithaca and Samos, and the homes on Neritus, the kingdom of deceitful Ulysses.”

et iam Dulichios portus Ithacamque Samonque
Neritiasque domus, regnum fallacis Ulixis,
praeter erant vecti

Image result for odysseus

Terrible, Wonderful Odysseus: The Meanings of his Epithets, His Name(s) and How We Read Him

In the recent poll prompted by Dio Chrysostom’s anecdote of Philip asking which hero Alexander would be, Odysseus won by a bit of a landslide. I can’t say this completely surprises me, but it does trouble me just a little bit. What is it that attracts us to Odysseus?

[I ran an earlier post on the Iliad vs. the Odyssey and their complementarity]

My post and translation also drew some ire because I translated polytropos as “shifty”. It seems that we as a collective are entirely sure about what we think this word means. And, as a result, we are confident in who we think Odysseus is.

This post turns out to be longer than might be ideal, but I am just going to leave it as is. My basic belief, which I get to eventually, is that Odysseus is popular because of his essential polysemy. We think we love Odysseus because we choose an Odysseus we want to love. The important takeaway from this is that such ‘shiftiness” (when it comes to character and reception) is an essential part of his character.

First, a basic assertion: Homer’s version of Odysseus is not the only one. Even as early as the fifth century there were some, well, complaints.

Pindar, Nemean 7.20-21

“I think that the story of Odysseus’ suffering was exaggerated by sweet-worded Homer”

ἐγὼ δὲ πλέον’ ἔλπομαι
λόγον ᾿Οδυσσέος ἢ πάθαν
διὰ τὸν ἁδυεπῆ γενέσθ’ ῞Ομηρον·

In Greek tragedy, Odysseus was far from unproblematic: in Sophocles’ Philoktetes, he is responsible for bullying Neoptolemos into convincing the title character to return to Troy. In the Ajax, he is by no means innocent in the death of Telamon’s son. Euripides has Odysseus as the chief architect of the death of Astyanax. And in the Trojan myths in general, Odysseus (1) tries to avoid going to war, (2) exposes Achilles so that he has to go to war, (3) and frames Palamedes for treason to get back at him for making sure that he went to war. Oh, he is also said to have tried to betray Diomedes and even in the Iliad he takes charge of tricking the Trojan Dolon and ensuring that Diomedes kills a bunch of men in their sleep. (And don’t even try to explain that away by claiming it is not really a part of the Iliad. It is.)

Second, jumping over 2500 years, there is a cognitive link between what we name something and how we expect that element to emerge in stories. So, how we name Odysseus and what we think this name means matters (see also Peradotto 1990 among others on this).

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

Turner 1996, 133: The stories minds tell (the ways in which we interpret the world) are based on roles and character, “formed by backward inference from such a role, according to the folk theory of “the Nature of Things,” otherwise known as “Being Leads to Doing.” In this folk theory, glass shatters because it is brittle and fragile. Water pours because it is liquid. Someone forgives because she is forgiving. A dog guards the house because it is watchful. A fool acts like a fool because he is foolish. In general, doing follows from being; something behaves in a certain way because its being leads it to behave in that way…

Character is a pattern of connections we expect to operate across stories about a particular individual with that character or across stories about a group of individual with that character. People of a particular character are expected to inhabit similar roles in different stories…

[134] A role in one story is not isolated but connects to the same role in other stories…Focus, viewpoint, role and character in narrative imagining give us ways of constructing our own meaning, which is to say, ways of understanding who we are, what it means to be us, to have a particular life. The inability to locate one’s own focus, viewpoint, role, and character with respect to conventional stories of leading a life is thought to be pathological and deeply distressing. It is a principal reason for recommending psychotherapy to people not obviously insane.”

So, there is significance both in how we name Odysseus and how we modify that name. Let’s take up his epithets first. I received a good deal of complaining about my translation of Odysseus’ famous epithet as “shifty”. He actually only gets called polytropos rarely in the Odyssey. But he does receive a surplus of epithets that point to a manifold nature.

Here are some other epithets.

