A sampling of comments on Odyssey Rhapsody 24

2017.08.31 / updated 2018.10.13 | By Gregory Nagy

Before the Odyssey comes to an end, the Singer of Tales reaches back to what seems to be the beginning of the Iliad. It is as if the second epic, the Odyssey, could now restart before it ends by reaching back into the first epic, the Iliad. Still, there will be no restart here. The plot of that first epic had started with a grand feud between Achilles and Agamemnon, but the plot of the second epic will now come to an end with a resolution of that feud. The feuding is over, so that the two main characters of the Iliad can now take time to review not only what happened in the Iliad but also, beyond the Iliad, how the two of them died, each his own way. Since they are now dead, they have to speak ghost to ghost, but that is not enough for Agamemnon. He must also speak with the new ghosts, the suitors, who will now give him a retrospective on the Odyssey. This way, Agamemnon can compare the story of his own life with the stories of both Odysseus and Achilles. And the comparison must be most depressing for him. But the Odyssey does not end with the sad thoughts of Agamemnon. Odysseus still has to reconnect with his own ancestors, and so there needs to be a final recognition scene between the son and his father Laertes. But even after this reconnection of the generations is finally achieved, the story is still not done. The feuding that has been triggered by the killing of the suitors must end; otherwise, the story cannot end. [[GN 2017.08.30.]]

“Mercury Conducting the Souls of the Suitors to the Infernal Regions” (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.
“Mercury Conducting the Souls of the Suitors to the Infernal Regions” (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): Hermes as conductor of psūkhai ‘spirits’ of the dead; Ōkeanos; White Rock; Gates of the Sun; District of Dreams; Meadow of Asphodel

The god Hermes conducts the psūkhai ‘spirits’ of the dead suitors from the world of light and life into a world of darkness and death. Another way to think of these two distinct worlds is picture consciousness on one side and unconsciousness on the other side. Situated between these two worlds here are five mythological landmarks: the cosmic river Ōkeanos, O.24.011; the White Rock (leukas petrā), O.24.011; the Gates (pulai) of Hēlios the Sun, O.24.012; the District (dēmos) of Dreams (oneiroi), O.24.012, and, finally, the Meadow (leimōn) of Asphodel (the flower asphodelos). In other Homeric contexts, it would be sufficient for only one of these five landmarks, the Ōkeanos, to figure as a separator of light and life from darkness and death, of consciousness from unconsciousness. See especially the comments at O.10.508–512 O.11.012–019, O.11.020–022, O.12.001–004. In the present context, four other separators are listed, each one of which can be considered a multiform that has the same kind of built-in function of referring to a separator and a meeting-point between two opposite worlds. In Homeric poetry, there is no other attestation of the White Rock or of the District of Dreams, although other poetry shows traces of such landmarks (as in Alcman PMG 1.45–49; comments at GMP 224). But Homeric poetry does refer elsewhere to the Gates of the Sun: see the comments at I.05.395–404, I.05.646, I.11.671–761, I.23.071–076, O.04.809; see also the anchor comment at I.08.367 on the Gates of Hādēs and the anchor comment at I.23.071–076 on what the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Patroklos really wants for itself—and for Achilles (Points 5 and 6 and 9). As for the Meadow of Asphodel, see the comment at O.24.014–023. [[GN 2017.08.30 via GMP 224, 226, 230, 234; BA 166–167, 195.]]


subject heading(s): rhabdos ‘wand’; thelgein ‘put a trance on, enchant’

See the comment at O.05.047. [[GN 2017.08.30.]]


subject heading(s): psūkhai ‘spirits’ of the dead suitors; psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Achilles; Meadow of Asphodel; meeting-place for psūkhai ‘spirits’ of Achilles, Patroklos, Antilokhos, Ajax; ‘best of the Achaeans’; psūkhē of Agamemnon; Aigisthos

As the psūkhai ‘spirits’ of the dead suitors are being conducted by the god Hermes toward their ultimate otherworldly destination, which is unspecified, they come to a place called the Meadow of Asphodel, O.24.013, which is an abode for psūkhai ‘spirits’ described here as eidōla ‘images’ of the dead, O.24.014. Elsewhere in Homeric diction, I.23.072 and O.11.476, this same description applies to disembodied spirits of the dead who populate a mystical place that resembles what is known in other contexts as Hādēs. But the Meadow of Asphodel is not exactly Hādēs. Elsewhere in Homeric diction, this Meadow is where the spirit of Achilles himself abides, O.11.539. Also, at O.11.573, the Meadow of Asphodel is pictured as a “happy hunting ground”—to borrow an image from the Great Plains tribes of native Americans—where the great hunter Orion can hunt for all time to his heart’s content, O.11.572–575. In the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, verses 221 and 344, the same Meadow of Asphodel becomes a pathway for the Cattle of the Sun after Hermes steals this solar herd from Apollo. And now, as we see here at O.O.24.013 just as we saw earlier at O.11.539, the Meadow of Asphodel is once again featured as the place where the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Achilles is to be found: here he is, in the company of other psūkhai ‘spirits’, who are listed in the following order: Patroklos, Antilokhos, Ajax, O.24.015–018. In this same context, Ajax is described as the second-best of the Achaeans, after Achilles, O.24.017–018. This company of psūkhai ‘spirits’ is now joined by the psūkhē of Agamemnon, who is coming from some other direction, at the head of another company of psūkhai ‘spirits’—those who had been killed together with Agamemnon by Aigisthos after they had made their way back home from Troy, O.24.021–022. At this point, we might have expected the psūkhē of Agamemnon to address the psūkhai ‘spirits’ of the dead suitors, asking them directly: how did you all die? And then I will tell you how we died. But such a dialogue is postponed till O.24.099–105. Instead, here at O.24.023, it is Achilles himself—or, let us say, it is his psūkhē ‘spirit’—who initiates a dialogue with the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Agamemnon. You would think that the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Achilles had only now for the first time encountered the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Agamemnon since he died. But, as we will see at O.24.024–034, Achilles already knows what happened to Agamemnon and to his followers after they had made their way back home from Troy: they died an ignominious death, through the treachery of Aigisthos. Conversely, as we will see at O.24.036–097, Agamemnon already knows what happened to Achilles: he never went home because he died at Troy, but his glorious death there earned him the greatest honors. [[GN 2017.08.28.]]


subject heading(s): parallelism of Antilokhos and Patroklos

On the parallelism of Antilokhos and Patroklos as dearest companions of Achilles, see especially the comment at I.23.326–343. [[GN 2017.08.30 via PH 211; also 54.]]


subject heading(s): retrospective retellings of the stories of Agamemnon and Achilles at Troy

Although the gender of psūkhē ‘spirit’ in referring here to the spirits of Achilles and Agamemnon is feminine, O.24.023 and O.24.035, the pronouns referring to the two dead heroes in the narrative that frames their dialogue continue to show the masculine gender, and the use of the feminine gender is discontinued altogether in the wording of the actual I-you dialogue: instead, as Achilles and Agamemnon proceed to speak to each other at O.24.024–034 and at O.24.036–097 respectively, they revert in their I-you dialogue to the masculine gender that they once had owned as speakers in Homeric narrative. The dialogue between the psūkhē ‘spirit of Achilles and the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Agamemnon frames a retrospective retelling of stories, taken separately, about what the two heroes had achieved at Troy—after all is said and done. In the case of Agamemnon, the retelling centers on his ultimate failure as a character in his own story. In the case of Achilles, on the other hand, the retelling centers on his ultimate success—despite his death. The verses at O.24.024–034 are spoken by the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Achilles, O.24.023, who is addressing the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Agamemnon: too bad, Achilles says without gloating, that things did not work out well for you. Then the verses at O.24.036–097 are spoken by the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Agamemnon, O.24.035, who in turn addresses the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Achilles: without attempting to detract from the glory in store for Achilles, Agamemnon retells, in second-person narrative, the death and funeral and entombment of Achilles. You were killed; we arranged for your funeral and for funeral games in your honor; and then we made a tomb for you. [[GN 2017.08.28.]]


subject heading(s): retrospective on the story about Agamemnon at Troy

In these verses spoken by the psūkhē ‘spirit of Achilles to the psūkhē ‘spirit’ of Agamemnon, O.24.024–034, the outcome of the story about Agamemnon is a foil for the outcome of the subsequent story about Achilles. Whereas Achilles will get glory for dying on the battlefield at Troy, away from home, Agamemnon gets no glory for his ignominious death back home: see the note at O.24.030–034. What gives the story of Achilles a “happy ending,” as we will see in the commentary ahead, is the glory that he gets not only from his death on the battlefield but also from his funeral and his entombment in the environs of Troy. On the tomb of Achilles, see the anchor comment at O.24.076–084. [[GN 2017.08.30.]]


subject heading(s): tomb and kleos ‘glory’ of song

In the words of Achilles here at O.24.0230–034, Agamemnon would have been better off if he too, like Achilles, had been killed at Troy: then the Achaeans would have made a tomb for him there, just as they had earlier made a tomb for Achilles. See the note at O.24.024–034. This way, as we read at O.24.033, Agamemnon would have achieved a future kleos ‘glory’ of song for himself and also for his son. The reference here to the son of Agamemnon, who would be Orestes, may be relevant to myths concerning the involvement of Agamemnon’s descendants in the region of Troy: for example, the island of Lesbos was reportedly settled by a hero named Penthilos, who was son of Orestes (Pausanias 2.18.5–6, Aristotle Politics 5.1311b27; see further at PH 155). [[GN 2017.08.30 via BA 36.]]


subject heading(s): retrospective on the story about Achilles at Troy; hero cult of Achilles

(What follows is an epitome of the comments in Nagy 2012:49–51.) The narrative here at O.24.036–097 is pervaded by references to the hero cult of Achilles. I offer here a brief inventory of some of these references:

—O.24.036, ὄλβιε Πηλέος υἱέ, θεοῖσ’ ἐπιείκελ’ Ἀχιλλεῦ ‘O you olbios son of Peleus, godlike Achilles’. So, Agamemnon here addresses Achilles as olbios, which would mean ‘fortunate’ on the surface. Beneath the surface, however, olbios here can be interpreted as ‘blessed’, referring to the sacred status of a cult hero: see the comment at O.19.107–114, with special reference to uses of olbios in the sense of ‘blessed’, as at verse 172 of the Hesiodic Works and Days.

—O.037–039, ἀμφὶ δέ σ’ ἄλλοι | κτείνοντο Τρώων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν υἷες ἄριστοι | μαρνάμενοι περὶ σεῖο ‘On all sides of you [= your corpse], the rest of them | were being slaughtered, sons of both Trojans and Achaeans, the best, | as they were fighting over you [= your corpse]’. The Achaeans and the Trojans are battling here over the possession of the corpse of Achilles. The mentality of needing to possess the body of the dead hero, whether he was a friend or an enemy in life, is typical of hero cults, in that the corpse of the cult hero was viewed as a talisman of fertility and prosperity for the community that gained possession of the hero’s body. Details in PH 32, 178; also Nagy 2006 §97.

