Blaming Odysseus

Why did Agamemnon set aside right and agree to the sacrifice of his daughter?

Aeschylus. Agamemnon. 224-227.

He let himself become
the sacrificer of his daughter
for a war to help avenge a woman,
and as the first rite in launching the ships.

ἔτλα δ οὖν θυτὴρ γενέ-
σθαι θυγατρός, γυναικοποί-
νων πολέμων ἀρωγὰν
καὶ προτέλεια ναῶν.

Jean Racine (1639-1699), in his adaptation of Iphigenia at Aulis, placed the blame for Agamemnon’s moral waywardness squarely on Odysseus. In other words, Odysseus made him do it:

Racine. Iphigenia.

Agamemnon to attendant (70-78):

I wanted to disband the army.
Odysseus seemed to support my wishes;
He let that first rush of words go unchecked.
But soon he marshaled his cruel techniques:
He conjured for me honor and country;
All the people, the kings, who obey my commands;
The Asian empire promised to Greece;
And how, sacrificing the state for my daughter,
A fameless king, I’d grow old in my household.

Je voulais sur-le-champ congédier l’armée.
Ulysse en apparence approuvant mes discours,
De ce premier torrent laissa passer le cours.
Mais bientôt rappelant sa cruelle industrie,
Il me représenta l’honneur et la patrie,
Tout ce peuple, ces rois à mes ordres soumis,
Et l’empire d’Asie à la Grèce promis.
De quel front immolant tout l’État à ma fille,
Roi sans gloire, j’irais vieillir dans ma famille!

Odysseus to Agamemnon (285-296):

Think! You owe your daughter to Greece:
You’ve promised her to us, and on that promise,
Calchas, whom the Greeks consult daily,
Has foretold the return of unfailing winds.
If what comes contradicts his predictions,
Do you think Calchas will stay silent?
That you can blunt his accusations?
That Greeks will say the gods lied, and not blame you?
Deprived of their sacrifice, who knows what Greeks,
Rightly angry, in their view, might do?
Beware of forcing an enraged people,
My lord, to choose between you and the gods.

Songez-y: Vous devez votre fille à la Grèce:
Vous nous l’avez promise; et, sur cette promesse,
Calchas, par tous les Grecs consulté chaque jour,
Leur a prédit des vents l’infaillible retour.
À ses prédictions si l’effet est contraire,
Pensez-vous que Calchas continue à se taire;
Que ses plaintes, qu’en vain vous voudrez apaiser,
Laissent mentir les Dieux, sans vous en accuser?
Et qui sait ce qu’aux Grecs, frustrés de leur victime,
Peut permettre un courroux qu’ils croiront légitime?
Gardez-vous de réduire un peuple furieux,
Seigneur, à prononcer entre vous, et les Dieux.

Roland Barthes characterizes Racine’s representation of Odysseus this way:

Roland Barthes. On Racine (Editions du Seuil. 1963.105).

“He possesses the traits of what Votaire calls with admiration ‘the great politician’: the sense of collective interest, the objective appreciation of facts and their consequences, the lack of self respect; and he shrouds all his pragmatism in windbag rhetoric and continual blackmail styled as high morals [honor and country].”

“Il possède les traits de ce que Voltaire appelait avec admiration le grand politique: le sens de l’intérêt collectif, l’appréciation objective des faits et de leurs conséquences, l’absence d’amour-propre, enveloppant tout ce pragmatisme d’une rhétorique phraseuse et d’un chantage continu à la grande morale.”

black and white photograph of a line drawing or etching of the philosopher and poet Jean Racine.

19th-century portrait of Racine.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Wild and Desolate: The True Story of Odysseus’ Journey Home

Joannes Malalas, Chronographia, 5.20, p. 121

“After he left from Circe’s island, Odysseus arrived at another island, tossed up on it by struggling winds. Calypso, Circe’s sister welcomed him there and considered him worthy of a great deal of help. She had sex with him almost as if in marriage.

He went from there to a massive lake near the sea which was called the Nekyopompos. The people who live around that lake are prophets and they told him everything that had happened to him and what would happen in the future. When he left there, he was thrown from the sea when a great storm arose onto “the Sirens,” rocks which have that name from the peculiar sound that comes from waves crashing around them. Once he freed himself from there, he arrived at the place called “Charybdis,” a wild and desolate territory. He lost all his ships and his army here.

