Multiformity in Myth: The Children of Odysseus

[Inspired by the Almeida Theater’s live performance of the Odyssey today, we are reposting some of our favorite passages]

(For a more conventional paper-based version of the following, go here)

When Odysseus and Telemachus finally meet in book 16 of the Odyssey, the father is suddenly stripped of his disguise to reveal himself to his son. Telemachus, shocked, believes that this is instead some god come to trick him. Odysseus, frustrated by the slight delay in reunion, tells his son that “no other Odysseus will come home to you” (16.204). Although from the perspective of the narrative the audience knows that this is in fact Odysseus (and even though Telemachus immediately relents and embraces his father), the line prompts us to think of what it means to say that this man is Odysseus and to ponder what “another” Odysseus might be.

One of the things nearly everyone knows is that Odysseus, the son of Laertes, has a son named Telemachus. This fact is asseverated early in the Iliad when Odysseus makes an oath based on his identity (2.260-64):

“May I be called the father of Telemachus no longer
If I don’t grab you and strip the fine clothes from your back,
The cloak and the tunic that hides your genitals;
And then I will send you wailing among the swift ships
As I beat you from the assembly with unseemly blows.”

μηδ’ ἔτι Τηλεμάχοιο πατὴρ κεκλημένος εἴην
εἰ μὴ ἐγώ σε λαβὼν ἀπὸ μὲν φίλα εἵματα δύσω,
χλαῖνάν τ’ ἠδὲ χιτῶνα, τά τ’ αἰδῶ ἀμφικαλύπτει,
αὐτὸν δὲ κλαίοντα θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας ἀφήσω
πεπλήγων ἀγορῆθεν ἀεικέσσι πληγῇσιν.

Odysseus also refers to himself as  “Telemachus’ dear father who fights in the forefront” (Τηλεμάχοιο φίλον πατέρα προμάχοισι μιγέντα, 4.354) later in the epic. These moments are exceptional because every other hero defines himself by his patronym, by his father and past rather than his son and his future.

Most scholars seem to understand this as a nod to the Odyssey and Odysseus’ different character. The scholia present the common reaction to this from Aristonicus: The Iliad is aware of the Odyssey (Τηλεμάχοιο: ὅτι προτετυπωμένος τὰ κατὰ τὴν ᾿Οδύσσειαν μνημονεύει τοῦ Τηλεμάχου. τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἄρα ποιητοῦ καὶ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια, Schol. A ad Il. 4.354a 1-3).

What if this reference is not exclusive and specific (i.e. pointing to our Odyssey as we have it), but is instead selecting out and constructing one of many possible Odysseis? Yes, it is true that this notion is not incompatible with the presumption that Odysseus’ words in the Iliad ‘shout out’ to the identity of the Odysseus in the Odyssey. But at the same time, it seems to engage in a Homeric pattern of omitting or marginalizing other traditions for Odysseus—traditions that describe the events after he gets home, or provide different details about what happened after he left Troy; and traditions that transgress the strong identification between Odysseus and his son Telemachus. The larger mythical tradition, it seems, knew a different Odysseus who had many more sons.

Odysseus is said to have heard a prophecy that he would be killed by his son. So, according to some (Dictys, Hyginus) he sent Telemachus away. But what Odysseus didn’t know, allegedly, is that it had more than one son. How many? That depends on whom you believe.

What is really in Kirke's cup?
What is really in Kirke’s cup?

The question–and the various answers we can generate–illustrate both the importance of Odysseus as a figure (in terms of geography and time) and the malleability of myth. To start, here’s the list of all the named children I could find: 17 names for sons (for, I think, 13 individuals) and a daughter:

The Sons:

Telemakhos and Arkesilaos/Ptoliporthes (Penelope) [Eustathius/Pausanias]
Agrios, Latinus and Telegonos (Kirke [Hesiod]) or Auson [Lykophron]
Rhomos, Antias, Ardeas (Kirke) [Dionysus of Halicarnassos]
Nausithoos and Nausinoos (Kalypso) [Hesiod]
Leontophron or Dorukles or Euryalos (Euippê, Epirote Princess) [Eustathius]
Polypoitês (Kallidikê, Thesprotian Princess) [Proklos]
Leontophronos (Daughter of Thoas, Aitolian Princess) [Apollodoros]