Homer, Odyssey: Epithets of Odysseus

“Sing to me, Muse, of the man of many ways...”
1.1     ῎Ανδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ cf. 10.330

“Send many-minded Odysseus to his own home”
1.83  νοστῆσαι ᾿Οδυσῆα πολύφρονα ὅνδε δόμονδε,

“[Odysseus] will know how to return, since he is a man of many-devices
1.205 φράσσεται ὥς κε νέηται, ἐπεὶ πολυμήχανός ἐστιν.

“Divine-raced, son of Laertes, many-deviced Odysseus
5.203 “διογενὲς Λαερτιάδη, πολυμήχαν’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ,

“If very-clever Odysseus were in these rooms again…”
4.763 εἴ ποτέ τοι πολύμητις ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς

“So she spoke, and much-enduring, shining Odysseus shivered”
5.171     ὣς φάτο, ῥίγησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς [see 13.250]

“And you, many-pained old man, since a god brought you my way…”
14.386 καὶ σύ, γέρον πολυπενθές, ἐπεί σέ μοι ἤγαγε δαίμων,

“They would not conquer me. I am truly much-enduring
18.319 οὔ τί με νικήσουσι· πολυτλήμων δὲ μάλ’ εἰμί.”

“…I am a man of many-sorrows…”
19.118 μνησαμένῳ· μάλα δ’ εἰμὶ πολύστονος· οὐδέ τί με χρὴ

“…he is much-prayed for…”
19.404 παιδὸς παιδὶ φίλῳ· πολυάρητος δέ τοί ἐστι.”

Odysseus is only sometimes called “many-wayed”. He is also marked out for his suffering.  Odysseus’ is not just about his own suffering–as Erwin Cook shows, part of the point of being a ‘hero’ in ancient Greek myth and poetry is that you have a capacity to suffer and to mete out suffering.

But what might polytropos even mean? Many on twitter think they know, but the ancients were not unanimous.

Schol. ad Demosthenes. Orat. 20

“For a man of many ways changes himself in accordance with the nature of the matters at hand.”

πολύτροπος γὰρ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ πρὸς τὴν τῶν πραγμά-των φύσιν συμμεταβάλλεται.

Schol. ad Odysseam 1.1; .50 ex

“The problem: Polytropos [“many-wayed”] Antisthenes claims that Homer doesn’t praise Odysseus as much as he criticizes him when he calls him polytropos. He didn’t make Achilles and Ajax polytropoi, but they were direct [‘simple’] and noble. Nor did he make Nestor the wise tricky, by Zeus, and devious in character—he simply advised Agamemnon and the rest and if he had anything good to counsel, he would not stand apart keeping it hidden; in the manner Achilles showed that he believed the man the same as death “who says one thing but hides another in his thoughts.”

᾿Απορία. πολύτροπον] οὐκ ἐπαινεῖν φησιν ᾿Αντισθένης ῞Ομηρον τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα μᾶλλον ἢ ψέγειν, λέγοντα αὐτὸν πολύτροπον. οὐκ οὖν τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα καὶ τὸν Αἴαντα πολυτρόπους πεποιηκέναι, ἀλλ’ ἁπλοῦς καὶ γεννάδας· οὐδὲ τὸν Νέστορα τὸν σοφὸν οὐ μὰ Δία δόλιον καὶ παλίμβολον τὸ ἦθος, ἀλλ’ ἁπλῶς τε ᾿Αγαμέμνονι συνόντα καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἅπασι, καὶ εἰς τὸ στρατόπεδον εἴ τι ἀγαθὸν εἶχε συμβουλεύοντα καὶ οὐκ ἀποκρυπτόμενον τοσοῦτον ἀπεῖχε τοιοῦτον τρόπον ἀποδέχεσθαι ὁ ᾿Αχιλλεὺς ὡς ἐχθρὸν ἡγεῖσθαι ὁμοίως τῷ θανάτῳ ἐκεῖνον “ὅς χ’ ἕτερον μὲν κεύθει ἐνὶ φρεσὶν, ἄλλο δὲ εἴπῃ” (Il. ι, 313.).

