Odysseus and Kingship: Commentary on Odyssey 8.166–177
|June 3, 2016||By Douglas Frame listed under Guest Post|
An exploration of of the relevance of Odysseus’s words about kingship, shared with the Hesiodic Theogony, to the Ionian setting of Homeric poetry.
166 ξεῖν᾽, οὐ καλὸν ἔειπες: ἀτασθάλῳ ἀνδρὶ ἔοικας.
167 οὕτως οὐ πάντεσσι θεοὶ χαρίεντα διδοῦσιν
168 ἀνδράσιν, οὔτε φυὴν οὔτ᾽ ἂρ φρένας οὔτ᾽ ἀγορητύν.
169 ἄλλος μὲν γάρ τ᾽ εἶδος ἀκιδνότερος πέλει ἀνήρ,
170 ἀλλὰ θεὸς μορφὴν ἔπεσι στέφει, οἱ δέ τ᾽ ἐς αὐτὸν
171 τερπόμενοι λεύσσουσιν: ὁ δ᾽ ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύει
172 αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν,
173 ἐρχόμενον δ᾽ ἀνὰ ἄστυ θεὸν ὣς εἰσορόωσιν.
174 ἄλλος δ᾽ αὖ εἶδος μὲν ἀλίγκιος ἀθανάτοισιν,
175 ἀλλ᾽ οὔ οἱ χάρις ἀμφιπεριστέφεται ἐπέεσσιν,
176 ὡς καὶ σοὶ εἶδος μὲν ἀριπρεπές, οὐδέ κεν ἄλλως
177 οὐδὲ θεὸς τεύξειε, νόον δ᾽ ἀποφώλιός ἐσσι.
166 Stranger, you have not spoken well; you seem to be a reckless man.
167 Thus the gods do not give winning qualities to all
168 men, neither physical stature, nor indeed wits, nor speech.
169 For one man is insignificant in appearance,
170 but the god crowns his form with words, and others
171 look at him with pleasure. He speaks to the point unfailingly
172 with gentle respect, and he stands out among those assembled,
173 and as he walks through the city they look on him as a god.
174 Another man, however, is like the immortals in appearance,
175 but his graceful looks are not crowned with words,
176 like you, who have a striking appearance, not even
177 a god would make it differently, but you are of no consequence in your mind.
Odysseus delivers this speech in Book 8, before he reveals his identity to the Phaeacians in Book 9. They do not yet know who he is, but they do know who Odysseus is, as the song sung by the bard Demodocus shortly before has made clear. Odysseus is still a nameless stranger when all proceed from the poet’s performance in the palace to the games outside. One of the Phaeacians, Euryalos, mistakes the storm-tossed stranger for a low-born sailor. Odysseus answers the young man’s insult with the present speech, and then demonstrates his superiority to all the Phaeacian youths by hurling a rock past all their marks. Odysseus is no low-born sailor, and that much can no longer be questioned after his emphatic throw.
The Homeric audience, which knows who the stranger is, is in a privileged position. Unlike the Phaeacians, for whom Odysseus’s identity emerges only gradually until it is finally disclosed in Book 9, the Homeric audience knows it from the start. The Homeric audience can thus appreciate an aspect of Odysseus’s speech to Euryalos which the Phaeacian audience may well note but cannot fully appreciate. Far from being a low-born sailor, Odysseus is a king, and the speech to Euryalos, which contrasts moral with physical qualities, shows that he knows what it is to be a king. The speech in fact marks him as a king.
The poet Hesiod describes the gift of fair speech which the Muses give to a king when they honor him from birth.
79 Καλλιόπη θ᾽: ἣ δὲ προφερεστάτη ἐστὶν ἁπασέων.
80 ἣ γὰρ καὶ βασιλεῦσιν ἅμ᾽ αἰδοίοισιν ὀπηδεῖ.
