Against Plato for Homer: The Doctrine of Ideas Is Ridiculous

Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 78

“It is therefore appropriate that Homer’s message is the life of heroes and Plato’s dialogues are the loves of young men. Everything in Homer overflows with noble virtue; Odysseus is prudent; Ajax is brave; Penelope is chaste; Nestor is just in all things; and Telemachus is reverent towards his father while Achilles is most loyal in his friendships. What of these things remain in Plato, the philosopher? Unless we were to claim that there was some useful honor in the sacred chirpings of his ‘ideas’, mocked even by his student Aristotle! For this reason, I imagine he suffered worthy punishment for his words about Homer, that man “who has an unhindered tongue, the most shameful sickness” [Eur. Or. 10] just like Tantalos or Kapaneus, who suffered endless misfortunes because of their grievous tongue.

Plato often wore himself out going to the doors of tyrants and he submitted a free body to a slave’s fortune, even being sold. No one is ignorant about Pollis the Spartan* or how Plato was saved by a Libyan’s deed when his price had been set at twenty minae, cheap for a slave. These events were the punishment he owed for his slandering of Homer and for his ungoverned and unguarded tongue. Even though I could say more still against Plato, I’ll let it be because I respect the name of Socratic wisdom.”

*Dionysius the Tyrant of Syracuse gave Plato to Pollis as a slave

 

         Τοιγαροῦν εἰκότως ὁ μὲν ῾Ομήρου λόγος ἡρώων ἐστὶ βίος, οἱ δὲ Πλάτωνος διάλογοι μειρακίων ἔρωτες.  Καὶ πάντα τὰ παρ’ ῾Ομήρῳ γεννικῆς ἀρετῆς γέμει· φρόνιμος ᾿Οδυσσεύς, ἀνδρεῖος Αἴας, σώφρων Πηνελόπη, δίκαιος ἐν ἅπασι Νέστωρ, εὐσεβὴς εἰς πατέρα Τηλέμαχος, ἐν φιλίαις πιστότατος ᾿Αχιλλεύς·  ὧν <τί> παρὰ Πλάτωνι  τῷ φιλοσόφῳ; πλὴν εἰ μὴ νὴ Δία τιμὴν <καὶ> ὠφέλ<ειαν φ>ήσομεν εἶναι τὰ σεμνὰ τῶν ἰδεῶν τερετίσματα καὶ παρ’ ᾿Αριστοτέλει τῷ μαθητῇ γελώμενα.  Διὰ τοῦτ’ ἀξίας οἶμαι τῶν καθ’ ῾Ομήρου λόγων δίκας ὑπέσχεν,

          “ἀκόλαστον ἔχων γλῶσσαν, αἰσχίστην νόσον,

ὡς Τάνταλος, ὡς Καπανεύς, ὡς οἱ διὰ γλωσσαλγίαν μυρίαις κεχρημένοι συμφοραῖς.     Πολλάκις ἐπὶ τὰς τυραννικὰς ἐφθείρετο θύρας, ἐν ἐλευθέρῳ δὲ σώματι δουλικὴν τύχην ἠνέσχετο καὶ μέχρι πράσεως·  οὐδὲ εἷς γὰρ ἀγνοεῖ τὸν Σπαρτιάτην Πόλλιν, [ᾧ] οὐδ’ ὡς Λιβυκοῦ χάριν ἐλέου σέσωσται, καὶ μνῶν εἴκοσι καθάπερ ἀνδράποδον εὐτελὲς ἐτιμήθη.  τῶν εἰς ῞Ομηρον ἀσεβημάτων ὀφειλομένην τιμωρίαν τῆς ἀχαλίνου καὶ ἀπυλώτου γλώττης.  Πρὸς μὲν οὖν Πλάτωνα καὶ πλείω λέγειν δυνάμενος ἐῶ, τοὔνομα τῆς Σωκρατικῆς σοφίας αἰδούμενος.

Image result for Plato ancient greek

 

 

No, Internet, Kerberos is Probably Not “Spot”

A good friend (@professormortis) asked me yesterday if the internet rumors are right that the etymology of Kerberos (or the Latin Cerberus) indicates “spotted” because it is cognate with Sanskrit karbarah, sabalah “spotted, speckled;” and, therefore, that it is related to our pet name “Spot”.  This is a nice story, but like many nice stories, it is probably not true.

But the idea is not one of those internet age fantasies. It has actually appeared in the annals of historical linguistics–internet etymologies selected this one because it is cool and funny. But linguists have largely abandoned the idea.

Kerberos 1

Pierre Chantraine (Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, 1968) lists this as a “doubted for good reasons”.  (Here’s a link for a free download of the dictionary). Robert Beekes in his Etymological Dictionary of Greek (Brill: 2010) is much more certain that the Sanskrit word has no connection to the Greek word.

Kerberos 2

The article Beekes dismisses (Bruce Lincoln. 1977 “The Hellhound.” Journal of Indo-European Studies 7: 273-286.) suggests that the dog names in IE myth like Kerberos are derived from a PIE root *gher which has to do with growling.

Here’s a summary and an anticipation of what the rest of the post will cover.

Things Kerberos does not mean:

  1. Spotted or Spot
  2. Growling thing
  3. Flesh-eating
  4. Heavy-headed

New Proposals (from twitter, see below)

  1. From Proto-turkic: kara-boru  (“black-wolfhound”)
  2. Phoenician root *klb-‘rz (“hound of the earth”)

Trying to make sense of the dog’s name has good precedent in antiquity. There are etymological and allegorical interpretations to entertain us.

Etymologicum Gudianum (Byzantine Era)

Kerberos: From “karbaros” which is from having a heavy head. For the dog in Hades had three heads, as the story goes about the dog Kerberos.

