2017.03.02 / updated 2018.10.06 | By Gregory Nagy
The comments I offer in Classical Inquiries on Odyssey Rhapsody 1 through Rhapsody 24, starting here with Rhapsody 1, are based mostly on details that derive from seven books that I indicate in the Bibliography by way of these abbreviations: BA, GMP, H24H, HC, HPC, HQ, HR, MoM, PasP, PH. Each one of these books has its own index locorum. My colleague Anita Nikkanen, an Associate Editor for the online project A Homer commentary in progress, has tracked the sequences of Homeric verses as listed in the indices for six of these books and then summarized my comments on those verses. Following up on her meticulous work, I used as my starting point her summaries as I undertook the writing-up of comments that can eventually be incorporated into AHCIP. My comments on the Odyssey as I present them here in Classical Inquiries are merely samplings of the content that I hope to contribute to the overall commentary, to which a number of other colleagues will also contribute their own comments. That said, I now proceed to offer a sampling of comments on Rhapsody 1. At this point, my comments about the beginning of the Odyssey need no further introduction of their own. [[GN 2017.02.28.]]
Q&T via H24H 0§21, also 9§4, also 10§2 (that translation is slightly modified here)
subject heading(s): epic; theme; andra [grammatical object of anēr] ‘man’; Muse; Master Narrator; narrative subject as grammatical object; ennepein ‘narrate, tell’; polutropos ‘turning-into-many-different-selves’; epithet for narrative subject; singing as narrating
|1 That man, tell me O Muse the song of that man, the one who-turns-into-many-different-selves [polutropos], who in very many ways |2 veered from his path and wandered off far and wide, after he had destroyed the sacred [hieron] citadel of Troy. |3 Many different cities [astea] of many different people did he see, getting to know different ways of thinking [nóos]. |4 Many were the pains [algea] he suffered in his heart [thūmos] while crossing the sea [pontos], |5 struggling to merit [arnusthai] the saving of his own life [psūkhē ] and his own homecoming [nostos] as well as the homecoming of his companions [hetairoi]. |6 But do what he might he could not save his companions [hetairoi], even though he very much wanted to. |7 For they perished through their own deeds-of-recklessness [atasthaliā plural], |8 disconnected [nēpioi] as they were, because of what they did to the cattle of the sun-god Hēlios. |9 They ate them. So, the god [Hēlios] deprived them of their day of-homecoming [nostimon]. |10 Starting-from-any-single-point-of-departure [hamothen], O goddess, daughter of Zeus, tell-me-as-you-have-told-those-who-came-before-me [eipe kai hēmīn].
There are three main points to be made in my comments here.
The epic of the Homeric Odyssey begins in a way that resembles closely the beginning of its twin, the epic of the Homeric Iliad. On the term epic, used here for the first time in these comments on the Odyssey, see the Inventory of terms and names. The main theme of the Odyssey is signaled right away. On the term theme, see again the Inventory. The signaling is accomplished by way of the first word of the very first verse of the epic. This word is the noun andra ‘man’, in the accusative case, which would be anēr in the nominative. The accusative case of anēr ‘man’ here marks this noun as the grammatical object of the verb ennepein ‘narrate, tell’, O.01.001. The Master Narrator is addressing a goddess who is the Muse of the Odyssey, asking the goddess to narrate for him the story of a man who is not yet named as Odysseus. On the term Master Narrator, see the Inventory of terms and names. The ‘man’ is the subject of the story. In other words, he is the subject of the narration, or the narrative subject. And this narrative subject is the grammatical object of the verb ennepein, meaning ‘narrate, tell’. Similarly at the beginning of the Homeric Iliad, as analyzed at I.01.001–012, the narrative subject is the first word in the very first verse. That word is the noun mēnin ‘anger’, in the accusative case, which would be mēnis in the nominative. The accusative case of mēnis there marks that noun as the grammatical object of the verb aeidein ‘sing’, I.01.110. There the Master Narrator is addressing a theā ‘goddess’ who is the Muse of the Iliad, asking that goddess to sing for him that anger, I.01.001. The song that will be narrated by the Muse for the Master Narrator will in turn be narrated by the narrator for his listeners. That song is The Song of the Anger, in the sense that the anger is the song. The anger is the narrative subject. Similarly in the Odyssey, the Master Narrator calls on the Muse of the Odyssey to ‘narrate the man’, that is, to ‘tell the song of the man’. Here too the song that will be narrated by the Muse for the Master Narrator will in turn be narrated by the narrator for his listeners. This song is The Song of the Man, in that the man is the song. The man is the narrative subject. And the song captures the total reality of the man.
But this reality is not so easy to capture, since the man who is Odysseus is many-sided, as we will now see. Odysseus at O.01.001 is polutropos ‘turning-into-many-different-selves’. This translation makes explicit what is only implied in an alternative way of rendering this elusive word, ‘versatile in many ways’ (H24H 0§21, also 9§4, also 10§2), where the Latin root vert– ‘turn’ of the Latinate word versatile can mean not only ‘turn around’ but also ‘turn into a different self’, as we see most clearly in the Latin word for ‘werewolf’, versi-pellis, which literally means ‘he whose skin has turned’ (Pliny Natural History 8.34; Petronius 62; details in GMP 264–265). Similarly, polutropos applies to a figure who is different at every turn, and who becomes different many times and in many ways. That is why the ultimate shape-shifter, the god Hermes, is polutropos in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes (verses 13, 439). And that is why, in the only other context where Odysseus is described as polutropos, O.10.330, he is associated in that context with his polytropic model, Hermes himself, O.10.331–332. (Further commentary in GMP 34.) Since Odysseus can turn into something different at every turn, the multiplicity of angles to be seen at every turn helps explain why this hero will not yet be named at the beginning of the Odyssey.
There is still more to be said about this adjective polutropos ‘turning-into-many-different-selves’ describing Odysseus at O.01.001: it is used here as an epithet for the narrative subject, which in this case is anēr ‘man’. Another such epithet is the adjective oulomenē ‘disastrous’ describing the mēnis ‘anger’ of Achilles at I.01.002. See the comment there. [[GN 2017.02.28.]]
subject heading(s): poetics of multiplicity
The multiplicity to be seen in the shape-shifting figure of Odysseus is poeticized by way of repeating the element pol(l)- ‘many’ of polutropos ‘turning-into-many-different-selves’, spilling over from O.01.001 into O.01.003–004: πολύτροπον…πολλὰ |…|πολλῶν… |πολλά.
subject heading(s): ennepein ‘narrate, tell’; Mousa ‘Muse’; singing as narrating
By saying ‘tell me, Muse’, the Master Narrator is saying that the song that he will perform is something that he hears from a goddess who is invoked here as a singular Mousa ‘Muse’. See also I.01.001, where the Master Narrator likewise calls on a singular Muse. Although ennepein ‘narrate, tell’ here at O.01.001 does not explicitly refer to singing as does aeidein ‘sing’ at I.01.001, the narrative that the Master Narrator narrates is notionally a song in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. See in general the comment on O.01.001–010. [[GN 2017.02.28 via PasP 61.]]
subject heading(s): relative clause as introductory outline of the overall narrative
We have seen that the epithet polutropos ‘turning-into-many-different-selves’ at O.01.001 describes the narrative subject of the entire performed narration of the Odyssey as designated by the driving word anēr ‘man’ in the accusative, andra at O.01.001, used here as the grammatical object of the verb ennepein ‘narrate, tell’. Now we see that this epithet polutropos ‘turning-into-many-different-selves’ at O.01.001 is immediately followed at O.01.001–002 by a relative clause that outlines the overall narrative of the Odyssey: Odysseus veered many times and in many ways before he achieved a safe homecoming for himself. Similarly, we saw that the epithet oulomenē ‘disastrous’ at I.01.002 describes the narrative subject of the entire performed narration of the Iliad as designated by the driving word mēnis ‘anger’ in the accusative, mēnin at I.01.001, used there as the grammatical object of the verb aeidein ‘sing’. And we saw that this epithet oulomenē ‘disastrous’ is immediately followed at I.01.002 by a relative clause that outlines the overall narrative of the Iliad: the anger of Achilles caused immeasurable suffering. And we will see a further similarity when we consider the epithet lugros ‘disastrous’ at O.01.327, which describes the poetic subject of a performed narration as designated by the driving word nostos ‘homecoming’ in the accusative, noston at O.01.326, used there as the grammatical object of the verb aeidein ‘sing’. This epithet lugros ‘disastrous’ at O.01.327 is then immediately followed in the same verse by a relative clause that outlines the overall narrative there. See the comment on O.01.326–327. [[GN 2017.02.28.]]
subject heading(s): [mētis ‘mind, intelligence’; biē ‘force, violence, strength’; First Song of Demodokos; Third Song of Demodokos]
Odysseus in the Odyssey gets credit already here, at the very beginning of the epic, for the conquest of Troy. By contrast, Achilles will never get credit for such a deed, even though he is the dominant hero of the Iliad, which means ‘the story of Ilion=Troy’ and which presents itself as the primary epic about the Trojan War. It is made explicit elsewhere in the Odyssey, though not here at the beginning, that mētis ‘mind, intelligence’ was the heroic quality that made it possible for Odysseus to become the conqueror of Troy. This theme is relevant to an epic story about a competition between Achilles and Odysseus centering on this question: who will get credit for conquering Troy? Will it be Achilles, exponent of biē ‘force, violence, strength’, or will it be Odysseus, exponent of mētis ‘mind, intelligence’? The story is reflected in the First Song of Demodokos in Odyssey 8, and it can be argued that the beginning of the Odyssey here alludes to that story. It can also be argued that the beginning of the Iliad also alludes to that same story. See the comment on I.01.001–012. In the end, though, as we know from the story of the Trojan Horse in the Third Song of Demodokos, retold in Odyssey 8, the mētis ‘mind, intelligence’ of Odysseus did succeed. And, by implication, the biē ‘force, violence’, strength of Achilles had already failed, since Achilles was already dead by the time when Troy was conquered. [[GN 2017.03.02 via BA 40; see also HPC 102.]]
subject heading(s): nóos ‘mind’[; nostos ‘homecoming, song of / about homecoming’]
Etymologically, the noun nóos ‘mind’ indicates consciousness as distinct from the unconsciousness of sleeping, swooning, and death itself. This noun is derived from the verb-root *nes– ‘return, come back’. The root *nes– has a deeper meaning: ‘come to’, in the sense of ‘come back to consciousness’. Another noun derived from *nes– is nostos ‘homecoming, song of/about homecoming’. This noun nostos also has a deeper meaning: ‘coming back to light and life’. See the comment on O.01.05. Two definitive books on the Greek reflexes of the root *nes– ‘return, come back’: Frame 1978 and 2009. I add here a special note on my translation of O.01.003: ‘Many different cities of many different people did he see, getting to know different ways of thinking [nóos]’. I translate nóos ‘mind’ here as ‘way[s] of thinking’ because the wording says that Odysseus gets to know different ways of thinking by making contact with many different persons in the course of all his travels. Because he gets to know their different ways of thinking, his knowledge now makes it possible for Odysseus himself to think in many different ways. So he is getting to know his own ‘mind’ differently by getting to know the different minds of others. [[GN 2017.03.02.]]
subject heading(s): algea ‘pains’ of Odysseus
It is announced here, at the very beginning of the Odyssey, that many algea ‘pains’ await Odysseus in this epic, O.01.004. There is a parallel announcement at the beginning of the Iliad: many algea ‘pains’ await the Achaeans in that epic, I.01.002. See further the comment on I.01.002. [[GN 2017.03.02.]]
subject heading(s): nostos ‘homecoming, song of homecoming; return; return to light and life’[; nóos ‘mind’]; arnusthai ‘struggle to merit’ (or ‘struggle to win as a prize’)
Etymologically, the noun nostos ‘homecoming’ indicates a ‘return’ or ‘coming-back’, derived from the verb-root *nes– ‘return, come back’. This root *nes-, as already noted, has a deeper meaning: ‘come to’, in the sense of ‘come back to consciousness’. The noun nostos itself, meaning ‘homecoming’, also has a deeper meaning: ‘coming back to light and life’. Etymologically related to the noun nostos in the sense of ‘coming back to light and life’ is the noun nóos ‘mind’, which has the deeper meaning of ‘coming to’ in the sense of ‘coming back to consciousness’. I cite again two definitive books on the Greek reflexes of the root *nes– ‘return, come back’: Frame 1978 and 2009. As for nostos ‘homecoming’ in the sense of ‘song of homecoming’, see O.01.326–327. On arnusthai in the sense of ‘struggle to merit’ (or ‘struggle to win as a prize’), see also the comment on I.18.181.[[GN 2017.01.02.]]
subject heading(s): atasthaliā ‘recklessness’; Will of Zeus
The companions of Odysseus are destroyed because of their own atasthaliai ‘deeds-of-recklessness’. The narrative emphasizes that the companions must own their mistakes. It is essential to note here that the destruction of the companions here is caused not by the Will of Zeus: rather, they are destroyed because they suffer the consequences of doing what they did of their own free will. I add a further note here: I translated the plural of atasthaliā ‘recklessness’ here as ‘deeds-of-recklessness’ in order to convey the fact that a singular noun expressing an abstraction can refer to concrete examples of the abstraction when it is used in the plural. So for example atasthaliā ‘recklessness’ is an abstraction, but here at O.01.007 the plural atasthaliai refers to concrete examples of recklessness—in this case, the recklessness is exemplified by the killing and eating of the Cattle of the Sun. [[GN 2017.03.02 via BA 113.]]
subject heading(s): nēpios ‘disconnected’
The Homeric contexts of nēpios, as the work of Edmunds 1990 | 2016 has shown, point to an etymology involving a combination of the negative prefix *n̥– with the root *Hp- in the sense of ‘connect’, as in Latin in-eptus ‘non-connected’, not with the root *u̯ekw– in the sense of ‘speak’—a sense that we see in Latin in-fāns ‘non-speaking’. What is at stake in the meaning of nēpios is connectivity with parental models and, by extension, with ancestral models. The connectivity may be merely behavioral, as in the case of young animals that survive by staying connected to the older animals that generated them. In the case of humans, the connectivity that begins at infancy is not only behavioral but also mental, extending into adult patterns of consciously following ancestral models of behavior. Further, such connectedness to models may be not only mental but also emotional and even moral. And to be disconnected from such models runs the risk of being doomed for destruction, as we see here at O.01.008 in the case of the companions who did not heed Odysseus. Their disconnectedness is moral as well as mental. [[GN 2017.03.08.]]
subject heading(s): hamothen ‘starting-from-any-single-point-of-departure’; theā ‘goddess’; elliptic plural; Homer’s ‘I’ and Homer’s ‘we’; ellipsis of ‘we’ for ‘I’ in referring to the Master Narrator
I translate hamothen as ‘starting-from-any-single-point-of-departure’ as a way of differentiating this expression from enthen ‘starting-from-that-[specific-]point-of-departure’ as at O.08.500, where Demodokos starts his narrative at a specific point in the action.
The form theā ‘goddess’ is Aeolic: see the comment at I.01.001.
