2017.08.03 / updated 2018.10.13 | By Gregory Nagy
Rhapsody 20 reveals the darkest thoughts of Penelope. There she is, lying awake in bed, unable to fall asleep, and now she starts to think the unthinkable, tearfully spilling her private thoughts by praying to Artemis: I want to die in the worst way, she confides to the goddess, so why don’t you shoot me with your arrows, putting me out of my misery? Or maybe my death should be even worse? Penelope is now haunted by horror stories about unfortunate girls who thought they were getting married but who instead became servants to infernal Furies. She cries for them and she cries for herself, thinking of a dream she had about sleeping with Odysseus, who was looking the way he had looked twenty years ago. Her crying carries over till daybreak, and her laments are overheard from not that far away by Odysseus, who is having his own dark thoughts about the vengeance he so passionately desires. [[GN 2017.08.01.]]
subject heading(s): death wish of Penelope; daughters of Pandareos; thuellai ‘gusts of wind’; harpuiai ‘rapacious gusts of winds, Harpies’; abduction by gusts of wind; Ōkeanos; Aphrodite; Hērā; Artemis; Athena; Erīnues ‘Furies’; ring composition
In a despondent mood, unable to fall asleep, Penelope prays to the goddess Artemis, wishing for a death that should happen ēdē ‘already now’, O.20.061 (ἤδη), that is, autika nūn ‘right this instant’, O.20.063 (αὐτίκα νῦν). Such a death, if it is to happen ‘right this instant’, would come from arrows shot by Artemis, O.20.061–063. And such an instantaneous death would thus happen before Penelope were to be forced into marrying one of the suitors. Alternatively, however, the death that she wishes for could happen at a later point, as indicated by way of the expression ē epeita ‘or later’, O.20.063 (ἢ ἔπειτα). In the case of such a postponed death, the sequence of events would have already reached a moment where a forced marriage has already been arranged for an unwilling Penelope—and where the wedding is already about to take place. Penelope’s alternative wish to die at such a later moment, right before an actual wedding, pictures the same kind of death that had been experienced once upon a time by the daughters of Pandareos, whose story will now be retold, starting at O.20.066. The retelling of this story from a distant past will be worded by Penelope herself, who will now make a comparison between what had happened to the daughters of Pandareos and what she imagines will eventually happen in her own story if she is forced to marry one of the suitors. I will now consider the wording that introduces the comparison between the dreaded future of Penelope and the dreaded past of the daughters of Pandareos. A moment in that past time is described most ominously here: ‘just as when gusts of wind [thúellai] took away [an-heleîn] the daughters of Pandareos’, O.20.066 (ὡς δ’ ὅτε Πανδαρέου κούρας ἀνέλοντο θύελλαι). Thus, just as the daughters of Pandareos had been taken away by gusts of wind right before their wedding, so also Penelope, in her prayer, wishes for a comparable death if she cannot die right away. Here is how she says it: ‘or later [ē epeita] may a gust of wind [thúella], snatch me away [an-harpáxāsa]…’, O.20.063 (ἢ ἔπειτά μ’ ἀναρπάξασα θύελλα), ‘… and drop me into the forward-flowing streams of the Ōkeanos’, O.20.063–065 (ἐν προχοῇς βάλοι … Ὠκεανοῖο). This world-encircling river Ōkeanos, as we have already seen in other Homeric contexts, separates the living from the dead. See especially the comment at O.10.508–512: to cross the streams of the Ōkeanos is to cross into Hādēs. So, if Penelope cannot be granted her first wish, which is, to die right now, shot to death by the arrows of Artemis, then the wording of her prayer allows her to ask for her alternative second wish, which is, to experience death before any wedding is arranged against her will. But how does such a wedding, dreaded by Penelope, compare with the wedding that had been arranged for the daughters of Pandareos? At O.20.073–076, we see that the divinity who was arranging for these girls to get married was Aphrodite, seemingly acting as a