A Mythical Monday: The Minotaur’s Origin

Since Erik posted about Moonface’s Album of Songs about the Minotaur, I have been listening to it while driving my children to school. (They love it. They keep asking to listen to it. I think I have ruined them). The actual material about the Minotaur from ancient remains is mostly about Theseus. Here are some passages about Pasiphae and the Minotaur.

Hesiod, Fr. 145.13–17

“When he looked in her eyes he longed for her
[and she gave herself over to the bull]
After she was impregnated, she gave birth to a powerful son to Minos,
A wonder to see: for he had the appearance of man
Down to his feet, but a bull’s head grew on top.”

τῆς δ’ ἄρ’ [ἐν ὀ]φθαλμοῖσιν̣ ἰ̣δὼν ἠράσ̣[σατο
†ταύρωι̣.[…]ρ̣ι̣μενησ̣κ̣α̣μ̣ε̣ρ̣μ̣ιδαο̣τα̣[†
ἣ δ’ ὑποκ̣[υσα]μένη Μίνωι τέκε κα[ρτερὸν υἱόν,
θαῦμα ἰ[δεῖν·] σ̣α μὲν γὰρ ἐπ̣έ̣κ̣λ̣ι̣ν̣[εν δέμας ἀνδρὶ
ἐς πόδα̣[ς], α̣ὐ̣τ̣ὰρ ὕ̣π̣ε̣ρθε κάρ̣η τ̣α̣[ύροιο πεφύκει

Suda, Epsilon 1421

“In every myth there is also Daidalos’ corruption”: People say that because Pasiphae lusted after a bull, she begged Daidalos to make her a wooden cow and, once he had set it up, to put her in it. When the bull mounted her as a cow he made her pregnant. The Minotaur was born from this. For certain reasons Minos was angry at the Athenians and he took from them seven maidens and the same number of youths. They were thrown to the beast. Since origin and responsibility for these evils were attributed to Daidalos and he was hated for them, this was translated into the proverb.”

᾿Εν παντὶ μύθῳ καὶ τὸ Δαιδάλου μύσος· Πασιφάην φασὶν ἐρασθεῖσαν ταύρου Δαίδαλον ἱκετεῦσαι ποιῆσαι ξυλίνην βοῦν καὶ κατασκευάσαντα αὐτὴν ἐνθεῖναι· ἣν ἐπιβαίνων ὡς βοῦν ὁ ταῦρος ἐγκύμονα ἐποίησεν. ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη ὁ Μινώταυρος. Μίνως δὲ διά τινας αἰτίας ὀργιζόμενος τοῖς ᾿Αθηναίοις ἑπτὰ παρθένους καὶ ἴσους νέους ἐξ αὐτῶν ἐδασμολογεῖτο· οἳ παρεβάλλοντο τῷ θηρίῳ. εἰς Δαίδαλον οὖν ἀρχηγὸν τούτων τῶν κακῶν καὶ αἴτιον γενόμενον καὶ μυσαχθέντα ἐξηνέχθη εἰς παροιμίαν.

Heraclitus the Paradoxographer, 7 Concerning Pasiphae

“People claim that [Pasiphae] lusted after the Bull, not, as many believe, for an animal in a herd—for it would be ridiculous for a queen to desire such uncommon intercourse—instead she lusted for a certain local man whose name was Tauro [the bull]. She used as an accomplice for her desire Daidalos and she was impregnated. Then she gave birth to a son whom many used to call “Minos” but they would compare him to Tauro because of his similarity to him. So, he was nicknamed Mino-tauros from the combination.”

Περὶ Πασιφάης.
Ταύτην φασὶν ἐρασθῆναι Ταύρου, οὐχ, ὡς πολλοὶ
νομίζουσι, τοῦ κατὰ τὴν ἀγέλην ζῴου (γελοῖον γὰρ
ἀκοινωνήτου συνουσίας ὠρέχθαι τὴν βασίλισσαν), ἑνὸς
δέ τινος τῶν ἐντοπίων, ᾧ Ταῦρος ἦν ὄνομα. συνεργῷ
δὲ χρησαμένη πρὸς τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν Δαιδάλῳ καὶ γεγο-
νυῖα ἔγγυος, ἐγέννησε καθ’ ὁμοιότητα τοῦ Ταύρου
<υἱόν>, ὃν οἱ πολλοὶ Μίνω μὲν ἐκάλουν, Ταύρῳ δὲ
εἴκαζον· κατὰ δὲ σύνθεσιν Μινώταυρος ἐκλήθη.

Bacchylides, Dith. 26 (P.Oxy. 2364 fr. 1)

“[in] Pasiphae
The Kyprian goddess [sewed]
Longing [….]
To the son Eupalamos
The wisest of the craftsmen
She told Daidalos [about]
Her sickness. Credible oaths
She ordered him to make [so that]
So that she might have sex with the bull
But keep it secret from her husband
Minos, the oppressive-archer,
The general of the Knossians.
But when he learned of the tale,
He was overtaken by worry and
[about his] wife….

[ ]θεα̣ καὶ γ[.].[ ]
φρα.[ ]
Πασι[φ]ά̣[α]
εν Κύπ[ρις]
πόθον [ ]
Εὐπαλά[μοι’] υἱε[ῖ]
τεκτόν[ω]ν σοφω̣[τάτῳ]
φράσε Δαιδάλῳ ά.[ ]
νόσον· ὅρκια πισ[τ]
[ τ]ε τεύχειν κέλευ[σε]
μ̣είξειε ταυρείῳ σ[ ]
κρύπτουσα σύννο̣[μον]
Μίνωα [τ]οξοδάμαν[τα]
Κνωσσίων στρατα[γέταν·]
ὁ δ’ ἐπεὶ μάθε μῦθο[ν]
σχέτο φροντίδι· δε[ ]
[ ]ἀλόχου[ ]

Image result for greek minotaur vase baby

This is the most superior image of the Minotaur by far. Pasiphae’s expression is perfect.

 

More Aeneid Through Buffy GIFs: Aeneas’ Perplexing Shield

Vergil, Aeneid 8.729-731

“Such images he wondered at on Vulcan’s shield, a parent’s present,
and he delights in the picture, although ignorant of the affairs
as he lifts upon his shoulder, the fame and fate of his descendants.”

Talia per clipeum Volcani, dona parentis,
miratur rerumque ignarus imagine gaudet
attollens umero famamque et fata nepotum.

I thought that the wonder left in the world had been exhausted once Christian Lehmann had finished telling the story of Dido and Aeneas through Buffy GIFs. But, lo, what do I know? Zeus can make the day like night at midday, and the Master Christian Lehmann can strike again! Last night, he pounded out the images on Aeneas’ shield. (This is reproduced from twitter with his permission.)

 

Image result for buffy's special slayer scythe

Buffy has her own special weapon too

Exploring Gender and Sexuality in Antiquity: The Trial and Consciousness of Callon

Exploring Gender and Sexuality in Antiquity: The Trial and Consciousness of Callon

[Editorial note: We are happy to have this guest post by Cassie Garison who reached out to us after our recent reposting of intersex stories from ancient Greece and Rome. Cassie brings us a story we did not know and a fine discussion of ancient representations of the relationship between biological gender and the social performance of sex].

A note on translation: “sex-change” today is not a politically correct term to refer to people who choose to get gender affirmation surgery. However, I will use this language as it is a quite literal translation and a literal description of what is happening. In both cases that I will describe there was not agency or intent on behalf of those in reference, and they bear little similarity to those modern instances where there is.  There are also inconsistencies in the language of the translated excerpts, for instance when Tiresias or Callon are labelled men or women. However, gender and sex are not the synonymous, and when referring to anatomical features of the body (albeit even these are not binary in any shape or form) I will use the terms male and female. The language that the translators use to describe gender and sexuality are outdated.

Callon, a figure written into the ancient histories of Diodorus Siculus, demonstrates a unique and at times awkward telling, one that defies historical precedents and does not fit neatly into any known ancient systems. This account is critical to consider even in a contemporary context as it enlightens the way humans are prone and accustomed to projecting their anachronistic understanding of gender and sexuality on the queer body. It demonstrates both the limits of language and the influence of groups in power on history and written accounts. The closest figure to Callon comes in the more well-known in the mythological account of the well-known figure of Tiresias.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Tiresias struck two mating snakes with his stick, separating them. Spectacularly, Tiresias’s body changed, in this moment, from male to female. He[1] lived as female for seven years, until the eighth year when he stumbled upon the same pair of copulating snakes and, again, struck them with his stick with the hope that he would again change sex. He transforms, and “from man was turned to woman”(Ovid Met. 3.326). This mythological story is invoked and revisited by numerous ancient and modern authors alike, appearing on Sophocles, Homer, Petronius, Lord Alfred Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf,[2] and many more. Each time this story is iterated it is interpreted through a different lens, each time speaking differently to how Tiresias’s gender and sex cohere and flex.

Although Tiresias existed within only one body and consciousness, he possessed, at separate points, what are considered opposing binary sexual features. Despite his movement between binaries, Tiresias demonstrated an overarching understanding of what it is to live within the body of both male and female. When Jove and Saturn called upon Tiresias to tell them who—male or female—experienced more sexual pleasure, Tiresias responded that the female does, taking the side of Jove. Thus, Juno responded by taking away Tiresias’ physical sight, and Jove, disagreeing with this reaction, gave Tiresias the power to see the future (Ov. Met. 3.335-339). Thus one form of sight was taken away, and another was given, and Tiresias is redirected into both a mythological or oracular paradigm.

