A sampling of comments on Odyssey Rhapsody 13

2017.06.22 / updated 2018.10.08 | By Gregory Nagy

The storytelling of Odysseus has come to an end, and he will now be sent home to Ithaca by his hosts, Alkinoos and the Phaeacians. Sailing through the night in a ship provided by king Alkinoos, Odysseus is in a deep sleep, which is compared to death itself. At the precise moment when the ship reaches the shores of his homeland, Ithaca, Odysseus will ‘come to’, experiencing a mystical return to light and life. [[GN 2017.06.22.]]

“Ulysses Asleep Laid on his Own Coast by the Phaeacian Sailors” (1805). John Flaxman (1755–1826). Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996. Image via the Tate.
“Ulysses Asleep Laid on his Own Coast by the Phaeacian Sailors” (1805). John Flaxman (English, 1755–1826). Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996. Image via the Tate.



subject heading(s): dais ‘feast, division of portions (of meat); sacrifice’; stylized festival

The mention of dais ‘feast’ here at O.13.023 takes us all the way back to the dais ‘feast’ that is planned by king Alkinoos for his guest back at O.08.038. See the comments at O.08.059–061 and at O.08.061. The dais ‘feast’ is eventually rethought as a stylized festival, centering on a sacrifice that leads to a division of meat at the feast. Such a festival continues from Odyssey 8 all the way to here, at the beginning of Odyssey 13. [[GN 2017.06.22 via HPC 92–94, 101, 109, 126.]]


Q&T via MoM 4§35
subject heading(s): melpesthai ‘sing-and-dance’

|24 τοῖσι δὲ βοῦν ἱέρευσ’ ἱερὸν μένος Ἀλκινόοιο |25 Ζηνὶ κελαινεφέϊ Κρονίδῃ, ὃς πᾶσιν ἀνάσσει. |26 μῆρα δὲ κήαντες δαίνυντ’ ἐρικυδέα δαῖτα |27 τερπόμενοι· μετὰ δέ σφιν ἐμέλπετο θεῖος ἀοιδός |28 Δημόδοκος, λαοῖσι τετιμένος.

|24 On their [= the Phaeacians’] behalf Alkinoos, the one with the holy power, sacrificed an ox |25 to Zeus, the one who brings dark clouds, the son of Kronos, and he rules over all. |26 Then, after burning the thigh-pieces, they feasted, feasting most gloriously, |27 and they were feeling delight [terpesthai]; in their midst sang-and-danced [melpesthai] the divine singer [aoidos], |28 Demodokos, honored by the people.

(What follows is epitomized from MoM 4§§35–38.)

Part 1.
Here the singer Demodokos performs one last song before Odysseus leaves the land of the Phaeacians. The occasion is most festive, marking the conclusion of the overall festivities that had started in Odyssey 8—and had continued ever since then. Bringing these festivities to a spectacular close, Alkinoos the king of the Phaeacians slaughters a sacrificial ox to the god Zeus, and this animal sacrifice is the cue for Demodokos to emerge once again as the lead singer in the midst of a festive crowd.

Part 2.
I note that the wording at O.13.027 is exactly the same as at O.04.017. See the comment on O.04.015–019. More important, we see the same wording also at I.18.604, which is the line that shows a part of the longer version of I.18.603–606. See the comment on I.18.603–604–(605–)606. In each one of these three lines that I just noted, O.13.027 and O.04.017 and I.18.604, a solo singer is shown, but the individuated soloist is leading into a choral song combined with dance, as signaled by the word melpesthai in all three contexts. This word, as we have seen, combines the idea of singing with the idea of dancing—that is, choral dancing. That is why I translate melpesthai in a hyphenated format, ‘singing-and-dancing’. See also the comments on I.18.603–604–(605–)606 and O.04.015–019.

Part 3.

The text of O.13.024–028 is a most decisive piece of comparative evidence validating the authenticity of the corresponding passage in the longer version of I.18.603–606. Both of these two passages show an individuated lead singer in the midst of a festive crowd surrounding a choral performance that brings delight to all. Both in O.13.027 and in I.18.604, the decisive word that shows the interaction of the individuated lead singer with choral performance is melpesthai ‘sing-and-dance’. (The verb melpesthai ‘sing-and-dance’ at I.18.604 is picked up by the corresponding noun molpē ‘singing-and-dancing’ at I.18.606.) But the passage at O.13.024–028 occludes any direct mention of dancers, thus differing from the corresponding passage in the longer version of I.18.603–606, which highlights two individuated dancers as well as a chorus. Conversely, the passage in the shorter version of I.18.603–606 occludes any direct mention of a singer, thus differing from the corresponding passage in O.13.024–028 here, which highlights Demodokos as an individuated lead singer.