sole agent. Earlier, at O.20.067–069, we see that Aphrodite had saved the girls from dying after their parents had been destroyed by the gods: it seems that the orphan girls were still infants, and Aphrodite raised them on a diet of cheese, honey, and wine, O.20.068–069. As the little orphans, saved by Aphrodite, were growing up, other female deities took part in raising them: (1) Hērā gave them beauty and intelligence, O.20.070–071, (2) Artemis gave them just the right dimensions to grow into, O.20.71, and (3) Athena gave them skills, O.20.072—which surely included expertise in weaving. But then, at a point where the girls are already so perfectly ready for marriage—a marriage that Aphrodite had personally arranged for them—they are snatched away by violent gusts of wind, O.20.077, which deliver them to Erīnues ‘Furies’ whom they are now destined to serve as attendants, O.20.078. And the removal of the girls from the visible world is described here in wording that is more violent than the wording that had previously described the death wished by Penelope for herself. Penelope’s wording had referred to a thúella ‘gust of wind’ that would snatch her away from the visible world, O.20.063, and carry her off to the Ōkeanos, where she would cross into the realm of Hādēs. But now, at O.20.077, the gusts of winds that snatch away the daughters of Pandareos are hárpuiai, and the violence of these gusts of wind is evident in the English word that is used to translate the personifications of these ‘rapacious gusts of wind’. These personified gusts of wind are the Harpies. And the death of these unfortunate girls who were seized by the Harpies is then followed by a horrific afterlife, imagined as an eternity of servitude to Erīnues ‘Furies’, O.20.078. How, then, to account for the dreaded fate of the daughters of Pandareos? Something went very wrong here. Although the Homeric narrative gives no details about the identity of the bridegrooms intended for these would-be brides, I suspect that there was something wrong with them in particular—and that the sole agency of Aphrodite in arranging for the would-be wedding, seemingly to the exclusion of Hērā, Artemis, and Athena, signals what might have gone wrong for the daughters of Pandareos. Whatever it was that did go wrong for these doomed girls, Penelope says that the infernal fate that awaited them is for her still preferable to the dreaded prospect of her getting married off to any of the suitors. Before I can bring this analysis to a close, I must return here to the wording ē epeita at O.20.063, which I have translated simply as ‘or later’. The function of this wording can easily be misunderstood if we lose track of the ring composition that is activated at this point. Penelope wishes for an immediate death caused by the shafts of Artemis, O.20.061–063, or a delayed death caused by the abducting winds, O.20.63–65. At O.20.066, the story about the abduction of the daughters of Pandareos is introduced as a precedent. The story is further developed at O.20.067–076, climaxed at O.20.077, where we see a recap of O.22.066. Then the line at O.20.079 recaps Penelope’s wish for a delayed death, and, to close out the ring composition, the line at O.22.080 recaps her original wish for an immediate death. So, the force of ē epeita ‘or later’ in expressing a delayed death at O.20.063 is that the winds would snatch Penelope away at a later point in the presumed narrative, right before her marriage to one of the suitors, just as the Harpies abducted the daughters of Pandareos right before the arranged marriage of these doomed girls, O.20.073–074. My interpretation of ē epeita ‘or later’ here at O.20.063 helps explain the connotations of the epithet metakhróniai ‘delayed’ as applied to the Hárpuiai ‘Harpies’ at Hesiod Theogony 269. [[GN 2017.08.01 via BA 194–196; see also GMP 99, 244, 251–252.]]
subject heading(s): thugatēr Dios ‘daughter of Zeus’
This epithet thugatēr Dios ‘daughter of Zeus’, applied here to the goddess Artemis, derives from contexts that apply to the goddess of the dawn, Ēōs. See the anchor comment at I.03.374. [[GN 2017.08.02 via GMP 244–246, 250–252.]]
subject heading(s): dream of Penelope; hupar esthlon ‘wakeful reality’
In her wakeful agonizing, Penelope recalls a dream she had, O.20.087–090, where she was lying in bed with Odysseus at her side, and he looked the way he had looked when she had last seen him twenty years earlier. It seemed to her, she says at O.20.090, that this was not an onar ‘dream’ but a hupar esthlon ‘wakeful reality’ (οὐκ ὄναρ, ἀλλ’ ὕπαρ ἐσθλόν). On my interpretation of this ‘wafkeful reality’, see the note at O.19.547. Penelope’s remembrance of such a dream here validates the reality that is foretold in the dream as narrated and then interpreted at O.19.535–565. See the comment on the lines there. Further, this dream as remembered here at O.20.087–090 will in fact come true in Odyssey 23, when Penelope and Odysseus are finally reunited. As we will see, Odysseus at O.23.163 emerges from a ritual bath looking like a perfect bridegroom. See the comment at that line. So, Penelope will soon be lying together in bed with the man of her dreams. [[GN 2017.08.03.]]
subject heading(s): a double omen for Odysseus; phēmē ‘something said; something said that means more than what is meant by the one who says it’; kleēdōn ‘prophetic utterance’
(What follows is epitomized from HR 55–60 = 3§§20–33.)
[§20] At O.20.103–104 Odysseus is praying to Zeus for both an omen and a phēmē ‘something said’ as indications telling him that he will indeed prevail over the suitors. Zeus responds by sending both thunder, O.20.103–104, and a phēmē, O.20.105.
[§21] The phēmē takes the form of a prayer uttered by an anonymous woman grinding grain with her handmill, O.20.112–119. She is not sure for whom the sign of the god’s thunder is intended, O.20.114 (τεῳ ‘for someone), but she prays to Zeus that he should intend it for her too, O.20.115 (καὶ ἐμοί ‘for me too’) by bringing to fulfillment the epos ‘words’ that she now speaks, O.20.115. The narrative that frames what she says in her prayer likewise refers to the prayer as an epos, adding that this epos is meant to be a sēma ‘sign’ for Odysseus, O.20.111.
[§22] What the woman is quoted as saying is poetically represented here as a song, as we can see from the reference to “milling songs” in Plutarch Banquet of the Seven Sages 157 (Carmina Popularia [PMG] no. 869): in this case, it is stated explicitly that a woman is heard singing while grinding grain with her handmill. At O.20.111, the poetic representation of singing here is also indicated by way of the word epos, plural epea, which means not just ‘words’ but also specifically ‘poetic words’ in Homeric diction (see the comments on epea ‘words’ at I.12.387–391 and at I.20.248–250; see also GMP 221).
[§23] For some interpreters, an irreversible mistake can be found here in what seems to be a contradiction between the words of the narrative framing the phēmē and the words of the “quoted” phēmē itself. In the words of the phēmē as spoken by the woman, she says that the thundering of Zeus came from the starry sky, O.20.113 (οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος), where no cloud is to be seen, O.20.114 (οὐδέ ποθι νέφος ἐστί ‘and there is not a cloud [nephos] anywhere’). This, then, was the sign that the woman had received: it was a thundering from a clear sky. By contrast, the narrative that frames what she says refers to the thundering of Zeus ‘from ‘radiant Olympus’, O.20.103 (ἀπ᾿ αἰγλήεντος Ὀλύμπου), and the thundering had come ‘from on high, from out of the clouds [nephea]’, O.20.104 (ὑψόθεν ἐκ νεφέων).
[§24] Of course, no Homer critic would have any problem if the narrative frame here had been more simple, featuring only one sign—that is, if Odysseus had prayed for only one sign, the thunder of Zeus. The problem seems to arise from the combining of two signs in the narration—the thunder of Zeus and the song of the anonymous woman. It is this combination that has led to what appears to be a contradiction between these two signs. And yet, I propose that the combining of two narrative signs here amounts to an artistic narratological elaboration, which succeeds in producing a special poetic effect by way of juxtaposing the perceptions of the anonymous woman and the perceptions of Odysseus.
[§25] For the anonymous woman, only one sign had been needed, the thundering of Zeus, and that is the sign that she had received. For Odysseus, however, the thundering of Zeus was not the complete sign that he had received. It was an incomplete sign. In terms of his own prayer, it had to be completed, complemented, by something that is actually said, which turned out to be the words of the woman. Those words, however, could not become a completed phēmē for Odysseus unless Zeus heeded those words on their own terms, on the woman’s terms. For the woman, the thundering of Zeus came from a clear sky. For Odysseus, the same thundering had come from a clouded sky, and the message of Zeus became clear only after the woman received her own message from a clear sky. The wording of the woman, an incipient epos that was as yet unclear for her, became a finished epos that was indeed clear for Odysseus, just as the thundering of Zeus shifted perceptually from a clouded to a clear sky. For Odysseus, the clarification and hence the fulfillment of the epos of the woman makes this epos into a genuine prophetic utterance: the phēmē ‘thing said’ as it is called at O.20.100 and at O.20.105 turns out to be a kleēdōn ‘prophetic utterance’, as it is finally called at O.20.120. The woman’s words have now become fulfilled as a speech-act. Her speech—or song—has now become an act of special prophecy, of cledonomancy. At the moment of fulfillment, Odysseus rejoices at both omens: (1) the prophetic utterance, kleēdōn, and (2) the thundering of Zeus. Here is the wording: ‘he rejoiced at the kleēdōn | and at the thundering of Zeus’, O.20.120–121 (χαῖρεν δὲ κλεηδόνι … | Ζηνός τε βροντῇ).
[§26] The prophecy, of course, starts with Zeus, whose thundering is in itself the primal act that leads to the cledonomancy. Zeus himself is ultimately prophetic in his manifestations of weather, and his meaning can be ambivalently bright or dark, clear or cloudy, positive or negative. The Indo-European form *di̯eu-, which becomes Greek Zeus (Ζεύς), means basically ‘sky’, thus conveying a cledonomantic ambivalence: it portends either clear or clouded weather. Despite this ambivalence of clear or clouded, positive or negative, in the meaning ‘sky’, the Indo-European noun *di̯eu- stems from the verb *diu̯-, which has only the positive meaning ‘be bright / clear’, not the negative ‘be dark / cloudy’. The darkness and the clouds show the other side of Zeus.
[§27] There is a similar cledonomantic ambivalence in the meaning of the Indo-European form *nebhos, which becomes Greek nephos (νέφος) ‘cloud’: it means basically ‘cloud’ in ambivalently good or bad weather. This ambivalence explains the fact that in some Indo-European languages the derivative of *nebhos means primarily ‘sky’, by way of metonymy. Such is the case with Russian nebo ‘sky’. Thus in Russian idiom, na nebe ni oblaka means ‘there’s not a cloud [oblako] in the sky [nebo]’. From the standpoint of Indo-European linguistics, we see here a new word for ‘cloud’, oblako, while the old word for ‘cloud’ has become, metonymically, the new word for ‘sky’. This new word can even stand for a cloudless sky, as in the idiom we have just seen: na nebe ni oblaka means ‘there’s not a cloud [oblako] in the sky [nebo]’.
[§28] Such a metonymic sense of Indo-European *nebhos as ‘sky’ is visible also in some Homeric usages of the noun nephos / nephea ‘cloud’ / ‘clouds’, which is potentially ambivalent in its own right concerning questions of good or bad weather. When Zeus thunders ‘from on high, from out of the clouds [nephea]’ at O.20.105 (ὑψόθεν ἐκ νεφέων), he is thundering from the sky, through the metonymy of the clouds. In this case, the ambivalence of clouds or sky is canceled only by the explicit statement, in the words of the singing woman at 20.114, that there is no nephos ‘cloud’ in the sky. In all other Homeric attestations, the potential metonymic sense of nephos / nephea as ‘sky’ can remain in force. A particularly striking example of this metonymic sense of ‘sky’ is evident at I.13.523–524, where Zeus is pictured as sitting in grand isolation on the summit of Olympus, under a shining canopy of ‘golden nephea’ (ἀλλ᾿ ὁ γὰρ ἄκρῳ Ὀλύμπῳ ὑπὸ χρυσέοισι νέφεσσιν | ἦστο). At that moment in the narrative, the god is described as ‘wrapped up’ in his own thoughts, which are conventionally called the Will of Zeus, I.13.524 (Διὸς βουλῇσιν ἐελμένος). The scholia V for O.20.104 actually cite this Iliadic passage, explaining the usage of nephea at O.20.104 in terms of metonymy. A similar explanation is offered in Scholia BQ: that the word nephea at O.20.102 is to be understood as referring to a realm where clouds can be expected to happen.
