Hour 10. The mind of Odysseus in the Homeric Odyssey

The meaning of noos

10§1. The key word for this hour is noos. A simple translation could be ‘mind’ or ‘thinking’, though these words are too broad in meaning to fit many of the Homeric contexts of noos; other translations could be ‘perception’ or even ‘intuition’, but these words are in many ways too narrow. In any case, the meaning of noos centers on the realm of rational as opposed to emotional functions. Yet another translation is ‘consciousness’. As we will see, this particular translation conveys the mystical meaning of noos.
10§2. A most revealing context for this word noos occurs in verse 3 of the same text that I had quoted to lead off the discussion in Hour 9. Here again is the text:

Hour 10 Text A = Hour 9 Text A

|1 That man, tell me O Muse the song of that man, who could change in many different ways who he was, that man who in very many ways |2 veered from his path and wandered off far and wide, after he had destroyed the sacred city of Troy. |3 Many different cities of many different people did he see, getting to know different ways of thinking [noos]. |4 Many were the pains [algea] he suffered in his heart [thūmos] while crossing the sea |5 struggling to merit [arnusthai] the saving of his own life [psūkhē] and his own homecoming [nostos] as well as the homecoming of his comrades [hetairoi]. |6 But do what he might he could not save his comrades [hetairoi], even though he very much wanted to. |7 For they perished through their own deeds of sheer recklessness, |8 disconnected [nēpioi] [1] as they were, because of what they did to the cattle of the sun-god Hēlios. |9 They ate them. So the god [Hēlios] deprived them of their day of homecoming [nostimon]. |10 Starting from any single point of departure, O goddess, daughter of Zeus, tell me, as you have told those who came before me. |11 So, now, all those who escaped precipitous death |12 were safely home, having survived the war and the sea voyage. |13 But he [= Odysseus], apart from the others, though he was longing for his homecoming [nostos] and for his wife, |14 was detained by the queenly nymph [numphē] Calypso, who has her own luminous place among all the goddesses ...
Odyssey i 1-14
10§3. I focus this time on the contents of verse 3 together with the contents of verse 5:
In verse 3, we learn that Odysseus saw the cities of many mortals and that he came to know their ways of ‘thinking’, noos. In the original Greek, it is not excluded that Odysseus came to know better his own way of ‘thinking’, his own noos, in the process of getting to know the thinking of others.
In verse 5, we learn that Odysseus was seeking to ‘win as a prize’ two things: his own life, the word for which is psūkhē here, and the homecoming or nostos of his comrades - along with his own homecoming.
10§4. The key word for this hour, noos, as we see it at verse 3, is actually related to the key word for the previous hour, nostos, as we see it at verse 5. As we saw in Hour 9, nostos can be interpreted as ‘return, homecoming; song about homecoming’. And, as we also saw in that hour, the word nostos can also be interpreted as ‘return to light and life’. Here in Hour 10, I plan to show how this mystical sense of nostos, ‘return to light and life’, can be explained in terms of the related word noos in the mystical sense of ‘consciousness’. And we will see a further level of meaning for noos: it can be interpreted as ‘coming to’ in the mystical sense of ‘returning to consciousness’ after being unconscious - whether in sleep or even in death.
10§5. Before we proceed, I also draw special attention to verse 4 of Text A. This verse, bracketed by verses 3 and 5 containing respectively the words noos and nostos, contains the word algea, ‘pains’, which refers to the many sufferings of the hero Odysseus in the course of his heroic quest to achieve a safe homecoming. This word has been borrowed into English: analgesic means ‘negating pain’. Another modern borrowing is the second element of the coined word nostalgia, referring to bittersweet yearnings for home. [2] This word is built from a combination of two elements, algea, ‘pains' (as in Odyssey i 4), and nostos, ‘homecoming’ (as in Odyssey i 5).
10§6. I also draw attention to a living derivative of the ancient Greek noun nostos: it is the Modern Greek adjective nostimos, meaning ‘tasty’. This meaning could be described fancifully as reflecting a nostalgia for home cooking. Another fanciful association comes to mind: the “episode of the madeleine” in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (specifically, at the end of the chapter “Combray 1,” in Du côté de chez Swann, 1919).

The interaction of noos and nostos

10§7. Both words, noos and nostos, are derived from an Indo-European root *nes-, the basic meaning of which can be interpreted as ‘return to light and life’; when we survey the traditions of Indo-European languages - and Greek is one of these languages - we see that this root *nes- occurs in myths having to do with the rising of the sun at dawn or with the rising of the morning star. [3] These myths, as we will now see, are relevant to the meanings of noos and nostos as these words interact with each other in the overall plot of the Homeric Odyssey.
10§8. Such interaction is already signaled at the very beginning of the plot of the Odyssey. The hero’s nostos, ‘return’, at verse 5 of Odyssey i connects with his noos, ‘thinking’, at verse 3 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.
10§9. This implicit sense is encoded in the telling of the myth about the Land of the Lotus-Eaters in Odyssey ix 82–104. When Odysseus visits that land, those of his comrades who eat the lotus lose their consciousness of home and therefore cannot return home. The verb lēth-, ‘forget’, combined with nostos, ‘return’, as its object, conveys the idea of such unconsciousness (ix 97, 102). By contrast, the noun noos, ‘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. [4]
10§10. Similar teachings are built into the names of some of the main characters of the Odyssey. Two prominent examples are Antinoos, leader of the evil suitors, who tries to sabotage the nostos of Odysseus, and Alkinoos, the perceptive king of the Phaeacians, who promotes the nostos of the hero: their names mean, respectively, ‘the one who is opposed to bringing back to light and life’ and ‘the one who has the power to bring back to light and life’. [5]
10§11. The very idea of consciousness as conveyed by noos is derived from the metaphor of returning to light from darkness, as encapsulated in the moment of waking up from sleep, or of regaining consciousness after losing consciousness, that is, of “coming to.” This metaphor of coming to is at work not only in the meaning of noos in the sense of consciousness but also in the meaning of nostos in the sense of returning from darkness and death to light and life. Remarkably, these two meanings converge at one single point in the master myth of the Odyssey. It happens when Odysseus finally reaches his homeland of Ithaca:

Hour 10 Text B

|78 When they [= the Phaeacian seafarers] began rowing out to sea, |79 he [= Odysseus] felt a sweet sleep falling upon his eyelids. |80 It was a deep sleep, the sweetest, and most similar to death. |81 Meanwhile, the ship was speeding ahead, just as a team of four stallions drawing a chariot over a plain |82 speeds ahead in unison as they all feel the stroke of the whip, |83 gallopping along smoothly, with feet raised high as they make their way forward, |84 so also the prow of the ship kept curving upward as if it were the neck of a stallion, and, behind the ship, waves that were |85 huge and seething raged in the waters of the roaring sea. |86 The ship held steadily on its course, and not even a falcon, |87 raptor that he is, swiftest of all winged creatures, could have kept pace with it. |88 So did the ship cut its way smoothly through the waves, |89 carrying a man who was like the gods in his knowledge of clever ways, |90 who had beforehand suffered very many pains [algea] in his heart [thūmos], |91 taking part in wars among men and forging through so many waves that cause pain, |92 but now he was sleeping peacefully, forgetful of all he had suffered. |93 And when the brightest of all stars began to show, the one that, more than any other star, |94 comes to announce the light of the Dawn born in her earliness, |95 that is when the ship, famed for its travels over the seas, drew near to the island.
Odyssey xiii 78-95 [6]
10§12. Odysseus has been sailing home on a ship provided by the Phaeacians, against the will of the god Poseidon, and the hero falls into a deep sleep that most resembles death itself (xiii 79–80). This sleep makes him momentarily unconscious: he ‘forgets’, as expressed by the verb lēth - (xiii 92), all the algea, ‘pains’, of his past journeys through so many different cities of so many different people (xiii 90-91). Then, at the very moment when the ship reaches the shore of Ithaca, the hero’s homeland, the morning star appears, heralding the coming of dawn (xiii 93–95). The Phaeacians hurriedly leave Odysseus on the beach where they placed him, still asleep, when they landed (xiii 119), and, once they sail away, he wakes up there (xiii 187). So, the moment of the hero’s homecoming, which is synchronized with the moment of sunrise, is now further synchronized with a moment of awakening from a sleep that most resembles death. [7]

The hero’s return to his former social status

10§13. From this moment on, now that Odysseus has succeeded in making his return from his travels, he must succeed also in making another kind of return. That is, he must now return to his former social status as king at home in Ithaca. In the course of the twenty years that elapsed since his departure for Troy, however, the hero’s social status at home has been reduced to nothing. So, now, most fittingly, Athena disguises Odysseus as a beggar. Now the hero must work his way up from the bottom of the social scale, starting from nothing. He starts by being a nobody - that is, by being a somebody who has nothing and is therefore a nobody. As a beggar, he hides his social and moral nobility as king. This way, his interaction with the suitors of his wife exposes them as lacking in interior moral nobility despite their exterior social nobility. [8] In the end, of course, the actions of Odysseus reveal him as the true king. (On the king as the embodiment of the body politic, see Hour 9§6 and Hour 6§13 and §47.)
10§14. The societal return of Odysseus from the status of beggar to the status of king by way of killing the suitors is mythologically parallel to the physical return of the warrior from the dangerous fighting at Troy, and also to the physical return of the seafarer from the dangerous voyaging at sea. But this societal return, along with the two physical returns, is parallel also to the psychic return of Odysseus from the realm of darkness and death, which is Hādēs, to the realm of light and life. This parallelism of the societal and the physical and the psychic returns of Odysseus is made explicit in a poem attributed to Theognis of Megara. [9] Here is the poem:

Hour 10 Text C

|1123 Do not remind me of my misfortunes! The kinds of things that happened to Odysseus have happened to me too. |1124 He came back, emerging from the great palace of Hādēs, |1125 and then killed the suitors with a pitiless heart [thūmos], |1126 while thinking good thoughts about his duly wedded wife Penelope, |1127 who all along waited for him and stood by their dear son |1128 while he [= Odysseus] was experiencing dangers on land and in the gaping chasms of the sea.
Theognis 1123-1128 [10]

The hero’s return from the cave

10§15. Odysseus is reduced to nothing not only when he first returns to his homeland of Ithaca and gets transformed into a beggar through the agency of his patroness, the goddess Athena. The hero’s social nothingness is preceded by a psychic nothingness that he brings upon himself in the cave of Polyphemus the Cyclops. And that psychic nothingness endangers the noos or ‘mind’ of Odysseus, as we will now see.
10§16. It happens when Odysseus devises the stratagem of calling himself Outis, ‘no one’ (Odyssey ix 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? (ix 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, which means ‘craft’. The modal byform mē tis is signaling here, by design, the verbal craft used by Odysseus in devising this stratagem. [11] And this act of signaling by design is made explicit later on when the narrating hero actually refers to his stratagem as a mētis (ix 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 (ix 390-394). These and all other stratagems used by the hero against the Cyclops qualify as mētis, ‘craft’ (ix 422). [12]
10§17. This word mētis, ‘craft’, is essential for understanding the epic identity of Odysseus. The rivalry of Odysseus and Achilles in the story of Troy is formalized in a dispute between the two heroes: was the city to be destroyed by biē, ‘force’, as represented by the hero Achilles, or by mētis, ‘craft’, as represented by Odysseus? There are indirect references to this dispute in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and some of these references are relevant to the master myths of the two epics (as in Iliad IX 423–426 and in Odyssey viii 72–82 respectively). [13] Ultimately, the craft or craftiness of Odysseus in devising the stratagem of the Wooden Horse leads to the destruction of Troy, as narrated to the disguised hero himself in the Odyssey (viii 492–520). This validation of craft at the expense of force does not translate, however, into a validation of Odysseus at the expense of Achilles in the overall story of Troy. As we saw in Hour 9, the story of Troy is the kleos of Achilles in the Iliad, not the kleos of Odysseus in the Odyssey.
10§18. Although Odysseus is credited with the epic feat of destroying the city of Troy, as the Odyssey proclaims at the very beginning (i 2), his kleos in that epic does not and cannot depend on the story of Troy. It depends instead on the story of his homecoming to Ithaca. By contrast, although Achilles is never credited with the destruction of Troy, since he is killed well before that event takes place, his kleos nonetheless depends on the story of Troy. More than that, his kleos is in fact the story of Troy, as we have already seen in Hour 9. The name of the Iliad, which equates itself with the kleos of Achilles, means literally ‘the tale of Ilion’, that is, the story of Troy. [14] So, for Odysseus to get his own kleos, which is the story of his homecoming to Ithaca in the Odyssey, he must get over the kleos of Achilles, which is the story of Troy in the Iliad. He must get over the Iliad and get on with the Odyssey. In other words, he must get on with his nostos, which is not only his homecoming to Ithaca but also the song about this homecoming. And to get on with his nostos, his song about homecoming, the hero needs his noos, his special way of ‘thinking’. That is the essence of the master myth of the Odyssey. [15]
10§19. For Odysseus to get over the Iliad, he must sail past it. His ongoing story, which is the Odyssey, must be about the seafarer who is making his way back home, not about the warrior who once fought at Troy. The kleos of Odysseus at Troy cannot be the master myth of the Odyssey, since the kleos of Achilles at Troy has already become the master myth of the Iliad . As I argued in Hour 9, the kleos of Achilles in the Iliad has preempted a kleos for Odysseus that centers on this rival hero’s glorious exploits at Troy. For the hero of the Odyssey, the ongoing kleos of his adventures in the course of his nostos is actually threatened by any past kleos of his adventures back at Troy. Such a kleos of the past in the Odyssey could not rival the kleos of the more distant past in the Iliad. It would be a false Iliad. That is why Odysseus must sail past the Island of the Sirens. The Sirens, as false Muses, tempt the hero by offering to sing for him an endless variety of songs about Troy in particular and about everything else in general:

Hour 10 Text D

|184 Come here, Odysseus, famed for your many riddling words [ainoi], you great glory to the Achaean name, |185 stop your ship so that you may hear our two voices. |186 No man has ever yet sailed past us with his dark ship |187 without staying to hear the sweet sound of the voices that come from our mouths, |188 and he who listens will not only experience great pleasure before he goes back home [neesthai] [16] but will also be far more knowledgeable than before, |189 for we know everything that happened at Troy, that expansive place, |190 - all the sufferings caused by the gods for the Argives [= Achaeans] and Trojans |191 and we know everything on earth, that nurturer of so many mortals - everything that happens.
Odyssey xii 184-191 [17]
10§20. The sheer pleasure of listening to the songs of the Sirens threatens not only the nostos, ‘homecoming’, of Odysseus, who is tempted to linger and never stop listening to the endless stories about Troy, but also the soundness of his thinking, his noos. And it even threatens the ongoing song about the hero’s homecoming, that is, the Odyssey itself. [18]
10§21. Even in situations where the mētis, ‘craft’, of Odysseus helps advance the nostos or ‘homecoming’ of the hero in the Odyssey, as also his sound ‘thinking’, his noos, 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’ (ix 366), in order to deceive and then blind Polyphemus the Cyclops.
10§22. Granted, the stratagem of crafting the false name Outis succeeds in saving the life of Odysseus: when the blinded Cyclops answers the question of his fellow Cyclopes, perhaps someone has wronged you? (ix 405, 406), he uses the non-modal form of the pronoun, saying ou tis, ‘no one’, has wronged me (ix 408). Still, though this stratagem succeeds in rescuing Odysseus (and, for the moment, some of his comrades), 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 in Iliad XI 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 (ix 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’. So, Odysseus has suffered a mental erasure. The name that the hero had heretofore achieved for himself has been reduced to nothing and must hereafter be rebuilt from nothing. [19]
10§23. 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 perceive the truth - unless he hears it. In the poetics of Greek myth, the identity or non-identity of a hero matches the presence or absence of light: in the words of Pindar (Pythian 8.95–97), the difference between being tis, ‘someone’, and being ou tis, ‘no one’, becomes visible when a burst of light and life coming from Zeus himself illuminates the void of darkness and death. [20]
10§24. It is just as relevant that the master Narrative of the Odyssey situates Odysseus in the darkness of another otherworldly cave at the very beginning of that narrative. At the point chosen for the beginning of the actual storytelling (entha, ‘there’, at Odyssey i 11), the first detail to be narrated is that Odysseus is at this moment being deprived of his nostos (i 13) by a goddess called Calypso (i 14) who is keeping him concealed in her cave (i 15). The feelings of attraction associated with the beautiful nymph Calypso are matched by feelings of repulsion evoked by her terrifying name Kalupsō, derived from the verb kaluptein, ‘conceal’: this verb is traditionally used in ritual formulas of burial, and it conveys the idea of consigning the dead to concealment in the realm of darkness and death (as in Iliad VI 464, XXIII 91). [21]
10§25. Of all the tales of homecomings experienced by the Achaean heroes after Troy, whether these homecomings succeed or fail, only the tale of Odysseus is still untold at the beginning of the Odyssey. His homecoming is the only homecoming still in doubt. This is the point being made at the very start of the tale: that the narrative is being kept in a state of suspension, and the cause of this suspension is said to be the goddess Calypso, who is preventing Odysseus from his nostos (i 13) by keeping him concealed in her cave (i 15). For the narrative to start, the nostos of Odysseus has to be activated, and so the Olympian gods intervene to ensure the eventual homecoming of Odysseus to Ithaca (i 16–17). [22]
10§26. In Odyssey v, the Olympians send the god Hermes as their messenger to Calypso, and he tells her that she must allow Odysseus to make his way back home. So, she must stop preventing Odysseus from getting started with the master myth of the Odyssey. That master myth is the nostos of Odysseus, which must be not only the hero’s homecoming but also the song about his homecoming.
10§27. The role of the goddess Calypso in threatening to prevent the nostos of the hero Odysseus is reflected in the tales that she herself tells the god Hermes about other heroes who became lovers of other goddesses: the outcome of these tales is death (Odyssey v 118–129). For example, the hero Orion is killed off by Artemis because he became the lover of Ēōs, the goddess of the dawn (v 121–124). And the narrative of the Odyssey actually foretells a similar death for Odysseus - if he had continued to be the lover of Calypso (v 271–275). [23]
10§28. The relationship of Odysseus and Calypso shows that the nostos of the hero is not only a ‘homecoming’ but also, more basically, a ‘return’. That is, the nostos of the hero is not only a return to Ithaca but also, in a mystical sense, a return to light and life. [24] To return from the cave of Calypso at the end of Odyssey xii is to return from the darkness and death of that cave. The same can be said about the return of Odysseus from the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus at the end of Odyssey ix. Even more basically, the same can also be said about the return of Odysseus from Hādēs at the beginning of Odyssey xii. Here too we see the theme of returning to light and life. [25]

The return to light and life

10§29. This grand theme of returning to light and life takes shape at the beginning of Odyssey xi, when Odysseus starts to make his descent into Hādēs after a series of wanderings that take him farther and farther westward toward the outer limits of the world. The island of the goddess Circe, situated at these outer limits in the Far West, becomes the point of departure for the hero’s planned entry into Hādēs (xi 1–12), but the actual point of entry is situated even farther west than that mystical island, since Odysseus has to cross the river Okeanos before he can cross over into Hādēs (xi 13, 21). The Okeanos must be even farther west than the island of Circe. That is because the Okeanos is the absolute marker of the Far West. [26]
10§30. The Okeanos is situated at the outermost limits of the world, which is encircled by its stream. The circular stream of the Okeanos flows eternally around the world and eternally recycles the infinite supply of fresh water that feeds upon itself (Iliad XIV 246–246a, XVIII 399, XX 65). [27] This mystical river Okeanos, surrounding not only the earth but even the seas surrounding the earth, defines the limits of the known world. Every evening, as the sun sets at sunset, it literally plunges into the fresh waters of this eternally self-recycling cosmic stream (Iliad VIII 485), and it is from these same fresh waters that the sun rises again every morning at sunrise (Iliad VII 421–423; Odyssey xix 433–434). [28]
10§31. After his sojourn in Hādēs, which is narrated in Odyssey xi, Odysseus finally emerges from this realm of darkness and death at the beginning of Odyssey xii. But the island of Circe is no longer in the Far West. When Odysseus returns from Hādēs, crossing again the circular cosmic stream of Okeanos (xii 1–2) and coming back to his point of departure, that is, to the island of the goddess Circe (xii 3), we find that this island is no longer in the Far West: instead, it is now in the Far East, where Hēlios the god of the sun has his ‘sunrises’, an(a)tolai (xii 4), and where Ēōs the goddess of the dawn has her own palace, featuring a special space for her ‘choral dancing and singing’, khoroi (xii 3–4). Before the hero’s descent into the realm of darkness and death, we saw the Okeanos as the absolute marker of the Far West; after his ascent into the realm of light and life, we see it as the absolute marker of the Far East. [29] In returning to the island of Circe by crossing the circular cosmic river Okeanos for the second time, the hero has come full circle, experiencing sunrise after having experienced sunset. [30] Even the name of Circe may be relevant, since the form Kirkē may be cognate with the form kirkos, a variant of the noun krikos, meaning ‘circle, ring’. [31] As we will now see, this experience of coming full circle is a mental experience - or, to put it another way, it is a psychic experience.