Part 4.
The decisive evidence of this passage, O.13.024–028, is missing from the reportage of Athenaeus (5.181c) about the editorial decisions of Aristarchus concerning O.04.015–019 and I.18.603–606. And it is missing also from the argumentations of some who build theories about various kinds of textual interpolation. As I argued in the comment on I.18.603–604–(605–)606, the evidence of the wording at I.18.604–605 indicates that both the shorter and the longer versions result from formulaic variation. [[GN 2017.06.22; see also HPC 300n87, n88.]]


subject heading(s): sacrifice to Zeus; hymnic subject; signature of Homēridai; stylized festival

The sacrificing of an ox to Zeus here marks this god as the ultimate hymnic subject of the festive performances starting with the three songs of Demodokos in Odyssey 8 and capped by the narrative of Odysseus himself in Odyssey 9–12. As we see most clearly in the Homeric Hymns, the invoked divinity who presides over a given festival is the hymnic subject of the hymn (MoM 4§82). We know from Pindar Nemean 2.1–3 that Zeus was the hymnic subject of the Homēridai, notional descendants of Homer, who performed the Iliad and Odyssey in relay (HPC 240, MoM 4§§99.4, 99.5). Accordingly, I interpret the sacrifice to Zeus here at O.13.024–025 as a signature, as it were, of the Homēridai. See also the comment that introduces Rhapsody 9. [[GN 2017.06.22 via MoM 4§99.5; also HPC 92–93, 101–102, 109.]]


subject heading(s): terpesthai ‘feel delight’

The programmatic word terpesthai ‘feel delight’ as used here at O.13.027 can be connected to the use of the same word at O.08.429 with reference to the festive performances described in Odyssey 8. See the comment on O.08.429. [[GN 2017.06.22 via MoM 4§65; also HPC 92–93, 102.]]


subject heading(s): name of Demodokos [; dēmos ‘community, district’]; “speaking name” (nomen loquens)

The description here of Demodokos as ‘honored by the people [lāoi]’ reinforces the etymology of his “speaking name” (nomen loquens): ‘one who is received [verb dek(h)esthai] by the community [dēmos]’. See the comment on O.08.044. [[GN 2017.06.22 via BA 17.]]


Q&T via H24H 10§11

subject heading(s): [nóos ‘mind, thinking; consciousness’;] nostos ‘homecoming, song of homecoming; return; return to light and life’

|78 εὖθ’ οἳ ἀνακλινθέντες ἀνερρίπτουν ἅλα πηδῷ, |79 καὶ τῷ νήδυμος ὕπνος ἐπὶ βλεφάροισιν ἔπιπτε, |80 νήγρετος ἥδιστος, θανάτῳ ἄγχιστα ἐοικώς. |81 ἡ δ’, ὥς τ’ ἐν πεδίῳ τετράοροι ἄρσενες ἵπποι, |82 πάντες ἅμ’ ὁρμηθέντες ὑπὸ πληγῇσιν ἱμάσθλης |83 ὑψόσ’ ἀειρόμενοι ῥίμφα πρήσσουσι κέλευθον, |84 ὣς ἄρα τῆς πρύμνη μὲν ἀείρετο, κῦμα δ’ ὄπισθεν |85 πορφύρεον μέγα θῦε πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης. |86 ἡ δὲ μάλ’ ἀσφαλέως θέεν ἔμπεδον· οὐδέ κεν ἴρηξ |87 κίρκος ὁμαρτήσειεν, ἐλαφρότατος πετεηνῶν· |88 ὣς ἡ ῥίμφα θέουσα θαλάσσης κύματ’ ἔταμνεν, |89 ἄνδρα φέρουσα θεοῖσ’ ἐναλίγκια μήδε’ ἔχοντα, |90 ὃς πρὶν μὲν μάλα πολλὰ πάθ’ ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν, |91 ἀνδρῶν τε πτολέμους ἀλεγεινά τε κύματα πείρων· |92 δὴ τότε γ’ ἀτρέμας εὗδε, λελασμένος ὅσσ’ ἐπεπόνθει. |93 εὖτ’ ἀστὴρ ὑπερέσχε φαάντατος, ὅς τε μάλιστα |94 ἔρχεται ἀγγέλλων φάος Ἠοῦς ἠριγενείης, |95 τῆμος δὴ νήσῳ προσεπίλνατο ποντοπόρος νηῦς.

|78 When they [= the Phaeacian seafarers] began rowing out to sea, |79 he [= Odysseus] felt a sweet sleep falling upon his eyelids. |80 It was a deep sleep, the sweetest, and most similar to death. |81 Meanwhile, the ship was speeding ahead, just as a team of four stallions drawing a chariot over a plain |82 speeds ahead in unison as they all feel the stroke of the whip, |83 gallopping along smoothly, with feet raised high as they make their way forward, |84 so also the prow of the ship kept curving upward as if it were the neck of a stallion, and, behind the ship, waves that were |85 huge and seething raged in the waters of the roaring sea. |86 The ship held steadily on its course, and not even a falcon, |87 raptor that he is, swiftest of all winged creatures, could have kept pace with it. |88 So did the ship cut its way smoothly through the waves, |89 carrying a man who was like the gods in his knowledge of clever ways, |90 who had beforehand suffered very many pains [algea] in his heart [thūmos], |91 taking part in wars among men and forging through so many waves that cause pain, |92 but now he was sleeping peacefully, forgetful of all he had suffered. |93 And when the brightest of all stars began to show, the one that, more than any other star, |94 comes to announce the light of the Dawn born in her earliness, |95 that is when the ship, famed for its travels over the seas, drew near to the island.

(The following is epitomized from H24H 10§§11–12.) The very idea of consciousness as conveyed by nóos is derived from the metaphor of returning to light from darkness, as encapsulated in the moment of waking up from sleep, or of regaining consciousness after losing consciousness, that is, of ‘coming to’. See the comment on O.01.003; also on O.09.082–104. This metaphor of coming to is at work not only in the meaning of nóos in the sense of consciousness but also in the meaning of nostos in the sense of returning from darkness and death to light and life. See the comment on O.01.005. Remarkably, these two meanings converge at one single point in the master myth of the Odyssey. It happens here at O.13.078–095, when Odysseus finally reaches his homeland of Ithaca. Odysseus has been sailing home on a ship provided by the Phaeacians, against the will of the god Poseidon, and the hero falls into a deep sleep that most resembles death itself, O.13.079–080. This sleep makes him momentarily unconscious: he ‘forgets’, as expressed by the verb lēth‑, O.13.092, all the algea, ‘pains’, of his past journeys through so many different cities of so many different people, O.13.090–091. Then, at the very moment when the ship reaches the shore of Ithaca, the hero’s homeland, the morning star appears, heralding the coming of dawn, O.13.093–095. The Phaeacians hurriedly leave Odysseus on the beach where they placed him, still asleep, when they landed, O.13.119, and, once they sail away, he wakes up there, O.13.187. So, the moment of the hero’s homecoming, which is synchronized with the moment of sunrise, is now further synchronized with a moment of awakening from a sleep that most resembles death. [[GN 2017.06.22 via GMP 219; see also Frame 2009:54.]]


subject heading(s): four-horse chariot

Homeric references to four-horse chariots are confined to contexts having to do with chariot racing. For chariot fighting, two-horse chariots are the Homeric norm. For exceptions, see the comments on I.05.263–273 and on I.08.185. [[GN 2017.06.22 via HPC 210n159.]]


Q&T via Nagy 2001:82–83
subject heading(s): petrified ship; enveloping mountain

|149 νῦν αὖ Φαιήκων ἐθέλω περικαλλέα νῆα |150 ἐκ πομπῆς ἀνιοῦσαν ἐν ἠεροηδέι πόντῳ |151 ῥαῖσαι, ἵν’ ἤδη σχῶνται, ἀπολλήξωσι δὲ πομπῆς |152 ἀνθρώπων, μέγα δέ σφιν ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψαι

|149 So now I want to smash the very beautiful ship of the Phaeacians |150 when it comes back, in a misty crossing of the sea, from its conveying mission, |151 so that these people [= the Phaeacians] will hold off, at long last, and stop their practice of conveying |152 humans. And I want to make a huge mountain envelop their city.

