“The Dog’s Grave”: Did Odysseus Kill Hecuba?

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”.

[23] κτείναντες δὲ τοὺς Τρῶας τὴν πόλιν ἐνέπρησαν καὶ τὰ λάφυρα ἐμερίσαντο. καὶ θύσαντες πᾶσι τοῖς θεοῖς Ἀστυάνακτα ἀπὸ τῶν πύργων ἔρριψαν, Πολυξένην δὲ ἐπὶ τῷ Ἀχιλλέως τάφῳ κατέσφαξαν. λαμβάνει δὲ Ἀγαμέμνων μὲν κατ᾽ ἐξαίρετον Κασάνδραν, Νεοπτόλεμος δὲ Ἀνδρομάχην, Ὀδυσσεὺς δὲ Ἑκάβην. ὡς δὲ ἔνιοι λέγουσιν, Ἕλενος αὐτὴν λαμβάνει, καὶ διακομισθεὶς εἰς Χερρόνησον σὺν αὐτῇ κύνα γενομένην θάπτει, ἔνθα νῦν λέγεται Κυνὸς σῆμα.

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.

Suda

“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”.

Κυνὸς σῆμα: ᾿Οδυσσεὺς κατὰ τὸν ἀπόπλουν παραπλεύσας εἰς Μαρώνειαν καὶ μὴ συγχωρούμενος τῶν νεῶν ἀποβῆναι διακρίνεται τούτοις πολέμῳ καὶ λαμβάνει τὸν πλοῦτον αὐτῶν ἅπαντα. ἐκεῖ δὲ τὴν ῾Εκάβην καταρωμένην τῷ στρατῷ καὶ θορύβους κινοῦσαν λίθων βολαῖς ἀνεῖλε καὶ παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν καλύπτει, ὀνομάσας τὸν τόπον Κυνὸς σῆμα.

Why did Hecuba turn into a dog?

Scholia to Lykophron’s Alexandra, 1176. 14-17

“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.”

ἑπωπίδα δὲ καὶ ἀκόλουθον τῆς ῾Εκάτης φησὶ τὴν ῾Εκάβην, ὅτι, καθάπερ ληροῦσιν (13128), ἡ ῾Εκάβη κύων γεγονυῖα λίθοις ἀνῃρέθη· καὶ τῇ ῾Εκάτῃ δέ
φασιν ἕπεσθαι κύνας μελαίνας φοβεράς. (Ap. Γ 1217)

It is not always the case that Odysseus stoned Hekabe:

Scholia to Euripides’ Hecuba 1259.10-12

“The story is that Hecuba was turned into a dog’s shape and then climbed down to the lowest part of the mast or the sailyard. He threw her into the sea and she drowned.”

μυθεύεται γὰρ ὡς εἰς κυνὸς εἶδος μεταβληθεῖσα ῾Εκάβη καὶ ἀνελθοῦσα ἐν τῷ ἀνωτάτῳ τοῦ ἱστοῦ, ἤτοι τοῦ κέρατος, ἔρριψεν αὑτὴν εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ ἀπεπνίγη.

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.”

† τύμβῳ δ’ ὄνομα σὸν κεκλήσεται: ὁ τάφος σου, φησὶν,τὸ σὸν ὄνομα εἰς κλῆσιν λάβῃ. πάντες γὰρ κυνὸς τάφον αὐτὸν καλοῦσι, καὶ ᾿Ασκληπιάδης φησὶν ὅτι κυνὸς καλοῦσι δυσμόρου σῆμα: —A

† μορφῆς ἐπῳδόν: ἀντὶ τοῦ ἐπώνυμον τῆς ἐμῆς μορφῆς κληθήσεται τὸ σῆμα ἧς ἔχω νῦν, ἢ τί ἕτερον εἴπῃς. καί φησι Πολυμήστωρ· οὐ τάφος ῾Εκάβης κληθήσεται, ἀλλὰ κυνὸς σημεῖον τοῖς ναύταις ἐπίδηλον· ὅταν γὰρ ἀπέλθωσιν εἰς ἐκεῖνον τὸν τόπον οἱ ναῦται ἔνθαἐστὶν ὁ τῆς ῾Εκάβης τάφος, τότε γινώσκουσιν ὡς εἰς ξηράν εἰσιν: —A

Schol. to Euripides’ Hecuba 1273.1-2

“Of a wretched dog”: Asclepiades also says concerning the Dog’s Grave that some people call it the “Tomb of the Ill-Fated Dog.

