Death from the Sea and Cities of Men: Odysseus and Mortality

A re-post in honor of Odyssey Round the World

Homer, Odyssey 11.119–137 [cf. 23.265–284]

“But after you kill the suitors in your home
Either with a trick or openly with sharp bronze,
Then go, taking with you a well-shaped oar,
until you come to people who know nothing of the sea,
men who do not eat food that has been mixed with salt.
These people also know nothing of purple-prowed ships,
Nor well-shaped oars which give the ships their wings.
I will speak to you an obvious sign and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar in the ground
And once you sacrifice a bull a a boar which has loved sows,
Go home again and complete holy hekatombs
To the immortal gods, who live in the broad sky,
All of them in order. And then from the sea death will come
To you in a gentle way, and it will kill you
Already taken by a kind old age. Your people
Will be prosperous around you. I speak these things truly.”

αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν μνηστῆρας ἐνὶ μεγάροισι τεοῖσι
κτείνῃς ἠὲ δόλῳ ἢ ἀμφαδὸν ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
ἔρχεσθαι δὴ ἔπειτα, λαβὼν εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν,
εἰς ὅ κε τοὺς ἀφίκηαι, οἳ οὐκ ἴσασι θάλασσαν
ἀνέρες οὐδέ θ’ ἅλεσσι μεμιγμένον εἶδαρ ἔδουσιν·
οὐδ’ ἄρα τοὶ ἴσασι νέας φοινικοπαρῄους,
οὐδ’ εὐήρε’ ἐρετμά, τά τε πτερὰ νηυσὶ πέλονται.
σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν,
ἕρξας ἱερὰ καλὰ Ποσειδάωνι ἄνακτι,
ἀρνειὸν ταῦρόν τε συῶν τ’ ἐπιβήτορα κάπρον,
οἴκαδ’ ἀποστείχειν ἕρδειν θ’ ἱερὰς ἑκατόμβας
ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσι,
πᾶσι μάλ’ ἑξείης. θάνατος δέ τοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ σε πέφνῃ
γήρᾳ ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον· ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται. τὰ δέ τοι νημερτέα εἴρω.’

Why does Odysseus leave home again and how does he die? According to the prophecy, he still has to make amends with Poseidon. From this perspective, his journey is a type of expiation. As with many details in the Odyssey, however, we have only Odysseus to trust: he is the one who narrates the prophecy! One slight difference between the two versions of the prophecy gives me pause.

Odysseus does not come straight out and tell the story to his wife. Instead, he merely outlines that there will be more troubles and uses language of toil and suffering which is familiar from the rest of the epic.

Odyssey 23.248–253

“Wife, we have not yet come to the end of our struggles
But toil without measure is still in front of us,
Great and hard toil, all the things which I have to complete.
For the spirit of Teiresias prophesied this to me
On that day when I went to the home of Hades
To inquire about my companions’ homecoming and my own.”

“ὦ γύναι, οὐ γάρ πω πάντων ἐπὶ πείρατ’ ἀέθλων
ἤλθομεν, ἀλλ’ ἔτ’ ὄπισθεν ἀμέτρητος πόνος ἔσται,
πολλὸς καὶ χαλεπός, τὸν ἐμὲ χρὴ πάντα τελέσσαι.
ὣς γάρ μοι ψυχὴ μαντεύσατο Τειρεσίαο
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε δὴ κατέβην δόμον ῎Αϊδος εἴσω,
νόστον ἑταίροισιν διζήμενος ἠδ’ ἐμοὶ αὐτῷ.

For someone who has suffered so much in this epic with not knowing the outcome of events, with the paralysis that comes from grief that is unresolved, Penelope is compelled to ask Odysseus to tell her (256-262) ending with a gnomic plea that “it is not at all worse to know right away” (πεύσομαι, αὐτίκα δ’ ἐστὶ δαήμεναι οὔ τι χέρειον). Odysseus winds up his story and prepares to recite the prophecy, but he begins differently.

Odyssey 23.265–279

“But I will tell you and I will not hide it.
My heart will not take pleasure in it. For I take no joy
Since he ordered me to go again through many cities of men
Holding a well-shaped oar in my hands…”

…αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ μυθήσομαι οὐδ’ ἐπικεύσω.
οὐ μέν τοι θυμὸς κεχαρήσεται· οὐδὲ γὰρ αὐτὸς
χαίρω, ἐπεὶ μάλα πολλὰ βροτῶν ἐπὶ ἄστε’ ἄνωγεν
ἐλθεῖν, ἐν χείρεσσιν ἔχοντ’ εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν.

After building up the suffering and forestalling any clarification, he seems almost to protest too much that he will not enjoy what the future brings. His curse, he claims, is that he is ordered to go through many cities of men. The absence of this line in the original narration alone would be telling, but it is even more marked because it recalls the third line of the epic’s proem: πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω (“he knew the cities and the mind of many people”. This traveling through many cities for which Odysseus is famous enough to be marked at the beginning of the poem does not really happen in our epic.

Note as well, that Odysseus’ tale of the future undoes much of what the Homeric Odyssey accomplishes. His future toils are his alone: there is no room for the lives of his son, elderly father, or wife. So, even though Odysseus is home and reunited with his family, this new revelation is enough to imply, perhaps, that when this story is over, Odysseus returns to himself, the one before the Odyssey brought him home again.

This is, I think, the inspiration behind Cavafy’s startling poem on the topic.

C. P. Cavafy, Second Odyssey [Walter Kaiser, trans.]

A great second Odyssey,
Greater even than the first perhaps,
But alas, without Homer, without hexameters.

Small was his ancestral home,
Small was his ancestral city,
And the whole of his Ithaca was small.

The affection of Telemachus, the loyalty
Of Penelope, his father’s aging years,
His old friends, the love
Of his devoted subjects,
The happy repose of his home,
Penetrated like rays of joy
The heart of the seafarer.

And like rays they faded.

The thirst
For the sea rose up with him.
He hated the air of the dry land.
At night, spectres of Hesperia
Came to trouble his sleep.
He was seized with nostalgia
For voyages, for the morning arrivals
At harbors you sail into,
With such happiness, for the first time.

The affection of Telemachus, the loyalty
Of Penelope, his father’s aging years,
His old friends, the love
Of his devoted subjects,
The peace and repose of his home
Bored him.

And so he left.

As the shores of Ithaca gradually
Faded away behind him
And he sailed swiftly westward
Toward Iberia and the Pillars of Hercules,
Far from every Achaean sea,
He felt he was alive once more,
Freed from the oppressive bonds
Of familiar, domestic things.
And his adventurous heart rejoiced
Coldly, devoid of love.

Another reception of Odysseus that echoes some of these themes is Tennyson’s “Ulysses”. The poem begins with frustration, the complaint that it is useless for a king to sit and rule men less than he with an aging wife, a crowd that cannot understand him (1–5). Tennyson’s Odysseus has retreated into an interior life, rejecting the dismal repetition of his life at home, and imaging him self as he once was. For this hero, a life at home is a life of wasted opportunities. The poem’s Ulysses confesses “I cannot rest from travel: I will drink / Life to the lees…” (6–7). This Ulysses understands his coming transformation: “…I am become a name” (11) and this name is made up of his travels, his suffering, and his joys (11–20). The narrator continues (20–30):

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

Although in the next portion of the poem, Ulysses looks briefly back at the world he leaves to his son (31–42), this passage homes in on the Odyssey’s hero in a different light. Odysseus is looking forward to the boundary of death and although he concedes it is closer than ever before, he seems determined to inhabit it and atomize it, turning what remains of life to something like Zeno’s paradox, as if by filling every portion of it, he may always have another portion to fill. As will become clear from the prophecy itself, boundaries and limits are at the very core of his worry.

Tennyson’s Ulysses returns to the sea just as the Odyssey’s protagonist promises. He narrates a journey through the space of the sea that is also a straining against the bounds of time. This final battle, personal if epic still, culminates in Tennyson’s final, grasping boast: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

But to what is this Odysseus yielding? The story of the prophecy is ultimately that of an externally imposed compulsion. In its simplest form, this is death. In the more complex vision of the poem, this is fate, the very thing Zeus says men make worse through their own recklessness at the beginning of the epic.

Perhaps what is really chilling is that Odysseus is looking forward to the end of his story, to his own death. Few of us embrace the idea of our own ending. And when we know that the milestones of life and perhaps our greatest accomplishments are behind us, we often have little choice but to look toward the end on the horizon. This is a different type of helplessness from what Odysseus endures during his ‘exile’ with Kalypso–when he is stranded on Ogygia he has no where to go and all the time in the world. Once he gets home, he can go anywhere, but where has all that time gone?

In a way, Odysseus continues on the journey of his life rather than stopping and facing the reality around him. In other heroic tales–Bellerophon and Herakles especially, but Gilgamesh too–after a hero completes his great deeds, he metaphorically and literally challenges death only, ultimately, to fail. The fall of a hero is an allegory for what happens to us all when we are no longer young but not yet old: we either scan the horizon for our ending, or run to avoid even looking for it.

But I think there may be another allegory beyond this one. As Alex Purves (2006) and John Peradotto (along with Ann Bergren 1983) note, Odysseus’ emphasis the fact that they are not at “the limits of their suffering” (πάντων ἐπὶ πείρατ’ ἀέθλων) and on the “boundless toil” (ἀμέτρητος πόνος) strains against the limits of the narrative and the poem. But this epic is also about the boundaries of a life as it is lived. To look for the experiences of the life beyond the story we are living is to look for the promise that this story that our story will not end.

And, again, in that oar–as Alex Purves notes–we find a promise of transformation as the relationship between signifier and signified breaks down. The oar becomes a thing it isn’t when it is transported into different lands and, once planted, it is a “clear sign”, a sema of what has been accomplished.  In the Iliad (7.81-91), a sema is the burial mound which will tell the story of what has transpired to future generations. It reduces an active, living thing, to a still, singular sign of the past. Here, of course, is the paradox of kleos perhaps articulated by Achilles’ rejection of the Iliadic ethos when he appears in the Odyssey: the story that continues on and does not change is not the self. The memory of the person is not the person remembered.

And in the Odyssey, it has already been established that an oar can function as the marker for a tomb–this is precisely what Elpenor requests when he meets Odysseus after dying (11.68-78). As a marker, a tombstone is final and, without readers, simple rather than complex. The single sign in the future Teiresias promises in the first version of the prophecy stands at odds with the multiplicity of meanings within the Odyssey and the multiple versions of the man whose tale it tells. So, while others have argued well that the prophecy anticipates a day and a place beyond the bounds of the heroic world, of epic meaning, and the range of epic transmission, I would add that this moment also reflects anxiety about the limits of the self.

(for a longer bibliography see at the end of the post)

Porphyry has an allegorical take Odysseus’ death and the tale of the sea.

Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs 35

“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.”

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.

Of course, in ancient myth, the “death from the sea” bit was not always considered an allegory. Homeric interpreters struggle over whether the phrase “from the sea” means a death that travels from the sea or one that happens away from the sea. Most versions settle on the first interpretation.

According  to Aeschylus’ fragmentary Psychagogoi, Teiresias prophesied to Odysseus that his death would come from the sea in an avian fecal format:

<ΤΕΙΡΕΣ.> ‘ἐρρω<ι>διὸς γὰρ ὑψόθεν ποτώμενος
ὄνθω<ι> σε πλήξε<ι>, νηδύιος χειλώμασιν.
ἐκ τοῦ δ’ ἄκανθα ποντίου βοσκήματος
σήψει παλαιὸν δέρμα καὶ τριχορρυές’.

“As a heron flies on high, he will strike you with shit from his stomach’s end.
And the thorns from that watery food will rot your old and balding skin.”

This may correspond to the Odyssey‘s cryptic note that “death will come from the sea”. For a great discussion, see Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. 1993. 711-712.

A scholiast to the Odyssey glosses the “death will come to you from the sea” line as follows: “Some also say that Hephaistos at the bidding of Kirkê fashioned a spear from Telegonos from a sea sting-ray’s stinger, which Phorkys had killed while it was trying to eat fish in his harbor. The spear-base was adamantine and the handle was gold and that killed Odysseus.” (καί φασιν ὡς ἐντεύξει τῆς Κίρκης ῞Ηφαιστος κατεσκεύασε Τηλεγόνῳ δόρυ ἐκ τρυγόνος θαλασσίας, ἣν Φόρκυς ἀνεῖλεν ἐσθίουσαν τοὺς ἐν τῇ Φορκίδι λίμνῃ ἰχθῦς• οὗ τὴν μὲν ἐπιδορατίδα ἀδαμαντίνην, τὸν δὲ στύρακα χρυσοῦν εἶναι, τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα ἀνεῖλεν,Schol. ad. Od. 11.134).

This is the story recorded in Apollodoros’ Epitome 7.36:

“Telegonos, after learning from Kirkê that he was the child of Odysseus, sailed out looking for him. After he arrived in Ithaka, he began to steal some of the Island’s cattle and he wounded Odysseus in the hand, who came out to help against him, with a spear that had a point made of a sting-ray’s spine. Then Odysseus died.”

[36] Τηλέγονος δὲ παρὰ Κίρκης μαθὼν ὅτι παῖς Ὀδυσσέως ἐστίν, ἐπὶ τὴν τούτου ζήτησιν ἐκπλεῖ. παραγενόμενος δὲ εἰς Ἰθάκην τὴν νῆσον ἀπελαύνει τινὰ τῶν βοσκημάτων, καὶ Ὀδυσσέα βοηθοῦντα τῷ μετὰ χεῖρας δόρατι Τηλέγονος τρυγόνος κέντρον τὴν αἰχμὴν ἔχοντι τιτρώσκει, καὶ Ὀδυσσεὺς θνήσκει.

This poisonous sting-ray weapon, as you might imagine, is exactly the type of thing Hellenistic authors might get excited about. The fragmentary historian Dictys tells a bit of a more complicated story: he has Odysseus send Telemachus away because dream-interpreters told him he would be killed by his son. According to Dictys, Telegonos struck him in the lung (τιτρώσκει τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα κατὰ τοῦ πλευροῦ) “with a sting-ray’s point given to him by Kirkê” (ὅπερ ἔδωκε κέντρον θαλάσσιον τῆι Κίρκηι, FGH 1a49F fr. 10).

When Eustathius discusses Odysseus’ death from the sea (Comm. ad Od. 1.404) he first makes it clear that what is interesting is that Odysseus doesn’t die on the sea (ἀλλ’ ὁ θάνατός σοι οὐκ ἐν αὐτῇ ἔσται ἀλλ’ ἔξω αὐτῆς.) He then presents features both from the scholia (the special stin-ray spear) and Dictys while also explaining that Oppian tells us more about this in the Halieutica. Eustathius explains that the spear-point made from a sting-ray was considered especially sharp by some (αἰχμὴ δὲ τρυγόνος τὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ἀδάμαντι ὀξύτατον). A basic point to be drawn from his extensive discussion is that the sting-ray spear was a generally well-known motif.

It is so well-known, of course, that the Scholia to Lykophron must present an alternative. There, Telegonos does kill Odysseus but Kirkê resurrects him with her drugs, only after which was Telegonos married to Penelope and Telemakhos was married to Kassiphone, his half-sister. (ἄλλοι δέ φασιν ὅτι ἀναιρεθεὶς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὑπὸ Τηλεγόνου πάλιν ὑπὸ τῆς Κίρκης φαρμάκῳ ἀνέστη καὶ ἐγήματο *Κασσιφόνην* Τηλεμάχῳ, Πηνελόπη δ’ ἐν Μακάρων νήσοις ἐγήματο Τηλεγόνῳ, Schol ad. Lykophron 805). But that’s a story for another day.

[updated c. 2 hours later with an assist from Erik (see comments for his addition of the Tennyson poem)]

Some works consulted

Benardete, S. 1997. The Bow and the Lyre: A Platonic Reading of the Odyssey. Lanham.

Bergen, Ann, 1983. “Odyssean Temporality: Many (Re)Turns,” in C. A. Rubino and C. W. Shelmerdine, eds., Approaches to Homer. Austin. 38–73.

Buchan, M. 2004. The Limits of Heroism: Homer and the Ethics of Reading. Ann Arbor.

Foley, J. M. 1997. “Traditional Signs and Homeric Art,” in E. Bakker and A. Kahane, eds., Written Voices, Spoken Signs: Tradition, Performance, and the Epic Text. Cambridge, Mass. 56–82.

Nagy, G. 1990. Pindar’s Homer: the Lyric Possession of an Epic Past. Baltimore.

Nagy, G. “The Cult Hero in Homeric Poetry and Beyond”

Olson, S. D. 1997. “Odysseus’ ‘Winnowing-Shovel’ (Hom. Od. 11.119–37) and the Island of the Cattle of the Sun,” ICS 22.7–9.

Purves, Alex. 2006. “Unmarked Space: Odysseus and the Inland Journey.” Arethusa 39: 1-20.

Purves, Alex. 2010. Space and Time in Ancient Greek Narrative. Cambridge.

Peradotto, J. 1985. “Prophecy Degree Zero: Tiresias and the End of the Odyssey,” in B. Gentili and G. Paioni, eds., Oralità: cultura, letteratura, discorso. Rome. 429–59.

_____. 1990. Man in the Middle Voice: Name and Narration in the Odyssey.Princeton.

Image result for death of odysseus
A frieze in the new Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace by Alex Stoddard

The Cave is the Universe and Hermes is in Your Mind: More Homeric Allegories

In honor of the Odyssey Round the World, a re-post

 

Metrodorus of Lampascus 48 Diels-Krantz 

Fr. 4 (=Philodemus voll. Herc. 8.3.90)

“[Metrodorus said] concerning the laws and customs among men that Agamemnon was the sky, Achilles was the sun, Helen was the earth, and Alexander was air, that Hektor was the moon and that the rest were named analogically with these. He claimed that Demeter was the liver, Dionysus the spleen, and Apollo was bile [anger].”

καὶ περὶ νόμων καὶ ἐθισμῶν τῶν παρ’ ἀνθρώποις, καὶ τὸν ᾿Αγαμέμνονα μὲν αἰθέρα
εἶναι, τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα δ’ ἥλιον, τὴν ῾Ελένην δὲ γῆν καὶ τὸν ᾿Αλέξανδρον ἀέρα, τὸν
῞Εκτορα δὲ σελήνην καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ἀναλόγως ὠνομάσθαι τούτοις. τῶν δὲ θεῶν
τὴν Δήμητρα μὲν ἧπαρ, τὸν Διόνυσον δὲ σπλῆνα, τὸν ᾿Απόλλω δὲ χολήν.

Fr. 6

“The Anaxagoreans interpret the mythical gods with Zeus as the mind and Athena as skill…”

ἑρμηνεύουσι δὲ οἱ ᾿Αναξαγόρειοι τοὺς μυθώδεις θεοὺς νοῦν μὲν τὸν Δία, τὴν δὲ ᾿Αθηνᾶν τέχνην

Some Allegorical Readings from the Scholia Vetera to the Odyssey (Dindorf)

Schol. E. ad Od. 1.38

“Allegorically, an uttered speech is called Hermes because of his hermeneutic nature and he is the director because he manages the soul’s thoughts and the mind’s reflections. He is Argeiphontes because he is bright and pure of murder. For he teaches, and evens out and calms the emotional part of the soul. Or, it is because he killed the dog Argos, which stands for madness and disordered thoughts. He is the one who makes the reflections of the mind appear bright and clean.

ἀλληγορικῶς δὲ ὁ προφορικὸς λόγος ῾Ερμῆς λέγεται παρὰ τὸ ἑρμηνευτικὸς εἶναι, καὶ διάκτορος ὅτι διεξάγει τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ νοῦ ἐνθυμήματα, ᾿Αργειφόντης δὲ ὡς ἀργὸς καὶ καθαρὸς φόνου. παιδεύει γὰρ καὶ ῥυθμίζει καὶ πραΰνει τὸ θυμικὸν τῆς ψυχῆς. ἢ ὅτι τὸν ῎Αργον κύνα ἀναιρεῖ, τουτέστι τὰ λυσσώδη καὶ ἄτακτα ἐνθυμήματα. καὶ παρὰ τὸ ἀργεννὰ ἤτοι καθαρὰ φαίνειν τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς ἐνθυμήματα. E.

*Heraclitus the Obscure claims that Hermes is a representation of Odysseus’ rational mind (Homeric Problems 72-73)

Schol E.M. ad Od. 4.384

“The winds and every sort of breeze”: Some allegorize Proteus as matter itself. For without matter, they claim that the creator [could not] have made everything distinct. For, although matter is never clear to us, men, trees, water and all things come from it. Eidothea, you see, is thought. Matter produces thought once it is condensed. Others allegorize Proteus as the right part of the spring when the earth first begins to make the shapes of grapes and offspring. Menelaos, since it was not the right time for sailing and he missed the spring, sailed in the wrong direction. The name Proteus is suitable for allegory.”

ἀνέμων καὶ παντελοῦς ἀπνοίας. τινὲς δὲ καὶ ἀλληγορικῶς Πρωτέα τὴν ὕλην. ἄνευ γὰρ ὕλης φασὶ τὸν δημιουργὸν πάντα τὰ ὁρώμενα **** ὕλης δὲ τῆς μὴ φαινομένης ἡμῖν, ἐξ ἧς ἄνθρωποι, δένδρα, ὕδατα καὶ πάντα τἄλλα. Εἰδοθέη γὰρ τὸ εἶδος. ὕλη γὰρ ἀποτελεῖ εἶδος κατεργασθεῖσα. ἄλλοι δὲ Πρωτέα φασὶν ἀλληγορικῶς τὸν πρὸ τοῦ ἔαρος καιρὸν, μεθ’ ὃν ἄρχεται ἡ γῆ εἴδη ποιεῖν βοτανῶν καὶ γενῶν. ὁ δὲ Μενέλαος μὴ ὄντος καιροῦ ἐπιτηδείου πρὸς τὸ πλεῖν φθάσαντος τοῦ ἔαρος ἀπέπλευσε. τὸ δὲ Πρωτέως ὄνομα εἰς τὴν ἀλληγορίαν ἐπιτήδειον. E.M.

Schol. B ad Od. 13.103

“The holy cave of the Nymphs”: Some allegorize the cave as the universe, the nymphs are souls, they are also bees and the bodies are men. The two gates are the exit of souls, and one is creation, the entry point of the soul, in which no part of the body enters, but there are only souls. They are immortal. From this they call them olive—or, because of the victorious crown, or because…which is nourishing…”

ἄντρον ἱρὸν Νυμφάων] ἀλληγορικῶς λέγει ἄντρον τὸν κόσμον, νύμφας τὰς ψυχὰς, τὰς αὐτὰς καὶ μελίσσας, καὶ ἄνδρας τὰ σώματα. δύο δὲ θύρας τὴν τῶν σωμάτων ἔξοδον, ἤτοι τὴν γένεσιν, καὶ τὴν τῶν ψυχῶν εἴσοδον, ἐν ᾗ οὐδὲν τῶν σωμάτων εἰσέρχεται, μόναι δὲ αἱ ψυχαί. ἀθάνατοι γάρ εἰσι. ὅθεν καὶ ἐλαίαν φησὶν, ἢ διὰ τὸν νικητικὸν στέφανον, ἢ διὰ τὸ … ὅ ἐστι τὴν τροφὴν … B.

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A Hope for Better Days to Come

Vergil, Aeneid 1.203

“Perhaps someday it will bring pleasure to recall these things.”

forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.

Servius, Commentary on Vergil’s Aeneid 1.203

“And many report that “it will please” does not mean “it will bring pleasure” but it will be of some use”

et multi ‘iuvabit’ non delectabit, sed usus erit tradunt.

Seneca, EM 58.5-6

“If someone beset by troubles should say, “Perhaps someday it will bring pleasure to recall these things,” then let this person fight with their whole spirit. We are conquered if we yield; if we push back against our grief, we prevail.”

In ipsis positus difficultatibus dicat: Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. Toto contra ille pugnet animo; vincetur, si cesserit, vincet, si se contra dolorem suum intenderit.

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.6-8

[comparing Vergil to Homer]

Hom. Od 12.208-12

“Friends, we are in no way unfamiliar with troubles:
This is indeed no greater a suffering than that time
When the Kyklops trapped us in his cave with violent force.
But we got out of there too thanks to my courage, planning,
And wit, and I think you will some how remember these things.”

Ulysses reminds his companions of only one reason for their pain while Aeneas reminds them of the results of two catastrophes in order to urge them to have hope for release from their current troubles. Ulysses is pretty indirect in saying “I think you will somehow remember these things” while Aeneas is clearer when he says “Perhaps someday it will bring pleasure to recall these things”.

But what your poet also adds here is a stronger kind of reassurance when he asks people not only to think of a time when they survived but to have hope as well for happiness in the future by promising that following their current labors they will find not only a safe home but a kingdom.”

ὦ φίλοι, οὐ γάρ πώ τι κακῶν ἀδαήμονές εἰμεν·
οὐ μὲν δὴ τόδε μεῖζον ἔπι κακόν, ἠ᾿ ὅτε Κύκλωψ
εἴλει ἐνὶ σπῆϊ γλαφυρῷ κρατερῆφι βίηφν·
ἀλλὰ καὶ ἔνθεν ἐμῇ ἀρετῇ βουλῇ τε νόῳ τε
ἐκφύγομεν, καί που τῶνδε μνήσεσθαι ὀΐω.

    1. Vlixes ad socios unam commemoravit aerumnam: hic ad sperandam praesentis mali absolutionem gemini casus hortatur eventu. deinde ille obscurius dixit,

. . . καί που τῶνδε μνήσεσθαι ὀΐω.

hic apertius,

. . . forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.

    1. ‘Sed et hoc quod vester adiecit solacii fortioris est. suos enim non tantum exemplo evadendi, sed et spe futurae felicitatis animavit, per hos labores non solum sedes quietas sed et regna promittens.

Homer, Odyssey 15.398-401

“As we two drink and dine in this shelter
Let us take pleasure as we recall one another’s terrible pains.
For a man finds pleasure even in pains later on
After he has suffered so very many and survived many too.”

νῶϊ δ’ ἐνὶ κλισίῃ πίνοντέ τε δαινυμένω τε
κήδεσιν ἀλλήλων τερπώμεθα λευγαλέοισι
μνωομένω· μετὰ γάρ τε καὶ ἄλγεσι τέρπεται ἀνήρ,
ὅς τις δὴ μάλα πολλὰ πάθῃ καὶ πόλλ’ ἐπαληθῇ.

Theognis, 1047-1048

“For now, let us take pleasure in drinking, and telling fine tales
The gods can worry over whatever will happen in the future.”

νῦν μὲν πίνοντες τερπώμεθα, καλὰ λέγοντες·
ἅσσα δ᾿ ἔπειτ᾿ ἔσται, ταῦτα θεοῖσι μέλει.

Schol. BQ ad Od. 15.399 ex

“Let us take pleasure in one another’s pains”—for a person among afflictions delights in terrible narratives and in hearing another person tell his own troubles.”

κήδεσιν ἀλλήλων τερπώμεθα] καὶ ἐν ταῖς δειναῖς διηγήσεσι τέρπεται ἀνὴρ ὢν ἐν θλίψεσι καὶ ἀκούων ἑτέρου λέγοντος τὰ ἑαυτοῦ ἄλγεα.

Shepherd of Hermas, Parables 4

“One who changes their ways must torture their own soul and become resolutely humble in every act and afflict themself with many varied afflictions.”

ἀλλὰ δεῖ τὸν μετανοοῦντα βασανίσαι τὴν ἑαυτοῦ ψυχὴν καὶ ταπεινοφρονῆσαι ἐν ἁπάσῃ τῇ πράξει αὐτοῦ ἰσχυρῶς καὶ θλιβῆναι ἐν πολλαῖς θλίψεσι καὶ ποικίλαις

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Terracotta_Aeneas_MAN_Naples_110338.jpg

Odysseus, Scammer

Philoxenos of Cythera 818  = Synes. Epist. 121

“To Athanasios, wine-diluter: Odysseus was persuading Polyphemos to release him from the cave: “I am a sorcerer and it is the right time for me to help you in your lack of success in maritime love. I certainly know chants, binding spells, and love-magic which it is unlikely for Galateia to resist for long. Just promise to move the door, or, more, the door stone. It seems the size of a cliff to me. I’ll swim back faster than this word itself, once I have compelled the girl. What do I mean by compelling her? I will show her here to you once she is easier because of the magic.

She will beg you and plead with you and you will act shy and be bashful. But something still gives me pause here. I am worried that the goat-reek of your blankets will be displeasing for a girl used to luxury, who bathes often during the day. It would be great if you cleaned everything up, sweeping, washing, and fumigating your place. It would be even better if you readied some ivy and bindweed to crown yourself and the girl when she gets here. Why are you wasting time? Why don’t you open the door now?”

In response to this, Polyphemos cackled as loud as he could and clapped his hands. Odysseus believed that because he was expecting to gain this girl quickly he was not able to restrain his joy. But Polyphemos rubbed his own chin and said, “No-man, you seem like the slickest fellow, a polished little businessman. Work on some other elaborate scam. You will never get out of here.”

Ἀθανασίῳ ὑδρομίκτῃ. Ὀδυσσεὺς ἔπειθε τὸν Πολύφημον διαφεῖναι αὐτὸν ἐκ τοῦ σπηλαίου· ‘γόης γάρ εἰμι καὶ ἐς καιρὸν ἄν σοι παρείην οὐκ εὐτυχοῦντι τὰ εἰς τὸν θαλάττιον ἔρωτα· ἀλλ᾿ ἐγώ τοι καὶ ἐπῳδὰς οἶδα καὶ καταδέσμους καὶ ἐρωτικὰς κατανάγκας, αἷς οὐκ εἰκὸς ἀντισχεῖν οὐδὲ πρὸς βραχὺ τὴν Γαλάτειαν. μόνον ὑπόστηθι σὺ τὴν θύραν ἀποκινῆσαι, μᾶλλον δὲ τὸν θυρεὸν τοῦτον· ἐμοὶ μὲν γὰρ καὶ ἀκρωτήριον εἶναι φαίνεται· ἐγὼ δὲ ἐπανήξω σοι θᾶττον ἢ λόγος τὴν παῖδα κατεργασάμενος· τί λέγω κατεργασάμενος; αὐτὴν ἐκείνην ἀποφανῶ σοι δεῦρο πολλαῖς ἴυγξι γενομένην ἀγώγιμον. καὶ δεήσεταί σου καὶ ἀντιβολήσει, σὺ δὲ ἀκκιῇ καὶ κατειρωνεύσῃ. ἀτὰρ μεταξύ μέ τι καὶ τοιοῦτον ἔθραξε, μὴ τῶν κωδίων ὁ γράσος ἀηδὴς γένηται κόρῃ τρυφώσῃ καὶ λουομένῃ τῆς ἡμέρας πολλάκις· καλὸν οὖν εἰ πάντα εὐθετήσας ἐκκορήσειάς τε καὶ ἐκπλύνειας καὶ ἐκθυμιάσειας τὸ δωμάτιον· ἔτι δὲ κάλλιον εἰ καὶ στεφάνους παρασκευάσαιο κιττοῦ τε καὶ μίλακος, οἷς σαυτόν τε καὶ τὰ παιδικὰ ἀναδήσαιο. ἀλλὰ τί διατρίβεις; οὐκ ἐγχειρεῖς ἤδη τῇ θύρᾳ;’ πρὸς οὖν ταῦτα ὁ Πολύφημος ἐξεκάγχασέ τε ὅσον ἠδύνατο μέγιστον καὶ τὼ χεῖρε ἐκρότησε. καὶ ὁ μὲν Ὀδυσσεὺς ᾤετο αὐτὸν ὑπὸ χαρμονῆς οὐκ ἔχειν ὅ τι ἑαυτῷ χρήσαιτο κατελπίσαντα τῶν παιδικῶν περιέσεσθαι. ὁ δὲ ὑπογενειάσας αὐτόν, ‘ὦ Οὖτι,’ ἔφη, ‘δριμύτατον μὲν ἀνθρώπιον ἔοικας εἶναι καὶ ἐγκατατετριμμένον ἐν πράγμασιν. ἄλλο μέντοι τι ποίκιλλε· ἐνθένδε γὰρ οὐκ ἀποδράσεις.’

Jakob Jordaens 009.jpg
Jakob Jordans, 17th Century

Kleptophilosopher! Plato Stole from Homer!

Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 18.1

“The rational part of the soul, which is established in the head, [Plato] made the charioteer of the whole, when he says this (Tim. 90a2-5):

Concerning the most lordly part of our soul, we should concern of its form like this: God has granted to each of us that very spirit which we say lives among us at the highest part of our body, to raise us from the earth closer to our relative, heaven, since we are not an earth-bound growth but a heavenly creature.

Plato sprinkles these things into his own dialogues from the Homeric epics as if drawing from a spring.”

Τὸ μέντοι λογικὸν μέρος τῆς ψυχῆς, ὃ ἐν τῇ κεφαλῇ καθίδρυτο, τῶν ὅλων πεποίηκεν ἡνίοχον οὑτωσὶ λέγων·

Περὶ δὲ τοῦ κυριωτάτου παρ’ ἡμῖν ψυχῆς εἴδους δια-
νοεῖσθαι δεῖ τῇδε, ὡς ἄρα αὐτὸ δαίμονα θεὸς ἑκάστῳ δέδωκε,
τοῦτο ὃ δὴ φαμὲν οἰκεῖν μὲν ἡμῶν ἐπ’ ἄκρῳ τῷ σώματι,
πρὸς δὲ τὴν ἐν οὐρανῷ ξυγγένειαν ἀπὸ γῆς ἡμᾶς αἴρειν
ὡς ὄντας φυτὸν οὐκ ἐπίγειον, ἀλλ’ οὐράνιον.

Ταῦτα τοίνυν ὥσπερ ἐκ πηγῆς τῶν ῾Ομηρικῶν ἐπῶν εἰς τοὺς ἰδίους διαλόγους ὁ Πλάτων μετήρδευσεν.

Image result for Ancient GReek Plato

Trojan Fan Fic: Astyanax, The Boy Who Lived

In the tradition of Greek Myth, Hektor’s son Astyanax is well-known for being killed during the sack of the city. Other traditions weren’t having this. To wit, Servius:

Servius Danielis on Vergil, Aeneid, 9.264

devicta genitor (sc. Aeneas) quae cepit Arisba]

“Which his father took once Arisba was conquered…”

“(And yet, according to Homer, Arisba sent aid to the Trojans and was overcome by Achilles)…the city is called Arisba after the daughter of Merpos or Macareus who was the first wife of Paris. According to some authors, Abas, who wrote the Troika, related that after the Greeks left Troy, the rule of this city was given to Astyanax. Antenor expelled him once he had allied himself with the states neighboring where Arisba’s location. Aeneas took this badly and took up arms for Astyanax; once the expedition was prosecuted successfully, he returned the kingdom to Astyanax.”

[[atqui secundum Homerum Arisba Troianis misit auxilia et ab Achille subversa est …]] dicta est Arisba ab Meropis vel Macarei filia, quam primum Paris in coniugio habuit. quidam ab Abante, qui Troica scripsit, relatum ferunt, post discessum a Troia Graecorum Astyanacti ibi datum regnum. hunc ab Antenore expulsum sociatis sibi finitimis civitatibus, inter quas et Arisba fuit. Aeneam hoc aegre tulisse et pro Astyanacte arma cepisse, ac prospere gesta re Astyanacti restituisse regnum.

 

Image result for astyanax greek vase
Image taken from this article by Mary Louise Hart

#NANAIHB Who’s Ready for the Semi-Finals?

Welcome to the second round of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round introduces heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax,and Diomedes.

The Achaeans assembled in the late afternoon for the final match of the elite eight between Diomedes and Thersites. Diomedes was fully armed and standing with his shield at ready at the appointed hour as Sthenelos stood next to him, chattering about how much he was going to destroy Thersites. At first, the crowd seemed giddy at the prospect but as the moments stretched out to minutes and then approached half an hour, boredom slipped into frustration.

Once an hour had passed, Agamemnon spoke, and said, “Look, Greeks, Thersites didn’t show up because of his cowardice!*” He waited a moment for a laugh and then sighed at the silence, speaking up again only to call the match by forfeit to Diomedes who had remained motionless, shield at the ready the entire time. As soon as Agamemnon spoke, Diomedes roared, “Sthenelos, put on your weapons. Let’s spar. Sweat is the least price I can pay for victory.”

A few Achaeans laughed. Most shook their heads as they left the assembly. Achilles called as he was leaving, “Don’t bruise him too much, Sthenelos. Patroklos is going to wear my armor in the match. And you know how hard he already is to turn over!” At this, the Greeks laughed, unaccustomed to such bawdy banter from shining Achilles.

*διὰ τὸ ἀθαρσὲς αὐτοῦ [dia to atharsos] an easy punning on Thersites’ name which is likely built on the world tharsos/thrasos, “boldness”. From Agamemnon this is less than effective because everyone makes this joke and Atreus’ son thinks he just made it up.

NANAIHB Day 10

 

The Semifinals: The Semifinal matches were probably spun up by the Fates themselves. We get a rematch of the famous and tragic struggle between Ajax and Odysseus and an intriguing contest between Achilles’ replacement and his better half.

The Achaeans are taking the day off. The Semifinals will be the next two days, setting up a match for the coveted Second Best of the Achaeans title on Tuesday.

NANAIHB Day 10 (2)

 

#NANAIHB Round 2, Match 4: Getting it on for Calydon!

Welcome to the second round of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round introduces heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax,and Diomedes.

Round 2, Match 3: Patroklos vs. Antilokhos

If there was something like a buzz in the air as Patroklos readied himself to face Nestor’s son Antilokhos, it came from the grumbles of assembled Achaeans who were hustled, bustled, and knocked to the side as Achilles paced along the sideline. He repeatedly muttered about how long this was taking as Phoinix readied Patroklos and Nestor tended to his son.

Agamemnon called the battle to begin and both younger heroes threw their first spear: Achilles watched as each  approached its apex and they brushed each other mid-air and flew off course, scattering the crowd on either side. Patroklos looked at Achilles, who nodded, and then dropped his second spear and drew his sword. He rushed screaming and swinging with such force that the surprised younger hero stepped back, driven one, two, and then a dozen feet into the crowd all while doing everything he could not to stop Patroklos’ sword with his face.

Under the weight of the relentless blows, Antilochus’ shield arm was quickly tiring and he made a quick feint with his sword only to have his opponent’s blade crash into his forearm. As Antilokhos fell to his knees and Patroklos raised his sword again, Nestor raised his mighty voice, shouting, “Stop son of Menoitios, what tale will your father hear?*”

Patroklos withdrew as Antilokhos yielded. Achilles walked away with him as the crowd dispersed.

*Παῦε, Μενοιτιου υἵε, τὶ κλέος Πατήρ τεὸς ἀκούσει; A pointed punning, since Nestor uses the two elements of Patroklos name: Pater [father] and story/fame [kleos]

NANAIHB Day 9

 

Today’s match: Thersites vs. Diomedes. Thersites is coming off a surprise victory over Ajax the lesser. This is Diomedes’ first appearance in the tournament. Does momentum matter?

NANAIHB Day 9 (2)

Today’s match sets up Diomedes, a victorious sacker of Thebes, against Thersites, who is, um, Thersites. There’s a bit of a family drama to the affair. Diomedes was born in Argos be ause his father was in exile after being deposed from Calydon by Agrios. Thersites and his brothers overthrew their uncle Oeneus to put their father Agrios on the throne. According to later traditions, Diomedes arrived there and killed Thersites’ brothers to install Oeneus as king again.

(Thersites was either not there or dead at Achilles’ hands.)

So, just in case it is unclear:. Agrios and Oeneus were brothers. Their sons Tydeus and Thersites were cousins. So, that makes this a battle between Diomedes and his father’s cousin. To say there is bad blood here would be an understatement. Diomedes is one of the greatest warriors in Greek epic and he has Athena on his side. Thersites is, um, Thersites.

What’s the over/under for minutes in the ring?

#NANAIHB Round 2, Match 3: A Contest for Achilles’ Love

Welcome to the second round of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round introduces heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax,and Diomedes.

Round 2, Match 2: Idomeneus vs. Ajax

As the two massive warriors stood impassive on each side of the agora, Idomeneus raised up his voice, “Ajax, son of Telamon, you massive tower of a man. Come, let us put away our spears and bows and fight like men!” Ajax, smiling, gave no other answer then to pick up his castle-sized shield and draw his sword as he moved forward.

The clashing of these two giants set a flutter even into the hearts of the gods who watched them. As Zeus gazed on the clanging of sword to sword and the pounding of shield to shield, he said, “Ah, my children, I see you on the earth, thundering in power like my thunder, but flashing as brief as lightning. I have not heard such sound since the giants tried to mount Olympos or the hundred-handers locked the Titans in their dusky home. Hermes, come, let’s save Idomeneus who is fated to fall to Ajax this very day.” Maia’s son, the divine Argeiphontes, disappeared, moving faster than the eyes of the father of gods and men.

