What’s Troubling Telemachus?

When Athena first goes to Ithaca to see Telemachus in the Odyssey, the narrator shifts focus and describes Odysseus’ son witnessing Mentes’ appearance (Athena in disguise, 1.113-120):

“God-like Telemachus saw her first by far.
For he was sitting among the suitors, tortured in his dear heart,
Dreaming about his noble father in his thoughts, if he should come home
From somewhere and scatter the suitors from his home,
And have his own place [honor] and rule over his possessions.
As he say imagining these things, he saw Athena,
And went straight to the entryway, rebuking himself
That a guest should stand in the doorway for so long…”

τὴν δὲ πολὺ πρῶτος ἴδε Τηλέμαχος θεοειδής·
ἧστο γὰρ ἐν μνηστῆρσι φίλον τετιημένος ἦτορ,
ὀσσόμενος πατέρ’ ἐσθλὸν ἐνὶ φρεσίν, εἴ ποθεν ἐλθὼν
μνηστήρων τῶν μὲν σκέδασιν κατὰ δώματα θείη,
τιμὴν δ’ αὐτὸς ἔχοι καὶ κτήμασιν οἷσιν ἀνάσσοι.
τὰ φρονέων μνηστῆρσι μεθήμενος εἴσιδ’ ᾿Αθήνην,
βῆ δ’ ἰθὺς προθύροιο, νεμεσσήθη δ’ ἐνὶ θυμῷ
ξεῖνον δηθὰ θύρῃσιν ἐφεστάμεν·

Telemachus is roused from a reverie by the appearance of a new stranger—and the characterization of his repose intrigues me. He does not appear to me to be a man of action except in the offering of hospitality. His emotional state is withdrawn: he inhabits his own thoughts, he is emotionally distressed, and he fantasizes about things being different from what they are. His first response is to rebuke himself for failing to live up to the very standard of hospitality that has been offered to the suitors, the abuse of which is a source of his frustration, and his daydream that his father will come home and put everything to rights.

telemachusgiovanni-battista-tiepolo-c-1740
By Giovanni Battisa Tiepolo, 18th Century

Although the phrase τετιημένος ἦτορ (“tortured/troubled in the heart”) does not have broad representation in the extant epic tradition, it does appear to have a rather marked one that indicates forced action or unwilling inaction. For instance, in the Iliad Ajax has to retreat from the Achaeans unwillingly (ὣς Αἴας τότ’ ἀπὸ Τρώων τετιημένος ἦτορ / ἤϊε πόλλ’ ἀέκων, 11.556-557). Odysseus describes himself the same way when mentioning the night he spent sleeping alone in the bushes on the shore of Skheria (7.287). The conceptual union between these two instances is that both Ajax and Odysseus are compelled to action by external forces. Later on in the Odyssey, the narrator describes Amphinomos suffering in the same way in book 18 when he feels fear at Odysseus-in-disguise’s prophecy (153-155)

“He went through the dear home, tortured in his heart,
And nodding his head. For he was imagining doom in his mind.
But there was no way to flee his fate….”

αὐτὰρ ὁ βῆ κατὰ δῶμα φίλον τετιημένος ἦτορ,
νευστάζων κεφαλῇ· δὴ γὰρ κακὸν ὄσσετο θυμῷ.
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς φύγε κῆρα·…

Here, we have a thematic parallel for Telemachus’ first appearance. Amphinomos is full of dread over what he has just heard and cannot escape the future he is fearing. Note how both Amphinomos and Telemachus are characterized as occupied by their own thoughts, living an internal dream rather than engaging in the outside world.