“Antisthenes in interpreting this asks “why, then, is wretched Odysseus called polytropos? Really, this is the way to mark him out as wise. Isn’t it true that his manner never indicates his character, but that instead it signals his use of speech? The man who has a character difficult to penetrate is well-turned. These sorts of inventions of words are tropes/ways/manners

λύων οὖν ὁ ᾿Αντισθένης φησὶ, Τί οὖν; ἆρά γε πονηρὸς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὅτι πολύτροπος ἐκλήθη; καὶ μὴν διότι σοφὸς οὕτως αὐτὸν προσείρηκε. μήποτε οὖν ὁ τρόπος τὸ μέν τι σημαίνει τὸ ἦθος, τὸ δέ τι σημαίνει τὴν τοῦ λόγου χρῆσιν; εὔτροπος γὰρ ἀνὴρ ὁ τὸ ἦθος ἔχων εἰς τὸ εὖ τετραμμένον· τρόποι δὲ λόγων αἱ ποιαὶ πλάσεις.

Plato, Hippias Minor 366a

Soc. “People who are many-wayed are deceptive because of their foolishness and thoughtlessness, or because of wickedness and some thought?

Hippias: Most of all, because of wickedness and intelligence.

Soc. So, it seems, they are really intelligent.

Hip. Yes, by Zeus, wicked smart.

Soc. And men who are smart—are they ignorant of what they do or do they understand it?

Hip. They really understand what they are doing. For this reason, they also do evil.

Soc. So, is it the ignorant or the wise who know these things which they understand?

Hip. The wise know these very things, how to deceive.

—ΣΩ. Πολύτροποι δ’ εἰσὶ καὶ ἀπατεῶνες ὑπὸ ἠλιθιότητος καὶ ἀφροσύνης, ἢ ὑπὸ πανουργίας καὶ φρονήσεώς τινος;

—ΙΠ. ῾Υπὸ πανουργίας πάντων μάλιστα καὶ φρονήσεως.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι μὲν ἄρα εἰσίν, ὡς ἔοικεν.

—ΙΠ. Ναὶ μὰ Δία, λίαν γε.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι δὲ ὄντες οὐκ ἐπίστανται ὅτι ποιοῦσιν, ἢ ἐπίστανται; —

—ΙΠ. Καὶ μάλα σφόδρα ἐπίστανται· διὰ ταῦτα καὶ κακουργοῦσιν.

—ΣΩ. ᾿Επιστάμενοι δὲ ταῦτα ἃ ἐπίστανται πότερον ἀμαθεῖς εἰσιν ἢ σοφοί;

—ΙΠ. Σοφοὶ μὲν οὖν αὐτά γε ταῦτα, ἐξαπατᾶν.

Pseudo-Phocylides, Sententiae

“Don’t trust the people;  the mob is many-wayed. For the people, water, and fire are all uncontrollable things.”

Λαῶι μὴ πίστευε, πολύτροπός ἐστιν ὅμιλος· λαὸς <γὰρ> καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ πῦρ ἀκατάσχετα πάντα.

Hesychius

Polytropos: One who [is turned] toward many things; or, someone who changes his understanding at each opportune moment.”

πολύτροπος· ὁ ἐπὶ πολλὰ τρεπόμενος, ἢ τρέπων τὴν ἑαυτοῦ διάνοιαν ὑφ’ ἕνα καιρόν

Image result for ancient Greek Odysseus

The point, I think, is that Odysseus is not someone who can be pinned down. He shifts for the situation but he also shifts for the reader/audience. (This is why I like “shifty”–it has the connotation of ‘dodgy’ in English, but it also evokes the movement of the character.) Odysseus is so popular, according to this argument, because he is a reflection of who we want him to be. Porphyry might have sensed this:

Schol HM 1.1 ex 62-74 (Attributed to Porphyry)

“If wise men are clever at speaking to others, then they also know how to speak the same thought in different ways; and, because they know the many different ways of words about the same matter. And if wise men are also good, then this is reason Homer says that Odysseus who is wise is many-wayed: he knew how to engage with people in many ways.