Similarly, in a story told by Diodorus Siculus[3], a figure name Callon[4] demonstrates a parallel depiction as a result of an unintentional and unpredictable change of defining sexual features[5]. Although this is a historical account—opposed to Tiresias’s literary mythology—the two are comparable in that both stories were passed down through oral history, then arrived on the page within the narrative bias ancient authors. They both highlight ideals and perceptions of gender, sex, and social construct within Ancient society through the author’s portrayal of events.

The story begins in Book 32 of The Bibliotheca Historica when a tumor appears on the genitals of Callo (their name before[6] the change of sex), described as a married woman from Epidaurus. This tumor causes excruciating pain, and no physician wanted to risk treating it. Then an apothecary stepped up to the task, facilitating the alteration (this translation is from Lacius Curtius):

He cut into the swollen area, whereupon a man’s privates were protruded, namely testicles and an imperforate penis. While all the others stood amazed at the extraordinary event, the apothecary took steps to remedy the remaining deficiencies. First of all, cutting into the glans he made a passage into the urethra, and inserting a silver catheter drew off the liquid residues. Then, by scarifying the perforated area, he brought the parts together.

τοῖς λειπομένοις μέρεσι τῆς πηρώσεως. τὸ μὲν οὖν πρῶτον τὸ αἰδοῖον ἄκρον ἐπιτεμὼν συνέτρησεν εἰς τὸν οὐρητῆρα, καὶ καθεὶς ἀργυροῦν καυλίσκον ταύτῃ τὰ περιττώματα τῶν ὑγρῶν ἐξεκόμιζε, τὸν δὲ σεσυριγγωμένον τόπον ἑλκώσας συνέφυσε.

Following this moment, Callon instantly must adjust and adopt a new social role in response to their newly-emerged male genitalia (Diodorus Siculus, 32.11):

After achieving a cure in this manner he demanded double fees, saying that he had  received a female invalid and made her into a healthy young man. Callo laid aside her loom-shuttles and all other instruments of woman’s work, and taking in their stead the garb and status of a man changed her name (by adding a single letter, N, at the end) to Callon.

καὶ τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον ὑγιοποιήσας διπλοῦν ἀπῄτει τὸν μισθόν· ἔφη γὰρ αὑτὸν παρειληφέναι γυναῖκα νοσοῦσαν, καθεστακέναι δὲ νεανίσκον ὑγιαίνοντα. ἡ δὲ Καλλὼ τὰς μὲν ἐκ τῶν ἱστῶν κερκίδας καὶ τὴν ἄλλην τῶν γυναικῶν ταλασιουργίαν ἀπέθετο, μεταλαβοῦσα δὲ ἀνδρὸς ἐσθῆτα καὶ τὴν ἄλλην διάθεσιν μετωνομάσθη Κάλλων, ἑνὸς στοιχείου ἐπὶ τῷ τέλει τοῦ Ν προστεθέντος.

This shift parallels the way that Tiresias’s physical sex-change redirects his social projection and performance, establishing mental and social expectations in direct response to genitalia. Female appearing genitalia are aligned with the actions of womanhood, and male actions are aligned with the performance of manhood, with little room for fluctuation of that binary principle. This is a principle that still governs much of today’s understandings of gender and sexuality.

Callon, before this physical and social shift, was a priestess of Demeter, and after this moment of alteration, “because she had witnessed things not to be seen by men she was brought to trial for impiety.” (Diodorus.Siculus 22.11)  Just as Tiresias has his sight taken away for possessing the knowledge and sight of what it is to live within both the body of male and female, Callon is brought to trial for impiety for having seen sacred rituals exclusive to females when they are no longer socially labelled as female, but still never truly was able to fulfill the proscribed role of an Ancient Greek male.

The physical descriptors of Callon’s body explain the effect and complications of Callon’s portrayal as portentous and prosecuted. Callon’s sight and experience are implicitly more than either male or female, even if they are only regarded as one or the other at any given time. They possess a double consciousness in result of the ambiguous genitalia and unstable body, rooted in the very fact that their body calls to question, multiple times, how tethered gendered performance is to sex.

This instability forces them to exist outside any normative variations of male and female projectiles within Ancient Greece, even the most extreme variations[7]. The manner of physical change—unprompted and unexplainable other than to attribute to divine agency— undoubtedly plays a large role in Callon’s mythic classification, in tandem with their inability to fit neatly within any gendered projectile, their fluctuating societal perception, and the Diodorus Siculus’s inability to find language that properly tethers Callon to a position in society.

Diodorus Siculus inducts the story as mythic separately from the actual telling of Callon. He situates the text directly after the sex-change of Herais (Diodorus.Siculus.XXXII.9), a change with similar anomalous conditions yet varying social implications.[8] Following these two stories, Diodorus Siculus injects his own lens for a reader to interpret the previous recordings (Diodorus, Siculus. 32.11):

Likewise in Naples and a good many other places sudden changes of this sort are said to have occurred. Not that the male and female natures have been united to form a truly bisexual type, for that is impossible, but that Nature, to mankind’s consternation and mystification, has through the bodily parts falsely given this impression. And this is the reason why we have considered these shifts of sex worthy of record, not for the entertainment, but for the improvement most our readers. For many men, thinking such things to be portents, fall into superstition, and not merely isolated individuals, but even nations and cities.

῾Ομοίως δ’ ἐν τῇ Νεαπόλει καὶ κατ’ ἄλλους τόπους πλείονας ἱστοροῦνται γεγονέναι τοιαῦται περιπέτειαι, οὐκ ἄρρενος καὶ θηλείας φύσεως εἰς δίμορφον τύπον δημιουργηθείσης, ἀδύνατον γὰρ τοῦτο, ἀλλὰ τῆς φύσεως διὰ τῶν τοῦ σώματος μερῶν ψευδογραφούσης εἰς ἔκπληξιν καὶ ἀπάτην τῶν ἀνθρώπων. διόπερ καὶ ἡμεῖς τὰς περιπετείας ταύτας ἀναγραφῆς ἠξιώσαμεν, οὐ ψυχαγωγίας ἀλλ’ ὠφελείας ἕνεκα τῶν ἀναγινωσκόντων. πολλοὶ γὰρ τέρατα τὰ τοιαῦτα νομίζοντες εἶναι δεισιδαιμονοῦσιν, οὐκ ἰδιῶται μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἔθνη καὶ πόλεις.

Diodorus Siculus invokes a deep mythological history, particularly by referencing the trope of the δίμορφον τύπον,  the “bisexual type.” This strings the events he has recorded into a chain of mythological dual-sexed beings. Some of these instances include the mythological narratives such as Hermaphroditus, the child of Polycritus, and the sleeping herms.[9] He poses these sex-changes as not isolated instances, but as a part of a larger theme of sexual ambiguity and transitivity. Nature, Diodorus Siculus believes, is this cause of these abnormalities, and therefore they must be regarded as indicative of something larger than just the instance, thus transcending their own context and the details of their existence.

The language used to describe Callon’s physical features provides critical clues to how Callon lived into adulthood and had to uphold binary roles for a sex and gender which their genitalia most closely resembled. Those functioning outside the gender and sexual binary were present within mythological accounts frequently, yet in historical accounts babies born with “ambiguous genitalia” were frequently exposed.[10]  This made it even more remarkable and incidental that Callon survived to adulthood, qualifying that Callon’s genitalia would have not been regarded as hindering their ability to marry and function domestically. The complication arises, however, in that the primary function of marriage and the oikos, or household, in Ancient Greek society was the product of a lineage for the male side of the family.[11]

Ancient Greek society, similarly to our contemporary society, was organized primarily by a system of opposing binaries that extended toward governing the gender and sex system. There was The Good and The Bad, citizen and non-citizen, male and female, among many others, all of which repelled and aligned accordingly.[12] However, there was room for transgression of these seemingly rigid binaries under certain circumstances if there was a pre-established system for these deviations For instance, the mythological idea of the demigod transgressed the binary of mortal and immortal. Within the medical realm, there were liminalities of this kind as well. Illness was considered neither to fall under good or bad, but to form a sort of triangulation in relation to the two, essentially because they had the potential to be balanced or remedied.[13] These liminalities reverberate into the description of Callon’s body, and permeate particularly the manner in which Callon has to participate in sexual intercourse. Before the change of sex, Callon’s genitals were described as such     (Diodorus Siculus, 32.11):

Now the orifice with which women are provided had in her case no opening, but beside the so‑called pecten she had from birth a perforation through which she  excreted the liquid residues.

αὕτη τὸν ἐπὶ τῆς φύσεως ἀποδεδειγμένον ταῖς γυναιξὶ πόρον ἄτρητον εἶχεν, παρὰ δὲ τὸν καλούμενον κτένα συριγγωθέντος τόπου ἐκ γενετῆς τὰς περιττώσεις τῶν ὑγρῶν ἐξέκρινεν.