κυνὸς ταλαίνης: περὶ τοῦ κυνὸς σήματος καὶ ᾿Ασκληπιάδηςφησὶν ὅτι κυνὸς καλοῦσι δυσμόρου σῆμα: —B

Polyxena
Polyxena. Another one of Hecuba’s children slaughtered

A Hero Shot A Man, Just to…Kill Me: Achilles and Odysseus, Again

Sophocles, fr. 965

“I am called Odysseus for evil deeds correctly:
For many who have been my enemy hate me.”

ὀρθῶς δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς εἰμ’ ἐπώνυμος κακῶν•
πολλοὶ γὰρ ὠδύσαντο δυσμενεῖς ἐμοί

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:

And I was not the only one to consider Odysseus’ character the crueler one:

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:

Erik, who is in Germany, had some comforting words over text:

Erik text

I received another text from an actual resident of Reno, who had some thoughts:

Jed Text

My emotional stability did not increase during the day:

There were some cogent responses:

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”.

Erwin Cook writes well about this, noting that what marks heroes out in Greek myth and poetry is their ability to suffer or cause suffering to others.

Fortunately for the next 24 hours I found like-minded people to suffer with:

Despite Achilles’ constant lead, there was a chorus of objection:

My friend Sean texted this morning with the most plausible explanation for the outcome:

Sean Text

And I think people just didn’t get the question:

But, come on, Odysseus kills 108 unarmed people, has the slave-women hanged and does many other totally questionable things in his epic. In the Iliad, he lies to Dolon and has Diomedes kill him after he has informed on the Trojans. He’s a dark mage, a necromancer! And even the Odyssey is deeply ambivalent about his crimes: Teiresias implies that the suitors are only in Ithaca because of Odysseus’ mistakes!  The epic ends with the people of Ithaca splitting a vote whether to try to kill him or not.

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.

He is also known in later traditions for wanting to kill Telemachus. Otherwise, he’s busy in myth having children all over the Mediterranean. When he gets home, he cries about his dog but not his wife.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Odysseus is important, but Emily Wilson is totally right in saying he is a “complicated man”. He is a survivor- and he teaches us about the compromises one must make and risks one needs take to survive. He is not a hero, he is not divine. He is like us.  And this is not always good. He minimizes slavery and manipulates his slaves, he is definitely more into truthiness than truth. And he is his own worst enemy: he needs to figure this out before he can even start to go home.

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:

And some people worked hard to bring greater context to the song and the identification:

This probably undermines the entire enterprise:

Some people couldn’t play the game right!

There may have been some salutary effects:

Thank you to Carly Maris (@carmarky) for making this so I didn’t have to

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 

364c

“Homer made Achilles the best man of those who went to Troy, Nestor the wisest, and Odysseus the most shifty.”

φημὶ γὰρ Ὅμηρον πεποιηκέναι ἄριστον μὲν ἄνδρα Ἀχιλλέα τῶν εἰς Τροίαν ἀφικομένων, σοφώτατον δὲ Νέστορα, πολυτροπώτατον δὲ Ὀδυσσέα.

365b

“Achilles is true and simple; Odysseus is shifty and false.”

ὡς ὁ μὲν Ἀχιλλεὺς εἴη ἀληθής τε καὶ ἁπλοῦς, ὁ δὲ Ὀδυσσεὺς πολύπροπός τε καὶ ψευδής

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.

Very-Profitable (?): Turning Away from Truth

After Odysseus realizes he is not lost, but is in fact in Ithaca, the narrative describes him preparing to speak.

Od. 13.250-255

“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.”

ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
χαίρων ᾗ γαίῃ πατρωΐῃ, ὥς οἱ ἔειπε
Παλλὰς ᾿Αθηναίη, κούρη Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο·
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα· —
οὐδ’ ὅ γ’ ἀληθέα εἶπε, πάλιν δ’ ὅ γε λάζετο μῦθον,
αἰὲν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι νόον πολυκερδέα νωμῶν·

Schol.HV ad Od. 254 ex:

“Odysseus turned to the opposite; to the opposite of the truth which is he took up a story for a second time.”

πάλιν δ’ ὅγε λάζετο] εἰς τὸ ἐναντίον ἔστρεφεν. H. εἰς τοὐναντίον τοῦ ἀληθοῦς, ὅ ἐστιν, ἐκ δευτέρου δὲ τὸν λόγον ἀνελάβετο. V.

The scholia says this but misses the fact that in archaic and classical Greek poetry this compound is only applied to Odysseus.

Hesychius

“fostering a polykerdea mind: This means turning his deceptive and lying thought to many things, devising different thoughts for different matters”

νόον πολυκερδέα νωμῶν· τὸν ἀπατηλὸν καὶ ψεύστην νοῦν ἐπὶ πολλὰ τρέπων· ἄλλο ἐπ’ ἄλλο διανοούμενος (ν 255)

πολυκερδέα· πανοῦργον: polykerdea: doing anything, i.e. wicked.

But: πολὺ κέρδιον· πολὺ βέλτιον: polu kerdion [means] much better.

23.77 Eurykleia speaking to Penelope about Odysseus

“He would not allow me to say anything, thanks to the [devious thoughts] of his mind”

οὐκ εἴα εἰπεῖν πολυκερδείῃσι νόοιο.

24.167-8 Amphimedon telling the story of the slaughter

“But he ordered his wife with [very devious thoughts]
To set out the bow and gray iron for the suitors…”

αὐτὰρ ὁ ἣν ἄλοχον πολυκερδείῃσιν ἄνωγε
τόξον μνηστήρεσσι θέμεν πολιόν τε σίδηρον

 

Image result for Odysseus ancient Greek

Some Greek Passages on Work for May 1st

Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.15-16

“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.”

Φασὶ δέ τινες, ἔφη ὁ Σωκράτης, ὦ Κριτόβουλε, καὶ ὅταν δῶρα διδῷ ὁ βασιλεύς, πρῶτον μὲν εἰσκαλεῖν τοὺς πολέμῳ ἀγαθοὺς γεγονότας, ὅτι οὐδὲν ὄφελος πολλὰ ἀροῦν, εἰ μὴ εἶεν οἱ ἀρήξοντες· δεύτερον δὲ τοὺς κατασκευάζοντας τὰς χώρας ἄριστα καὶ ἐνεργοὺς ποιοῦντας λέγοντα, ὅτι οὐδ᾿ ἂν οἱ ἄλκιμοι δύναιντο ζῆν, εἰ μὴ εἶεν οἱ ἐργαζόμενοι. λέγεται δὲ καὶ Κῦρός ποτε, ὅσπερ εὐδοκιμώτατος δὴ βασιλεὺς γεγένηται, εἰπεῖν τοῖς ἐπὶ τὰ δῶρα κεκλημένοις, ὅτι αὐτὸς ἂν δικαίως τὰ ἀμφοτέρων δῶρα λαμβάνοι· κατασκευάζειν τε γὰρ ἄριστος εἶναι ἔφη χώραν καὶ ἀρήγειν τοῖς κατεσκευασμένοις.

Plutarch, fr. 43

“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.”

Μηδεὶς λοιδορείτω τὸν στίχον εἰς τὸν πολυάρατον πλοῦτον ὁρῶν τὸν πόρρω τῆς ἀρετῆς ἐσκηνημένον, ἀλλὰ πλοῦτον οἰέσθω νῦν λέγεσθαι τὴν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων πορισθεῖσαν ἀφθονίαν τοῖς ἐργαζομένοις δικαίαν οὖσαν καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν οἰκείων πόνων ἠθροισμένην.

Plutarch, Perikles 1.4 5-6

“Often and quite contrarily, we look down on a laborer while delighting in his work”

πολλάκις δὲ καὶ τοὐναντίον χαίροντες τῷ ἔργῳ τοῦ δημιουργοῦ καταφρονοῦμεν

Hesiod, Works and Days, 289-90

“The gods made sweat the price for virtue.”

τῆς δ’ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν
ἀθάνατοι·

 

Pindar, Isthmian 1. 47

“People find different payment sweet for different work.”

μισθὸς γὰρ ἄλλοις ἄλλος ἐπ’ ἔργμασιν ἀνθρώποις
γλυκύς

 

Hesiod, Works and Days, 303

“Gods and men alike dislike a lazy man.”

τῷ δὲ θεοὶ νεμεσῶσι καὶ ἀνέρες ὅς κεν ἀεργὸς.

Image result for Ancient Greek sisyphus vase

When an aristocrat co-opts the language of the proletariat…

Odyssey 15.321-324

“No mortal could rival me in work:
No one could best me at building a fire or dry wood,
At serving at the table, cooking meat or serving wine–
All those tasks lesser men complete for their betters.”

δρηστοσύνῃ οὐκ ἄν μοι ἐρίσσειε βροτὸς ἄλλος,
πῦρ τ’ εὖ νηῆσαι διά τε ξύλα δανὰ κεάσσαι,
δαιτρεῦσαί τε καὶ ὀπτῆσαι καὶ οἰνοχοῆσαι,
οἷά τε τοῖς ἀγαθοῖσι παραδρώωσι χέρηες.”

Odyssey, 18.366-383

“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.”

“Εὐρύμαχ’, εἰ γὰρ νῶϊν ἔρις ἔργοιο γένοιτο
ὥρῃ ἐν εἰαρινῇ, ὅτε τ’ ἤματα μακρὰ πέλονται,
ἐν ποίῃ, δρέπανον μὲν ἐγὼν εὐκαμπὲς ἔχοιμι,
καὶ δὲ σὺ τοῖον ἔχοις, ἵνα πειρησαίμεθα ἔργου
νήστιες ἄχρι μάλα κνέφαος, ποίη δὲ παρείη·
εἰ δ’ αὖ καὶ βόες εἶεν ἐλαυνέμεν, οἵ περ ἄριστοι,
αἴθωνες μεγάλοι, ἄμφω κεκορηότε ποίης,
ἥλικες ἰσοφόροι, τῶν τε σθένος οὐκ ἀλαπαδνόν,
τετράγυον δ’ εἴη, εἴκοι δ’ ὑπὸ βῶλος ἀρότρῳ·
τῶ κέ μ’ ἴδοις, εἰ ὦλκα διηνεκέα προταμοίμην.
εἰ δ’ αὖ καὶ πόλεμόν ποθεν ὁρμήσειε Κρονίων
σήμερον, αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ σάκος εἴη καὶ δύο δοῦρε
καὶ κυνέη πάγχαλκος ἐπὶ κροτάφοισ’ ἀραρυῖα,
τῶ κέ μ’ ἴδοις πρώτοισιν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι μιγέντα,
οὐδ’ ἄν μοι τὴν γαστέρ’ ὀνειδίζων ἀγορεύοις.

How Did Odysseus Marry Penelope

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.”

Schol. Homer. Odyss. Ο, 16: ᾿Ικάριος ὁ Οἰβάλου γαμεῖ Δωροδόχην τὴν ᾿Ορτιλόχου, ἢ κατὰ Φερεκύδην, ᾿Αστερωδίαν τὴν Εὐρυπύλου τοῦ Τελέστορος. Πυθόμενος δὲ Λαέρτης περὶ τῆς Πηνελόπης ὅτι καὶ τῷ κάλλει καὶ ταῖς φρεσὶ διαφέρει πασῶν τῶν καθ’ ἑαυτὴν γυναικῶν, ἄγεται αὐτὴν τῷ παιδὶ ᾿Οδυσσέϊ πρὸς γάμον· ἣ τοσαύτην εἶχεν ἀρετὴν, ὥστε καὶ τὴν ῾Ελένην τὴν ἐκ Διὸς οὖσαν τῷ τῆς ἀρετῆς ὑπερβάλλειν. ῾Η δὲ ἱστορία παρὰ Φιλοστεφάνῳ καὶ Φερεκύδῃ.

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):

Apollodorus, 3.132

“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.”

τούτων ὁρῶν τὸ πλῆθος Τυνδάρεως ἐδεδοίκει μὴ κριθέντος ἑνὸς στασιάσωσιν οἱ λοιποί. ὑποσχομένου δὲ ᾿Οδυσσέως, ἐὰν συλλάβηται πρὸς τὸν Πηνελόπης αὐτῷ γάμον, ὑποθήσεσθαι τρόπον τινὰ δι’ οὗ μηδεμία γενήσεται στάσις, ὡς ὑπέσχετο αὐτῷ συλλήψεσθαι ὁ Τυνδάρεως, πάντας εἶπεν ἐξορκίσαι τοὺς μνηστῆρας βοηθήσειν, ἐὰν ὁ προκριθεὶς νυμφίος ὑπὸ ἄλλου τινὸς ἀδικῆται περὶ τὸν γάμον. ἀκούσας δὲ τοῦτο Τυνδάρεως τοὺς μνηστῆρας ἐξορκίζει, καὶ Μενέλαον μὲν αὐτὸς αἱρεῖται νυμφίον, ᾿Οδυσσεῖ δὲ παρὰ ᾿Ικαρίου μνηστεύεται Πηνελόπην.

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What’s a Slave’s Life Worth?

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.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

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.”

