A sampling of comments on Odyssey Rhapsody 23

2017.08.23 / updated 2018.10.13 | By Gregory Nagy

After the killing of the suitors, Eurykleia rushes to the bedroom of Penelope, waking her up. The queen has slept through it all—the first good night’s sleep she has had in the longest time, she admits. Eurykleia goes on to tell Penelope that Odysseus has really returned and has killed the suitors, but the patient wife will need one more test, to make it perfectly certain that she has recovered her husband. The sēma ‘sign’ of the royal bed that once was theirs and will be theirs once again can now seal their perfect mutual understanding. [[GN 2017.08.22.]]

Eurykleia waking Penelope (1773). Print by Thomas Burke, after a painting by Angelika Kauffmann. Image via the British Museum.
Eurykleia waking Penelope (1773). Print by Thomas Burke, after a painting by Angelika Kauffmann. Image via the British Museum.



subject heading(s): biē ‘force, violence, strength’

The reference here at O.23.031 to the biē ‘force, violence, strength’ of the suitors shows that this word is used here in a strictly negative sense. See the comment at O.15.329. [[GN 2017.08.22 via BA 329.]]


subject heading(s): sēma ‘sign, signal’; scar of Odysseus; boar hunt at Mount Parnassus; gignōskein ‘recognize’

Eurykleia reassures Penelope that the real Odysseus has returned, O.23.073–077, and she notes as proof the hero’s tell-tale scar, O.23.074, which she saw with her own eyes, as first narrated at O.19.388–507. See the comment on those lines. This scar, says Eurykleia, is a sēma ‘sign, signal’ of the hero’s true identity, O.23.073. Again, I refer to the comment on O.23.073–077. [[GN 2017.08.22 via GMP 203.]]


subject heading(s): sēma ‘sign, signal’; bed of Penelope and Odysseus; anagignōskein ‘recognize’

The ultimate sēma ‘sign, signal’ for the mutual recognition of Penelope and Odysseus is the immovable bed that the king had made to be shared with the queen. Within the space of the lines demarcated by O.23.107–230, the noun sēma recurs at O.23.110, O.23.188, O.23.202, O.23.206, O.23.225. The mutual recognition is confirmed by the verb anagignōskein ‘recognize’, when Penelope at long last overtly recognizes Odysseus at O.23.206. [[GN 2017.08.22 via GMP 203.]]


subject heading(s): a mock feast; festival of Apollo

Odysseus instructs his dear ones, together with the household servants, to make merry by singing and dancing, led off by the singing of Phemios to the tune of the lyre. It is as if they were all attending a feast in celebration of a wedding. Such a pretend-feast in heroic-time, where the purpose is to fool those on the outside of the royal household who would start to retaliate if they only knew what had really happened to the suitors on the inside, would be a mock feast, of course. But such a mock feast could also be seen as a preview, as it were, of the merry feasting that will happen at a seasonally recurring festival of Apollo in post-heroic time. By now the feasting would be real, no longer mock feasting—except insofar as the merriment at the feast would be mocking the misfortunes of the suitors while celebrating the eternally recycled sacred wedding of a righteous king and queen. On the epic stylization of Apollo’s festival, see the anchor comment at O.20.276–280; also the comments at O.21.404–411, O.21.429–430, O.21.429, O.22.285–291, O.22.437–479. On the mocking of the suitors in the context of such a festival, see the comments at O.21.429 and especially at O.22.437–479. [[GN 2017.08.22.]]


subject heading(s): molpē ‘singing-and-dancing’; paizein ‘play’

With reference to the mock feast that Odysseus has orchestrated, the use of this word molpē ‘singing-and-dancing’ at O.23.145 here makes it clear that the merriment of the feasting involves singing as well as dancing. On the use of this same word at O.21.430 with reference to singing and dancing at the festival of Apollo, see the comment at O.21.429–430. While molpē at O.23.145 refers to the actual singing-and-dancing, the playfulness of the song and dance is expressed by the verb paizein ‘play’ at O.23.147. For comparable wording, see the comment at O.06.100–101. [[GN 2017.08.22; see also HPC 87n15.]]


subject heading(s): Odysseus transformed; simile of hair as hyacinth

Odysseus is given a ritualized bath, in the course of which the goddess Athena transforms his appearance: he now looks the way he did on his wedding day. One detail here is of special interest: at O.23.158, the hero’s locks of hair are said to look like blossoms of hyacinth. Such a simile fuses the picturing of blossoms woven together in a garland with the picturing of the hair that is adorned by the garland. Similarly at I.17.051–052, the droplets of blood that are splattered over a dead hero’s locks of hair evoke a picturing of myrtle blossoms, but the simile here compares the locks themselves, not the droplets of blood, with the blossoms. Here again, then, we see a fusion in visualizing garland and hair. See the comment on I.17.051–052. [[GN 2017.08.22 via HPC 296n80.]]


subject heading(s): asaminthos ‘bathtub’; homoio- ‘similar to, same as’

After a ritual bath in an asaminthos ‘bathtub’, O.23.163, Odysseus is described this way: ‘he [= Odysseus] emerged from the bathtub [asaminthos], looking the same as [homoios] the immortals in shape’ (ἔκ ῥ’ ἀσαμίνθου βῆ δέμας ἀθανάτοισιν ὁμοῖος). For parallel wording in a description of Telemachus emerging from a ritual bath in an asaminthos ‘bathtub’, see O.03.468 and the comment at O.03.464–468. For homoio- in the sense of ‘same as’ in a similar ritual context, signaling an epiphany, see the comment on O.16.172–212. At this point, Odysseus no longer looks like a middle-aged man: in the context of the ritual bath that he has taken, he looks like a perfect bridegroom, at the perfect age for a perfect wedding. Thus he looks like the Odysseus who slept with Penelope in her dream as described at O.20.087–090. I review here the essentials: in her wakeful agonizing, unable to fall asleep, Penelope had recalled a dream she once had: there she was, lying in bed with Odysseus at her side, and he was looking the way he had looked when she had last seen him twenty years earlier. It seemed to her then, she says at O.20.090, that this was not an onar ‘dream’ but a hupar esthlon ‘wakeful reality’ (οὐκ ὄναρ, ἀλλ’ ὕπαρ ἐσθλόν). But now at O.23.163, as Odysseus emerges from his ritual bath looking like a perfect bridegroom, that dream of Penelope is about to become a wakeful reality. [[GN 2017.08.22 via MoM 2§16.]]


Big Ed and Norma have broken free of the impediments that have kept these lovers apart for 27 years. Now they can have a life together.Still from Twin Peaks 3 Episode 15, modified by Jill Curry Robbins.
Big Ed and Norma have just now broken free of the troublesome relationships that have kept these lovers apart for 27 years. Now at long last they can have a life together.
Still from Twin Peaks 3 Episode 15, reworked by Jill Curry Robbins.


subject heading(s): Phaethōn and Lampōn

The two divine horses that draw the chariot of Ēōs, goddess of the dawn, are here named as Phaéthōn and Lámpōn. These names, both referring to the radiance of the sun, are parallel to the names for the two daughters of Hēlios, god of sunlight, who are Phaéthousa and Lampetíē. See also the comment at O.12.132. As already noted there, these four names and the myths linked with them reflect mythological traditions that can be reconstructed by way of Indo-European linguistics. [[GN 2017.08.22 via BA 198–200, GMP 249–250, HC 1§147.]]


subject heading(s): prophecy of Teiresias; plot of an odyssey beyond the Odyssey; sēma ‘sign, signal; tomb’

At O.23.264–284, Odysseus retells to Penelope the prophecy of Teiresias about the odyssey that still awaits the hero after he has re-established himself as husband of Penelope and as king of Ithaca. The retelling here does not add to what was said already at O.11.119–137, on which I refer to the comment at those lines. But there is one big exception, centering on a most interesting detail: in his quest to travel as far inland as possible, until the oar that he carries on his shoulder is mistaken for a winnowing shovel, the wording of Odysseys has it that he will be passing through many astea ‘cities’ of humankind, Ο.23.267–268. The word astea ‘cities’ here recalls the same word as used in O.01.003, with reference to the journeys of Odysseus in the Odyssey: there too, it is said, the hero will be passing through many astea ‘cities’ of many different kinds of people. The question is, do those astea ‘cities’ belong to the Odyssey or to an odyssey beyond the Odyssey? [[GN 2017.08.22 via PH 231–232, 236; GMP 213–214.]]


subject heading(s): phoinikoparēioi ‘having cheeks of purple’

For this epithet of ships, phoinikoparēioi ‘having cheeks of purple’, see also at O.11.124. Also the comment at O.09.125. [[GN 2017.08.22 via PasP 172n70.]]


subject heading(s): last line of the Odyssey

The scholia report that this line was the very last line of the Odyssey as supposedly composed by Homer—in the opinion of both Aristarchus and his predecessor, Aristophanes of Byzantium. Whatever their opinion may have been, there is evidence to show that both these editors of Homeric poetry retained in their editions of the base text the remaining lines of Odyssey 23 and the lines of Odyssey 24. For an example of such evidence, see the comment at O.23.310–343. [[GN 2017.08.22 via PasP 182n107; HPC 120.]]


subject heading(s): athetesis; base text

The scholia report that these lines were athetized by Aristarchus. Such a report shows that, even where editors like Aristarchus expressed doubts concerning the authenticity of a given set of verses in Homeric poetry, they would still retain such verses in the base text of their editions. This point is relevant to the comment at O.23.296. On athetesis and on base text, see the Inventory of terms and names. [[GN 2017.08.22 via PasP 182n107.]]


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.