[§29] I propose that the theme of the Will of Zeus, as a conventional plot device of Homeric narrative, is essential for understanding the double omen of Zeus’ thunder and the woman’s song in the Odyssey. I propose, further, that the weather in this passage of the Odyssey depends on the Will of Zeus, and that the sudden shift from a cloudy to a clear sky is a choice in Homeric narratology, not a mistake in Homeric meteorology.
[§30] Moreover, the sudden shift from cloudy to clear skies can happen only after the narrative makes it clear that there is not a cloud in the sky. Before that clarification, it was left unclear whether or not the sky was cloudy. If the thundering of Zeus comes out of a clear blue sky, it is a bigger omen than if it comes out of a cloudy sky. If Odysseus had prayed for just one omen, not two, it would not be clear whether the thundering of Zeus had happened in cloudy or in clear weather. Since he prayed for two omens, however, and since the second omen was granted, now everything is clear, and the prophecy is augmented.
[§31] The shift from a clouded sky to a clear one depends on the clarification of the Will of Zeus in the course of the narrative. Further, the sēma ‘sign’ meant by Zeus for Odysseus at O.20.111 depends implicitly on the faculty for both encoding and decoding it, and that faculty is conventionally expressed by the noun nóos ‘mind’ and the verb noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’ (see the anchor comment at I.05.669). The nóos or ‘intentionality’ of Zeus is key to understanding the plot-constructions of Homeric narrative. In the Iliad, for example, when Zeus expresses his Will by nodding his head, I.01.524–527, Hērā reacts by chiding him for not telling what it is that he really intends—literally, for not making an epos out of what he ‘has in his nóos’, as expressed by the verb noeîn at I.01.543. Zeus replies that the mūthos ‘wording’ that he ‘has in his nóos’ as expressed again by noeîn at I.01.549, is for him alone to know. And yet, the Homeric audience may already know, since the Iliad declares programmatically that its plot is the Will of Zeus, I.01.005. See the comment at that line (see also GMP 222).
[§32] To sum up, I repeat my earlier formulation: when Zeus thunders ‘from on high, from out of the clouds [nephea]’ at O.20.105 (ὑψόθεν ἐκ νεφέων), he is essentially thundering from the sky, through the metonymy of the clouds. This poetic description in the framing narrative does not contradict, per se, the later perception of a clear sky within the framed speech, O.20.114: ‘and there is not a cloud [nephos] anywhere’ (οὐδέ ποθι νέφος ἐστί). But that later perception does indeed clarify the earlier narrative perception of a sky that may be clouded over. Now the sky is clear, as the cledonomantic words have finally been clarified.
[§33] The time has come to rethink the passage I have analyzed here in terms of oral poetics, not just poetics per se. I hold that the complexities of this passage reflect the accretions of a highly sophisticated oral poetic tradition that kept on continually recombining its older and its newer elements in the productive phases of its evolution. These older and newer elements may at times seem to contradict each other if we stop and view each of them as individual parts, but I suggest that such contradictions were transcended by the actual re-combinations of these parts into the totality of an ongoing system that we know as Homeric poetry. In order to account for such an ongoing system, I developed my evolutionary model for the making of Homeric poetry. For more on such a model, see the comment at I.12.335–336 and at I.13.066; also the Excursus on O.13.158. [[GN 2017.08.03.]]
subject heading(s): noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’; mnē– ‘mentally connect’
The cognitive process of noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’ at O.20.204 is associated here with a moment of ‘remembering’ as expressed by the root of the verb mnē– ‘mentally connect’ at O.20.205. [[GN 2017.08.03 via GMP 211.]]
subject heading(s): kertomiai ‘words of insult’; language of praise/blame; blame poetry
The noun kertomiai ‘words of insult’ is correlated with the verb kertomeîn ‘say words of insult’, as attested at I.02.256, O.02.323, O.18.350. [[GN 2017.08.03 via BA 261.]]
subject heading(s): enīpē ‘scolding’; language of praise/blame; blame poetry
The noun enīpē ‘scolding’ is correlated with the verb eniptein ‘scold’, on which see especially the comment at O.18.321–326. [[GN 2017.08.03 via BA 261.]]