The Daughter:
Kassiphone (Kirke) [Lykophron]

Now, it is fair to note that much of the attestation for these children is later than the classical period. But, with the exception of Lykophron (and more on him later), these are not authors who seem to be in the habit of making things up.
Continue reading “Multiformity in Myth: The Children of Odysseus”

The ‘Submerged’ Heroic Life of Laertes (the Father of Odysseus)

I have been somewhat obsessed in the past with the family of Odysseus, particularly Odysseus’ sister, his death by feces,  his lesser-known grandson, and a remarkable number of children not named Telemachus.

Where the Homeric Odyssey suppresses names of children used by ancient myth to relate Odysseus to a wider physical world, the epic nevertheless has some hints here and there about geography and politics. Of course, this will can us a bit more about his family and home. In the Odyssey we find what seems to be a formulaic combination of three islands near Ithaca. When Odysseus describes where he’s from, he names his home and then adds (9.23-4):

“Many islands are inhabited right near each other
Doulikhion, Samê, and forest-covered Zakunthos.”

πολλαὶ ναιετάουσι μάλα σχεδὸν ἀλλήλῃσι,
Δουλίχιόν τε Σάμη τε καὶ ὑλήεσσα Ζάκυνθος.

And earlier during his discussion with Telemachus, Odysseus hears the suitors similarly described as (16.122-125; cf. 19.130-1):

“However so many of the best men who rule among the islands,
Doulikhion, Samê, and forest-covered Zakunthos.
Alongside all the men who lord over steep Ithaka—
This many men are wooing my mother and ruining my home”

ὅσσοι γὰρ νήσοισιν ἐπικρατέουσιν ἄριστοι,
Δουλιχίῳ τε Σάμῃ τε καὶ ὑλήεντι Ζακύνθῳ,
ἠδ’ ὅσσοι κραναὴν ᾿Ιθάκην κάτα κοιρανέουσι,
τόσσοι μητέρ’ ἐμὴν μνῶνται, τρύχουσι δὲ οἶκον.

Continue reading “The ‘Submerged’ Heroic Life of Laertes (the Father of Odysseus)”

Telemachus’ (not so) Long, Strange Trip: Schol. Od. DEJMa 1.93b on Athena’s Intervention

Ancient commentators–like some modern students–were confused about why Telemachus should risk everything by going to sea in search of his father. Especially troubling in this is the fact that Athena sends him (since she already knows all about Odysseus anyway).  This scholion explains the sense of the choice.

“It seems that the journey of Telemachus was strange first because Athena was creating danger to the youth, second she was removing him from the insurrection of the suitors, and third because she didn’t need to  search for his father.  But it was necessary that someone who was raised by women, was beset with sorrows and who had not yet at any point tested himself in speeches, become polytropos in the same way his father did, that is, to gain this quality by wandering and to share with his father in the killing of the suitors. The affairs of his home first were secured in the assembly when he roused the people against the suitors and second when he, after he taught the suitors to endure evils with his promises, he said “I will give my mother to a man” (2.223). The danger sharpened the interest of the suitors even more alongside his own eagerness.”

ἄτοπος  εἶναι δοκεῖ Τηλεμάχου ἡ ἀποδημία πρῶτον μὲν κίνδυνον προξενοῦσα τῷ νέῳ, δεύτερον ἐπανάστασιν τῶν μνηστήρων ἀπειλοῦσα, τρίτον οὐκ ὠφελοῦσα τὴν ζήτησιν τοῦ πατρός. ἀλλ’ ἔδει τὸν ἐν γυναιξὶ τεθραμμένον, λύπαις τεταπεινωμένον, ῥητορειῶν οὐ πεπειραμένον οὐδεπώποτε, πολύτροπον γενέσθαι παραπλησίως τῷ πατρί, καὶ τοῦτο κερδᾶναι τῇ πλάνῃ, καὶ κοινωνεῖν τῷ πατρὶ τῶν κατορθωμάτων ἐν τῇ μνηστηροκτονίᾳ. ἀσφαλίζεται δὲ τὰ κατ’ οἶκον πρῶτον μὲν ἐπαναστήσας τὸν δῆμον κατὰ τῶν μνηστήρων ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ, δεύτερον δὲ ταῖς ὑποσχέσεσιν ἀνεξικακεῖν διδάξας τοὺς μνηστῆρας εἰπὼν „καὶ ἀνέρι μητέρα δώσω” [β 223]. ἔτι μάλα καὶ τῆς ἐπιβουλῆς τῶν μνηστήρων ὁ κίνδυνος ἠκόνησεν αὐτοῦ τὴν προθυμίαν. ( Schol. Od. DEJMa 1.93b).

So You Think You Know Odysseus?

(Gentle Readers: The following is a summary of several posts about Odysseus for my myth class.)

Homer’s Odyssey, read by many as the story of Odysseus, has perhaps exerted a fantastic influence on the reception of the survivor of the Trojan War.  One of the things I like to encourage is the idea that rather than representing the standard view of the figure, the Homeric epic goes to great lengths to reform and re-present a traditional figure whose broader mythical tradition may have been a bit more positive.

Odysseus' Magic Raft
Odysseus’ Magic Raft

(And it is fair to say that a close reading of the Odyssey itself can produce less-than-favorable revelations regarding the man it sings about.)

Part of the difference represented by Odysseus, I think, is that he is not strictly speaking a demi-god: instead of being a child of a god endowed with super-human ability, he is something somewhat mundane, a human being one step closer to the messy world of his audiences. He is, as the epic announces, the “many-minded man” and a “man of many shapes”. For this reason especially, he becomes a protean figure in myth.

Odysseus Declaims to Sirens?
Odysseus Declaims to Sirens?

The epic may play with this when Odysseus reveals himself to Telemachus in book 16, his son at first balks, certain that this man in front of him is a god or some delusion.  Odysseus responds memorably (16.204):

“No other Odysseus will ever come home to you”
οὐ μὲν γάρ τοι ἔτ’ ἄλλος ἐλεύσεται ἐνθάδ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς

A groundbreaking television documentary in the ancient world entitled “So You Think You Know Odysseus” might start out with his biography as popularly known and then look more closely at the epic itself.  For instance, though we often talk about his son Telemachus, his wife Penelope and his father Laertes, we often miss the small detail presented in the epic that Odysseus has a sister named Ktimene. What is going on with her? Well, it seems that she was married off into the murky relationships that pervade the background of the Odyssey‘s rather unclear presentation of the geography and politics of the islands around Ithaca, a tale which makes Laertes out to be a conqueror and brings Odysseus’ rule into question.

But if we leave the Odyssey and look into the mythical tradition, we find that Odysseus dies–according to some–because he is defecated upon by a bird. He has a grandson related to Nestor. And he has up to 18 separate children apart from Telemachus. He was, in many ways, a classic, wandering inseminator.

Odysseus Prepares to Expose his 'Sword'
Odysseus Prepares to Expose his ‘Sword’

But he was also a bit of a scoundrel. According to one tradition, he tried to stab Diomedes in the back while they slipped out of Troy. The negative associations of Odysseus become standard during the classical age when he appears often (but not always) as a bit of a villain in Tragedy and as a counter-figure in oratory where Socrates prefers Palamedes to Homer’s hero.

But it would certainly be unfair to say that the dangers of Odysseus weren’t present in the epic itself: during the middle of his own story, Odysseus as much admits that his own actions were in part cause of his (and his family’s) suffering. In the mythical tradition, Odysseus is positioned as the remorseful cause of Ajax’ madness, the vengeful scourge of Palamedes, the manipulative master of Philoktetes, and the captain who loses all his ships. His suffering is endemic. He is never innocent. But he carries on.

