Fish-Eaters, Meat-Eaters and Bread: A Strange Scholion and Dehumanizing Structures in the Odyssey

Homer, Odyssey 8.221-222

“I say that I am much better than the rest,
However so many mortals now eat bread on the earth.”

τῶν δ’ ἄλλων ἐμέ φημι πολὺ προφερέστερον εἶναι,
ὅσσοι νῦν βροτοί εἰσιν ἐπὶ χθονὶ σῖτον ἔδοντες.

Schol. B ad Od. 8.222 ex

“Who eat bread…” He says this because there are some races who don’t eat bread. Indeed, some are called locust eaters and fish-easters, like the Skythian race and the Massagetae are called meat-eaters. Some of the locust-eaters, after seeing bread, used to believe it was shit.”

σῖτον ἔδοντες] εἶπε τοῦτο διά τινα γένη, οἵτινες οὐκ ἤσθιον σῖτον. διὸ καὶ ἀκριδοφάγοι τινὲς καὶ ἰχθυοφάγοι ἐκαλοῦντο, ὡς καὶ τὸ Σκυθικὸν καὶ Μασσαγετικὸν κρεοφάγοι καλοῦνται. τινὲς γὰρ τῶν ἀκριδοφάγων ἰδόντες ἄρτον κόπρον εἶναι ἐνόμιζον. B.

Eusth. Comm. I Ad Hom. Od. 1.293

“Those who eat grain/bread.” This is perhaps said regarding the difference of other mortals who are not these kind of people—the kind of sort the story claims that the long-lived Aethiopians are too. These people, after they saw bread, compared it to shit. There were also those who lived from eating locusts and others who lived off fish. For this reason they are called locust-eaters and fish eaters. The Skythian race and the Masssegetic people who live primarily off meat do not wish to eat grain.”

Τὸ δὲ σῖτον ἔδοντες, πρὸς διαστολὴν ἴσως ἐῤῥέθη ἑτέρων βροτῶν μὴ τοιούτων. ὁποίους καὶ τοὺς μακροβίους Αἰθίοπας ἡ ἱστορία φησίν. οἳ ἄρτον ἰδόντες κόπρῳ αὐτὸν εἴκασαν. ἦσαν δὲ καὶ οἱ ἐξ ἀκρίδων ζῶντες καὶ οἱ ἐξ ἰχθύων. οἳ καὶ ἀκριδοφάγοι διατοῦτο καὶ ἰχθυοφάγοι ἐκαλοῦντο. τὸ δὲ Σκυθικὸν φῦλον καὶ τὸ Μασσαγετικὸν κρέασι διοικονομούμενον οὐδ’ αὐτὸ ἐθέλει σιτοφαγεῖν.

Strabo, Geographica 16.4.12

“In a close land to [the Aethiopians] are people darker-skinned than the rest and shorter and the shortest-lived, the locust-eaters. They rarely see more than forty years because their flesh is rife with parasites. They live on locusts who arrive in the spring carried by the strong winds that blow into these places. After throwing burning logs into trenches and kindling them a little, they overshadow the locusts with smoke and they call. They pound them together with salt and use them as cakes for their food.”

Πλησιόχωροι δὲ τούτοις εἰσὶ μελανώτεροί τε τῶν ἄλλων καὶ βραχύτεροι καὶ βραχυβιώτατοι ἀκριδοφάγοι· τὰ γὰρ τετταράκοντα ἔτη σπανίως ὑπερτιθέασιν, ἀπο-
θηριουμένης αὐτῶν τῆς σαρκός· ζῶσι δ’ ἀπὸ ἀκρίδων, ἃς οἱ ἐαρινοὶ λίβες καὶ ζέφυροι πνέοντες μεγάλοι συνελαύνουσιν εἰς τοὺς τόπους τούτους· ἐν ταῖς χα-ράδραις δὲ ἐμβαλόντες ὕλην καπνώδη καὶ ὑφάψαντες μικρὸν … ὑπερπετάμεναι γὰρ τὸν καπνὸν σκοτοῦνται καὶ πίπτουσι· συγκόψαντες δ’ αὐτὰς μεθ’ ἁλμυρίδος μάζας ποιοῦνται καὶ χρῶνται.

Strabo’s passage is, from a modern perspective, fairly racist (and more so even than the Eustathius). I don’t believe that the Odyssey’s formulaic line carries the same force, however. For Homer, people who eat bread are those who cultivate the earth and have to work (they don’t live easy lives like the gods). People who don’t eat the fruit of the earth are marauders and monsters.

The Odyssey’s ethnographic frame develops structures that insist to be fully human, one must (1) live in a city and (2) have recognizable laws and institutions, and (3) cultivate the earth. Creatures who don’t do these things are marginalized and dehumanized either through their behavior (the suitors and sailors) or through actual deformity (the Cyclopes, Kikones, and, well, pretty much most of the women in the poem). So, while the epic itself is not clearly racist in the modern sense, it supplies and deploys frameworks by which other human beings may be marginalized and dehumanized.

Image result for Ancient Vase Odyssey odysseus

Some Truth Behind Odysseus’ Pseudonyms

Odyssey 24.303–307

“Certainly, I will explain everything to you truly.
I am from Alybas where I live in a glorious home,
I am the son of Apheidas, the son of lord Polypêmôn.
My name is Epêritos. But some god struck me
So I came here from Sicily even though I was unwilling.”

“τοιγὰρ ἐγώ τοι πάντα μάλ’ ἀτρεκέως καταλέξω.
εἰμὶ μὲν ἐξ ᾿Αλύβαντος, ὅθι κλυτὰ δώματα ναίω,
υἱὸς ᾿Αφείδαντος Πολυπημονίδαο ἄνακτος·
αὐτὰρ ἐμοί γ’ ὄνομ’ ἐστὶν ᾿Επήριτος· ἀλλά με δαίμων
πλάγξ’ ἀπὸ Σικανίης δεῦρ’ ἐλθέμεν οὐκ ἐθέλοντα·

The names that Odysseus chooses here from his family tree are interesting as a reflection of his persona and his experience. The most obvious, on the surface, is Apheidas which means “unsparing”; the grandfather’s name, Polu-pêmôn, means “of many pains”. The final element, his personal name Epêritos, is the least transparent—Eustathius argues that it derives from the verb erizein, “to engage in strife.” Eustathius also interprets the paternal name, Apheidas, positively, suggesting that it anticipates the projected liberality of the speaker in terms of gift giving. The name could also indicate however, a person taken to risk or unsparing of others: to wit, Odysseus is in this scene rather unsparing of his father who suffers much grief because of him.

Eust. Comm. Ad Hom. Od. II 324

“He says that he is the son of Apheidas [“unsparing”] because he wants to emphasize his own liberality and great gift-giving. This is the very thing Laertes understands and says in a bit that “Odysseus would have responded and sent you away with gifts. He lies in saying his father’s name is Polu-pêmôn as a riddle for the many sufferings which he has suffered.

The name Epêritos is similar to “contentious” [perimakhêtos] and comes from “to engage in strife” [erizô] since Odysseus was this way to all and was “conversant in the ways of men,” or it is because he fostered the good strife. Note that by analogy epêristos ought to be similar to amphêristos, but it has introduced a sigma for the sake of the dactyl. This happens also in the phrase nêrthiton oros and euktiton [well-built] and euktimenên [“well-built”] and others. This is the same type of composition we find in Epêritos.”

(Vers. 305.) ᾿Αφείδαντος δὲ υἱὸς εἶναι λέγει, ἐμφαίνων τὸ ἑαυτοῦ ἐλευθέριον καὶ μεγαλόδωρον· ὃ συνιστῶν καὶ ὁ Λαέρτης ἔφη πρὸ ὀλίγων, ὅτι δώροις ἄν σε ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἀμειψάμενος ἀπέπεμπε. Πολυπήμων δὲ αὐτῷ καταψεύδεται πάππος πρὸς αἴνιγμα τῶν πολλῶν πημάτων ὧν ἔπαθε. (Vers. 306.)

Τὸ δὲ ᾿Επήριτος ταυτόν πώς ἐστι τῷ περιμάχητος ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐρίζω, ἐπεὶ πᾶσιν ἔμελλε καὶ ἐπίστροφος ἦν ἀνθρώπων ᾿Οδυσσεὺς, ἢ καὶ ὅτι τὴν ἀγαθὴν ὑπέτρεφεν ἔριν. ᾿Ιστέον δὲ ὅτι κατὰ ἀναλογίαν ἐπήριστος ὤφειλεν εἶναι ὁμοίως τῷ ἀμφήριστος ἀπήγαγε δὲ τὸ σίγμα διὰ χρείαν δακτύλου. ὃ γίνεται καὶ ἐν τῷ, νήρθιτον ὄρος, καὶ εὔκτιτον καὶ εὐκτιμένην καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις. καὶ τοιοῦτος μὲν ὁ πλαστὸς οὗτος ᾿Επήριτος.

Image result for Odysseus ancient Greek

Homer, Eustathius, and the Force of Alastos (“Unforgettable”)

When Thetis comes to Zeus in the 24th book of the Iliad, the father of gods and men seems to empathize with her.

“You have come to Olympus, divine Thetis, though in grief, carrying unforgettable sorrow in your heart. I know this myself.”

ἤλυθες Οὔλυμπον δὲ θεὰ Θέτι κηδομένη περ,
πένθος ἄλαστον ἔχουσα μετὰ φρεσίν· οἶδα καὶ αὐτός· Il. 24.104-105

Eustathius found the use of the adjective alaston here particularly interesting.

Eustathius, Comm ad Il. 4.875

“To have grief unceasing (which is from epalastein, to be troubled) should be translated as “grieving” [as in a funeral], since feeling the affliction of mourning is in these words, grieving. This grief is in fact for Achilles who is still living; Thetis has drawn the dark veil across her face as is appropriate for those mourning over corpses.”

(v. 105) Τὸ δὲ πένθος ἔχειν ἄλαστον, ἐξ οὗ τὸ ἐπαλαστεῖν, ἐφερμηνευτικόν ἐστι τοῦ κήδεσθαι, ἵνα ᾗ ἐν τοῖς ῥηθεῖσι κήδεσθαι τὸ πενθικῶς βλάπτεσθαι. (v. 93 s.) ῞Οτι διὰ πένθος τὸ ἐπὶ ᾿Αχιλλεῖ, καὶ ταῦτα ζῶντι ἔτι, κάλυμμα ἡ Θέτις ἕλε κυάνεον, ὡς εἰκὸς τοὺς ἐπὶ νεκροῖς παθαινομένους. «τοῦ δ’ οὔ τι μελάντερον ἔπλετο ἔσθος».

In an earlier passage, Eustathius acknowledges that this adjective may have a broader semantic field:

Eustath. Comm ad Il II 4.613

“Look how wise and fitting it is that Achilles calls Hecktor alastos, because he is grieving unceasingly. For as he hurries to this task he does not take pleasure in the insult. Not only does the word alastôr (“avenger; sinner”) derive from alastos, but it also provides alastein (ἀλαστεῖν; “to be angry”) and the compound epalastein (ἐπαλαστεῖν; “to be troubled”) which appears in the Odyssey.

῞Ορα δὲ, ὡς ἠρκέσθη νῦν σωφρόνως ὁ ᾿Αχιλλεὺς ἄλαστον εἰπεῖν τὸν ῞Εκτορα, ὡς ἀλάθητα λυπήσαντα. σπεύδων γὰρ εἰς ἔργον ὕβρεσιν οὐκ ἐνευκαιρεῖ. ἐκ δὲ τοῦ ἄλαστος οὐ μόνον ὁ ἀλάστωρ παράγεται, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ ἀλαστεῖν καὶ συνθέτως δὲ ἐπαλαστεῖν, ὅπερ ἐν ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ κεῖται.

The etymology of the adjective might look like this:

ἄλαστος: alastos, likely from the root *lath-, “escape memory”; cf. Gk.  λανθάνω (“escape notice”); ἀληθής (“true”); λήθη (“forgetfulness”).  It is also realted to ἀλάστωρ (alástôr, “avenger”) as “one who does not forget”.  Ancient folk etymologies also relate it falsely to alaomai (“to wander”) and some modern scholars have suggested a visual root (e.g. laô).  See Chaintraine s.v. ἀλάστωρ..

Post-epic, the adjective more often means “cursed” (cf. Soph. Oed. 1483: ἄλαστον ἄνδρ’) and the root is productive in verbs like alastein (ἀλαστεῖν; “to be angry”) and the compound epalastein (ἐπαλαστεῖν; “to be troubled”).

Where Does the Odyssey End (and Why?) Aristarchus, Aristotle and Eustathius

Odyssey, 23. 293-296

τοῖσιν δ’ Εὐρυνόμη θαλαμηπόλος ἡγεμόνευεν
ἐρχομένοισι λέχοσδε δάος μετὰ χερσὶν ἔχουσα·
ἐς θάλαμον δ’ ἀγαγοῦσα πάλιν κίεν. οἱ μὲν ἔπειτα
ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο παλαιοῦ θεσμὸν ἵκοντο·

“Then Eurynomê the bed-maid led them
As they went to bed, holding a torch in her hands.
She left again once she led them into the bed chamber;
Then they happily entered the rite of the ancient bed.”

 

Comments from the Scholia:

ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο] “They happily and enthusiastically remembered the ancient practice of intercourse”

Aristophanes and Aristarchus believed that this was the end (peras) of the Odyssey

Aristophanes and Aristarchus claim this as the end (telos) of the Odyssey

 

ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο] ἀσπαστῶς καὶ ἐπιθυμητικῶς ὑπεμνήσθησαν τοῦ πάλαι τῆς συνουσίας νόμου.

M.V. Vind. 133: ᾿Αριστοφάνης δὲ καὶ ᾿Αρίσταρχος πέρας τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας τοῦτο ποιοῦνται.

H.M.Q.: τοῦτο τέλος τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας φησὶν ᾿Αρίσταρχος καὶ ᾿Αριστοφάνης.

 

Erbse (1972,166-177) argues that the Alexandrian scholars really meant that the natural ‘end’ of the story in an Aristotelian sense was the reunion of husband and wife. And, yet, Aristotle seems to have a different ‘end’ in mind for the epic:

Aristotle, Poetics 1455b17-24 

“In drama, the episodes are brief; while epic uses episodes for expansion.  The story of the Odyssey really is not long: a man is away from home for many years because he is detained by Poseidon and he is alone. While this is going on, at home his possessions are being wasted by suitors and there is a plot against his son. But when he returns, storm-tossed, once he reveals himself, he attacks them, saves himself and destroys his enemies. That’s the core of the tale; different episodes comprise the rest of it”

ἐν μὲν οὖν τοῖς δράμασιν τὰ ἐπεισόδια σύντομα, ἡ δ’ ἐποποιία τούτοις μηκύνεται. τῆς γὰρ ᾿Οδυσσείας οὐ μακρὸς ὁ λόγος ἐστίν· ἀποδημοῦντός τινος ἔτη πολλὰ καὶ παραφυλαττομένου ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποσειδῶνος καὶ μόνου ὄντος, ἔτι δὲ τῶν οἴκοι οὕτως ἐχόντων ὥστε τὰ χρήματα ὑπὸ μνηστήρων ἀναλίσκεσθαι καὶ τὸν υἱὸν ἐπιβουλεύεσθαι, αὐτὸς δὲ ἀφικνεῖται χειμασθείς, καὶ ἀναγνωρίσας τινὰς ἐπιθέμενος αὐτὸς μὲν ἐσώθη τοὺς δ’ ἐχθροὺς διέφθειρε. τὸ μὲν οὖν ἴδιον τοῦτο, τὰ δ’ ἄλλα ἐπεισόδια. 

 

Eustathius takes issue with the scholiasts’ choice:

Eustathius, Commentary on the Odyssey, II.308

“We should note that according to the very old accounts, Aristarchus and Aristophanes, the best of the ancient commentators, made this line (23.296) the end of the Odyssey, because they were suspicious of what remained to the end of the book. But these scholars are cutting off many critical things, which they claim to oppose, for example the immediately following rhetorical recapitulation of that has happened and then, in a way, a summary of the whole Odyssey and then, in the next book, the recognition scene between Odysseus and Laertes, and the many marvelous things that happen there.”

᾿Ιστέον δὲ ὅτι κατὰ τὴν τῶν παλαιῶν ἱστορίαν ᾿Αρίσταρχος καὶ᾿Αριστοφάνης, οἱ κορυφαῖοι τῶν τότε γραμματικῶν, εἰς τὸ, ὡς ἐῤῥέθη, ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο παλαιοῦ θεσμὸν ἵκοντο, περατοῦσι τὴν ᾿Οδύσσειαν, τὰ ἐφεξῆς ἕως τέλους τοῦ βιβλίου νοθεύοντες. οἱ δὲ τοιοῦτοι πολλὰ τῶν καιριωτάτων περικόπτουσιν, ὥς φασιν οἱ αὐτοῖς ἀντιπίπτοντες, οἷον τὴν εὐθὺς ἐφεξῆς τῶν φθασάντων ῥητορικὴνἀνακεφαλαίωσιν καὶ τὴν τῆς ὅλης ὡς εἰπεῖν ᾿Οδυσσείας ἐπιτομὴν, εἶτα καὶ τὸν ὕστερον ἀναγνωρισμὸν ᾿Οδυσσέως τὸν πρὸς τὸν Λαέρτην καὶ τὰ ἐκεῖ θαυμασίως πλαττόμενα καὶ ἄλλα οὐκ ὀλίγα.

 

But there’s a good deal missing from Eustathius’ ‘summary’ of book 24:

1-202: Second Underworld scene: Suitors’ ghosts descend to Hades; Achilles and Agamemnon have a conversation; Amphimedon recaps the action

202-411: Reunion of Odysseus and Laertes: Odysseus tests his father, then relents; they return to his home and dine

412-471: The Trial of Odysseus: The families of the slain gather their dead; assemble; split over whether to face Odysseus; prepare for war

472-488: Divine Council: Athena and Zeus discuss how to end the conflict

489-545: The End: Families approach; Odysseus and his household arm; they kill one man (Eupeithes); Athena intervenes

 

Multiformity in Myth: The Children of Odysseus

[Inspired by the Almeida Theater’s live performance of the Odyssey today, we are reposting some of our favorite passages]

(For a more conventional paper-based version of the following, go here)

When Odysseus and Telemachus finally meet in book 16 of the Odyssey, the father is suddenly stripped of his disguise to reveal himself to his son. Telemachus, shocked, believes that this is instead some god come to trick him. Odysseus, frustrated by the slight delay in reunion, tells his son that “no other Odysseus will come home to you” (16.204). Although from the perspective of the narrative the audience knows that this is in fact Odysseus (and even though Telemachus immediately relents and embraces his father), the line prompts us to think of what it means to say that this man is Odysseus and to ponder what “another” Odysseus might be.

One of the things nearly everyone knows is that Odysseus, the son of Laertes, has a son named Telemachus. This fact is asseverated early in the Iliad when Odysseus makes an oath based on his identity (2.260-64):

“May I be called the father of Telemachus no longer
If I don’t grab you and strip the fine clothes from your back,
The cloak and the tunic that hides your genitals;
And then I will send you wailing among the swift ships
As I beat you from the assembly with unseemly blows.”

μηδ’ ἔτι Τηλεμάχοιο πατὴρ κεκλημένος εἴην
εἰ μὴ ἐγώ σε λαβὼν ἀπὸ μὲν φίλα εἵματα δύσω,
χλαῖνάν τ’ ἠδὲ χιτῶνα, τά τ’ αἰδῶ ἀμφικαλύπτει,
αὐτὸν δὲ κλαίοντα θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας ἀφήσω
πεπλήγων ἀγορῆθεν ἀεικέσσι πληγῇσιν.

Odysseus also refers to himself as  “Telemachus’ dear father who fights in the forefront” (Τηλεμάχοιο φίλον πατέρα προμάχοισι μιγέντα, 4.354) later in the epic. These moments are exceptional because every other hero defines himself by his patronym, by his father and past rather than his son and his future.

Most scholars seem to understand this as a nod to the Odyssey and Odysseus’ different character. The scholia present the common reaction to this from Aristonicus: The Iliad is aware of the Odyssey (Τηλεμάχοιο: ὅτι προτετυπωμένος τὰ κατὰ τὴν ᾿Οδύσσειαν μνημονεύει τοῦ Τηλεμάχου. τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἄρα ποιητοῦ καὶ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια, Schol. A ad Il. 4.354a 1-3).

What if this reference is not exclusive and specific (i.e. pointing to our Odyssey as we have it), but is instead selecting out and constructing one of many possible Odysseis? Yes, it is true that this notion is not incompatible with the presumption that Odysseus’ words in the Iliad ‘shout out’ to the identity of the Odysseus in the Odyssey. But at the same time, it seems to engage in a Homeric pattern of omitting or marginalizing other traditions for Odysseus—traditions that describe the events after he gets home, or provide different details about what happened after he left Troy; and traditions that transgress the strong identification between Odysseus and his son Telemachus. The larger mythical tradition, it seems, knew a different Odysseus who had many more sons.

Odysseus is said to have heard a prophecy that he would be killed by his son. So, according to some (Dictys, Hyginus) he sent Telemachus away. But what Odysseus didn’t know, allegedly, is that it had more than one son. How many? That depends on whom you believe.

What is really in Kirke's cup?
What is really in Kirke’s cup?

The question–and the various answers we can generate–illustrate both the importance of Odysseus as a figure (in terms of geography and time) and the malleability of myth. To start, here’s the list of all the named children I could find: 17 names for sons (for, I think, 13 individuals) and a daughter:

The Sons:

Telemakhos and Arkesilaos/Ptoliporthes (Penelope) [Eustathius/Pausanias]
Agrios, Latinus and Telegonos (Kirke [Hesiod]) or Auson [Lykophron]
Rhomos, Antias, Ardeas (Kirke) [Dionysus of Halicarnassos]
Nausithoos and Nausinoos (Kalypso) [Hesiod]
Leontophron or Dorukles or Euryalos (Euippê, Epirote Princess) [Eustathius]
Polypoitês (Kallidikê, Thesprotian Princess) [Proklos]
Leontophronos (Daughter of Thoas, Aitolian Princess) [Apollodoros]

The Daughter:
Kassiphone (Kirke) [Lykophron]

Now, it is fair to note that much of the attestation for these children is later than the classical period. But, with the exception of Lykophron (and more on him later), these are not authors who seem to be in the habit of making things up.
Read More

Homeric Sexual Healing: Margites fragments 1-3 and More!

We are near the end of a semester at my University and I seem to be limping to the end. As a tonic for tired days, I turned to the Homeric Margites today. What’s more therapeutic than laughing at a fool? (Well, maybe we should ask Margites’ wife…)

“Some old man, a divine singer, came to Kolophon,
An assistant of the Muses and Apollo
Holding a sweet-singing lyre in his dear hands.
The gods didn’t make him an excavator or a ploughman
Nor wise in anything at all: he screwed up every kind of craft:
He knew many deeds, but he knew all of them badly.”

ἦλθέ τις ἐς Κολοφῶνα γέρων καὶ θεῖος ἀοιδός,
Μουσάων θεράπων καὶ ἑκηβόλου ᾿Απόλλωνος,
φίληις ἔχων ἐν χερσὶν εὔφθογγον λύρην.
τὸν δ’ οὔτ’ ἂρ σκαπτῆρα θεοὶ θέσαν οὔτ’ ἀροτῆρα
οὔτ’ ἄλλως τι σοφόν· πάσης δ’ ἡμάρτανε τέχνης.
πόλλ’ ἠπίστατο ἔργα, κακῶς δ’ ἠπίστατο πάντα.

Actual T-Shirt, Game-worn Condition
Actual T-Shirt, Game-worn Condition

And yes, I do own a t-shirt proudly emblazoned with the motto: πόλλ’ ἠπίστατο ἔργα, κακῶς δ’ ἠπίστατο πάντα. I would not be so proud to be known for the following details, however.

According to the testimonies part of Margites’ ignorance extended to carnal acts (from Dio Chrys. Or. 67.5 (On Reputation)):

“He would be much more foolish than Margites, who was ignorant about what to do with a woman after being married.”

Πολύ γε ἂν εἴη τοῦ Μαργίτου μωρότερος, ἀγνοοῦντος ὅ,τι χρὴ γήμαντα χρῆσθαι τῇ γυναικί.

Hesychius (the Alexandrian Lexicographer, not the Monk!) adds another detail for titillation: his wife told him she had been bitten in her genitals by a scorpion and that she needed, well, sexual healing. Eustathius (Comm ad Od. 1.395), as one might expect, repeats this anecdote with relish.

“We have learned a similar thing about the fool Margites, thanks to whom “raging” (margainein) means also “to be a fool”. The poet who bears Homer’s name makes him a son of extremely wealthy parents who, after he got married, did not climb upon his wife until she persuaded him that she had been wounded in her nether regions. She said that no medicine would help her except the act of fitting male genitals into that place. And in this way he laid next do his wife, for the sake of therapy.”

οὕτως ἔγνωμεν καὶ τὸν ἄφρονα Μαργίτην τὸν ἀπὸ τοῦ μαργαίνειν ὅ ἐστι μωραίνειν. ὃν ὁ ποιήσας τὸν ἐπιγραφόμενον ῾Ομήρου Μαργίτην ὑποτίθεται εὐπόρων μὲν εἰς ὑπερβολὴν γονέων φῦναι, γήμαντα δὲ μὴ συμπεσεῖν τῇ νύμφῃ ἕως ἀναπισθεῖσα ἐκείνη τετραυματίσθαι τὰ κάτω ἐσκήψατο. φάρμακόν τε μηδὲν ὠφελήσειν ἔφη, πλὴν εἰ τὸ ἀνδρεῖον αἰδοῖον ἐκεῖ ἐφαρμοσθείη. καὶ οὕτω θεραπείας χάριν ἐκεῖνος ἐπλησίασεν.

And if you didn’t expect some Marvin Gaye now, well, you’re worse off than Margites:

The Children of Odysseus, Part 6: Babies with Princesses

For the past several weeks, we have been looking at the children of Odysseus.

Here’s the full list, 17 names for sons (for, I think, 13 individuals) and a daughter:

Telemakhos and Arkesilaos/Ptoliporthes (Penelope) [Eustathius/Pausanias]
Agrios, Latinus and Telegonos (Kirke [Hesiod]) or Auson [Lykophron]
Rhomos, Antias, Ardeas (Kirke) [Dionysus of Halicarnassos]
Nausithoos and Nausinoos (Kalypso) [Hesiod]
Leontophron or Dorukles or Euryalos (Euippê, Epirote Princess) [Eustathius]
Polypoitês (Kallidikê, Thesprotian Princess) [Proklos]
Leontophronos (Daughter of Thoas, Aitolian Princess) [Apollodoros]

And one daughter:

Kassiphone (Kirke) [Lykophron]

The primary children emphasize certain themes: his ‘core’ family in the Homeric Odyssey; his association with western settlements and travel through his children with the goddesses; and the Homeric Odyssey’s willingness to suppress or ignore details inconsonant with its aims. (And, although it is possible some of the children are ‘later’ than our Odyssey tradition, it seems unlikely that this is true for all of them.)

One of the things we can also see is that Odysseus provides a genealogical touchstone for cities outside of the Greek center (observed by Irad Malkin among others) and that in this capacity he often overlaps with Herakles (directly or through their heirs). In his pairing with various princess we also get an idea of his (1) post-Odyssean career; (2) the various ways in which his mythical genealogy spreads; and (3) his malleability as a mythical character. In turn this also helps us learn a bit more about the strategies of our Odyssey which silences most of these traditions but acknowledges the continuation of Odysseus’ tale after the epic’s end.

Read More