There are other accounts that strengthen these associations in variations on the standard Homeric texts. When commenting upon Odysseus’ first appearance in book 5, the scholia record Aristonicus’ comment that the language is more fit (οἰκειότερον ἐν ᾿Ιλιάδι) for the Iliad at 2.721 where Philoktetes is described as “he lies there on the island suffering harsh pains” (ἀλλ’ ὃ μὲν ἐν νήσῳ κεῖτο κρατέρ’ ἄλγεα πάσχων, =Od. 5.13). He adds that it would be right for him instead to be “tortured in his heart” (νῦν δὲ ἔδει τετιημένος ἦτορ εἶναι, Schol. H ad Od. 5.13). Similarly Menelaos retreats from Patroklos’ body under force in book 17 of the Iliad, described as “troubled in his mind” (τετιηότι θυμῷ) and unwillingly—a phrase the scholia record appeared in the alternative τετιημένος ἦτορ in some manuscripts (Schol. Ad Il. 17.664b2). Another textual variant offers support: after Hera has been rebuffed by Zeus at the end of Iliad 1, most manuscripts depict Hephaestus as ministering to his mother, “white armed Hera” (λευκωλένῳ ῞Ηρῃ, 1.572) while the scholia report τετιημένῃ ἦτορ as a variant (Schol. bT ad Il. 1.572 Did. (?) λευκωλένῳ ῞Ηρῃ: ἄμεινον γράφειν „τετιημένῃ ἦτορ”). Hera’s ability to affect the action or even know Zeus’ plan has recently been limited—it makes sense that she would be characterized as being upset, unwilling, and trapped.

The description appears again once more with Telemachus and at a rather important juncture. After he has announced his departure at the assembly, Telemachus returns to his home in book two “tortured in his heart” (2.298) before he insults the suitors and declares that he is a grown man with a plan Od. 2.312–317):

“Isn’t it enough that you wasted my many fine possessions before, when I was still just a child [νήπιος], suitors? But now, when I am big, and I have learned by listening to the speech of other men, and the heart within me grows, I will discover some way that I may visit upon you wicked fates either when I go to Pylos or here in this country.”

ἦ οὐχ ἅλις, ὡς τὸ πάροιθεν ἐκείρετε πολλὰ καὶ ἐσθλὰ
κτήματ’ ἐμά, μνηστῆρες, ἐγὼ δ’ ἔτι νήπιος ἦα;
νῦν δ’ ὅτε δὴ μέγας εἰμί, καὶ ἄλλων μῦθον ἀκούων
πυνθάνομαι, καὶ δή μοι ἀέξεται ἔνδοθι θυμός,
πειρήσω, ὥς κ’ ὔμμι κακὰς ἐπὶ κῆρας ἰήλω,
ἠὲ Πύλονδ’ ἐλθὼν ἢ αὐτοῦ τῷδ’ ἐνὶ δήμῳ.

The application of the “tortured in the heart” phrase here troubled ancient readers—a scholion glosses its use as “not because he is sullen, but because he is thinking about how to leave” (φίλον τετιημένος ἦτορ] οὐκ ἐσκυθρωπακὼς, ἀλλὰ καὶ φροντίζων ὡς ἀποδημεῖν μέλλων, Schol ES ad Od. 2.298). The scholiastic adjustment here points both to the ‘typical’ interpretation of the line—that it indicates an isolated rumination—and the sense that something critical has changed here. As Telemachus moves into action and declares himself as an agent and a thinker, he also moves from his state of paralysis and rumination into a different part of his tale.

What’s Troubling Telemachus?

When Athena first goes to Ithaca to see Telemachus in the Odyssey, the narrator shifts focus and describes Odysseus’ son witnessing Mentes’ appearance (Athena in disguise, 1.113-120):

“God-like Telemachus saw her first by far.
For he was sitting among the suitors, tortured in his dear heart,
Dreaming about his noble father in his thoughts, if he should come home
From somewhere and scatter the suitors from his home,
And have his own place [honor] and rule over his possessions.
As he say imagining these things, he saw Athena,
And went straight to the entryway, rebuking himself
That a guest should stand in the doorway for so long…”

τὴν δὲ πολὺ πρῶτος ἴδε Τηλέμαχος θεοειδής·
ἧστο γὰρ ἐν μνηστῆρσι φίλον τετιημένος ἦτορ,
ὀσσόμενος πατέρ’ ἐσθλὸν ἐνὶ φρεσίν, εἴ ποθεν ἐλθὼν
μνηστήρων τῶν μὲν σκέδασιν κατὰ δώματα θείη,
τιμὴν δ’ αὐτὸς ἔχοι καὶ κτήμασιν οἷσιν ἀνάσσοι.
τὰ φρονέων μνηστῆρσι μεθήμενος εἴσιδ’ ᾿Αθήνην,
βῆ δ’ ἰθὺς προθύροιο, νεμεσσήθη δ’ ἐνὶ θυμῷ
ξεῖνον δηθὰ θύρῃσιν ἐφεστάμεν·