The Achaeans watched eagerly as Ajax bashed Idomeneus down to his knees, alternating with shield and sword as the Cretan king could barely fend off his blows. Finally, they could see a tear in the covering of the shield and hear the crack of its frame breaking. Then Ajax dropped his sword and gripped his shield in both hands, bringing it down like a thunderstrike on Idomeneus’ head. But as it fell, his form swirled away like smoke, leaving nothing there, save the shattered wreck of his broken shield.

Ajax stood, blinking. His chest heaved. He looked around the crowd and his eyes fell, burning, on Odysseus. The clever son of Laertes shrugged. Ajax stomped toward his ships.

NANAIHB Day 8

 

Today’s match: Patroklos vs. Antilokhos.

NANAIHB Day 8 (2)

In the first round, Antilokhos handled the Aitolian Thoas in what turned out to be the second closest competition of the round. At the end, the greater speed and Nestor’s advice made a difference. Patroklos faced Makhaon, and made pretty fast work of the field medic who slipped into the competition to begin with.

There is a little intrigue this time: who will get Achilles’ favor? We all know that Patroklos and Achilles have a relationship so deep that the latter’s death provokes his rage to new levels in the Iliad. But Antilokhos’ death in the lost Aethiopis inspires Achilles to go on a rampage that ends in his death too.

So, who’s it going to be this time? The new boy, or the old? The wrathful son of Menoetius or Nestor’s precocious charioteer? Neither of them gets Achilles’ armor: can both of them have his love?

#NANAIHB Round 2, Match 2: Clash of the Giants

Welcome to the second round of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round introduces four heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax, Patroklos, and Diomedes.

Teucer Odysseus

NANAIHB Day 7

Round 2, Match 1: Odysseus vs. Teucer.

The Achaeans gathered and noticed that Odysseus was already seated in the competition grounds, looking off into the distance. When Teucer arrived, Odysseus stood up and said, “Welcome son of Telamon, pride of Salaminian land! I hail you as a friend and offer you my own bow as a sign of our guest-friendship.” Teucer squinted at the Ithakan king and said, “Odysseus, that would be a sign of enmity through theft, not friendship—your bow is much better than mine.” He stood to his side and spoke a few words to Ajax while Odysseus continued to stare.

When Nestor announced the contest’s beginning, Odysseus picked up his shield and a single spear. Teucer raised his bow and nocked an arrow. As he drew it back, the string broke, twanging off tune like a lyre string recoiling. Odysseus darted forward and slashed Teucer on the left army lightly, saying “Teucer, what should be done? The gods have made you unlucky!*”

Odysseus’ brother-in-law, Eurylochus, yelled, “Odysseus, that’s pretty harsh, even for you!” And Odysseus responded, winking at Ajax who was looming near Teucer, “Some ships are rowed without all their oars.” Teucer yielded.

* Odysseus toyed with Teucer’s name, saying, Ὤ Τεύκρε, τὶ τευκτόν εστί; οἱ σε θεοί δυστυχέα τεῦξαν! [ôh Teukre, ti teukton? Hoi se Theoi dustukhea teuksan!]

NANAIHB Day 7

Today’s match, Idomeneus against Ajax.

Homer, Iliad 3.230-231

“That there is the monstrous bulwark of the Achaeans, Ajax.
Idomeneus stands on the other side like a god among the Cretans.”

οὗτος δ’ Αἴας ἐστὶ πελώριος ἕρκος ᾿Αχαιῶν·
᾿Ιδομενεὺς δ’ ἑτέρωθεν ἐνὶ Κρήτεσσι θεὸς ὣς
ἕστηκ’….

NANAIHB Day 7 (2)

Telamonian Ajax is reportedly the “best of men while Achilles was raging” (ἀνδρῶν αὖ μέγ’ ἄριστος ἔην Τελαμώνιος Αἴας ὄφρ’ ᾿Αχιλεὺς μήνιεν, 2.768-769) and it would be fascinating to fully understand the difference between being “best of men” and “best of the Acheans”. He is the son of Telamon: in most accounts Peleus, Achilles’ father, and Telamon are brothers. Broader myth puts these cousins together frequently: there is a much repeated image of the two playing a game in armor; Ajax is frequently credited with carrying Achilles’ body out of the battle (as he does with Patroklos); and Ajax’s emotional appeal to Achilles in book nine is often seen as instrumental in keeping him from returning to Phthia.

Ajax came to Troy with 12 ships from Salamis and—according to the text of the Iliad we possess—lined them up with the Athenians (Αἴας δ’ ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος ἄγεν δυοκαίδεκα νῆας / στῆσε δ’ ἄγων ἵν’ ᾿Αθηναίων ἵσταντο φάλαγγες, 2.557-558; Carolyn Higbie has a great article about how this text may have been manipulated in antiquity). But he is known for his own bad self, and not his people. He is the monstrous bulwark of the Achaeans (οὗτος δ’ Αἴας ἐστὶ πελώριος ἕρκος ᾿Αχαιῶν, 3.239)

When Priam sees him from the gates, he describes him as “that other big and noble man / head and shoulders above the rest of the Argives.”τίς τὰρ ὅδ’ ἄλλος ᾿Αχαιὸς ἀνὴρ ἠΰς τε μέγας τε / ἔξοχος ᾿Αργείων κεφαλήν τε καὶ εὐρέας ὤμους; (3.226-227). His shield is as big as a tower! (Αἴας δ’ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθε φέρων σάκος ἠΰτε πύργον, 7.219). He’s brave (ἄλκιμος Αἴας), he’s shiny (φαίδιμος Αἴας), he’s really big (Τελαμώνιος Αἴας) and he walks big too (Αἴας…μάκρα βιβάσθων· 18.809).

Idomeneus is also huge—if he weren’t Cretan and if Ajax weren’t there, this son of Minos just might be the second best of the Danaans. He devastated Sthenelos in round 1. He has held battalions of Trojans at bay.

How does he match up against Ajax? Helen places them right next to each other. And who is a better judge of a man than her?