The journey of a soul

10§32. This return of the hero from the realm of darkness and death into the realm of light and life is a journey of a soul. The word that I translate for the moment as ‘soul’ is psūkhē. As we have seen in Hour 8, this word psūkhē is used in Homeric poetry to refer to the spirit of the dead - or to the life of the living. [32]
10§33. In Hour 7, I used a neutral translation of this word’s meaning, as ‘spirit’, but then, in Hour 8, I concentrated on the more basic meaning of psūkhē as ‘breath of life’, which in the context of hero cults signals the vital force that departs from the body of the hero at the moment of death - only to be reunited with that body after a transition, through Hādēs, into a paradisiacal setting that transcends the temporal and the spatial constraints of mortality. [33] Such a mystical reunion of the body with the psūkhē is the essence of heroic immortalization. [34] In terms of this formulation, as I noted in Hour 8, there is transition of the psūkhē through Hādēs: so this realm of Hādēs is transitional, not eschatological. Here in Hour 10, I return to the distinction I was making in Hour 8 between transitional and eschatological phases in an afterlife.
10§34. As we saw in Hour 8§§40-48, the use of the word psūkhē in Homeric poetry indicates that this poetry recognizes and even accepts the idea of heroic immortalization, though this idea is expressed only implicitly. [35] Here in Hour 10, I use the translation ‘soul’ for psūkhē, with the understanding that the idea of an immortalized ‘soul’ is only implicit in Homeric poetry.
10§35. The journey of the soul after death replicates the journey of the sun after sunset, as we see from the wording of a death wish expressed by Penelope in the Odyssey: after dying, she pictures herself as journeying to the Far West and, once there, plunging into the waters of the Okeanos (xx 61–65). [36] As we saw earlier, the sun is imagined as plunging into these waters at sunset and then emerging from these same waters at sunrise. So also the soul of the hero can be imagined as replicating that same cycle. [37]
10§36. But the return of the hero’s psūkhē to light and life at sunrise is not made explicit in Homeric poetry. Instead, Odysseus himself personally experiences such a return when he comes back from Hādēs at the beginning of Odyssey xii. This experience of Odysseus, by way of replicating the mystical journey of the sun, is a substitute for the mystical journey of a soul. This way, the nostos of Odysseus, as an epic narrative, becomes interwoven with a mystical subnarrative. While the epic narrative tells about the hero’s return to Ithaca after all the fighting at Troy and all the travels at sea, the mystical subnarrative tells about the soul’s return from darkness and death to light and life. [38]
10§37. In some poetic traditions, the mystical subnarrative of the hero’s nostos can even be foregrounded, as we saw in Text C, which I repeat here:
|1123 Do not remind me of my misfortunes! The kinds of things that happened to Odysseus have happened to me too. |1124 He came back, emerging from the great palace of Hādēs, |1125 and then killed the suitors with a pitiless heart [thūmos], |1126 while thinking good thoughts about his duly wedded wife Penelope, |1127 who all along waited for him and stood by their dear son |1128 while he [= Odysseus] was experiencing dangers on land and in the gaping chasms of the sea.
Theognis 1123-1128
10§38. The return of Odysseus from Hādēs leads to a rebuilding of his heroic identity. Earlier in the Odyssey, the status of Odysseus as a hero of epic had already been reduced to nothing. As we saw in the tale of his encounter with the Cyclops, the return of Odysseus from the monster’s cave deprives him of his past identity at Troy. His epic fame can no longer depend on his power of mētis, ‘craft’, which had led to the invention of the Wooden Horse, which in turn had led to the destruction of Troy. After his encounter with the Cyclops, Odysseus must achieve a new epic identity as the hero of his own epic about homecoming, about his own nostos, but, for the moment, his confidence in his power to bring about this nostos is reduced to nothing. He has lost his confidence in the power of his own mētis, ‘craftiness’, to devise a stratagem for achieving a nostos. When he reaches the island of Circe and learns that this place, though it first seems familiar and reminiscent of his own island, is in fact strange and alien and antithetical to home, he despairs (x 190-202). [39]
10§39. The Homeric passage where Odysseus expresses his desperation shows why he despairs. He thinks he has lost his mētis:

Hour 10 Text E

|190 My friends, I am speaking this way because I do not know which place is west and which place is east |191 - which is the place where the sun, bringing light for mortals, goes underneath the earth |192 and which is the place where it rises. Still, let us start thinking it through, as quickly as we can, |193 whether there is still any craft [mētis] left. I must tell you, though, I think there is none.
Odyssey x 190-193 [40]
10§40. The hero feels he has no mētis or ‘craft’ left in him to devise a stratagem for a successful homecoming, and his despair is expressed as a feeling of disorientation. He is no longer able to distinguish between orient and occident. To restate in terms of two words used elsewhere in the Odyssey, the hero is experiencing a loss of orientation in his noos or ‘thinking’, and this loss is presently blocking his nostos, ‘homecoming’. [41]
10§41. The hero’s despair makes his comrades despair as well: as soon as they hear the news of their leader’s disorientation, they break down and cry (x 198–202) as they recall Antiphates the Laestrygonian and Polyphemus the Cyclops (x 199–200). Strangely, when the comrades of Odysseus recall Polyphemus, the monster is described by way of the epithet megalētōr, ‘great-hearted’ (x 200), and this same description applies also to Antiphates in an alternative version of a verse attested in the Odyssey (x 106). Beyond these two attestations, this epithet occurs regularly as a conventional description of generic warriors in the Iliad. [42] Why, then, are both Antiphates and Polyphemus described by way of an Iliadic epithet? It is relevant that Antiphates, like Polyphemus, is an eater of raw human flesh in the Odyssey (x 116). In the Iliad, the urge to eat raw human flesh is experienced by heroes in their darkest moments of bestial fury, as when Achilles says he is sorely tempted to cut up and eat raw his deadliest enemy, Hector (XXII 346–347). So, the recalling of the monsters Antiphates and Polyphemus at a moment of disorientation in the Odyssey is like a nightmare that conjures up the worst moments of epic heroes. Those moments include not only the cannibalistic feasts of these two monsters, as experienced by Odysseus and his comrades since they left Troy. It evokes also some of the worst moments experienced by all the Achaeans when they were still at Troy. In other words, the heroic disorientation of Odysseus in the Odyssey evokes nightmarish memories of heroic dehumanization in the Iliad. [43]
10§42. Despite such moments of disorientation for Odysseus, his noos, ‘thinking’, ultimately reorients him, steering him away from his Iliadic past and toward his ultimate Odyssean future. That is, the hero’s noos makes it possible for him to achieve a nostos, which is not only his ‘homecoming’ but also the ‘song about a homecoming’ that is the Odyssey. For this song to succeed, Odysseus must keep adapting his identity by making his noos fit the noos of the many different characters he encounters in the course of his nostos in progress. In order to adapt, he must master many different forms of discourse, many different kinds of ainos. That is why he is addressed as poluainos, ‘having many different kinds of ainos’, by the Sirens when he sails past their island (xii 184). [44]
10§43. Even the transparent meaning of Polyphemus (Poluphēmos), the name of the Cyclops blinded by Odysseus, foretells the hero’s mastery of the ainos. As an adjective, poluphēmos means ‘having many different kinds of prophetic utterance’, derived from the noun phēmē, ‘prophetic utterance’ (as in xx 100, 105); [45] this adjective is applied as an epithet to the singer Phēmios (xxii 376), portrayed in the Odyssey as a master of the phēmē, ‘prophetic utterance’. [46] In the case of Polyphemus, the very meaning of his name, which conveys the opposite of the meaning conveyed by the false name of Odysseus, Outis, ‘no one’, foretells the verbal mastery of the hero who blinded the monster. [47]
10§44. After the return of Odysseus from Hādēs, he finds his way to the island of the Phaeacians, where he starts the process of rebuilding his epic identity from nothing by retelling for them all his experiences since he left Troy. This retelling, which extends from the beginning of Odyssey ix to the end of Odyssey xii, is coterminous with the telling of the Odyssey up to the point where Odysseus leaves the cave of Calypso. Then, after Odysseus finishes his narration, he leaves the island of the Phaeacians and finally comes back home to Ithaca, where his narration is taken over by the master Narrator of the Odyssey. The process of rebuilding the hero’s epic identity continues in the master Narration, but now the direct mode of speaking used by Odysseus in telling the Phaeacians about his ongoing nostos gives way to an indirect mode, analogous to the indirect mode of speaking that he had used earlier before he made contact with the Phaeacians. Now, after his encounter with the Phaeacians, Odysseus becomes once again the master of the ainos. [48]
10§45. From here on, the tales Odysseus tells are masterpieces of mythmaking as embedded in the master myth of the Odyssey. One such tale is a “Cretan lie” told by the disguised Odysseus to the swineherd Eumaios about the Trojan War (xiv 192–359). [49] At a later point in their verbal exchanges, Eumaios refers to another tale told by Odysseus about the Trojan War (xiv 462–506) by describing it as a faultless ainos (xiv 508). [50] As a master of the ainos, Odysseus keeps on adapting his identity by making his noos fit the noos of the many different characters he encounters. And the multiple ainoi of Odysseus can thus be adapted to the master myth of the Odyssey.
10§46. By the time all is said and done in the master myth of the Odyssey, the character of Odysseus has become fully adapted to his ultimate role as the multiform central hero of this epic, a fitting counterpoint to the monolithic central hero of the Iliad, Achilles. This ultimate adaptation of Odysseus demonstrates his prodigious adaptability as a character in myth. He is the ultimate multiform. That is why he is called polutropos at the very beginning of the Odyssey, that is, ‘the one who could change in many different ways who he was’ (i 1). [51]
10§47. Odysseus can be all things to all people. His character undergoes the most fantastic imaginable adventures of the mind during his journeys - and the most realistic personal experiences when he finally reaches his home in Ithaca. The psychological realism of this hero’s character when we see him at home with himself tempts us to forget about the fantastic journeys of his psūkhē in alien realms. Our sense of the familiar blocks our sense of the unfamiliar. Our mentality as modern readers invites us to see Odysseus at home as “reality” and Odysseus abroad as “myth,” as if the myth of the hero contradicted the reality of the hero. [52]
10§48. Such a split vision is a false dichotomy. The reality of Odysseus is in fact the myth of Odysseus, since that myth derives from the historical reality of Homeric poetry as a medium of myth. The reality of the myth is the reality of the medium that conveys the myth to its listeners over time.
10§49. At the beginning of the Odyssey, as we saw at the start of this hour, both the epic narrative about the hero’s return to his home and the mystical subnarrative about the soul’s return to light and life are recapitulated in the double meaning of psūkhē as either ‘life’ or ‘soul’. I repeat here the first five verses of Text A:
|1 That man, tell me O Muse the song of that man, that versatile [polu-tropos] man, who in very many ways |2 veered from his path and wandered off far and wide, after he had destroyed the sacred city of Troy. |3 Many different cities of many different people did he see, getting to know different ways of thinking [noos]. |4 Many were the pains [algea] he suffered in his heart [thūmos] while crossing the sea |5 struggling to merit [arnusthai] the saving of his own life [psūkhē] and his own homecoming [nostos] as well as the homecoming of his comrades [hetairoi].
Odyssey i 1-5
10§50. Initially, I had translated psūkhē simply as ‘life’ in this context, where we see Odysseus struggling to save his own life. But by now we see that Odysseus is at the same time struggling to save his ‘soul’. That struggle is the journey of his soul, undertaken by the noos, ‘mind’, of Odysseus.