Odysseus and Eurykleia
Odysseus and Eurykleia

I think that this traces in part to his essential humanity: for Plato, Achilles was the best man who went to Troy, and Odysseus was the “most shifty“. His changeable nature, rather than seeming heroic, is more real, more relatable, and far less than ideal. And this is what makes him so much more like us.

The “human-ness” of Odysseus is part of what made him appealing to later philosophers, the Stoics, as a survivor. The continuation of his tale makes him an apt metaphor or available allegory for the struggle of mankind to survive after the stories are done being told.

Following Metagenes on April Fool’s Day and Mocking Homer: Protect your Beverage, Man!

In an earlier post I mentioned Metagenes’ playing with a line from the Iliad:

 

Metagenes (fr. 19 Athenaeaus 270e)

 

“One Bird Omen is best: defend your dinner!”

εἵς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ δείπνου

 

Homer, Iliad 12.243:

 

“One bird-omen is best: defend your fatherland”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάτρης.

 

And since I have been musing on some alterations in a Metagenic spirit:

 

 

For Polyphemos, the goat-herding Cyclops:

“One bird-omen is best: protect your cheese”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ τύρης

 

 

For Telemachus:

“One bird-omen is best: defend your daddy”

 

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάππου

 

For Odysseus

“One bird-omen is best: save your homecoming.”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ νόστου

 

 

For Paris

“One bird-omen is best: defend your ‘booty’ “

 

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πύγης

 

 

For Oedipus

“One bird-omen is best: defend your mommy”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ ματρὸς

 

 

For any old Satyr

 

“One bird-omen is best: defend your wine”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ οἴνου

 

For The Big Lebowski

 

“One bird-omen is best: protect your beverage, [man]”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πὀτου

 

If that seems mysterious, watch this:

 

The Sons of Odysseus Part 4, Telegonos

(This is a continuation of a search for all the children of Odysseus)

In our version of Hesiod’s Theogony, Telegonos appears in a disputed line as one of the sons of Kirkê and Odysseus. It is thought that the line was interpolated to keep Hesiod ‘current’ with the Cyclic poem the Telegony by Eugammon of Cyrene (which is lost):
“Kirkê, the daughter of Helios, Hyperion’s son,
After having sex with Odysseus, gave birth to
Agrios and Latînos, blameless and strong.
And she also gave birth to Telegonos thanks to golden Aphrodite.
Her sons rule far away in the recess of the holy islands
Among the glorious Tursênians.”

Κίρκη δ’ ᾿Ηελίου θυγάτηρ ῾Υπεριονίδαο
γείνατ’ ᾿Οδυσσῆος ταλασίφρονος ἐν φιλότητι
῎Αγριον ἠδὲ Λατῖνον ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε•
[Τηλέγονον δὲ ἔτικτε διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην•]
οἳ δή τοι μάλα τῆλε μυχῷ νήσων ἱεράων
πᾶσιν Τυρσηνοῖσιν ἀγακλειτοῖσιν ἄνασσον.

West (1966, 434-5) considers the line about Telegonos to be a Byzantine interpolation. Though I do not aim to argue strenuously against troubling this line, it is important to note that Telegonos’ name (“born far away”; “begotten far away”) may be echoed in the line after the supposed interpolation (μάλα τῆλε). Both his and Telemakhos’ names in marking their distance, their ‘farness’, seem to echo the far-flung traveling nature of their father.

(And though Telemakhos is obviously in the Odyssey and mentioned in the Iliad, neither he nor Telegonos have a large presence in the larger body of myth. Both are largely absent from Archaic and Classical Greek art…)

Eustathius (Comm. Ad Od.1.142.35) explains such naming for sons: “Concerning being born far off, it is sufficiently clear in the Iliad. And now it will be addressed to an extent. Among the ancients, that someone is far-born is not only about where he was born, as the only son of Menelaos was Megapenthes, but that he was born when he father was far away or grew up in this way after he was born. A first example of this is Telegonos who was born from Kirkê when Odysseus was far away.”