Telemachus is roused from a reverie by the appearance of a new stranger—and the characterization of his repose intrigues me. He does not appear to me to be a man of action except in the offering of hospitality. His emotional state is withdrawn: he inhabits his own thoughts, he is emotionally distressed, and he fantasizes about things being different from what they are. His first response is to rebuke himself for failing to live up to the very standard of hospitality that has been offered to the suitors, the abuse of which is a source of his frustration, and his daydream that his father will come home and put everything to rights.

telemachusgiovanni-battista-tiepolo-c-1740
By Giovanni Battisa Tiepolo, 18th Century

Although the phrase τετιημένος ἦτορ (“tortured/troubled in the heart”) does not have broad representation in the extant epic tradition, it does appear to have a rather marked one that indicates forced action or unwilling inaction. For instance, in the Iliad Ajax has to retreat from the Achaeans unwillingly (ὣς Αἴας τότ’ ἀπὸ Τρώων τετιημένος ἦτορ / ἤϊε πόλλ’ ἀέκων, 11.556-557). Odysseus describes himself the same way when mentioning the night he spent sleeping alone in the bushes on the shore of Skheria (7.287). The conceptual union between these two instances is that both Ajax and Odysseus are compelled to action by external forces. Later on in the Odyssey, the narrator describes Amphinomos suffering in the same way in book 18 when he feels fear at Odysseus-in-disguise’s prophecy (153-155)

“He went through the dear home, tortured in his heart,
And nodding his head. For he was imagining doom in his mind.
But there was no way to flee his fate….”

αὐτὰρ ὁ βῆ κατὰ δῶμα φίλον τετιημένος ἦτορ,
νευστάζων κεφαλῇ· δὴ γὰρ κακὸν ὄσσετο θυμῷ.
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς φύγε κῆρα·…

Here, we have a thematic parallel for Telemachus’ first appearance. Amphinomos is full of dread over what he has just heard and cannot escape the future he is fearing. Note how both Amphinomos and Telemachus are characterized as occupied by their own thoughts, living an internal dream rather than engaging in the outside world.

There are other accounts that strengthen these associations in variations on the standard Homeric texts. When commenting upon Odysseus’ first appearance in book 5, the scholia record Aristonicus’ comment that the language is more fit (οἰκειότερον ἐν ᾿Ιλιάδι) for the Iliad at 2.721 where Philoktetes is described as “he lies there on the island suffering harsh pains” (ἀλλ’ ὃ μὲν ἐν νήσῳ κεῖτο κρατέρ’ ἄλγεα πάσχων, =Od. 5.13). He adds that it would be right for him instead to be “tortured in his heart” (νῦν δὲ ἔδει τετιημένος ἦτορ εἶναι, Schol. H ad Od. 5.13). Similarly Menelaos retreats from Patroklos’ body under force in book 17 of the Iliad, described as “troubled in his mind” (τετιηότι θυμῷ) and unwillingly—a phrase the scholia record appeared in the alternative τετιημένος ἦτορ in some manuscripts (Schol. Ad Il. 17.664b2). Another textual variant offers support: after Hera has been rebuffed by Zeus at the end of Iliad 1, most manuscripts depict Hephaestus as ministering to his mother, “white armed Hera” (λευκωλένῳ ῞Ηρῃ, 1.572) while the scholia report τετιημένῃ ἦτορ as a variant (Schol. bT ad Il. 1.572 Did. (?) λευκωλένῳ ῞Ηρῃ: ἄμεινον γράφειν „τετιημένῃ ἦτορ”). Hera’s ability to affect the action or even know Zeus’ plan has recently been limited—it makes sense that she would be characterized as being upset, unwilling, and trapped.

The description appears again once more with Telemachus and at a rather important juncture. After he has announced his departure at the assembly, Telemachus returns to his home in book two “tortured in his heart” (2.298) before he insults the suitors and declares that he is a grown man with a plan Od. 2.312–317):

“Isn’t it enough that you wasted my many fine possessions before, when I was still just a child [νήπιος], suitors? But now, when I am big, and I have learned by listening to the speech of other men, and the heart within me grows, I will discover some way that I may visit upon you wicked fates either when I go to Pylos or here in this country.”