Κέρβερος, παρὰ τὸ κάρβαρος, ἢ παρὰ τὸ τὴν κάραν βαρεῖν· τρικέφαλος γὰρ ἦν κύων ἐν ᾅδου, ὡς μυθεύεται κύωνος κέρβερος.

Cf. κάραβος (karabos) “horned beetle”

Also consider from Hesychius the Lexicographer:

Kerberioi: Weak-men. They also call the Kimmerians Kerberians. And some call their city Kerberia, but others call it Kimmeria. Others say that Kimmê is as place in Hades.

κερβέριοι· ἀσθενεῖς. φασὶ δὲ καὶ τοὺς Κιμμερίους Κερβερίους· καὶ τὴν πόλιν οἱ μὲν Κερβερίαν καλοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ Κιμμερίην· ἄλλοι δὲ †Κιμμη. ἔστι δὲ τόπος ἐν ᾅδου (λ 14).

Servius, Commentary to Vergil’s Aeneid 6.395

“For Cerberus is the earth, that means the consumer of all corpses. This is where Cerberus is also said to be from, just as kreoberos, that is “devouring flesh”: from here we also get “reclining over bones”, for the earth does not consume bones quickly”

nam Cerberus terra est, id est consumptrix omnium corporum. unde et Cerberus dictus est, quasi κρεοβόρος, id est carnem vorans: unde legitur “ossa super recubans” : nam non ossa citius terra consumit.

On the number of Kerberos’ heads

In a Pindaric fragment, Kerberos has one hundred heads! (Dith. Fr. 249 b Κέρβερος <> ἑκατογκεφάλας (vel ἑκατόγκρανος vel sim.). In vase images, he has two or three (typically). Lincoln and many others (see Daniel Ogden, Dragons, Serpents, and Slayers 2013: 96-106) note how his number of heads shift and that a vase image of him with two heads may indicate that he was once part of a pair of dogs (usually Orthos, matching pairs of dogs elsewhere in IE traditions).

In Hesiod, Kerberos and Orthos are children of Ekhidna with Typhaon. This Kerberos has 50 heads! (Theoi.com has a good selection of passages and images.)

Hesiod, Theogony 308-312

“After she was pregnant, she gave birth to powerful-minded children,
First, she gave birth to Orthos, Geryones’ hound.
Then she bore an impossible, unspeakable thing,
Kerberos raw flesh-eating, bronze-voiced hound of Hades,
With fifty heads, a creature shameless and strong.”

ἡ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη τέκετο κρατερόφρονα τέκνα.
῎Ορθον μὲν πρῶτον κύνα γείνατο Γηρυονῆι·
δεύτερον αὖτις ἔτικτεν ἀμήχανον, οὔ τι φατειόν,
Κέρβερον ὠμηστήν, ᾿Αίδεω κύνα χαλκεόφωνον,
πεντηκοντακέφαλον, ἀναιδέα τε κρατερόν τε·

The number of heads seems to stick at three and various reasons are given to explain why or how this could be.

Heraclitus the Paradoxographer, On Incredible things 33

“Concerning Kerberos: This could be the same as with the Hydra. For that dog had two puppies, and he seemed to have three heads because the puppies were always walking alongside their father.”

Περὶ Κερβέρου.

     Τοῦτ’ ἂν εἴη ὃ καὶ περὶ τῆς ῞Υδρας. οὗτος γὰρ εἶχε δύο σκύμνους, ὧν ἀεὶ συμβαδιζόντων τῷ πατρὶ ἐφαίνετο εἶναι τρικέφαλος.

Palaephatus (39) argues that Kerberos had three heads because he was from the city Trikarênos (“Three-peaks”) and the name was misunderstood.

Porphyry, Peri Agalmatôn 8

“Kerberos is three-headed because of the three stages of the sun, rising, midday, and setting.”

     ῾Ο δὲ Κέρβερος τρικέφαλος μέν, ὅτι τρεῖς αἱ ἄνω χῶραι ἡλίου, ἀνατολή, μεσημβρία, δύσις.

Heraclitus, Allegories 33.9

“Kerberos himself is shown to be three-headed perhaps rightfully to hint at the three-shaped nature of philosophy: the parts we call logic, physics, and ethics.”

Αὐτός γε μὴν ὁ τρικέφαλος δειχθεὶς ἡλίῳ κέρβερος εἰκότως ἂν τὴν τριμερῆ φιλοσοφίαν ὑπαινίττοιτο· τὸ μὲν γὰρ αὐτῆς λογικόν, τὸ δὲ φυσικόν, τὸ δὲ ἠθικὸν ὀνομάζεται·

Zonaras Kappa 1186

“Kerberos: the three-headed dog: [this is because] the wretched demon is in three regions: the water, the earth and the air.”

†Κέρβερος. κύων τρικέφαλος, ὁ ἐν τοῖς τρισὶ στοιχείοις, ὕδατι, γῇ, ἀέρι, πονηρὸς δαίμων.†

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A Twitter-sourced Etymology

A few years ago we witnessed the true beauty of twitter when we had a long discussion about this, yielding two new proposes which are really no worse than the Byzantine folk etymologies. One, suggests that it may be a borrowing from Asia Minor, related to Proto-turkic kara-boru  (“black-wolfhound”); the other posits a Phoenician root *klb-‘rz (“hound of the earth”).  I could describe how we got there, but I would rather just post all the tweets here. It is also instructive to post them again, because it is a reminder that social media can be used to build things up instead of burning them down

http://twitter.com/BhriguTheBard/status/697179265197068288

http://twitter.com/BhriguTheBard/status/697111976930050053

http://twitter.com/BhriguTheBard/status/697213559936258049

http://twitter.com/BhriguTheBard/status/697213559936258049

What’s Special about the Number Seven?