τὴν γρηῦς χείρεσσι καταπρηνέσσι λαβοῦσα
γνῶ ῥ’ ἐπιμασσαμένη, πόδα δὲ προέηκε φέρεσθαι·
ἐν δὲ λέβητι πέσε κνήμη, κανάχησε δὲ χαλκός,
ἂψ δ’ ἑτέρωσ’ ἐκλίθη· τὸ δ’ ἐπὶ χθονὸς ἐξέχυθ’ ὕδωρ.
τὴν δ’ ἅμα χάρμα καὶ ἄλγος ἕλε φρένα, τὼ δέ οἱ ὄσσε
δακρυόφιν πλῆσθεν, θαλερὴ δέ οἱ ἔσχετο φωνή.
ἁψαμένη δὲ γενείου ᾿Οδυσσῆα προσέειπεν·
“ἦ μάλ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς ἐσσι, φίλον τέκος· οὐδέ σ’ ἐγώ γε
πρὶν ἔγνων, πρὶν πάντα ἄνακτ’ ἐμὸν ἀμφαφάασθαι.”
ἦ, καὶ Πηνελόπειαν ἐσέδρακεν ὀφθαλμοῖσι,
πεφραδέειν ἐθέλουσα φίλον πόσιν ἔνδον ἐόντα.
ἡ δ’ οὔτ’ ἀθρῆσαι δύνατ’ ἀντίη οὔτε νοῆσαι·
τῇ γὰρ ᾿Αθηναίη νόον ἔτραπεν. αὐτὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
χείρ’ ἐπιμασσάμενος φάρυγος λάβε δεξιτερῆφι,
τῇ δ’ ἑτέρῃ ἕθεν ἄσσον ἐρύσσατο φώνησέν τε·
“μαῖα, τίη μ’ ἐθέλεις ὀλέσαι; σὺ δέ μ’ ἔτρεφες αὐτὴ
τῷ σῷ ἐπὶ μαζῷ· νῦν δ’ ἄλγεα πολλὰ μογήσας
ἤλυθον εἰκοστῷ ἔτεϊ ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν.
ἀλλ’ ἐπεὶ ἐφράσθης καί τοι θεὸς ἔμβαλε θυμῷ,
σίγα, μή τίς τ’ ἄλλος ἐνὶ μεγάροισι πύθηται.
ὧδε γὰρ ἐξερέω, καὶ μὴν τετελεσμένον ἔσται·
εἴ χ’ ὑπ’ ἐμοί γε θεὸς δαμάσῃ μνηστῆρας ἀγαυούς,
οὐδὲ τροφοῦ οὔσης σεῦ ἀφέξομαι, ὁππότ’ ἂν ἄλλας
δμῳὰς ἐν μεγάροισιν ἐμοῖς κτείνωμι γυναῖκας.”

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”

….ἔθελον δὲ σοὶ αὐτῇ
εἰπέμεν· ἀλλά με κεῖνος ἑλὼν ἐπὶ μάστακα χερσὶν
οὐκ εἴα εἰπεῖν πολυκερδείῃσι νόοιο.
ἀλλ’ ἕπευ· αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν ἐμέθεν περιδώσομαι αὐτῆς,
αἴ κέν σ’ ἐξαπάφω, κτεῖναί μ’ οἰκτίστῳ ὀλέθρῳ.”

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.”

νῦν δ’ ὁ μὲν ἐν μοίρῃ πέφαται, σὺ δὲ φείδεο λαῶν
σῶν· ἀτὰρ ἄμμες ὄπισθεν ἀρεσσάμενοι κατὰ δῆμον,
ὅσσα τοι ἐκπέποται καὶ ἐδήδοται ἐν μεγάροισι,
τιμὴν ἀμφὶς ἄγοντες ἐεικοσάβοιον ἕκαστος,
χαλκόν τε χρυσόν τ’ ἀποδώσομεν, εἰς ὅ κε σὸν κῆρ
ἰανθῇ· πρὶν δ’ οὔ τι νεμεσσητὸν κεχολῶσθαι.”

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.

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Murderous Odysseus and His Murderous Sons

Joannes Malalas, Chronographia, 5.21 6-7 (=Diktys BNJ 49 F 10)

“Some time passed and Odysseus began to see dreams which told of his death. After he woke, he summoned everyone who had experience in interpreting dreams—among whom was Kleitophon of Ithaka and Polyphemos of Argos. He told the dream to them and said what he thought:

“I was not lying on my own bed but instead there was a beautiful and frightening divine creature which could not keep the shape of a grown man. I saw it happily. But I was also disoriented by it. That bed from which it took life was no longer obvious to me from my familiarity with it or by knowledge. Therefore, once I recognized this, I wanted to throw my arms around it eagerly. But it spoke using a human voice and said there was a connection and binding of relationship between us and that it was my fate to be destroyed by him. As I was thinking about this a sudden stab came at me from the sea, targeted at me by his order. I became paralyzed by my great panic and I died shortly. These are the things I saw and you need to fear nothing when you offer me an interpretation. I know well that the vision is not a good one.

