Not The Family Next Door

Sophocles, Antigone. 49-68

Ismene to Antigone:

My sister, reflect on how our father died
Despised and disgraced.
How he discovered crime in himself
And worked his hands to stab his own eyes.
Then how his mother-wife (that pair of words!)
Did violence against life with a plaited cord.
It goes on–how two brothers, yours and mine,
Killed one another, poor things,
And won at each other’s hand their common doom.

Now consider this too: we’re all that’s left.
We will die in the most wicked way
If despite the law’s might we transgressed
A decree, or the power, of tyrants.
You have to realize, we were born women;
We do not fight men.
Who has greater strength makes the rule.
We must submit to this, and more painful things.

I beg those under the earth to understand:
I’m not free. I will obey those who hold sway.

οἴμοι· φρόνησον, ὦ κασιγνήτη, πατὴρ
ὡς νῷν ἀπεχθὴς δυσκλεής τ᾿ ἀπώλετο
πρὸς αὐτοφώρων ἀμπλακημάτων, διπλᾶς
ὄψεις ἀράξας αὐτὸς αὐτουργῷ χερί·
ἔπειτα μήτηρ καὶ γυνή, διπλοῦν ἔπος,
πλεκταῖσιν ἀρτάναισι λωβᾶται βίον·
τρίτον δ᾿ ἀδελφὼ δύο μίαν καθ᾿ ἡμέραν
αὐτοκτονοῦντε τὼ ταλαιπώρω μόρον
κοινὸν κατειργάσαντ᾿ ἐπαλλήλοιν χεροῖν.
νῦν δ᾿ αὖ μόνα δὴ νὼ λελειμμένα σκόπει
ὅσῳ κάκιστ᾿ ὀλούμεθ᾿, εἰ νόμου βίᾳ
ψῆφον τυράννων ἢ κράτη παρέξιμεν.
ἀλλ᾿ ἐννοεῖν χρὴ τοῦτο μὲν γυναῖχ᾿ ὅτι
ἔφυμεν, ὡς πρὸς ἄνδρας οὐ μαχουμένα·
ἔπειτα δ᾿ οὕνεκ᾿ ἀρχόμεσθ᾿ ἐκ κρεισσόνων
καὶ ταῦτ᾿ ἀκούειν κἄτι τῶνδ᾿ ἀλγίονα.
ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν αἰτοῦσα τοὺς ὑπὸ χθονὸς
ξύγγνοιαν ἴσχειν, ὡς βιάζομαι τάδε,
τοῖς ἐν τέλει βεβῶσι πείσομαι . .

Maria Callas with an expression
Appropriate to a daughter of Oedipus.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Penelope Had Brothers, Really.

In the Odyssey, Athena warns Telemachus to be quickly on his way:

Od. 15. 16-18

“Already [Penelope’s] father and relatives are urging her
To marry Eurymakhos, for he excels all the other suitors
In gifts and he has promised many bridegifts.”

ἤδη γάρ ῥα πατήρ τε κασίγνητοί τε κέλονται
Εὐρυμάχῳ γήμασθαι· ὁ γὰρ περιβάλλει ἅπαντας
μνηστῆρας δώροισι καὶ ἐξώφελλεν ἔεδνα·

The word kasignêtoi here can merely mean male relatives (it is cognate with the English “cousins”) but the Scholia to the Odyssey take the passage to be referring to Penelope’s father and brothers. It names them.

Schol ad. Od. 15.16-17

“Penelope had two brothers, Sêmos and Aulêtês. But Ikarios was from Kephallanian Messêne. He was not seen in Ithaka because he was traveling. But he is not Laconian. This is the reason Telemakhos did not visit him during his trip abroad in Sparta.”

ἀδελφοὶ τῆς Πηνελόπης δύο, Σῆμος καὶ Αὐλήτης· ὁ δὲ ᾿Ικάριος ἐκ Μεσσήνης ἦν τῆς Κεφαλληνιακῆς· ἐπεὶ οὐχ ὁρᾶται ἐν ᾿Ιθάκῃ ἀναστρεφόμενος. ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ Λάκων· ὅθεν οὐδὲ ἐνέτυχε αὐτῷ Τηλέμαχος ἐν τῇ εἰς Λακεδαίμονα ἀποδημίᾳ. H.

So, this scholion excuses Ikarios by putting him elsewhere. (There is debate in the tradition about whether or not this Ikarios is Tyndareus’ brother. This would put him the Peloponnese, and it troubles scholars that Telemachus does not visit his maternal grandfather.) But what of Penelope’s brothers—did they owe no support to their nephew in his time of trouble? (The brothers are not given these names anywhere else that I know of).

Telemachus takes Athena’s warning to heart, as he says later to Theoklymenos:

Homer, Odyssey 15.518-524

“But I will tell you of another man you might encounter,
Eurymakhos, the shining son of sharp-minded Polyboios,
Whom the Ithakans now look upon the way they would a god.
He is by far the best man remaining and the best
To marry my mother and receive my father’s geras.
But Zeus is the one who knows these things as he rules on high”
Whether or not he will bring about a deadly day for them before a marriage.”

ἀλλά τοι ἄλλον φῶτα πιφαύσκομαι, ὅν κεν ἵκοιο,
Εὐρύμαχον, Πολύβοιο δαΐφρονος ἀγλαὸν υἱόν,
τὸν νῦν ἶσα θεῷ ᾿Ιθακήσιοι εἰσορόωσι·
καὶ γὰρ πολλὸν ἄριστος ἀνὴρ μέμονέν τε μάλιστα
μητέρ’ ἐμὴν γαμέειν καὶ ᾿Οδυσσῆος γέρας ἕξειν.

There are other names and other brothers too, as our friend Carly Silver points out: