Ah, It Was All Helen’s Fault

This may be one of the strangest poems about Helen. Note that Thetis goes unnamed.

Alcaeus,  fr. 42 (P. Oxy. 1233 fr. 2 ii 1–16)

“The story is that bitter grief from evil deeds
Came to Priam and his children, thanks to you
Helen, and so Zeus destroyed
Holy Troy.

Not like this was the tender virgin
Peleus acquired when he called all the blessed
Gods to his marriage, once he took her from
Nereus’ halls

To the home of Kheiron. He loosened
The girdle of the holy maiden. And the ‘love’
Of Peleus and the best of the Nereids grew
For a year.

And produced a child, the best of the demigods,
A blessed driver of fiery horses.
But they died for Helen, the Phrygians
And their city too.”

ὠς λόγος, κάκων ἄ[χος ἔννεκ᾿ ἔργων
Περράμῳ καὶ παῖσ[ί ποτ᾿, Ὦλεν᾿, ἦλθεν
ἐκ σέθεν πίκρον, π[ύρι δ᾿ ὤλεσε Ζεῦς
Ἴλιον ἴραν.

οὐ τεαύταν Αἰακίδα̣ι̣ [ς ἄγαυος
πάντας ἐς γάμον μάκ̣ [αρας καλέσαις
ἄγετ᾿ ἐκ Νή[ρ]ηος ἔλων [μελάθρων
πάρθενον ἄβραν

ἐς δόμον Χέρρωνος· ἔλ[υσε δ᾿ ἄγνας
ζῶμα παρθένω· φιλό[τας δ᾿ ἔθαλε
Πήλεος καὶ Νηρεΐδων ἀρίστ[ας,
ἐς δ᾿ ἐνίαυτον

παῖδα γέννατ᾿ αἰμιθέων [φέριστον
ὄλβιον ξάνθαν ἐλάτη[ρα πώλων·
οἰ δ᾿ ἀπώλοντ᾿ ἀμφ᾿ Ἐ[λένᾳ Φρύγες τε
καὶ πόλις αὔτων.

Image result for ancient greek helen vase

Another Casualty of Childbirth

Amyntas, Lit. Pap. 107 = P.Oxy iv.1904

Tell me, woman, who you are, who is your father, and your country.
What kind of great sickness did you die from?

“Stranger, my name is Praksô, and I am Samian
My father was Calliteles and I died giving birth”

Who provided for your tomb? “Theocritus, the man
To whom they married me.” What age did you reach?

“I was three-times-seven plus one.” Were you then childless”
“No, but I left a three year-old child in my home.”

φράζε, γύναι, τίς ἐοῦσα καὶ ἐκ τίνος, εἰπέ τε πάτρην,
καὶ ποίας ἔθανες νούσου ὑπ᾿ ἀργαλέης.
οὔνομα μὲν Πραξὼ Σαμίη, ξένε, ἐκ δὲ γονῆος
Καλλιτέλευς γενόμαν, ἀλλ᾿ ἔθανον τοκετῶι.
τίς δὲ τάφον στάλωσε; Θεόκριτος, ὧι με σύνευνον
ἀνδρὶ δόσαν. ποίην δ᾿ ἦλθες ἐς ἡλικίην;
ἑπταέτις τρὶς ἑνὸς γενόμαν ἔτι. ἦ ῥά γ᾿ἄτεκνος;
οὔκ, ἀλλὰ τριετῆ παῖδα δόμωι λιπόμαν.

An Old Attic Woman Once Said…

The following are apophthegmata [“sayings”] preserved in a Byzantine manuscript and attributed to ancient authorities. Many might actually come from prose composition exercises in Byzantine and late antique schools. Most of the collection are attributed to famous male sages. The collection ends with a selection of 

“Sayings of women and their thoughts”

᾿Αποφθέγματα γυναικῶν, ἤτοι φρονήματα. [Gnomologium Vaticanum, 564-567]

“After an Attic woman saw a sign over the door of someone about to get married which said “Herakles lives here, may nothing bad happen” she said “Now may no woman enter!”

᾿Αττικὴ γυνὴ ἰδοῦσα γράμμα ἐπὶ θυρῶν μέλλοντος γαμεῖν· „῾Ηρακλῆς ἐνθάδε κατοικεῖ· μηδὲν εἰσίτω κακὸν” εἶπεν· „νῦν οὖν ἡ γυνὴ οὐ μὴ εἰσελεύσεται.”

 

“When an old Attic woman was asked at a symposium whether Dionysus is mortal after she saw wine being stolen, she said “yes, he’s mortal, for I saw him carried out…”

[῾Η] ᾿Αττικὴ γραῦς ἐρωτηθεῖσα ἐν συμποσίῳ εἰ θνητὸς ὁ Διόνυσος ἰδοῦσα κλεπτόμενον οἶνον εἶπεν· „ναὶ θνητός· εἶδον γὰρ αὐτὸν ἐκφερόμενον.”

[the joke is based on part of the Greek burial process, the ekphora, which is carrying out of the body]

 

“When an old Attic woman saw a young man pouring wine she said “Boy! You turned Peleus into Oineus.”

<᾿Α>ττικὴ γραῦς ἰδοῦσα νεανίσκον οἶνον ἐκχέοντα εἶπε· „μειράκιον· τὸν Οἰνέα Πηλέα ἐποίησας.”

 

“When an old Attic woman saw an Olympic victor taking sheep out to pasture she said “Ah, he went quickly from the Olympic to the Nemean games.”

Γραῦς ᾿Αττικὴ θεασαμένη ᾿Ολυμπιονίκην ἀθλητὴν πρόβατα βόσκοντα εἶπε· „ταχέως ἀπὸ ᾿Ολυμπίων ἐπὶ Νέμεα.”

 

571: “When a Syracusan woman was summoned by Dionysus the tyrant because he was claiming that he wanted her and would give her whatever she wanted, she said “Let me go—since you believe that women are the same, whenever the lamp goes out.”

Γυνὴ Συρακοσία μεταπεμφθεῖσα ὑπὸ Διονυσίου τοῦ τυράννου [καὶ] φάσκοντος ἐρᾶν αὐτῆς καὶ χαριεῖσθαι ὃ ἂν ἐθέλῃ· „ἄφες τοίνυν με” εἶπε „νομίσας τὰς γυναῖκας ὁμοίας εἶναι, ὅταν ὁ λύχνος ἀποσβεσθῇ.”

 

The website “Sharing Ancient Wisdom” is a really interesting and useful collection of proverbial sayings. Check it out.

Image result for Ancient Greek Woman

Spartan Women Once Said…

This is the second part of the sayings attributed to women in the Gnomologium Vaticanum (568-576)

“Sayings of women and their thoughts”

᾿Αποφθέγματα γυναικῶν, ἤτοι φρονήματα.

 

“When a Spartan woman was speaking to her son who had been crippled in battle and was depressed because of that she said “don’t be sad, child—for each step recalls your private virtue”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει χωλωθέντος καὶ δυσφοροῦντος ἐπὶ τούτῳ „τέκνον”, εἶπε, „μὴ λυποῦ· καθ’ ἕκαστον γὰρ βῆμα τῆς ἰδίας <ἀρετῆς ὑπομνησθήσῃ.”>

 

“When a Spartan woman heard that her son died in the battle line she said “Child, you paid your country back well for your upbringing.”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα ἀκούσασα τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει τεθνηκέναι „τέκνον”, εἶπεν, „ὡς καλὰ τροφεῖα τῇ πατρίδι ἀπέδωκας!”

 

“The mother of Clearchus the Ramphian, after her son was slandered for betraying Greece to the Persians, wrote this kind of letter. “To Klearchus the son from his Mother: evil rumors are falling all around you. Either get rid of them or no longer be [alive? My son?]”

῾Η Κλεάρχου τοῦ ῾Ραμφίου μήτηρ ἐπειδὴ διεβλήθη ὁ υἱὸς αὐτῆς προδιδόναι τοῖς Πέρσαις τὴν ῾Ελλάδα τοιαύτην ἐπιστολὴν ἔγραψεν· „ἁ μάτηρ Κλεάρχῳ τῷ υἱῷ· κακά τευ κακκέχυται φάμα· ἢ ταύταν ἀπόθευ ἢ μὴ ἔσο.”

 

“Xanthippê, when asked what Socrates’ greatest attribute was, said “This, that he has the same face for noble and lowborn men.”

Ξανθίππη ἐρωτηθεῖσα τί μέγιστον ὑπῆρχεν τῷ Σωκράτει „τοῦτο”, ἔφη, „ὅτι καὶ ἐπὶ ἀγαθοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ φαύλοις ἡ αὐτὴ ὄψις ἦν αὐτῷ”·

 

“Theanô the Pythagorean said, “What is noble to speak about is shameful to be silent on; and what is shameful to mention, is noble to keep silent about.”

Θεανὼ ἡ Πυθαγορικὴ ἔφη· „περὶ ὧν λέγειν καλόν, περὶ τούτων σιωπᾶν αἰσχρόν, καὶ περὶ ὧν λέγειν αἰσχρόν, περὶ τούτων σιωπᾶν καλόν.”

 

“A Spartan woman said of her son who was thankful that he was the only one to survive a battle-line “why aren’t you ashamed that you’re the only one alive?”

Λάκαινα γυνὴ σεμνυνομένου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐπὶ τῷ μόνον ἐκ τῆς παρατάξεως σεσῶσθαι ἔφη· „τί οὖν οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μόνος ζῶν;”

 

“When Olympias, Alexander’s mother was asked by someone why she wasn’t adorned, she said “Alexander is sufficient decoration for me.”

᾿Ολυμπιὰς ᾿Αλεξάνδρου μήτηρ ἐρωτηθεῖσα ὑπό τινος [ὅτι] „διὰ τί οὐ κοσμῇ;” εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἀρκεῖ μοι ὁ ᾿Αλεξάνδρου κόσμος.”

 

The website “Sharing Ancient Wisdom” is a really interesting and useful collection of proverbial sayings. Check it out.

Like Land to a Drowning (Wo)man?

Odyssey 23.230-242

“So she spoke, and his longing for mourning swelled within him—
He wept holding the wife fit to his heart, a woman who knew careful thoughts.

As when the land appears welcome to men as the swim
Whose well-made ship Poseidon has dashed apart on the sea,
As it is driven by the wind and a striking wave.
Then few men flee from the grey sea to the shore
As they swim and the bodies are covered with brine on their skin,
They happily climb on the shore, escaping evil.

So welcome a sight was her husband to her as she looked upon him
And she would not pull her white arms away from his neck.”

ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο·
κλαῖε δ’ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν.
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἀσπάσιος γῆ νηχομένοισι φανήῃ,
ὧν τε Ποσειδάων εὐεργέα νῆ’ ἐνὶ πόντῳ
ῥαίσῃ, ἐπειγομένην ἀνέμῳ καὶ κύματι πηγῷ·
παῦροι δ’ ἐξέφυγον πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἤπειρόνδε
νηχόμενοι, πολλὴ δὲ περὶ χροῒ τέτροφεν ἅλμη,
ἀσπάσιοι δ’ ἐπέβαν γαίης, κακότητα φυγόντες·
ὣς ἄρα τῇ ἀσπαστὸς ἔην πόσις εἰσοροώσῃ,
δειρῆς δ’ οὔ πω πάμπαν ἀφίετο πήχεε λευκώ.

This simile is exceptional because it starts out making us think that it is about Odysseus but then shifts during its telling to be about Penelope’s reaction.

Image result for Medieval Manuscript woman swimming

St Omer Psalter, England (Norfolk), c. 1330-c. 1440, Yates Thompson MS 14, f. 70v 

 

A Real Heroine: She Kills A Lion, Gets a Kingdom

Akesandros of Cyrene (Jacoby 469) F4

“Akesandros tells the story in his Concerning Cyrene that when Eurypylos was king in Libya, Cyrene was taken by Apollo because there was a lion plaguing the land. Eurypylos put his kingship up as a prize for anyone who could kill a lion—and Cyrene killed the lion and gained the kingdom. Her children were Autoukhos and Aristaios. Phularkhos says that she came to Libya with a group, and when they went on a hunting expedition, she joined them too.”

᾽Ακέσανδρος δὲ ἐν τοῖς Περὶ Κυρήνης ἱστορεῖ, ἐπ᾽ Εὐρυπύλου βασιλεύοντος ἐν Λιβύηι ὡς ὑπὸ ᾽Απόλλωνος διακομισθείη ἡ Κυρήνη, λέοντος δὲ τὴν χώραν λυμαινομένου προθείη τὴν βασιλείαν ὁ Εὐρύπυλος ἆθλον τῶι ἀποκτενοῦντι τὸν λέοντα, τὴν δὲ(?) διαχρήσασθαι αὐτόν καὶ τὴν βασιλείαν λαβεῖν· παῖδας δὲ αὐτῆς γενέσθαι Αὐτοῦχον καὶ ᾽Αρισταῖον. φησὶ δὲ αὐτὴν Φύλαρχος (81 F 16) ἐλθεῖν μετὰ πλειόνων εἰς Λιβύην, τούτων δὲ ἐκπεμφθέντων ἐπὶ τὴν κυνηγίαν, τούτοις καὶ αὐτὴν συνεξελθεῖν.

This story is really exceptional in Greek myth and history for a couple of reasons. First, here we have a female beast-slayer who follows the classic pattern of killing a monster and gaining a kingdom. Second, while her children are mentioned–following a typical pattern of defining women by their offspring–her mate is not. There are some other sources on this figure.

Nonnos, Dionys. 13.300-301

“Cyrene, another deer-pursuing Artemis,
The lion-slaying nymph bore him, after sex with Phoibos.”

τόν ποτε Κυρήνη, κεμαδοσσόος ῎Αρτεμις ἄλλη,
Φοιβείῃ φιλότητι λεοντοφόνος τέκε νύμφη…

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A List of Women Authors from the Ancient World

I am reposting this list for International Women’s day. I would also like to ask for help from anyone who would like to aid in creating individual posts for each of the names in this list and any that have been left out.

Most of the evidence for these authors has been collected only in Wikipedia. We can probably do better by adding more information from ancient sources and modern ‘scholarly’ texts. Many of the testimonia and fragments concerning these authors have also not been collected. Please email me (joel@brandeis.edu) if you would like to post a guest entry or two.

I received a link to the following in an email from my undergraduate poetry teacher the amazing poet and translator Olga Broumas. The post is on tumblr on a page by DiasporaChic, bit the original author who has already won my admiration is Terpsikeraunos.

** denotes names I have added

Calliope

Women in ancient Greece and Rome with surviving works or fragments

 

  • PHILOSOPHY

Aesara of Lucania: “Only a fragment survives of Aesara of Lucania’s Book on Human Nature, but it provides a key to understanding the philosophies of Phintys, Perictione, and Theano II as well. Aesara presents a familiar and intuitive natural law theory. She says that through the activity of introspection into our own nature – specifically the nature of a human soul – we can discover not only the natural philosophic foundation for all of human law, but we can also discern the technical structure of morality, positive law, and, it may be inferred, the laws of moral psychology and of physical medicine. Aesara’s natural law theory concerns laws governing three applications of moral law: individual or private morality, laws governing the moral basis of the institution of the family, and, laws governing the moral foundations of social institutions. By analyzing the nature of the soul, Aesara says, we will understand the nature of law and of justice at the individual, familial, and social levels.” – A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 B.C.-500 A.D., by M.E. Waith

Melissa: “Melissa (3rd century BC)[1][2] was a Pythagorean philosopher…Nothing is known about her life. She is known only from a letter written to another woman named Cleareta (or Clearete). The letter is written in a Doric Greek dialect dated to around the 3rd century BC.[2] The letter discusses the need for a wife to be modest and virtuous, and stresses that she should obey her husband.[2] The content has led to the suggestion that it was written pseudonymously by a man.[2] On the other hand, the author of the letter does not suggest that a woman is naturally inferior or weak, or that she needs a man’s rule to be virtuous.[1]” –Wikipedia

Perictione (I and II): “Two works attributed to Perictione have survived in fragments: On the Harmony of Women and On Wisdom. Differences in language suggest that they were written by two different people. Allen and Waithe identify them as Perictione I and Perictione II. Plato’s mother was named Perictione, and Waithe argues that she should be identified as the earlier Perictione, suggesting that similarities between Plato’s Republic and On the Harmony of Women may not be the result of Perictione reading Plato, but the opposite–the son learning philosophy from his mother. On the Harmony of Women, however, is written in Ionic prose with occasional Doric forms. This mixed dialect dates the work to the late fourth or third centuries BC. The reference in On the Harmony of Women to women ruling suggests the Hellenistic monarchies of the third century BC or later. On Wisdom is written in Doric and is partly identical with a work by Archytas of the same name. This work should be dated later, to the third or second centuries BC. Both the dates of the works and their dialects mean Perictione as the mother of Plato could not have written them. We then have two Pythagorean texts, attributed to otherwise unknown women named Perictione who should be dated perhaps one hundred years apart.” –Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, by I.M. Plant