Due to this, Siculus finds it necessary to describe how they engaged in sexual intercourse (Diodorus Siculus. 32.11):

On reaching maturity she became the wife of a fellow citizen. For two years she lived with him, and since she was incapable of intercourse as a woman, was obliged to submit to unnatural embraces.

εἰς δὲ τὴν ἀκμὴν τῆς ἡλικίας παραγενομένη συνῳκίσθη τινὶ τῶν πολιτῶν. διετῆ μὲν οὖν χρόνον συνεβίωσε τἀνδρί, τὴν μὲν γυναικείαν ἐπιπλοκὴν οὐκ ἐπιδεχομένη, τὴν δὲ παρὰ φύσιν ὁμιλίαν ὑπομένειν ἀναγκαζομένη.

There were power dynamics linked to Ancient Greek sexual encounters, and projected upon those engaging in certain behaviors. Due to Callon’s inability to engage in vaginal intercourse as they were expected to, they would have been forced to engage in anal intercourse, a practice of sex considered to be dirty, shameful, and deficient.[14]  They were able only to engage in intercourse in the fashion typical to a passive homosexual male, one that was not conducive to reproduction.[15] Although, oddly enough, aside from this inability to perform as a sexually normative female, Callon was still able to marry a man and fulfill that social and domestic facet of female-tethered performance,[16] albeit their inability to reproduce due to the implications of their ambiguous genitalia.

Even after the change of sex, Callon would have existed outside the normative gender-associated sexual performance of a male. Callon additionally cannot be assimilated into any previously established systems of sexual deviance, for instance, Eunuchs, the Orphean system of pederasty, homosexual behavior among the elite.[17] This speaks to both the importance of sexual activity to gender performance and to how Callon would have been perceived. Here the instance deviates from Tiresias, who was described as being able to enjoy sex as a man and woman—Callon, can have sex neither as a traditional and expected man or woman but as a passive role of the system, limited to a certain number of deviations outside of reproductive purpose.[19]

The physical and biological differences that the Ancient Greeks drew between male and female bodies bled inevitably into how the constructs of man and women formed and were expected to function. In classic description, males/men are portrayed as the agents of their own body, and in Greek and Roman thought were the considered “qualitative essence of a person,” capable of logical thought and possessing a sort of bodily hardness and structure. [20]

Females/women, on the other hand, are portrayed as the antithesis of this. They lack control over their own bodies. In tales such as the paradigmatic image of Pandora, female bodies are seen as possessing a “lovely exterior” which serves as a “deceptive disguise to conceal a corrupt and destructive interior.”[21] Callon is expected to uphold both of these roles at different periods of time, strung between two repellent binaries. Callon, however, would have been rendered outside of the binary in that they were neither male or female, good or evil, but instead as a neutral alternative in a system of binaries.

Diodorus Siculus narrates that Callon was expected immediately to shift from upholding the standards of one binary to that of another, without any sort of previous conditioning or socializing, as contemporary theory would define it. Callon puts down their weaving equipment—a symbolic facet of woman’s work that exemplifies the idea of a woman being domestic, loyal, and occupied in a controlled and moderated setting.[22]

Thus, taking up the garb and title of a man is undoubtedly an immediate thrust from one end of the binary to the other, with no social opportunity for in between. Callon’s body is deemed as defining the conditions of what is around them, and albeit they never exactly have the physicality of either a male or a female, they are forced to assume to social roles and labels of both and neither, consecutively and concurrently.

Central to this experience is Callon’s trial for impiety, which punishes them for existing outside of the established binary by no fault of their own. Callon fits much better into a mythological system of δίμορφον τύπον (Diodorus Siculus. 32.12), hence their experience, downfall, and mystification, which developed parallel to that of Tiresias. They actually fit quite neatly into mythological tradition, and are denoted by Diodorus Siculus to have been thought to have served as a portent in the sense that their existence indicated more than itself, and served as a greater predictor of fate. Other instances of the δίμορφον τύπον that Callon can be strung with include the mythological figures Hermaphroditus and Iffus.[23] There was no way to attain a medical explanation for the instance of Callon, and the only dominant paradigms for ambiguous genitalia in adults existed within mythological-literary models.

Thus, even Diodorus Siculus, struggles to handle Callon’s narration within the text. Diodorus Siculus does not demonstrate the pronoun usage to deal with the sex-change that he is describing, consistently using the Ancient Greek female pronoun, to address Callon throughout the passage, both before and after the sex-change. This is unusual considering that within the passage Diodorus Siculus conveys the name change, garb change, and performance change of Callon in response to their body, affirming them in other ways. Yet Diodorus Siculus does not present them with masculine pronouns when depicting them at any point, remaining partial to the feminine, even when Callon was put on trial for being a male who had seen events exclusive to females. Foxhall notes that “gender was constantly performed but almost never critically articulated,”[24] in ways retrospectively providing a reason for Diodorus Siculus’s lack of ability to handle this case with both gendered nuance and accuracy, exacting the binds and customs of his own era and understanding of the instance.

Applying contemporary gender theory to the ancient world is both a dangerous and powerful tool. It is dangerous in that one must constantly be wary of overwriting instances of history with our own connotations, denotations, stigmas and associations. It is powerful because as time passes we continue to let new and fresh understandings of the world and human complications live within anachronistic functions of language and time.

But on either side, they are tools to speculate about the lives of those before us and our own deep lineages and histories, especially in a society that is so prone to erase those unlike them. Above all, this research calls highlights the role that ancient authors and their social contexts have in preserving some experiences and voices and not others.

 

Cassie Garison lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is a poet and a classicist. Cassie’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in River Styx, The Penny Dreadful, Nimrod International, Hobart, and others. Cassie’s classics related research and writing focuses on Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome.

 

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Needful Tales: Intersex Stories from Ancient Greece and Rome

The New York Times reports that the current US administration is trying to narrowly define gender in order to strip transgender people of federal protections. Here are some ancient intersex stories we posted over the summer. Human beings have known that gender is not simply binary and is not simply about how we are born for a very long time.

Here are short tales from: Phlegon of Tralles’ On Marvels

6 Also in Antioch near the Maiander river there was an intersex person, when Antipater who was the Athenians and Marcus Vinicius and Titus Statilus Taurus were consuls. The person was called Kourbinus. As a maiden of famous parents when she was thirteen she was suited by many because of her beauty.

After her parents chose the suitor they wanted, they appointed the day for the marriage But the girl shouted out as she was about to leave the house when the most severe amount of pain over took her.

Those near her lifted her up and were taking care of her because she had pains in her guts and twisting within them. This pain remained for three days straight and her suffering made everyone confused, since they could not give her relief from the toils at night or day.

Even though the doctors in the city applied every type of healing to her they found no cause for the suffering. On the fourth day near dawn, the pains greatly increased and, as she shouted out with a terrible groan, suddenly the masculine parts descended from her and a girl became a man.

After some time, he was taken to Rome to be presented to Claudius Caesar. And he, on account of the fame, had an altar erected for Zeus the Defender of Evils on the Capitoline.”

Καὶ ἐν ᾿Αντιοχείᾳ δὲ τῇ πρὸς Μαιάνδρῳ ποταμῷ ἐγένετο ἀνδρόγυνος, ἄρχοντος ᾿Αθήνησιν ᾿Αντιπάτρου, ὑπατευόντων ἐν ῾Ρώμῃ Μάρκου Βινικίου καὶ Τίτου Στατιλίου Ταύρου, τοῦ Κουρβίνου ἐπικληθέντος.

παρθένος γὰρ γονέων ἐπισήμων τρισκαιδεκαέτις ὑπάρχουσα ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἐμνηστεύετο, οὖσα εὐπρεπής. ὡς δ’ ἐνεγυήθη ᾧ οἱ γονεῖς ἐβούλοντο, ἐνστάσης τῆς ἡμέρας τοῦ γάμου προϊέναι τοῦ οἴκου μέλλουσα αἰφνιδίως πόνου ἐμπεσόντος αὐτῇ σφοδροτάτου ἐξεβόησεν.

ἀναλαβόντες δ’ αὐτὴν οἱ προσήκοντες ἐθεράπευον ὡς ἀλγήματα ἔχουσαν κοιλίας καὶ στρόφους τῶν ἐντός· τῆς δὲ ἀλγηδόνος ἐπιμενούσης τρισὶν ἡμέραις ἑξῆς ἀπορίαν τε πᾶσι τοῦ πάθους ποιοῦντος, τῶν πόνων οὔτε νυκτὸς οὔτε ἡμέρας ἔνδοσιν λαμβανόντων, καίτοι πᾶσαν μὲν θεραπείαν αὐτῇ προσφερόντων <τῶν> ἐν τῇ πόλει ἰατρῶν, μηδεμίαν δὲ τοῦ πάθους δυναμένων αἰτίαν εὑρεῖν, τῇ τετάρτῃ τῶν ἡμερῶν περὶ τὸν ὄρθρον μείζονα τῶν πόνων ἐπίδοσιν λαμβανόντων, σὺν μεγάλῃ οἰμωγῇ ἀνακραγούσης, ἄφνω αὐτῇ ἀρσενικὰ μόρια προέπεσεν, καὶ ἡ κόρη ἀνὴρ ἐγένετο.

