Homeric Love Advice: After Sex, Tell a Story

Odyssey, 23.300-309

“After they had their fill of lovely sex,
they took pleasure in their stories, narrating for one another.
She told him everything she endured as a woman
watching the ruinous throng of suitors in their home,
slaughtering so many bulls and fat sheep,
and draining down so much wine.
And godly Odysseus told her all the grief he caused men
and how much he suffered himself in his efforts.
He told her everything. And she enjoyed hearing it—
sleep would not alight upon her brows before he told every bit.”

τὼ δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν φιλότητος ἐταρπήτην ἐρατεινῆς,
τερπέσθην μύθοισι, πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἐνέποντες,
ἡ μὲν ὅσ’ ἐν μεγάροισιν ἀνέσχετο δῖα γυναικῶν
ἀνδρῶν μνηστήρων ἐσορῶσ’ ἀΐδηλον ὅμιλον,
οἳ ἕθεν εἵνεκα πολλά, βόας καὶ ἴφια μῆλα,
ἔσφαζον, πολλὸς δὲ πίθων ἠφύσσετο οἶνος·
αὐτὰρ διογενὴς ᾿Οδυσεύς, ὅσα κήδε’ ἔθηκεν
ἀνθρώποισ’ ὅσα τ’ αὐτὸς ὀϊζύσας ἐμόγησε,
πάντ’ ἔλεγ’· ἡ δ’ ἄρα τέρπετ’ ἀκούουσ’, οὐδέ οἱ ὕπνος
πῖπτεν ἐπὶ βλεφάροισι πάρος καταλέξαι ἅπαντα.

There’s not much sex in Homer–epic does not deny the existence of the act–or its power–but it is chaste in describing it. And when it does, the situation is usually a bit, well, awkward. In the Iliad, Aphrodite rescues Paris from a duel with Menelaos and inserts him in his bedchamber.  She tells Helen to go ‘comfort’ him and when Helen balks, Aphrodite threatens. Helen insults Paris a bit, and he responds rather weakly (Il. 3.437-447):

“Paris then answered her with this speech:
“Don’t criticize me with such harsh words, wife.
For now, Menelaos would have overcome me with Athena’s help
Or I would have killed him. Gods support both of us.
Come on, let’s lay down in bad and have sex.
For desire has not ever so clouded my thoughts
Not even when I first took you from beautiful Lakedaimon
And sailed in the sea-going vessels
And I stopped to linger in sex and sleep on the island Kranaes.
This is how much I want you now as this sweet longing takes me.”
That’s what he said as he led her to the bed. His spouse followed.

Τὴν δὲ Πάρις μύθοισιν ἀμειβόμενος προσέειπε·
μή με γύναι χαλεποῖσιν ὀνείδεσι θυμὸν ἔνιπτε·
νῦν μὲν γὰρ Μενέλαος ἐνίκησεν σὺν ᾿Αθήνῃ,
κεῖνον δ’ αὖτις ἐγώ· πάρα γὰρ θεοί εἰσι καὶ ἡμῖν.
ἀλλ’ ἄγε δὴ φιλότητι τραπείομεν εὐνηθέντε·
οὐ γάρ πώ ποτέ μ’ ὧδέ γ’ ἔρως φρένας ἀμφεκάλυψεν,
οὐδ’ ὅτε σε πρῶτον Λακεδαίμονος ἐξ ἐρατεινῆς
ἔπλεον ἁρπάξας ἐν ποντοπόροισι νέεσσι,
νήσῳ δ’ ἐν Κραναῇ ἐμίγην φιλότητι καὶ εὐνῇ,
ὥς σεο νῦν ἔραμαι καί με γλυκὺς ἵμερος αἱρεῖ.
῏Η ῥα, καὶ ἄρχε λέχος δὲ κιών· ἅμα δ’ εἵπετ’ ἄκοιτις.

The scene is not much better in the Iliad’s most famous instance of lovemaking. Hera spends most of book 14 preparing to seduce Zeus so that she can thwart his plans in helping the Trojans. She arrives, with a promise of help from the god Sleep and special cosmetics borrowed from Aphrodite, and Zeus’ response is immediate (14 312-328):

Read More