81 ὅν τινα τιμήσωσι Διὸς κοῦραι μεγάλοιο
82 γεινόμενόν τε ἴδωσι διοτρεφέων βασιλήων,
83 τῷ μὲν ἐπὶ γλώσσῃ γλυκερὴν χείουσιν ἐέρσην,
84 τοῦ δ᾽ ἔπε᾽ ἐκ στόματος ῥεῖ μείλιχα: οἱ δέ τε λαοὶ
85 πάντες ἐς αὐτὸν ὁρῶσι διακρίνοντα θέμιστας
86 ἰθείῃσι δίκῃσιν: ὃ δ᾽ ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύων
87 αἶψά κε καὶ μέγα νεῖκος ἐπισταμένως κατέπαυσεν:
88 τοὔνεκα γὰρ βασιλῆες ἐχέφρονες, οὕνεκα λαοῖς
89 βλαπτομένοις ἀγορῆφι μετάτροπα ἔργα τελεῦσι
90 ῥηιδίως, μαλακοῖσι παραιφάμενοι ἐπέεσσιν.
91 ἐρχόμενον δ᾽ ἀν᾽ ἀγῶνα θεὸν ὣς ἱλάσκονται
92 αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν:
93 τοίη Μουσάων ἱερὴ δόσις ἀνθρώποισιν.
79 . . . and Kalliope; she is the foremost of all.
80 For she accompanies respected kings.
81 Whomever among Zeus-nourished kings
82 the daughters of great Zeus honor and look upon when he is born,
83 upon his tongue they pour sweet dew,
84 and from his mouth flow gentle words. The people
85 all look at him as he decides laws
86 with straight judgments. Speaking to the point unfailingly
87 he immediately stops a great quarrel with his understanding.
88 It is on this account that there are prudent kings, that for their people,
89 when they are injured, they may bring about a change in deeds,
90 easily, persuading with gentle words;
91 as he walks through the assembly they propitiate him like a god
92 with gentle respect, and he stands out among those assembled.
93 Such is the muses’ sacred gift for men.
This description is remarkably similar to what Odysseus says in his speech. The difference is that Hesiod names the context—kings—whereas Odysseus does not, but the reason for this is clear: for Odysseus to do so would require him to identify himself before his dramatic self-disclosure in Book 9. Once the reason for Odysseus’s silence, namely his still hidden identity, is taken into account, the context of the two passages is the same, namely fair speech as the essential quality of a king.
The close correspondence in phrasing between the two passages has raised the question whether one passage imitates the other, but no consensus has ever been reached. The degree of phraseological correspondence is indeed highly unusual for the two poets, Homer and Hesiod, and to this extent the question is a legitimate one, but the answer seems to lie not in the imitation of one poet by the other, but in a common poetic tradition behind both poets. This tradition has been identified in a perceptive study by Richard Martin as “the instruction of princes,” a wide-spread genre with important examples in Greek, from Hesiod’s Works and Days and the poetry of Theognis, to the lost Instructions of Chiron.
The Hesiodic passage fills in for us what is deliberately withheld in Odysseus’s speech, namely that he is speaking about what it is to be a king. The Homeric audience would have understood this, because they, like us, knew that the speaker is not only a king, but, in the Homeric scheme of things, the ideal king.
This is only half the story, however. When Odysseus delivers his piece of princely instruction, he does more than hint at his own identity. He also brings the Homeric audience into the story through a more subtle case of hidden identity than his own. In spite of surface appearances the intended recipient of Odysseus’s instruction is not Euryalos, who has no particular relevance for the story beyond his bad behavior: he is a young Phaeacian, and his name, which relates to the sea, does not distinguish him from the other Phaeacians, twenty-one of whom have similar sea-related names. His name is generic, a reflection of the Phaeacians’ mythic function as sea-farers. Odysseus does indeed reprove Euryalos at the start of his speech, saying “you are like a reckless man,” and again at the end, where he acknowledges Euryalos’s fine physical appearance, but censures his lack of understanding (noos). However, the burden of Odysseus’s speech is not this reproof, but a positive portrayal of fair speech and its salutary effects. The figure who stands most to benefit from this instruction is not Euryalos, but the future king of the Phaeacians, who is part of the episode from the start. It is Laodamas, the favorite son and heir apparent of king Alcinous, who first sets the episode in motion by inviting—indeed challenging—Odysseus to participate in contests, an invitation which Odysseus turns down with some asperity. This occasions Euryalos’s ill-considered words to Odysseus and Odysseus’s response.
But if Laodamas is the intended recipient of Odysseus’s instruction, why is he not presented as such, but instead kept far enough from the hero’s display of mettle to escape notice entirely? Odysseus himself provides one answer after his mighty rock toss, when he challenges all the Phaeacian youths to compete with him in further contests but excepts Laodamas from his challenge: only a fool would compete with his host, and Odysseus will not do that. This prudent respect for a host can be seen as present in the prior situation as well, in which Euryalos draws a reproof that all but touches Laodamas, but does not in fact touch him.
But there is more to it than respect for a host. Laodamas has a hidden identity, which is of an entirely different order from Odysseus’s hidden identity. Laodamas in fact represents the Homeric audience itself, or more precisely, he represents the leading figure of this audience. Laodamas represents a real king, and he serves to identify precisely what the Homeric audience was. This identification does not emerge out of thin air. The ground for it has been well prepared since the beginning of the Phaeacian episode.
Before looking at this more closely, it is necessary to take a step back and view the Phaeacians as a whole. The Phaeacians have a two-fold function in the Odyssey: they bring Odysseus back to the real world after his long sojourn in the world of myth; and they are the audience when Odysseus tells the tale of his sojourn in the world of myth. As Odysseus’s internal audience the Phaeacians represent the external Homeric audience, who hear the tale together with the Phaeacians. The Phaeacians and the Homeric audience are one and the same in this way.
The Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor traced their pre-migration origins back to the Bronze Age city of Pylos and its legendary founder, king Neleus. More precisely, the royal family of the Ionian city of Miletus traced their origins back to king Neleus, and they were therefore called Neleidai, “descendants of Neleus.” These Neleids then extended their pedigree to other Ionian cities in the process of forming a greater Ionian community, the so-called Ionian dodecapolis. This union of twelve cities, meeting at its cult center Panionion, gave rise to the two Homeric epics as part of the process of Ionian community formation. It is this Ionian community, as it met at Panionion, that the Phaeacians represent.
In Homer it is not Neleus himself but his son Nestor who plays a great role. It is he who represents the earliest stage in the picture of a common Panionian origin. Alcinous, the Phaeacian king, is a second Nestor, a conscious duplication of the Pylian king. Athena reveals this when she disguises herself as a maiden and meets Odysseus on his way to the Phaeacian palace. She tells Odysseus about the king and queen he is about to meet inside the palace, and for the king she gives a genealogy extending over four generations, which is in effect Nestor’s genealogy: the names are different but the genealogy’s intricate structure is the same. By her action Athena also identifies the queen, Arete, as a second stage in the picture of a common Panionian origin when she leaves Odysseus and flies to Athens and enters the royal palace, her place of worship. The Neleids were said to have migrated from Pylos to Athens at the end of the Bronze Age, where they became the ruling family; Arete, who is cast in the mold of the Athenian city-goddess, Athena Polias, represents this second stage. It was from Athens that the Neleids next founded Miletus and became its ruling family: the founder of Miletus was named Neleus like his Pylian ancestor, and this gave the Neleid kings of Miletus two ancestors to explain their name.
