A sampling of comments on Odyssey Rhapsody 16

2017.07.06 / updated 2018.10.12 | By Gregory Nagy

Odysseus, because of his external appearance as an old beggar, cannot be recognized by his own son Telemachus. To make the recognition happen, the goddess Athena temporarily transforms the father into a young aristocrat. For Telemachus, however, the transformation itself can be read as the epiphany of a god. [[GN 2017.07.06.]]

“Minerva Restoring Ulysses to his Own Shape” (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.
“Minerva Restoring Ulysses to his Own Shape” (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.



Q&T via HTL 164
subject heading(s): ellipsis; elliptic plural

Here at O.16.062 as also at O.14.199, we see an elliptic plural, meaning ‘Crete and everything that belongs to it’. See the note on O.14.199. [[GN 2017.07.06 via HTL 164.]]


subject heading(s): ‘best of the Achaeans’

Here again, as at O.11.179 and at O.15.521–522, it is said that whoever succeeds in marrying Penelope would surely qualify as ‘the best of the Achaeans’. [[GN 2017.07.06 via BA 39.]]


subject heading(s): hubris ‘outrage’; atasthalo– ‘reckless’

These two negative terms hubris ‘outrage’ and atasthalo– ‘reckless’ are closely linked with each other in Homeric diction. The two words together are also closely linked with the suitors of Penelope in the Odyssey. [[GN 2017.07.06 via BA 163, 319.]]


subject heading(s): Athena recognized by Odysseus

The fact that Athena here can be recognized by the main character of the Odyssey may be relevant to the role of Athena as the goddess presiding over the festival of the Panathenaia in Athens as the venue for the performance of this epic. [[GN 2017.07.06 via PasP 112n24.]]


subject heading(s): noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’; neuein ‘nod’

The act of noticing is sometimes connected with special signals, as here: neuein ‘nod’; see also the comment on I.09.223. [[GN 2017.07.06 via BA 51.]]


Q&T via MoM 2§17
subject heading(s): homoio- ‘similar to, same as’; eïskein ‘make likenesses, liken’’[; asaminthos ‘bathtub’]

|172 ἦ, καὶ χρυσείῃ ῥάβδῳ ἐπεμάσσατ’ Ἀθήνη. |173 φᾶρος μέν οἱ πρῶτον ἐϋπλυνὲς ἠδὲ χιτῶνα |174 θῆκ’ ἀμφὶ στήθεσφι, δέμας δ’ ὤφελλε καὶ ἥβην. |175 ἂψ δὲ μελαγχροιὴς γένετο, γναθμοὶ δ’ ἐτάνυσθεν, |176 κυάνεαι δ’ ἐγένοντο ἐθειράδες ἀμφὶ γένειον. |177 ἡ μὲν ἄρ’ ὣς ἔρξασα πάλιν κίεν· αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς |178 ἤϊεν ἐς κλισίην. θάμβησε δέ μιν φίλος υἱός, |179 ταρβήσας δ’ ἑτέρωσε βάλ’ ὄμματα, μὴ θεὸς εἴη, |180 καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα· |181 “ἀλλοῖός μοι, ξεῖνε, φάνης νέον ἠὲ πάροιθεν, |182 ἄλλα δὲ εἵματ’ ἔχεις καί τοι χρὼς οὐκέθ’ ὁμοῖος. |183 ἦ μάλα τις θεός ἐσσι, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσιν· |184 ἀλλ’ ἵληθ’, ἵνα τοι κεχαρισμένα δώομεν ἱρὰ |185 ἠδὲ χρύσεα δῶρα, τετυγμένα· φείδεο δ’ ἡμέων.” |186 τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς· |187 “οὔ τίς τοι θεός εἰμι· τί μ’ ἀθανάτοισιν ἐΐσκεις; |188 ἀλλὰ πατὴρ τεός εἰμι, τοῦ εἵνεκα σὺ στεναχίζων |189 πάσχεις ἄλγεα πολλά, βίας ὑποδέγμενος ἀνδρῶν.” |190 ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας υἱὸν κύσε, κὰδ δὲ παρειῶν |191 δάκρυον ἧκε χαμᾶζε· πάρος δ’ ἔχε νωλεμὲς αἰεί. |192 Τηλέμαχος δ’,—οὐ γάρ πω ἐπείθετο ὃν πατέρ’ εἶναι,—|193 ἐξαῦτίς μιν ἔπεσσιν ἀμειβόμενος προσέειπεν· |194 “οὐ σύ γ’ Ὀδυσσεύς ἐσσι πατὴρ ἐμός, ἀλλά με δαίμων |195 θέλγει, ὄφρ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὀδυρόμενος στεναχίζω. |196 οὐ γάρ πως ἂν θνητὸς ἀνὴρ τάδε μηχανόῳτο |197 ᾧ αὐτοῦ γε νόῳ, ὅτε μὴ θεὸς αὐτὸς ἐπελθὼν |198 ῥηϊδίως ἐθέλων θείη νέον ἠδὲ γέροντα. |199 ἦ γάρ τοι νέον ἦσθα γέρων καὶ ἀεικέα ἕσσο· |200 νῦν δὲ θεοῖσιν ἔοικας, οἳ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσι.” |201 τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς· |202 “Τηλέμαχ’, οὔ σε ἔοικε φίλον πατέρ’ ἔνδον ἐόντα |203 οὔτε τι θαυμάζειν περιώσιον οὔτ’ ἀγάασθαι· |204 οὐ μὲν γάρ τοι ἔτ’ ἄλλος ἐλεύσεται ἐνθάδ’ Ὀδυσσεύς, |205 ἀλλ’ ὅδ’ ἐγὼ τοιόσδε, παθὼν κακά, πολλὰ δ’ ἀληθείς, |206 ἤλυθον εἰκοστῷ ἔτεϊ ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν. |207 αὐτάρ τοι τόδε ἔργον Ἀθηναίης ἀγελείης, |208 ἥ τέ με τοῖον ἔθηκεν ὅπως ἐθέλει, δύναται γάρ, |209 ἄλλοτε μὲν πτωχῷ ἐναλίγκιον, ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε |210 ἀνδρὶ νέῳ καὶ καλὰ περὶ χροῒ εἵματ’ ἔχοντι. |211 ῥηΐδιον δὲ θεοῖσι, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσιν, |212 ἠμὲν κυδῆναι θνητὸν βροτὸν ἠδὲ κακῶσαι.”