μετὰ δὲ χρόνον εἰς ῾Ρώμην ἀνηνέχθη πρὸς Κλαύδιον Καίσαρα· ὁ δὲ τούτου ἕνεκα τοῦ σημείου ἐν Καπετωλίῳ Διὶ ᾿Αλεξικάκῳ ἱδρύσατο βωμόν.

 

7 “There was also in Mêouania, an Italian city, in the home of Agrippina Augusta, an intersex person when Dionysodorus was archon in Athens and in Rome Decimus Junius Silanos Torquatos and Quintus Aterius Atonius were consuls.

The girl’s name was Philôtis and she was Smyrnaian in origin. When the time of her marriage came and she had been promised by her parents to a man, male genitals appeared on her and she became a man.”

᾿Εγένετο καὶ ἐν Μηουανίᾳ, πόλει τῆς ᾿Ιταλίας, ἐν ᾿Αγριππίνης τῆς Σεβαστῆς ἐπαύλει ἀνδρόγυνος, ἄρχοντος ᾿Αθήνησιν Διονυσοδώρου, ὑπατευόντων ἐν ῾Ρώμῃ Δέκμου ᾿Ιουνίου Σιλανοῦ Τορκουάτου καὶ Κοΐντου ῾Ατερίου ᾿Αντωνίνου.

Φιλωτὶς γάρ τις ὀνόματι παρθένος, Σμυρναία τὸ γένος, ὡραία πρὸς γάμον ὑπὸ τῶν γονέων κατεγγεγυημένη ἀνδρί, μορίων αὐτῇ προφανέντων ἀρρενικῶν ἀνὴρ ἐγένετο.

 

8 “There was also another intersex person in the same time period in Epidaurus, a child of poor parents who was called Sumpherousa first but was named Sumpherôn when he became a man. He spent his life gardening.”

Καὶ ἄλλος δέ τις ἀνδρόγυνος κατὰ τοὺς αὐτοὺς χρόνους ἐγένετο ἐν ᾿Επιδαύρῳ, γονέων ἀπόρων παῖς, ὃς ἐκαλεῖτο πρότερον Συμφέρουσα, ἀνὴρ δὲ γενόμενος ὠνομάζετο Συμφέρων, κηπουρῶν δὲ τὸν βίον διῆγεν.

 

9 “In Laodikeia there was also a Syrian women named Aitêtê who changed her form when she was already living with her husband and then changed her name to Aitêtos once she became a man. This was when Makrinos was archon in Athens and Lucius Lamia Aelianos and Sextus Carminius Veterus were consuls. I even saw him myself.”

Καὶ ἐς Λαοδίκειαν δὲ τῆς Συρίας γυνή, ὀνόματι Αἰτητή, συνοικοῦσα τῷ ἀνδρὶ ἔτι μετέβαλε τὴν μορφὴν καὶ μετωνομάσθη Αἰτητὸς ἀνὴρ γενόμενος, ἄρχοντος ᾿Αθήνησιν Μακρίνου, ὑπατευόντων ἐν ῾Ρώμῃ Λουκίου Λαμία Αἰλιανοῦ καὶ <Σέξτου Καρμινίου> Οὐέτερος. τοῦτον καὶ αὐτὸς ἐθεασάμην.

A note on translation. I was a bit dissatisfied with the translations available from the LSJ for ἀνδρόγυνος so I chose the modern “intersex”.

androgunos

The story of Teiresias, Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 4

“Hesiod—along with Dikaiarkhos, Klearkhos, Kallimakhos and some others—relates these things about Teiresias. When Teiresias the son of Euêros in Arcadia was a young man he saw snakes copulating, he wounded one and immediately changed his form. He changed into a woman from a man and then had sex with a man.

But after Apollo prophesied to him that, if he saw snakes copulating again and wounded one in the same way, he would be as he was before, Teiresias took care to do the things which were prophesied by the god and thus regained his older form.

When Zeus was fighting with Hera and saying that in sex a wife surpassed her husband in the pleasures of intercourse—even while Hera was claiming the opposite—it seemed right to them to send for Teiresias because he had tried out both ways. When they questioned him, he responded that if there were ten portions, a man took pleasure in one and a woman took pleasure in ten.

In her rage over this, Hera took out his eyes and made him blind. But Zeus gave him the gift of prophecy and to live for seven generations.”

῾Ιστορεῖ δὲ ῾Ησίοδος καὶ Δικαίαρχος καὶ Κλέαρχος καὶ Καλλίμαχος καὶ ἄλλοι τινὲς περὶ Τειρεσίου τάδε. Τειρεσίαν τὸν Εὐήρους ἐν ᾿Αρκαδίᾳ [ἄνδρα ὄντα] ἐν τῷ ὄρει τῷ ἐν Κυλλήνῃ ὄφεις ἰδόντα ὀχεύοντας τρῶσαι τὸν ἕτερον καὶ παραχρῆμα μεταβαλεῖν τὴν ἰδέαν· γενέσθαι γὰρ ἐξ ἀνδρὸς γυναῖκα καὶ μιχθῆναι ἀνδρί.

 τοῦ δὲ ᾿Απόλλωνος αὐτῷ χρήσαντος ὡς, ἐὰν τηρήσας ὀχεύοντας ὁμοίως τρώσῃ τὸν ἕνα, ἔσται οἷος ἦν, παραφυλάξαντα τὸν Τειρεσίαν ποιῆσαι τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ῥηθέντα καὶ οὕτως κομίσασθαι τὴν ἀρχαίαν φύσιν.

 Διὸς δὲ ἐρίσαντος ῞Ηρᾳ καὶ φαμένου ἐν ταῖς συνουσίαις πλεονεκτεῖν τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀνδρὸς τῇ τῶν ἀφροδισίων ἡδονῇ, καὶ τῆς ῞Ηρας φασκούσης τὰ ἐναντία, δόξαι αὐτοῖς μεταπεμψαμένοις ἔρεσθαι τὸν Τειρεσίαν διὰ τὸ τῶν τρόπων ἀμφοτέρων πεπειρᾶσθαι. τὸν δὲ ἐρωτώμενον ἀποφήνασθαι, διότι μοιρῶν οὐσῶν δέκα τὸν ἄνδρα τέρπεσθαι τὴν μίαν, τὴν δὲ γυναῖκα τὰς ἐννέα.

 τὴν δὲ ῞Ηραν ὀργισθεῖσαν κατανύξαι αὐτοῦ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ ποιῆσαι τυφλόν, τὸν δὲ Δία δωρήσασθαι αὐτῷ τὴν μαντικὴν καὶ βιοῦν ἐπὶ γενεὰς ἐπτά.

The tale occurs most famously in book 3 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (339-510).  But, as this fragment indicates, we have fragments of a Hesiodic version as well. Apollodorus also reports the version favored by Pherecydes and Callimachus–that Teiresias was blinded after seeing Athena naked.

What is a little different about this version is the presence of Apollo and the claim that Zeus lengthened Teiresias’ life as part of his ‘reward’. This second part helps to explain Tiresias’ presence from the birth of Dionysus to the fall of Thebes with the Epigonoi.

The Sex-change of Caenus

Phlegon, On Amazing Things 5 [Ovid tells a version of this tale.]

5 “Others tell the story that in the land of the Lapiths the king Elatos had a daughter whose name was Kainis. After Poseidon had sex with her he promised to make her into whatever she wanted. She said she wanted to be changed into a man who was invulnerable. When Poseidon did this—as was right—he changed her name to Kaineus.”

Οἱ αὐτοὶ ἱστοροῦσιν κατὰ τὴν Λαπίθων χώραν γενέσθαι ᾿Ελάτῳ τῷ βασιλεῖ θυγατέρα ὀνομαζομένην Καινίδα.

ταύτῃ δὲ Ποσειδῶνα μιγέντα ἐπαγγείλασθαι ποιήσειν αὐτῇ ὃ ἂν ἐθέλῃ, τὴν δὲ ἀξιῶσαι μεταλλάξαι αὐτὴν εἰς ἄνδρα ποιῆσαί τε ἄτρωτον. τοῦ δὲ Ποσειδῶνος κατὰ τὸ ἀξιωθὲν ποιήσαντος μετονομασθῆναι Καινέα.

This story is older than Ovid and Phlegon. It is detailed in the fragments of Akousilaus, perhaps alluded to in Homer, definitely indicated by Apollonius Rhodes, and present even in Plato. While the sex-change narrative remains an important element, the main feature of Kaineus’ tale is his hubris–because of his invulnerability he asks to be made into a god.

Akousilaus FGrH 2 fr. 22 [=P.Oxy. 13, 1611, fr. 1, col. 2, 38-96]

“Poseidon has sex with Kainê of Elatos. Then—for it was not right for him [sic] to have children with him nor anyone else—Poseidon turned him into an invulnerable man, who had the greatest strength of the men at that time. Whenever anyone tried to strike him with iron or bronze, [the attacker] was completely defeated.

Then [Kaineus] became king of the Lapiths and was warring with the Centaurs. After he set up his javelin in the agora he was asking to be included in the number of the gods. This was not pleasing to the gods. And when Zeus saw him doing this, he threatened him and raised the Centaurs against him. They struck him straight down into the earth and placed a stone above as assign. Then he died.”

«Καινῆιδὲ τῆι ᾽Ελάτου μίσγεται ΙΙοσειδῶν. ἔπειτα – οὐ γὰρ ἦν αὐτῶι ἱερὸν παῖδας τεκέν οὐτ᾽ ἐξ ἐκείνου οὐτ᾽ ἐξ ἄλλου οὐδενός – ποιεῖ αὐτὸν Ποσειδέων ἄνδρα ἄτρωτον, ἰσχὺν ἔχοντα μεγίστην τῶν ἀνθρώπων τῶν τότε, καὶ ὅτε τις αὐτὸν κεντοίη σιδήρωι ἢ χαλκῶι, ἡλίσκετο μάλιστα χρημάτων. καὶ γίγνεται βασιλεὺς οὗτος Λαπιθέων καὶ τοῖς Κενταύροις πολεμέεσκε. ἔπειτα στήσας ἀκόν[τιον ἐν ἀγορᾶι θεὸν ἐκέλευεν ἀριθμεῖν. θεοῖ]σι δ᾽ οὐκ ἦεν [ἀρεστόν, καὶ] Ζεὺς ἰδὼν αὐτὸν ταῦτα ποιοῦντα ἀπειλεῖ καὶ ἐφορμᾶι τοὺς Κενταύρους, κἀκεῖνοι αὐτὸν κατακόπτουσιν ὄρθιον κατὰ γῆς καὶ ἄνωθεν πέτρην ἐπιτιθεῖσιν σῆμα, καὶ ἀποθνήσκει.»

In this account, Poseidon seems to be changing Kaineus because of his inability to have children. This makes it rather clear what women are good for from this cultural perspective. In addition, it is interesting that Kaineus as an intersex figure is involved in the war between the Lapiths and Centaurs, a conflict which has its origins in a rapes at a wedding and is often seen as a reflection of the civilized Lapiths struggling against the primitive and violent urges of the Centaurs.

But, as can be seen from the relief below which dates to the early Archaic period, the punishment of Kaineus is a primary motif of the story tradition. In a way, if the sex-change and rape were equally ancient, this is a tale about a women who is raped ultimately being punished for surviving and thriving and exacting retribution for her suffering.

D Scholia ad Il. 264

“Kaineus was a son of Elatos and king of the Lapiths. He was a very beautiful virgin girl before. But after Poseidon had sex with her, she asked to be changed from a young woman into a man. And he became invulnerable, and the most excellent of those alive at the time. And after he stuck his javelin into the middle of the agora, he demanded to be entered into the number of the gods for this reason.

Zeus was annoyed by this request and he arranged the following type of payback from him for impiety. For, even though he was invincible, he made him less while he was fighting the Centaurs. For they were hurling and striking him with pines and oak trees and they drove him into the ground. Apollonius recalls this in the Argonautica saying this, “For the singers used to report the fame that Kaineus was killed by Centaurs, when he alone from the rest of the best drove them, they surged back. They were not strong enough to repel him nor to kill him, but he went under the earth, unbroken, unbent, pummeled by the striking force of powerful pines.”

Καινέα τε. Καὶ τὸν Καινέα. ὁ δὲ Και-
νεὺς ᾿Ελάτου μὲν παῖς, Λαπίθων δὲ βα-
σιλεὺς, πρότερον ἦν παρθένος εὐπρεπής.
μιγέντος δὲ αὐτῇ Ποσειδῶνος, αἰτησα-
μένη μεταβαλεῖν εἰς ἄνδρα ἡ νεᾶνις, ἄ-
τρωτος γίγνεται, γενναιότατος τῶν καθ’
αὑτὸν ὑπάρξας· καὶ δή ποτε πήξας ἀ-
κόντιον ἐν τῷ μεσαιτάτῳ τῆς ἀγορὰς,
θεοῖς τοῦτο προσέταξεν ἀριθμεῖν. δι’ ἣν
αἰτίαν ἀγανακτήσας ὁ Ζεὺς, τιμωρίαν
τῆς ἀσεβείας παρ’ αὐτοῦ εἰσεπράξατο.
μαχόμενον γὰρ αὐτὸν τοῖς Κενταύροις
καὶ ἄτρωτον ὄντα ὑποχείριον ἐποίησε.
βάλλοντες γὰρ αὐτὸν οἱ προειρημένοι δρυ-
σί τε καὶ ἐλάταις, ἤρεισαν εἰς γῆν.
μέμνηται δὲ αὐτοῦ καὶ ᾿Απολλώνιος ἐν
τοῖς ᾿Αργοναυτικοῖς λέγων οὕτως· Καινέα
γὰρ τὸν πρόσθεν ἐπικλείουσιν ἀοιδοὶ Κεν-
ταύροισιν ὀλέσθαι, ὅτε σφέας οἶος ἀπ’
ἄλλων ῎Ηλασ’ ἀριστήων· οἱ δ’ ἔμπαλιν
ὁρμηθέντες, Οὔτε μιν ἀγκλῖναι προτέρω
σθένον, οὔτε δαΐξαι· ᾿Αλλ’ ἄῤῥηκτος,
ἄκαμπτος ἐδύσσατο νειόθι γαίης, Θεινό-
μενος στιβαρῆσι καταΐγδην ἐλάτῃσιν.

This story is held up as a wistful impossibility by Plato in the laws. This passage is, well, upsetting.

Plato’s Laws 944d-c

“What then would be the right punishment for someone who has thrown away this kind of a power of a defensive weapon for the opposite? For it is not possible for a person to do the opposite of what they say the god did when he changed the Thessalian Kaineus from a women into a man. For one who throws away his shield, the opposite of this transformation, changing from a man into a women, in some way would be the best of all punishments for this.”

ζημία δὴ τῷ τὴν τοιαύτην ἀμυντηρίων ὅπλων εἰς τοὐναντίον ἀφέντι δύναμιν τίς ἄρα γίγνοιτ᾿ ἂν πρόσφορος; οὐ γὰρ δυνατὸν ἀνθρώπῳ δρᾷν τοὐναντίον <ἢ> ὥς2 ποτε θεόν φασι δρᾶσαι, Καινέα τὸν Θετταλὸν ἐκ γυναικὸς μεταβαλόντα εἰς ἀνδρὸς φύσιν ἦν γὰρ ἂν ἀνδρὶ ῥιψάσπιδι τρόπον τινὰ πρέπουσα πασῶν Εμάλιστα ἡ ᾿κείνῃ τῇ γενέσει ἐναντία γένεσις, εἰς γυναῖκα ἐξ ἀνδρὸς μεταβαλοῦσα, τιμωρία τούτῳ γενομένη.

More of Thersites with Achilles and Odysseus

Plutarch’s Moralia 1065c-d Against the Stoics on Common Conceptions

“Achilles would not have had long hair if Thersites had not been bald.”

καὶ οὐκ ἂν ἦν Ἀχιλλεὺς κομήτης εἰ μὴ φαλακρὸς Θερσίτης.

 

Plato, Republic 10 620c-d

“A bit farther along among the final souls, he saw that of the ridiculous Thersities taking on the form of a monkey. By chance, he came upon the soul of Odysseus last of all as it made its choice still remembering its previous sufferings and, having decided to rest from the pursuit of honor, was spending an excessive among of time seeking the life of an untroubled private citizen. He found it barely situated somewhere and ignored by the rest of the souls. When he saw it, he said that he would have made the same choice even had he drawn the first lot and was happen to make this choice.”

πόρρω δ’ ἐν ὑστάτοις ἰδεῖν τὴν τοῦ γελωτοποιοῦ Θερσίτου πίθηκον ἐνδυομένην. κατὰ τύχην δὲ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως λαχοῦσαν πασῶν ὑστάτην αἱρησομένην ἰέναι, μνήμῃ δὲ | τῶν προτέρων πόνων φιλοτιμίας λελωφηκυῖαν ζητεῖν περιιοῦσαν χρόνον πολὺν βίον ἀνδρὸς ἰδιώτου ἀπράγμονος, καὶ μόγις εὑρεῖν κείμενόν που καὶ παρημελημένον ὑπὸ τῶν ἄλλων, καὶ εἰπεῖν ἰδοῦσαν ὅτι τὰ αὐτὰ ἂν ἔπραξεν καὶ πρώτη λαχοῦσα, καὶ ἁσμένην ἑλέσθαι.

 

Galen, Hygiene 16-17k

“Accordingly, then, they differ from one another in  magnitude of more or less, just as the whiteness in show compares to the whiteness of milk: it is white for each it is not different in this, but it contrasts in being more or less white. In the same manner, if you will allow me to say, the health of Achilles does not differ from that of Thersites: inasmuch as it is health, it is the same, but it differs in another thing.”

κατὰ τὸ μᾶλλον ἄρα καὶ ἧττον ἀλλήλων διαφέρουσιν. ὥσπερ γὰρ ἡ ἐν τῇ χιόνι λευκότης τῆς ἐν τῷ γάλακτι λευκότητος, ᾗ μὲν λευκόν ἐστιν, οὐ διαφέρει, τῷ μᾶλλον δὲ καὶ ἧττον διαφέρει, τὸν αὐτὸν δὴ τρόπον ἡ ἐν τῷ Ἀχιλλεῖ, φέρε εἰπεῖν, ὑγεία τῆς ἐν τῷ Θερσίτῃ ὑγείας, καθ’ ὅσον μὲν ὑγεία, ταὐτόν ἐστιν, ἑτέρῳ δέ τινι διάφορος

Who Was the Second Most Beautiful Greek At Troy?