Περὶ δὲ τοῦ τηλύγετος, ἱκανῶς ἡ ᾿Ιλιὰς δηλοῖ. νῦν δὲ εἰς τοσοῦτον ῥητέον. ὡς τηλύγετος παῖς παρὰ τοῖς παλαιοῖς, οὐ μόνον μεθ’ ὃν οὐκ ἔστι τεκνώσασθαι, ἢ ὁ μόνος υἱὸς ὡς ὁ Μεγαπένθης ἐνταῦθα τῷ Μενελάῳ, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ τῆλε ὄντι τῷ πατρὶ γεννηθεὶς, ἢ καὶ αὐξηθεὶς μετὰ γέννησιν. παράδειγμα τοῦ πρώτου, Τηλέγονος ὁ ἐκ Κίρκης τῆλέ που γεννηθεὶς τῷ ᾿Οδυσσεῖ.

Continue reading “The Sons of Odysseus Part 4, Telegonos”

The Sons of Odysseus, Part 3: Kirke’s Children (except for Telegonos)

In earlier posts I went over the seventeen named sons of Odysseus and then laid out a plan to start figuring out where and when they come from, organizing the discussion around the mother. Last week, I focused on the named children of Penelope—everyone knows that she gave birth to Telemakhos. Less well known: a son born after Odysseus’ return, named Arkesilaos or Ptoliporthes.

After children with Penelope, most common in the tradition, however, are children ascribed to Odysseus and Kirkê. The earliest mention of this comes from Hesiod’s Works and Days (1011-1017):

“Kirkê, the daughter of Helios, Hyperion’s son,
After having sex with Odysseus, gave birth to
Agrios and Latînos, blameless and strong.

And she also gave birth to Telegonos thanks to golden Aphrodite.
Her sons rule far away in the recess of the holy islands
Among the glorious Tursênians.”

 

Κίρκη δ’ ᾿Ηελίου θυγάτηρ ῾Υπεριονίδαο
γείνατ’ ᾿Οδυσσῆος ταλασίφρονος ἐν φιλότητι
῎Αγριον ἠδὲ Λατῖνον ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε·
[Τηλέγονον δὲ ἔτικτε διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην·]
οἳ δή τοι μάλα τῆλε μυχῷ νήσων ἱεράων
πᾶσιν Τυρσηνοῖσιν ἀγακλειτοῖσιν ἄνασσον.

 
Continue reading “The Sons of Odysseus, Part 3: Kirke’s Children (except for Telegonos)”

The Sons of Odysseus, Part 2: Penelope’s Child(ren), Telemakhos and Arkesilaos/Ptoliporthes

One of the things nearly everyone knows is that Odysseus, the son of Laertes, has a son named Telemachus. This fact is asseverated early in the Iliad when Odysseus makes an oath based on his identity (2.260-64):

“May I be called the father of Telemachus no longer
If I don’t grab you and strip the fine clothes from your back,
The cloak and the tunic that hides your genitals;
And then I will send you wailing among the swift ships
As I beat you from the assembly with unseemly blows.”

μηδ’ ἔτι Τηλεμάχοιο πατὴρ κεκλημένος εἴην
εἰ μὴ ἐγώ σε λαβὼν ἀπὸ μὲν φίλα εἵματα δύσω,
χλαῖνάν τ’ ἠδὲ χιτῶνα, τά τ’ αἰδῶ ἀμφικαλύπτει,
αὐτὸν δὲ κλαίοντα θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας ἀφήσω
πεπλήγων ἀγορῆθεν ἀεικέσσι πληγῇσιν.

Odysseus also refers to himself as  “Telemachus’ dear father who fights in the forefront” (Τηλεμάχοιο φίλον πατέρα προμάχοισι μιγέντα, 4.354) later in the epic. These moments are exceptional because every other hero defines himself by his patronym, by his father and past rather than his son and his future.

Most scholars seem to understand this as a nod to the Odyssey and Odysseus’ different character. The scholia present the common reaction to this from Aristonicus: The Iliad is aware of the Odyssey (Τηλεμάχοιο: ὅτι προτετυπωμένος τὰ κατὰ τὴν ᾿Οδύσσειαν μνημονεύει τοῦ Τηλεμάχου. τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἄρα ποιητοῦ καὶ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια, Schol. A ad Il. 4.354a 1-3).

