All in the Head: The Cyclops is Part of Odysseus

From Porphyry’s essay, On the Cave of the Nymphs 35

“In Plato, the water, the sea and the storm are material matter. For this reason, I think, Homer named the harbor “Phorkus’” (“and this is the harbor of Phorkus”) after the sea-god whose daughter, Thoôsa, he genealogized in the first book of the Odyssey. The Kyklôps is her son whose eye Odysseus blinded. [Homer named the harbor thus] so that right before his home [Odysseus] would receive a reminder of his mistakes. For this reason, the location under the olive tree is also fitting for Odysseus as a suppliant of the god who might win over his native deity through suppliancy.

For it would not be easy for one who has blinded [the spirit] and rushed to quell his energy to escape this life of the senses; no, the rage of the sea and the material gods pursues anyone who has dared these things. It is right first to appease these gods with sacrifices, the labors of a beggar, and endurance followed by battling through sufferings, deploying spells and enchantments and changing oneself through them in every way in order that, once he has been stripped of the rags he might restore everything. And thus one may not escape from his toils, but when he has emerged from the sea altogether that his thoughts are so untouched of the sea and material matters, that he believes that an oar is a winnowing fan because of his total inexperience of the tools and affairs of the sea.”

πόντος δὲ καὶ θάλασσα καὶ κλύδων καὶ παρὰ Πλάτωνι ἡ ὑλικὴ σύστασις. διὰ τοῦτ’, οἶμαι, καὶ τοῦ Φόρκυνος ἐπωνόμασε τὸν λιμένα·

                    ‘Φόρκυνος δέ τίς ἐστι λιμήν,’

ἐναλίου θεοῦ, οὗ δὴ καὶ θυγατέρα ἐν ἀρχῇ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας τὴν Θόωσαν ἐγενεαλόγησεν, ἀφ’ ἧς ὁ Κύκλωψ, ὃν ὀφθαλμοῦ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἀλάωσεν, ἵνα καὶ ἄχρι τῆς πατρίδος ὑπῇ τι τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων μνημόσυνον. ἔνθεν αὐτῷ καὶ ἡ ὑπὸ τὴν ἐλαίαν καθέδρα οἰκεία ὡς ἱκέτῃ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ὑπὸ τὴν ἱκετηρίαν ἀπομειλισσομένῳ τὸν γενέθλιον δαίμονα. οὐ γὰρ ἦν ἁπλῶς τῆς αἰσθητικῆς ταύτης ἀπαλλαγῆναι ζωῆς τυφλώσαντα αὐτὴν καὶ καταργῆσαι συντόμως σπουδάσαντα, ἀλλ’ εἵπετο τῷ

ταῦτα τολμήσαντι μῆνις ἁλίων καὶ ὑλικῶν θεῶν, οὓς χρὴ πρότερον ἀπομειλίξασθαι θυσίαις τε καὶ πτωχοῦ πόνοις καὶ καρτερίαις, ποτὲ μὲν διαμαχόμενον τοῖς πάθεσι, ποτὲ δὲ γοητεύοντα καὶ ἀπατῶντα καὶ παντοίως πρὸς αὐτὰ μεταβαλλόμενον, ἵνα γυμνωθεὶς τῶν ῥακέων καθέλῃ πάντα καὶ οὐδ’ οὕτως ἀπαλλαγῇ τῶν πόνων, ἀλλ’ ὅταν παντελῶς ἔξαλος γένηται καὶ ἐν ψυχαῖς ἀπείροις θαλασσίων καὶ ἐνύλων ἔργων, ὡς πτύον εἶναι ἡγεῖσθαι τὴν κώπην διὰ τὴν τῶν ἐναλίων ὀργάνων καὶ ἔργων παντελῆ ἀπειρίαν.

Robert Lamberton 1986, 131 [Homer the Theologian]: “The bungling, dimwitted, sensual giant of book 9 is, then, a projection into the myth of the life of the senses—specifically Odysseus’ own life in this physical universe. The blinding of Polyphemus is a metaphor for suicide…The cyclops becomes a part of Odysseus—a part he wants desperately to escape—but his ineptitude in handling his escape at that early point in his career involves him in an arduous spiritual journey.”

Image result for odysseus and the cyclops ancient greek

Who Cares about Bird-Signs?

Homer, Iliad 12.230–257

“Glaring at him, shining-helmed Hektor answered:
Poulydamas, you never announce things dear to me in public.
You know how to make a different, better speech than this one.
If you are really arguing this out loud earnestly,
Well then the gods have ruined your thoughts themselves,
You who order me to forget the counsels of loud-thundering Zeus,
What he himself promised and assented to for me.
Now you ask me to listen to some tender-winged bird?
I don’t notice or care at all about these birds,
Whether they go to the right to dawn and the sun
Or whether they go to the left to the dusky gloom.
We are obeying the plan of great Zeus.
He rules over all the mortals and the immortal too.
One bird omen is best: defend your fatherland.
Why do you fear the war and strife so much?
If all the rest of us are really killed around
The Argive ships, there’s no fear for you in dying.
Your heart is not brave nor battle-worthy.
But if you keep back from the fight, or if you turn
Any other away from the war by plying him with words,
Well you’ll die straight away then, struck down by my spear.”

So he spoke and led on, and they followed him
With a divine echo. Zeus who delights in thunder
Drove a gust of wind down from the Idaian slopes,
Which carried dust straight over the ships. It froze the minds
Of the Achaeans and gave hope to the Trojans and Hektor.
Trusting in these signs and their own strength,
They were trying to break through the great wall of the Achaeans.”