Then Odysseus was carried alone on a ship’s plank in the sea, waiting for a death from violence. But some Phoenician sailors passing by saw him swimming in the water and saved him in their pity. They took him to the island Crete to Idomeneus, a leader of the Greeks. When he saw Odysseus naked and impoverished, he sympathetically gave him a great of gifts because he had been a general with him at Troy along with two ships and people to guard him safely home. He sent him back to Ithaka like this. Wise Dictys wrote these details down after he heard them from Odysseus.”

ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς νήσου τῆς Κίρκης ἐξορμήσας ὁ ᾽Οδυσσεὺς ἀνήχθη εἰς τὴν ἄλλην νῆσον, ὑπὸ ἀνέμων ἐναντίων ἐκριφείς. ὅντινα ἐδέξατο καὶ ἡ Καλυψὼ ἡ ἀδελφὴ τῆς Κίρκης καὶ πολλῆς θεραπείας ἠξίωσεν αὐτόν, συμμιγεῖσα αὐτῶι καὶ πρὸς γάμον.

κἀκεῖθεν ἀνήχθη ἔνθα λίμνη ὑπῆρχε μεγάλη πλησίον τῆς θαλάσσης λεγομένη ἡ Νεκυόπομπος, καὶ οἱ οἰκοῦντες ἐν αὐτῆι ἄνδρες μάντεις· οἵτινες ἐξεῖπον αὐτῶι πάντα τὰ συμβάντα αὐτῶι καὶ τὰ μέλλοντα.  καὶ ἀναχθεὶς ἐκεῖθεν χειμῶνος μεγάλου γενομένου θαλάσσης ἐκρίπτεται εἰς τὰς Σειρῆνας, οὕτω καλουμένας πέτρας αἳ ἐκ τῶν κρουσμάτων τῶν κυμάτων ἦχος ἀποτελοῦσιν ἴδιον.  κἀκεῖθεν ἐξειλήσας ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν καλουμένην Χάρυβδιν, εἰς τόπους ἀγρίους καὶ ἀποτόμους· κἀκεῖ πάσας τὰς ὑπολειφθείσας αὐτῶι ναῦς καὶ τὸν στρατὸν ἀπώλεσεν, αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ ᾽Οδυσσεὺς μόνος ἐν σανίδι τοῦ πλοίου ἐν τῶι πελάγει ἐφέρετο, ἀναμένων τὸν μετὰ βίας θάνατον. τοῦτον δὲ ἑωρακότες τινὲς ἀποπλέοντες ναῦται Φοίνικες νηχόμενον ἐν τοῖς ὕδασιν ἐλεήσαντες διέσωσαν, καὶ ἤγαγον αὐτὸν ἐν τῆι Κρήτηι νήσωι πρὸς τὸν ᾽Ιδομενέα, ἔξαρχον ῾Ελλήνων. καὶ ἑωρακὼς τὸν ᾽Οδυσσέα ὁ ᾽Ιδομενεὺς γυμνὸν καὶ δεόμενον, συμπαθῶς φερόμενος <καὶ> δῶρα αὐτῶι πλεῖστα δεδωκὼς ὡς συστρατήγωι αὐτοῦ καὶ δύο νῆας καὶ διασώζοντας αὐτόν τινας, ἐξέπεμψεν αὐτὸν εἰς ᾽Ιθάκην. ἅτινα καὶ ὁ σοφὸς Δίκτυς παρὰ τοῦ ᾽Οδυσσέως ἀκηκοὼς συνεγράψατο.

File:Sirens and Odysseus by Francesco Primaticcio.jpg
Sirens and Odysseus by Fracesco Primaticcio, 1560

Procopius’ Secret History

Skimming through the Wall Street Journal at school the other day, an article about the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine caught my eye.  It did not talk about military progress or strategic victories, but rather, it raised alarmist concerns about the education system in occupied Ukraine. Russian forces were coercing Ukrainian teachers to teach a new curriculum in Russian that laundered the reputation of Russia and its leading figures. In other words, revisionist history.