What if this reference is not exclusive and specific (i.e. pointing to our Odyssey as we have it), but is instead selecting out and constructing one of many possible Odysseis? Yes, it is true that this notion is not incompatible with the presumption that Odysseus’ words in the Iliad ‘shout out’ to the identity of the Odysseus in the Odyssey. But at the same time, it seems to engage in a Homeric pattern of omitting or marginalizing other traditions for Odysseus. And this means ignoring other children.

Continue reading “The Sons of Odysseus, Part 2: Penelope’s Child(ren), Telemakhos and Arkesilaos/Ptoliporthes”

Odysseus’ Children: Fourteen and Counting!

 

I have been obsessed with tracking down the names of Odysseus’ children.  Here’s a list of them, their mothers and the sources so far.  In a few days I will start posting full references:

The sons of Odysseus:

 

Telemakhos and Arkesilaos/Ptoliporthes (Penelope) [Eustathius/Pausanias]

Agrios, Latinus and Telegonos (Kirke) or Auson [Lykophron]

Rhomos, Antias, Ardeas (Kirke) [Dionysus of Halicarnassos]

Nausithoos and Nausinoos (Kalypso) [Hesiod]

Leontophron or Dorukles or Euryalos (Euippê, Epirote Princess) [Eustathius]

Polypoitês (Kallidikê, Thesprotian Princess) [Proklos]

Leontophronos (Daughter of Thoas, Aitolian Princess) [Apollodoros]

 

And one daughter:

Kassiphone (Kirke) [Lykophron]

 

Odysseus was a Grandfather: Telemachus’ Night at Nestor’s

The obsession with Odysseus’ family life continues (a sister and now a grandson!): My students always have questions when they read about Telemachus’ stay in Pylos at Nestor’s home. Before one banquet, he is bathed by Nestor’s youngest daughter Polycaste (3.464-5):

“Then pretty Polycaste, the youngest daughter of Nestor the son of Neleus, bathed Telemachus”

  τόφρα δὲ Τηλέμαχον λοῦσεν καλὴ Πολυκάστη, Νέστορος ὁπλοτάτη θυγάτηρ Νηληϊάδαο.

The commentators Heubeck, West and Hainsworth (1988, 189) suggest that this scene was invented by Homer to anticipate the birth of Telemachus’ son recorded in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women. We have this fragment from Eustathius: Hes. Fr. 221 (Eustathius in Hom. (π 117—20) p. 1796. 38)

“Well-belted Polycaste, the youngest daughter of Nestor Neleus’ son, gave birth to Persepolis after having sex with Telemachus Thanks to golden Aphrodite.”

Τηλεμάχωι δ’ ἄρ’ ἔτικτεν ἐύζωνος Πολυκάστη Νέστορος ὁπλοτάτη κούρη Νηληϊάδαο Περσέπολιν μιχθεῖσα διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην

I don’t know if I really buy the suggestion that the Homeric passage is already referring to this idea.  The lines from Hesiod seem a little late (the separation of the dative Τηλεμάχωι from μιχθεῖσα is a little severe for Homer) and the lines seem ‘copied’ rather than formulaic: the middle line is straight from the Odyssey and the final one is awfully close to a disputed line from the Theogony: Th. 1014: [Τηλέγονον δὲ ἔτικτε διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην·] In any case, what I love about this fragment is that someone, like my students, imagined that the bathing scene was not that innocent after all! Here’s an update for this–after more searching, it seems that Telemachus has several different possible marriages in the mythical tradition: Hellanikos has Telemachus marry Nausicaa Hesiod has Telemachus married to Polycaste, Nestor’s daughter Eugammon has Telemachus married to Kirke Lykophron has Telemachus marry Kassiphone, the daughter of Kirke and Odysseus From these possible pairings, the children are limited: Persepolis is the son of Telemachus and Polycaste according to Hesiod; Perseptolis, son of Nausicaa and Telemachus according to Eustathius; Andokidês is the son, according to Hellanikos