Theodoros of Samothrace, fr. 1 (FGrH 62; Photius, Bibl. 190, 152b26)

“In the seventh book [Ptolemy Chennos reports that] Theodôros of Samothrace says that after Zeus was born he laughed without stopping for seven days. This is why the number seven is thought to be “final” [or whole, complete”]

ἐν δὲ τῶι ζ̄ περιέχεται ὡς Θεόδωρος ὁ Σαμοθρὰιξ τὸν Δία φησὶ γεννηθέντα ἐπὶ ἑπτὰ ἡμέρας ἀκατάπαυστον γελάσαι· καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τέλειος ἐνομίσθη ὁ ἑπτὰ ἀριθμός.

Image result for ancient greek mathematicians

Alexander of Aphrodisias, Probl. 2.47:

“The number seven, as Pythagoras insists, is complete in nature. The mathematicians and musicians agree too. But eight is incomplete.”

ὁ ἑπτὰ ἀριθμὸς τέλειός ἐστι τῇ φύσει, ὡς μαρτυρεῖ Πυθαγόρας καὶ οἱ ἀριθμητικοὶ καὶ οἱ μουσικοί• ὁ δὲ ὀκτὼ ἀτελής

 

These references come from Ken Dowden’s entry in Brill’s New Jacoby (62 F1). The following does not:

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.

All in the Head: The Cyclops is Part of Odysseus

From Porphyry’s essay, On the Cave of the Nymphs 35

“In Plato, the water, the sea and the storm are material matter. For this reason, I think, Homer named the harbor “Phorkus’” (“and this is the harbor of Phorkus”) after the sea-god whose daughter, Thoôsa, he genealogized in the first book of the Odyssey. The Kyklôps is her son whose eye Odysseus blinded. [Homer named the harbor thus] so that right before his home [Odysseus] would receive a reminder of his mistakes. For this reason, the location under the olive tree is also fitting for Odysseus as a suppliant of the god who might win over his native deity through suppliancy.

For it would not be easy for one who has blinded [the spirit] and rushed to quell his energy to escape this life of the senses; no, the rage of the sea and the material gods pursues anyone who has dared these things. It is right first to appease these gods with sacrifices, the labors of a beggar, and endurance followed by battling through sufferings, deploying spells and enchantments and changing oneself through them in every way in order that, once he has been stripped of the rags he might restore everything. 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.”

πόντος δὲ καὶ θάλασσα καὶ κλύδων καὶ παρὰ Πλάτωνι ἡ ὑλικὴ σύστασις. διὰ τοῦτ’, οἶμαι, καὶ τοῦ Φόρκυνος ἐπωνόμασε τὸν λιμένα·

                    ‘Φόρκυνος δέ τίς ἐστι λιμήν,’

ἐναλίου θεοῦ, οὗ δὴ καὶ θυγατέρα ἐν ἀρχῇ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας τὴν Θόωσαν ἐγενεαλόγησεν, ἀφ’ ἧς ὁ Κύκλωψ, ὃν ὀφθαλμοῦ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἀλάωσεν, ἵνα καὶ ἄχρι τῆς πατρίδος ὑπῇ τι τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων μνημόσυνον. ἔνθεν αὐτῷ καὶ ἡ ὑπὸ τὴν ἐλαίαν καθέδρα οἰκεία ὡς ἱκέτῃ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ὑπὸ τὴν ἱκετηρίαν ἀπομειλισσομένῳ τὸν γενέθλιον δαίμονα. οὐ γὰρ ἦν ἁπλῶς τῆς αἰσθητικῆς ταύτης ἀπαλλαγῆναι ζωῆς τυφλώσαντα αὐτὴν καὶ καταργῆσαι συντόμως σπουδάσαντα, ἀλλ’ εἵπετο τῷ

ταῦτα τολμήσαντι μῆνις ἁλίων καὶ ὑλικῶν θεῶν, οὓς χρὴ πρότερον ἀπομειλίξασθαι θυσίαις τε καὶ πτωχοῦ πόνοις καὶ καρτερίαις, ποτὲ μὲν διαμαχόμενον τοῖς πάθεσι, ποτὲ δὲ γοητεύοντα καὶ ἀπατῶντα καὶ παντοίως πρὸς αὐτὰ μεταβαλλόμενον, 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.

Robert Lamberton 1986, 131 [Homer the Theologian]: “The bungling, dimwitted, sensual giant of book 9 is, then, a projection into the myth of the life of the senses—specifically Odysseus’ own life in this physical universe. The blinding of Polyphemus is a metaphor for suicide…The cyclops becomes a part of Odysseus—a part he wants desperately to escape—but his ineptitude in handling his escape at that early point in his career involves him in an arduous spiritual journey.”

Image result for odysseus and the cyclops ancient greek

Banning Even the Freedom of the Eyes: The Moral Tale of the Tyrant of Troezen

Aelian Varia Historia 14.22

“There’s a story of the tyrant of Troezen. Because he wanted to get rid of any plots and conspiracies against him, he ordered that no one could talk to anyone else in public or private. This was an impossible and harsh matter. But the people circumvented the tyrant’s command: they were nodding to each other and using hand gestures too. They also used angry, calm, or bright facial expressions. Each person was clear to all in his emotions, showing the suffering in his spirit on his face by grimacing at bad news or implacable conditions.

These actions caused the tyrant annoyance too—for he was believing that even silence accompanied by plentiful gestures was contriving something bad for him. So, he stopped this too.

One of those who was burdened and troubled by this absurdity was longing to end the monarchy. A group rose up with him and stood together sharing their tears. A report came to the tyrant that no one was using gestures any longer, because, instead, they were trafficking in tears. Because he was eager to stop this, he was proclaiming not only slavery of the tongue and gestures, but he was even trying to ban the freedom of the eyes we get from nature. So he went there without delay with his bodyguards to stop the tears. But as soon as the people saw him they took away his bodyguards’ weapons and killed the tyrant.”

Ὅτι Τροιζήνιός τις τύραννος βουλόμενος ἐξελεῖν τὰς συνωμοσίας καὶ τὰς κατ᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐπιβουλὰς ἔταξε τοῖς ἐπιχωρίοις μηδένα μηδενὶ διαλέγεσθαι μήτε κοινῇ μήτε ἰδίᾳ. καὶ ἦν τὸ πρᾶγμα ἀμήχανον καὶ χαλεπόν. ἐσοφίσαντο οὖν τὸ τοῦ τυράννου πρόσταγμα, καὶ ἀλλήλοις ἔνευον καὶ ἐχειρονόμουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους, καὶ ἐνεώρων δριμὺ καὶ αὖ πάλιν γαληναῖον καὶ βλέμμα φαιδρόν· καὶ ἐπὶ τοῖς σκυθρωποῖς καὶ ἀνηκέστοις ἕκαστος αὐτῶν συνωφρυωμένος ἦν δῆλος, τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς πάθος ἐκ τοῦ προσώπου τῷ πλησίον διαδεικνύς. ἐλύπει τὸν τύραννον καὶ ταῦτα, καὶ ἐπίστευε τέξεσθαί τι αὐτῷ πάντως κακὸν καὶ τὴν σιωπὴν διὰ τὸ τῶν σχημάτων ποικίλον. ἀλλ᾿ οὖν ἐκεῖνος καὶ τοῦτο κατέπαυσε. τῶν τις οὖν ἀχθομένων τῇ ἀμηχανίᾳ καὶ δυσφορούντων καὶ τὴν μοναρχίαν καταλῦσαι διψώντων. περιέστησαν οὖν αὐτὸν καὶ περιῆλθον τὸ πλῆθος καὶ ὀδυρμῷ κἀκεῖνοι συνείχοντο. ἧκεν ἀγγελία παρὰ τὸν τύραννον ὡς οὐδεὶς αὐτῶν χρῆται νεύματι οὐκέτι, δάκρυα δὲ αὐτοῖς ἐπιχωριάζει. ὁ δὲ ἐπειγόμενος καὶ τοῦτο παῦσαι, μὴ μόνον τῆς γλώττης καταγινώσκων δουλείαν μηδὲ μόνον τῶν νευμάτων ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη καὶ τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς τὴν ἐκ φύσεως ἀποκλείων ἐλευθερίαν, ᾗ ποδῶν εἶχεν ἀφίκετο σὺν τοῖς δορυφόροις, ἵνα ἀναστείλῃ τὰ δάκρυα. οἱ δὲ οὐκ ἔφθασαν ἰδόντες αὐτὸν καὶ τὰ ὅπλα τῶν δορυφόρων ἁρπάσαντες τὸν τύραννον ἀπέκτειναν.

YatesThompson47_f54rDetail

John Lydgate, Life of St Edmund and St Fremund, England (Bury St Edmunds?), 1461-c. 1475, Yates Thompson MS 47, f. 54r

The Odyssey and the Life Governed by the Mind

Philo, On Dreams 1.233

“Perhaps this is not sung truly, but it is wholly profitable and advantageous”

καὶ τάχα μὲν οὺκ ἀληθῶς, πάντως δὲ λυσιτελῶς καὶ συμφερόντως ᾄδεται

Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides 1025.29-37

“Our soul experiences many wanderings and turns—one comes from the imagination, another emerges in the beliefs before these, and other occurs in understanding. But the life governed by the mind is free from vagrancy and this is the mystical harbor of the soul into which the poem leads Odysseus after the great wandering of his life and where we too, if we want to be saved, may find our mooring.”

Πολλαὶ οὖν αἱ πλάναι καὶ αἱ δινεύσεις τῆς ψυχῆς· ἄλλη γὰρ ἡ ἐν ταῖς φαντασίαις, ἄλλη πρὸ τούτων ἡ ἐν δόξαις, ἄλλη ἡ ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ διανοίᾳ· μόνη δὲ ἡ κατὰ νοῦν ζωὴ τὸ ἀπλανὲς ἔχει, καὶ οὗτος ὁ μυστικὸς ὅρμος τῆς ψυχῆς, εἰς ὃν καὶ ἡ ποίησις ἄγει τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα μετὰ τὴν πολλὴν πλάνην τῆς ζωῆς, καὶ ἡμεῖς, ἐὰν ἄρα σώζεσθαι θέλωμεν, μᾶλλον ἑαυτοὺς ἀνάξομεν.

Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 70

“Generally, then, if one wants to examine it carefully, you will find Odysseus’ wandering to be an allegory. Homer has positioned Odysseus as some kind of an instrument of every kind of virtue and he has used him to philosophize, since he hated the wickedness which governs human life.

The land of the Lotus-eaters, a farm of exotic temptation, represents the temptation of pleasure through which Odysseus sailed in perfect control. He snuffs out the savage anger of each of us with the advice from his words as if cauterizing it. This anger is named the Cyclops, the one who steals away [hypoklôpôn] our faculties of reason.

What of this—does it not seem that Odysseus who ‘overcame the winds’ was the first to anticipate fair sailing through his knowledge of the stars? And he was superior to Kirkê’s drugs because he discovered a cure for addictive delicacies thanks to his deep wisdom.

And his intelligence extends even to Hades so that nothing in the underworld might go unexplored. Who listens to the Sirens and learns a diverse history of all time? Charybdis is an obvious name for luxury and endless drinking. Homer has allegorized manifold shamelessness in Skylla, which is why she would logically have a belt of dogs, guardians for her rapacity, daring, and pugnacity. The cattle of the sun are about controlling your eating—for he would not even allow starvation to be a compulsion to do injustice.

These stories were told mythically for their audiences, if someone delves into the allegorized wisdom, it will be the most useful to those who apprehend it.”