The god Poseidon is speaking, and he is very angry at the Phaeacians for providing Odysseus with one of their ships to convey the hero back to his home in Ithaca. The god now plans to take revenge, and he asks Zeus to approve his plan, which has two parts: (1) to smash the ship as it sails back home to the Phaeacians and (2) to make a huge mountain ‘envelop’ their city. [[GN 2017.06.22.]]


Q&T via Nagy 2001:82–83
subject heading(s): petrified ship; enveloping mountain

|155 ὁππότε κεν δὴ πάντες ἐλαυνομένην προίδωνται |156 λαοὶ ἀπὸ πτόλιος, θεῖναι λίθον ἐγγύθι γαίης |157 νηὶ θοῇ ἴκελον, ἵνα θαυμάζωσιν ἅπαντες |158 ἄνθρωποι, μέγα δέ σφιν ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψαι

|155 When all the people of the city look out and see the ship sailing in, |156 turn it into a rock, just as it is about to reach land. |157 Make it look like a swift ship, so that people will look at it with wonder |158 —all of humanity will do so; and make the huge mountain envelop their city.

Before Zeus gives his approval, he modifies the terms of Poseidon’s two-part plan for vengeance. In the case of the first part, as we see here, the Will of Zeus is not that the ship be smashed but only that it be turned into a rock at the very moment that it sails into the entrance to the harbor—a rock destined to be a famous landmark for all time to come. In the case of the second part of the sea god’s plan, it seems that Zeus will indeed allow Poseidon to make a huge mountain ‘envelop’ the city. We see here the precise wording of these two parts of the Will of Zeus, addressed as commands to Poseidon. [[GN 2017.06.22.]]


subject heading(s): a formulaic variant

|158 ἄνθρωποι, μηδέ σφιν ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψαι

|158 —all of humanity will do so; but do not make the mountain envelop their city

Here we see another version of O.13.158, adduced by the Alexandrian editor Aristophanes of Byzantium (as we learn from the scholia for O.13.152). This different version was disputed by the later Alexandrian editor Aristarchus of Samothrace: he preferred the version of O.13.158 that I showed earlier, which is the one that survives in the medieval manuscript tradition. According to the version that survives only by way of Aristophanes, the future of the Phaeacians is not at all closed off. It remains open-ended, extending into the “present” when the epic is being narrated. For more, see the Excursus at the end of this section of comments on Rhapsody 13. [[ [[GN 2017.06.22.]]


subject heading(s): petrified rock, enveloping mountain

Complying with the reaction of Zeus to the original two-part plan of revenge, Poseidon proceeds to turn the returning ship into a rock at O.13.160–164. The first part of Poseidon’s two-part plan has now been accomplished, although in modified form, in compliance with the Will of Zeus. The ship has been petrified at the approach to the harbor, instead of being ‘smashed’ at midsea. [[GN 2017.06.22.]]


subject heading(s): shock and awe for the Phaeacians

At this midpoint in the ongoing narrative about the fate of the Phaeacians, we see their reaction to the petrifaction of their ship. They are in shock: awestruck as they are, they cannot understand how this disaster could have happened to them, O.13.165–169. [[GN 2017.06.22.]]


Q&T via Nagy 2001:84
subject heading(s): prophecy of Nausithoos

|175 φῆ ποτε Φαιήκων ἀνδρῶν περικαλλέα νῆα |176 ἐκ πομπῆς ἀνιοῦσαν ἐν ἠεροηδέι πόντῳ |177 ῥαισέμεναι, μέγα δ᾿ ἧμιν ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψειν

|175 He [= Nausithoos] once said that he [Poseidon] will smash the very beautiful ship of the Phaeacian men |176 when it comes back, in a misty crossing of the sea, from its conveying mission, |177 and that he will make a huge mountain envelop our city.

Alkinoos, king of the Phaeacians, has comprehended what is still in the process of happening. He explains to the Phaeacians that he now understands a prophecy that his father Nausithoos had once told him: it must have been this present disaster, Alkinoos says, that his father had prophesied to him—along with that other disaster still waiting to be narrated in the Odyssey, which is, the occlusion of the Phaeacians from the world of the present. Such an occlusion will happen if Zeus arranges for a huge mountain to envelop the city of the Phaeacians, thus blocking their harbor from access to the sea. [[GN 2017.06.22.]]