Τὸν δ’ ἄρ’ ὑπόδρα ἰδὼν προσέφη κορυθαίολος ῞Εκτωρ·
Πουλυδάμα, σὺ μὲν οὐκ ἔτ’ ἐμοὶ φίλα ταῦτ’ ἀγορεύεις·
οἶσθα καὶ ἄλλον μῦθον ἀμείνονα τοῦδε νοῆσαι.
εἰ δ’ ἐτεὸν δὴ τοῦτον ἀπὸ σπουδῆς ἀγορεύεις,
ἐξ ἄρα δή τοι ἔπειτα θεοὶ φρένας ὤλεσαν αὐτοί,
ὃς κέλεαι Ζηνὸς μὲν ἐριγδούποιο λαθέσθαι
βουλέων, ἅς τέ μοι αὐτὸς ὑπέσχετο καὶ κατένευσε·
τύνη δ’ οἰωνοῖσι τανυπτερύγεσσι κελεύεις
πείθεσθαι, τῶν οὔ τι μετατρέπομ’ οὐδ’ ἀλεγίζω
εἴτ’ ἐπὶ δεξί’ ἴωσι πρὸς ἠῶ τ’ ἠέλιόν τε,
εἴτ’ ἐπ’ ἀριστερὰ τοί γε ποτὶ ζόφον ἠερόεντα.
ἡμεῖς δὲ μεγάλοιο Διὸς πειθώμεθα βουλῇ,
ὃς πᾶσι θνητοῖσι καὶ ἀθανάτοισιν ἀνάσσει.
εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάτρης.
τίπτε σὺ δείδοικας πόλεμον καὶ δηϊοτῆτα;
εἴ περ γάρ τ’ ἄλλοι γε περὶ κτεινώμεθα πάντες
νηυσὶν ἐπ’ ᾿Αργείων, σοὶ δ’ οὐ δέος ἔστ’ ἀπολέσθαι·
οὐ γάρ τοι κραδίη μενεδήϊος οὐδὲ μαχήμων.
εἰ δὲ σὺ δηϊοτῆτος ἀφέξεαι, ἠέ τιν’ ἄλλον
παρφάμενος ἐπέεσσιν ἀποτρέψεις πολέμοιο,
αὐτίκ’ ἐμῷ ὑπὸ δουρὶ τυπεὶς ἀπὸ θυμὸν ὀλέσσεις.
῝Ως ἄρα φωνήσας ἡγήσατο, τοὶ δ’ ἅμ’ ἕποντο
ἠχῇ θεσπεσίῃ· ἐπὶ δὲ Ζεὺς τερπικέραυνος
ὦρσεν ἀπ’ ᾿Ιδαίων ὀρέων ἀνέμοιο θύελλαν,
ἥ ῥ’ ἰθὺς νηῶν κονίην φέρεν· αὐτὰρ ᾿Αχαιῶν
θέλγε νόον, Τρωσὶν δὲ καὶ ῞Εκτορι κῦδος ὄπαζε.
τοῦ περ δὴ τεράεσσι πεποιθότες ἠδὲ βίηφι
ῥήγνυσθαι μέγα τεῖχος ᾿Αχαιῶν πειρήτιζον.

Schol. T ad Il. 12.238–238

“you order me to obey bird signs: the prudent person will both honor the gods and obey birdsigns, like Odysseus does. This is obeying instead of believing.

τύνη δ’ οἰωνοῖσι<—κελεύεις / πείθεσθαι>: ὁ φρόνιμος καὶ θεοὺς τιμήσει καὶ οἰωνοῖς πείσεται, ὡς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεύς (cf. Κ 274—82). τὸ δὲ πείθεσθαι (238) ἀντὶ τοῦ πιστεύειν.

Schol b. ad Il. 12.238

“The prudent person both knows to honor god and to obey bird signs, a thing which Hektor does not understand”

ὁ φρόνιμος καὶ θεὸν τιμᾶν οἶδε καὶ οἰωνοῖς πείθεσθαι, ὅπερ ῞Εκτωρ οὐ συνίησιν.

Black Figure Amphora, Walters Art Museum Baltimore

The Omen Before the Wall

Homer, Iliad 12. 195–229

“As long as they were stripping them of their gleaming weapons,
The young men who were the best and the greatest in number were following
Poulydamas and Hektor, they were especially eager to break the wall
And set fire to the ships. They were still struggling standing before the wall
When a bird went over them as they were struggling to cross it,
A high-flying eagle moving its way over the left side of the army
Holding in its talons a huge dark red snake
Still alive, breathing: it had not yet lost its fighting spirit.
For it struck back at the bird who held him in the skin along the chest
As it bent double. And the bird tossed him away to the ground
tortured with pains. It dropped the snake in the middle of the throng
But flew away on the breath of the wind, sounding out in pain.
The Trojans shivered when they saw the winding serpent
Lying there, a sign from Aegis-bearing Zeus.

Then Polydamas stood aside and addressed bold Hektor:
“Hektor, you are always threatening me in the public assemblies for some reason,
Even when I advise well, since it is not ever deemed proper
For some member of the people to advise differently, either in council
Or in war. Instead, we must always increase your strength.
But now I will tell you what seems to me to be best.
Let’s not go to fight the Danaans around their ships.
I think that it will turn out this way, if truly this bird
Came over the Trojans as we struggled to cross the wall,
A high-flying eagle moving its way over the left side of the army
Holding in its talons a huge dark red snake
Still alive. For it dropped it before it could return to its dear home
And did not complete the task of giving it to his children.
In the same way we, if we break through the gates and walls
Of the Achaeans by means of great strength and the Achaeans yield
So too we will not find the same paths in order among the ships.
We will lose many Trojans there as the Achaeans
Strike them down with bronze will defending the ships/
This is how a prophet would interpret, one who clearly understands
In his heart divine signs and one the people obey.”

῎Οφρ’ οἳ τοὺς ἐνάριζον ἀπ’ ἔντεα μαρμαίροντα,
τόφρ’ οἳ Πουλυδάμαντι καὶ ῞Εκτορι κοῦροι ἕποντο,
οἳ πλεῖστοι καὶ ἄριστοι ἔσαν, μέμασαν δὲ μάλιστα
τεῖχός τε ῥήξειν καὶ ἐνιπρήσειν πυρὶ νῆας,
οἵ ῥ’ ἔτι μερμήριζον ἐφεσταότες παρὰ τάφρῳ.
ὄρνις γάρ σφιν ἐπῆλθε περησέμεναι μεμαῶσιν
αἰετὸς ὑψιπέτης ἐπ’ ἀριστερὰ λαὸν ἐέργων
φοινήεντα δράκοντα φέρων ὀνύχεσσι πέλωρον
ζωὸν ἔτ’ ἀσπαίροντα, καὶ οὔ πω λήθετο χάρμης,
κόψε γὰρ αὐτὸν ἔχοντα κατὰ στῆθος παρὰ δειρὴν
ἰδνωθεὶς ὀπίσω· ὃ δ’ ἀπὸ ἕθεν ἧκε χαμᾶζε
ἀλγήσας ὀδύνῃσι, μέσῳ δ’ ἐνὶ κάββαλ’ ὁμίλῳ,
αὐτὸς δὲ κλάγξας πέτετο πνοιῇς ἀνέμοιο.
Τρῶες δ’ ἐρρίγησαν ὅπως ἴδον αἰόλον ὄφιν
κείμενον ἐν μέσσοισι Διὸς τέρας αἰγιόχοιο.
δὴ τότε Πουλυδάμας θρασὺν ῞Εκτορα εἶπε παραστάς·
῞Εκτορ ἀεὶ μέν πώς μοι ἐπιπλήσσεις ἀγορῇσιν
ἐσθλὰ φραζομένῳ, ἐπεὶ οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδὲ ἔοικε
δῆμον ἐόντα παρὲξ ἀγορευέμεν, οὔτ’ ἐνὶ βουλῇ
οὔτέ ποτ’ ἐν πολέμῳ, σὸν δὲ κράτος αἰὲν ἀέξειν·
νῦν αὖτ’ ἐξερέω ὥς μοι δοκεῖ εἶναι ἄριστα.
μὴ ἴομεν Δαναοῖσι μαχησόμενοι περὶ νηῶν.
ὧδε γὰρ ἐκτελέεσθαι ὀΐομαι, εἰ ἐτεόν γε
Τρωσὶν ὅδ’ ὄρνις ἦλθε περησέμεναι μεμαῶσιν
αἰετὸς ὑψιπέτης ἐπ’ ἀριστερὰ λαὸν ἐέργων
φοινήεντα δράκοντα φέρων ὀνύχεσσι πέλωρον
ζωόν· ἄφαρ δ’ ἀφέηκε πάρος φίλα οἰκί’ ἱκέσθαι,
οὐδ’ ἐτέλεσσε φέρων δόμεναι τεκέεσσιν ἑοῖσιν.
ὣς ἡμεῖς, εἴ πέρ τε πύλας καὶ τεῖχος ᾿Αχαιῶν
ῥηξόμεθα σθένεϊ μεγάλῳ, εἴξωσι δ’ ᾿Αχαιοί,
οὐ κόσμῳ παρὰ ναῦφιν ἐλευσόμεθ’ αὐτὰ κέλευθα·
πολλοὺς γὰρ Τρώων καταλείψομεν, οὕς κεν ᾿Αχαιοὶ
χαλκῷ δῃώσωσιν ἀμυνόμενοι περὶ νηῶν.
ὧδέ χ’ ὑποκρίναιτο θεοπρόπος, ὃς σάφα θυμῷ
εἰδείη τεράων καί οἱ πειθοίατο λαοί.

Eagle with Snake from Olympia, c. 5th Century BCE

Porphyry’s Royal name and Fabulous Style

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers 4.19

“Although some philosophers conceal their teachings in obscure phrase, just as poets hide theirs in myth, Porphyry praised clarity as a cure-all, and because he had sampled it in his own experience, he inscribed it in his work and brought it back to daylight.”

τῶν δὲ φιλοσόφων τὰ ἀπόρρητα καλυπτόντων ἀσαφείᾳ, καθάπερ τῶν ποιητῶν τοῖς μύθοις, ὁ Πορφύριος τὸ φάρμακον τῆς σαφηνείας ἐπαινέσας καὶ διὰ πείρας γευσάμενος, ὑπόμνημα γράψας εἰς φῶς ἤγαγεν.

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers 4.55-4.56

Porphyry

“Porphyry’s birthplace was Tyre—the first city of the ancient Phoenicians—and his forebears were not men of low status. He received a fitting education and  advanced so far and gained so much that when he became a student of Longinus, he was even an adornment to his teacher in a short time.  At that time, Longinus was a kind of living library or a mobile museum. He was tasked with editing ancient authors, as many others before him had been, like Dionysius the Karian who was the most famous of them all. In his Syrian town, Porphyry was at first called Malkhos, a word that can mean king. It was Longinus who named him Porphyry, changing his name to the emblem of royal raiment.”

Alongside Longinus, Porphyry achieved the summit of education—the pinnacle of grammar and even rhetoric, the skill Longinus had achieved. He did not prefer that subject the most, but he learned every type of philosophy thoroughly.  For Longinus was by far the best man at that time at everything—the majority of his books are still circulated and people wonder at them. And if anyone criticized an ancient author, his opinion had no strength before Longinus’ judgment completely supported it.”

<ΠΟΡΦΥΡΙΟΣ>. Πορφυρίῳ Τύρος μὲν ἦν πατρίς, ἡ πρώτη τῶν ἀρχαίων Φοινίκων πόλις, καὶ πατέρες δὲ οὐκ ἄσημοι. τυχὼν δὲ τῆς προσηκούσης παιδείας, ἀνά τε ἔδραμε τοσοῦτον καὶ ἐπέδωκεν, ὡς—Λογγίνου μὲν ἦν ἀκροατής—καὶ ἐκόσμει τὸν διδάσκαλον ἐντὸς ὀλίγου χρόνου. Λογγῖνος δὲ κατὰ τὸν χρόνον ἐκεῖνον βιβλιοθήκη τις ἦν ἔμψυχος καὶ περιπατοῦν μουσεῖον, καὶ κρίνειν γε τοὺς παλαιοὺς ἐπετέτακτο, καθάπερ πρὸ ἐκείνου πολλοί τινες ἕτεροι, καὶ ὁ ἐκ Καρίας Διονύσιος πάντων ἀριδηλότερος. Μάλχος δὲ κατὰ τὴν Σύρων πόλιν ὁ Πορφύριος ἐκαλεῖτο τὰ πρῶτα (τοῦτο δὲ δύναται βασιλέα λέγειν)· Πορφύριον δὲ αὐτὸν ὠνόμασε Λογγῖνος, ἐς τὸ βασιλικὸν τῆς ἐσθῆτος παράσημον τὴν προσηγορίαν ἀποτρέψας. παρ’ ἐκείνῳ δὴ τὴν ἄκραν ἐπαιδεύετο παιδείαν, γραμματικῆς τε εἰς ἄκρον ἁπάσης, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνος, ἀφικόμενος καὶ ῥητορικῆς· πλὴν ὅσον οὐκ ἐπ’ ἐκείνην ἔνευσε, φιλοσοφίας γε πᾶν εἶδος ἐκματτόμενος. ἦν γὰρ ὁ Λογγῖνος μακρῷ τῶν τότε ἀνδρῶν τὰ πάντα ἄριστος, καὶ τῶν βιβλίων τε αὐτοῦ πολὺ πλῆθος φέρεται, καὶ τὸ φερόμενον θαυμάζεται. καὶ εἴ τις κατέγνω τινὸς τῶν παλαιῶν,  οὐ τὸ δοξασθὲν ἐκράτει πρότερον ἀλλ’ ἡ Λογγίνου πάντως ἐκράτει κρίσις.

 In his Homeric QuestionsPorphyry presents a classic formulation for how to ‘read’ Homer (1.12-14):

“Because I think to best to make sense of Homer through Homer, I usually show by example how he may interpret himself, sometimes in juxtaposition, sometimes in other ways.”

᾿Αξιῶν δὲ ἐγὼ ῞Ομηρον ἐξ ῾Ομήρου σαφηνίζειν αὐτὸν ἐξηγούμενον ἑαυτὸν ὑπεδείκνυον, ποτὲ μὲν παρακειμένως, ἄλλοτε δ’ ἐν ἄλλοις.

 

Although this is our earliest extant reference to what is attributed now to the principles of the Alexandrian librarian and editor Aristarchus, the D Scholia to the Iliad (5.385) provide an important testimonium:

“Aristarchus believed it best to make sense of those things that were presented more fantastically by Homer according to the poet’s authority, that we not be overwhelmed by anything outside of the things presented by Homer.”

᾿Αρίσταρχος ἀξιοῖ τὰ φραζόμενα ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ μυθικώτερον ἐκδέχεσθαι, κατὰ τὴν Ποιητικὴν ἐξουσίαν, μηδὲν ἔξω τῶν φραζομένων ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ περιεργαζομένους.

Seeking One Who Explains; Or, The Difference Between Grammar and Philosophy

Epictetus Encheiridion, 49

“Whenever someone is haughty because he understands and can explain the books of Chrysippus, say to him: “If Chrysippus hadn’t written so obscurely, you’d have nothing to be haughty about.”

But what do I desire? To understand nature and follow it. Therefore, I seek one who explains it. And because I have heard that Chrysippus does this, I go to him. But I do not understand what he has written. Therefore, I seek out someone who explains him. And within these steps there is nothing worthy of pride. Whenever I find the right interpreter, it is still up to me to practice his precepts. This alone is worthy of pride.

But if I am amazed at this act of explanation, have I done anything but transform into a grammarian instead of a philosopher? (Except, I interpret Chryippos instead of Homer.) Hence, whenever anyone says to me “Read me Chrysippus,” I turn red when I am incapable of demonstrating actions equal to and harmonious with his words

Ὅταν τις ἐπὶ τῷ νοεῖν καὶ ἐξηγεῖσθαι δύνασθαι τὰ Χρυσίππου βιβλία σεμνύνηται, λέγε αὐτὸς πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ὅτι “εἰ μὴ Χρύσιππος ἀσαφῶς ἐγεγράφει, οὐδὲν ἂν εἶχεν οὗτος, ἐφ᾿ ᾧ ἐσεμνύνετο.

 Ἐγὼ δὲ τί βούλομαι; καταμαθεῖν τὴν φύσιν καὶ ταύτῃ ἕπεσθαι. ζητῶ οὖν, τίς ἐστὶν ὁ ἐξηγούμενος· καὶ ἀκούσας, ὅτι Χρύσιππος, ἔρχομαι πρὸς αὐτόν. ἀλλ᾿ οὐ νοῶ τὰ γεγραμμένα· ζητῶ οὖν τὸν ἐξηγούμενον. καὶ μέχρι τούτων οὔπω σεμνὸν οὐδέν. ὅταν δὲ εὕρω τὸν ἐξηγούμενον, ἀπολείπεται χρῆσθαι τοῖς παρηγγελμένοις· τοῦτο αὐτὸ μόνον σεμνόν ἐστιν. ἂν δὲ αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὸ ἐξηγεῖσθαι θαυμάσω, τί ἄλλο ἢ γραμματικὸς ἀπετελέσθην ἀντὶ φιλοσόφου; πλήν γε δὴ ὅτι ἀντὶ Ὁμήρου Χρύσιππον ἐξηγούμενος. μᾶλλον οὖν, ὅταν τις εἴπῃ μοι “ἐπανάγνωθί μοι Χρύσιππον,” ἐρυθριῶ, ὅταν μὴ δύνωμαι ὅμοια τὰ ἔργα καὶ σύμφωνα ἐπιδεικνύειν τοῖς λόγοις.

Image result for medieval manuscript chrysippus
Chrysippus

Terrible, Wonderful Odysseus: The Meanings of his Epithets, His Name(s) and How We Read Him

In the recent poll prompted by Dio Chrysostom’s anecdote of Philip asking which hero Alexander would be, Odysseus won by a bit of a landslide. I can’t say this completely surprises me, but it does trouble me just a little bit. What is it that attracts us to Odysseus?

[I ran an earlier post on the Iliad vs. the Odyssey and their complementarity]

My post and translation also drew some ire because I translated polytropos as “shifty”. It seems that we as a collective are entirely sure about what we think this word means. And, as a result, we are confident in who we think Odysseus is.

This post turns out to be longer than might be ideal, but I am just going to leave it as is. My basic belief, which I get to eventually, is that Odysseus is popular because of his essential polysemy. We think we love Odysseus because we choose an Odysseus we want to love. The important takeaway from this is that such ‘shiftiness” (when it comes to character and reception) is an essential part of his character.

First, a basic assertion: Homer’s version of Odysseus is not the only one. Even as early as the fifth century there were some, well, complaints.

Pindar, Nemean 7.20-21

“I think that the story of Odysseus’ suffering was exaggerated by sweet-worded Homer”

ἐγὼ δὲ πλέον’ ἔλπομαι
λόγον ᾿Οδυσσέος ἢ πάθαν
διὰ τὸν ἁδυεπῆ γενέσθ’ ῞Ομηρον·

In Greek tragedy, Odysseus was far from unproblematic: in Sophocles’ Philoktetes, he is responsible for bullying Neoptolemos into convincing the title character to return to Troy. In the Ajax, he is by no means innocent in the death of Telamon’s son. Euripides has Odysseus as the chief architect of the death of Astyanax. And in the Trojan myths in general, Odysseus (1) tries to avoid going to war, (2) exposes Achilles so that he has to go to war, (3) and frames Palamedes for treason to get back at him for making sure that he went to war. Oh, he is also said to have tried to betray Diomedes and even in the Iliad he takes charge of tricking the Trojan Dolon and ensuring that Diomedes kills a bunch of men in their sleep. (And don’t even try to explain that away by claiming it is not really a part of the Iliad. It is.)

Second, jumping over 2500 years, there is a cognitive link between what we name something and how we expect that element to emerge in stories. So, how we name Odysseus and what we think this name means matters (see also Peradotto 1990 among others on this).

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

Turner 1996, 133: The stories minds tell (the ways in which we interpret the world) are based on roles and character, “formed by backward inference from such a role, according to the folk theory of “the Nature of Things,” otherwise known as “Being Leads to Doing.” In this folk theory, glass shatters because it is brittle and fragile. Water pours because it is liquid. Someone forgives because she is forgiving. A dog guards the house because it is watchful. A fool acts like a fool because he is foolish. In general, doing follows from being; something behaves in a certain way because its being leads it to behave in that way…

Character is a pattern of connections we expect to operate across stories about a particular individual with that character or across stories about a group of individual with that character. People of a particular character are expected to inhabit similar roles in different stories…

[134] A role in one story is not isolated but connects to the same role in other stories…Focus, viewpoint, role and character in narrative imagining give us ways of constructing our own meaning, which is to say, ways of understanding who we are, what it means to be us, to have a particular life. The inability to locate one’s own focus, viewpoint, role, and character with respect to conventional stories of leading a life is thought to be pathological and deeply distressing. It is a principal reason for recommending psychotherapy to people not obviously insane.”

So, there is significance both in how we name Odysseus and how we modify that name. Let’s take up his epithets first. I received a good deal of complaining about my translation of Odysseus’ famous epithet as “shifty”. He actually only gets called polytropos rarely in the Odyssey. But he does receive a surplus of epithets that point to a manifold nature.

Here are some other epithets.

Homer, Odyssey: Epithets of Odysseus

“Sing to me, Muse, of the man of many ways...”
1.1     ῎Ανδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ cf. 10.330

“Send many-minded Odysseus to his own home”
1.83  νοστῆσαι ᾿Οδυσῆα πολύφρονα ὅνδε δόμονδε,

“[Odysseus] will know how to return, since he is a man of many-devices
1.205 φράσσεται ὥς κε νέηται, ἐπεὶ πολυμήχανός ἐστιν.

“Divine-raced, son of Laertes, many-deviced Odysseus
5.203 “διογενὲς Λαερτιάδη, πολυμήχαν’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ,

“If very-clever Odysseus were in these rooms again…”
4.763 εἴ ποτέ τοι πολύμητις ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς

“So she spoke, and much-enduring, shining Odysseus shivered”
5.171     ὣς φάτο, ῥίγησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς [see 13.250]

“And you, many-pained old man, since a god brought you my way…”
14.386 καὶ σύ, γέρον πολυπενθές, ἐπεί σέ μοι ἤγαγε δαίμων,

“They would not conquer me. I am truly much-enduring
18.319 οὔ τί με νικήσουσι· πολυτλήμων δὲ μάλ’ εἰμί.”

“…I am a man of many-sorrows…”
19.118 μνησαμένῳ· μάλα δ’ εἰμὶ πολύστονος· οὐδέ τί με χρὴ

“…he is much-prayed for…”
19.404 παιδὸς παιδὶ φίλῳ· πολυάρητος δέ τοί ἐστι.”

Odysseus is only sometimes called “many-wayed”. He is also marked out for his suffering.  Odysseus’ is not just about his own suffering–as Erwin Cook shows, part of the point of being a ‘hero’ in ancient Greek myth and poetry is that you have a capacity to suffer and to mete out suffering.

But what might polytropos even mean? Many on twitter think they know, but the ancients were not unanimous.

Schol. ad Demosthenes. Orat. 20

“For a man of many ways changes himself in accordance with the nature of the matters at hand.”

πολύτροπος γὰρ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ πρὸς τὴν τῶν πραγμά-των φύσιν συμμεταβάλλεται.

Schol. ad Odysseam 1.1; .50 ex

“The problem: Polytropos [“many-wayed”] Antisthenes claims that Homer doesn’t praise Odysseus as much as he criticizes him when he calls him polytropos. He didn’t make Achilles and Ajax polytropoi, but they were direct [‘simple’] and noble. Nor did he make Nestor the wise tricky, by Zeus, and devious in character—he simply advised Agamemnon and the rest and if he had anything good to counsel, he would not stand apart keeping it hidden; in the manner Achilles showed that he believed the man the same as death “who says one thing but hides another in his thoughts.”

᾿Απορία. πολύτροπον] οὐκ ἐπαινεῖν φησιν ᾿Αντισθένης ῞Ομηρον τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα μᾶλλον ἢ ψέγειν, λέγοντα αὐτὸν πολύτροπον. οὐκ οὖν τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα καὶ τὸν Αἴαντα πολυτρόπους πεποιηκέναι, ἀλλ’ ἁπλοῦς καὶ γεννάδας· οὐδὲ τὸν Νέστορα τὸν σοφὸν οὐ μὰ Δία δόλιον καὶ παλίμβολον τὸ ἦθος, ἀλλ’ ἁπλῶς τε ᾿Αγαμέμνονι συνόντα καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἅπασι, καὶ εἰς τὸ στρατόπεδον εἴ τι ἀγαθὸν εἶχε συμβουλεύοντα καὶ οὐκ ἀποκρυπτόμενον τοσοῦτον ἀπεῖχε τοιοῦτον τρόπον ἀποδέχεσθαι ὁ ᾿Αχιλλεὺς ὡς ἐχθρὸν ἡγεῖσθαι ὁμοίως τῷ θανάτῳ ἐκεῖνον “ὅς χ’ ἕτερον μὲν κεύθει ἐνὶ φρεσὶν, ἄλλο δὲ εἴπῃ” (Il. ι, 313.).

“Antisthenes in interpreting this asks “why, then, is wretched Odysseus called polytropos? Really, this is the way to mark him out as wise. Isn’t it true that his manner never indicates his character, but that instead it signals his use of speech? The man who has a character difficult to penetrate is well-turned. These sorts of inventions of words are tropes/ways/manners

λύων οὖν ὁ ᾿Αντισθένης φησὶ, Τί οὖν; ἆρά γε πονηρὸς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὅτι πολύτροπος ἐκλήθη; καὶ μὴν διότι σοφὸς οὕτως αὐτὸν προσείρηκε. μήποτε οὖν ὁ τρόπος τὸ μέν τι σημαίνει τὸ ἦθος, τὸ δέ τι σημαίνει τὴν τοῦ λόγου χρῆσιν; εὔτροπος γὰρ ἀνὴρ ὁ τὸ ἦθος ἔχων εἰς τὸ εὖ τετραμμένον· τρόποι δὲ λόγων αἱ ποιαὶ πλάσεις.

Plato, Hippias Minor 366a

Soc. “People who are many-wayed are deceptive because of their foolishness and thoughtlessness, or because of wickedness and some thought?

Hippias: Most of all, because of wickedness and intelligence.

Soc. So, it seems, they are really intelligent.

Hip. Yes, by Zeus, wicked smart.

Soc. And men who are smart—are they ignorant of what they do or do they understand it?

Hip. They really understand what they are doing. For this reason, they also do evil.

Soc. So, is it the ignorant or the wise who know these things which they understand?

Hip. The wise know these very things, how to deceive.

—ΣΩ. Πολύτροποι δ’ εἰσὶ καὶ ἀπατεῶνες ὑπὸ ἠλιθιότητος καὶ ἀφροσύνης, ἢ ὑπὸ πανουργίας καὶ φρονήσεώς τινος;

—ΙΠ. ῾Υπὸ πανουργίας πάντων μάλιστα καὶ φρονήσεως.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι μὲν ἄρα εἰσίν, ὡς ἔοικεν.

—ΙΠ. Ναὶ μὰ Δία, λίαν γε.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι δὲ ὄντες οὐκ ἐπίστανται ὅτι ποιοῦσιν, ἢ ἐπίστανται; —

—ΙΠ. Καὶ μάλα σφόδρα ἐπίστανται· διὰ ταῦτα καὶ κακουργοῦσιν.

—ΣΩ. ᾿Επιστάμενοι δὲ ταῦτα ἃ ἐπίστανται πότερον ἀμαθεῖς εἰσιν ἢ σοφοί;

—ΙΠ. Σοφοὶ μὲν οὖν αὐτά γε ταῦτα, ἐξαπατᾶν.

Pseudo-Phocylides, Sententiae

“Don’t trust the people;  the mob is many-wayed. For the people, water, and fire are all uncontrollable things.”

Λαῶι μὴ πίστευε, πολύτροπός ἐστιν ὅμιλος· λαὸς <γὰρ> καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ πῦρ ἀκατάσχετα πάντα.

Hesychius

Polytropos: One who [is turned] toward many things; or, someone who changes his understanding at each opportune moment.”

πολύτροπος· ὁ ἐπὶ πολλὰ τρεπόμενος, ἢ τρέπων τὴν ἑαυτοῦ διάνοιαν ὑφ’ ἕνα καιρόν

Image result for ancient Greek Odysseus

The point, I think, is that Odysseus is not someone who can be pinned down. He shifts for the situation but he also shifts for the reader/audience. (This is why I like “shifty”–it has the connotation of ‘dodgy’ in English, but it also evokes the movement of the character.) Odysseus is so popular, according to this argument, because he is a reflection of who we want him to be. Porphyry might have sensed this:

Schol HM 1.1 ex 62-74 (Attributed to Porphyry)

“If wise men are clever at speaking to others, then they also know how to speak the same thought in different ways; and, because they know the many different ways of words about the same matter. And if wise men are also good, then this is reason Homer says that Odysseus who is wise is many-wayed: he knew how to engage with people in many ways.

Thus Pythagoras is said to have known the right way to address speeches to children, to make those addresses appropriate for women to women, those fit for leaders to leaders, and those appropriate for youths to youths. It is a mark of wisdom to find the manner best for each group of people; and it is a mark of ignorance to use a single type of address toward people who are unaccustomed to it. It is the same for medicine in the successful use of its art, which fits the many-wayed nature of therapy through the varied application to those who need assistance. This manner of character is unstable, much-changing.

Many-wayedness of speech is also a finely crafted use of language for different audiences and it becomes single-wayed. For, one approach is appropriate to each. Therefore, fitting the varied power of speech to each, shaping what is proper to each for the single iteration, makes the many-wayed in turns single in form and actually ill-fit to different types of audiences, rejected by many because it is offensive to them.

εἰ δὲ οἱ σοφοὶ δεινοί εἰσι διαλέγεσθαι, καὶ ἐπίστανται τὸ αὐτὸ νόημα κατὰ πολλοὺς τρόπους λέγειν· ἐπιστάμενοι δὲ πολλοὺς τρόπους λόγων περὶ τοῦ αὐτοῦ πολύτροποι ἂν εἶεν. εἰ δὲ οἱ σοφοὶ καὶ ἀγαθοί εἰσι, διὰ τοῦτό φησι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα ῞Ομηρος σοφὸν ὄντα πολύτροπον εἶναι, ὅτι δὴ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἠπίστατο πολλοῖς τρόποις συνεῖναι. οὕτω καὶ Πυθαγόρας λέγεται, πρὸς παῖδας ἀξιωθεὶς ποιήσασθαι λόγους, διαθεῖναι πρὸς αὐτοὺς λόγους παιδικούς, καὶ πρὸς γυναῖκας γυναιξὶν ἁρμοδίους, καὶ πρὸς ἄρχοντας ἀρχοντικούς, καὶ πρὸς ἐφήβους ἐφηβικούς. τὸ γὰρ ἑκάστοις πρόσφορον τρόπον ἐξευρίσκειν σοφίας εἶναι, ἀμαθίας δὲ τὸ πρὸς τοὺς ἀνομοίως ἔχοντας τῷ τοῦ λόγου χρῆσθαι μονοτρόπῳ. ἔχειν δὲ τοῦτο καὶ τὴν ἰατρικὴν ἐν τῇ τῆς τέχνης κατορθώσει, ἠσκηκυῖαν τῆς θεραπείας τὸ πολύτροπον, διὰ τὴν τῶν θεραπευομένων ποικίλην σύστασιν. τρόπος μὲν οὖν τὸ παλίμβολον τοῦτο τοῦ ἤθους, τὸ πολυμετάβολον. λόγου δὲ πολυτροπία καὶ χρῆσις ποικίλη λόγου εἰς ποικίλας ἀκοὰς μονοτροπία γίνεται. ἓν γὰρ τὸ ἑκάστῳ οἰκεῖον· διὸ καὶ τὸ ἁρμόδιον ἑκάστῳ τὴν ποικιλίαν τοῦ λόγου εἰς ἓν συναγείρει τὸ ἑκάστῳ πρόσφορον, τὸ δ’ αὖ μονοειδές, ἀνάρμοστον ὂν πρὸς ἀκοὰς διαφόρους, πολύτροπον ποιεῖ τὸν ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἀπόβλητον ὡς αὐτοῖς ἀπότροπον λόγον. H M1 Q R

Odysseus’ name itself has problems of interpretation–it is willfully interpreted in different ways by ancient audiences and is an object of play in the epic itself. Keep reading if you want even more of this.

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All in the Head: The Cyclops is Part of Odysseus

From Porphyry’s essay, On the Cave of the Nymphs 35

“In Plato, the water, the sea and the storm are material matter. For this reason, I think, Homer named the harbor “Phorkus’” (“and this is the harbor of Phorkus”) after the sea-god whose daughter, Thoôsa, he genealogized in the first book of the Odyssey. The Kyklôps is her son whose eye Odysseus blinded. [Homer named the harbor thus] so that right before his home [Odysseus] would receive a reminder of his mistakes. For this reason, the location under the olive tree is also fitting for Odysseus as a suppliant of the god who might win over his native deity through suppliancy.

For it would not be easy for one who has blinded [the spirit] and rushed to quell his energy to escape this life of the senses; no, the rage of the sea and the material gods pursues anyone who has dared these things. It is right first to appease these gods with sacrifices, the labors of a beggar, and endurance followed by battling through sufferings, deploying spells and enchantments and changing oneself through them in every way in order that, once he has been stripped of the rags he might restore everything. And thus one may not escape from his toils, but when he has emerged from the sea altogether that his thoughts are so untouched of the sea and material matters, that he believes that an oar is a winnowing fan because of his total inexperience of the tools and affairs of the sea.”

πόντος δὲ καὶ θάλασσα καὶ κλύδων καὶ παρὰ Πλάτωνι ἡ ὑλικὴ σύστασις. διὰ τοῦτ’, οἶμαι, καὶ τοῦ Φόρκυνος ἐπωνόμασε τὸν λιμένα·

                    ‘Φόρκυνος δέ τίς ἐστι λιμήν,’

ἐναλίου θεοῦ, οὗ δὴ καὶ θυγατέρα ἐν ἀρχῇ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας τὴν Θόωσαν ἐγενεαλόγησεν, ἀφ’ ἧς ὁ Κύκλωψ, ὃν ὀφθαλμοῦ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἀλάωσεν, ἵνα καὶ ἄχρι τῆς πατρίδος ὑπῇ τι τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων μνημόσυνον. ἔνθεν αὐτῷ καὶ ἡ ὑπὸ τὴν ἐλαίαν καθέδρα οἰκεία ὡς ἱκέτῃ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ὑπὸ τὴν ἱκετηρίαν ἀπομειλισσομένῳ τὸν γενέθλιον δαίμονα. οὐ γὰρ ἦν ἁπλῶς τῆς αἰσθητικῆς ταύτης ἀπαλλαγῆναι ζωῆς τυφλώσαντα αὐτὴν καὶ καταργῆσαι συντόμως σπουδάσαντα, ἀλλ’ εἵπετο τῷ

ταῦτα τολμήσαντι μῆνις ἁλίων καὶ ὑλικῶν θεῶν, οὓς χρὴ πρότερον ἀπομειλίξασθαι θυσίαις τε καὶ πτωχοῦ πόνοις καὶ καρτερίαις, ποτὲ μὲν διαμαχόμενον τοῖς πάθεσι, ποτὲ δὲ γοητεύοντα καὶ ἀπατῶντα καὶ παντοίως πρὸς αὐτὰ μεταβαλλόμενον, ἵνα γυμνωθεὶς τῶν ῥακέων καθέλῃ πάντα καὶ οὐδ’ οὕτως ἀπαλλαγῇ τῶν πόνων, ἀλλ’ ὅταν παντελῶς ἔξαλος γένηται καὶ ἐν ψυχαῖς ἀπείροις θαλασσίων καὶ ἐνύλων ἔργων, ὡς πτύον εἶναι ἡγεῖσθαι τὴν κώπην διὰ τὴν τῶν ἐναλίων ὀργάνων καὶ ἔργων παντελῆ ἀπειρίαν.

Robert Lamberton 1986, 131 [Homer the Theologian]: “The bungling, dimwitted, sensual giant of book 9 is, then, a projection into the myth of the life of the senses—specifically Odysseus’ own life in this physical universe. The blinding of Polyphemus is a metaphor for suicide…The cyclops becomes a part of Odysseus—a part he wants desperately to escape—but his ineptitude in handling his escape at that early point in his career involves him in an arduous spiritual journey.”

Image result for odysseus and the cyclops ancient greek