After the immediate feeling of shock subsided, I remembered that revising history has been the tried-and-true method to building an empire.[1]

Throughout history, there are several examples of exalted historians manipulating the tales they are telling in service of an empire. One such case would be the famed Byzantine historian Procopius (d. 565 ce). Procopius chronicled the reign of Justinian I (d. 565 ce) and his wife Theodora (d. 548 ce).  His official histories of Justinian I’s rule have been extolled for millennia as the peak of historical recording since the Roman Empire.[2]

Several centuries later, a dusty tome was found hidden behind a fake wall in the Vatican Library. Procopius’ Anecdota, informally referred to as the Secret Histories, tells a tale not of the good emperor that he extols in his official histories, but rather of a demon disguised as a man, seeking the total destruction of his empire: “That Justinian was not a man, but a demon, as I have said, in human form, one might prove by considering the enormity of the evils he brought upon mankind.”[3]

In contrast to the vitriolic tone of Procopius’ Anecdota, the official histories are more formally penned and glorify Justinian I.[4] For example, at the conclusion of Procopius’s historical text Buildings he ends with connecting the emperor to a demi-god; “They swell with pride and smile upon the Emperor, offering him honours as though to a demi-god, after his magnificent achievements.”[5] During the time of the official histories’ writing, the Byzantine Empire was waging several wars on the periphery of their borders. Two of these wars were the subjects for Procopius’ histories, aptly titled Histories of the Wars. In them, Procopius talks at length about the campaigns underway in continental Italy and the posturing happening at the Persian border. The important conflict for us to look at is the war between the Ostrogoths and the Byzantines in Sicily and southern Italy. This campaign was meant to be Justinian’s crowning achievement, reuniting the Eastern and Western halves of the Roman Empire. In this campaign, the famed Byzantine general Belisarius was constantly winning battle after battle for Justinian, and making tremendous gains in terms of territory in Italy. As such, the Histories of the Wars rightly lauds both Belisarius for his military prowess and Justinian for his statesmanship.

The official histories are just that, official histories. As Procopious’ later works evinced, Justinian was not only losing his military campaigns but was also unfit to rule. “As for seizing property and murdering men, he never got his fill of them, but after plundering numerous homes of affluent men he kept seeking new ones, straightway pouring out the proceeds of his earlier robbery in making presents to sundry barbarians or in erecting senseless buildings.”[6]

“Official histories” like Procopius’ serve to launder the reputation of whatever empire that employs them. They have been endorsed by the state and are propped up as the government-approved history of the empire. This is quite similar to what Russia is trying to do in Ukraine, albeit not in the same manner. Instead of trying to moderate the histories that get written into a book, Russia is trying to instead manipulate the history that will be taught in schools. Russia is not the only country who has attempted to massage the details of their history. An example of this in very recent U.S. history would be the 1776 project begun by former President Donald Trump. The 1776 project was aimed to provide American children with a “patriotic education,” ostensibly defending the link between America’s founding and the legacy of slavery, while also likening modern-day progressivism to fascism.[7]

It is interesting to note that official histories are often written when things go wrong. Empires tend to fixate on knowledge production and legacy the most when the seams are unraveling beneath them. The change in curriculum comes at a time when Putin is losing his grip in Ukraine; he is trying to force Russian identity into Ukraine, in an effort to try and justify its continued presence in Ukraine. This is an echo of what occurred in the Byzantine Empire under Justinian’s reign. Justinian urged Procopius to write about all the battles he was winning in Italy when, in reality, his armies were being annihilated in the fields and his captured territories being reconquered.

Procopius’ writings help to better understand the present in the sense that they offer a word of warning about the ways in which empires will go about revising history. The state-sponsored history in Russian-occupied Ukraine, the official histories written by Procopius, and the 1776 project in the United States (among many other examples) are echoes of one another, with each shedding light on the ways in which nations alter their history to better suit their needs.


[1] “A piece of Propaganda” The eighth campaign of Sargon II. A historiographical approach. Last modified 2016.

[2] J.B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian (Dover: Dover Publications, 2011).

[3] Procopius, The Secret History of Procopius, trans. by Richard Atwater (New York: Kessinger Publishing, [1927] 2003), 178.

[4] Philip Rousseau, “Procopius’s ‘Buildings’ and Justinian’s Pride,” Byzantion 68, no. 1 (1998): 121-30

[5] Procopius, Of the Buildings of Justinian,” trans. by Aubrey Stewart (Adegi Graphics 1999).

[6]  Procopius, The Secret History, 118

[7] Michael Crowley and Jennifer Schuessler, “Trump’s 1776 Commission Critiques Liberalism in a Report Denied by Historians,” The New York Times, Jan 18, 2021.


 Hunter MacArthur is a junior at St. Sebastian’s in Needham. He can be reached at

The Fairest of them All

“A great calm listens to me, where I listen for hope.”
-Paul Valery, “Narcissus Speaks”

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Book III. 423-434 (Echo & Narcissus).

He desired himself without knowing it.
The one adoring was himself the one adored.
He pursues and he is the one pursued.
In equal parts he lights the flame and he burns.