On the epithet thugatēr (vocative thugater) Dios ‘daughter of Zeus’, see the anchor comment at I.03.374.
I translate eipe kai hēmīn, which means literally ‘tell us also’, as ‘tell-me-as-you-have-told-those-who-came-before-me’ in order to convey the idea that the ‘us’ here refers not only to the ‘me’ of the Master Narrator but also, elliptically, to all the previous master narrators of the Odyssey. In other words, the narration acknowledges not only the horizontal singular ‘me’ of O.01.001 but also the vertical plural succession of performers that led up, in the course of time, to the ultimate ‘me’ of the here-and-now in performance. On ellipsis, the elliptic plural, and the ellipsis of successive ‘I’-s in the ‘we’ of the Master Narrator, see also the comment on I.02.486. On ellipsis in general, see I.04.196; also I.06.209, I.07.015–017. [[GN 2017.03.06 via HTL 174.]]
subject heading(s): dais ‘feast, division of portions (of meat); sacrifice’; Aithiopes ‘Aethiopians’; Ōkeanos; coincidence of opposites
The Olympians habitually go to the realm of the Aethiopians, situated on the banks of the cosmic river Ōkeanos, to dine with them there. The Aethiopians simultaneously inhabit the Far West and the Far East. This simultaneity is a mark of a theme that can best be described as a coincidence of opposites. See the comments on I.01.423–425. Here at O.01.022–026, only Poseidon is visiting the Aethiopians. Unlike other humans, who no longer dine with the gods, the Aethiopians still dine with them. Other humans have been separated from the gods and must therefore sacrifice to them instead of dining with them. [[GN 2017.03.02 via BA 205–206, 213, 218; also GMP 237.]]
Q&T via PH 241
subject heading(s): atasthaliā ‘recklessness’; Will of Zeus
Near the beginning of the Iliad, in contemplating the countless algea ‘pains’, I.01.002, suffered in the Trojan War, the Master Narrator declares that his narration is the Will of Zeus in the process of reaching fulfillment, I.01.005. Near the beginning of the Odyssey, by contrast, Zeus himself declares that mortals are unjustified in saying that the algea ‘pains’ that they suffer, O.01.034, are caused by the gods. The god continues: it is of their own free will, O.01.033–034, that mortals commit atasthaliai ‘deeds of recklessness’, O.01.034, and so their pains are huper moron ‘beyond what is fated’, O.01.034. See already the relevant comments at O.01.007. So, mortals are unjustified in trying to hold the gods legally responsible, as expressed by the verb aitiâsthai ‘hold responsible’, O.01.032. [[GN 2017.03.02 via PH 241.]]
Q&T via H24H 9§16
subject heading(s): journey to Pylos and Sparta; menos ‘mental power’; punthanesthai ‘learn’; akouein ‘hear’; nostos ‘homecoming, song of homecoming’; kleos ‘glory’ (of poetry)
|88 αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν Ἰθάκηνδε ἐλεύσομαι, ὄφρα οἱ υἱὸν |89 μᾶλλον ἐποτρύνω καί οἱ μένος ἐν φρεσὶ θείω, |90 εἰς ἀγορὴν καλέσαντα κάρη κομόωντας Ἀχαιοὺς |91 πᾶσι μνηστήρεσσιν ἀπειπέμεν, οἵ τέ οἱ αἰεὶ |92 μῆλ’ ἁδινὰ σφάζουσι καὶ εἰλίποδας ἕλικας βοῦς. |93 πέμψω δ’ ἐς Σπάρτην τε καὶ ἐς Πύλον ἠμαθόεντα |94 νόστον πευσόμενον πατρὸς φίλου, ἤν που ἀκούσῃ, |95 ἠδ’ ἵνα μιν κλέος ἐσθλὸν ἐν ἀνθρώποισιν ἔχῃσιν.
|88 As for me, I will go travel to Ithaca, going to his [= Odysseus’] son |89 in order to give him [= Telemachus] more encouragement and to put power [menos] into his heart [phrenes]. |90 He is to summon the long-haired Achaeans for a meeting in assembly, |91 and he is to speak out to all the suitors [of his mother Penelope], who persist in |92 slaughtering again and again any number of his sheep and oxen. |93 And I will conduct [pempein] him to Sparta and to sandy Pylos, |94 and thus he will learn [punthanesthai] the return [nostos] of his dear [philos] father, if by chance he [= Telemachus] hears [akouein] it, |95 and thus may genuine glory [kleos] possess him throughout humankind.