ἦ οὐχ ἅλις, ὡς τὸ πάροιθεν ἐκείρετε πολλὰ καὶ ἐσθλὰ
κτήματ’ ἐμά, μνηστῆρες, ἐγὼ δ’ ἔτι νήπιος ἦα;
νῦν δ’ ὅτε δὴ μέγας εἰμί, καὶ ἄλλων μῦθον ἀκούων
πυνθάνομαι, καὶ δή μοι ἀέξεται ἔνδοθι θυμός,
πειρήσω, ὥς κ’ ὔμμι κακὰς ἐπὶ κῆρας ἰήλω,
ἠὲ Πύλονδ’ ἐλθὼν ἢ αὐτοῦ τῷδ’ ἐνὶ δήμῳ.

The application of the “tortured in the heart” phrase here troubled ancient readers—a scholion glosses its use as “not because he is sullen, but because he is thinking about how to leave” (φίλον τετιημένος ἦτορ] οὐκ ἐσκυθρωπακὼς, ἀλλὰ καὶ φροντίζων ὡς ἀποδημεῖν μέλλων, Schol ES ad Od. 2.298). The scholiastic adjustment here points both to the ‘typical’ interpretation of the line—that it indicates an isolated rumination—and the sense that something critical has changed here. As Telemachus moves into action and declares himself as an agent and a thinker, he also moves from his state of paralysis and rumination into a different part of his tale.

All-About-Athena: Hymns, Prayers, Cult Names

Athena

Solon, fr. 4.4-5 (6th Century BCE)
Solon emphasizes Athena’s power as a protector and connection with Zeus

“This sort of a great-hearted overseer, a daughter of a strong-father
Holds her hands above our city, Pallas Athena”

τοίη γὰρ μεγάθυμος ἐπίσκοπος ὀβριμοπάτρη
Παλλὰς ᾿Αθηναίη χεῖρας ὕπερθεν ἔχει•

Euripides, Heracleidae 770-72 (5th Century BCE)
Euripides echoes Solon but also refers to Athena as a maternal figure

“Queen, the foundation of the land
and the city is yours, you are its mother,
mistress and guardian..”

ἀλλ’, ὦ πότνια, σὸν γὰρ οὖ-
δας γᾶς καὶ πόλις, ἆς σὺ μά-
τηρ δέσποινά τε καὶ φύλαξ…

Aristophanes, Knights 581-585 (5th Century BCE)
Aristophanes echoes the defender motif and connects it with the glory of Athens as a martial and creative center (perhaps under influence of a more robust Panathenaia)

“O Pallas, protector of the city,
The most sacred city-
and defender of a land
that surpasses all others
in war and poetry.”

῏Ω πολιοῦχε Παλλάς, ὦ
τῆς ἱερωτάτης ἁπα-
σῶν πολέμῳ τε καὶ ποη-
ταῖς δυνάμει θ’ ὑπερφερού-
σης μεδέουσα χώρας,

Homeric Hymn to Athena 1 (Allen 11)
The shorter of the extant Homeric hymns focuses on Athena’s connection with war and heroes

“I begin to sing of Pallas Athena the dread
defender of cities, to whom the acts of war are a concern with Ares:
the cities sacked, the shrill sound, and the battles,
She rescues the host when it leaves and when it returns”

Παλλάδ’ ᾿Αθηναίην ἐρυσίπτολιν ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
δεινήν, ᾗ σὺν ῎Αρηϊ μέλει πολεμήϊα ἔργα
περθόμεναί τε πόληες ἀϋτή τε πτόλεμοί τε,
καί τ’ ἐρρύσατο λαὸν ἰόντα τε νισόμενόν τε.
Χαῖρε θεά, δὸς δ’ ἄμμι τύχην εὐδαιμονίην τε.