How often his vain kisses for the trickster stream!
How often, grasping for the neck he saw there,
He plunged his arms amid the waters
And there failed to clasp himself!

What he sees, he does not understand.
Yet, what he sees he burns for.
What beguiles his eyes sustains his confusion.

Naif, why grasp in vain at a skirting image?
What you seek is nowhere.
What you love, just by turning away, you lose.
What you see is reflection’s shadow.
There’s nothing to it: it comes, it stays, with you.
With you it will leave, if you can leave.

Se cupit imprudens et qui probat, ipse probatur,
dumque petit, petitur, pariterque accendit et ardet.
Inrita fallaci quotiens dedit oscula fonti!
In mediis quotiens visum captantia collum
bracchia mersit aquis, nec se deprendit in illis!
Quid videat, nescit: sed quod videt, uritur illo,
atque oculos idem, qui decipit, incitat error.
Credule, quid frusta simulacra fugacia captas?
quod petis, est nusquam; quod amas, avertere, perdes.
Ista repercussae, quam cernis, imaginis umbra est:
nil habet ista sui; tecum venitque manetque,
tecum discedet, si tu discedere possis.

Figure with midlength brown-blond hair bent over, looking into his reflection
Caravaggio. Narcissus. 1597-1599. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. Rome, Italy.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

The Temple and the Man

Vitruvius, De Architectura 1

“The building of temples relies on symmetry and architects need to most carefully understand the reason for this. It comes from proposition, which was called “analogy” in Greek. Proportion derives from fixed segments of the parts of the building and the whole—and the balance of symmetry is achieved through this. For no building can have an order in its design without symmetry and proportion, unless it has something like the precise design of a well-figured human body.  For nature has so composed the human body that the face from the chin to the top of the brow and the roots of the hair is one tenth of the whole and the palm of the hand from the wrist to the end of the middle finger is the same.

The head from the chin to the top is one eighth and the top of the chest where it meets the neck to the hair’s roots is a sixth. From the middle of the chest to the crown is one quarter of the whole. The third part of the length of the face extends from the bottom of the chin to the base of the nostrils. The nose from the nostril base to the space between the brows is the same. From that line to hair forms the forehead, a third part. The foot comprises a sixth of the body’s height and the chest is a quarter. The other limbs all have appropriate measures too. And ancient painters earned great praise by observing all these measures.

In the same way, the limbs of temples should have proportions of their various parts responding appropriately to the general size of the whole construction. Consider that the navel is the natural center of the body. For, if a person should lie on the ground with hands and feet spread wide and a circle has the navel as the center, fingers and toes will touch the line of the circumference. In addition, a square can be traced within the figure in the same way. For, if we take the measure from the sole to the top of the head and compare to measure to the distance from one hand to another, the lengths will be found equal, just like foundations squared with a rule. For this reason, if nature designed the body so that the parts correspond in their dimension to the whole design, then ancient people seem to have decided with good reason that they should keep in their works the exact proportions of the separate components to the design of the whole. Therefore, they have handed down orders in all of their works, especially in temples to the gods, the kinds of accomplishments whose excellence and weakness persist for generations.”

1Aedium compositio constat ex symmetria, cuius rationem diligentissime architecti tenere debent. Ea autem paritur a proportione, quae graece analogia dicitur. Proportio est ratae partis membrorum in omni opere totiusque commodulatio, ex qua ratio efficitur symmetriarum. Namque non potest aedis ulla sine symmetria atque proportione rationem habere compositionis, nisi uti ad hominis bene figurati membrorum habuerit exactam rationem. 2Corpus enim hominis ita natura composuit, uti os capitis a mento ad frontem summam et radices imas capilli esset decimae partis, item manus palma ab articulo ad extremum medium digitum tantundem, caput a mento ad summum verticem octavae, cum cervicibus imis ab summo pectore ad imas radices capillorum sextae, <a medio pectore ad summum verticem quartae. Ipsius autem oris altitudinis tertia est pars ab imo mento ad imas nares, nasum ab imis naribus ad finem medium superciliorum tantundem, ab ea fine ad imas radices capilli frons efficitur item tertiae partis. Pes vero altitudinis corporis sextae, cubitum quartae, pectus item quartae. Reliqua quoque membra suas habent commensus proportiones, quibus etiam antiqui laudes sunt adsecuti.

