Why Doesn’t Odysseus Get his Buddies to Help Him in Ithaka?

When Odysseus returns to Ithaka he must undergo suffering at the hands of the suitors to justify their murders. When he and Athena make their plans in book 13, some audiences might wonder why he does not get help from allies on the mainland. Never fear, Porphyry is here to explain.

Porphyry, Hom. Quest. ad Od 13.387

“Why doesn’t Odysseus just send to Nestor and Menelaos to get an army? Because it seemed most unjust to him to impose a war on the rest of the citizens who were guilty of nothing. For he had learned from his mother in Hades that the public rights were being guarded for Telemachus and that he would avenge the transgressive suitors even on his own. And, also, if the suitors knew [that an army was coming], they would escape without paying a penalty.”

 πῶς οὐ πρὸς Νέστορα καὶ Μενέλαον μετέρχεται στρατιὰν λαβεῖν; τάχα ὅτι τοῖς λοιποῖς πολίταις οὐδὲν αἰτίοις οὖσι πόλεμον ἐπάγειν ἀδικώτατον ἔδοξε. μεμάθηκε γὰρ καὶ παρὰ τῆς μητρὸς ἐν ῞Αιδου τὰς δημοσίας Τηλεμάχῳ φυλασσομένας τιμάς, καὶ ὅτι τοὺς τρυφῶντας μνηστῆρας τιμωρήσεται καὶ καθ’ ἑαυτόν. οἵ τε μνηστῆρες, εἰ ᾔσθοντο, ἔφυγον ἂν μὴ δόντες δίκην.

 

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Talking With Homer in the Underworld

While Lucian is surely messing with us here, I think there are many tomes of Homeric scholarship set aright through this one paragraph.

Lucian, True History 2.20

“Two or three days had not yet passed when I approached the poet Homer at a moment when we both had free time and I was investigated the rest of the matters about him, especially where he was from. For this is still examined by us to this day. He said that he was not ignorant that some people say he his from Khios and others say Smyrna while a majority claims he is Kolophonian. But he was saying that he is in fact Babylonian and was not called Homer among his people but Tigranes. Later on, after he was a hostage [homêreusas] among the Greeks he changed his nickname.

When I asked him about the lines which were considered spurious and whether they had been written by him, he was claiming they were all his. For this reason I started to believe that the grammarians Zenodotus and Aristarchus were guilty of the most close-minded logic. Since he had responded sufficiently on these matters, I was asking him next why he made his poem start with the “rage of Achilles”. He said that it just leapt into his head that way without any prior thought. Then I was eager to know that thing, whether he wrote the Odyssey before the Iliad as many claim. He denied this.”

Οὔπω δὲ δύο ἢ τρεῖς ἡμέραι διεληλύθεσαν, καὶ προσελθὼν ἐγὼ Ὁμήρῳ τῷ ποιητῇ, σχολῆς οὔσης ἀμφοῖν, τά τε ἄλλα ἐπυνθανόμην καὶ ὅθεν εἴη. τοῦτο γὰρ μάλιστα παρ᾿ ἡμῖν εἰσέτι νῦν ζητεῖσθαι. ὁ δὲ οὐδ᾿ αὐτὸς μὲν ἀγνοεῖν ἔφασκεν ὡς οἱ μὲν Χῖον, οἱ δὲ Σμυρναῖον, πολλοὶ δὲ Κολοφώνιον αὐτὸν νομίζουσιν· εἶναι μέντοι γε ἔλεγεν Βαβυλώνιος, καὶ παρά γε τοῖς πολίταις οὐχ Ὅμηρος, ἀλλὰ Τιγράνης καλεῖσθαι· ὕστερον δὲ ὁμηρεύσας παρὰ τοῖς Ἕλλησιν ἀλλάξαι τὴν προσηγορίαν. ἔτι δὲ καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀθετουμένων στίχων ἐπηρώτων, εἰ ὑπ᾿ ἐκείνου εἶεν γεγραμμένοι. καὶ ὃς ἔφασκε πάντας αὑτοῦ εἶναι. κατεγίνωσκον οὖν τῶν ἀμφὶ τὸν Ζηνόδοτον καὶ Ἀρίσταρχον γραμματικῶν πολλὴν τὴν ψυχρολογίαν. ἐπεὶ δὲ ταῦτα ἱκανῶς ἀπεκέκριτο, πάλιν αὐτὸν ἠρώτων τί δή ποτε ἀπὸ τῆς μήνιδος τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐποιήσατο· καὶ ὃς εἶπεν οὕτως ἐπελθεῖν αὐτῷ μηδὲν ἐπιτηδεύσαντι. καὶ μὴν κἀκεῖνο ἐπεθύμουν εἰδέναι, εἰ προτέραν ἔγραψεν τὴν Ὀδύσσειαν τῆς Ἰλιάδος, ὡς οἱ πολλοί φασιν· ὁ δὲ ἠρνεῖτο.

Image result for medieval manuscript homer
Ambrosian Iliad

“A Little Bit, But Not Too Long”: One of Homer’s Most Chilling Passages

In her introduction to the Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood notes that two lingering questions from the Odyssey inspired her– (1) the ancient question of what Penelope was up to (during Odysseus’ absence and in the Odyssey itself where many have seen her toying with the suitors, recognizing Odysseus ahead of time, etc. and (2) the brutal savagery of the slaughter of the handmaids who allegedly gave comfort to the suitors. The epic implies, I think, that Odysseus is tyrannical with his mutilation of Melanthios, but its presentation of the hanging of the maids is far more ambiguous and challenging to explain/defend/contextualize for students (or for myself). In preparation for a lecture on the Odyssey and the Penelopiad, I revisit this passage.

Homer Odyssey, 22.446-73

“So he spoke and all the women came in close together,
Wailing terribly, shedding growing tears.
First, they were carrying out the corpses of the dead men,
and they put them out under the portico of the walled courtyard
stacking them against one another. Odysseus himself commanded
as he oversaw them—they carried out the bodies under force too.
Then, they cleaned off the chairs and the preciously beautiful trays
With water and much-worn sponges.

Meanwhile Telemachus, the cowherd and the swineherd
were scraping up the close-fit floors of the home
with hoes—the maids were carrying the remnants to the ground outside.
Then, when they had restored the whole house to order,
They led the women out of the well-roofed hall,
Halfway between the roof and the courtyard’s perfect wall,
Closing them in a narrow space were there was no escape.
Among them, learned Telemachus began to speak.

“May I not rip the life away from these women with a clean death,
These women who poured insults on my head and my mother
These women who were stretching out next to the suitors”

So he spoke. After attaching a ship’s cable to a pillar he bound it around
The dome of the house and stretched it up high
so that no one could be able to touch the ground with feet.
Just as when either thin-winged thrushes or doves
step into a snare which has been set in a thicket,
as they look for a resting plate, a hateful bed receives them—
Just so the women held their heads in a line, and nooses
fell around every neck so that they would die most pitiably.
They were gasping, struggling with their feet a little bit, but not for very long.”

ὣς ἔφαθ’, αἱ δὲ γυναῖκες ἀολλέες ἦλθον ἅπασαι,
αἴν’ ὀλοφυρόμεναι, θαλερὸν κατὰ δάκρυ χέουσαι.
πρῶτα μὲν οὖν νέκυας φόρεον κατατεθνηῶτας,
κὰδ δ’ ἄρ’ ὑπ’ αἰθούσῃ τίθεσαν εὐερκέος αὐλῆς,
ἀλλήλοισιν ἐρείδουσαι· σήμαινε δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
αὐτὸς ἐπισπέρχων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκφόρεον καὶ ἀνάγκῃ.
αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα θρόνους περικαλλέας ἠδὲ τραπέζας
ὕδατι καὶ σπόγγοισι πολυτρήτοισι κάθαιρον.
αὐτὰρ Τηλέμαχος καὶ βουκόλος ἠδὲ συβώτης
λίστροισιν δάπεδον πύκα ποιητοῖο δόμοιο
ξῦον· ταὶ δ’ ἐφόρεον δμῳαί, τίθεσαν δὲ θύραζε.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ πᾶν μέγαρον διεκοσμήσαντο,
δμῳὰς ἐξαγαγόντες ἐϋσταθέος μεγάροιο,
μεσσηγύς τε θόλου καὶ ἀμύμονος ἕρκεος αὐλῆς,
εἴλεον ἐν στείνει, ὅθεν οὔ πως ἦεν ἀλύξαι.
τοῖσι δὲ Τηλέμαχος πεπνυμένος ἦρχ’ ἀγορεύειν·
“μὴ μὲν δὴ καθαρῷ θανάτῳ ἀπὸ θυμὸν ἑλοίμην
τάων, αἳ δὴ ἐμῇ κεφαλῇ κατ’ ὀνείδεα χεῦαν
μητέρι θ’ ἡμετέρῃ, παρά τε μνηστῆρσιν ἴαυον.”
ὣς ἄρ’ ἔφη, καὶ πεῖσμα νεὸς κυανοπρῴροιο
κίονος ἐξάψας μεγάλης περίβαλλε θόλοιο,
ὑψόσ’ ἐπεντανύσας, μή τις ποσὶν οὖδας ἵκοιτο.
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἢ κίχλαι τανυσίπτεροι ἠὲ πέλειαι
ἕρκει ἐνιπλήξωσι, τό θ’ ἑστήκῃ ἐνὶ θάμνῳ,
αὖλιν ἐσιέμεναι, στυγερὸς δ’ ὑπεδέξατο κοῖτος,
ὣς αἵ γ’ ἑξείης κεφαλὰς ἔχον, ἀμφὶ δὲ πάσαις
δειρῇσι βρόχοι ἦσαν, ὅπως οἴκτιστα θάνοιεν.
ἤσπαιρον δὲ πόδεσσι μίνυνθά περ, οὔ τι μάλα δήν.

Eustathius, Comm. Ad Od. II 290

“It is clear from the words uttered that the father ordered one thing but the son ordered another. For since it seems that a clean death is from a sword, and an unclean one is hanging, as is clear from the Nekyia, he thought it was right that unclean women should not have a clean death, since they were not clean themselves nor did they leave their masters clean of insults.”

δῆλον δ’ ἐκ τῶν ῥηθέντων ὅτι ἄλλο μὲν ἐκέλευσεν ὁ πατὴρ, ἄλλο δὲ πεποίηκεν ὁ υἱός. ἐπεὶ γὰρ καθαρὸς μὲν ὁ διὰ ξίφους ἐδόκει θάνατος, μιαρὸς δὲ ὁ ἀγχονιμαῖος, ὡς ἐν τῇ νεκύᾳ προδεδήλωται, ἔκρινε μὴ χρῆναι καθαρῷ θανάτῳ τὰς ἀκαθάρτους πεσεῖν, αἳ οὔτε αὐταὶ καθαραὶ ἦσαν οὔτε τοὺς δεσπότας καθαροὺς εἴων ὕβρεων.

Terracotta stamnos (jar)
Women at a banquet, Metropolitan Museum of Art, acc. # 06.1021.178

Why Doesn’t Odysseus Get his Buddies to Help Him in Ithaka?

When Odysseus returns to Ithaka he must undergo suffering at the hands of the suitors to justify their murders. When he and Athena make their plans in book 13, some audiences might wonder why he does not get help from allies on the mainland. Never fear, Porphyry is here to explain.

Porphyry, Hom. Quest. ad Od 13.387

“Why doesn’t Odysseus just send to Nestor and Menelaos to get an army? Because it seemed most unjust to him to impose a war on the rest of the citizens who were guilty of nothing. For he had learned from his mother in Hades that the public rights were being guarded for Telemachus and that he would avenge the transgressive suitors even on his own. And, also, if the suitors knew [that an army was coming], they would escape without paying a penalty.”

 πῶς οὐ πρὸς Νέστορα καὶ Μενέλαον μετέρχεται στρατιὰν λαβεῖν; τάχα ὅτι τοῖς λοιποῖς πολίταις οὐδὲν αἰτίοις οὖσι πόλεμον ἐπάγειν ἀδικώτατον ἔδοξε. μεμάθηκε γὰρ καὶ παρὰ τῆς μητρὸς ἐν ῞Αιδου τὰς δημοσίας Τηλεμάχῳ φυλασσομένας τιμάς, καὶ ὅτι τοὺς τρυφῶντας μνηστῆρας τιμωρήσεται καὶ καθ’ ἑαυτόν. οἵ τε μνηστῆρες, εἰ ᾔσθοντο, ἔφυγον ἂν μὴ δόντες δίκην.

 

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