Here the nostos of Odysseus, O.01.094, is shown to be not only a ‘homecoming’ but also a ‘song of homecoming’. On the meaning ‘song of homecoming’, see the comment on O.01.326–327. On kleos in the sense of an overall reference to the ‘glory’ of poetry, see the comment on I.02.325. Here at O.01.088–095, we can see that nostos as a ‘song of homecoming’ is a prerequisite for the quest of Odysseus to achieve the kleos ‘glory’ of poetry. Odysseus will receive the kleos ‘glory’ of his own Odyssey only if he achieves a successful nostos ‘homecoming’, and it is the kleos ‘glory’ of poetry that turns his homecoming into a song of homecoming. What the goddess says at O.01.094 is not that Telemachus will learn about the nostos of Odysseus if he is fortunate enough to hear about it. In the original Greek text, the noun nostos is the direct object of both the verb punthanesthai, ‘learn’ and the verb akouein ‘hear’ at O.01.094 here, and that is why I chose to translate the verse this way: ‘and thus he will learn [punthanesthai] the return [nostos] of his dear [philos] father, if by chance he [= Telemachus] hears it’. Elsewhere too in the Odyssey, we see nostos as the direct object of punthanesthai ‘learn’: O.02.215, O.02.264, O.02.360, O.04.714—as also of akouein ‘hear’: O.01.287, O.02.218, O.02.360. It is not a question of learning about a homecoming, of hearing about a homecoming. Rather, Telemachus will learn the actual song of the homecoming, the song of nostos, by hearing it. He will actually hear the song from the hero Nestor in Odyssey 3 and from the hero Menelaos along with his divine consort Helen in Odyssey 4. (This formulation is epitomized from H24H 9§20; see also Stone 2016.09.28.) [[GN 2017.03.02.]]
subject heading(s): menos ‘mental power’; Athena as mentor; Méntēs and Méntōr
(What follows is epitomized from H24H 9§17.) At a council of the gods, the goddess Athena declares her intention to go to Ithaca to become a mentor to the young hero Telemachus, O.01.088–089. Descending from Olympus and landing in Ithaca, the goddess assumes the human form of a fatherly hero named Méntēs, O.01.105, who proceeds to give wise advice to the young hero. In a subsequent intervention, O.02.268, the goddess will assume the human form of another fatherly hero, named Méntōr, and, as in the present intervention, this other father-substitute will likewise proceed to give wise advice to the young hero. These two names Méntēs and Méntōr are both related to the noun menos, which I translate as ‘mental power’. This word, as we can see here at O.01.089, refers to the heroic ‘power’ that the goddess Athena says she will put into Telemachus. The noun menos, usually translated as ‘power’ or ‘strength’, is derived from the verb-root mnē-, meaning ‘mentally connect’ (details in GMP 113). Likewise derived from this verb-root are the agent nouns Méntēs and Méntōr, which both mean ‘he who connects mentally’. When a divinity connects a hero to his heroic mentality, the hero will have menos, that is, ‘power’ or ‘strength’. To have heroic power or strength, you have to have a heroic mentality. See further the comment on O.01.320–322. [[GN 2017.03.02.]]
Q&T via Nagy 2015.09.24 §35 (with modifications)
subject heading(s): Cretan Odyssey; “Cretan lies”
The text as transmitted by Aristarchus (see Inventory of terms and names) reads:
πέμψω δ’ ἐς Σπάρτην τε καὶ ἐς Πύλον ἠμαθόεντα
‘I [= Athena] will conduct [pempein]him [= Telemachus] on his way to Sparta and to sandy Pylos’
But the text as transmitted by Zenodotus (see again the Inventory) reads:
πέμψω δ’ ἐς Κρήτην τε καὶ ἐς Πύλον ἠμαθόεντα
‘I [= Athena] will conduct [pempein] him [= Telemachus] on his way to Crete and to sandy Pylos’
The variant reading that we see transmitted here by Zenodotus (quoted in the scholia for O.03.313) indicates a variant epic tradition to which I will refer hereafter as a Cretan Odyssey. Further details at O.01.284–286, anchor comment on: Cretan Odyssey. [[GN 2017.03.05 via Nagy 2015.09.24§35; see also HTL 39.]]
subject heading(s): dēmos ‘community, district’
Here Ithaca is figured as one single dēmos ‘community, district’. [[GN 2017.03.02 via BA 233.]]
subject heading(s): Méntēs
The meaning of the name Méntēs, ‘he who connects mentally’, is relevant to the plot of the Odyssey: see the comments on O.01.088–089. [[GN 2017.03.07 via GMP 113.]]
subject heading(s): Phemios; aeidein ‘sing’; kitharis ‘lyre’; phormizein ‘play on the lyre’; rhapsodes; citharodes
The singer of tales here, named Phemios, O.01.154, is ‘singing’ for the suitors as his audience, and the word translated as ‘sing’ here is aeidein at O.01.154 and at O.01.155. Such a singer is not exactly the equivalent of a “court poet,” since Phemios is singing for the suitors against his will, that is, he is singing anankēi ‘by way of constraint’, O.01.154. And what kind of a singer is this Phemios? He sings while accompanying himself on a kind of lyre, designated by the noun kitharis at O.01.153; also, his playing on the lyre is designated by the verb phormizein at O.01.055. In Plato Ion 533b-c, Phemios is described as a rhapsōidos ‘rhapsode’. The description is accurate in the sense that rhapsodes were professional performers of Homeric poetry in the classical period, as we see clearly in the overall context of Plato’s Ion. But this same description is inaccurate in the sense that rhapsodes in the classical period performed Homeric poetry without accompanying themselves on the kitharā ‘lyre’: as we see overall in Plato’s Ion and elsewhere, the rhapsodic form of ‘singing’ Homeric poetry was basically recitative, with reduced melody. By contrast, as we read in Plato Ion 533b-c, performers in the classical period who sang with full-blown melody while accompanying themselves on the kitharā ‘lyre’ were called kitharōidoi ‘citharodes’, that is, ‘kitharā-singers’. In other words, these ‘lyre-singers’ were performers of what we call lyric. At the festival of the Panathenaia in Athens during the classical period, these lyre-singers or citharodes competed with each other in singing lyric, while rhapsodes competed with each other in singing epic. As we can learn from Plato Ion 533b-c, the prototypical citharode was considered to be Orpheus, while the prototypical rhapsode was Phemios. But Phemios, even though he sings epic and not lyric, is not exactly a rhapsode in the classical sense of the term: as I have already pointed out, Phemios sings while accompanying himself on a kind of lyre, designated by the noun kitharis at O.01.153; also, his playing on the lyre is designated by the verb phormizein at O.01.055. Nevertheless, Plato has a point in considering Phemios a prototypical rhapsode, since what he sings is epic, which is what rhapsodes recite in the classical period—and which is not what citharodes any longer sing. On Phemios as a singer of epic, see the comment on O.01.325–327. [[GN 2017.03.07 via HC 3§41.]]