Similiter vero sacrarum aedium membra ad universam totius magnitudinis summam ex partibus singulis convenientissimum debent habere commensus responsum. Item corporis centrum medium naturaliter est umbilicus. Namque si homo conlocatus fuerit supinus manibus et pedibus pansis circinique conlocatum centrum in umbilico eius, circumagendo rotundationem utrarumque manuum et pedum digiti linea tangentur. Non minus quemadmodum schema rotundationis in corpore efficitur, item quadrata designatio in eo invenietur. Nam si a pedibus imis ad summum caput mensum erit eaque mensura relata fuerit ad manus pansas, invenietur eadem latitudo uti altitudo, quemadmodum areae quae ad normam sunt quadratae. 4Ergo si ita natura conposuit corpus hominis, uti proportionibus membra ad summam figurationem eius respondeant, cum causa constituisse videntur antiqui, ut etiam in operum perfectionibus singulorum membrorum ad universam figurae speciem habeant commensus exactionem. Igitur cum in omnibus operibus ordines traderent, maxime in aedibus deorum, operum et laudes et culpae aeternae solent permanere.

File:Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour.jpg
Da Vinci Vitruve Luc

An Unhappy Homecoming: Reading Nikos Kazantzakis’ “Odyssey: A Verse Play”, Online

Wednesday, November 2nd: A Reading from Nikos Kazantzakis’ verse play “Odysseus”  at 3pm EDT. Online and archived forever

Poster advertising a performance of Odysseus by Nikolas Kazantzakis

The stories surrounding Odysseus stretch far beyond the bounds of Homer’s Odyssey.. Ancient narratives like the lost Telegony imagine what happened to the hero outside the sacking of Troy and tragedies like Sophocles’ Philoctetes or Ajax fill in the stories not told in the Iliad and Odyssey.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Nikos Kazantzakis composed among other works The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, a poem that stretches out to twice the length of the Homeric Odyssey. He also wrote a verse play that has not been widely available in English until the publication of Kostas Myrsiades’ translation This play functions as a kind of ‘prequel to Kazantzakis’ epic, but it also advances some of the themes surrounding the story of Odyssey outside of his homecoming.


Tabatha Gayla

Lily Ling

Toph Marshall

Eunice Roberts

Rene Thornton, Jr.


Director: Paul O’Mahony


Special Guest: Maria G. Xanthou

Amazing People
Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Host and Faculty Consultant: Joel Christensen (Brandeis University)
Executive Producer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Poster Illustration Artist: John Koelle
This play could be seen as an alternate version of the Odyssey  or a modern reception. It engages both with variations in ancient myth and a tradition of literary responses. We have a summary of some of those tales in Apollodorus.


Apollodorus, (Ep. 7.38-39)

“Some say that Penelope was corrupted by Antinoos and that Odysseus sent her back to her father Ikarios. When she came to Mantinea in Arcadia she had Pan with Hermes. Others allege that she was killed by Odysseus because of Amphinomos, who seduced her. There are also those who say that Odysseus was charged by the relatives of those he had killed who took Neoptolemos as judge, then king of the islands near Epirus. He handed down a judgment of exile and Odysseus went to Thoas the son of Andraimôn who married him to his daughter. When he died from old age, he left a son Leontophonos.

τινὲς δὲ Πηνελόπην ὑπὸ Ἀντινόου φθαρεῖσαν λέγουσιν ὑπὸ Ὀδυσσέως πρὸς τὸν πατέρα Ἰκάριον ἀποσταλῆναι, γενομένην δὲ τῆς Ἀρκαδίας κατὰ Μαντίνειαν ἐξ Ἑρμοῦ τεκεῖν Πᾶνα: [39] ἄλλοι δὲ δι᾽ Ἀμφίνομον ὑπὸ Ὀδυσσέως αὐτοῦ τελευτῆσαι: διαφθαρῆναι γὰρ αὐτὴν ὑπὸ τούτου λέγουσιν. [40] εἰσὶ δὲ οἱ λέγοντες ἐγκαλούμενον Ὀδυσσέα ὑπὸ τῶν οἰκείων ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀπολωλότων δικαστὴν Νεοπτόλεμον λαβεῖν τὸν βασιλεύοντα τῶν κατὰ τὴν Ἤπειρον νήσων, τοῦτον δέ, νομίσαντα ἐκποδὼν Ὀδυσσέως γενομένου Κεφαλληνίαν καθέξειν, κατακρῖναι φυγὴν αὐτοῦ, Ὀδυσσέα δὲ εἰς Αἰτωλίαν πρὸς Θόαντα τὸν Ἀνδραίμονος παραγενόμενον τὴν τούτου θυγατέρα γῆμαι, καὶ καταλιπόντα παῖδα Λεοντοφόνον ἐκ ταύτης γηραιὸν τελευτῆσαι.