—O.24.039–40, σὺ δ’ ἐν στροφάλιγγι κονίης | κεῖσο μέγας μεγαλωστί ‘There you were, lying in a swirl of dust. | You lay there so huge in all your hugeness’. The corpse of Achilles is described here as larger than life. This wording applies to Achilles also at I.18.026–027, where he stages himself as a corpse in mourning the death of Patroklos and where he is mourned by Thetis as if he were already a corpse: see the comment at I.018.070–071 (see also BA 113, especially with reference to I.18.071). At I.16.775–776, cognate wording applies to the corpse of the hero Kebriones. The corpse of Achilles is described as nine cubits long in the Alexandra of Lycophron (860). As we see from lore preserved in the historical period about cult heroes, they were conventionally pictured as far larger in death than they had been in life. Among the most striking examples is the corpse of Orestes as cult hero, described in Herodotus 1.68.

—O.24.059, περὶ δ’ ἄμβροτα εἵματα ἕσσαν ‘They [= the Nereids] dressed you [= your corpse] in immortalizing clothes’. At the funeral of Achilles, his divine mother and her sister Nereids dress the hero’s corpse in ‘immortalizing’ clothes. On the vital importance of understanding ambrotos as ‘immortalizing’ as well as ‘immortal’, see the comments at I.16.670 and I.16.680; details in GMP 141.

—O.24.073–077. After the cremation of the corpse of Achilles, his bones and those of the already cremated corpse of Patroklos are placed into a golden jar that had been given by the god Dionysus to the goddess Thetis. This jar, as we know from the comparative evidence of other poetic references (especially Stesichorus PMG 234), is a sign of the hero’s immortalization after death. See BA 209; also Dué 2001.

—O.24.085–086. After the making of the tumulus which will be the tomb shared by Achilles and Patroklos, O.24.080–084, funeral games are held in honor of Achilles. The details of this description match closely the details we can gather from historical evidence about athletic contests held in honor of cult heroes. Details in BA 116–117.

—O.24.091. The athletic contests at the funeral games of Achilles and the prizes to be won in these contests are instituted for the purpose of compensating for his death, and, in this verse, such an act of compensation is expressed by way of the prepositional phrase epi soi (ἐπὶ σοί), which can be translated roughly as ‘in your honor’. As we can see clearly from a variety of prose sources, the syntactical construct combining the preposition epi with the dative case of a given hero’s name refers to the cult of that hero. (Details in PH 121.) Perhaps the most striking example is this entry in the dictionary attributed to Hesychius: ‘balletus: a festival event at Athens, held in honor of [epi plus object in dative case] Demophon son of Keleos’ (Βαλλητύς· ἑορτὴ Ἀθήνησιν, ἐπὶ Δημοφῶντι τῷ Κελεοῦ ἀγομένη).


subject heading(s): laments for Achilles; [góos ‘lament’;] thrēneîn ‘make lament’

The goddess Thetis and her sister Nereids, as the family of Achilles, are lamenting Achilles: presumably, their singing can be described as góos ‘lament’, as I infer by comparing the use of this word in referring to the laments performed by Hector’s family at I.24.723 / I.24.747 (also at I.24.760) / I. 24.761. In the case of Hector’s funeral, there are also laments performed by non-family professionals, I.24.720–722: these professionals are aoidoi ‘singers’ who are men, I.24.720, and they perform thrēnoi ‘laments’, I.24.721; as they perform, the word that refers to their performance is thrēneîn ‘make lament’, I.24.722, which is a verb derived from the noun thrēnos ‘lament’. So also here at O.24.61, we see the same verb thrēneîn ‘make lament’ applied to the singing of laments by the Muses themselves, who are in this context “professionals” by contrast with the Nereids, who are “family.” The lamenting of Achilles by the Muses is also described in Pindar Isthmian 8.56–60. [[GN 2017.08.31 via PH 36; also BA 113, 172, 177, 184.]]


O.24.076–084 / anchor comment on: tomb of Achilles, part 3.
subject heading(s): post-heroic age
see also anchor comment at I.23.125–126 on: tomb of Achilles, part 1
see also anchor comment at I.23.245–248 on: tomb of Achilles, part 2

What follows was originally posted in Nagy 2017.01.03.