subject heading(s): abduction by gusts of wind; harpuiai ‘rapacious gusts of wind, Harpies’
The theme of abduction by gusts of wind is analyzed at length in the common at O.15.250-251. [[GN 2017.08.03 via BA 194, GMP 243.]]
O.01.284–286 / anchor comment on: a Cretan Odyssey
Q&T via Nagy 2015.09.24 §35
subject heading(s): Cretan Odyssey; “Cretan lies”
The text as transmitted by Aristarchus (see Inventory of terms and names) reads:
πρῶτα μὲν ἐς Πύλον ἐλθὲ καὶ εἴρεο Νέστορα δῖον,
κεῖθεν δὲ Σπάρτηνδε παρὰ ξανθὸν Μενέλαον·
ὃς γὰρ δεύτατος ἦλθεν Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων.
‘First you [= Telemachus] go to Pylos and ask radiant Nestor
and then from there to Sparta and to golden-haired Menelaos,
the one who was the last of the Achaeans, wearers of bronze tunics, to come back home.’
But the text as transmitted by Zenodotus (see again the Inventory) reads:
πρῶτα μὲν ἐς Πύλον ἐλθέ, …
κεῖθεν δ’ ἐς Κρήτην τε παρ’ Ἰδομενῆα ἄνακτα,
ὃς γὰρ δεύτατος ἦλθεν Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων.
‘First go to Pylos …
and then from there to Crete and to king Idomeneus
who was the last of the Achaeans, wearers of bronze tunics, to come back home.’
Here at O.01.284–286, as also already at O.01.093, the variant reading that we see transmitted by Zenodotus (quoted in the scholia for O.03.313) indicates a variant epic tradition to which I have already referred as a Cretan Odyssey in my comment on O.01.093. As I argue in Nagy 2015.09.24 §§36–37, what we see in these variant verses is a trace of a Cretan Odyssey as primarily represented in our Odyssey by the “Cretan lies,” which are micro-narratives embedded in the epic macro-narrative of the Homeric Odyssey. In comments forthcoming, there will be more to say about these “Cretan lies.” Here I confine my comments to points that are relevant to what we read at O.01.093 and O.01.284–286. In “our” Odyssey, as Nestor reports at O.03.191–192, Idomeneus after the Trojan War returns to Crete with all his men safe and sound. In the Cretan Odyssey, by contrast, Idomeneus seems to have traveled with Odysseus after the conquest of Troy by the Achaeans, and this king of the Cretans even experienced, together with Odysseus, the horrors of the Cave of the Cyclops: such a story about joint adventures experienced by Idomeneus and Odysseus is attested in a painting on a red-figure stamnos, 480 BCE, featuring the name-tags ΙΔΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ ‘Ida-meneus’ [sic] and ΟΔΥΣΥΣ ‘Odusus’ [sic] appended to images of these two heroes, showing each one of the two clinging to a ram’s underbelly (Levaniouk 2011:105). [[GN 2017.03.05 via Nagy 2015.09.24 §§35–37; see also HTL 39.]]
subject heading(s): ep’ anthrōpous ‘throughout humankind’
This expression ep’ anthrōpous ‘throughout humankind’ is conventionally associated with words referring to remembrance by way of song. See the anchor comment at I.10.213. [[GN 2016.09.14 via BA 37.]]
Q&T via H24H 9§18
subject heading(s): menos ‘mental power’; Méntēs and Méntōr; hupo-mnē‑ ‘mentally connect’
|320 . . . Into his heart [thūmos] |321 she [= Athena] had placed mental power [menos] and daring, and she had mentally-connected [hupo-mnē‑] him with his father |322 even more than before.