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Erikhthonios and Erekhtheus: Folk-Etymology and Premature Ejaculation

Eratosthenes, Catasterismi 1.13

“Euripides also speaks of [Erikhthonios’] birth in this way. Because he was filled with lust for her, Hephaistos wanted to have sex with Athena. But when she turned away—because she preferred her virginity—she hid herself in a certain part of Attica which they say is also named “the Hephaisteion” after him. He thought that he could overpower her but when he attacked he was struck by her spear and ejaculated—his semen fell on the earth. They say that a child was born from it, and that he was named Erikhthonius for that reason…”

λέγει δὲ καὶ Εὐριπίδης περὶ τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον· ῞Ηφαιστον ἐρασθέντα ᾿Αθηνᾶς βούλεσθαι αὐτῇ μιγῆναι, τῆς δὲ ἀποστρεφομένης καὶ τὴν παρθενίαν μᾶλλον αἱρουμένης ἔν τινι τόπῳ τῆς ᾿Αττικῆς κρύπτεσθαι, ὃν λέγουσι καὶ ἀπ’ ἐκείνου προσαγορευθῆναι ῾Ηφαιστεῖον· ὃς δόξας αὐτὴν κρατήσειν καὶ ἐπιθέμενος πληγεὶς ὑπ’ αὐτῆς τῷ δόρατι ἀφῆκε τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν, φερομένης εἰς τὴν γῆν τῆς σπορᾶς· ἐξ ἧς γεγενῆσθαι λέγουσι παῖδα, ὃς ἐκ τούτου ᾿Εριχθόνιος ἐκλήθη…

The name Erikhthonios had folk etymologies in the ancient world based on the narratives surrounding him and the sound. One interpretation, “rich-earth” (eri-khthonios), points to his autochthonous character and his association with Athenian prosperity. Another (“strife-land”; eris-khthonios) draws possibly on the struggle between Poseidon-Erekhtheus and Athena. A third traces the root of the first half to wool” (erion) perhaps reflecting Athena’s association with weaving and occurring as a reflex in the version of the tale where Athena uses wool to wipe off Hephaistos’ premature ejaculation (Apollodorus records that it was this semen-sponge that impregnated Gaia).

Athena
The Birth of Erikhthonios

Here’s what a Byzantine Etymological Dictionary has to say:

Etymologicum Magnum

“Erekhteus: He is called Epikhthonios because he was engendered [espasthai] in lust; Or from Hephaistos desire [orekseôs], or from “breaking” [ereikô], Erekhtheus’ power; from the fact that he brought apart the earth and was born from Hephaistos’ semen when Athena hid it in the earth, he is also called Erikhthonios.”

᾿Ερεχθεύς: ῾Ο ᾿Επιχθόνιος καλούμενος, ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐσπᾶσθαι εἰς τὴν ἔραν· ἢ ἀπὸ τῆς ὀρέξεως τοῦ ῾Ηφαίστου· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐρείκω, ᾿Ερεχθεὺς κύριον· παρὰ τὸ διασχίσαι αὐτὸν τὴν γῆν καὶ γεννηθῆναι ἀπὸ τοῦ σπέρματος ῾Ηφαίστου, ἡνίκα ἔκρυψεν αὐτὸ ἡ ᾿Αθηνᾶ ἐν τῇ γῇ, ὁ αὐτὸς δὲ λέγεται καὶ ᾿Εριχθόνιος.

According to Homer (Il. 2.546-51) Erekhtheus, nearly identical to Erikhthonios in early narratives only to be disambiguated in royal genealogies by the classical period, was born from Gaia and raised by Athena. The name Erekhtheus may be derived from the verb erekhthô which means “to tear or smash” and may be associated with Poseidon the “earthshaker”.


Iliad 2.546-551:

“Then came the men who occupied the well-built city of Athens, the people of great-hearted Erekhtheus, whom Athena the daughter of Zeus raised after the fertile earth gave birth to him, the one Athena brought into her own wealthy temple. There the sons of Athens worship him every new year with bulls and lambs. Menestheus, the son of Peteos led them. No earth-born man ever was his equal at marshaling the cavalry and spear-holding men.”

Οἳ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνας εἶχον ἐϋκτίμενον πτολίεθρον
δῆμον ᾿Ερεχθῆος μεγαλήτορος, ὅν ποτ’ ᾿Αθήνη
θρέψε Διὸς θυγάτηρ, τέκε δὲ ζείδωρος ἄρουρα,
κὰδ δ’ ἐν ᾿Αθήνῃς εἷσεν ἑῷ ἐν πίονι νηῷ·
ἔνθα δέ μιν ταύροισι καὶ ἀρνειοῖς ἱλάονται
κοῦροι ᾿Αθηναίων περιτελλομένων ἐνιαυτῶν·
τῶν αὖθ’ ἡγεμόνευ’ υἱὸς Πετεῶο Μενεσθεύς.
τῷ δ’ οὔ πώ τις ὁμοῖος ἐπιχθόνιος γένετ’ ἀνὴρ
κοσμῆσαι ἵππους τε καὶ ἀνέρας ἀσπιδιώτας·

There are some interesting echoes here from stories we learn later about Erikhthonios. Note (1) the closeness between Athena and Erekhtheus (implying no strife or suppressing it); (2) the early evidence for co-worship of the two; and (3) the possible—though not probable—echo of Erikhthonios in the adjective epikhthonios (“earth-born”).

Of some interest: According to Pausanias (1.28.10) it was Erekhtheus (the king) who first offered animal sacrifices at the Bouphonia (“Cow-slaughter” festival). In his commentary on the Iliad G. S. Kirk (1985, 206) suggests that the annual festival (περιτελλομένων ἐνιαυτῶν, here translated rather feebly as “every new year”) may be a form of the Panathenaia.

Sources:

OCD3

Walter Burkert. Greek Religion. Cambridge, 1985.

L. R. Farnell. The Cults of the Greek City States. 1895.

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore, 1993.

Simon Price. Religions of the Ancient Greeks. Cambridge, 1999.

The Consumption of Metis, Birth of Athena, and Creation of the Aegis (Hes. frag. 343)

The following fragment of Hesiod (343 MW) is preserved by Galen and appears to come out of a tradition presenting a catalog of Zeus’ wives.  In this is overlaps in content with Hesiod’s Theogony (806-901 and following) which has a similar order.  Some of the details, however, are a bit different.  Of special notice is the description of Metis’ hanging out in Zeus’ entrails or the creation of the Aegis.

“Because of that rivalry, [Hera] bore a famous son,
Hephaistos, on her own without aegis-bearing Zeus,
A son who surpassed all of the gods with his hands.
But [Zeus] stretched out next to the daughter of
Ocean and well-tressed Tethys apart from fair-cheeked Hera,
As he surprised Metis, even though she knows much.
He grabbed her with his hands and put her in his belly,
Because he feared that she might bear something stronger than lightning.
This is the reason that Kronos’ royal son who lives in the sky
Suddenly swallowed her whole. She was immediately pregnant
With Pallas Athena, whom the father of men and gods produced
Through his head near the banks of the river Tritôn.
Mêtis sat hidden beneath Zeus’ entrails,
That mother of Athena, creator of just affairs,
The one who knows most of gods and mortal men.
Then the goddess Themis stretched out beside him,
She surpassed all gods who have Olympian homes with her skilled handsl
She made the aegis, that army-routing armor of Athena,
Alongside the one who bore her, Athena dressed in warrior’s arms.”

Galenus, De placitis Hippocr. et Plat. iii. 8 p. 318 Müller
(=Chrysippus fr. 908, Stoic. Vet. Fr. 11. 256 v. Arnim)

ἐκ ταύτης ἔριδος ἣ μὲν τέκε φαίδιμον υἱὸν
῞Ηφαιστον †τέχνηισιν ἄνευ Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο
ἐκ πάντων παλάμηισι κεκασμένον Οὐρανιώνων·
αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’ ᾿Ωκεανοῦ καὶ Τηθύος ἠυκόμοιο
κούρηι νόσφ’ ῞Ηρης παρελέξατο καλλιπαρήου
ἐξαπαφὼν Μῆτιν καίπερ πολύιδριν ἐοῦσαν·
συμμάρψας δ’ ὅ γε χερσὶν ἑὴν ἐγκάτθετο νηδύν,
δείσας μὴ τέξηι κρατερώτερον ἄλλο κεραυνοῦ·
τούνεκά μιν Κρονίδης ὑψίζυγος αἰθέρι ναίων
κάππιεν ἐξαπίνης. ἣ δ’ αὐτίκα Παλλάδ’ ᾿Αθήνην
κύσατο· τὴν μὲν ἔτικτε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε
πὰρ κορυφήν, Τρίτωνος ἐπ’ ὄχθηισιν ποταμοῖο.
Μῆτις δ’ αὖτε Ζηνὸς ὑπὸ σπλάγχνοις λελαθυῖα
ἧστο, ᾿Αθηναίης μήτηρ, τέκταινα δικαίων,
πλεῖστα θεῶν εἰδυῖα καταθνητῶν τ’ ἀνθρώπων.
†ἔνθα θεὰ παρέλεκτο Θέμις† παλάμαις περὶ πάντων
ἀθανάτων ἐκέκασθ’ οἳ ᾿Ολύμπια δώματ’ ἔχουσιν,
αἰγίδα ποιήσασα φοβέστρατον ἔντος ᾿Αθήνης·
σὺν τῆι ἐγείνατό μιν, πολεμήϊα τεύχε’ ἔχουσαν.

Telemachus’ (not so) Long, Strange Trip: Schol. Od. DEJMa 1.93b on Athena’s Intervention

Ancient commentators–like some modern students–were confused about why Telemachus should risk everything by going to sea in search of his father. Especially troubling in this is the fact that Athena sends him (since she already knows all about Odysseus anyway).  This scholion explains the sense of the choice.

“It seems that the journey of Telemachus was strange first because Athena was creating danger to the youth, second she was removing him from the insurrection of the suitors, and third because she didn’t need to  search for his father.  But it was necessary that someone who was raised by women, was beset with sorrows and who had not yet at any point tested himself in speeches, become polytropos in the same way his father did, that is, to gain this quality by wandering and to share with his father in the killing of the suitors. The affairs of his home first were secured in the assembly when he roused the people against the suitors and second when he, after he taught the suitors to endure evils with his promises, he said “I will give my mother to a man” (2.223). The danger sharpened the interest of the suitors even more alongside his own eagerness.”

ἄτοπος  εἶναι δοκεῖ Τηλεμάχου ἡ ἀποδημία πρῶτον μὲν κίνδυνον προξενοῦσα τῷ νέῳ, δεύτερον ἐπανάστασιν τῶν μνηστήρων ἀπειλοῦσα, τρίτον οὐκ ὠφελοῦσα τὴν ζήτησιν τοῦ πατρός. ἀλλ’ ἔδει τὸν ἐν γυναιξὶ τεθραμμένον, λύπαις τεταπεινωμένον, ῥητορειῶν οὐ πεπειραμένον οὐδεπώποτε, πολύτροπον γενέσθαι παραπλησίως τῷ πατρί, καὶ τοῦτο κερδᾶναι τῇ πλάνῃ, καὶ κοινωνεῖν τῷ πατρὶ τῶν κατορθωμάτων ἐν τῇ μνηστηροκτονίᾳ. ἀσφαλίζεται δὲ τὰ κατ’ οἶκον πρῶτον μὲν ἐπαναστήσας τὸν δῆμον κατὰ τῶν μνηστήρων ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ, δεύτερον δὲ ταῖς ὑποσχέσεσιν ἀνεξικακεῖν διδάξας τοὺς μνηστῆρας εἰπὼν „καὶ ἀνέρι μητέρα δώσω” [β 223]. ἔτι μάλα καὶ τῆς ἐπιβουλῆς τῶν μνηστήρων ὁ κίνδυνος ἠκόνησεν αὐτοῦ τὴν προθυμίαν. ( Schol. Od. DEJMa 1.93b).

Hephaistos, Athena, Erikhthonios and Erekhtheus: Spilled Seed and Earth-Born Kings

Eratosthenes, Catasterismi 1.13

“Euripides also speaks of [Erikhthonios’] birth in this way. Because he was filled with lust for her, Hephaistos wanted to have sex with Athena. But when she turned away—because she preferred her virginity—she hid herself in a certain part of Attica which they say is also named “the Hephaisteion” after him. He thought that he could overpower her but when he attacked he was struck by her spear and ejaculated—his semen fell on the earth. They say that a child was born from it, and that he was named Erikhthonius for that reason…”