Rather than being just a record of later responses to Homer, this passage likely echoes traditions that were extant during the performance and composition of the Odyssey we have. Pausanias provides a record of cult traditions around Penelope in the Peloponnese:


Penelope’s Grave, Pausanias 8.12.5

“In addition to the roads discussed, there are two others to Orkhomenos. On one we find what is called the Ladan Stade where Ladas practiced running and near there a temple of Artemis. On the right side of the road, there is a high mound. People say that this is the burial place of Penelope, although in this they don’t agree with the story about her in the poem called the Thesprotis.

In that poem, Penelope has the child Ptoloporthês with Odysseus after he comes home from Troy.  But the story of the Mantineans says that she was accused by Odysseus of bringing lovers into his home and then he kicked her out. They say she returned to Lakedaimon but later moved from Sparta to Mantineia where she met the end of her life.”

ἐπὶ δὲ ὁδοῖς ταῖς κατειλεγμέναις δύο ἐς ᾿Ορχομενόν εἰσιν ἄλλαι, καὶ τῇ μέν ἐστι καλούμενον Λάδα στάδιον, ἐς ὃ ἐποιεῖτο Λάδας μελέτην δρόμου, καὶ παρ’ αὐτὸ ἱερὸν ᾿Αρτέμιδος καὶ ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς ὁδοῦ γῆς χῶμα ὑψηλόν· Πηνελόπης δὲ εἶναι τάφον φασίν, οὐχ ὁμολογοῦντες τὰ ἐς αὐτὴν ποιήσει <τῇ> Θεσπρωτίδι ὀνομαζομένῃ. ἐν ταύτῃ μέν γέ ἐστι τῇ ποιήσει ἐπανήκοντι ἐκ Τροίας ᾿Οδυσσεῖ τεκεῖν τὴν Πηνελόπην Πτολιπόρθην παῖδα· Μαντινέων δὲ ὁ ἐς αὐτὴν λόγος Πηνελόπην φησὶν ὑπ’ ᾿Οδυσσέως καταγνωσθεῖσαν ὡς ἐπισπαστοὺς ἐσαγάγοιτο ἐς τὸν οἶκον, καὶ ἀποπεμφθεῖσαν ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ,  τὸ μὲν παραυτίκα ἐς Λακεδαίμονα ἀπελθεῖν, χρόνῳ δὲ ὕστερον ἐκ τῆς Σπάρτης ἐς Μαντίνειαν μετοικῆσαι, καί οἱ τοῦ βίου τὴν τελευτὴν ἐνταῦθα συμβῆναι.

The question of Penelope’s fidelity was a popular motif, and may be part of the uncertainty of her depiction in the Odyssey.  Lykophron in his Alexandra takes the view that Penelope was not faithful (768-773)

“For he will come, he will come to the harbor shelter of Reithron
And the cliffs of Nêritos. And he will see
His whole house upturned from its foundations
By wife-stealing adulterers. And that vixen
Will hollow out his home with shameless whoring,
Pouring out the wretch’s fortune feast by feast”.

ἥξει γάρ, ἥξει ναύλοχον ῾Ρείθρου σκέπας
καὶ Νηρίτου πρηῶνας. ὄψεται δὲ πᾶν
μέλαθρον ἄρδην ἐκ βάθρων ἀνάστατον
μύκλοις γυναικόκλωψιν. ἡ δὲ βασσάρα
σεμνῶς κασωρεύουσα κοιλανεῖ δόμους,
θοίναισιν ὄλβον ἐκχέασα τλήμονος.

Lykophron is positively chaste compared to the account provided in the Scholia:

“And Douris writes in his work on the lewdness of Agathokleos that Penelope had sex with all of the suitors and then gave birth to the goat-shaped Pan whom they took up to be one of the gods.  He is talking nonsense about Pan, for Pan is the child of Hermes and a different Penelope. Another story is that Pan is the child of Zeus and Hubris.”

Καὶ Δοῦρις δὲ ἐν τῷ περὶ ᾿Αγαθοκλέους μάχλον φησὶ τὴν Πηνελόπην καὶ συνελθοῦσαν πᾶσι τοῖς μνηστῆρσι γεννῆσαι τὸν τραγοσκελῆ Πᾶνα ὃν εἰς θεοὺς ἔχουσιν (FHG II 47942). φλυαρεῖ δὲ περὶ τοῦ Πανός· ὁ Πὰν γὰρ ῾Ερμοῦ καὶ Πηνελόπης ἄλλης †T. καὶ ἕτερος δὲ Πὰν Διὸς καὶ ῞Υβρεως.