|172  So spoke Athena, and she touched him [= Odysseus] with her golden wand. |173 First she made his mantle and his tunic to be cleanly washed, |174 she made it be that way, what he was wearing over his chest, and she augmented his size and his youthfulness. |175 His tan complexion came back, and his jaws got firmed up, |176 and dark again became the beard around his chin. |177 Then she [= Athena], having done her work, went back where she came from, while |178 Odysseus headed for the shelter. His dear son [= Telemachus] marveled at him, |179 and, in his amazement, he [= Telemachus] cast his gaze away from him, in another direction, fearing that he [= Odysseus] might be a god. |180 And he [= Telemachus] addressed him [= Odysseus], speaking winged words: |181 “As a different kind of person [alloio-], stranger, have you appeared [phainesthai] to me just now, different than before. |182 You have different clothes and your complexion is no longer the same kind [homoio-]. |183 You must be some god, one of those gods who hold the wide sky. |184 So be gracious, in order that we may give you pleasing sacrifices |185 and golden gifts of good workmanship. Have mercy on us.” |186 And he [= Telemachus] was answered then by the one who suffered many things, the radiant Odysseus: |187 “I am not some god. Why do you liken [eïskein] me to the immortals? |188 But I am your father, for whom you mourn and |189 suffer many pains, enduring the violent acts of men.” |190 Having said these things, he kissed his son and let fall from his cheeks |191 a tear, letting it fall to the ground. Until then he had persisted in showing no sign of pity. |192 And Telemachus, since he was not yet convinced that he [= Odysseus] was his father, |193 once again addressed him with words in reply: |194 “You are not Odysseus my father. Instead, some superhuman force |195 is enchanting me, and it makes me weep and mourn even more. |196 I say this because no mortal man could craft these things that are happening to me, |197 no mortal could do these things by way of his own devising, unless a god comes in person |198 and, if he so wishes, easily makes someone a young man or makes him an old man. |199 Why, just a little while ago you were an old man wearing unseemly clothes, |200 but now you look like [= perfect of eïskein] the gods who hold the wide sky.” |201 He was answered by Odysseus, the one with many kinds of craft, who addressed him thus: |202 “Telemachus, it does not seem right [= perfect of eïskein] for you to be amazed at your father who is right here inside [the shelter], |203 for you to be amazed too much or to feel overwhelmed. |204 There will never again be some different [allos] person who comes here, some different Odysseus, |205 but here I am such [toiosde] as I am. I have had many bad things happen to me. I have been detoured in many different ways. |206 But now I am here, having come back in the twentieth year to the land of my ancestors. |207 I tell you, this was the work of Athena, the giver of prizes, |208 who has made me be such [toios] as she wants me to be, for she has the power. |209 One moment, she has made me to be looking like [enalinkios] a beggar, and then, the next moment, |210 like a young man who has beautiful clothes covering his complexion. |211 It is easy for the gods, who hold the wide sky, |212 to make a mortal man become exalted with radiance or to debase him.

(What follows is epitomized from MoM 2§§18–20.) As soon as Odysseus has been stroked by the wand of Athena, his outward appearance—his khrōs ‘complexion’—is no longer the same as it had been before, O.16.182. That is what Telemachus is saying to Odysseus. The son is amazed that the father no longer looks like an old beggar. The word used here to express the idea of sameness is homoio- ‘similar to, same as’, O.16.182. This word homoio-, derived from homó-, further derives from the Indo-European form *somo– meaning ‘same’. In fact, the English word same is cognate with the Greek word homó-. See the anchor comment at I.05.441. Because the complexion of Odysseus is no longer the same, he no longer looks the same. Now he looks different. He is now a different kind of person. In the wording of O.16.181, Odysseus the person is now alloio- ‘a different kind’. This word alloio- (ἀλλοῖο-) ‘a different kind’ is the opposite of homoio- (ὁμοῖο-) ‘the same kind’. I note that the extension ‑io- (‑ιο-) of the adjectives homoio- (ὁμοῖο-) ‘the same kind’ and alloio- (ἀλλοῖο-) ‘a different kind’ is parallel to the extension ‑io- (‑ιο-) of the adjectives hoio- (oἷο-) ‘what kind’ and toio- (τοῖο-) ‘that kind’. At O.16.205 and O.16.208 in the passage I have just quoted and translated, we also see this meaning of toio- ‘that kind’ in action. In this same passage, it is said that Odysseus looks like an old man or looks like a young man, whatever a divinity may wish, O.16.198. But when he looks like a young man for Telemachus to see, his son needs to avert his eyes because he sees what he now sees, O.16.179. What he now sees is that Odysseus at that moment looks not only like a young man but also like a divinity. Relevant is the question that Odysseus asks his son at O.16.187: ‘Why do you liken [eïskein] me to the immortals?’… In answer to this question, Telemachus can rightly say at O.16.200: ‘but now you look like [= perfect of eïskein] the gods who hold the wide sky’. And, in terms of the ritual transformation of Odysseus by way of a sacred contact with the wand of the goddess Athena herself, this mortal not only looks like one of the gods but he actually becomes a god in the ritual moment marked by the similes that liken him to the god. So, the contexts of eïskein ‘make likenesses, liken’ at O.16.187 and O.16.200 show that Telemachus was justified in saying that Odysseus looks the same as a god after being touched by the wand of Athena. Similarly at O.03.464–468, there is a ritual transformation of Telemachus when he is bathed in a bathtub called an asaminthos, O.03.468. As I note in the comment on O.03.464–468, here is what happens at O.03.468 to Telemachus as a result of this ritual bath: ‘he [= Telemachus] emerged from the bathtub [asaminthos], looking the same as [homoio-] the immortals in shape’ (ἔκ ῥ’ ἀσαμίνθου βῆ δέμας ἀθανάτοισιν ὁμοῖος).

In the light of this analysis, I offer a general formulation: for a mortal to appear like an immortal to other mortals is to become a divinity in a ritual moment of epiphany—as marked by the similes that make mortals equal to divinities in that ritual moment. [[GN 2017.07.06 via MoM 2§17.]]


subject heading(s): amphi-khu– ‘pouring all over’; dissolving while weeping

The image of ‘pouring all over’ someone whom you are embracing, as expressed here by way of the verb amphi-khu-, extends from the idea of dissolving in tears: when you are weeping, pouring out your tears from your eyes, it is as if your whole self were dissoving into tears, which can then ‘pour all over’ that beloved someone whom you are embracing. The metaphor of dissolving while weeping, as here, can also be found at O.08.527. See also the comment at O.19.204–212. [[GN 2017.07.06 via HC 2§344n.]]


subject heading(s): noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’; neuein ‘nod’

The act of noticing is here again connected with a special signal: neuein ‘nod’; see the comment on I.16.164. [[GN 2017.07.06 via BA 51.]]


subject heading(s): Antinoos as the ultimate ingrate; reciprocity; dēmos ‘community, district’

As Penelope says in her words of blame directed at Antinoos here, this suitor of hers violates the rules of reciprocity more blatantly than any of the other suitors. That is because he shows no gratitude for the kindness that Odysseus as king had shown to Eupeithes, the father of Antinoos, back when Eupeithes was a refugee seeking the favor of Odysseus the king. In the story as told all too briefly by Penelope, O.16.424–429, this man Eupeithes had once sought refuge at the palace of Odysseus, asking the king to protect his food-supply, which was about to be expropriated, O.16.429. The threat of expropriation came from the dēmos ‘community’, described here as being very angry at Eupeithes, O.16.425. But Odysseus had intervened and prevented the expropriation, O.16.430. That is why it is now all the more outrageous, says Penelope at O.16.431, that the son of the same man whose livelihood had thus been saved by a beneficent king should now turn right around and expropriate the livelihood of his family’s benefactor, since Antinoos and the other suitors are now consuming the livelihood of Odysseus, depleting the resources of that generous king. That is bad enough, says Penelope, but Antinoos goes even further, much further: this ingrate also makes advances at the king’s wife and even plots the murder of the king’s son, O.16.431–432. [[GN 2017.07.09 via BA 233.]]


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.