Καθόλου δὲ τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως πλάνην, εἴ τις ἀκριβῶς ἐθέλει σκοπεῖν, ἠλληγορημένην εὑρήσει·

 πάσης γὰρ ἀρετῆς καθάπερ ὄργανόν τι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα παραστησάμενος ἑαυτῷ διὰ τοῦτο πεφιλοσόφηκεν, ἐπειδὴ τὰς ἐκνεμομένας τὸν ἀνθρώπινον βίον ἤχθηρε κακίας.

 ῾Ηδονὴν μέν γε, τὸ Λωτοφάγον χωρίον, ξένης γεωργὸν ἀπολαύσεως, ἣν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐγκρατῶς παρέπλευσεν·  τὸν δ’ ἄγριον ἑκάστου θυμὸν ὡσπερεὶ καυτηρίῳ τῇ παραινέσει τῶν λόγων ἐπήρωσε.  Κύκλωψ δὲ οὗτος ὠνόμασται, ὁ τοὺς λογισμοὺς ὑποκλωπῶν.

     Τί δ’; οὐχὶ πρῶτος εὔδιον πλοῦν δι’ ἐπιστήμης ἀστρονόμου τεκμηράμενος ἔδοξεν ἀνέμους δεδωκέναι; Φαρμάκων τε τῶν παρὰ Κίρκης γέγονε κρείττων, ὑπὸ πολλῆς σοφίας πεμμάτων ἐπεισάκτων κακῶν λύσιν εὑρόμενος.

     ῾Η δὲ φρόνησις ἕως ῞Αιδου καταβέβηκεν, ἵνα μηδὲ τῶν νέρθεν ἀδιερεύνητον ᾖ.  Τίς δὲ Σειρήνων ἀκούει, τὰς πολυπείρους ἱστορίας παντὸς αἰῶνος ἐκμαθών;  Καὶ Χάρυβδις μὲν ἡ δάπανος ἀσωτία καὶ περὶ πότους ἄπληστος  εὐλόγως ὠνόμασται·  Σκύλλαν δὲ τὴν πολύμορφον ἀναίδειαν ἠλληγόρησε, διὸ δὴ κύνας οὐκ ἀλόγως ὑπέζωσται προτομαῖς ἁρπαγῇ, τόλμῃ καὶ πλεονεξίᾳ πεφραγμέναις·

 αἱ δ’ ἡλίου βόες ἐγκράτεια γαστρός εἰσιν, εἰ μηδὲ λιμὸν ἔσχεν ἀδικίας ἀνάγκην.

     ῝Α δὴ μυθικῶς μέν ἐστιν εἰρημένα περὶ τοὺς ἀκούοντας, εἰ δ’ ἐπὶ τὴν ἠλληγορημένην σοφίαν καταβέβηκεν, ὠφελιμώτατα τοῖς μιμουμένοις γενήσεται.

Schol. B ad Od. 13.103

“The holy cave of the Nymphs”: Some allegorize the cave as the universe, the nymphs are souls, they are also bees and the bodies are men. The two gates are the exit of souls, and one is creation, the entry point of the soul, in which no part of the body enters, but there are only souls. They are immortal. From this they call them olive—or, because of the victorious crown, or because…which is nourishing…”

ἄντρον ἱρὸν Νυμφάων] ἀλληγορικῶς λέγει ἄντρον τὸν κόσμον, νύμφας τὰς ψυχὰς, τὰς αὐτὰς καὶ μελίσσας, καὶ ἄνδρας τὰ σώματα. δύο δὲ θύρας τὴν τῶν σωμάτων ἔξοδον, ἤτοι τὴν γένεσιν, καὶ τὴν τῶν ψυχῶν εἴσοδον, ἐν ᾗ οὐδὲν τῶν σωμάτων εἰσέρχεται, μόναι δὲ αἱ ψυχαί. ἀθάνατοι γάρ εἰσι. ὅθεν καὶ ἐλαίαν φησὶν, ἢ διὰ τὸν νικητικὸν στέφανον, ἢ διὰ τὸ … ὅ ἐστι τὴν τροφὴν … B.

Image result for Ancient Greek Odysseus mind song

National Archaeological Museum, Athens 1130

The Odyssey Within the Epic: Allegory and the Making of Meaning

In response to yesterday’s anecdote about the absurdity of the Odyssey a reminder: generations of readers believed that the epic is a crypto-text conveying many deeper meanings.

Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 70

“Generally, then, if one wants to examine it carefully, you will find Odysseus’ wandering to be an allegory. Homer has positioned Odysseus as some kind of an instrument of every kind of virtue and he has used him to philosophize, since he hated the wickedness which governs human life.

The land of the Lotus-eaters, a farm of exotic temptation, represents the temptation of pleasure through which Odysseus sailed in perfect control. He snuffs out the savage anger of each of us with the advice from his words as if cauterizing it. This anger is named the Cyclops, the one who steals away [hypoklôpôn] our faculties of reason.

What of this—does it not seem that Odysseus who ‘overcame the winds’ was the first to anticipate fair sailing through his knowledge of the stars? And he was superior to Kirkê’s drugs because he discovered a cure for addictive delicacies thanks to his deep wisdom.

And his intelligence extends even to Hades so that nothing in the underworld might go unexplored. Who listens to the Sirens and learns a diverse history of all time? Charybdis is an obvious name for luxury and endless drinking. Homer has allegorized manifold shamelessness in Skylla, which is why she would logically have a belt of dogs, guardians for her rapacity, daring, and pugnacity. The cattle of the sun are about controlling your eating—for he would not even allow starvation to be a compulsion to do injustice.

These stories were told mythically for their audiences, if someone delves into the allegorized wisdom, it will be the most useful to those who apprehend it.”

Καθόλου δὲ τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως πλάνην, εἴ τις ἀκριβῶς ἐθέλει σκοπεῖν, ἠλληγορημένην εὑρήσει·

 πάσης γὰρ ἀρετῆς καθάπερ ὄργανόν τι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα παραστησάμενος ἑαυτῷ διὰ τοῦτο πεφιλοσόφηκεν, ἐπειδὴ τὰς ἐκνεμομένας τὸν ἀνθρώπινον βίον ἤχθηρε κακίας.

 ῾Ηδονὴν μέν γε, τὸ Λωτοφάγον χωρίον, ξένης γεωργὸν ἀπολαύσεως, ἣν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐγκρατῶς παρέπλευσεν·  τὸν δ’ ἄγριον ἑκάστου θυμὸν ὡσπερεὶ καυτηρίῳ τῇ παραινέσει τῶν λόγων ἐπήρωσε.  Κύκλωψ δὲ οὗτος ὠνόμασται, ὁ τοὺς λογισμοὺς ὑποκλωπῶν.

     Τί δ’; οὐχὶ πρῶτος εὔδιον πλοῦν δι’ ἐπιστήμης ἀστρονόμου τεκμηράμενος ἔδοξεν ἀνέμους δεδωκέναι; Φαρμάκων τε τῶν παρὰ Κίρκης γέγονε κρείττων, ὑπὸ πολλῆς σοφίας πεμμάτων ἐπεισάκτων κακῶν λύσιν εὑρόμενος.

     ῾Η δὲ φρόνησις ἕως ῞Αιδου καταβέβηκεν, ἵνα μηδὲ τῶν νέρθεν ἀδιερεύνητον ᾖ.  Τίς δὲ Σειρήνων ἀκούει, τὰς πολυπείρους ἱστορίας παντὸς αἰῶνος ἐκμαθών;  Καὶ Χάρυβδις μὲν ἡ δάπανος ἀσωτία καὶ περὶ πότους ἄπληστος  εὐλόγως ὠνόμασται·  Σκύλλαν δὲ τὴν πολύμορφον ἀναίδειαν ἠλληγόρησε, διὸ δὴ κύνας οὐκ ἀλόγως ὑπέζωσται προτομαῖς ἁρπαγῇ, τόλμῃ καὶ πλεονεξίᾳ πεφραγμέναις·

 αἱ δ’ ἡλίου βόες ἐγκράτεια γαστρός εἰσιν, εἰ μηδὲ λιμὸν ἔσχεν ἀδικίας ἀνάγκην.

     ῝Α δὴ μυθικῶς μέν ἐστιν εἰρημένα περὶ τοὺς ἀκούοντας, εἰ δ’ ἐπὶ τὴν ἠλληγορημένην σοφίαν καταβέβηκεν, ὠφελιμώτατα τοῖς μιμουμένοις γενήσεται.

From Porphyry’s essay, On the Cave of the Nymphs 35

“In Plato, the water, the sea and the storm are material matter. For this reason, I think, Homer named the harbor “Phorkus’” (“and this is the harbor of Phorkus”) after the sea-god whose daughter, Thoôsa, he genealogized in the first book of the Odyssey. The Kyklôps is her son whose eye Odysseus blinded. [Homer named the harbor thus] so that right before his home [Odysseus] would receive a reminder of his mistakes. For this reason, the location under the olive tree is also fitting for Odysseus as a suppliant of the god who might win over his native deity through suppliancy.

For it would not be easy for one who has blinded [the spirit] and rushed to quell his energy to escape this life of the senses; no, the rage of the sea and the material gods pursues anyone who has dared these things. It is right first to appease these gods with sacrifices, the labors of a beggar, and endurance followed by battling through sufferings, deploying spells and enchantments and changing oneself through them in every way in order that, once he has been stripped of the rags he might restore everything. 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.”

πόντος δὲ καὶ θάλασσα καὶ κλύδων καὶ παρὰ Πλάτωνι ἡ ὑλικὴ σύστασις. διὰ τοῦτ’, οἶμαι, καὶ τοῦ Φόρκυνος ἐπωνόμασε τὸν λιμένα·

                    ‘Φόρκυνος δέ τίς ἐστι λιμήν,’

ἐναλίου θεοῦ, οὗ δὴ καὶ θυγατέρα ἐν ἀρχῇ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας τὴν Θόωσαν ἐγενεαλόγησεν, ἀφ’ ἧς ὁ Κύκλωψ, ὃν ὀφθαλμοῦ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἀλάωσεν, ἵνα καὶ ἄχρι τῆς πατρίδος ὑπῇ τι τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων μνημόσυνον. ἔνθεν αὐτῷ καὶ ἡ ὑπὸ τὴν ἐλαίαν καθέδρα οἰκεία ὡς ἱκέτῃ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ὑπὸ τὴν ἱκετηρίαν ἀπομειλισσομένῳ τὸν γενέθλιον δαίμονα. οὐ γὰρ ἦν ἁπλῶς τῆς αἰσθητικῆς ταύτης ἀπαλλαγῆναι ζωῆς τυφλώσαντα αὐτὴν καὶ καταργῆσαι συντόμως σπουδάσαντα, ἀλλ’ εἵπετο τῷ

ταῦτα τολμήσαντι μῆνις ἁλίων καὶ ὑλικῶν θεῶν, οὓς χρὴ πρότερον ἀπομειλίξασθαι θυσίαις τε καὶ πτωχοῦ πόνοις καὶ καρτερίαις, ποτὲ μὲν διαμαχόμενον τοῖς πάθεσι, ποτὲ δὲ γοητεύοντα καὶ ἀπατῶντα καὶ παντοίως πρὸς αὐτὰ μεταβαλλόμενον, 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.

Robert Lamberton 1986, 131 [Homer the Theologian]: “The bungling, dimwitted, sensual giant of book 9 is, then, a projection into the myth of the life of the senses—specifically Odysseus’ own life in this physical universe. The blinding of Polyphemus is a metaphor for suicide…The cyclops becomes a part of Odysseus—a part he wants desperately to escape—but his ineptitude in handling his escape at that early point in his career involves him in an arduous spiritual journey.”

 

Some Allegorical Readings from the Scholia Vetera to the Odyssey (Dindorf)

Schol. E. ad Od. 1.38

“Allegorically, an uttered speech is called Hermes because of his hermeneutic nature and he is the director because he manages the soul’s thoughts and the mind’s reflections. He is Argeiphontes because he is bright and pure of murder. For he teaches, and evens out and calms the emotional part of the soul. Or, it is because he killed the dog Argos, which stands for madness and disordered thoughts. He is the one who makes the reflections of the mind appear bright and clean.

ἀλληγορικῶς δὲ ὁ προφορικὸς λόγος ῾Ερμῆς λέγεται παρὰ τὸ ἑρμηνευτικὸς εἶναι, καὶ διάκτορος ὅτι διεξάγει τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ νοῦ ἐνθυμήματα, ᾿Αργειφόντης δὲ ὡς ἀργὸς καὶ καθαρὸς φόνου. παιδεύει γὰρ καὶ ῥυθμίζει καὶ πραΰνει τὸ θυμικὸν τῆς ψυχῆς. ἢ ὅτι τὸν ῎Αργον κύνα ἀναιρεῖ, τουτέστι τὰ λυσσώδη καὶ ἄτακτα ἐνθυμήματα. καὶ παρὰ τὸ ἀργεννὰ ἤτοι καθαρὰ φαίνειν τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς ἐνθυμήματα. E.

*Heraclitus the Obscure claims that Hermes is a representation of Odysseus’ rational mind (Homeric Problems 72-73)

Schol. EM ad Od. 4.384

“The winds and every sort of breeze”: Some allegorize Proteus as matter itself. For without matter, they claim that the creator [could not] have made everything distinct. For, although matter is never clear to us, men, trees, water and all things come from it. Eidothea, you see, is thought. Matter produces thought once it is condensed. Others allegorize Proteus as the right part of the spring when the earth first begins to make the shapes of grapes and offspring. Menelaos, since it was not the right time for sailing and he missed the spring, sailed in the wrong direction. The name Proteus is suitable for allegory.”

ἀνέμων καὶ παντελοῦς ἀπνοίας. τινὲς δὲ καὶ ἀλληγορικῶς Πρωτέα τὴν ὕλην. ἄνευ γὰρ ὕλης φασὶ τὸν δημιουργὸν πάντα τὰ ὁρώμενα **** ὕλης δὲ τῆς μὴ φαινομένης ἡμῖν, ἐξ ἧς ἄνθρωποι, δένδρα, ὕδατα καὶ πάντα τἄλλα. Εἰδοθέη γὰρ τὸ εἶδος. ὕλη γὰρ ἀποτελεῖ εἶδος κατεργασθεῖσα. ἄλλοι δὲ Πρωτέα φασὶν ἀλληγορικῶς τὸν πρὸ τοῦ ἔαρος καιρὸν, μεθ’ ὃν ἄρχεται ἡ γῆ εἴδη ποιεῖν βοτανῶν καὶ γενῶν. ὁ δὲ Μενέλαος μὴ ὄντος καιροῦ ἐπιτηδείου πρὸς τὸ πλεῖν φθάσαντος τοῦ ἔαρος ἀπέπλευσε. τὸ δὲ Πρωτέως ὄνομα εἰς τὴν ἀλληγορίαν ἐπιτήδειον. E.M.

 

Schol V ad Od. 5.1

“Tithonos is the son of Laomedon, Priam’s brother. He is a husband of Dawn [Eos]. Endumiôn is said to have married Selenê and Tithonos, the Day. The allegory works like this. Endumiôn is concerned with hunting man, and he goes to bed at night, but not so much at day because he is occupying his time with hunting affairs. Tithonos is appropriate for those interested in the stars and who take to bed at day but stay awake at night because they are occupying themselves with the stars.”

Τιθωνοῖο] Τιθωνὸς Λαομέδοντος παῖς, Πριάμου ἀδελφὸς, ᾿Ηοῦς ἀνήρ. ὁ ᾿Ενδυμίων λέγεται συνευνᾶσθαι τῇ Σελήνῃ καὶ ὁ Τιθωνὸς τῇ ῾Ημέρᾳ. ἀλληγορεῖται δὲ οὕτως. ὁ ᾿Ενδυμίων εἰς ἄνδρα κυνηγέτην, καὶ τῇ μὲν νυκτὶ κοιμώμενον, τῇ δὲ ἡμέρᾳ οὐδὲ ποσῶς, διὰ τὸ ἠσχολῆσθαι περὶ τὰ κυνηγέσια· ὁ δὲ Τιθωνὸς εἰς ἀστρονόμον καὶ τῇ μὲν ἡμέρᾳ κοιμώμενον, τῇ δὲ νυκτὶ ἐπαγρυπνοῦντα, διὰ τὸ ἠσχολῆσθαι περὶ τὰ ἄστρα. V.

Schol. HQV ad Od. 10.6

There are other interpretations. Some allegorize Aiolos as the year and his children as the twelve months. Some say that he that he paid special attention, because he was knowledgeable of astrology, of when the sun was blowing in the west in the bull position. Some winds blow sometimes and then move against themselves, as many do….

῎Αλλως. τινὲς ἀλληγοροῦντες Αἴολον μὲν λέγουσι τὸν ἐνιαυτὸν, δώδεκα δὲ παῖδας τοὺς μῆνας. τινὲς δὲ ὅτι παρετήρησεν, ἀστρολογίας ἔμπειρος ὢν, ἡλίου ὄντος ἐν ταύρῳ ζέφυρον πνεῦσαι. οἱ δὲ ἄνεμοι πνέουσιν ἐνίοτε καὶ καθ’ ἑαυτοὺς, ὡς καὶ πολλοί· καὶ γὰρ ἡμεῖς δίχα βασιλικοῦ προστασσόμενοι προστάγματος. H.Q.V.

Quintilian 8.6.44

“Allegory, which we translate into Latin as inversion, either communicates different things in words or meaning or something completely contrary. The first type emerges from continued metaphor as in “Ship, new waves will return you to this sea—What can you do? Make bravely for the harbor!” And that whole passage in which the ship stands for the state, the waves and storms stand for civil war and he makes the harbor stand for peace and agreement.”

[44] allegoria, quam inversionem interpretantur, aut aliud verbis aliud sensu ostendit aut etiam interim contrarium. prius fit genus plerumque continuatis translationibus, ut

O navis, referent id mare te novi
fluctus; o quid agis? fortiter occupa
portum,

totusque ille Horatii locus, quo navem pro re publica, fluctus et tempestates pro bellis civilibus, portum pro pace atque concordia dicit.

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What’s Special about the Number Seven?

Theodoros of Samothrace, fr. 1 (FGrH 62; Photius, Bibl. 190, 152b26)

“In the seventh book [Ptolemy Chennos reports that] Theodôros of Samothrace says that after Zeus was born he laughed without stopping for seven days. This is why the number seven is thought to be “final” [or whole, complete”]

ἐν δὲ τῶι ζ̄ περιέχεται ὡς Θεόδωρος ὁ Σαμοθρὰιξ τὸν Δία φησὶ γεννηθέντα ἐπὶ ἑπτὰ ἡμέρας ἀκατάπαυστον γελάσαι· καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τέλειος ἐνομίσθη ὁ ἑπτὰ ἀριθμός.

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Alexander of Aphrodisias, Probl. 2.47:

“The number seven, as Pythagoras insists, is complete in nature. The mathematicians and musicians agree too. But eight is incomplete.”

ὁ ἑπτὰ ἀριθμὸς τέλειός ἐστι τῇ φύσει, ὡς μαρτυρεῖ Πυθαγόρας καὶ οἱ ἀριθμητικοὶ καὶ οἱ μουσικοί• ὁ δὲ ὀκτὼ ἀτελής

 

These references come from Ken Dowden’s entry in Brill’s New Jacoby (62 F1). The following does not:

Cow-Days, Poseidon and Hermes: Three Allegorical Interpretations of the Odyssey’s First Fifty Lines

Schol. E ad Od. 1.8

“Allegorically, he considers the cows of Helios to be days which the companions of Odysseus endure terribly, after which they wish to return home at last,

εἰς τὰς οἰκίας αὐτῶν· ἀλληγορικῶς δὲ βοῦς ῾Ηλίου τὰς ἡμέρας νοεῖ, ἃς οἱ τοῦ ᾿Οδυσσέως φίλοι κακῶς διεβίβασαν, ὕστερον δὴ θελήσαντες ὑποστρέψαι πρὸς τὰς οἰκίας αὐτῶν. E.

Schol. E. ad Od. 1.22

“According to myth, they claim that Poseidon went to the Aithiopians at a specific time to be honored by them; allegorically, Poseidon is said to be water. Since he is water, he is certainly the ocean which circles the earthy and, because the Nile waters the land of the Aithiopians at a specific time and grows their trees, they say that Poseidon as the water is honored among them as the provider of their many blessings.”

ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν Αἰθίοπας] μυθικῶς μέν φασι τὸν Ποσειδῶνα εἰς Αἰθίοπας κατὰ καιρὸν ὡρισμένον παραγινόμενον παρ’ ἐκείνων τιμᾶσθαι, ἀλληγορικῶς δὲ Ποσειδῶν λέγεται τὸ ὕδωρ. ἐπεὶ δὲ τὸ ὕδωρ, ἤτοι ὁ ὠκεανὸς, τὴν πᾶσαν χθόνα κυκλοῖ, καὶ ὅτι ὁ Νεῖλος κατὰ καιρὸν ὡρισμένον ἀρδεύει τὴν τῶν Αἰθιόπων γῆν καὶ αὔξει τὰ δένδρα, κατὰ τοῦτο λέγουσι τὸν Ποσειδῶνα ἤτοι τὸ ὕδωρ τιμᾶσθαι παρ’ αὐτῶν ὡς πολλῶν ἀγαθῶν ἐκείνοις παρεκτικόν. E.

 

Schol. E ad. Od. 1.38

Allegorically, an uttered speech is called Hermes because of his hermeneutic nature and he is the director because he manages the soul’s thoughts and the mind’s reflections. He is Argeiphontes because he is bright and pure of murder. For he teaches, and evens out and calms the emotional part of the soul. Or, it is because he killed the dog Argos, which stands for madness and disordered thoughts. He is the one who makes the reflections of the mind appear bright and clean.

ἀλληγορικῶς δὲ ὁ προφορικὸς λόγος ῾Ερμῆς λέγεται παρὰ τὸ ἑρμηνευτικὸς εἶναι, καὶ διάκτορος ὅτι διεξάγει τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ νοῦ ἐνθυμήματα, ᾿Αργειφόντης δὲ ὡς ἀργὸς καὶ καθαρὸς φόνου. παιδεύει γὰρ καὶ ῥυθμίζει καὶ πραΰνει τὸ θυμικὸν τῆς ψυχῆς. ἢ ὅτι τὸν ῎Αργον κύνα ἀναιρεῖ, τουτέστι τὰ λυσσώδη καὶ ἄτακτα ἐνθυμήματα. καὶ παρὰ τὸ ἀργεννὰ ἤτοι καθαρὰ φαίνειν τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς ἐνθυμήματα. E.

 

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