Here is the original introduction to this anchor comment:

The Homeric Iliad as we have it refers at least two times directly and two times indirectly to the tomb of Achilles, while the Odyssey refers to it one time directly. In the direct references that we see in the Iliad, it is made clear that this tomb starts off as a small-scale structure, located at the same place where a funeral pyre is constructed for the cremation of the body of Patroklos, and that the original function of this tomb is to enclose the bones of that hero after his body is cremated. But it is also made clear, in both the direct and the indirect references as we see them in the Iliad, that this same tomb will in a future time enclose the bones of Achilles as well, which will then be mixed together with the bones of Patroklos inside a golden jar. In this future time, when Achilles too is dead, it will be his own body that will need to be cremated at the same place and then entombed in the same structure. For this new entombment to happen, however, the small-scale structure that had enveloped the bones of Patroklos will now grow into a large-scale structure, exponentially larger than the original. Such is the tomb of Achilles as pictured in Odyssey 24. [[GN 2017.01.03.]]

The Introduction was then followed by five interconnected points:

Point 1. At I.23.125–126 and at I.23.245–248, we find two direct references to the tomb of Achilles, though at first it may seem as if the tomb belongs to Patroklos primarily and to Achilles only secondarily. See the anchor comments at I.23.125–126 and at I.23.245–248. Here at O.24.076–084, however, where we find the third and most detailed direct reference to the same tomb, it becomes clear that (A) this structure belongs primarily to Achilles and (B) the cremation and entombment of Patroklos were designed all along to prefigure the cremation and entombment of Achilles. Even in the Iliad, the two indirect references to the tomb show that Achilles is the primary occupant of the structure: see the comments on I.07.067–091 and on I.19.373–380.

Point 2. In the direct references that we find at I.23.125–126 and at I.23.245–248, it is made clear that this tomb starts off as a small-scale structure, located at the same place where a funeral pyre is constructed for cremating the body of Patroklos, and that the original function of this tomb is to enclose the bones of that hero after his body is cremated. But it is also made clear, not only in the direct references at I.23.125–126 and I.23.245–248 but also in the indirect references at I.07.067–091 and I.19.373–380, that this same tomb will in a future time enclose the bones of Achilles as well, which will then be mixed together with the bones of Patroklos inside a golden jar that had been given by the god Dionysus to the mother of Achilles, I.23.092. In this future time, when Achilles too is dead, it will be his own body that will need to be cremated at the same place and then entombed inside the same structure.

Point 3. Once the cremation of Achilles is completed, O.23.071, the bones of the hero are mixed with the bones of Patroklos and placed inside the golden jar, gift of Dionysus, that Thetis has now brought to the funeral, O.24.072–077. That golden jar signals a future of immortalization for Achilles and, by extension, for Patroklos, whose psūkhē ‘spirit’ had originally indicated the need for the bones of both heroes to be stored inside the golden jar, I.23.092 (BA 209–210). Now that the bones are safely stored in the golden jar, the two heroes must be entombed together. For this new entombment to happen, however, the small-scale structure that had enveloped the bones of Patroklos will now grow into a large-scale structure, exponentially larger than the original. As noted in the anchor comment at I.23.245–248…256–257, the entombment of Achilles together with Patroklos will now lead to an upgrading of the tomb, the size of which will become spectacular in both height and width, I.23.246–247. And it is this large-scale structure, in all its splendor, that we see pictured in Odyssey 24.

Point 4. The structure is a tumbos ‘tomb’, O.24.080, which is ‘heaped up’ by the Achaean=Argive warriors to entomb the bones of Achilles and Patroklos, O.24.081: so the tomb is a tumulus. And this tumulus is situated on top of a high promontory that looks out over the sea of the Hellespont, O.24.082, so that it may shine from afar as a beacon light of salvation for all those who sail through the troubled waters of that dangerous sea—not only ‘now’ in the heroic past but also in the post-heroic future, O.24.083–084. The time frame indicated as ‘now’ here is the era of the heroes who fought in the Trojan War, but the future is of course the ever movable here-and-now of Homeric reception (Nagy 2012:48). Already at I.23.248, Achilles makes a pointed reference to the Achaeans of the future who will be sailing past the promontory on top of which his tomb is located and marveling at the sight of the structure, which is called a sēma ‘tomb’ at I.23.257. See the anchor comment at I.23.245–248…256–257.

Point 5. By now we can picture the tomb of Achilles, situated on a promontory overlooking the dangerous sea of the Hellespont, as a magnificent structure resembling a splendid lighthouse. There is a comparable image to be seen at I.19.373–380: in these verses, which refer indirectly to the tomb of Achilles, the selas ‘flash of light’ streaming from the bright surface of the hero’s Shield, I.19.374, is compared to a selas ‘flash of light’ streaming from a fire that sends forth its light from a lighthouse, I.19.375. See the comment on I.19.373–380. As I note in the comment there, this saving light is described as holding forth a promise of salvation for sailors lost at sea who are longing to be reunited with their loved ones at home, I.19.375, I.19.377–378. And this light is said to be streaming from a fire that is burning at a remote place described here as a solitary stathmos ‘station’ situated in the heights overlooking the dangerous seas below, I.19.376–377. To picture the tomb of Achilles as a stathmos ‘station’ that shelters herdsmen and that protects sailors is another traditional way of viewing the sacred place where the hero Achilles once lived and died. See the comments on I.18.587–589 and I.19.373–380.

[[GN 2017.01.03; on an ancient rivalry between the cities of Mytilene and Athens in claiming ownership of the tomb of Achilles, see HPC 177–189.]]


subject heading(s): Hellespont

The location of the tomb of Achilles on a promontory looking out over the Hellespont is consistent with the visualizations of this tomb in the Iliad. See the anchor comment at O.24.076–084. [[GN 2017.08.31; see also BA 28, 160, 160, 341–342, 344; GMP 215–216, 220; PH 330; HPC 149–150; for an allusion in Herodotus 1.188.2 to the tomb of Achilles at the Hellespont, see PH 330.]]


subject heading(s): kleos ‘glory’ of song; ep’ anthrōpous ‘throughout humankind’

The 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 2017.08.31 via BA 37.]]


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

There is an irony here in the reference to the dead suitors as aristoi ‘the best’, since they have all been already bested by Odysseus in his role as the best of the Achaeans in the Odyssey. [[GN 2017.08.31 via BA 39.]]


subject heading(s): retelling the story of the suitors

This retelling accentuates one more time the victory of Odysseus over his inferior rivals. [[GN 2017.08.31 via BA 36.]]


subject heading(s): hurling insults or objects as projectiles of insult; epes-bolos ‘thrower of words’

The collocation here of epea ‘words’ and bolai ‘throwings’ is a contextual confirmation of the meaning of epes-bolos as ‘he who hurls words [epea] of insult’, as at I.02.275. See the comment on that line. [[GN 2017.08.31 via BA 264.]]


“Ulysses Departing from Lacedaemon for Ithaca, with his Bride Penelope” (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.
“Ulysses Departing from Lacedaemon for Ithaca, with his Bride Penelope” (1805). John Flaxman (English, 1755–1826). Flaxman made this image the last in his Odyssey series, bringing the story of Penelope and Odysseus full circle. 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 H24H 11§22
subject heading(s): olbios ‘blessed’ (or ‘fortunate’)

|192 ὄλβιε Λαέρταο πάϊ, πολυμήχαν’ Ὀδυσσεῦ, |193 ἦ ἄρα σὺν μεγάλῃ ἀρετῇ ἐκτήσω ἄκοιτιν· |194 ὡς ἀγαθαὶ φρένες ἦσαν ἀμύμονι Πηνελοπείῃ, |195 κούρῃ Ἰκαρίου, ὡς εὖ μέμνητ’ Ὀδυσῆος, |196 ἀνδρὸς κουριδίου. τῶ οἱ κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται |197 ἧς ἀρετῆς, τεύξουσι δ’ ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἀοιδὴν |198 ἀθάνατοι χαρίεσσαν ἐχέφρονι Πηνελοπείῃ, |199 οὐχ ὡς Τυνδαρέου κούρη κακὰ μήσατο ἔργα, |200 κουρίδιον κτείνασα πόσιν, στυγερὴ δέ τ’ ἀοιδὴ |201 ἔσσετ’ ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, χαλεπὴν δέ τε φῆμιν ὀπάσσει |202 θηλυτέρῃσι γυναιξί, καὶ ἥ κ’ εὐεργὸς ἔῃσιν.

|192 O blessed [olbios] son of Laertes, Odysseus of many wiles, |193 it is truly with great merit [aretē] that you got to have your wife. |194 For the thinking [phrenes] of faultless Penelope was sound: |195 she, daughter of Ikarios, kept Odysseus well in mind, |196 that properly-wedded [kouridios] husband of hers. Thus the glory [kleos] will never perish for him, |197 the glory that comes from his merit [aretē], and a song will be created for earthbound humans |198 by the immortals—a song that brings beautiful and pleasurable recompense for sensible Penelope |199 —unlike the daughter of Tyndareos [= Clytemnestra], who masterminded evil deeds, |200 killing her properly-wedded [kouridios] husband, and a hateful subject of song |201 she will be throughout all humankind, and she will give a harsh reputation |202 to women, female [thēluterai] that they are—even for the kind of woman who does noble things.

Notes on the translation

In the original Greek wording, the prepositional phrase meaning ‘with great merit’ at O.24.193 cannot “modify” a noun, and so we cannot translate this wording as ‘you got to have a wife with great merit’, in the sense of ‘you got to have a wife who has great merit’; rather, the phrase modifies the verb ‘you got’. At O.24.197, I translate ‘his merit’, not ‘her merit’, interpreting this instance of aretē ‘merit’ at verse 197 as referring to the previous instance, at verse 193. At O.24.198, the epithet for aoidē ‘song’ is khariessa ‘having kharis’, and I interpret the concept of kharis as ‘beautiful and pleasurable recompense’ in this context. On kharis as a word that conveys both beauty and pleasure, see HC 2§33. At O.24.202, thēluterai means not ‘more female’ but rather ‘female—as opposed to male’.

Further commentary at BA 36–38.

(What follows is an epitome of H24H 11§23, §§26–27.) The word olbios that we see being used here in the first verse seems at first ambivalent: we cannot be sure whether it means ‘fortunate’ or ‘blessed’. While a hero like Odysseus is still alive, it is dangerous for him to be described as olbios in the sense of ‘blessed’. A negative example of what can happen is the case of the hero Priam. Most telling are the words that Achilles addresses to him at I.24.543: ‘I hear that you, old man, were once upon a time olbios’ (καὶ σὲ γέρον τὸ πρὶν μὲν ἀκούομεν ὄλβιον εἶναι). When Achilles is saying this to Priam, the old man is experiencing the worst moments of his life. During those moments, he is neither fortunate nor blessed. Only after death could Priam ever become truly olbios. In the case of Odysseus, however, the Odyssey shows that this Homeric hero is ultimately not only fortunate but also blessed, and so the epithet olbios will in fact ultimately apply to him.

As we see here in O.24.192–202, Odysseus owes his successful homecoming to the faithfulness of his wife Penelope, who deserves only praise, O.24.193–198. And it is in this context of success that Agamemnon addresses Odysseus as olbios, ‘blessed’, O.24.192. By contrast, Agamemnon blames his own wife Clytemnestra for sabotaging his own ‘homecoming’ or nostos, O.24.096. Agamemnon contrasts his loss of ‘homecoming’ or nostos with the poetic ‘glory’ or kleos that Achilles will keep forever, O.24.094. But now, in O.24.192–202, we see that Agamemnon makes another basic contrast—between himself and Odysseus. What caused Agamemnon to lose his own kleos—and his own nostos—was the fact that his wife was Clytemnestra, who was unfaithful to him and who contrived his murder, O.24.199-202. By contrast, the faithfulness of Penelope to Odysseus helped that hero secure his own kleos, O.24.196, in the context of O.24.196–198. To add to the irony, Agamemnon’s words describe his violent death as lugros, ‘disastrous’, O.24.096, and his wife Clytemnestra as oulomenē, ‘disastrous’, O.24.097. Both of these epithets, as we have seen earlier, are words that evoke the poetry of epic: lugros, ‘disastrous’, is the epithet of both the nostos or ‘song about homecoming’ that Phemios sings in O.01.327 and of the nostos that Nestor narrates in O.03.132, while oulomenē, ‘disastrous’, is the epithet of the anger of Achilles in I.01.002. [[GN 2017.08.31 via BA 36–38. 254–256.]]


subject heading(s): ep’ anthrōpous ‘throughout humankind’

As noted before, the 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. Here at O.24.201 the remembrance is not positive but decidedly negative. So, there is a shift from praise to blame. [[GN 2017.08.31 via BA 37.]]


Q&T via BA 340
subject heading(s): man overboard devoured by fish[; ikhthuoeis ‘fish-swarming’ as an epithet of pontos ‘crossing (of the sea)’]

See the comment at O.14.135. [[GN 2017.08.31 via BA 340.]]


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

Odysseus shows to Laertes his tell-tale scar, O.24.331, after the father asks his son for a sēma ‘sign, signal’ as proof of identity. Odysseus then also proves that he knows every detail about the Garden of Laertes, O.24.336–346. These sēmata ‘signs, signals’, O.24.346, are now recognized by Laertes, and the verb that signals such recognition is once again gignōskein ‘recognize’. [[GN 2017.08.31 via GMP 203.]]


subject heading(s): thūmos as breathing and phrēn as container of breath

As noted in the anchor comment at O.01.320, I normally translate both thūmos and phrēn (plural phrenes) as ‘heart’. But here at O.24.349 we see an old context where the idea of breathing is still conveyed by both words. [[GN 2017.08.31 via GMP 90.]]


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. See also the comments at O.03.207 and at O.16.086. [[GN 2017.08.31 via BA 163, 319.]]


subject heading(s): asaminthos ‘bathtub’; enalinkio- ‘looking like’

Taking a ritual bath, Laertes emerges looking like the gods, O.24.371. Again we see a transformation in the context of a ritual bath in an asaminthos ‘bathtub’, O.24.370. [[GN 2017.08.31 via MoM 2§16.]]


subject heading(s): penthos alaston ‘grief unforgettable’

In the present context, it is evident that the emotion of grief can undergo a metastasis into the emotion of anger, fueling the desire for vendetta. [[GN 2017.08.31 via BA 95.]]


subject heading(s): ‘breathing-in [pneîn] mental power [menos]’

Here at O.24.520, Athena ‘breathes’ into Laertes the ‘mental power’ that he needs to be victorious, as expressed respectively by pneîn and menos. This situation is the converse of ‘breathing-out [pneîn] mental-power [menos]’, as attested at O.22.203. For other situations where a divinity breathes menos ‘mental power’ into a hero, see the comments at I.10.482, I.11.508, I.15.059–060, I.15.262. [[GN 2017.08.31 via GMP 114.]]


subject heading(s): end of vendetta

Athena intervenes in the feuding between the relatives of the suitors on one side and the followers of Odysseus on the other side. She commands the people of Ithaca to stop the feud. She prevents further vendetta, just as she will prevent further vendetta at the conclusion of the Eumenides of Aeschylus.


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.



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