Q&T via Nagy 2001:85
subject heading(s): prophecy of Nausithoos

|178 ὣς ἀγόρευ᾿ ὁ γέρων. τὰ δὲ δὴ νῦν πάντα τελεῖται. |179 ἀλλ᾿ ἄγεθ᾿, ὥς ἂν ἐγὼ εἴπω, πειθώμεθα πάντες.

|178 That is what the old man said. And now you and I see that all these things are being brought to fulfillment. |179 But come, let us all comply with exactly what I am about to say.

The audience of our Odyssey already knows this prophecy as recapitulated in O.13.173–177, because Alkinoos had already “quoted” it to Odysseus at O.08.565–569. The textual transmission of O.08.565–569 and O.13 173–177 leaves the two passages matching almost exactly, word for word. There is some degree of non-matching, though: for example, the ship is εὐεργέα ‘well-built’ in most manuscripts at O.08.567 vs. περικαλλέα ‘very beautiful’ in most manuscripts at O.13.175, while the mutually alternative forms are attested in a minority of manuscripts at both places. In terms of oral poetics, such variation may be justified even where the “quoting” of a character’s words happens to be a narrative requirement of the composition, as it is here. At that earlier point in the narrative, however, Alkinoos had said something in addition, which he does not say now (O.08.570–571):

|570 ὣς ἀγόρευ᾿ ὁ γέρων. τὰ δέ κεν θεὸς ἢ τελέσειεν, |57 ἤ κ᾿ ἀτέλεστ᾿ εἴη, ὥς οἱ φῦλον ἔπλετο θυμῷ

|570 That is what the old man said. And the god [Poseidon] could either bring these things to fulfillment |571 or they could be left unfulfilled, however it was pleasing to his heart.

Now, instead of “repeating” this part of the old man’s prophecy, Alkinoos commands the Phaeacians to take immediate action, as we see from the wording of O.13.178–179, quoted and translated above. When Alkinoos had first “quoted” the prophecy of his father at O.08.570–571, the “quotation” had left a loophole: Poseidon may or may not bring ‘these things’ to fulfillment, as he wishes. But now at O.13.178–179 there is the greatest urgency, and Alkinoos exclaims hyperbolically that ‘all these things are being brought to fulfillment’. The rhetorical point of this hyperbole is to motivate the Phaeacians to take immediate action. Even though the half-hopeful words of Alkinoos at O.08 570–571 are not repeated but are replaced by the increasingly desperate words of O.13 178–179, there is still a trace of hope—provided that the Phaeacians take immediate action by following the emergency orders of Alkinoos, which are formulated in the verses that immediately follow, O.13.180–182. [[GN 2017.06.22.]]


subject heading(s): a possible way out for the Phaeacians

King Alkinoos here orders the Phaeacians to do two things without delay: to resolve never again to engage in the otherworldly pompē ‘conveying’ of mortals back to their real world, O.13.180, and to offer a sacrifice of twelve bulls to Poseidon, O.13.180–182. The Phaeacians must do these two things before the second of the two disasters should happen, which is, the blocking of their harbor by a huge mountain. . [[GN 2017.06.22.]]


Q&T via Nagy 2001:85
subject heading(s): a possible way out for the Phaeacians

|182 … αἴ κ᾿ ἐλεήσῃ |183 μηδ᾿ ἥμιν περίμηκες ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψῃ

|182 … in hopes that he [Poseidon] will take pity |183 and will not make the tall mountain envelop our city.

The hope, Alkinoos says here, is that Poseidon may still take pity and stop his plan. [[GN 2017.06.22.]]


subject heading(s): a possible way out for the Phaeacians

The Phaeacians immediately proceed to make sacrifice to the sea god, supplicating him, O.13.184–187. At this sacrifice, we may presume that they do indeed resolve never again to engage in the otherworldly “conveying” of mortals back to their “real” world. Such a resolution by the Phaeacians would of course cancel their own otherworldly status as mediators between the inner world of the narrative and the outer world of “reality” as implicit in the “present” time when the narration of epic is actually happening. [[GN 2017.06.22 via Nagy 2001:86, with bibliography.]]


subject heading(s): the fate of the Phaeacians

So, what will happen to the Phaeacians according to the narrative? We cannot be completely certain. The Homeric narrative about the Phaeacians breaks off here at O.13.187, at the very moment when they are offering sacrifice and praying to Poseidon to take pity on them. The narrative break takes place most abruptly, dramatically, and even exceptionally—at mid-verse. In the first part of the verse at O.13.187, the Phaeacians are last seen standing around the sacrificial altar; in the second part of the verse, Odysseus has just woken up in Ithaca. A new phase of the hero’s experiences has just begun in the “real” world of Ithaca. [[GN 2017.06.22 via Nagy 2001:86, with bibliography.]]


subject heading(s): Cretan Odyssey; “Cretan lies”; First Cretan Tale

Here at O.13.256–286 we see the first example of “Cretan lies” told by Odysseus in the context of his re-entry into the kingdom of Ithaca. The concept of “Cretan lies” was introduced in the anchor comment at O.01.284–286 on a Cretan Odyssey. [[GN 2017.06.29.]]


subject heading(s): Athena as patroness of Odysseus; mētis ‘mind, intelligence’; antagonism between immortal and mortal

The goddess here formally declares to Odysseus her support for the hero, which leads ultimately to his success in his final confrontation with the suitors. But there is an undercurrent of antagonism between the goddess and the hero, insofar as they are both exponents of mētis ‘mind, intelligence’. Here it is Athena who boasts of her own poetic glory for possessing qualities of mētis ‘mind, intelligence’, O.13.299. [[GN 2017.06.22 via BA 145, GMP 215.]]


Excursus on O.13.158

(Epitomized from Nagy 2001:84–91, where bibliography is provided about various different views concerning this verse.)

According to the version of O.13.158 that survives only by way of Aristophanes, the future of the Phaeacians is not at all closed off. It remains open-ended, extending into the “present” when the epic is being narrated. The threatening mountain will not block the harbor of the Phaeacians from the outside world —if we read mēde ‘but not…’ instead of mega de ‘and a huge…’ at O.13.158.

Two questions immediately come to mind. First, how could this different version fit the overall narrative of the Homeric Odyssey? Second, is the textual basis of this version “legitimate”?

I already addressed the first question in the comments above, taking a close look at the logic of the narrative after O.13.158. Here I turn to the second question about O.13.158: is the textual basis of the different version featuring mēde ‘but not…’ really “legitimate”? We can now add a related question: if it is legitimate, then does that delegitimize the version featuring mega de ‘and a huge…’?

Whether we need to choose one or the other variant depends on the way we look at Homeric poetry. If this poetry is merely a static text, then we are indeed forced to make a choice. If, however, we view Homeric poetry as a living system—an oral tradition that evolves ultimately into the textual tradition inherited by the Alexandrian editors—then we do not have to choose whenever we see a variation. Rather, as I will now go on to argue, the choices were already being made by Homeric poetry itself, which could opt for different variants in different phases of its own evolution.

My reasoning here derives from an overall “evolutionary model” that I have worked out as a general way of accounting for the making of Homeric poetry (PasP 109–114 and HQ 29–112). In terms of this model, as I now plan to argue, the living and evolving oral tradition of Homeric poetry itself allowed for a choice either to seal off its own past from the present time of narration or to reach into this present time and thereby make its presence fully manifest.

According to the narrative option linked with the first of our two variants from O.13.158, mega de ‘and a huge…’, the outlook is hopeless for the Phaeacians, since Poseidon’s plan to seal off the city of the Phaeacians has been restated by Zeus and is therefore tantamount to the Will of Zeus, which the Homeric tradition conventionally equates with the way things ultimately turn out in epic narrative, as at I.01.005. At the beginning of the Odyssey, however, Zeus himself undercuts the equation of epic plot with the Will of Zeus, O.01.032–034. That is, there are differences in shades of meaning between the Iliadic and the Odyssean perspectives on the Will of Zeus as the plot of epic (PH 241–242).

According to the narrative option linked with the second variant mēde ‘but not…’, the outlook is still hopeful. After all, at an earlier point in the narrative, O.13.144–145, we can see a way out when Zeus tells Poseidon to exact any punishment he pleases ‘if any human honors you not at all’ (ἀνδρῶν δ᾿ εἴ περ τίς σε . . . | οὔ τι τίει), O.13.143–144. The context is this: Poseidon has been angrily questioning Zeus, calling on him to explain the Will of Zeus (Διὸς δ᾿ ἐξείρετο βουλήν), O.13.127. That is, Poseidon calls on Zeus to explain the overall plot of the narrative—now that the Phaeacians have conveyed Odysseus back home to Ithaca. How can I be honored among the gods, Poseidon plaintively asks Zeus, ‘when the Phaeacians do not honor me at all?’ (ὅτε με βροτοὶ οὔ τι τίουσι | Φαίηκες), O.13.129–130. But then, as we have already seen in the comments, the story goes on to say that the Phaeacians will indeed initiate a remedy after the first disaster by proceeding to honor Poseidon with sacrifice in order to avert the second disaster, which is, the envelopment of their harbor by a huge mountain.

The narrative option that I link with the variant mēde ‘but not…’, according to which the Phaeacians are to be spared the second disaster of an all-enveloping mountain, depends on whether this variant as adduced by Aristophanes of Byzantium in place of mega de ‘and a huge…’ at O.13.158 is a genuine formulaic variant or only a textual variant. If it is the latter, then mēde ‘but not…’ may be just an editorial conjecture. That possibility would severely reduce the chances for arguing that mēde ‘but not…’ is a genuine alternative to mega de ‘and a huge…’. In what follows, however, I will argue against that possibility on several levels.

From an analysis of the formulaic system in which mēde ‘but not…’ is embedded, this form can be justified as a functioning element in that system, just as the form mega de ‘and huge…’ is a functioning element: in other words, mēde and mega de can be considered compositional alternatives in the formulaic system of Homeric diction.

As Leonard Muellner points out in a message written 1998.03.10 to me and to Chad E. Turner, mega de ‘and a huge…’ at O.13.177 is syntactically and formulaically parallel to mēde ‘but not’ at O.13.183. In a message written 1998.02.03, Turner had pointed out to me that the metrical placement of mēde ‘but not…’ at O.13.198 is singular (although there are cases where this word straddles the last syllable of a spondee and the first syllable of a dactyl in the third and fourth feet, he finds no other cases in the second and third feet). But the formulaic system is capable of generating rare forms and combinations. For a striking example, we may compare the unique attestation of mēden at I.18. 500: here is a word that is found this one and only time in the Iliad and the Odyssey put together, and yet it can be shown to be formulaic. See Muellner 1976:101–102, 106.

Moreover, there is immediate contextual as well as formulaic evidence to support the argument that mēde ‘but not…’ is a functioning compositional variant in the formulaic system. Let us consider the wording of Zeus in his answer to Poseidon’s angry questioning at O.13.145:

|145 ἔρξον ὅπως ἐθέλεις καί τοι φίλον ἔπλετο θυμῷ

|145 Do as you wish and as was pleasing to your heart.

This open-ended wording of Zeus matches formulaically the wording of Alkinoos, when he had originally “quoted” the prophecy of his father, O.08.570–571:

|570 ὣς ἀγόρευ᾿ ὁ γέρων. τὰ δέ κεν θεὸς ἢ τελέσειεν, |571 ἤ κ᾿ ἀτέλεστ᾿ εἴη, ὥς οἱ φίλον ἔπλετο θυμῷ

|570 That is what the old man said. And the god [Poseidon] could either bring these things to fulfillment |571 or they could be left unfulfilled, however it was pleasing to his heart.

The formulation of Zeus, then, in leaving it still undecided whether or not the Phaeacians are to be ‘enveloped’, can be used as evidence to argue that mēde ‘but not…’ is indeed a genuine compositional alternative to mega de ‘and a huge…’.

As for the possibility that mēde ‘but not…’ is an emendation based on an editorial conjecture, my own cumulative work on Homeric variants as adduced by the three great Alexandrian editors of Homer (Zenodotus, Aristophanes, and Aristarchus) leaves me skeptical, since I find that these editors normally do not make emendations without manuscript evidence (PasP 107–152).

In making the specific argument that both variants mega de ‘and a huge…’ and mēde ‘but not…’ are genuine compositional alternatives, I return to my general argument that Homeric poetry is not a static text but a slowly evolving system. In terms of this general argument, the variant mega de produces a narrative closure for the Phaeacians: their fate is sealed. The variant mēde, however, produces an outcome that is open-ended.

These two variants, I contend, reflect different phases in the evolution of Homeric poetry. Let us begin with the variant mega de ‘and a huge…’, the context of which can be linked with a relatively more Panhellenic phase of epic. (On the relativity of Panhellenism—despite the absolutist implications of the term—as a cultural impulse, see PH p. 53.) I have defined this phase elsewhere as one that “concentrates on traditions that tend to be common to most locales and peculiar to none” (PH 54). The Panhellenic phases of epic make contact with the “present” time of narration by shading over any “local color” that might distract from the widest possible range of ways to visualize this “present” (PH 53). A Panhellenic version, then, will tend to universalize the concerns of the present.