[ back ] 1. On the meaning of nēpios as ‘disconnected’, see the Core Vocabulary.
[ back ] 2. For more on this modern term nostalgia, see Boym 2001.
[ back ] 3. GM 258-259, following Frame 1978; Nagy 2010c:336.
[ back ] 4. This paragraph is derived from Nagy 2007b:76.
[ back ] 5. On the name of Alkinoos especially, see Frame 2009:54, 245, 266.
[ back ] 6. |78 εὖθ’ οἳ ἀνακλινθέντες ἀνερρίπτουν ἅλα πηδῷ, |79 καὶ τῷ νήδυμος ὕπνος ἐπὶ βλεφάροισιν ἔπιπτε, |80 νήγρετος ἥδιστος, θανάτῳ ἄγχιστα ἐοικώς. |81 ἡ δ’, ὥς τ’ ἐν πεδίῳ τετράοροι ἄρσενες ἵπποι, |82 πάντες ἅμ’ ὁρμηθέντες ὑπὸ πληγῇσιν ἱμάσθλης |83 ὑψόσ’ ἀειρόμενοι ῥίμφα πρήσσουσι κέλευθον, |84 ὣς ἄρα τῆς πρύμνη μὲν ἀείρετο, κῦμα δ’ ὄπισθεν |85 πορφύρεον μέγα θῦε πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης. |86 ἡ δὲ μάλ’ ἀσφαλέως θέεν ἔμπεδον· οὐδέ κεν ἴρηξ |87 κίρκος ὁμαρτήσειεν, ἐλαφρότατος πετεηνῶν· |88 ὣς ἡ ῥίμφα θέουσα θαλάσσης κύματ’ ἔταμνεν, |89 ἄνδρα φέρουσα θεοῖσ’ ἐναλίγκια μήδε’ ἔχοντα, |90 ὃς πρὶν μὲν μάλα πολλὰ πάθ’ ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν, |91 ἀνδρῶν τε πτολέμους ἀλεγεινά τε κύματα πείρων· |92 δὴ τότε γ’ ἀτρέμας εὗδε, λελασμένος ὅσσ’ ἐπεπόνθει. |93 εὖτ’ ἀστὴρ ὑπερέσχε φαάντατος, ὅς τε μάλιστα |94 ἔρχεται ἀγγέλλων φάος Ἠοῦς ἠριγενείης, |95 τῆμος δὴ νήσῳ προσεπίλνατο ποντοπόρος νηῦς.
[ back ] 7. Nagy 2007b:76-77; see also Frame 2009:54.
[ back ] 8. Nagy 2007b:77. For more on the contrast between the suitors, who are noble on the outside and base on the inside, and the hero Odysseus when he is disguised as a beggar, who is base on the outside but noble on the inside, see Nagy 1985:74-76 = §§68–70; PH 426-427 = 14§26.
[ back ] 9. There is no fixed date for Theognis: he is credited with the creation of poems that can be dated as far apart as the late seventh and the early fifth centuries BCE.
[ back ] 10. |1123 μή με κακῶν μίμνησκε· πέπονθά τοι οἷά τ’ Ὀδυσσεύς, |1124 ὅστ’ Ἀίδεω μέγα δῶμ’ ἤλυθεν ἐξαναδύς, |1125 ὃς δὴ καὶ μνηστῆρας ἀνείλατο νηλέι θυμῷ, |1126 Πηνελόπης εὔφρων κουριδίης ἀλόχου, |1127 ἥ μιν δήθ’ ὑπέμεινε φίλῳ παρὰ παιδὶ μένουσα, |1128 ὄφρα τε γῆς ἐπέβη δείλ’ ἁλίους τε μυχούς.
[ back ] 11. BA 321 = 20§4n7.
[ back ] 12. Nagy 2007b:71.
[ back ] 13. BA 45-46, 47-48 = 3§§5, 7.
[ back ] 14. EH §49.
[ back ] 15. BA (1999) xii-xiii = Preface §§16–18, with reference to BA 35-41= 2§§10-18; Nagy 2007b:70.
[ back ] 16. This verb is cognate with the nouns nostos and noos, both of them.
[ back ] 17. |184 δεῦρ’ ἄγ’ ἰών, πολύαιν’ Ὀδυσεῦ, μέγα κῦδος Ἀχαιῶν, |185 νῆα κατάστησον, ἵνα νωϊτέρην ὄπ’ ἀκούσῃς. |186 οὐ γάρ πώ τις τῇδε παρήλασε νηῒ μελαίνῃ, |187 πρίν γ’ ἡμέων μελίγηρυν ἀπὸ στομάτων ὄπ’ ἀκοῦσαι, |188 ἀλλ’ ὅ γε τερψάμενος νεῖται καὶ πλείονα εἰδώς. |189 ἴδμεν γάρ τοι πάνθ’, ὅσ’ ἐνὶ Τροίῃ εὐρείῃ |190 Ἀργεῖοι Τρῶές τε θεῶν ἰότητι μόγησαν, |191 ἴδμεν δ’ ὅσσα γένηται ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ.
[ back ] 18. BA (1999) xii = Preface §17n; EH §50; Nagy 2007b:70.
[ back ] 19. Nagy 2007b:72.
[ back ] 20. Nagy 2000:110-111.
[ back ] 21. Nagy 2007b:72-73. See also GM 254n108; Crane 1988.
[ back ] 22. Nagy 2007b:73.
[ back ] 23. BA 202-203 = 10§39.
[ back ] 24. Frame 1978.
[ back ] 25. Nagy 2007b:73.
[ back ] 26. Nagy 2007b:73-74.
[ back ] 27. HC 248-276, 282-294 = 2§§123-178, 191-227.
[ back ] 28. Nagy 2007b:74.
[ back ] 29. See also GM 237.
[ back ] 30. Nagy 2007b:74.
[ back ] 31. Chantraine DELG s.v. κρίκος. The variant form kirkos (κίρκος) is attested already in the diction of Aeschylus (Prometheus 74 κιρκηλάτου, from the denominative verb kirkoûn).
[ back ] 32. See also GM 87–93.
[ back ] 33. GM 88-93, 115-116.
[ back ] 34. GM 126n30, 142.
[ back ] 35. Detailed arguments in Nagy 2012b.
[ back ] 36. GM 99n61, following BA 194-203 = 10§§25-39; see also Easterling 2006:136.
[ back ] 37. Nagy 2007b:74-75, with reference to GM 90-91.
[ back ] 38. Nagy 2007b:75.
[ back ] 39. Nagy 2007b:77.
[ back ] 40. |190 ὦ φίλοι, οὐ γὰρ ἴδμεν ὅπῃ ζόφος οὐδ’ ὅπῃ ἠώς, |191 οὐδ’ ὅπῃ ἠέλιος φαεσίμβροτος εἶσ’ ὑπὸ γαῖαν |192 οὐδ’ ὅπῃ ἀννεῖται· ἀλλὰ φραζώμεθα θᾶσσον, |193 εἴ τις ἔτ’ ἔσται μῆτις· ἐγὼ δ’ οὐκ οἴομαι εἶναι.
[ back ] 41. Nagy 2007b:78. The next paragraph is also derived from this source.
[ back ] 42. BA 321 = 20§4n8.
[ back ] 43. BA 319-321 = 20§4.
[ back ] 44. BA 240 = 12§19n1; PH 236-237 = 8§30.
[ back ] 45. HR 55–59.
[ back ] 46. BA 17 = 1§4n1.
[ back ] 47. Nagy 2007b:78-79.
[ back ] 48. Nagy 2007b:79. The next paragraph is also derived from this source.
[ back ] 49. BA 138-139, 234-235 = 7§26, 12§14.
[ back ] 50. BA 234-237 = 12§§14–16.
[ back ] 51. Nagy 2007b:79-80.
[ back ] 52. Nagy 2007b:80. The next paragraph is also derived from this source.