Then those who were there were examining the interpretation and they said that Telemachus should not be there. When he left, they said that Odysseus would be struck by his own child and die. He immediately rushed toward Telemachus because he wanted to kill him. But when he saw his son crying and begging him and he returned to a paternal mindset, he decided to have his son sent away and he ordered him to guard himself. Then he himself returned to the farthest part of Kephalenia, believing he would protect himself from fear of death.”

6 χρόνου δὲ διεληλυθότος ὁρᾶι ᾽Οδυσσεὺς ἐνύπνια τὴν αὐτοῦ τελευτὴν σημαίνοντα· καὶ διυπνισθεὶς συγκαλεῖ πάντας τοὺς πεῖραν ἔχοντας, ὅπως διακρίνωσι τὰ ὀνείρατα, ὧν ἦν καὶ Κλειτοφῶν ὁ ᾽Ιθακήσιος καὶ ὁ Ἀργεῖος Πολύφημος. τούτοις ἀπαγγέλλει τὸ ὄναρ καί φησι νομίζειν ῾μὴ ἐπὶ τῆς ἰδίας εὐνῆς με κατακεῖσθαι, <ἦν δὲ> εὐμορφόν τι καὶ φοβερὸν ζῶον θεοειδές, οὐκ ἀνθρώπου τελείου σχῆμα σώζειν δυνάμενον, ὅπερ ἑώρων ἡδέως· καὶ εἶχον αὐτοῦ δυσνοήτως. τὸ δὲ λέχος ἐκεῖνο ὅθεν ἐζωογονήθη οὐκ ἦν μοι φανερὸν οὐτε τῆι συνηθείαι τῆι ἐμῆι οὐτε τῆι γνώσει. γνοὺς οὖν ἠβουλήθη<ν> τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῶι περιπλέξαι σπουδαίως· τὸ δὲ ἀνθρωπίνηι φωνῆι χρηματισάμενον ἔφη θεσμὸν εἶναι καὶ σύνδεσμον οἰκειότητος ἀμφοτέρων ἡμῶν, καὶ εἱμαρμένον εἶναι ὑπ᾽ ἐκείνου με ἀφανισθῆναι. ἐμφροντίστως δέ μου ἔχοντος περὶ αὐτοῦ αἰφνίδιόν τι κέντρον ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης ὑπὸ τῆς ἐκείνου ἐπιταγῆς ἀοράτως ἀναδειχθὲν ἐπ᾽ ἐμὲ ἦλθεν· ἐγὼ δὲ ὑπὸ πολλῆς ἐκπλήξεως ἐγενόμην ἀδρανής, καὶ μετ᾽ ὀλίγον ἔθανον. ταῦτά ἐστιν ἅπερ ἐθεασάμην· ὑμεῖς δὲ διακρίνατε μηδὲν δεδιότες· ἐπίσταμαι γὰρ ὡς οὐκ αἴσιον τὸ ὅραμα.

7 οἱ δὲ καθ᾽ ἑαυτοὺς γενόμενοι ἐσκόπουν τὴν διήγησιν καὶ ἔφασαν ἵνα ἐκ ποδῶν γένηται ὁ Τηλέμαχος· τοῦ δὲ ὑποχωρήσαντος ἔφησαν ὑπὸ ἰδίου παιδὸς πληγέντα τελευτήσειν. ὁ δὲ εὐθὺς ὥρμησεν ἐπὶ τὸν Τηλέμαχον ἀνελεῖν αὐτὸν βουλόμενος. θεασάμενος δὲ τὸν υἱὸν δακρύοντα καὶ δεόμενον, εἰς ἔννοιαν πατρικὴν ἐλθών, προέκρινεν ἀφεῖναι τὸν παῖδα, ἐκέλευσε δὲ αὐτὸν φυλάττεσθαι· εἶτα μετώικισεν αὑτὸν εἰς τὰ ἔσχατα τῆς Κεφαληνίας χωρία, ῥυσάμενος αὑτὸν τῆς ὑπονοίας τοῦ θανάτου.

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