The Odyssey is clear that the hero’s story continues on. Odysseus hears Teiresias’ prophecy in book 11 and then communicates it:

Homer, 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 many later authors’ engagement with the Odyssey. Consider 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.”

Nikos Kazantzakis’ play–and epic–enter into this tradition and Myrsiades’ translation provides us with a new opportunity to think about how lives extend beyond the boundaries of a tale.

Coming Up with a Plausible Story

Epicharmus, fr. 99 from Odysseus the Deserter

I am going to take a break and take a seat right here
And talk through how I will tell them things they believe, even the smarter ones.

“You seem wholly right and righteous to pray to the gods
But if you will only consider in what way
I risked so many things going where you ordered
How I took on sufferings away from this safety
And faced danger after danger to earn divine kleos,
Entering the enemy’s camp to learn clearly and well
To return unharmed to report back all the secrets
to the glorious Achaeans And the dear son of Atreus…”

τῆλ’ ἀπε]νθὼν τεῖδε θωκησῶ τε καὶ λεξοῦ[μ’ ὅπως
πιστά κ’ ε]ἴμειν ταῦτα καὶ τοῖς δεξιωτέροι[ς δοκῆι.
‘τοῖς θεοῖς] ἐμὶν δοκεῖτε πάγχυ καὶ κατὰ τρόπ[ον
καὶ ἐοικό]τως ἐπεύξασθ’, αἴ τις ἐνθυμεῖν γ[α λῆι,
ὅσσ’ ἐγών]γ’ ὤφειλον ἐνθ[ὼ]ν ὗσπερ ἐκελή[σασθ’ ἐμὲ
τῶν παρ’ ὑμέ]ων ἀγαθικῶν κακὰ προτιμάσαι θ’ [ἅμα
ἅμα τε κίν]δυνον τελέσσαι καὶ κλέος θεῖον [λαβεῖν,
πολεμίω]ν μολὼν ἐς ἄστυ, πάντα δ’ εὖ σαφα[νέως
πυθόμε]νος δίοις τ’ ᾿Αχαιοῖς παιδί τ’ ᾿Ατρέος φί[λωι
ἂψ ἀπαγγ]εῖλαι τὰ τηνεῖ καὐτὸς ἀσκηθὴς [μολεῖν.’

early greek vase painting. A cyclops is reclining and two small figures are blinding him with a large stick


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

Andromache’s Sons With Neoptolemos

Scholia ad Eur. Andromache, 24

“In these halls, I [Andromache] produced this male child / after sleeping with Achilles’ son, my master]:

One source says that she bore only one son to Neoptolemos while others say that there were three: Pyrrhos, Molossos, Aiakos and a daughter named Troas. Lysimachus, in the second volume of his On Homecomings, writes that Proxenos and Nikomedes the Akanthian report in Macedonian Matters that Andromache gave birth to those who were just mentioned, and from Leonassa, Kleodaios’ daughter, [he fathered?] Argos, Pergamos, Pandaros, Dorieus, Genyos, Danae and Eurylockus. They also say that Pyrrhos received the kingdom from his father and that the country was named Mossia to give honor to Molossos.”

κἀγὼ δόμοις [τοῖσδ᾽ ἄρσεν᾽ ἐντίκτω κόρον / πλαθεῖσ᾽ ᾽Αχιλλέως παιδί, δεσπότῃ γ᾽ ἐμῷ] ἰδίως ἕνα φησὶ παῖδα γενέσθαι τῷ Νεοπτολέμῷ, ἄλλων τρεῖς λεγόντων Πύρρον, Μολοσσόν, Αἰακίδην καὶ Τρωάδα. Λυσίμαχος δὲ ἐν τῷ δευτέρῳ τῶν Νόστων φησὶ Πρόξενον καὶ τὸν ᾽Ακάνθιον Νικομήδην ἐν τοῖς Μακεδονικοῖς ἱστορεῖν ἐκ μὲν ᾽Ανδρομάχης γενέσθαι τοὺς προειρημένους, ἐκ δὲ Λεωνάσσης τῆς Κλεοδαίου ῎Αργον, Πέργαμον, Πάνδαρον, Δωριέα, Γένυον, †δανάην, Εὐρύλοχον. φασὶ δὲ Πύρρῳ μὲν ἐγχειρίσαι τὴν βασιλείαν τὸν πατέρα, Μολοσσῷ δὲ τὴν ἐκ τῆς προσηγορίας τιμὴν προστάξαντα τὴν χώραν Μολοσσίαν ὀνομάζειν.