Phintys: “Phintys (or Phyntis, Greek: Φίντυς; 4th or 3rd century BC) was a Pythagorean philosopher. Nothing is known about her life, nor where she came from. She wrote a work on the correct behaviour of women, two extracts of which are preserved by Stobaeus.” –Wikipedia

Ptolemais of Cyrene: “Ptolemais is known to us through reference to her work by Porphyry in his Commentary on the Harmonics of Ptolemy. He tells us that she came from Cyrene and gives the title of her work, The Pythagorean Principles of Music, which he quotes. She is the only known female musical theorist from antiquity. Her dates cannot be known for sure. She clearly preceded Porphyry, who was born about AD 232; Didymus, who is also quoted by Porphyry, knew Ptolemais’ work and may even have been Porphyry’s source for it. This Didymus is probably the one who lived in the time of Nero, giving us a date for Ptolemais of the first century AD or earlier…One of the problems in dealing with this text is that it is in quotation. Porphyry does not clearly distinguish between the text he quotes from Ptolemais and his own discussion of the issues raised…A second issue is the problem of the accuracy of the quotation. Porphyry says in the introduction to fragment 4 that he has altered a few things in the quotation for the sake of brevity. We should not assume that this is the only quotation to have suffered from editing. On the other hand, where he quotes the same passage twice (fragment 3 is repeated almost verbatim in fragment 4) his consistency is encouraging. Ptolemais’ extant work is a catechism, written as a series of questions and answers. She discusses different schools of thought on harmonic theory, distinguishing between the degree to which they gave importance to theory and perception. Her text prefers the approach of Aristoxenus to that of the Pythagoreans, thus she should not be thought a Pythagorean, despite the title of her work.” –Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, by I.M. Plant

**Theano the Pythagorean (I have collected her words here)

“When Theano the Pythagorean philosopher was asked what eros is, she said ‘the passion of a soul with spare time.’ ”

Θεανὼ ἡ πυθαγορικὴ φιλόσοφος ἐρωτηθεῖσα τί ἐστιν ἔρως ἔφη· ” πάθος ψυχῆς σχολαζούσης.”

“While Theano was walking she showed her forearm and some youth when he saw it said “Nice skin”. She responded, “it’s not communal”.

Θεανὼ πορευομένη ἔξω εἶχε τὸν βραχίονα· νεανίσκος δέ τις ἰδὼν εἶπε· ” καλὸν τὸ δέμας·” ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίνατο· ” ἀλλ’ οὐ κοινόν.”

Continue reading

The Weakest Slave: The Millwoman’s Sorrowful Sign

In this often overlooked scene we find an unnamed slave at the end of a long night’s work. 

Odyssey 20.97-120

[Odysseus] carried it outside and then prayed
while raising his hands to Zeus,
“Zeus, father, if you have willingly led me
over the soil and swell to this land,
after you have made me a much lesser man,
let someone of those gathered within utter my fame
and let some other sign of Zeus appear without.”

So he spoke while praying and Zeus the advisor was listening to him.
He immediately thundered from shining Olympus
high above from the clouds. And brilliant Odysseus smiled.
A woman from the house near the mill released a sound [phêmê]
where the twelve mills were set for the shepherd of the host.
There were twelve women working there
regularly working the barley and the wheat, men’s marrow.
The others were sleeping, since they had finished grinding their grain.
But she alone was not yet stopping, since she was the weakest of all.
But then she stopped her mill and spoke, a sign for her master.

“Zeus, father, you who rule over the gods and people,
how you have thundered from the starry sky
where there is no cloud! In this you show your sign.
Now grant to wretched me this word which I speak:
may this be the last and final day on which the suitors
take their lovely feast in the halls of Odysseus.
These men wear the knees of tired, heart-pained me
as I make their meal. Let them dine now for the last.”

So she spoke and Odysseus took pleasure in the speech and the thunder. For he was thinking that he would pay the guilty back.”

