A sampling of comments on Odyssey Rhapsody 9

2017.05.25 / updated 2018.10.08 | By Gregory Nagy

The time has come for Odysseus himself to sing his own epic odyssey, and the hero chooses to start with the most celebrated story of the Homeric Odyssey, about the blinding of the Cyclops.

Ulysses Giving Wine to Polyphemus 1805 John Flaxman 1755-1826 Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T11200
“Ulysses Giving Wine to Polyphemus” (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.


The transition from Rhapsody 8 to Rhapsody 9 marks a change in the form of singing for the singer of tales. The poetic bravura of Demodokos, blind singer of the Phaeacians, will now be superseded by a masterpiece of epic narration performed by Odysseus himself, who is starting to sing his own epic odyssey. The hero’s song will extend from the beginning of Rhapsody 9 here all the way through the end of Rhapsody 12, and the size of this song, consisting of four rhapsodies, will correspond to one-twelfth of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey combined. Odysseus will perform his song in the style of the Homēridai, notional descendants of Homer who performed the Iliad and Odyssey in relay. The relay performance, which was competitive as well as collaborative, consisted of twelve units, each unit consisting of four rhapsodies, and it took place at the seasonally recurring festival of the Panionia at a place called the Panionion in Asia Minor. As already noted before, this festival was the political and cultural self-expression of the Ionian Dodecapolis, a confederation of twelve states that reached its apogee in the eastern Greek world during the late eighth and early seventh century BCE. (On the Ionian Dodecapolis, see the anchor comment on I.01.463; also the comment on O.07.321; also on I.02.867–869 and on I.20.403–405; see also under Ionian Dodecapolis in the Inventory of terms and names.) The division of the Iliad and Odyssey into twelve units, six for the Iliad and six for the Odyssey, with each unit containing four rhapsodies, corresponds to the division of the Ionian confederation into twelve states. It may be argued, then, that each one of the twelve states of the Ionian Dodecapolis fielded a rhapsode for performing competitively one of the twelve epic units. Which rhapsode was assigned which one of the twelve epic units could have been determined by lottery or perhaps by way of seasonal rotation. It may also be argued that the rhapsodic unit extending from the start of Rhapsody 9 here all the way through the end of Rhapsody 12 represents an idealized rhapsodic performance in the style of the Homēridai. And Rhapsody 9 begins with a kind of Homeric signature at O.09.03–011—the mark of Homer, as it were. [[GN 2017.05.25.]]


Q&T via MoM 4§71
subject heading(s): telos ‘outcome’; [kharis ‘gratification; pleasurable beauty’;] euphrosunē ‘festivity, merriment’; [dais ‘feast’;] stylized festival; metonymy

|3 ἦ τοι μὲν τόδε καλὸν ἀκουέμεν ἐστὶν ἀοιδοῦ |4 τοιοῦδ’, οἷος ὅδ’ ἐστί, θεοῖσ’ ἐναλίγκιος αὐδήν. |5 οὐ γὰρ ἐγώ γέ τί φημι τέλος χαριέστερον εἶναι |6 ἢ ὅτ’ ἐϋφροσύνη μὲν ἔχῃ κάτα δῆμον ἅπαντα, |7 δαιτυμόνες δ’ ἀνὰ δώματ’ ἀκουάζωνται ἀοιδοῦ |8 ἥμενοι ἑξείης, παρὰ δὲ πλήθωσι τράπεζαι |9 σίτου καὶ κρειῶν, μέθυ δ’ ἐκ κρητῆρος ἀφύσσων |10 οἰνοχόος φορέῃσι καὶ ἐγχείῃ δεπάεσσι· |11 τοῦτό τί μοι κάλλιστον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν εἴδεται εἶναι.

|3 This is indeed a beautiful thing, to listen to a singer [aoidos] |4 such as this one [= Demodokos], the kind of singer that he is, comparable to the gods with the sound of his voice [audē], |5 for I declare, there is no outcome [telos] that is more gratifying  [khariestero-] |6 than the moment when the spirit of festivity [euphrosunē] prevails throughout the whole community [dēmos] |7 and the people at the feast [daitumones], throughout the halls, are listening to the singer [aoidos] |8 as they sit there—you can see one after the other—and they are seated at tables that are filled |9 with grain and meat, while wine from the mixing bowl is drawn |10 by the one who pours the wine and takes it around, pouring it into their cups. |11 This kind of thing, as I see it in my way of thinking, is the most beautiful thing in the whole world.


(Epitomized from MoM 4§§71–73.) As Odysseus himself says here, as he finally proceeds to identify himself, there no greater kharis or ‘gratification’ in the whole world than the combination of good feasting and good singing, and the model for the general reference to singing here is the singer Demodokos. The kharis ‘gratification’ is signaled by the adjective khariestero– ‘more gratifying’ at O.09.005, referring to a telos ‘outcome’: there is no outcome that is more gratifying than what happens at a feast. The word euphrosunē ‘festivity, merriment’, O.09.006, signals the poetic occasion. (On the programmatic implications of this word as an indicator of the festive atmosphere, as it were, of the poetic occasion, I refer to a definitive formulation by Bundy 1986:2 with reference to the poetics of Pindar (see BA 91, 235; also PH 198). The feast that is going on here at the beginning of Rhapsody 9 is a continuation of the festivity that is already signaled by the word dais at O.08.429, which basically means ‘feast’. In that context, dais refers short-range to an occasion of communal dining as indicated by the word dorpon ‘dinner’, O.08.395, which will take place after sunset, O.08.417. The intended guest of honor at this feast will be Odysseus. This occasion of communal dining leads into the third song of Demodokos, O.08.484–485. But this same word dais at O.08.429 is also making a long-range reference: it refers metonymically to a stylized festival that has been ongoing ever since an earlier occasion of communal dining, O.08.071–072, which actually led into the first song of Demodokos. O.08.073–083. On metonymy, see the Inventory of terms and names. And the connectivity goes even further back in time. Leading up to the communal dining, there had been an animal sacrifice as expressed by the word hiereuein ‘sacrificially slaughter’ at O.08.059. Then, the meat of the sacrificed animals had been prepared to be cooked at the feast, O.08.061. And I stress that the word at O.08.061 for ‘feast’ is once again dais. In terms of this sequence, the metonymic use of the word dais ‘feast’ marks a whole complex of events that are typical of festivals. [[GN 2017.05.25 via BA 19, 92; PH 198; HPC 81, 91–92, 380–381.]]


Q&T via Nagy 2016.02.11
subject heading(s): melein ‘be-on-one’s-mind’; apo koinou

εἴμ’ Ὀδυσεὺς Λαερτιάδης, ὃς πᾶσι δόλοισιν | ἀνθρώποισι μέλω, καί μευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.

I am Odysseus son of Laertes, and I, with all [πᾶσι] my acts of trickery, | I-am-on-the-minds-of [melein (μέλω)] all (πᾶσι) humans, and my glory [kleos] reaches all the way up to the sky.

(Epitomized from Nagy 2016.02.11 §§4–7.) Here at O.09.019–020, Homeric poetry is channeling Odysseus in the act of starting to tell his own story. The wording begins by saying at O.09.019 that I, Odysseus, am linked with ‘all’ (πᾶσι) my acts of trickery, and only then, at O.09.020, does the wording go on to say that ‘I-am-on-the-minds-of’ (μέλω) humans—but now the idea that these humans are ‘all’ (πᾶσι) humans in the universe has to be carried over from the previous line, O.09.019. What we see here is a construction known in ancient rhetoric as apo koinou (ἀπὸ κοινοῦ) ‘by way of shared application’, where a word is applied consecutively to two different syntactical situations. (In 2016.02.11 §4, I cite an example in Sappho Song 1 lines 7–8). In the Homeric example that we are now considering, O.09.019–020, the adjective pāsi (πᾶσι) meaning ‘all’ applies first only to the noun doloisi (δόλοισι) meaning ‘acts of trickery’ at line 19, but then at line 20 it applies also—and in a different syntactical situation—to the noun anthrōpoisi (ἀνθρώποισι) meaning ‘humans’. This way, the meaning ‘all’ applies to two different words belonging to two different syntactical situations. And the application of the meaning is consecutive: first, I am linked with ‘all my acts of trickery’, and then, second, I am on the minds of ‘all humans’. The verb melein, which I translate here with the wording ‘be-on-one’s-mind’, normally has as its grammatical subject whatever is on the mind of someone. In everyday contexts, what is on the mind of someone is incidental: someone happens to be thinking about something, and so that something is on the mind of that someone. In Homeric contexts, however, whatever is on someone’s mind is special and worthy of being recorded in poetry. Here is a striking example: when Andromache in the Iliad says to Hector that she is thinking thoughts about the uncertain future that awaits her and the child they had together, he remarks that ‘all these things are-on-my-mind [melei] as well’, I.06.441: ἦ καὶ ἐμοὶ τάδε πάντα μέλει. Such things are the subject of Homeric poetry, and so Homer must have such things on his mind as well. In poetic as also in prosaic contexts, the things that are on someone’s mind may be simply things that this someone is thinking about. But they may be more than that, as in the example I just gave concerning the things that are on the minds of Andromache and Hector. And these things are not just thoughts: they are caring thoughts, concerned thoughts, even worried thoughts. A word that refers to a song about such worried thoughts, as an expression of caring and concern, is merimna ‘care’, as used in the Hippolytus of Euripides, with reference to a custom originating in the city of Trozen, where girls who were celebrating their coming of age are seen in the act of singing and dancing a song. Their song is described as a sad love song, ‘a troubled thought that comes along with songmaking’ (μουσοποιὸς … μέριμνα 1428–1429). The noun that I translate here as ‘a troubled thought’ is merimna, which means literally a ‘care’ or a ‘concern’. A merimna, in other words, is what you have on your mind. In a song of Bacchylides (19.11), the same noun merimna, which I translate here as ‘a troubled thought’, refers to the thought-processes of the poet himself as he is pictured in the act of composing his song. A merimna, then, is a song that is ‘on one’s mind’. Similarly, I argue, the noun melos in the sense of ‘melody’ is derived from melei ‘is on one’s mind’; a melos is a song that is ‘on one’s mind’. Further examples in Nagy 2016.02.11 §7. [[GN 2017.06.01.]]


subject heading(s): ásmenos ‘returning to light and life’

Odysseus and most of his companions have escaped from the land of the Kikones, where some of them died, and now the survivors are sailing on, described as ásmenoi, which I translate as ‘returning to light and life’. See the anchor comment on O.09.566. [[GN 2017.05.31.]]


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

(What follows is epitomized from H24H 10§§8–9.) As we saw already at the very beginning of the Odyssey, the hero’s nostos, ‘return’ at O.01.005 connects with his nóos ‘mind, thinking’ at O.01.003 not only in the explicit sense of thinking about saving his own life but also in the implicit sense of being conscious of returning home. This implicit sense is encoded in the telling of the myth about the land of the Lotus-Eaters here at O.09.082–104. When Odysseus visits this land, those of his comrades who eat the lotus lose their consciousness of home and therefore lose their power to return home. The verb lēth-, ‘forget’, combined with nostos, ‘return’, as its object, conveys the idea of such unconsciousness, O.09.097/102. By contrast, the noun nóos ‘mind, thinking’ conveys the idea of being conscious of nostos. So, here is the basic teaching to be learned from the myth about the land of the Lotus-Eaters: if you lose the “implant” of homecoming in your mind, you cannot go home because you no longer know what home is. [[GN 2017.06.15.]]


subject heading(s): land of the Cyclopes; ktisis poetry

This land, as described here with reference to a mainland correlated with an offshore island, is a poeticized version of a colony in the making—before colonization actually happens. The Greek word for such colonization is ktisis, which literally means ‘foundation’. On ktisis poetry, see BA 180–181 and GMP 74; see also under ktisis poetry in the Inventory of terms and names. [[GN 2017.05.25.]]


subject heading(s): Cyclopes as non-seafarers

The description of the Cyclopes ostentatiously presents them here as non-seafarers. But there were other traditions where the Cyclops and his followers were aggressively seafaring: they could even pursue Odysseus all over the Mediterranean Sea, as we see from the explicit testimony of the scholia PY for O.01.198: see Alwine 2009. [[GN 2017.05.25.]]


subject heading(s): miltoparēioi ‘having cheeks of red’[; phoinikoparēioi ‘having cheeks of purple’]

(Epitomized from PP 172.) Eustathius (1.9), in the Prolegomena to his commentary on the Iliad, says that performers of the Iliad wore red while performers of the Odyssey wore purple. He may perhaps be guessing when he attributes to ‘the ancients’ the idea that red stands for the blood shed in war, and purple, for the sea, as the setting for the wanderings of Odysseus. Still, his report about the actual dichotomy in color seems to be grounded in tradition. In Homeric diction, we find a parallel dichotomy of red and purple in descriptions of colors painted on ships: we already saw nēes miltoparēioi ‘ships having cheeks of red’ at I.02.637, with reference to the ships of Odysseus, and now we see it again here at O.09.125, with reference to generic ships. To be contrasted is the expression neas phoinīkoparēious ‘ships with cheeks of purple’ at O.11.124 and O.23.271. Moreover, the inventories of chariots in the Linear B tablets show yet another parallel dichotomy of red and purple in descriptions of colors painted on chariots: the noun i-qi-ja ‘chariot’ is described as either mi-to-we-sa = miltówessa ‘red’ as in Knossos tablet Sd 4407 or po-ni-ki-ja = phoinikiā ‘purple’ as in Knossos tablet Sd 4402. For the translation ‘purple’ in the latter case, I note φοινικόβαπτα ἐσθήματα ‘clothing dyed in purple’ in Aeschylus Eumenides 1028. [[GN 2017.05.25.]]


subject heading(s): aphthito– ‘imperishable, unwilting’; nature and culture

In the context of this idealized description of a colony in the making, the use of aphthito– ‘imperishable, unwilting’ in describing the vines growing there can be explained as an aspect of the poetic idealization, indicating a wished-for permanence by way of imposing culture on nature. [[GN 2017.05.25 via BA 180–181, 186.]]



subject heading(s): mētis ‘mind, intelligence’; outis ‘no one’; outidanos ‘good-for-nothing’ [; biē ‘force, violence, strength’]

(Epitomized from Nagy 2007b:70–72.) Even in situations where the mētis  ‘mind, intelligence’ of Odysseus in the specialized sense of  ‘craft’ helps advance the homecoming of the hero in the Odyssey, it does nothing to advance the kleos or poetic ‘glory’ of his past epic exploits at Troy. A case in point is the decisive moment in the Odyssey when Odysseus devises the stratagem of calling himself Outis ‘no one’, O.09.366, in order to deceive and then blind Polyphemus the Cyclops. The pronoun ou tis ‘no one’ used by the hero for the crafting of his false name deceives not only the Cyclops but also the monster’s fellow Cyclopes when they use the same pronoun to ask the blinded Polyphemus this question: perhaps someone has wronged you?—O.09.405–406. The syntax of the question, expressing the uncertainty of the questioners, requires the changing of the pronoun ou tis ‘no one’ into its modal byform mē tis ‘perhaps someone’, which sounds like the noun mētis ‘craft’. The modal byform mē tis is intentionally signaling here the verbal craft used by Odysseus in devising this stratagem. And this intentional act of signaling is made explicit later on when the narrating hero actually refers to his stratagem as a mētis, O.09.414. The same can be said about the hero’s previous stratagem of blinding the Cyclops with a sharpened stake, an act of craftiness compared to the craft of blacksmiths, O.09.390–394. These and all other stratagems used by the hero against the Cyclops qualify as mētis ‘craft’, O.09.422. It goes without saying that the stratagem of crafting the false name Outis succeeds: when the blinded Cyclops answers the question of his fellow Cyclopes, perhaps someone has wronged you?—O.09.405–406—he uses the non-modal form of the pronoun, saying ou tis ‘no one’ has wronged me, O.09.408. Still, though this stratagem succeeds in rescuing Odysseus (and, for the moment, some of his companions), it fails to rescue the hero’s past kleos in Troy. In fact, the stratagem of Odysseus in calling himself Outis ‘no one’ produces just the opposite effect: it erases any previous claim to any kleos that the hero would have had before he entered the cave of the Cyclops. Such erasure is signaled by the epithet outidanos ‘good-for-nothing’, derivative of the pronoun ou tis ‘no one’: whenever this epithet is applied to a hero in the Iliad, it is intended to revile the name of that hero by erasing his epic identity, as at I.11.390. Such erasure means that someone who used to have a name will now no longer have a name and has therefore become a nobody, a no one, ou tis. In the Odyssey, the Cyclops reviles the name of the man who blinded him by applying this same epithet outidanos ‘good-for-nothing’ to the false name Outis, O.09.460. The effect of applying this epithet completes the erasure of the hero’s past identity that was started by Odysseus when he renamed himself as ou tis ‘no one’. The name that the hero had heretofore achieved for himself has been reduced to nothing and must hereafter be rebuilt from nothing. It is relevant that the annihilation of the hero’s identity happens in the darkness of an otherworldly cave, in the context of extinguishing the light of the single eye of the Cyclops, thereby darkening forever the monster’s power to see the truth unless he hears it. [[GN 2017.05.25.]]


subject heading(s): blinding of the Cyclops; invention of technology; simile; nature and culture

(Epitomized from Nagy 2007b:61.) The power of the Homeric simile in advancing the plot of epic is evident in the simile here at O.09.390–394, referring to the blinding of the Cyclops: when Odysseus and his men thrust into the single eye of the monster the fire-hardened tip of a wooden stake they had just crafted, the sound produced by this horrific act is compared to the sound produced when a blacksmith is tempering steel as he thrusts into cold water the red-hot edge of the axe or adze he is crafting. From a cross-cultural survey of myths that tell how a hero who stands for the civilizing forces of culture blinds a monster who stands for the brutalizing forces of nature, it becomes clear that such myths serve the purpose of providing an aetiology for the invention of technology (Burkert 1979:33–34). On the concept of aetiology, see the Inventory of terms and names. It is no coincidence that the three Cyclopes in the Hesiodic Theogony (139–146) are imagined as exponents of technology: they are identified as the three blacksmiths who crafted the thunderbolt of Zeus (Burkert 1979:156n23). Thus the simile about the tempering of steel in the Homeric narration of the blinding of the Cyclops serves the purpose of contextualizing and even advancing that narration by way of highlighting aspects of an underlying myth that is otherwise being shaded over. [[GN 2017.05.25.]]


O.09.566 / anchor comment on: ásmenos (ἄσμενος) ‘returning to light and life’
subject heading(s): ásmenos ‘returning to light and life’

Odysseus and most of his companions have escaped from the darkness of the cave where the Cyclops could have destroyed all of them, and now the survivors are sailing on, described as ásmenoi, which I translate as ‘returning to light and life’. As argued by Frame 1978:6–33 (also 2009:39–41), the etymology of this participle ásmenos can be explained by deriving it from *n̥s-menos, where the element *n̥s- is the zero grade of the Indo-European root *nes-, meaning ‘return to light and life’. This etymology has been confirmed by de Lamberterie 2014. Here at O.09.566, the etymological explanation ‘returning to light and life’ corresponds to what has just happened to Odysseus and his companions: they have escaped from the darkness of the cave and from the threat of death there, emerging into the light and thus winning back their lives. So, they have literally returned to light and life. For more on the semantics of ‘return to light and life’ as conveyed by the words nóos ‘mind’ and nostos ‘homecoming’, see the comments on O.01.003 and on O.01.005. [[GN 2017.05.31.]]


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.