Andromache and Neoptolemus, by Pierre-Narcisse Guerin

A Fragment of An Odyssey

P. Ryl. 3.487 = Exertatio Ethopeoiaca [TLG] = LCL 360 Select Papyri 137

“…Ill-fated Elpenor, the one Kirke’s home stole away–
Like Antiphanes and man-eating Polyphemos–
Of the immortal [ ] [stories like that] I will tell you..


…and the trials of Penelope.
Don’t disbelieve that Odysseus has returned home,
When you see the scar that not even Penelope has seen.
Quit the stable, Philoitios. I will relieve you
Of trembling before the suitors to wander with your cattle.
I will make your household free for you. But in turn
All of you take up arms by my side against Eurymakhos and the rest
Of the suitors. You are well versed in their evil
Just as Telemachus and prudent Penelope are.
Cowherd, pledge yourself…

δύσμορ[ο]ς Ἐλπήνωρ, τ[ὸ]ν ἀφήρπασε δώματα
ἴκελ[α] Ἀν[τ]ιφάτηι καὶ ἀνδροφάγωι Πολυφήμωι
ἀθανά[τ]ο̣υ̣ .εσ[..]ψ̣ατ̣[…..]ρ̣ητην ἀγορεύσω
α̣ἰγὸς ᾿Αμαλ̣θεία̣ς σ̣[έ]λ̣[α]ς̣ [..].[..]εν αἰγίοχος Ζεύς
[ο]ὔριος̣ ὁρμ̣α̣[ί]ν̣ουσι̣ν ο̣τει̣ο αρουρ̣[….].π̣ι̣σ̣
οὐ ρ̣α̣.[.].θ..ο̣υθο..[.]υ̣κ̣…[…].[.]ε̣ς̣ [οὐ]δὲν ἐο̣ῦ̣σιν
ειμ̣[ ] ἀ̣νδρῶν
[ ]ι̣
[ ]ο̣ι̣μ̣ων
[ ]ε̣ μάκελλαν
[ ]ε̣ ποθ’ ὕδωρ
[ ]η̣ν ἐπὶ βώλῳ
[ ]θιος ἀνήρ
[ ]β̣[..]ρες
[ ]κα.[]


. . . . .
ἀ]θλήματα [Πη]νελοπείης.
μὴ σύ γ᾿ ἄπιστος ἐῆις ὡς οὐ νόστησεν Ὀδυσσεύς,
οὐλὴν εἰσοράαις τὴν μηδ᾿ ἴδε Πηνελόπεια.
παύεο νῦν σταθμοῖο, Φιλοίτιε, κ[α]ί σε μεθήσω
μνηστῆρας τρομέοντα τεαῖς σὺν βουσὶν ἀλᾶσθαι·
στήσω σοι τεὸν οἶκον ἐλεύθερον. ἀλλὰ καὶ ὑμεῖς
ἀμφ᾿ ἐμὲ θωρήσσεσθε κατ᾿ Ἐυρυμάχοιο καὶ ἄλλω(ν)
μνηστήρων· κακότητος ἐπειρήθητε καὶ ὑμεῖς,
ἴκελα Τηλεμάχωι καὶ [ἐχέφρονι Πηνελοπείηι.
βουκόλε κάτθεο̣ []
γείνεο μὲν ποτι[]

I wrote a whole book about the Odyssey and just found out about this fragment. It is dated to the 3rd/4th century CE by Roberts in Catalogue of the Greek Papyri in the John Rylands Library. The hexameter is clearly later than Homer, but the story it tells is interesting: the bulk of the fragment seems to have Odysseus trying to convince the cow-herd Philoitios to join him in the fight against the suitors in exchange for a promise of manumission. This concept is really alien to the Homeric Odyssey

Philoitios is something of a silent double for Eumaios in the Odyssey as one of the “good” enslaved people. He closes the door on the suitors in book 21 (240) but speaks rarely. When He does, in book 20, he asks Eumaios who this stranger is, and confirms that he looks like a kingly man. He expresses sympathy with the stranger and tells Odysseus in disguise how much he misses his former master. Odysseus tells him that Odysseus will soon come home.

Odysseus, zijn zoon Telemachus, Eumaeus en Philoetius verlaten gewapend het paleis en gaan onderweg naar de vader van Odysseus: Laërtes. Minerva verbergt hen in duisternis op klaarlichte dag, zodat ze ongezien wegkomen.