θῆκε θύραζε φέρων, Διὶ δ’ εὔξατο χεῖρας ἀνασχών·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, εἴ μ’ ἐθέλοντες ἐπὶ τραφερήν τε καὶ ὑγρὴν
ἤγετ’ ἐμὴν ἐς γαῖαν, ἐπεί μ’ ἐκακώσατε λίην,
φήμην τίς μοι φάσθω ἐγειρομένων ἀνθρώπων
ἔνδοθεν, ἔκτοσθεν δὲ Διὸς τέρας ἄλλο φανήτω.”
ὣς ἔφατ’ εὐχόμενος· τοῦ δ’ ἔκλυε μητίετα Ζεύς,
αὐτίκα δ’ ἐβρόντησεν ἀπ’ αἰγλήεντος ᾿Ολύμπου,
ὑψόθεν ἐκ νεφέων· γήθησε δὲ δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς.
φήμην δ’ ἐξ οἴκοιο γυνὴ προέηκεν ἀλετρὶς
πλησίον, ἔνθ’ ἄρα οἱ μύλαι εἵατο ποιμένι λαῶν.
τῇσιν δώδεκα πᾶσαι ἐπερρώοντο γυναῖκες
ἄλφιτα τεύχουσαι καὶ ἀλείατα, μυελὸν ἀνδρῶν·
αἱ μὲν ἄρ’ ἄλλαι εὗδον, ἐπεὶ κατὰ πυρὸν ἄλεσσαν,
ἡ δὲ μί’ οὔ πω παύετ’, ἀφαυροτάτη δὲ τέτυκτο·
ἥ ῥα μύλην στήσασα ἔπος φάτο, σῆμα ἄνακτι·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, ὅς τε θεοῖσι καὶ ἀνθρώποισιν ἀνάσσεις,
ἦ μεγάλ’ ἐβρόντησας ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος,
οὐδέ ποθι νέφος ἐστί· τέρας νύ τεῳ τόδε φαίνεις.
κρῆνον νῦν καὶ ἐμοὶ δειλῇ ἔπος, ὅττι κεν εἴπω·
μνηστῆρες πύματόν τε καὶ ὕστατον ἤματι τῷδε
ἐν μεγάροισ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος ἑλοίατο δαῖτ’ ἐρατεινήν,
οἳ δή μοι καμάτῳ θυμαλγέϊ γούνατ’ ἔλυσαν
ἄλφιτα τευχούσῃ· νῦν ὕστατα δειπνήσειαν.”
ὣς ἄρ’ ἔφη, χαῖρεν δὲ κλεηδόνι δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
Ζηνός τε βροντῇ· φάτο γὰρ τείσασθαι ἀλείτας.
αἱ δ’ ἄλλαι δμῳαὶ κατὰ δώματα κάλ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος
ἐγρόμεναι ἀνέκαιον ἐπ’ ἐσχάρῃ ἀκάματον πῦρ.

This scene illustrates the extent to which minor characters exist and in fact suffer pointlessly for Odysseus’ benefit: we get the briefest glimpse into the life and suffering of one of the mill-working women in order to satisfy Odysseus’ own desire to hear that he is remembered.  For me, this scene is a metonym for the narrative’s use of marginalized peoples in the generic instrumentalization of another’s pain to satisfy Odysseus’ narrative ends.

“His Heart Barked”: Sex, Slaves, and Transgression in the Odyssey

Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.

Odyssey, 18.321–5

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.

The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.

20.5–24

“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”

ἔνθ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς μνηστῆρσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνὶ θυμῷ
κεῖτ’ ἐγρηγορόων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο γυναῖκες
ἤϊσαν, αἳ μνηστῆρσιν ἐμισγέσκοντο πάρος περ,
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισι·
πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ’ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα· κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ·
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”

Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.

22.35-38

“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”

“ὦ κύνες, οὔ μ’ ἔτ’ ἐφάσκεθ’ ὑπότροπον οἴκαδε νεῖσθαι
δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὅτι μοι κατεκείρετε οἶκον
δμῳῇσίν τε γυναιξὶ παρευνάζεσθε βιαίως
αὐτοῦ τε ζώοντος ὑπεμνάασθε γυναῖκα…

The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.

Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)

“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.

See:

Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34

 

Odysseus’s Sister and Names for In-Laws

We have posted before about Odysseus’ sister Ktimene. She is mentioned by the swineherd Eumaios but never by Odysseus. The scholia connect her to one of Odysseus’ companions. The evidence for this seems to be the fact that Ktimene was sent to Same for marriage (where Eurylochus is from) and a kinship term used for him by Odysseus. Also of interest, according to the scholion, Odysseus may have had more sisters.

Homer, Odyssey 15.364-41

Strong Ktimenê, the youngest of the children she bore.
I was raised with her, and she honored me little less.
But when we both made it to much-praised youth,
They gave her to Samê and received much in return
But she gave me a cloak, tunic and clothing
Dressing me finely and give me sandals for my feet
And sent me to the field. But she loved me more in her heart.

οὕνεκά μ’ αὐτὴ θρέψεν ἅμα Κτιμένῃ τανυπέπλῳ
θυγατέρ’ ἰφθίμῃ, τὴν ὁπλοτάτην τέκε παίδων·
τῇ ὁμοῦ ἐτρεφόμην, ὀλίγον δέ τί μ’ ἧσσον ἐτίμα.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ’ ἥβην πολυήρατον ἱκόμεθ’ ἄμφω,
τὴν μὲν ἔπειτα Σάμηνδ’ ἔδοσαν καὶ μυρί’ ἕλοντο,
αὐτὰρ ἐμὲ χλαῖνάν τε χιτῶνά τε εἵματ’ ἐκείνη
καλὰ μάλ’ ἀμφιέσασα ποσίν θ’ ὑποδήματα δοῦσα
ἀγρόνδε προΐαλλε· φίλει δέ με κηρόθι μᾶλλον.

Schol. BW ad Od. 15.364 ex

“Ktimenê is the proper name of Odysseus’ sister, whom Eurylochus is supposed to have married.”

Κτιμένη] Κτιμένη κυρίως ἐκαλεῖτο ἡ ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφὴ, ἧς
ὁ Εὐρύλοχος ὑπονοεῖται ἀνήρ. λέγει γὰρ “καὶ πηῷ περ ἐόντι μάλα
σχεδόν” (κ, 441.). B.Q.

“She bore the youngest of the children”: [this means] of the female children. For his father only had Odysseus [for a son]. There were more sisters of Odysseus.”

ὁπλοτάτην τέκε παίδων] θηλειῶν γοῦν. μόνον δ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Οδυσσέα πατὴρ τέκε (π, 119.). καὶ πλείους οὖν αἱ ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφαί. Q.

Homer, Odyssey 10.438-442

“So he spoke, and I was turning over in my thoughts
As I began to draw the sharp-edged sword next to my thick thigh,
Whether I should cut off his head and drive him to the ground
Even though he really was my relative. But our companions
Were restraining me with gentle words from all sides.”

ὣς ἔφατ’, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε μετὰ φρεσὶ μερμήριξα,
σπασσάμενος τανύηκες ἄορ παχέος παρὰ μηροῦ,
τῷ οἱ ἀποτμήξας κεφαλὴν οὖδάσδε πελάσσαι,
καὶ πηῷ περ ἐόντι μάλα σχεδόν· ἀλλά μ’ ἑταῖροι
μειλιχίοισ’ ἐπέεσσιν ἐρήτυον ἄλλοθεν ἄλλος·

Schol. QVB ad Od 10.441 ex

Q “Instead of the genitive here, “even though he was an in-law”.

V. “Relative”

QV For he married Odysseus’ sister Ktimene.
B “even though he was my brother-in-law by my sister Ktimenê.”

καὶ πηῷ] ἀντὶ τοῦ, καὶ πηοῦ περ ἐόντος. Q. συγγενεῖ. V.
Κτιμένην γὰρ γεγαμήκει τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφήν. Q.V. γαμβρῷ
μοι ὄντι ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδελφῇ Κτιμένῃ. B.

Suda

“Pêos: A relative by marriage. In-law. Also, “in-lawness” [Pêosunê], relation-by-marriage. There is also Pêôn [genitive plural], for “of relatives-by-marriage. Homer has: “relatives and friends” [Il. 3.163]

Πηός: ὁ κατ’ ἐπιγαμίαν συγγενής. καὶ Πηοσύνη, ἡ συγγαμβρία.
καὶ Πηῶν, τῶν συγγενῶν. ῞Ομηρος· πηούς τε φίλους τε.

Etymologicum Gudianum

“…There is a difference between in-law and friend. People who have no connection to you by birth are friends. In-laws are related to you through marriage.”

διαφέρει δὲ πηὸς φίλου· φίλοι μὲν λέγονται οἱ μηδὲν τῷ γένει προσήκοντες·  πηοὶ δὲ οἱ κατ’ ἐπιγαμίαν συγγενεῖς.

peos

For a beautiful narrative re-imagining of the life of Ktimene, see Mary Ebbot’s “Seeking Odysseus’ Sister”

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