(Here I epitomize from H24H 9§§18–19.) The idea of menos as ‘mental power’ is elegantly recapitulated here at O.01.320–321. The goddess Athena has just finished the first phase of her role as mentor to Telemachus. She had initiated this phase at O.01.088–089 after having assumed, as we saw at O.01.105, the human shape of the fatherly Méntēs. This name Méntēs, as I indicated in the comment on O.01.088–089, means ‘he who connects mentally’. Having finished with the role of Méntēs, the goddess now transforms herself into a bird and flies out of the palace through a lightwell on the roof, and what we see here at O.01.320–321 is the wording that describes what Athena had accomplished so far in connecting the mind of Telemachus with the mind of his father. In her role as Méntēs, ‘he who connects mentally’, the goddess has given to the hero Telemachus the menos or ‘mental power’ of connecting with the heroic identity of his father. That act of doing this is expressed here at O.01.321 by the verb hupo-mnē-, which means literally ‘mentally connect’ (details in GMP 113). But the mental connectivity of Telemachus is not yet complete, as we will see in the comment on O.01.346–352. [[GN 2017.03.02 via GMP 113.]]
O.01.320 / anchor comment on thūmos ‘heart’ and on phrenes as ‘heart’
The noun thūmos, which I translate here as ‘heart’, expresses in Homeric diction the human capacity to feel and to think, taken together. In some Homeric contexts, thūmos is used as a synonym of phrenes, which can also be translated as ‘heart’, as in my comment on O.01.089. In other Homeric contexts, on the other hand, thūmos is pictured as the vital force that is contained by the phrenes (details in GMP 113n111). Even in such contexts, both words can be approximated as ‘heart’. In still other contexts, phrenes is best translated as ‘thinking’. Such a meaning is not contradictory, since Homeric diction leaves room for the idea that you can think with your heart. [[GN 2017.03.07 via H24H 9§18.]]
subject heading(s): Phemios; aoidos ‘singer’; aeidein ‘sing’; nostos ‘homecoming, song of homecoming’; epic; epic Cycle
At O.01.325, Phemios is described as the aoidos ‘singer’ who aeidei ‘sings’ epic songs, and the epic song that he sings here is the nostos of the Achaeans, also at O.01.325, where nostos can be translated as not only ‘homecoming’ but also ‘song of homecoming’. Such a song is evidently epic, as we see for example in the title Nostoi ‘Songs of Homecoming’ in the epic Cycle. See under epic and epic Cycle in the Inventory of terms and names. See also the comment on O.01.153–155. [[GN 2017.03.07 via HC 3§41.]]
subject heading(s): nostos ‘homecoming, song of homecoming’; lugros ‘disastrous’; epithet for narrative subject; relative clause as introductory outline of the overall narrative
The syntax here in O.01.326–327 shows that the use of the noun nostos ‘homecoming, song of homecoming’ at O.01.326 as the grammatical object of aeidein ‘sing’ in the same verse makes this same noun the narrative subject of the song that is being sung by the singer Phemios. The nostos ‘homecoming’ is the song that the singer sings, and so the ‘homecoming’ is also a ‘song of homecoming’. My translation ‘song of homecoming’ is meant to show that the homecoming is the song. The placement of the adjective lugros ‘disastrous’ at O.01.327 as an epithet for the narrative subject nostos ‘homecoming’ in the previous verse at O.01.326 is parallel to the placement of the adjective oulomenē ‘disastrous’ at I.01.002 as an epithet for the narrative subject mēnis ‘anger’ in the previous verse at I.01.001. See the comment on I.01.001–002. Another parallel is the placement of the adjective polutropos ‘turning-into-many-different-selves’ at O.01.001 as an epithet for the preceding narrative subject anēr ‘man’ in the same verse. There is further parallelism to be noted here. The epithet lugros ‘disastrous’ at O.01.327 for the narrative subject nostos ‘homecoming’ at O.01.326 is immediately followed by a relative clause that outlines the overall narrative here: Athena caused misfortune for some of the Achaeans. Similarly, the epithet oulomenē at I.01.002 for the narrative subject mēnis at I.01.001 is immediately followed by a relative clause that outlines the overall narrative of the Iliad: the anger of Achilles caused immeasurable misfortune. See the comment on I.01.002. Also, the epithet polutropos ‘turning-into-many-different-selves’ at O.01.001 for the preceding narrative subject anēr ‘man’ in the same verse is immediately followed by a relative clause that outlines the overall narrative of the Odyssey: the hero Odysseus suffered many misfortunes by veering many times and in many ways before he achieved a safe homecoming for himself. [[GN 2017.02.28 via GMP 47.]]
subject heading(s): kleiein ‘turn [deeds] into glory [kleos]’; epi-kleiein ‘turn [deeds] into glory [kleos] and pass it on’
To sing the kind of song that the singer Phemios sings—the song is called nostos ‘homecoming, song of homecoming’ at O.01.326—is described here at O.01.338 as an act of transforming the erga ‘deeds’ of men and gods into the kleos ‘glory’ of poetry. The verb kleiein ‘turn into glory [kleos]’ takes as its direct object the noun erga ‘deeds’. [[GN 2017.03.02 via BA 97, PH 150.]]
subject heading(s): lugros ‘disastrous’; epithet for narrative subject carried over from one verse to the next
At O.01.326–327, we saw lugros ‘disastrous’ functioning as the epithet of the narrative subject of nostos ‘homecoming, song of homecoming’. The narrative subject nostos as ‘song of homecoming’, O.01.326, was followed by the epithet as the first word in the next verse, lugros ‘disastrous’, O.01.327. So, the epithet was carried over from one verse to the next. Similarly here at O.01.340–341, the word aoidē ‘song’ referring to the song of homecoming, O.01.340, is followed by the epithet lugrē ‘disastrous’ as the first word in the next verse, O.01.341. Once again, the epithet is carried over from one verse to the next. Similarly also at I.01.001–002, the word mēnis referring to the song of the anger of Achilles, I.01.001, is followed by the epithet oulomenē ‘disastrous’ as the first word in the next verse, I.01.002. Yet again, the epithet is carried over from one verse to the next. [[GN 2017.03.08.]]
subject heading(s): penthos alaston ‘grief unforgettable’[; “speaking name” (nomen loquens)]; epi-kleiein ‘turn [deeds] into glory [kleos] and pass it on’
For Penelope, the song that is sung by the singer Phemios, which is supposed to turn the deeds of men and gods into the kleos ‘glory’ of poetry, as we saw at O.01.338, produces the opposite effect here at O.01.342. The song sung by Phemios reminds her of her missing husband Odysseus, making her feel penthos alaston ‘grief unforgettable’, O.01.342. This expression signals lament, which is presented here as antithetical to the kind of kleos ‘glory’ that is heard by the audience of Phemios, who are the suitors of Penelope. The personal involvement of Penelope in the song of Odysseus is what makes the kleos that she hears different from the kleos that the suitors hear. For her the kleos contains penthos, while for them it does not. Relevant here is the meaning of the “speaking name” (nomen loquens) of Phemios: the adjectival Phēmios is derived from the noun phēmē, which can be interpreted as meaning ‘something said that means more than what is meant by the one who says it’. On phēmē, see the comment at O.02.035. In terms of this interpretation, Phemios is a singer whose songs mean more than what is meant by that singer. [[GN 2017.03.02 via BA 97–98.]]
subject heading(s): epi-kleiein ‘turn [deeds] into glory [kleos] and pass it on’
Telemachus argues with his mother, defending the song that is sung by the singer Phemios about misfortunes experienced by heroes in the course of seeking a successful homecoming. There is a pleasure in the hearing of such a song, Telemachus says at O.01.346–347. Evidently, he does not yet understand the personal involvement of Penelope in the story of such homecoming—or of course his own involvement—because he does not yet understand that the ultimate character in the ultimate story of homecoming will be Odysseus himself. Telemachus speaks positively about the reception of the song of homecoming as sung by the singer Phemios. He says that the audience gives glory to the song, and the verb that is used in his wording is epi-kleiein at O.01.351, which I translate as ‘turn [deeds] into glory [kleos] and pass it on’. I render the epi- of epi-kleiein here as ‘and pass it on’, in the sense that epi- conveys the idea of ‘in addition to, on top of’, supplementing –kleiein in the sense of ‘turn [deeds] into glory [kleos]’. The wording of Telemachus is justifiable to the extent that the glory of heroes and gods as produced by the singer produces also glory for the song itself as received by the audience. That is to say, this verb epi-kleiein ‘turn [deeds] into glory [kleos] and pass it on’ is reciprocal: there is not only the giving of glory by the audience to the song sung by the singer but there is also the giving of glory by the singer to the song that he sings. Thus it is justifiable for Telemachus to say that the greatest glory goes to the aoidē ‘song‘, O.01.351, that is neōtatē ‘newest’, O.01.352, since the glory to be transmitted must be the latest glory to be received. The reception by the most recent audience must be decisively successful. What Telemachus does not yet understand, however, is that the most recent audience for an ongoing song of homecoming will be not the suitors but the ultimate audience of the Odyssey. The audience of the Odyssey will be the definitive audience for the reception of this ongoing song of homecoming. And, for that ultimate audience of the Odyssey, the ultimate hero of the song of homecoming will be Odysseus himself. [[GN 2017.03.02 via BA 98, PH 69.]]
subject heading(s): Antinoos
Here we see for the first time the leader of the suitors. His name, Anti-noos, is antithetical to the identity of Odysseus as an exponent of nóos ‘mind’, which stands for that hero’s special way of thinking in the Odyssey. On the nóos of Odysseus, see already the comment on O.01.003. [[GN 2017.03.08.]]
BA = Best of the Achaeans, Nagy 1979/1999.
GMP = Greek Mythology and Poetics, Nagy 1990b.
H24H = The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Nagy 2013
HC = Homer the Classic, Nagy 2009|2008
HPC = Homer the Preclassic, Nagy 2010|2009
HQ = Homeric Questions, Nagy 1996b
HR = Homeric Responses, Nagy 2003
LSJ = Liddell, H. G., R. Scott, and H. S. Jones. 1940. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. Oxford.
MoM = Masterpieces of Metonymy, Nagy 2016|2015
PasP = Poetry as Performance, Nagy 1996a
PH = Pindar’s Homer, Nagy 1990a
See the dynamic Bibliography for AHCIP.
Inventory of terms and names
See the dynamic Inventory of terms and names for AHCIP.