But there are also other, less Panhellenic, ways for epic to make contact with the “present” time in which narration happens: the “local color” can be highlighted, though only at the cost of narrowing the range of ways to visualize this “present.” The context of the variant mēde ‘but not…’ can be linked with such a relatively less Panhellenic phase of epic. This variant makes contact with the epic “present” in a less universalized and more localized way. One focus of localization is historical Corcyra, modern-day Corfù.

The fact is, the Corcyraeans of the Classical period claimed to be residents of the land of the Phaeacians, as we know from a remark of Thucydides (1.25.4); from another remark of his, we know also that they worshipped King Alkinoos as their local cult hero (3.70.4).

In O.13.155–158, we hear how the Phaeacians will one day look out at their harbor and see their returning ship suddenly turn into a rock, and we hear also how that fabulous petrified ship will continue to be a most wondrous sight for future generations of humanity to see and to keep on seeing for all time to come. There are references to this “real-life” rock in Pliny (Natural History) 4.53 and Eustathius (Commentary on Odyssey vol. II p. 44 line 27), and to this day the “petrified ship” remains a most celebrated tourist attraction for visitors to Corfù. But the essential point is, the reference to this rock is already there in the Odyssey—that is, in a version of the Odyssey that says mēde ‘but not…’ instead of mega de ‘and a huge…’ at O.13.158.

The identity of the Corcyraeans as descendants of the Phaeacians depends on the Will of Zeus as he formulates it at O.13.155–158, and it depends especially on the variant mēde ‘but not…’ of O.13.158, which yields an open-ended narrative that reaches directly into the “present” of the Classical period and beyond.

As a political and cultural fact of life, the self-identification of the Corcyraeans with the Phaeacians has been dated as far back as the eighth century BCE, when the island was settled by colonists from Eretria and, soon thereafter, from Corinth (Plutarch Greek Questions 293a; further sources analyzed in Frame 257n158). The variant represented by mēde ‘but not…’ at O.13.158 may be just as early, and in fact it may be the vehicle for expressing just such a political and cultural fact of life. This is not to say that the other variant represented by mega de ‘and a huge…’ at O.13.158 may not be just as early. It is only to say that both variants were still available to the Homeric tradition of epic as it evolved during the pre-Classical period. In such an early period, the affirming—or the denying—of a claim of descent from the Phaeacians was essential not just poetically but also politically and culturally. It really mattered then, and it continued to matter well into the Classical period of the fifth century and beyond, as we have seen from the remark of Thucydides (1.25.4, 3.70.4) about the Corcyraeans’ claim that they inhabited the land of the Phaeacians, whose king, Alkinoos, they worshipped as their local hero.

In the Hellenistic period of the Alexandrian editors of Homer, by contrast, the question of choosing mega de ‘and a huge…’ or mēde ‘but not…’ would have mattered purely from a poetical rather than a political or cultural point of view. The Corcyraeans’ claims to the land of the Phaeacians would not be a major concern any more, at least not politically. But it would still really matter in another way: was the petrified ship of the Phaeacians a figment of the poetic imagination, walled off in the epic past, or was it the same thing as the real-life rock at the entrance to the harbor of Corcyra, accessible to all humanity in the contemporary Hellenic world? The disagreement between Aristarchus and Aristophanes over the choice of mega de ‘and a huge…’ or mēde ‘but not…’ respectively must have centered on such questions. One way, we see a beautiful snapshot from the enchanted imaginary world of the epic past. The other way, we see a comparably beautiful vista in the enchanting touristic world of the non-epic present, still anchored in the permanence of the epic past. Either way, petrified ship or scenic rock, what we see is a beloved cultural landmark of Hellenism.

All this is not to say that we must ultimately choose between these two versions of seeing things Homeric. It is only to say that both variants were still available to the Homeric tradition of epic as it evolved into the Classical period and beyond. And it is to ponder the power of epic either to close down or to open up its pathways to the present. The fate of the Phaeacians in conveying the heroic past to the present depends on that power of Homeric dimensions.


Bibliographical Abbreviations

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.