Homer, Iliad. 2.673–674

“Nireus who was the most beautiful man who came to Troy
Of the rest of the Danaans, after Peleus’ blameless son.
But he was weak and a small army followed him.”

Νιρεύς, ὃς κάλλιστος ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε
τῶν ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα·
ἀλλ’ ἀλαπαδνὸς ἔην, παῦρος δέ οἱ εἵπετο λαός.

Scholia b. ad Il.2.673 ex

<Lemma> his beauty in reputation was not of a kind with his family; Achilles, however, was adorned in both ways. Because [the poet] was a philhellene, he was trying to make everyone worthy of memory and used to praise everyone as far as he might be believed and so that we might imagine the Greeks to be differentiated in their manliness, or their body, or their beauty.”

ex. <Νιρεύς, ὃς κάλλιστος—μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλείωνα:> οὐδὲ ἓν πρὸς δόξαν κάλλος ἀγεννές· ᾿Αχιλλεὺς δὲ ἀμφοτέροις κεκόσμηται. φιλέλλην δὲ ὢν πάντας ἀξιομνήστους ποιεῖ καὶ πάντας ἐπαινεῖ, ὅπως πιστεύοιτο, καὶ ἵνα τοὺς ἐν ἀνδρείᾳ καὶ σώματι καὶ κάλλει διαφέροντας εἰδῶμεν ῞Ελληνας. b(BCE3E4)

Schol. A ad Hom. Il. 2.673 ex

“Diplai have been applied to question these three lines because Zenodotus athetized two of them, although he did not mark the middle one, (674) because Homer always strove to have Achilles stand out far in front of the rest.”

Νιρεὺς ὃς κάλλιστος<—εἵπετο λαός>: τρισὶ στίχοις παράκεινται διπλαῖ περιεστιγμέναι, ὅτι ἐκ τῶν τριῶν τοὺς δύο (sc. 673. 675) ἠθέτηκε Ζηνόδοτος, τὸν δὲ μέσον (sc. 674) οὐδὲ ἔγραφεν, τοῦ ῾Ομήρου φιλοτιμουμένου ἐν πᾶσι τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα προτεροῦντα στῆσαι. A

Galen, Adhortio ad artes addiscendas 8.28

“And because of that, Homer mentioned [Nireus] only once and in the Catalog Of Ships, as it seems to me, to make a demonstration of the uselessness of the most beautiful men, when they have none of the other things that are useful for life.”

καὶ διὰ τοῦθ’ ἅπαξ αὐτοῦ μόνον ἐμνημόνευσεν ῞Ομηρος ἐν νεῶν καταλόγῳ πρὸς
ἐπίδειξιν, ἐμοὶ δοκεῖν, τῆς τῶν καλλίστων ἀνδρῶν ἀχρηστίας, ὅταν αὐτοῖς ὑπάρχῃ
μηδὲν ἄλλο τῶν εἰς τὸν βίον χρησίμων.

From the Suda

Nireus: the beautiful and handsome man. Neireus, a snail. Nêreus, the man of the sea.

Νιρεύς: ὁ καλὸς καὶ εὔμορφος. Νειρεύς, ὁ κόχλος, Νηρεύς, ὁ
θαλάσσιος.

Image result for ancient greek vase beautiful man

MFA: Caskey-Beazley, Attic Vase Paintings (MFA), no. 002.

Classics and Theory: A Monday Rant

This is a slightly adapted and expanded edition of my #classicsandtheoryrant from twitter

One of the things I love about social media is that it has allowed me to connect with people who love the Classics and know a lot about it all over the world. Some of these people have ‘credentials’ and experiences similar to mine, but many do not. Across the board, I try to ignore these conventional markers of intellectual authority on twitter etc. and just listen to what people say. And, really, I have learned a lot.

But one thing that has been increasingly frustrating  over the past year is a small but insistent chorus of voices who insist that Classics is being ruined by “post-modern theory”. Generally, these voices come from outside the traditional academy or from more conventional corners within them. But most often they represent ‘threatened constituents’ of the modern world–by which I mean people who also object to ‘diversity’, ‘political correctness’ and a whole bunch of buzzwords and phrases that are popular media shorthand for a world that is not dominated by traditional, male, Eurocentric perspectives. (And, you know, white supremacists. This does not mean that all anti-theory people are white supremacists, so, dude, chill.)

This is in part frustrating because I thought we were past this. I know this is naïve and I know that Classics is way behind other disciplines in the aggregate when it comes to using critical theory, but we have long had a small and influential group of people pushing our field to respond to the modern world and engage with new ideas.

But it is also infuriating because it attests to an essential fragility (also, read this if the term is upsetting). Is our confidence in the way we have received the past so shaky that it can brook no challenge? Often, the knee-jerk or even committed aversion to theory is really a desire to exclude others. I almost respect those supremacists more because they at least admit it. (But let me be clear, I really, really don’t like ethnonationalists and white supremacists.)

Engagement with theory is critical because it acknowledges that as interpreters we are subjects who are shaped by our experiences and the narratives and discourse through which culture shapes us based on our gender, sexual identity, race, (dis)abilities, age, etc. Our bodies are not instruments we drive through the world, they are part of us and mediate our experience of everything. The world treats us differently based on the bodies we inhabit. These two facts shape the way we respond to everything.

Acknowledging the primacy of subjectivity is only one part of modern theory which is dismissed. I won’t even bother listing all of the theoretical approaches that have helped us understand the ancient world better. It is a type of retrograde derangement not to use new tools to look at old things. Imagine if people were railing against the use of spectral imaging in archaeology or the application of new chemical testing or any one of a range of technologies that have developed over the past generation. We would all be incredulous.

Many of the same people, however, who champion what aDNA testing might tell us about ancient peoples, also deny the validity of applying new tests to ancient literature and culture which have been developed in respectable fields like anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, English, sociology, and others. The reason for this is clear: the process tells different stories about the past than many of us were raised with. This is uncomfortable.

If art does not make us uncomfortable or question the past at all, then it is merely entertainment. Scholarship that merely repeats or reinforces what we already know is essentially masturbatory.

The argument over who gets to interpret the past and how is political. “Post-modern” is a catch-all phrase for many different approaches which are dismissed by conservative traditionalists. This argument raged through the field in the 1980s as Eric Adler documents well.  There was another major flare up with the Who Killed Homer? nonsense. I think we might have missed a renewal of these complaints in the late 2000s because of the severe economic downturn.

But this debate is all about power: The power to interpret and possess meaning; The power to have meaning in the world; The power to be a full and equal subject in a flawed society. Such striving has been going on since some literary theorists had the gall to imagine that texts were more than pristine aesthetic objects with timeless secrets for the properly initiated to unlock.

I have a few simple points to make in closing. The first is that scholarship is not a zero-sum game. Applying new theoretical frames does not wipe out the old ones or render them useless. If we apply the analogy of biodiversity to ideas, then the more voices and ideas we can explore within a productive system, the more variety and understanding we can get out of it. This is destined to be chaotic and painful, but it is creative and exciting.

New ideas build upon older ones. Some gain purchase for more than a few years become part of the tradition. Some ideas are as Glaukos says like leaves on the tree which grow for a brief time and then wither and die. Others somehow become evergreen, in the moment we cannot know. We can argue for what we believe and push back against other ideas—but we need to acknowledge that sometimes our need to push back against other ideas is driven by a desire to exclude people not the ideas.

A second point which is by no means original is that you can love something and see that it might be bad for something or need to change. E.g. chocolate cake is delicious, but it can kill you. Cigarettes are delightful, but they will give you cancer. Anything made by humans is imperfect because we are not perfect. Saying the Homeric epics are misogynistic or using Marxist theory to show how they (re-)produce structural oppression does not erase their beauty or their impact. Instead, it shows that their beauty may also have a harmful impact. It helps us understand how they work and how we work as human communities.

And if you cannot love something flawed, you simply cannot love. Let go of the Platonic nonsense of perfection in the mind of a distant god. Real, human love embraces the ways in which we are flawed and celebrates that despite the horror, baseness, and temporariness which is our inheritance, we are still capable of beauty.

A third point is also not original: all methods of interpretation are ideological and have a theory. If the theory is not explicit, that does not mean it is not there. It means it is naïve and unquestioned. Philology is a means not an end. We classicists are trained in philology so we don’t make basic mistakes and we can distinguish good arguments from bad ones. But we are at a point in the production of knowledge that no one can learn everything which is required to understand the ancient world. We need to work together. We need polymathy and polyphony.

The practice of classics as developed in Europe around the enlightenment is ideologically connected to a particular time, a set of bodies and languages, and a cultural apparatus distinct from ancient Greece and Rome. The ‘Classics’ created by the Renaissance and Enlightenment is not coterminous with the beliefs, practices, and texts of actual Greece and Rome. In a way, to emulate a 19th century German classicist in everything is little different from strapping on some leather armor and LARPing at a Renaissance Faire. Both are fun and can require a lot of expertise. But both are still play-acting.

It is not ‘authentic’ or ‘correct’ to treat ancient texts in this way any more or less than it was authentic and correct for Plotinus and Porphyry to say the Odyssey is an elaborate allegory for the mind.

All reading is reception. All interpretation is ideological. Being explicit about our ideological receptions helps us communicate better with each other and through the generations.

When we allow new perspectives and viewpoints, we enrich our reception of the past. Some of this enrichment might turn out be misleading or start out as bewildering; indeed, it might be only temporarily insightful. But striving to make new sense of the old, to try to surpass those who have already labored, is better than sucking on the marrow of corpses and wallowing in mute ash.

Миниатюры.: philologist

f. 305v. The Fouquet Missal. Bourges, c.1470-1475

Seneca Moral Epistle 108

But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

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

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.

Terrible, Wonderful Odysseus: The Meanings of his Epithets, His Name(s) and How We Read Him

In the recent poll prompted by Dio Chrysostom’s anecdote of Philip asking which hero Alexander would be, Odysseus won by a bit of a landslide. I can’t say this completely surprises me, but it does trouble me just a little bit. What is it that attracts us to Odysseus?

[I ran an earlier post on the Iliad vs. the Odyssey and their complementarity]

My post and translation also drew some ire because I translated polytropos as “shifty”. It seems that we as a collective are entirely sure about what we think this word means. And, as a result, we are confident in who we think Odysseus is.

This post turns out to be longer than might be ideal, but I am just going to leave it as is. My basic belief, which I get to eventually, is that Odysseus is popular because of his essential polysemy. We think we love Odysseus because we choose an Odysseus we want to love. The important takeaway from this is that such ‘shiftiness” (when it comes to character and reception) is an essential part of his character.

First, a basic assertion: Homer’s version of Odysseus is not the only one. Even as early as the fifth century there were some, well, complaints.

Pindar, Nemean 7.20-21

“I think that the story of Odysseus’ suffering was exaggerated by sweet-worded Homer”

ἐγὼ δὲ πλέον’ ἔλπομαι
λόγον ᾿Οδυσσέος ἢ πάθαν
διὰ τὸν ἁδυεπῆ γενέσθ’ ῞Ομηρον·

In Greek tragedy, Odysseus was far from unproblematic: in Sophocles’ Philoktetes, he is responsible for bullying Neoptolemos into convincing the title character to return to Troy. In the Ajax, he is by no means innocent in the death of Telamon’s son. Euripides has Odysseus as the chief architect of the death of Astyanax. And in the Trojan myths in general, Odysseus (1) tries to avoid going to war, (2) exposes Achilles so that he has to go to war, (3) and frames Palamedes for treason to get back at him for making sure that he went to war. Oh, he is also said to have tried to betray Diomedes and even in the Iliad he takes charge of tricking the Trojan Dolon and ensuring that Diomedes kills a bunch of men in their sleep. (And don’t even try to explain that away by claiming it is not really a part of the Iliad. It is.)

Second, jumping over 2500 years, there is a cognitive link between what we name something and how we expect that element to emerge in stories. So, how we name Odysseus and what we think this name means matters (see also Peradotto 1990 among others on this).

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

Turner 1996, 133: The stories minds tell (the ways in which we interpret the world) are based on roles and character, “formed by backward inference from such a role, according to the folk theory of “the Nature of Things,” otherwise known as “Being Leads to Doing.” In this folk theory, glass shatters because it is brittle and fragile. Water pours because it is liquid. Someone forgives because she is forgiving. A dog guards the house because it is watchful. A fool acts like a fool because he is foolish. In general, doing follows from being; something behaves in a certain way because its being leads it to behave in that way…

Character is a pattern of connections we expect to operate across stories about a particular individual with that character or across stories about a group of individual with that character. People of a particular character are expected to inhabit similar roles in different stories…

[134] A role in one story is not isolated but connects to the same role in other stories…Focus, viewpoint, role and character in narrative imagining give us ways of constructing our own meaning, which is to say, ways of understanding who we are, what it means to be us, to have a particular life. The inability to locate one’s own focus, viewpoint, role, and character with respect to conventional stories of leading a life is thought to be pathological and deeply distressing. It is a principal reason for recommending psychotherapy to people not obviously insane.”

So, there is significance both in how we name Odysseus and how we modify that name. Let’s take up his epithets first. I received a good deal of complaining about my translation of Odysseus’ famous epithet as “shifty”. He actually only gets called polytropos rarely in the Odyssey. But he does receive a surplus of epithets that point to a manifold nature.

Here are some other epithets.

Homer, Odyssey: Epithets of Odysseus

“Sing to me, Muse, of the man of many ways...”
1.1     ῎Ανδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ cf. 10.330

“Send many-minded Odysseus to his own home”
1.83  νοστῆσαι ᾿Οδυσῆα πολύφρονα ὅνδε δόμονδε,

“[Odysseus] will know how to return, since he is a man of many-devices
1.205 φράσσεται ὥς κε νέηται, ἐπεὶ πολυμήχανός ἐστιν.

“Divine-raced, son of Laertes, many-deviced Odysseus
5.203 “διογενὲς Λαερτιάδη, πολυμήχαν’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ,

“If very-clever Odysseus were in these rooms again…”
4.763 εἴ ποτέ τοι πολύμητις ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς

“So she spoke, and much-enduring, shining Odysseus shivered”
5.171     ὣς φάτο, ῥίγησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς [see 13.250]

“And you, many-pained old man, since a god brought you my way…”
14.386 καὶ σύ, γέρον πολυπενθές, ἐπεί σέ μοι ἤγαγε δαίμων,

“They would not conquer me. I am truly much-enduring
18.319 οὔ τί με νικήσουσι· πολυτλήμων δὲ μάλ’ εἰμί.”

“…I am a man of many-sorrows…”
19.118 μνησαμένῳ· μάλα δ’ εἰμὶ πολύστονος· οὐδέ τί με χρὴ

“…he is much-prayed for…”
19.404 παιδὸς παιδὶ φίλῳ· πολυάρητος δέ τοί ἐστι.”

Odysseus is only sometimes called “many-wayed”. He is also marked out for his suffering.  Odysseus’ is not just about his own suffering–as Erwin Cook shows, part of the point of being a ‘hero’ in ancient Greek myth and poetry is that you have a capacity to suffer and to mete out suffering.

But what might polytropos even mean? Many on twitter think they know, but the ancients were not unanimous.

Schol. ad Demosthenes. Orat. 20

“For a man of many ways changes himself in accordance with the nature of the matters at hand.”

πολύτροπος γὰρ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ πρὸς τὴν τῶν πραγμά-των φύσιν συμμεταβάλλεται.

Schol. ad Odysseam 1.1; .50 ex

“The problem: Polytropos [“many-wayed”] Antisthenes claims that Homer doesn’t praise Odysseus as much as he criticizes him when he calls him polytropos. He didn’t make Achilles and Ajax polytropoi, but they were direct [‘simple’] and noble. Nor did he make Nestor the wise tricky, by Zeus, and devious in character—he simply advised Agamemnon and the rest and if he had anything good to counsel, he would not stand apart keeping it hidden; in the manner Achilles showed that he believed the man the same as death “who says one thing but hides another in his thoughts.”

᾿Απορία. πολύτροπον] οὐκ ἐπαινεῖν φησιν ᾿Αντισθένης ῞Ομηρον τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα μᾶλλον ἢ ψέγειν, λέγοντα αὐτὸν πολύτροπον. οὐκ οὖν τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα καὶ τὸν Αἴαντα πολυτρόπους πεποιηκέναι, ἀλλ’ ἁπλοῦς καὶ γεννάδας· οὐδὲ τὸν Νέστορα τὸν σοφὸν οὐ μὰ Δία δόλιον καὶ παλίμβολον τὸ ἦθος, ἀλλ’ ἁπλῶς τε ᾿Αγαμέμνονι συνόντα καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἅπασι, καὶ εἰς τὸ στρατόπεδον εἴ τι ἀγαθὸν εἶχε συμβουλεύοντα καὶ οὐκ ἀποκρυπτόμενον τοσοῦτον ἀπεῖχε τοιοῦτον τρόπον ἀποδέχεσθαι ὁ ᾿Αχιλλεὺς ὡς ἐχθρὸν ἡγεῖσθαι ὁμοίως τῷ θανάτῳ ἐκεῖνον “ὅς χ’ ἕτερον μὲν κεύθει ἐνὶ φρεσὶν, ἄλλο δὲ εἴπῃ” (Il. ι, 313.).

“Antisthenes in interpreting this asks “why, then, is wretched Odysseus called polytropos? Really, this is the way to mark him out as wise. Isn’t it true that his manner never indicates his character, but that instead it signals his use of speech? The man who has a character difficult to penetrate is well-turned. These sorts of inventions of words are tropes/ways/manners

λύων οὖν ὁ ᾿Αντισθένης φησὶ, Τί οὖν; ἆρά γε πονηρὸς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὅτι πολύτροπος ἐκλήθη; καὶ μὴν διότι σοφὸς οὕτως αὐτὸν προσείρηκε. μήποτε οὖν ὁ τρόπος τὸ μέν τι σημαίνει τὸ ἦθος, τὸ δέ τι σημαίνει τὴν τοῦ λόγου χρῆσιν; εὔτροπος γὰρ ἀνὴρ ὁ τὸ ἦθος ἔχων εἰς τὸ εὖ τετραμμένον· τρόποι δὲ λόγων αἱ ποιαὶ πλάσεις.

