Thrasymachus: While I like the alliteration, I don’t think *donum* works here.
As a “trick”—in this sense—isn’t really a deceit (more like a joke), and as the “treat” is something trifling (not a *gift*, which carries a sense of formality), I am wondering on something like “nugas nucesve,” “jests or nuts.”
While nuces were strewn at wedding and festivals (I’m thinking of the throwing of small bits of candy at bar mitzvahs, etc.), they were also children’s playthings, which captures, I think the idea of “treat,” as something given informally, even anonymously, and without expectation of return
At the end of Euripides’ Trojan Women, Hektor’s mother Hekabe (Hecuba) is taken as a servant by Odysseus. Hekabe, however, does not make it back to Ithaka or appear in the Odyssey. What happens?
Apollodorus Epitome, 5.23
“After killing the Trojan men, they burned the city and divided the spoils. Once they had sacrificed to all the gods, they threw Astyanax from the towers and sacrificed Polyxena on Achilles’ tomb. As a reward, Agamemnon took Kasandra, Neoptolemos took Andromakhe, and Odysseus took Hekabê. Some report that Helenos took her and he crossed to the Chersonnese with her and buried her there after she turned into a dog. This place is now called “Dog’s Grave”.
This story seems a bit strange, but it is not the only passage that combines a remarkable burial place for Hecuba and Odysseus’ winning of her.
“Dog’s Grave”: Odysseus, once he sailed to Marôneia during the departure from Troy and because he did not agree to leave the ships assailed them in war and took all their wealth. There, because she was cursing the army and making a ruckus, he killed Hekabe by stoning her and buried her near the sea, naming the place the “Bitch’s Grave”.
“They say that Hekabe was a witch and a follower of Hekate and for this reason, even if they are speaking nonsense, Hekabe turned into a dog when she was killed with stones. They also say that black, frightening dogs accompanied Hekate.”
And some see Euripides’ play Hecuba as anticipating the famous tomb:
Scholia to Euripides’Hecuba, 1271-2:
“The tomb will have your name: You grave, he means, will take your name in popular knowledge. For everyone will call it the tomb of the dog. Asclepiades says that people call it the “Tomb of the Ill-fated Dog”
“An enchanter of form”: Instead of a nickname based on my form, the grave will be named for what I have now or something else you said. As Polymestor predicts. The grave will not be named for Hekabe, but will be known to sailors as the “Dog’s Grave”. Whenever sailors come to that place where Hekabe’s grave is, then they will know they are nearing dry land.”
Yesterday, I was editing a manuscript and thinking about Odysseus’ so-called “lying tales” in books 13-20 of the Odyssey. In one of them, he talks casually about murdering the son of Idomeneus. A song burst fully formed into my head. I made a poll. Over 3500 people voted.
(And, yes, as twitter let me know, it should be “shot” not killed”). To be honest, I thought the answer was clear and tried to direct it a bit:
Personally, I think it is Odysseus. He is soulless, dead-eyed killer who does something just to see what happens. Achilles has big feelings. And his big feelings lead to murder sprees. But he feels remorse sometimes.
I suspect that the issue here for most voters was really: who’s your favorite hero and who seems violent to you. Everyone knows Achilles is a cross between the Hulk and Superman and he just kills everything. Most people forget that Odysseus leaves a trail of slaughter in his wake too.
Earlier polls I have run seem to indicate that while the Iliad and Odyssey are pretty close in popularity people have a more positive view of Odysseus. I have spent several years working on a book on Odysseus (after working on the Iliad for over a decade). I think these evaluations of the characters are from an overall feeling and not an actual engagement with the texts.
I continued this conversation on and off line with Justin Arft:
Achilles is intense, like super intense, like there is extra and then there is Achilles extra. He gets his feelings hurt and then asks for Zeus to make his own people die. Patroklos dies because Achilles is so damn sensitive. Achilles’ rage is the point of the whole poem. But he is not calculating. He feels. He reacts. He regrets.
But behind all the arguments is a basic misunderstanding of what it means to be a hero in ancient Greece. They are not simple figures. They are not heroic in the modern sense. The word heros: can mean a man in the prime of his youth; or, a member of a race of superpeople before our current race of mortals; or, a person who follows a particular narrative/paradigmatic arc. It is value neutral when it comes to “good” and “evil”.
Despite Achilles’ constant lead, there was a chorus of objection:
This seems so obviously Odysseus that I didn't even understand the point of the question…and then he's losing! This is a guy who lied to his father and said he was dead for literally no reason. This is a guy who threatened his nurse with a cruel death.
Outside of the epics: he frames Palamedes and has him stoned to death; he tricks Achilles into coming to war; he strands Philoktetes for being wounded and then gets him to come back to Troy; he tries to stab Diomedes in the back; he is known for arranging for the killing of Astyanax. He probably killed Hecuba too.
Achilles’ rage is big and easy to conceptualize, easier to blame; Odysseus’ calculation is harder to understand and frame. We want to be like Achilles, I think, because we can blame our faults on emotions. That’s nature, right? We can’t control nature! It is harder to admit where we are like Odysseus because then we need to take responsibility for our faults. People who love Odysseus too often explain away his faults. (Which is why so much of Homeric scholarship refuses to acknowledge that Odysseus is crossing a line in killing the slave women, the suitors, blinding Polyphemos and more).
Not everything was about bashing Odysseus:
Achilles' wrath is to me petulant, vengeful; the disinterested curious turn to violence that that Cash line (remorsefully??) recalls seems to me closer to Odysseus's characteristic empathetic seeing-from-another's-eyes. Only twisted in a as-boys-are-to-flies moment, of course.
The "just to watch him die" bit is much more Odysseus than Achilles. Achilles would kill him for a reason and keep moving. Odysseus is one of my favorite characters, but… well… I can see him killing someone and then watching them go. Or saying he did, anyway.
And some people worked hard to bring greater context to the song and the identification:
Especially considering those two lines in context, in relation to the previous lines, I vote Achilles. “When I was just a baby My Mama told me, ‘son Always be a good boy Don't ever play with guns [or spears]’…”
Thanks for this great summary. I went for Achilles (despite his later, clear remorse, the dragging of Hector’s body has always bothered me) but do truly understand the arguments for Odysseus. The back-and-forth was stimulating and, at least for me, educational.
thanks to everyone who played along and took what was a lark seriously. Apologies to all the wits and wiseacres I didn’t include in this post. The thread on twitter is pretty cool. But, as with everything, Plato did it first and better.
Plato, Hippias Minor
“Homer made Achilles the best man of those who went to Troy, Nestor the wisest, and Odysseus the most shifty.”
After Odysseus realizes he is not lost, but is in fact in Ithaca, the narrative describes him preparing to speak.
“So she spoke, and much-enduring, shining Odysseus
Was delighting in his own paternal land which Pallas Athena
Declared to him, the daughter of Aegis-bearing Zeus.
Then he responded to her with winged words—
He didn’t speak the truth, but he chose the opposite to that,
Since he was always fostering very-profitable thought in his chest.”
“Critoboulos, Some say that whenever the great king gives gifts, he calls in first those who proved their excellence at war because there is no advantage to plowing many fields unless they defend them. After them, he rewards those who prepare and work the land best, because brave men cannot survive unless someone works the land.”
“Let no one find fault with this line because wealth is made to be much praised ahead of virtue. Know that wealth here is the product workers get from their labors—it is a just portion gathered from their personal toil.”
“Eurymachus: I wish the two of us could have a labor-contest
In the height of spring when the days are drawing longer,
In the thickening grass. I would grip the curved scythe
And you could hold the same thing, so we could test each other
At work, fasting right up to dusk where the grass was thick.
And then the next day we could drive the oxen, the strongest ones,
Bright and large, both stuffed full with their food,
A pair of the same age, equally burdened, their strength unwavering.
I’d wish for a four-acre parcel to put under the plow.
Then you’d see me, how I would cut a furrow straight from end to end.
Or if, instead, Kronos’ son would send me a war today,
And I would have a shield and two spears
Matched with a bronze helmet well-fit to my temples.
Then you’d see me mixing it up in the front lines
And you wouldn’t bawl about, belittling my hungry stomach.”
A fragment of the mythographer Pherecydes provides an interesting account for how Odysseus came to be married to Penelope (hint: it wasn’t his choice):
Pherecydes, fr. 90 (= Fowler 129)
“Ikarios, the son of Oibalos, married Dôrodokhês, the daughter of Ortilokhos or, according to Pherecydes, Asterôdia, the daughter of Eurypylos, the son of Telestôr. When Laertes heard about Penelope—that she differed from all women in both her beauty and her intelligence, he arranged for her to marry his son Odysseus. She possessed so much virtue that she surpassed even Helen who was born from Zeus in some degree. This is the account of Philostephanos and Pherecydes.”
This story, of course, runs against a more famous version that isn’t exactly compatible (although one could imagine finding some way to match the two tales):
“When Tyndareus saw the mass of suitors, he feared that once one was selected the rest would start fighting. But then Odysseus promised that if he aided him in marrying Penelope, he would propose a way through which there would be no fight—and Tyndareus promised to help him. Odysseus said that he should have the suitors swear an oath to come to the aid if the man who was selected as bridegroom were done wrong by any other man regarding his marriage. After he heard that, Tyndareus had the suitors swear an oath and he himself chose Menelaos as the bride groom and he suited Penelope from Ikarios’ on Odysseus’ behalf.”
The Odyssey follows the slaughter of the suitors with the mutilation and murder of slaves: the torture of the goatherd Melanthios (Od. 22.474–477) and the hanging of twelve slave women (Od. 22.463–73). But it also considers the death of the older slave Eurykleia on multiple occasions. We first hear about her in book 1:
Homer, Odyssey 1.428-433
“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches.
She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor
whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions
when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home
but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”
So, it seems, Eurykleia’s life is ‘dear’—in the archaic English meaning of having a high price—since she was worth so many oxen and Laertes honored her equal to his wife without having sex with her. Despite so high a price—or perhaps because of it—her life is risked several times in the epic. The moment that has always stuck with me comes from the famous recognition of the scar scene. While this scene has garnered a lot of attention for the way the scar triggers a story and communicates Odysseus’ identity, there have been relatively few comments about the violence imminent in the scene.
Homer, Odyssey 19.466-490
“The old woman, as she took it in the flat part of her hands,
recognized the scar as she felt it, and she dropped the foot.
His shin fell onto the basin and the bronze clanged,
then it tilted to one side and water sloshed out onto the ground.
Joy and pain overtook her mind at once and
both of her eyes filled with tears as her strong voice got stuck inside.
She touched his beard and then addressed Odysseus.
“You really are Odysseus, dear child.
I did not recognize you before, before I examined my lord all over.”
And then she would have gotten Penelope’s attention too
with her eyes because she wanted to tell her
that her dear husband was here.
But she was not able to turn or to notice anything
because Athena had turned her mind elsewhere. But Odysseus closed his hand on her throat with his right hand and with his left hand he drew her close and said,
“Auntie, why do you want to ruin me?
You fed me yourself on your own breast.
Now after suffering many pains I have returned
in the twentieth year to my fatherland.
But since you have recognized me and a god put it in your mind
be silent lest anyone else in the home learn it.
For I will speak this out and it will be completed,
If the god subdues the haughty suitors under me I will not leave you even though you were my nurse, when I kill all the other slave women in my home.”
This theme is internalized later when Eurykleia threatens her own life.When she tries to tell Penelope in book 23 that Odysseus is actually present, she offers to wager her life on the truth of the statement when Penelope doubts her.
Homer, Odyssey 23.75-79
“…I wanted to tell you myself
but he took me with his hands at my throat
and would not allow me to speak thanks to the cleverness of his mind.
So, follow me. But I will wager myself over this to you: If I have deceived you, kill me with the most pitiful death”
For me, Eurykleia’s willingness to wager her life is indication of an internalized oppression created by the experience of slavery. But the specific value of her initial price is interesting too. This probably complicates matters, but there is little in the Homeric poems set at a worth of 20 oxen. The price comes up again during the slaughter of the suitors. Eurymachus tries to offer Odysseus recompense and sets the price for each suitor at 20 oxen (in addition to payment for all the food and drink).
Homer, Odyssey 21.54–59
“But now, even though it is ordained by fate, spare your people.
And in exchange we will gather about the land as payment
As much as was drunk up and eaten in your halls,
And each man will bring a payment worth twenty oxen,
Which we will pay in bronze and gold, until your heart
Softens—before this, there is no blame for being angry.”
Post-script: An average ox seems to cost around $3000.00 right now. So, in modern ox-dollars, Eurykleia was valued at $60,000. This seems a little off to me. According to Beef Magazine (which is a real thing)a good bull on average can run more like $7500, placing Eurykleia at $150,000. I do not print any of this to make light of the selling of human beings (because, when we leave the abstract, this is all really horrifying), but instead, rather, to give a really relative view of what her–and the suitors–economic value might be in today’s terms. The range is basically luxury car to cheap apartment. This is, alternatively, the price acceptable for a good slave, but not worth the life of an offending suitor. In both cases the economic equivalence for any human life is, to put it simply, dehumanizing.