O.20.276–280 / anchor comment on: festival of Apollo
subject heading(s): hekatombē ‘hecatomb’; dais ‘feast, division of portions (of meat); sacrifice’; daiesthai ‘feast; divide (meat), apportion, distribute’; stylized festival
The feasting that we see being described here at O.20.276–280 involves the whole astu ‘city’ of Ithaca, O.20.276, and, as we see in the wording of O.20.276–277, all this feasting climaxes in a hekatombē ‘hecatomb’, as proclaimed throughout the city by kērūkes ‘heralds’. On the word hekatombē ‘hecatomb’, a priestly word referring to the sacrifice of one hundred cattle, see the comment on O.04.351–353. The occasion for this hecatomb is evidently a festival of Apollo, signaled by the vivid description at O.20.277–278: the Achaeans are now seen assembling inside the sacred alsos ‘grove’ of the god Apollo, O.20.278. What follows after the sacrifice of a hundred cattle is then described at O.20.279–280: the meat is cooked and divided among the participants. And the whole occasion of this feasting is indicated at O.20.280 by way of two all-important words here: (1) dais ‘feast, division of portions (of meat); sacrifice’, and (2) daiesthai ‘feast; divide (meat), apportion, distribute’. On dais ‘feast’ as a stylized way of referring to an overall festival, see the introductory comments at O.08.038 and at O.08.061; also the follow-up comments at O.08.429, O.09.003–111, O.13.023. For further references to the festival of Apollo, see the comments at O.21.267, O.21.404-411, and O.21.429-430. [[GN 2017.08.11.]]
subject heading(s): lōbē ‘words of insult’; blame poetry
See also O.18.347. [[GN 2017.08.03 via BA 261.]]
subject heading(s): Ktesippos; escalation from blame to physical violence; [hekatombē ‘hecatomb’;] festival of Apollo
The suitor Ktesippos goes even beyond the base behavior of the other suitors by throwing the pous ‘foot’ of a cow at Odysseus, O.20.299, though he misses. Presumably, this part of the sacrificial animal was the least prestigious portion of all the beef to be consumed on the occasion of the feasting that followed the hecatomb marking the festival of Apollo. For more on this hecatomb, which involved the sacrifice of notionally one hundred cattle to celebrate the festival of Apollo, see the anchor comment at O.20.276–280. The insulting of the disguised Odysseus by the provocative Ktesippos is bipartite here: (1) Ktesippos mocks Odysseus in words by sarcastically offering him a portion of the feast that would suit the most lowly of participants, and (2) he mocks him in action by throwing that portion at him instead of handing it over to him. [[GN 2017.08.03 via BA 261.]]
subject heading(s): ‘best of the Achaeans’
See also O.11.179, O.15.521–522, O.16.076, O.18.289, and O.19.528. Here again it is said that whoever succeeds in marrying Penelope would surely qualify as ‘the best of the Achaeans’. [[GN 2017.08.03 via BA 39.]]
subject heading(s): noēma (from verb noeîn ‘take notice [of], notice) ‘thinking [by way of nóos]’
Because the goddess Athena has destabilized for the suitors their noēma ‘thinking [by way of nóos]’, they will be incapable of ever recognizing the disguised Odysseus—until it is too late for them. The noun noēma is derived from the verb noeîn ‘take note of, notice’, which signals the kind of thinking that leads to recognition. See especially the comment at O.19.215–248. [[GN 2017.09.03 via GMP 206.]]
subject heading(s): walls saturated with blood
Among the many signs that signal the doom of the suitors, this omen as pictured here at O.20.354 is perhaps the most striking. [[GN 2017.08.03 via GMP 206.]]
subject heading(s): noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’
Theoklymenos the seer can read with his mind, as expressed by the verb noeîn ‘take note (of), notice’, the doom of the suitors. [[GN 2017.08.03 via GMP 206.]]
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.