The third stage in the picture of a common Panionian identity is the actual present. From the standpoint of Homeric epic the present is the late eighth and early seventh centuries BC. The figures representing the two earlier stages of a common Panionian origin, Alcinous and Arete, both have names that link them with the figures that they represent: Alkinoos is “he who brings home by his might,” evoking the name Nestōr, “he who brings home”; Arētē is “she who is prayed to,” evoking the figure of Athena Polias. The names of the Phaeacian king and queen are thus significant, and as such they contrast with the usual pattern of names among the Phaeacians, which are sea-related. The only other name that has nothing to do with the sea and is also significant is the name of the royal prince, Laodamas. His name, which means “he who controls the people,” is well suited to a future king, but that is not its real significance, or not all of it. The last Neleid king of Miletus had this name—Leōdamas in its Ionic form—and, while dates are uncertain, this Leodamas can easily be placed in the Homeric era. It is to this figure that we should look for an answer to the question of how the genealogy of the kings of Miletus became the notional genealogy of all Panionians. Leodamas is a good candidate to have been the prime mover of Panionian unity in the late eighth and early seventh century BC.
We are fortunate indeed to know something of this Leodamas beyond his name. His memory has been preserved in fragments of two historians of the Roman era. Leodamas was successful in a foreign war which benefited Miletus and confirmed him as king, and as king he went on to become much loved by his people. His story ended tragically when he was murdered by a rival for the kingship, and this brought kingship itself to an end in Miletus.
When Odysseus gives princely instruction in Book 8 of the Odyssey, identifying fair speech as the essential quality of a king, the instruction is really addressed not to his apparent interlocutor, a misbehaved youth, but to a future king who stands by unnoticed. This future king in turn represents an actual king, ruling in the Homeric present. The Phaeacian Laodamas has as yet done nothing to distinguish himself except behave properly to a stranger. He is all future potential. That potential, we are meant to understand, has now been fulfilled in the actual present. This is high honor for the present king, but it is very different from the kind of glorification characteristic of Latin poetry in the Augustan age. The king who rules now is fictively pictured as having been present to hear the ideal king discourse on what it is to be a king. He has heard the lesson of the past—the heroic past—from the very hero of the poem. The Homeric audience is equally honored in this because like their king they also are the Phaeacians, and as such they also have received the lessons of the heroic past from the hero’s own mouth. This is the conceit of the Phaeacian episode, and it is a striking one.
 Richard Martin has established this point convincingly; see nn. 3–4 below.
 Odyssey 8.171–173:
ὁ δ’ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύει
αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν,
ἐρχόμενον δ’ἀνὰ ἄστυ θεὸν ὣς εἰσορόωσιν.
Theogony 86, 91–92:
ὁ δ’ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύων
. . .
ἐρχόμενον δ’ἀν’ἀγῶνα θεὸν ὣς ἱλάσκονται
αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν.
 Richard P. Martin, “Hesiod, Odysseus, and the Instruction of Princes,” Transactions of the American Philological Association 114 (1984), pp. 29–48.
 See Martin, pp. 43–48.
 For the views expressed in this paragraph and in the rest of the discussion see my 2012 article “New Light on the Homeric Question: the Phaeacians Unmasked,” http://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/4453. This article concentrates arguments developed in different parts of my monograph Hippota Nestor, Hellenic Studies 37, Cambridge, MA and Washington, DC, 2009 (online version http://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/4101). The article contains full references to the monograph.
 The two genealogies and the comparison between them are schematized in a diagram at the end of section 4 of my 2012 article (repeated from p. 253 [§2.116] of my 2009 monograph).
 Among insignificant figures in the Phaeacian episode only Polybos and Dymas have names not obviously related to the sea.
 This would be the meaning of the name from the standpoint of contemporary Homeric epic, where laos, in the formulation of Émile Benveniste, signifies a “people” in relation to its leader (Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-europénnes, 1969, vol. 2, 90). The name’s second element –damas means literally “subduing”, but not in the sense of “defeating,” which would imply a hostile “people” rather than the leader’s own as the name’s first element; for a political rather than war-related context of the verb “subdue” cf. Odyssey 3.306.
 Nikolaos of Damascus (FGrHist 90 F 52 and 53). Conon (FGrHist 26 F 1 xliv).
 In the history of Nikolaos of Damascus, writing in the Augustan age, Leodamas has characteristics that qualify him as a model for Augustan rule (βασιλεὺς κατάθυμιος τῇ πόλει, frag. 52).