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.

gettyimages-103765580-1024x1024

Penelope On the Brevity of Life and Immortal Fame

Penelope speaks to the disguised stranger in the Odyssey

Homer, Od. 19.325–324

“Stranger, how could you learn about me, if I am in any way
Superior to other women in my thought and clever wit,
Especially if you dine dressed terribly in the halls?
For human beings have short lives.
One who is harsh and knows harsh things,
All mortals will wish for him to have pains later
While alive and when he is dead everyone mocks him.
But whoever is blameless and thinks blameless thoughts.
Guests carry his kleos wide and far to all people.
And many say that he is a good man.”

πῶς γὰρ ἐμεῦ σύ, ξεῖνε, δαήσεαι, εἴ τι γυναικῶν
ἀλλάων περίειμι νόον καὶ ἐπίφρονα μῆτιν,
εἴ κεν ἀϋσταλέος, κακὰ εἱμένος ἐν μεγάροισι
δαινύῃ; ἄνθρωποι δὲ μινυνθάδιοι τελέθουσιν.
ὃς μὲν ἀπηνὴς αὐτὸς ἔῃ καὶ ἀπηνέα εἰδῇ,
τῷ δὲ καταρῶνται πάντες βροτοὶ ἄλγε’ ὀπίσσω
ζωῷ, ἀτὰρ τεθνεῶτί γ’ ἐφεψιόωνται ἅπαντες·
ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀμύμων αὐτὸς ἔῃ καὶ ἀμύμονα εἰδῇ,
τοῦ μέν τε κλέος εὐρὺ διὰ ξεῖνοι φορέουσι
πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, πολλοί τέ μιν ἐσθλὸν ἔειπον.”

Schol. ad Od. 19.328

“Human beings are short-lived”: she says this as a euphemism and is really talking about glory. For, since human beings have brief lives, they need to do well in their life and leave a good fame about themselves behind them.”

ἄνθρωποι δὲ μινυνθάδιοι τελέθουσι] τοῦτο πρὸς τὴν εὐφημίαν εἴρηκεν, καὶ ἀναφέρεται ἐπὶ τὸ κλέος. ὀλιγοχρόνιοι δὲ ὑπάρχοντες οἱ ἄνθρωποι ὀφείλουσιν εὖ πράττειν ἐν τῷ βίῳ, καὶ φήμην ἀγαθὴν περὶ ἑαυτῶν ἀπολείπειν. V.

redfigurepyxis
A red figure pyxis from c. 430 BCE

 

 

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

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

Homer Odyssey, 22.446-73

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

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

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

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

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

Eustathius, Comm. Ad Od. II 290

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

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

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

Melting Snow and Counterfeit Steel: Penelope and Odysseus

This is how the narrative describes Penelope and Odysseus during their encounter while Odysseus is in disguise.

Odyssey 19.204–212

‘As she was listening her tears began to flow and her skin’s color receded
As when snow melts on the highest mountaintops,
The snow the east wind melts after the west wind piles it up,
And rivers grow full and flow from the thaw—
That’s how her beautiful cheeks melted, pouring tears
As she wept for her own husband even as he sat there. But Odysseus
Pitied his wife as she mourned in his heart—
But his eyes stood motionless like horn or iron
Under his brows as he cloaked his tears with a trick.”

τῆς δ’ ἄρ’ ἀκουούσης ῥέε δάκρυα, τήκετο δὲ χρώς.
ὡς δὲ χιὼν κατατήκετ’ ἐν ἀκροπόλοισιν ὄρεσσιν,
ἥν τ’ εὖρος κατέτηξεν, ἐπὴν ζέφυρος καταχεύῃ,
τηκομένης δ’ ἄρα τῆς ποταμοὶ πλήθουσι ῥέοντες·
ὣς τῆς τήκετο καλὰ παρήϊα δάκρυ χεούσης,
κλαιούσης ἑὸν ἄνδρα, παρήμενον. αὐτὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
θυμῷ μὲν γοόωσαν ἑὴν ἐλέαιρε γυναῖκα,
ὀφθαλμοὶ δ’ ὡς εἰ κέρα ἕστασαν ἠὲ σίδηρος
ἀτρέμας ἐν βλεφάροισι· δόλῳ δ’ ὅ γε δάκρυα κεῦθεν.

 

Related image
Penelope and Odysseus, by Johann Heinrich Tischbein

Penelope Had Brothers, Really.

In the Odyssey, Athena warns Telemachus to be quickly on his way:

Od. 15. 16-18

“Already [Penelope’s] father and relatives are urging her
To marry Eurymakhos, for he excels all the other suitors
In gifts and he has promised many bridegifts.”