Plato, Hippias Minor 366a

Soc. “People who are many-wayed are deceptive because of their foolishness and thoughtlessness, or because of wickedness and some thought?

Hippias: Most of all, because of wickedness and intelligence.

Soc. So, it seems, they are really intelligent.

Hip. Yes, by Zeus, wicked smart.

Soc. And men who are smart—are they ignorant of what they do or do they understand it?

Hip. They really understand what they are doing. For this reason, they also do evil.

Soc. So, is it the ignorant or the wise who know these things which they understand?

Hip. The wise know these very things, how to deceive.

—ΣΩ. Πολύτροποι δ’ εἰσὶ καὶ ἀπατεῶνες ὑπὸ ἠλιθιότητος καὶ ἀφροσύνης, ἢ ὑπὸ πανουργίας καὶ φρονήσεώς τινος;

—ΙΠ. ῾Υπὸ πανουργίας πάντων μάλιστα καὶ φρονήσεως.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι μὲν ἄρα εἰσίν, ὡς ἔοικεν.

—ΙΠ. Ναὶ μὰ Δία, λίαν γε.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι δὲ ὄντες οὐκ ἐπίστανται ὅτι ποιοῦσιν, ἢ ἐπίστανται; —

—ΙΠ. Καὶ μάλα σφόδρα ἐπίστανται· διὰ ταῦτα καὶ κακουργοῦσιν.

—ΣΩ. ᾿Επιστάμενοι δὲ ταῦτα ἃ ἐπίστανται πότερον ἀμαθεῖς εἰσιν ἢ σοφοί;

—ΙΠ. Σοφοὶ μὲν οὖν αὐτά γε ταῦτα, ἐξαπατᾶν.

Pseudo-Phocylides, Sententiae

“Don’t trust the people;  the mob is many-wayed. For the people, water, and fire are all uncontrollable things.”

Λαῶι μὴ πίστευε, πολύτροπός ἐστιν ὅμιλος· λαὸς <γὰρ> καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ πῦρ ἀκατάσχετα πάντα.

Hesychius

Polytropos: One who [is turned] toward many things; or, someone who changes his understanding at each opportune moment.”

πολύτροπος· ὁ ἐπὶ πολλὰ τρεπόμενος, ἢ τρέπων τὴν ἑαυτοῦ διάνοιαν ὑφ’ ἕνα καιρόν

Image result for ancient Greek Odysseus

The point, I think, is that Odysseus is not someone who can be pinned down. He shifts for the situation but he also shifts for the reader/audience. (This is why I like “shifty”–it has the connotation of ‘dodgy’ in English, but it also evokes the movement of the character.) Odysseus is so popular, according to this argument, because he is a reflection of who we want him to be. Porphyry might have sensed this:

Schol HM 1.1 ex 62-74 (Attributed to Porphyry)

“If wise men are clever at speaking to others, then they also know how to speak the same thought in different ways; and, because they know the many different ways of words about the same matter. And if wise men are also good, then this is reason Homer says that Odysseus who is wise is many-wayed: he knew how to engage with people in many ways.

Thus Pythagoras is said to have known the right way to address speeches to children, to make those addresses appropriate for women to women, those fit for leaders to leaders, and those appropriate for youths to youths. It is a mark of wisdom to find the manner best for each group of people; and it is a mark of ignorance to use a single type of address toward people who are unaccustomed to it. It is the same for medicine in the successful use of its art, which fits the many-wayed nature of therapy through the varied application to those who need assistance. This manner of character is unstable, much-changing.

Many-wayedness of speech is also a finely crafted use of language for different audiences and it becomes single-wayed. For, one approach is appropriate to each. Therefore, fitting the varied power of speech to each, shaping what is proper to each for the single iteration, makes the many-wayed in turns single in form and actually ill-fit to different types of audiences, rejected by many because it is offensive to them.

εἰ δὲ οἱ σοφοὶ δεινοί εἰσι διαλέγεσθαι, καὶ ἐπίστανται τὸ αὐτὸ νόημα κατὰ πολλοὺς τρόπους λέγειν· ἐπιστάμενοι δὲ πολλοὺς τρόπους λόγων περὶ τοῦ αὐτοῦ πολύτροποι ἂν εἶεν. εἰ δὲ οἱ σοφοὶ καὶ ἀγαθοί εἰσι, διὰ τοῦτό φησι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα ῞Ομηρος σοφὸν ὄντα πολύτροπον εἶναι, ὅτι δὴ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἠπίστατο πολλοῖς τρόποις συνεῖναι. οὕτω καὶ Πυθαγόρας λέγεται, πρὸς παῖδας ἀξιωθεὶς ποιήσασθαι λόγους, διαθεῖναι πρὸς αὐτοὺς λόγους παιδικούς, καὶ πρὸς γυναῖκας γυναιξὶν ἁρμοδίους, καὶ πρὸς ἄρχοντας ἀρχοντικούς, καὶ πρὸς ἐφήβους ἐφηβικούς. τὸ γὰρ ἑκάστοις πρόσφορον τρόπον ἐξευρίσκειν σοφίας εἶναι, ἀμαθίας δὲ τὸ πρὸς τοὺς ἀνομοίως ἔχοντας τῷ τοῦ λόγου χρῆσθαι μονοτρόπῳ. ἔχειν δὲ τοῦτο καὶ τὴν ἰατρικὴν ἐν τῇ τῆς τέχνης κατορθώσει, ἠσκηκυῖαν τῆς θεραπείας τὸ πολύτροπον, διὰ τὴν τῶν θεραπευομένων ποικίλην σύστασιν. τρόπος μὲν οὖν τὸ παλίμβολον τοῦτο τοῦ ἤθους, τὸ πολυμετάβολον. λόγου δὲ πολυτροπία καὶ χρῆσις ποικίλη λόγου εἰς ποικίλας ἀκοὰς μονοτροπία γίνεται. ἓν γὰρ τὸ ἑκάστῳ οἰκεῖον· διὸ καὶ τὸ ἁρμόδιον ἑκάστῳ τὴν ποικιλίαν τοῦ λόγου εἰς ἓν συναγείρει τὸ ἑκάστῳ πρόσφορον, τὸ δ’ αὖ μονοειδές, ἀνάρμοστον ὂν πρὸς ἀκοὰς διαφόρους, πολύτροπον ποιεῖ τὸν ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἀπόβλητον ὡς αὐτοῖς ἀπότροπον λόγον. H M1 Q R

Odysseus’ name itself has problems of interpretation–it is willfully interpreted in different ways by ancient audiences and is an object of play in the epic itself. Keep reading if you want even more of this.

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The Unlikely Way: Our Kind of Story

Euripides, Bacchae 1388-1392

Many are the forms of divine powers
Many are the acts the gods unexpectedly make.
The very things which seemed likely did not happen
but for the unlikely, some god found a way.
This turned out to be that kind of story.

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν δαιμονίων,
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀέλπτως κραίνουσι θεοί·
καὶ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη,
τῶν δ᾿ ἀδοκήτων πόρον ηὗρε θεός.
τοιόνδ᾿ ἀπέβη τόδε πρᾶγμα.

[but also at the end of AlcestisMedeaAndromache, Helen]

Lucian in The Symposium 48

“That, my dear Philo, was the end of that party. But it is better to intone that tragic phrase: ‘Many are the forms of divine powers / Many are the acts the gods unexpectedly make. / The very things which seemed likely did not happen’

For all these things too turned out to be unexpected. I have still learned this much now: it is not safe for a man who is unaccomplished to share a meal with clever men like this.”

Τοῦτό σοι τέλος, ὦ καλὲ Φίλων, ἐγένετο τοῦσυμποσίου, ἢ ἄμεινον τὸ τραγικὸν ἐκεῖνο ἐπειπεῖν,

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν δαιμονίων,
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀέλπτως κραίνουσι θεοί,
καὶ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη·

ἀπροσδόκητα γὰρ ὡς ἀληθῶς ἀπέβη καὶ ταῦτα. ἐκεῖνό γε μὴν1 μεμάθηκα ἤδη, ὡς οὐκ ἀσφαλὲς ἄπρακτον ὄντα συνεστιᾶσθαι τοιούτοις σοφοῖς.

Lucian, Gout, a Tragedy 325-334

“Many are the forms of the unlucky
but let the care and habit of pains
bring some comfort to men with gout.
This is how, my fellow sufferers,
you will forget our toils,
if the very things which seemed likely did not happen
but for the unlikely, some god found a way.
Let every person who suffers endure
being taunted and being mocked.
For this affair is that kind of thing.”

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν ἀτυχούντων,
μελέται δὲ πόνων καὶ τὸ σύνηθες
τοὺς ποδαγρῶντας παραμυθείσθω.
ὅθεν εὐθύμως, ὦ σύγκληροι,
λήσεσθε πόνων,
εἰ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη,
τοῖς δ᾿ ἀδοκήτοις πόρον εὗρε θεός.
πᾶς δ᾿ ἀνεχέσθω τῶν πασχόντων
ἐμπαιζόμενος καὶ σκωπτόμενος·
τοῖον γὰρ ἔφυ τόδε πρᾶγμα.

Image result for medieval manuscript gout

James Gillray, The Gout, 1799.

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