Thus Pythagoras is said to have known the right way to address speeches to children, to make those addresses appropriate for women to women, those fit for leaders to leaders, and those appropriate for youths to youths. It is a mark of wisdom to find the manner best for each group of people; and it is a mark of ignorance to use a single type of address toward people who are unaccustomed to it. It is the same for medicine in the successful use of its art, which fits the many-wayed nature of therapy through the varied application to those who need assistance. This manner of character is unstable, much-changing.

Many-wayedness of speech is also a finely crafted use of language for different audiences and it becomes single-wayed. For, one approach is appropriate to each. Therefore, fitting the varied power of speech to each, shaping what is proper to each for the single iteration, makes the many-wayed in turns single in form and actually ill-fit to different types of audiences, rejected by many because it is offensive to them.

εἰ δὲ οἱ σοφοὶ δεινοί εἰσι διαλέγεσθαι, καὶ ἐπίστανται τὸ αὐτὸ νόημα κατὰ πολλοὺς τρόπους λέγειν· ἐπιστάμενοι δὲ πολλοὺς τρόπους λόγων περὶ τοῦ αὐτοῦ πολύτροποι ἂν εἶεν. εἰ δὲ οἱ σοφοὶ καὶ ἀγαθοί εἰσι, διὰ τοῦτό φησι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα ῞Ομηρος σοφὸν ὄντα πολύτροπον εἶναι, ὅτι δὴ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἠπίστατο πολλοῖς τρόποις συνεῖναι. οὕτω καὶ Πυθαγόρας λέγεται, πρὸς παῖδας ἀξιωθεὶς ποιήσασθαι λόγους, διαθεῖναι πρὸς αὐτοὺς λόγους παιδικούς, καὶ πρὸς γυναῖκας γυναιξὶν ἁρμοδίους, καὶ πρὸς ἄρχοντας ἀρχοντικούς, καὶ πρὸς ἐφήβους ἐφηβικούς. τὸ γὰρ ἑκάστοις πρόσφορον τρόπον ἐξευρίσκειν σοφίας εἶναι, ἀμαθίας δὲ τὸ πρὸς τοὺς ἀνομοίως ἔχοντας τῷ τοῦ λόγου χρῆσθαι μονοτρόπῳ. ἔχειν δὲ τοῦτο καὶ τὴν ἰατρικὴν ἐν τῇ τῆς τέχνης κατορθώσει, ἠσκηκυῖαν τῆς θεραπείας τὸ πολύτροπον, διὰ τὴν τῶν θεραπευομένων ποικίλην σύστασιν. τρόπος μὲν οὖν τὸ παλίμβολον τοῦτο τοῦ ἤθους, τὸ πολυμετάβολον. λόγου δὲ πολυτροπία καὶ χρῆσις ποικίλη λόγου εἰς ποικίλας ἀκοὰς μονοτροπία γίνεται. ἓν γὰρ τὸ ἑκάστῳ οἰκεῖον· διὸ καὶ τὸ ἁρμόδιον ἑκάστῳ τὴν ποικιλίαν τοῦ λόγου εἰς ἓν συναγείρει τὸ ἑκάστῳ πρόσφορον, τὸ δ’ αὖ μονοειδές, ἀνάρμοστον ὂν πρὸς ἀκοὰς διαφόρους, πολύτροπον ποιεῖ τὸν ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἀπόβλητον ὡς αὐτοῖς ἀπότροπον λόγον. H M1 Q R

Odysseus’ name itself has problems of interpretation–it is willfully interpreted in different ways by ancient audiences and is an object of play in the epic itself. Keep reading if you want even more of this.

Continue reading

Destroyer, Born on the Ground, Pitiable: Etymologies for Helen

In a choral ode from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, we find a folk etymology implied for Helen’s name. Where I have translated “killer”, the Greek has versions of the aorist of αἵρεω (εἶλον) which, without its augment looks like the beginning of Helen’s name (ἑλ-).

 Aeschylus, Agamemnon 684-696

“Whoever pronounced a name
So thoroughly true?
Wasn’t it someone we’d not see
Guiding the tongue with luck
From a foreknowledge of fate?
Who named the spear-bride,
Struggled-over woman
Helen?
For, appropriately,
That ship-killer [hele-nas], man-killer [hel-andros]
City-killer [hele-ptolis], sailed
From her fine-spun, curtains
On the breath of great Zephyr
and many-manned bands
Of shield-bearers followed
The vanished journey struck
By the oars to the banks
Of leafy Simois
For a bloody strife.”

Χο. τίς ποτ’ ὠνόμαξεν ὧδ’
ἐς τὸ πᾶν ἐτητύμως—
μή τις ὅντιν’ οὐχ ὁρῶ-
μεν προνοί-
αισι τοῦ πεπρωμένου
γλῶσσαν ἐν τύχᾳ νέμων; —τὰν
δορίγαμβρον ἀμφινεικῆ
θ’ ῾Ελέναν; ἐπεὶ πρεπόντως
ἑλένας, ἕλανδρος, ἑλέ-
πτολις, ἐκ τῶν ἁβροπήνων
προκαλυμμάτων ἔπλευσε
Ζεφύρου γίγαντος αὔρᾳ,
πολύανδροί
τε φεράσπιδες κυναγοὶ
κατ’ ἴχνος πλατᾶν ἄφαντον
κελσάντων Σιμόεντος
ἀκτὰς ἐπ’ ἀεξιφύλλους
δι’ ἔριν αἱματόεσσαν.

Ancient etymologies do not follow this Aeschylean play.

Etym. Gudianum

“Helenê. From attracting [helkein] many to her beauty. Or it is from helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos].”

     ῾Ελένη· … ἀπὸ τοῦ πολλοὺς ἕλκειν ἐν τῷ κάλλει αὐτῆς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἕλω, τὸ ἑλκύω, ἡ πρὸς τὸ ἴδιον κάλλος ἑλκύουσα τοὺς νέους ἀνθρώπους· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ῾Ελλάς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐν ἕλει γεγεννῆσθαι.

Etym.  Magnum

“Helenê: A heroine. From helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos]. Or because she was thrown in a marshy [helôdei] place by Tyndareus once she obtained some divine prescience and she was taken back up by Leda. Helenê was named from pity [heleos].”

     ῾Ελένη: ῾Η ἡρωΐς· παρὰ τὸ ἕλω, τὸ ἑλκύω, ἡ πρὸς τὸ ἴδιον κάλλος ἕλκουσα τοὺς ἀνθρώπους· διὰ τὸ πολλοὺς ἑλεῖν τῷ κάλλει· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ῾Ελλάς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐν ἕλει γεγενῆσθαι, ἡ ὑπὸ τοῦ Τυνδάρεω ἐν ἑλώδει τόπῳ ῥιφθεῖσα, θείας δέ τινος προνοίας τυχοῦσα, καὶ ἀναληφθεῖσα ὑπὸ Λήδας. ᾿Εκ τοῦ ἕλους οὖν ῾Ελένη ὠνομάσθη.

Modern linguistics show that Helen’s name is just really hard to figure out.

Some Modern Material

In Lakonia, Helen was original spelled with a digamma. (And this may have extended to Corinth and Chalcidice too Cf. R. Wachter Non-Attic Vase Inscriptions 2001, §251).

74 Von Kamptz 1958, 136 suggests that her name is a “cognate of σέλας” to evoke a sense of “shining”, as in her beauty. Cf. Kanavou 2015, 72

Vedic Saranyu: Skutsch 1987, 189; Puhvel 1987, 141–143 (The initial breathing in Greek often points to a lost initial *s but the digamma in certain dialects confuses this) The Vedic name means swift. The PIE root suggested here is *suel-.

Helen has variously been suggested as coming from a vegetation goddess (see Helena Dendritis, Paus. 3.19.9–10; Herodotus 6.61; cf. Skutsch 1987) or a goddess of light.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen

%d bloggers like this: