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 is somewhat preoccupied with Telemachus’ paternity and the means by which it might be established. As mentioned in an earlier post, Aristotle suggests that children who are not like their father are monstrous. The Odyssey is also preoccupied with monstrous bodies–the giant Kikones, the deformed (morally and physically) Kyklopes, the transformed sailors, the mutilated bodies of servants–and the transformation of Odysseus’ body because of trauma at sea, age, and the needs of disguise. The threat of finding a monster at home might also be implied…
Athena signals Telemachus’ positive identity from the beginning. But the boy himself is uncertain!
Homer, Odyssey 1.207-209
“…if in fact this great child is from the same Odysseus.
For you look terribly like that man in his beautiful eyes
and his head…”
“No one knows his own origin..” and elsewhere [we find] “they claim that that man is my father” (Od.4.387.) Similarly, Euripides says “a mother is a more dear parent than a father / for she knows the child is hers but he only thinks it” and Menander says, “no one knows from what man he is born / but we all suspect or believe it.” And some claim that Telemachus says these things because he was left when he was small.”
Later in the Odyssey, Nestor likens son to father (implicitly).
“..when shining Odysseus father was preeminent in all kinds of tricks, your father, if truly you are his son. And wonder overtakes me as I look at you
For your speeches, at least, are really fine—no one would expect
A younger man to utter such suitable things.”
In Sparta, Helen notes that Telemachus looks like, well, Telemachus even though she has never seen him! Menelaos agrees. The scholia get a little frustrated.
“For I do not think that anyone looks so suitable,
Neither a man nor a woman, and wonder overtakes me as I look at him,
How this one looks like the son of great-hearted Odysseus,
Telemachus, the one that man left just born in his household
When the Achaeans left for the sake of dog-faced me
And went to Troy, raising their bold war.”
“Fair Menelaos spoke to her and answered:
‘I was just thinking the same thing, wife, which you imagined.
For these are the same kind of feet and hands,
The look of the eyes and the hair on the head as that man.”
“These sort of feet are that man’s”: For likeness in bodies especially shows through in the extremities and the gaze. And however so much grows more slowly, that much provides more precise signs of recognition over time. This is why it is said “From feet to the head.”
The threat of children not looking like fathers is central to the fall of the race of iron. But it is couched within a general social collapse. In this case, ancient scholia turn to the abstract issue. In this case, a child dissimilar to parents would be a monstrum, but in the sense of an omen or a sign of a fallen generation. From this perspective the tension latent in Telemachus’ potential dissimilarity to his father is about stability of the last generation of epic heroes. The bastard sons of Odysseus and potential infidelity of Penelope signal, perhaps, the end of the race of heroes and a premature end to heroic epic.
Hesiod, Works and Days 180–185
“Zeus will destroy this race of mortal humans
Or they will perish when they are born with temples already grey.
Then a father will not be like his children, nor children at all like parents;
A guest will not be dear to a host, a friend not to a friend
And a relative will not be dear as in years before.”
“similar to”: the similarity is clearly the commonness, the conversation, and the affection. For affection (philia) develops from similarity. Altogether this expresses tragically the oncoming evils in life following this, the distrust between children and fathers, between guests and hosts, and among friends. Friendship is the third thing mentioned. Also: cognate, companionable, hospitable.”
Later, Aristotle channels some of the same cultural assumptions from a scientific perspective. Here the monstrum (greek teras) is an indication of deformity.
Aristotle, Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b
“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.
Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character.”
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.”