λέγει δὲ καὶ Εὐριπίδης περὶ τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον· ῞Ηφαιστον ἐρασθέντα ᾿Αθηνᾶς βούλεσθαι αὐτῇ μιγῆναι, τῆς δὲ ἀποστρεφομένης καὶ τὴν παρθενίαν μᾶλλον αἱρουμένης ἔν τινι τόπῳ τῆς ᾿Αττικῆς κρύπτεσθαι, ὃν λέγουσι καὶ ἀπ’ ἐκείνου προσαγορευθῆναι ῾Ηφαιστεῖον· ὃς δόξας αὐτὴν κρατήσειν καὶ ἐπιθέμενος πληγεὶς ὑπ’ αὐτῆς τῷ δόρατι ἀφῆκε τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν, φερομένης εἰς τὴν γῆν τῆς σπορᾶς· ἐξ ἧς γεγενῆσθαι λέγουσι παῖδα, ὃς ἐκ τούτου ᾿Εριχθόνιος ἐκλήθη…

The name Erikhthonios had folk etymologies in the ancient world based on the narratives surrounding him and the sound. One interpretation, “rich-earth” (eri-khthonios), points to his autochthonous character and his association with Athenian prosperity. Another (“strife-land”; eris-khthonios) draws possibly on the struggle between Poseidon-Erekhtheus and Athena. A third traces the root of the first half to wool” (erion) perhaps reflecting Athena’s association with weaving and occurring as a reflex in the version of the tale where Athena uses wool to wipe off Hephaistos’ premature ejaculation (Apollodorus records that it was this semen-sponge that impregnated Gaia).

According to Homer (Il. 2.546-51) Erekhtheus, nearly identical to Erikhthonios in early narratives only to be disambiguated in royal genealogies by the classical period, was born from Gaia and raised by Athena. The name Erekhtheus may be derived from the verb erekhthô which means “to tear or smash” and may be associated with Poseidon the “earthshaker”.


Iliad 2.546-551:

“Then came the men who occupied the well-built city of Athens, the people of great-hearted Eretheus, whom Athena the daughter of Zeus raised after the fertile earth gave birth to him, the one Athena brought into her own wealthy temple. There the sons of Athens worship him every new year with bulls and lambs. Menestheus, the son of Peteos led them. No earth-born man ever was his equal at marshaling the cavalry and spear-holding men.”

Οἳ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνας εἶχον ἐϋκτίμενον πτολίεθρον
δῆμον ᾿Ερεχθῆος μεγαλήτορος, ὅν ποτ’ ᾿Αθήνη
θρέψε Διὸς θυγάτηρ, τέκε δὲ ζείδωρος ἄρουρα,
κὰδ δ’ ἐν ᾿Αθήνῃς εἷσεν ἑῷ ἐν πίονι νηῷ·
ἔνθα δέ μιν ταύροισι καὶ ἀρνειοῖς ἱλάονται
κοῦροι ᾿Αθηναίων περιτελλομένων ἐνιαυτῶν·
τῶν αὖθ’ ἡγεμόνευ’ υἱὸς Πετεῶο Μενεσθεύς.
τῷ δ’ οὔ πώ τις ὁμοῖος ἐπιχθόνιος γένετ’ ἀνὴρ
κοσμῆσαι ἵππους τε καὶ ἀνέρας ἀσπιδιώτας·

There are some interesting echoes here from stories we learn later about Erikhthonios. Note (1) the closeness between Athena and Erekhtheus (implying no strife or suppressing it); (2) the early evidence for co-worship of the two; and (3) the possible—though not probable—echo of Erikhthonios in the adjective epikhthonios (“earth-born”).

Of some interest: According to Pausanias (1.28.10) it was Erekhtheus (the king) who first offered animal sacrifices at the Bouphonia (“Cow-slaughter” festival). In his commentary on the Iliad G. S. Kirk (1985, 206) suggests that the annual festival (περιτελλομένων ἐνιαυτῶν, here translated rather feebly as “every new year”) may be a form of the Panathenaia.

Sources:

OCD3

Walter Burkert. Greek Religion. Cambridge, 1985.

L. R. Farnell. The Cults of the Greek City States. 1895.

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore, 1993.

Simon Price. Religions of the Ancient Greeks. Cambridge, 1999.