ἤδη γάρ ῥα πατήρ τε κασίγνητοί τε κέλονται
Εὐρυμάχῳ γήμασθαι· ὁ γὰρ περιβάλλει ἅπαντας
μνηστῆρας δώροισι καὶ ἐξώφελλεν ἔεδνα·

The word kasignêtoi here can merely mean male relatives (it is cognate with the English “cousins”) but the Scholia to the Odyssey take the passage to be referring to Penelope’s father and brothers. It names them.

Schol ad. Od. 15.16-17

“Penelope had two brothers, Sêmos and Aulêtês. But Ikarios was from Kephallanian Messêne. He was not seen in Ithaka because he was traveling. But he is not Laconian. This is the reason Telemakhos did not visit him during his trip abroad in Sparta.”

ἀδελφοὶ τῆς Πηνελόπης δύο, Σῆμος καὶ Αὐλήτης· ὁ δὲ ᾿Ικάριος ἐκ Μεσσήνης ἦν τῆς Κεφαλληνιακῆς· ἐπεὶ οὐχ ὁρᾶται ἐν ᾿Ιθάκῃ ἀναστρεφόμενος. ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ Λάκων· ὅθεν οὐδὲ ἐνέτυχε αὐτῷ Τηλέμαχος ἐν τῇ εἰς Λακεδαίμονα ἀποδημίᾳ. H.

So, this scholion excuses Ikarios by putting him elsewhere. (There is debate in the tradition about whether or not this Ikarios is Tyndareus’ brother. This would put him the Peloponnese, and it troubles scholars that Telemachus does not visit his maternal grandfather.) But what of Penelope’s brothers—did they owe no support to their nephew in his time of trouble? (The brothers are not given these names anywhere else that I know of).

Telemachus takes Athena’s warning to heart, as he says later to Theoklymenos:

Homer, Odyssey 15.518-524

“But I will tell you of another man you might encounter,
Eurymakhos, the shining son of sharp-minded Polyboios,
Whom the Ithakans now look upon the way they would a god.
He is by far the best man remaining and the best
To marry my mother and receive my father’s geras.
But Zeus is the one who knows these things as he rules on high”
Whether or not he will bring about a deadly day for them before a marriage.”

ἀλλά τοι ἄλλον φῶτα πιφαύσκομαι, ὅν κεν ἵκοιο,
Εὐρύμαχον, Πολύβοιο δαΐφρονος ἀγλαὸν υἱόν,
τὸν νῦν ἶσα θεῷ ᾿Ιθακήσιοι εἰσορόωσι·
καὶ γὰρ πολλὸν ἄριστος ἀνὴρ μέμονέν τε μάλιστα
μητέρ’ ἐμὴν γαμέειν καὶ ᾿Οδυσσῆος γέρας ἕξειν.

There are other names and other brothers too, as our friend Carly Silver points out:

 

Pleasing Odysseus: Sex and Sorrow in the Odyssey

Odyssey 6.151-159.

“Hermes found him sitting on a cliff. His eyes were never dry
Of tears and his sweet life drained away as he mourned.
Over his homecoming, since the goddess was no longer pleasing to him.
But it was true that he stretched out beside her at night by necessity
In her hollow caves, unwilling when she was more than willing.
Though he sat by day on the rocks and sands
Wracking his heart with tears, groans and grief,
Shedding tears as he gazed upon the barren sea.

τὸν δ’ ἄρ’ ἐπ’ ἀκτῆς εὗρε καθήμενον· οὐδέ ποτ’ ὄσσε
δακρυόφιν τέρσοντο, κατείβετο δὲ γλυκὺς αἰὼν
νόστον ὀδυρομένῳ, ἐπεὶ οὐκέτι ἥνδανε νύμφη.
ἀλλ’ ἦ τοι νύκτας μὲν ἰαύεσκεν καὶ ἀνάγκῃ
ἐν σπέεσι γλαφυροῖσι παρ’ οὐκ ἐθέλων ἐθελούσῃ·
ἤματα δ’ ἂμ πέτρῃσι καὶ ἠϊόνεσσι καθίζων
[δάκρυσι καὶ στοναχῇσι καὶ ἄλγεσι θυμὸν ἐρέχθων]
πόντον ἐπ’ ἀτρύγετον δερκέσκετο δάκρυα λείβων.

I have always read and taught the line emphasized above as indicating that Odysseus’ displeasure had not lasted seven years–that he took some pleasure in the events described in the following line (having sex with Kalypso) and that his sorrow over his homecoming had increased over time.

Ancient scholarship does not agree with this reading. Instead, it makes a strange distinction in marking Odysseus as having once been pleased by Kalypso:

Schol ad Od. 6.153

“She never was making good by sending him away—first he was pleased because she saved him, but after this, no longer. This ‘longer’ can indicate the following authoritatively: she was pleasing to him before when she plucked him up from the shipwreck, but no longer because she is restraining him.”

ἐπεὶ οὐκέτι ἥνδανε νύμφῃ] κατ’ οὐδὲν ἤρεσκεν ἀποπέμπειν ἔτι αὐτὸν, ἤτοι τὸ μὲν πρῶτον ὡς σώσασαν ἔστερξεν, τὸ δὲ μετὰ ταῦτα οὐκέτι. P.Q.V. δύναται δὲ κυρίως κεῖσθαι τὸ ἔτι, ἤρεσκε γὰρ αὐτῷ πρότερον ἀναλαβοῦσα αὐτὸν ἐκ τοῦ ναυαγίου, κατέχουσα δὲ οὐκέτι. P.Q.

 

The Lexicographer Hesychius reduces the meaning of this verb as well, though in reference more to the Iliad:

hêndanen: “it was pleasing to, it gratified” [from aresko]. So “it was pleasing to his thumos” [Il. 1.24] means “it was gratifying to his mind.”

*ἥνδανεν· ἤρεσκεν n, [ηὔξανεν] ὡς τὸ· ἥνδανε θυμῷ (Α 24)  ἤγουν ἤρεσκε τῇ ψυχῇ

The passage he refers to (Il. 1.24, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ᾿Ατρεΐδῃ ᾿Αγαμέμνονι ἥνδανε θυμῷ) might be a less than pleasing parallel, since this is where Agamemnon is shown to be displeased with Chryses’ supplication—which turns out rather poorly for the Achaeans

 

But the root of the verb ἁνδάνω is certainly related to the same root that gives us “pleasure”(hêdus) in Greek. From Chaintraine’s Dictionarie Etymologique:

Et. Aucun présent du même type hors du grec, mais le skr. a svádati, svádate “plaire, se plaire à” et le latin le factifif suadeo. Le tout appartient évidemment à la familie ἥδομαι.

The adjective ἥδυς and the verb ἥδομαι are also related to the noun ἡδονή–whence English hedonism and the more clinical anhedonia. The English derivative is easier to see from the Latin suadeo and Sanskrit su/vad: sweet!

The story, of course, doesn’t end there. After Kalypso promises to send him home, they retire into those aforementioned caves:

Od. 5.226-227

“Then, after going into the deepest recess of the hollow cave
They took pleasure in sex, staying next to one another.”

ἐλθόντες δ’ ἄρα τώ γε μυχῷ σπείους γλαφυροῖο
τερπέσθην φιλότητι, παρ’ ἀλλήλοισι μένοντες.

It is only fair to contrast this description with Odysseus’ other narrated lovemaking in the epic, when he reunites with Penelope (23.300-301):

“Thus then, after hey each had their pleasure from lovely sex,
They took pleasure in words, telling tales to one another.”

τὼ δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν φιλότητος ἐταρπήτην ἐρατεινῆς,
τερπέσθην μύθοισι, πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἐνέποντες,

Note the similarity of line 5.227 and 23.201—they are structurally (and nearly syntactically) identical. But where Kalypso and Odysseus merely “are present near one another” (παρ’ ἀλλήλοισι μένοντες), Penelope and Odysseus tell each other their stories (πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἐνέποντες) and take pleasure in words (μύθοισι) not just in sex. And I have posted before about the importance of post-coital conversation in Homeric sex.

The Measure of a Man: the Priapeia on Odysseus (NSFW)

Caveat Lector: Again, we bring one of the not-so-nice poems from the ancient world to light.  A colleague of mind decided that today was the day to turn to the Priapeia, a collection of poems dedicated to none other than the Phallus god, Priapus.

This elegant poem imagines the, well, endowment that made Odysseus so irresistible to mortal women and goddesses alike.

“The other topic is the wandering of deceiving Ulysses:
If you seek the truth, love also moves this poem:
Here a root, from which a golden flower emerges, is discussed.
When the poem calls it molu, molu was a prick.
Here we read about how Circe and Atlantean Calypso
Sought the large equipment of the Dulichian man.
The daughter of Alcinous marveled at the member of this man,
Which could scarcely be covered by the leafy branch.
And nevertheless he rushed back to his his own old lady,
And his whole mind was in a pussy, Penelope, yours.”

Odysseus CIrce
Now we know what she sees in him.

altera materia est error fallentis Vlixei:
si verum quaeras, hanc quoque movit amor.
hic legitur radix, de qua flos aureus exit,
quam cum μωλυ vocat, mentula μωλυ fuit.
hic legimus Circen Atlantiademque Calypson
grandia Dulichii vasa petisse viri.
huius et Alcinoi mirata est filia membrum
frondenti ramo vix potuisse tegi.
ad vetulam tamen ille suam properabat, et omnis
mens erat in cunno, Penelopea, tuo: