A Piping Odysseus in Ptolemy the Quail 
Timothy Power, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
A strange bird indeed
Even in the odd company of Imperial mythographers, paradoxographers, antiquarians, and literary revisionists, Ptolemy the Quail (Ptolemaios Chennos), an Alexandrian writing around the turn of the first into the second century CE, qualifies as a fringe figure. While the Quail was certainly not the only author of his time (or earlier) to walk the weirder byways of myth, literature, and history, no one else makes such incredible claims about what he discovers there.
The contents of Ptolemy’s New History
) are summarized in the Bibliotheca
of the ninth-century CE patriarch Photius. 
This summary, though greatly condensed, indicates that the work was a collection of curiosities akin to others of its age, only more consistently bizarre: astonishing tales of birth, death, and love alongside fragments of secret histories and forgotten poems, eccentric onomastic lore, biographical trivia about the most minor of authors, absurd “solutions” to absurd pseudo-problems in the Homeric epics, bizarre aetiologies and etymologies, and, above all, radically variant, nowhere-else-attested versions of myths both familiar and obscure, versions so “out there” they seem deliberately chosen to defy and revise canonical mythology, especially that in Homer. 
This is “believe-it-or-not material” of the highest order. 
One would like to believe that Ptolemy drew the bulk of his material from authentic witnesses to legitimately ancient local or Cyclic mythopoetic traditions and folk histories otherwise lost. But how much comes from entirely untraditional literary fabulists and revisionist mythographers of the Hellenistic period and after? And how much is the product of Ptolemy’s own imagination? Making these questions especially difficult to answer are the facts that most (but certainly not all) of the material presented by Ptolemy is elsewhere unparalleled, and so could very well be sheer fiction, and that the few sources for it named in the Photian summary of the New History
also appear only there—they too could be Ptolemy’s inventions. 
The prevailing opinion has long been that Ptolemy is not to be trusted. Skepticism could be extreme: the Quail was a “shameless fraud” who “told lies as easily as he breathed.” 
In a recent discussion, Alan Cameron has solidified and refined the skeptical position. While acknowledging that some “genuine material based on genuine texts and erudition” does in fact appear in the New History, he argues that its inclusion is a strategy to make the (far more numerous, in his opinion) fictional bits all the more believable. Bogus citations are a complementary strategy of false authentication. 
For Cameron, however, Ptolemy’s literary fabrications are not intended to deceive the innocent reader in a purely fraudulent manner. The New History is more likely to have been a “tongue-in-cheek satire of the proliferating, all but out-of-control mythographic literature” of its day. 
A few scholars have attempted to defend the Quail as an honest researcher who scrupulously, if often too naively sourced the sensational material he presented. Even if his historical tidbits and mythical variants do not have a longstanding traditional pedigree, it is argued, they nevertheless do go back to preexisting sources of one kind or another, reliable or not. 
The defenders point out, as Cameron concedes as well, that a fair amount of Ptolemy’s material was, we can be sure, in circulation, if not in exactly the same form, well before the publication of the New History
. And they remind us that since Ptolemy’s goal was to present the most obscure versions of myth and history he could find, we should not be surprised that he succeeded: not only are the majority of his authentic finds elsewhere unattested, so are the recondite yet authentic sources he cites.
The “truth” of the New History
probably lies somewhere in between the extremes of credulity and skepticism, believe it and not. I would suggest that Ptolemy himself positioned his work between the extremes, deliberately mixing together the fabricated and the inherited, not in order to deceive, but rather to test the breadth and refinement of his readers’ erudition, their polymathia
: the game, as it were, was to distinguish the incredibly fake from the equally incredible “real.” 
Cameron’s take on the New History as knowingly parodic and satiric is not so far from this reading. I would emphasize, however, that writer and reader are probably meant to be complicit in the fun. 
A related approach is to see the Quail not only as a creator of sui generis
fictions, but as a creative manipulator of received narratives, elaborating, rationalizing, suppressing, transposing, and conflating mythical or historical details to produce novel expressions and assemblages of inherited material. 
Again, some of this material would have gone back, via intermediate testimonia, quite far into obscure and overlooked oral and poetic traditions; other material would have been one-off stuff of more recent vintage (on the comic stage in Athens, for instance). In either case, Ptolemy would have reworked the curious things he found, making the strange even stranger, the unbelievable still more impossible to believe. The combination of learning and creativity behind his bizarre, often ridiculous “hypertexts” would of course have been best appreciated by the sophisticated few who could detect traces of the recherché “hypotexts” peeking through the palimpsest. 
For us, such source traces are of course harder to detect—not least because Photius has greatly condensed Ptolemy’s original work, giving us only its bare essentials and probably omitting many citations (whether bogus or genuine). 
In virtually every instance, the New History
as we know it frustrates attempts to apply traditional, linear Quellenkritik
to pinpoint its precise sources. 
Yet, even so, it repeatedly lures the curious—and not entirely skeptical—reader to do just that. In what follows, I take the bait and speculate on the provenance of one typically “unbelievable” entry in the Photian summary of the New History
, presenting not one but two (separate) hypotheses about where Ptolemy may have found his source material, and how he may have creatively adapted and reworked what he found. But before that, I take a skeptical position, considering the possibility that Ptolemy worked from no real source at all, but concocted his own strange myth from a variety of familiar ingredients.
Odysseus aulêtês: A Ptolemaic phantom?
In the seventh book of the New History
, Photius tells us, one reads:
Ὡς Ὀδυσσεὺς ἐν Τυρρηνίᾳ ἠγωνίσατο αὐλητικὴν καὶ ἐνίκησεν· ηὔλησε δὲ Ἰλίου ἅλωσιν, Δημοδόκου ποίημα.
Odysseus competed in a contest (agôn) of aulos playing (aulêtikê) in Tyrrhenia and was victorious. He piped the Capture of Troy, a work (poiêma) of Demodocus.
Ptolemy the Quail ap. Photius Bibliotheca 152b34–36
Needless to say, this episode in the Ithacan hero’s life is attested only here. Did Ptolemy simply make it up? Perhaps. Certainly, key details are so at odds with known traditions concerning Odysseus that it is difficult to imagine their having any source besides Ptolemy himself. Nowhere else do we hear of Odysseus making music, much less on the double reed pipes called auloi
, which are markedly absent from the Odyssey and are mentioned only twice in the Iliad
(X 13, XVIII 495). The epics focus rather on the phorminx
, the lyre-like stringed instrument played by the bards Demodocus and Phemius as well as the heroes Achilles and Paris. The latter are the only two Homeric heroes to play music, and neither do so in an agonistic context, which in reality tended to be the province of virtuoso professional musicians. Indeed, the Iliad
are altogether lacking in references to formalized musical contests (mousikoi agônes
) such as the one that seems to be imagined in the New History
So Ptolemy presents us with a radically, perhaps calculatedly un-Homeric Odysseus: a virtuoso aulete of all things, who for some reason—here Photius probably omitted a scene-setting explanation—competes in an Etruscan musical contest.
And there is one more clever detail, delivered, as is Ptolemy’s wont, in the manner of a punch line. Odysseus wins the contest with a piece he learned or, perhaps more true to character, stole from the Phaeacian bard Demodocus, the Capture of Troy
Demodocus sang his Capture to the phorminx
. Ptolemy’s Odysseus has, we must assume, arranged the original poiêma
(as Ptolemy calls it) for solo aulos
, presumably capturing the narrative drama of the original sung text with the mimetic sounds of the reed instrument. Odd, yes, but that is the point. 
For all its strangeness, however, certain familiar Odyssean themes may have informed Ptolemy’s fantasy. Odysseus does compete in (and win) agônes
on Scheria, although they are athletic, not musical. And while he never actually plays an instrument, he is three times in the Odyssey
compared to a bard (xi 362–376, xvii 518–521, and, famously, xxi 406–409, where Odysseus strings his bow with the expertise of a bard stringing his phorminx
The Quail may have brought together these well-known, if disparate agonistic and musical elements of the Homeric depiction to create the novel image of Odysseus the musical agonist.
Further, this image could be seen to bear specific hallmarks of Ptolemaic mythmaking. Contests recur in one form or another throughout the New History
, so often that, as Cameron observes, the agonistic motif might amount to a signature of authorial invention. 
, a quirky, “anachronistic” addition to the mix of vaguely Homeric base ingredients, may also have been a special interest of Ptolemy. The instrument and certain of its players make other appearances in the New History (Bibliotheca
149a6–8, 152a25, 152b25).
And then there is the setting, Tyrrhenia, i.e. Etruria—a suitably exotic place, it seems, to host such incredible goings on. But the Etruscan setting is more “traditional” than it might first seem. Odysseus was linked with Etruria long before Ptolemy put him there. In Hesiod’s Theogony
it is said that the sons of Circe and Odysseus “ruled over all the renowned Tyrrhenians” (1016). 
Hellenistic sources attest to a rich extra-Homeric tradition of the hero’s adventures and death in Etruria during a second period of wanderings after his return to Ithaca. The historian Theopompus records that Odysseus founded the Etruscan city of Gortynaia, that is, Cortona, where he died, was buried, and received great honors after death (FGrH 115 F 354 = scholia to Lycophron Alexandra
806; in a sly variant that combines disparate traditions, Lycophron has the hero’s ashes buried near Cortona, at Mt. Perge, after his death on Ithaca: Alexandra
805–806). The Pseudo-Aristotelian Peplos
, a collection of fictitious epitaphs on Homeric heroes, twice refers to Odysseus’ burial in Etruria (640 Rose 12 and 13). Inscriptional and artistic evidence points to the fact that Odysseus was well known to the Etruscans, who called him Utuse
, as early as the fifth century BCE. 
The Etruscans may in fact have gone quite far in adopting Odysseus as their own. For although specific material evidence from Etruria is lacking, the Greek literary sources would seem to point to the existence of “an Etruscan tradition of Odysseus as a dead hero,” that is, an Odyssean hero cult based in Cortona. 
Ptolemy clearly knew the accounts of Odysseus’ death in Etruria. A notice in the fourth book of the New History records the tale of a Tyrrhenian witch, a protégée of Circe, called Hals ‘Sea’, after whom a well-known Etruscan tower was named. Hals administered drugs to Odysseus that turned him into a horse, which she kept with her until it, the Odysseus-horse, died of old age. The account supplies, we are told, the solution (lusis
) to the interpretive conundrum posed by Odyssey
xi 134 (Teiresias telling Odysseus he will have a “gentle death ex halos
‘from the sea’”). 
The notice appears to be a typical case of Ptolemy’s gilding the lily, making a weird variant—Odysseus’ death in Etruria—much weirder (a bizarre replay of the Circe episode) and tying up the entire fiction with a ridiculous bit of Homeric exegesis. 
Other odd yet “authentic” touches are mingled in to impart an aura of truth. Odysseus’ transformation into a horse, at the hands of Athena (not Hals), was probably a known variant in circulation before Ptolemy’s time (Sextus Empiricus Against the Mathematicians
1.267; cf. Servius ad
2.44). And the “tower of Hals” (Halos purgon
) punningly suggests genuine Etruscan local color: Pyrgos and Alsium were Etruscan coastal cities. Halos purgon
may also be meant to evoke a place apparently linked to the Etruscan Odysseus: Mt. Perge, near Cortona, where Lycophron says the ashes of Odysseus were buried. 
So is Ptolemy up to something similar in his entry on the aulos
contest, using the relatively obscure yet solidly pedigreed Odysseus-in-Etruria tradition as a convincing cover under which to let his imagination run wild? It is important to note here that the Etruscans were known to be great lovers of the aulos
. Greek writers remark on its ubiquitous presence in Etruscan life, accompanying even the most mundane activities; we hear that a third-century BCE Athenian philosopher, Polystratus, a student of Theophrastus, was given the nickname “the Tyrrhenian” apparently on account of his enthusiasm for the aulos
and its players. 
The proverbial Etruscan fondness for pipes might be that piece of familiar (and true) lore meant to lend credence to the outlandish claim that Odysseus himself piped in Etruria. Indeed, it was perhaps Ptolemy’s original point of inspiration for the claim. Ptolemy’s logic of “deception” might have run along these lines: If Odysseus had displayed otherwise unattested musical skill, he most believably did so during his shadowy period in Etruria; and if he did play music in Etruria, he would most naturally have done so on the aulos
Thus building upon and conflating traditional themes and lore—the Homeric Odysseus as athlete and metaphorical bard, the extra-Homeric Odysseus’ sojourn in Etruria, the Etruscan enthusiasm for aulos music—Ptolemy has, it might seem, fabricated a most untraditional kainê historia.
An Etruscan tradition?
But are we giving the Quail too much credit? Or, from another point of view, are we being unfair to him? Karl-Heinz Tomberg, a vigorous defender of Ptolemy’s systematic use of earlier sources, argued that the musical Odysseus of the New History
may well be entirely derived from a genuine Etruscan Lokalsage
This is a view worthy of further consideration. At the most basic level, since we know from Theopompus and our other sources only the capital points of the Odysseus-in-Etruria tradition—his foundation of Cortona, his death and subsequent honors there—who are we to rule out the possibility that the Etruscans did in fact tell tales of Odysseus’ auletic prowess (or, for that matter, of his equine transformation and senescence chez
was, after all, a major presence in Etruscan society. Is it so incredible that, as Odysseus was “Etruscanized,” he may have been made into the culture hero of this locally prestigious instrument? We may want to look to Cortona and the hero cult of its founder for the genesis of this unique tradition. As Gregory Nagy has shown, hero cult could be the locus of the generation, collection, and transmission of biographical lore about the cult’s recipient. 
Such lore was, as Nagy again has shown, like hero cult itself largely at odds with the Panhellenic mainstream, which tended to suppress what was markedly epichoric. 
The story of Odysseus’ victory in a musical contest may in fact have been closely tied to that of his founding the city of Cortona. Archaic Greece provides us with two loosely parallel traditions in which a culture hero is simultaneously involved in political organization and mousikoi agônes
. These traditions in turn speak to a broader archetypal pattern in Hellenic and Near Eastern cultures according to which musical order brings about and/or restores political order. 
First, there is the tradition that has Terpander, a Lesbian lyre singer, restoring a fractious Sparta to good political order with his lyric music. Terpander’s harmonization of the polis
is very probably to be correlated with his participation and victory in the first musical agôn
to be held at the Spartan Carneia festival. Further, Terpander was attributed the first formal organization (katastasis
) of musical culture in Sparta; we may assume that the very establishment of the Carneian musical contest was part of this initial musical organization. 
Thus, in the Terpander-in-Sparta tradition we see themes of political and musical-cultural ordering interwoven with a foreign culture hero’s triumph in (and perhaps also establishment of) a local musical contest. 
Could Ptolemy’s auletic Odysseus represent the vestige of a similarly structured tradition?
Of course, Terpander is first and foremost a musician; Odysseus as we know him is not. But consider the case of another hero who, at least in his Panhellenic persona, does not seem to have a musical bone in his body: Heracles. Indeed, according to an apparently widespread tradition, so unmusical was Heracles that as a youngster he murdered his lyre teacher, Linus (Apollodorus Library
Yet the iconographical record of Archaic Athens indicates that, for a period of time under the Peisistratid tyrants, the Theban hero was, in Athens at least, figured as a musical agonist. A number of ceramic vessels from ca. 530–500 BCE depict Heracles mounting the bêma
, the platform on which musical competitors performed, with either the large concert lyre, the kithara
, in hand, or, more rarely, auloi
. Athena is typically depicted too as an encouraging spectator of this unlikely virtuoso. 
It has been convincingly argued that these images were directly connected with the Peisistratids’ vigorous promotion of the premier Athenian civic festival (with its attendant mousikoi agônes
), the Panathenaia. 
Peisistratus himself very likely played a major role in the reorganization of this festival, and he and his sons certainly exploited it as an instrument of their domestic and foreign political ambitions. Heracles was a hero with whom Peisistratus seems to have closely identified, so the circulation of images of a citharodic or auletic Heracles mounting the agonistic platform would have served to advertise and reinforce the notion that the tyrants were the leading sponsors of the prestigious Panathenaic agônes
. But there may be still deeper ideological implications. Conceivably, what these scenes depict is the
prototypical Panathenaic musical contest, a foundational event in the mythical past fraught with political as well as cultural significance for the present. Heracles is the paradigmatic agonist competing, for the pleasure of Athena, at the very inauguration of the goddess’ Athenian games, games which were to play such a fundamental role in the tyrants’ political program, and, again, which Peisistratus, Heracles’ mortal emulator, may have himself re-established. 
By extension, the Peisistratids themselves could be viewed as culture heroes engaged in a notional “harmonization” of the city of Athens as a whole.
Regardless of whether this ideological and political interpretation of the Heracles scenes is correct, the important point to be drawn from them is that they reflect a distinctly epichoric version of the hero, in which he is cast, very much against type, not only as a musician, but as a competitive virtuoso musician. If the vessels on which the scenes were painted were not preserved, and we had only a late mythographical notice to the effect that Heracles once played the kithara
in a contest, we would probably reject the notice out of hand as pure whimsy, as we might be tempted to do with Ptolemy’s account of Odysseus at the Etruscan aulos
As far as I know, there is no clear evidence, literary or visual, for historical Etruscan mousikoi agônes
. There is no doubt, however, that Etruria was home to a vibrant musical culture from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period that looked to Greece for model practices. The iconographical record makes it abundantly clear that the Etruscans enjoyed Greek-style contests of athletic skill. 
Musical contests too would certainly not have been out of place in Hellenizing Etruria. Could then the account related by Ptolemy have originally served as a charter myth for an Etruscan musical contest, as accounts of Terpander and Heracles did for the historical institution of the Carneian and Panathenaic agônes
? Further, could the account have been linked somehow with Odysseus’ foundation of Cortona (where he also historically received hero cult), as the Terpander and Heracles traditions were linked with the affirmation of political order in Sparta and Athens? The answer, especially to the first question, should be, I think, a resounding “perhaps.”
Where Ptolemy may have found this remote piece of Etruscan oral tradition is anyone’s guess. The history and lore of Etruria were of interest to Hellenistic Greek writers such as Theopompus, who were intent on rooting out Hellenic influences, and to Romans writers beginning with Cato the Elder, who were more interested in exploring Rome’s relation to the Etruscan past. 
Theopompus may have referred to the story of the aulos contest in an unattested part of his works. But still earlier Greek historians and mythographers turned their investigations to Etruria. Herodotus speculates on the Lydian origins of the Etruscans (1.94.2–7). Hellanicus of Lesbos published research on the supposed settlement of Etruria by Pelasgians, the pre-Greek “sea people” (FGrH 4 F 323a, from his Phoronis
), and we may assume that he explored other aspects of Etruscan antiquity as well. Hellanicus’ broad interests in musical myth and history—he composed a catalog of Carneian musical victors that began with Terpander (FGrH 4 F 85–86)—make him one possible candidate to be Ptolemy’s source (probably via later intermediaries) for the Odysseus-aulete story.
Indeed, it is worth noting that Hellanicus said a Pelasgian named Nanas led the Pelasgians to Kroton, which is most likely to be identified not with the Greek colony of that name, but with Cortona, the city founded by Odysseus in the tradition reported by Theopompus. 
1242–1245 merges the Pelasgian and Odyssean traditions in characteristically riddling and allusive fashion, by replacing the name Nanas with the word nanos
‘dwarf’. With the latter, Lycophron refers to Odysseus, who is described as short in Iliad
III 193 and Odyssey
vi 230. It is entirely conceivable, however, that Hellanicus had already taken account of both the Pelasgian and Odyssean traditions, and, in the course of treating the latter, included the story of Odysseus’ victory in a piping contest. 
Yet the Lycophron passage perhaps suggests another candidate. The scholia to the Alexandra
indicate that the Sicilian historian Timaeus of Tauromenium was an important source for that work. 
Could Timaeus have related the Odysseus-aulete story? He did, after all, like Hellanicus have an interest in musical contests (cf. FGrH 566 F 43b, on a legendary Pythian citharodic agôn
featuring Italian competitors). Of course, the Tauromenian may himself have drawn on the older Hellanicus’ research into Etruscan musical myth.
A comic contest?
But Ptolemy could have taken his auletic Odysseus from a very different kind of source, one that had no connection to authentic Etruscan traditions; in fact, one that had no connection to Etruria at all and was in no real sense “traditional.” I refer to Attic comedy. It has been argued that Ptolemy drew a good deal of his core material from Middle Comedy, which treated many of the same mythical characters (Heracles, Odysseus, Helen, et al.) and motifs that recur in the New History
. What was presented as obviously fictive comic parody and burlesque in the former is presented in the latter as the ostensibly serious findings of careful research into mythical and literary history. 
It is a play that belongs to the tail end of the era of Old Comedy, however, that may have provided the inspiration for Ptolemy’s piping Odysseus: the Sirens
of Theopompus, a comic poet of the late fifth and early fourth centuries BCE (and not to be confused with the Hellenistic historian of the same name). Although scantily preserved, we can be sure that this play, like other Siren-themed comedies before and after it, parodied the Homeric encounter between the singing Sirens and Odysseus. 
In one of the few preserved fragments, someone says: αὐλεῖ γὰρ σαπρὰ | αὕτη γε κρούμαθ’ οἷα τἀπὶ Χαριξένης “She pipes on the aulos
stale tunes like those from the time of Charixena” (fr. 50 K-A). We do not know whether Theopompus’ comedy took its title from a chorus of Sirens or whether a more traditional duo or trio of Sirens simply figured in it as a main “collective character.” 
I lean to the latter view; perhaps Odysseus’ men made up the chorus, as in an earlier and perhaps influential comedy, the Odysseis
of Cratinus. But in either case we should recall that, despite the canonical representation of the Sirens in the Odyssey
as bewitching singers
, the Archaic and Classical iconographical record makes it clear that the Sirens were also traditionally regarded as expert instrumentalists. 
They were routinely depicted with all manner of instruments, lyres, tambourines, castanets, panpipes, and, above all, auloi
. Indeed, on some fifth- and fourth-century BCE pots, an individual auletic Siren takes center stage, depicted alone, without her sisters, as if she were the epitome of the Sirens’ powers of musical enchantment. 
Since the aulos
was traditionally considered the instrument best able to enchant and entrance its listeners (cf. e.g. Plato Symposium
215b–e), it would naturally have been perceived as the most akin to sirensong. But the nature of the Sirens—part maiden, part bird—readily assimilated them to auletes as well. Firstly, the reedy, plangent sound of the aulos
was commonly compared to birdsong, in particular the intricately doleful song of the nightingale. Aristophanes plays on the comparison in his Birds
, when he has Procne-turned-nightingale come on stage playing the pipes, or at least pretending to play them while the comic aulete supplied the actual music (665–685; cf. 223–224). 
Secondly, women were known to play auloi
in public settings with far greater frequency than they were lyres. In Classical Athens, hired aulêtrides
‘pipe girls’ were fixtures of practically every symposium. A few women even won fame as composers of aulos
tunes beloved by generations of symposiasts. The speaker of the Sirens fragment refers to one such composer of classic hits for the pipes, Charixena, whose popularity had, however, faded by the end of the fifth century (as did that, we should note, of many once-honored male composers from the earlier Classical period). 
In view of the close association between Sirens and auloi
, I think the female piper who is said to “pipe stale tunes like those from the time of Charixena” is very likely to be a Siren. 
And I think we are justified too in making the assumption that this stage Siren has just made (or continues to make) a display of her auletic skill, probably in an attempt to spellbind Odysseus, and that the speaker’s dismissive critique is a direct response to this display of actual music (whether played by the actor impersonating the Siren, or by the offstage comic aulete). Aristophanes, we saw, similarly brought onstage an actor playing (or pretending to play) the aulos
in his Birds
. Could the critic of the auletic Siren be Odysseus himself? The speaker certainly seems dismissive of the old-fashioned style of music he hears. The fragment thus points to that perennial theme of Old Comedy, the standoff between “classical” music by the likes of Simonides, Aeschylus, and Charixena (along with their culturally conservative admirers), and the “New Music” of Euripides, Agathon, and Timotheus (along with their novelty-loving supporters). It is not out of the question that Theopompus cast the Sirens and Odysseus as partisans in this contemporary Athenian debate: the former, on their desolate island, are stuck in the musical past, as it were, while the latter, true to his polytropic, cosmopolitan spirit, is a proponent of the new style. 
The joke, we might imagine, is how very un-seductive this outdated sirensong sounds to the jaded ears of the modern-minded Odysseus, who has nothing but scorn for the “stale tunes” of the piping Siren.
Contemporary Athenian musical culture anachronistically penetrated another comic treatment of Odyssean myth produced not so long after Theopompus’ Sirens
. A character in Anaxilas’ Circe
makes mention of a Cinesias (fr. 13 K-A), whom we should probably identify as the controversially innovative dithyrambic composer repeatedly attacked in plays of Aristophanes and Pherecrates (Birds
366, 1437, fr. 156 K-A; Pherecrates Kheiron
fr. 155 K-A). And in Theopompus’ own Penelope
, someone speaks of an Asiatic triangle harp, a trigônos
(fr. 49 K-A). This instrument perhaps belongs to the character of the Ithacan bard Phemius, who in Homer is outfitted with a traditional, Hellenic phorminx
The substitution of the phorminx
with the trigônos
would be a characteristically comic travesty, playing on the fifth-century Athenian view of harps as exotic, unmanly, and suited to immoral love songs. 
Ptolemy conceivably could have transformed the comic confrontation between Odysseus and Sirens into the tale about the Etruscan musical contest. The music critic becomes an aulete; a contest of wills between musician and listener becomes a full-blown mousikos agôn
; the setting is transferred from water to land, from the Tyrrhenian Sea, where the island of the Sirens was thought to be located, to the scene of Odysseus’ more obscure travels, Tyrrhenia. 
The Sirens accordingly disappear from Ptolemy’s account, at least as we have it in Photius.
The absence of the Sirens, however, may seem an insurmountable objection to the notion that Ptolemy drew from Theopompus’ Sirens
. Yet the Photian summary of the New History
provides a clue that suggests Ptolemy may have had the Sirens in mind as he composed his Odysseus-aulete notice. For the notice Photius provides immediately before it concerns the death of Telemachus through the devices of the Sirens: “The Sirens killed Telemachus when they discovered that he was the son of Odysseus” (Photius Bibliotheca
152b32–34). I will pass over any speculation about the source of this information, but I would point out that the two notices were probably adjacent in the original text of the New History
The point of continuity between them could simply have been the relation of son to father, but it may well be that the Sirens were a linking point as well, even if they were suppressed in the Odysseus-aulete notice. (Perhaps the learned reader was meant to recognize the suppression?) Of course, we should also allow for the possibility that Photius himself suppressed some mention of or allusion to the Sirens that was in the original notice in the New History
, although it would be odd if he did so.
But another scenario is imaginable, although here—fair warning—I am pushing the outer limits of speculation. Could Theopompus have staged a mock mousikos agôn
between an aulos
-playing Siren and an aulos
-playing Odysseus in his Sirens
? It sounds preposterous, but that would have been the point. Other comedies re-envisioned the encounter between Odysseus and Sirens in ridiculous terms, straying far from the canonical account in the Odyssey
It is not inconceivable that Theopompus had his Odysseus unbound from the ship’s mast, free to interact with the Sirens and, perhaps, to make music himself.
The other three remaining fragments from the Sirens
mention seafood delicacies, fancy slippers, and cooking implements (frs. 52–54 K-A). It has thus been suggested that the play featured a banquet to which the Sirens invited Odysseus and his hungry men. 
If so, the Sirens may have been figured as pipe girls; in later Classical and Hellenistic literature, Sirens are occasionally imagined as professional party girls, hetairai
But this characterization need not rule out the possibility of a musical competition between host and guest. A sympotic setting would certainly be suitable for an impromptu contest of musical prowess, not to mention for trenchant musical criticism. 
In the absence of additional fragments from the play, however, it is impossible to fill in the picture in any more detail.
There are indirect mythical and dramatic precedents for such a contest. In the Argonautic tradition, Orpheus pits the power of his lyre against the singing of the Sirens—a deadly mousikos agôn
won by Orpheus (Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica
4.891–911). In fifth-century Athens, musical contests were represented in dramatic and probably in dithyrambic productions as well. There is first and foremost the famous agôn
between Aeschylus and Euripides in Aristophanes’ Frogs. Hugh Lloyd-Jones has made the ingenious suggestion that the Inachus
, a satyr play by Sophocles, staged a spontaneous musical competition between a singing Argos and a syrinx-playing Hermes. 
Others have suspected that Melanippides’ dithyramb Marsyas
featured a live-action agôn
between an actor-singer playing Apollo (and the kithara
) and another playing Marsyas (and the aulos
It is worth noting that another Athenian dithyramb, the Cyclops
of Philoxenus of Cythera, apparently included a dramatic part for a lyre-singing Polyphemus—another Odyssean character cast against type as a musician (scholia to Aristophanes Wealth
A musical punch line?
Even if Ptolemy did substantially derive the material for his notice from earlier sources, the reference to Odysseus’ contest piece, the Capture of Troy, seems a distinctly Ptolemaic touch, a punch line packed at once with Homeric (and Cyclic) allusiveness and sly humor. Naturally Odysseus emerged triumphant with this piece, which was composed by no less than Demodocus and featured the heroic exploits of the aulete himself!
Yet the identification of the Capture of Troy (Iliou Halôsis) as a competition piece is nonetheless partially grounded in tradition. First, it should be noted that already in the fourth century BCE Heraclides of Pontus considered Demodocus a historical musician-composer and on the basis of his performance in the Odyssey attributed to him, rather than to Homer, a Sack of Troy (Iliou Porthêsis, fr. 157 Wehrli = Pseudo-Plutarch On Music 3.1132b). Ptolemy is thus very much in line with long-established musical scholarship in conceptualizing “Demodocus’ Capture of Troy” as an autonomous composition.
Indeed, it is possible that Ptolemy was familiar with a “tradition” reported by another fourth-century scholar of musical myth and culture, Demetrius of Phalerum. According to Demetrius’ account, after Demodocus won first prize in lyre singing at one of the earliest Pythian citharodic contests, Agamemnon, accompanied by Odysseus, met the bard at Delphi and recruited him to watch over Clytemnestra while he was off at Troy (Fr. 144 Fortenbaugh and Schütrumpf by way of scholia to Homer Odyssey
iii 267). This “tradition” was almost certainly invented, probably by Demetrius or another Peripatetic scholar, to supply a name and backstory for the anonymous bard exiled from Agamemnon’s court by Aegisthus in Odyssey
iii 267–271. 
That bard, Demodocus (as we now learn), would, as all readers of the Odyssey
know, end up on the island of the Phaeacians, where he would again meet up with Odysseus. Obviously, it is impossible that Odysseus could have heard Demodocus sing his Capture of Troy
at Delphi in the time before Troy was captured. But Ptolemy may have expected his readers to know this scholarly myth of Odysseus’ pre-Phaeacian experience with a Demodocus who, quite unlike his Homeric persona, is a virtuoso agonist.
A recent historical example of a lyric rendering of the fall of Troy, on Italian soil no less, may have occurred to Ptolemy’s first readers as well. Nero, in the guise of a citharode, is reported by Cassius Dio 62.18.1 and Suetonius Nero 38.2 to have sung a Capture of Troy on the Palatine Hill as Rome burned around him in 64 CE. These reports certainly reflect widespread popular accounts, and it is interesting that both give the title of Nero’s song as Halôsis Iliou, which is the same title Ptolemy gives to the composition of Demodocus. Was Ptolemy deliberately invoking the specter of the not-so-long-ago deceased emperor, whose musical career (including participation in agônes) was as unlikely as that of Odysseus?
The version of Demodocus’ poetic and lyric Capture
that Odysseus performs is, however, instrumental and auletic. 
In giving Odysseus this piece to pipe—that is, in casting it against type—Ptolemy may have also had in mind another composer’s rendition of the fall of Troy, this one much more closely associated with the aulos
and auletic contests. The composer is Sacadas of Argos, a historical figure active in the sixth century BCE. The pseudo-Plutarchean On Music
describes him as follows: “Sacadas of Argos was … a composer of songs (melê
) and of elegies set to music. He was also a good aulete himself and is recorded as having won the Pythian agôn
three times” (8.1134a). Athenaeus 13.610c records that among his compositions was a Sack of Troy
The Athenaeus passage says that in this work Sacadas “cataloged very many” of the heroes inside the Trojan Horse. Such a catalog implies a composition with a sung text. Ewen Bowie has reasonably proposed that this Sack
was an extended narrative elegy intended for aulodic performance (that is, sung to aulos
But as On Music relates, Sacadas was a famous aulete as well as poet; the Sack of Troy, an aulodic composition with sung poetic text, could easily have been conflated with his activity as a virtuoso solo aulete and successful agonist, and so imagined (falsely) to be an instrumental, auletic composition. Thus it may well be that within what appears to be a purely invented detail the Quail packs a subtle reference to an authentic, if somewhat distorted musical tradition of Archaic pedigree. In Odysseus’ piping of Demodocus’ Capture of Troy in Etruria, the learned reader may hear the echo of an “auletic” Sack of Troy that brought Sacadas victory in the Pythian aulos contests at Delphi.
This is very much an aporetic paper; I have presented only reasonable possibilities, and I offer no firm conclusions. I suspect that many readers will favor the first scenario I explored, that the auletic Odysseus is Ptolemy’s own creation, a figure cleverly informed by traditional themes and motifs yet appearing nowhere else outside the New History. But some will, I hope, find merit in one or the other of the two separate hypotheses I offered, either that Ptolemy drew from Greek witnesses to an authentic Etruscan tradition about Odysseus’ musical and agonistic prowess, a tradition that may have served as aition for a musical contest in Etruria and was perhaps linked with Odysseus’ mythical foundation of and historical hero cult in Cortona; or that he adapted and considerably modified the burlesque of the Odyssean encounter with the Sirens in Theopompus’ comedy, which may have already featured a mousikos agôn and a piping Odysseus. And some readers, I hope, will share my view that Ptolemy’s almost too easy Homeric punch line may hide allusions to the Peripatetics’ agonistic Demodocus, to Nero’s notorious Capture of Troy, and/or to the Sack of Troy by the aulete-composer Sacadas of Argos.
I would like to think I have at least succeeded in following through on the reasonable premise that regardless of the degree to which we think the Quail lied, or fabricated, or simply distorted or parodied, there are still preciously genuine heirlooms hidden amidst the fake, counterfeit, and adulterated stuff in the New History; and that it can be worth the time and trouble to play Ptolemy’s game, to examine his “novelties” with more care than they may at first seem to warrant, even though we know certain authentication is almost always impossible. In the case of the entry I have examined, we may stand to catch a rare glimpse into one or another otherwise lost chapter in the cultural history of ancient music.
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[ back ] 1.
It was through Gregory Nagy that I first discovered Ptolemy the Quail, as I discovered so many of the authors, texts, and ideas that define my scholarly life. Ptolemy plays a small but important role in one of my very favorite essays of his, “Phaethon, Sappho’s Phaon, and the White Rock of Leukas: ‘Reading’ the Symbols of Greek Lyric” (1996, a revised version of a 1973 article that appeared in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology
). Greg’s cautious yet constructive use of this problematic mythographer to uncover buried strata of mythological tradition is the inspiration for the present paper. I also owe thanks to A. D’Angour and L. Kim for helpful advice. Any errors are of course my own.
[ back ] 2. Bibliotheca
146a40–153b29 (pp. 51–72 in R. Henry’s Budé edition). Some of the same material is preserved in the Homeric commentaries of Eustathius (in slightly fuller form), the Suda
lexicon, and various writings of John Tzetzes. Photius gives as the full title of the work New History for the sake of Polymathy
; the Suda
(s.v. Ptolemaios Alexandreus
) refers to the work, however, as On Paradoxical History
. Cf. Kim 2010:19n65.
[ back ] 3.
For Ptolemy’s revision and “correction” of the mainstream record in the New History
, see Chatzis 1914:XXXVI; Tomberg 1967:19–23, 28; Cameron 2004:135, 137. The title Kainê Historia
certainly speaks to Ptolemy’s desire to challenge convention (cf. Tomberg, pp20–21, 29; Chatzis, pXIX, XXIV–XXVI). The adjective kainos
promises something, in terms of the work itself and its contents, not merely “new,” but sensationally, even shockingly innovative. (Some translate Novel
or Strange History
.) For the aggressive tone of kainos
(versus more neutral neos
), see D’Angour 2011:71–73, 104–107. Ptolemy’s interest in challenging and revising the mainstream record was surely predominant in his entirely lost Anthomeros
[ back ] 4.
[ back ] 5.
The excerpts in Eustathius (cf. n2 above) include more named sources than do the Photian, but these too turn up only there. Cf. Cameron 2004:136.
[ back ] 6.
“Fraud”: Hercher 1856; “lies”: Bowersock 1994:144. Tomberg 1967:8–15 reviews the relevant scholarship in full; cf. Dowden 2011.
[ back ] 7.
Cameron 2004:134–163; quotation from p136.
[ back ] 8.
[ back ] 9.
Chatzis 1914; Tomberg 1967. Further references in Cameron 2004:135–136, and see now Dowden 2011.
[ back ] 10.
The title of the New History
may have been meant to tip the reader off to the playfully ambiguous nature of the work, which included contents both newly discovered and newly invented. Cf. n3 above; Dowden 2011. Ptolemy is also attributed in the Suda
, a “historical drama,” i.e. probably a novel. The title suggests themes of hybridization as well as interpretive conundrums.
[ back ] 11.
See now Hose 2008 and Dowden 2011 on the ludic nature of Ptolemy’s creations.
[ back ] 12.
Cf. conclusions in Tomberg 1967:92, who sees in certain notices of the New History
of variant traditions (cf. e.g. pp133–134). Also exemplary is the surgical approach of Nagy 1996:40–45, 53–54 to Ptolemy’s assemblage of myths and legends concerning the White Rock of Leucas, separating out what is likely genuinely ancient from later literary fancies.
[ back ] 13.
Ptolemy describes his ideal reader in the preface to his work, an epistolary dedication to his “mistress,” one Tertulla, who is praised for “her devotion to letters and polymathia ‘wide erudition’
” (τὸ φιλόλογον αὐτῇ καὶ πολυμαθές, Photius Bibliotheca
146b10). Tertulla may of course be no more than a figment of Ptolemy’s imagination, a true ideal. Recall too the full title of the New History
given by Photius: New History for the sake of Polymathia
. Cf. n2 above.
[ back ] 14.
Cf. Tomberg 1967:74–76.
[ back ] 15.
Cf. observations in Tomberg 1967:74–93 on the difficulty of locating definite source texts rather than broadly defined “source areas” (Quellenbereiche
[ back ] 16.
The closest thing is the spontaneous song contest between Thamyris and the Muses (Iliad
[ back ] 17.
Cf. Cameron 2004:141 on Ptolemy’s punch lines. Cameron reasonably suspects we are to infer that Odysseus appropriated Demodocus’ Capture
while in Phaeacia (p147).
[ back ] 18.
It has occurred to me, however, that by aulêtikê
playing’ Ptolemy may actually mean aulôidia
‘singing to aulos
accompaniment’. That is, Odysseus may have sung the Capture of Troy
while an auletic accompanist played along. But while such confusion between aulêtikê
is not unparalleled, it is nevertheless probably better to take Ptolemy at his word: Odysseus piped, not sang. It has also occurred to me that Ptolemy may have had in mind pantomime, a popular Imperial entertainment. Pantomime did take discrete episodes from the Epic Cycle as subjects for its dramatic and mimetic dancing, which was typically accompanied by several auletes at once. But pantomime is even further than aulôidia
from the solo performance indicated by Ptolemy. Lucian On Dance
83 describes a pantomime performance of the Quarrel of Ajax and Odysseus in which a famous dancer playing the maddened Ajax grabbed the pipes from an accompanist and struck with them the dancer playing Odysseus. It is possible that Ptolemy knew this story and rearranged its elements to make his own, but this seems far less likely than the possibilities I explore below. I return to the specific matter of an auletic Capture of Troy
in the penultimate section.
[ back ] 19.
On bardic Odysseus, see Segal 1994:142–163; Wilson 2004:270.
[ back ] 20.
[ back ] 21.
Along with the Etruscans, the Hesiodic “Tyrrhenians” probably refer by synecdoche to other Italic peoples as well: see Malkin 1998:180–191 (especially p184).
[ back ] 22.
Malkin 1998:160–177 plots the “Etruscanization” of Odysseus.
[ back ] 23.
Phillips 1953:65; Malkin 1998:174 makes more explicit arguments for hero cult. Phillips adduces a mention in Plutarch How to Study Poetry
27d–e of an Etruscan story about “a peculiar Odysseus who was drowsy and difficult of access to the multitude,” an uncanny vision of the hero which would seem to reflect lore of a local hero cult. Hunter and Russell 2011:156 see the influence of Attic comedy on the story, however.
[ back ] 24.
[ back ] 25.
Cf. Kim 2010:19.
[ back ] 26.
Cf. Tomberg 1967:132–133, who cites Roulez 1834:104 on the local implications of the tower’s name.
[ back ] 27.
Aristotle fr. 608 Rose; Eratosthenes FGrH 241 F 4; Alcimus FGrH 560 F 3; Aelian On the Nature of Animals
12.46. Polystratus the Tyrrhenian: Athenaeus 13.607f (who adds that Polystratus liked to dress up in the costume of a female aulete). For the popularity of the aulos in Etruria, see Heurgon 1964:195–199, Jannot 1974, and Martinelli 2007:21–38
[ back ] 28.
Tomberg 1967:193–194. Tomberg also moots the idea (p194) that Odysseus may have been the name of a historical aulete whose agonistic prowess Ptolemy has transferred to the homonymous hero. This is of course a possibility, but a distant one to be sure (Tomberg himself shows it no support). We know a good many names of Hellenistic and Imperial musical agonists; an Odysseus is not among them.
[ back ] 29.
Tomberg 1967:133–134 defends the Etruscan antiquity of the story of Odysseus and Hals (but acknowledges that some contaminatio
from other traditions is likely as well).
[ back ] 30.
[ back ] 31.
Nagy 1999:116, 118. To the Etruscan Odysseus cult we might compare the cult of Achilles on the Black Sea—another local cult of a Panhellenic hero—to which was attached fantastic para-Homeric lore about Achilles. See Burgess 2001:164–166.
[ back ] 32.
Lucid overview in Franklin 2006.
[ back ] 33.
Terpander’s quelling of Spartan unrest is attested in a number of Hellenistic and later sources, but the tradition is almost certainly much older; see Gostoli 1988 and Power 2010:394–422 for testimonia and discussion. Victory at Carneian agôn
: Athenaeus 14.635e (citing the chroniclers Hellanicus (FGrH 4 F 85) and Sosibius). Pseudo-Plutarch On Music
9.1134b mentions Terpander’s first musical katastasis
[ back ] 34.
For the possible role of a Spartan hero cult of Terpander in perpetuating this tradition, see Power 2010:403–407.
[ back ] 35.
For depictions of the murder in the Classical ceramic record, see Bundrick 2005:71–74.
[ back ] 36.
For the “Heracles mousikos
” vases, see Schauenburg 1979.
[ back ] 37.
Bundrick 2005:160–161 is a concise overview, with references.
[ back ] 38.
Ferrari 1994/1995 makes the compelling argument that the Peisistratids favored the victory of the gods, above all, of Athena with the help of Heracles, over the Giants as the aition
for the Panathenaia (cf. Aristotle fr. 637 Rose). As I suggest in Power 2010:285–293, the scenes of Heracles as musical agonist represent at once the celebration of the gods’ victory in the Gigantomachy and
the inaugural Panathenaic musical contest.
[ back ] 39.
The only (possible) written trace of the musical Heracles that I know is Theocritus Idylls
24.109–110, which refer to Heracles’ lessons on the kithara
with the citharode Eumolpus.
[ back ] 40.
See Banti 1973:76–77; Martinelli 2007:119–160.
[ back ] 41.
See Malkin 1998:174 on the interest of Hellenistic scholars in traditions of Odysseus’ interventions in Etruria. Habinek 2011 has an overview of Greek and Roman writers’ investigations into Etruscan myth and history.
[ back ] 42.
Cf. Malkin 1998:174.
[ back ] 43.
Colonna 1980 would make a clear chronological distinction between an earlier Pelasgian tradition known to Hellanicus and what is to him the later (i.e. post-Hellanican) Odyssean tradition known to Theopompus and Lycophron. But the fragmentary preservation of Hellanicus makes it impossible to rule out the possibility that he also mentioned other traditions about the foundation of Cortona besides the Nanas account, either in the Phoronis
or another work. Hellanicus did, after all, report in his chronographical Argive Priestesses of Hera
the tradition that Aeneas came to Italy to found Rome μετ’ Ὀδυσσέως ‘with Odysseus’ (FGrH 4 F 84; this reading is generally preferred to the variant μετ’ Ὀδυσσέα ‘after Odysseus’). We should note too that Hellanicus in his Troïka
reported what may have been a contradictory
tradition about Aeneas’ settling in Pallene, FGrH 4 F 31. Ampolo 1992 argues for Hellanicus’ familiarity with multiple accounts of Greek and Trojan intervention in Etruria (especially p329).
[ back ] 44.
But see reservations in Gruen 1992:18n57, with bibliography.
[ back ] 45.
See Chatzis 1914:LXXII, LXXVIII–LXXX; cf. Tomberg 1967:85.
[ back ] 46.
For Old and Middle comic treatments of Odysseus and the Sirens, see Phillips 1959.
[ back ] 47.
Cf. Storey 2011:343.
[ back ] 48.
Tsiafakis 2001:19–20. Sirens play instruments in literary representations as well: Euripides Helen
168–174; Apollodorus Library
[ back ] 49.
See e.g. an early fifth-century red-figured lekythos in Athens (National Museum 1602); a third-century Apulian red-figured patera in Würzburg (Martin von Wagner Museum H 5751); a third-century bell krater from Paestum now in Giessen (Sammlung K. Grundmann P 343).
[ back ] 50.
See Barker 2004, who suggests that the comic aulete may himself have played the role of Procne-nightingale (pp200–204). At Lycophron Alexandra
670 a Siren is called a “barren nightingale.” Ptolemy referred to the verse in the New History
[ back ] 51.
In Aristophanes Assembly Women
943 “tunes from the time of Charixena” is a byword for all that is hopelessly old fashioned. Cleitagora is another female composer of classic aulos
songs (cf. Cratinus fr. 254 K-A)
[ back ] 52.
Phillips 1959:65 makes the same assumption (without providing a reason).
[ back ] 53.
For debates surrounding the New Music in fifth- and early fourth-century Athens, see Csapo 2004. Odysseus’ hallmark polytropia
are in fact qualities that would come to characterize (negatively and positively) the sonically and stylistically versatile and variable Athenian New Music. Cf. Csapo, p229.
[ back ] 54.
The reasonable suggestion of Phillips 1959:65.
[ back ] 55.
For comedy’s ambivalent representation of Athenian harp culture, see Power 2007.
[ back ] 56.
Sirens’ island: Lycophron Alexandra
648, 715; Statius Silvae
5.3.82. Further references in Malkin 1998:189. In another entry preserved by Photius, Ptolemy appears to have conflated Tyrrhenia and the Tyrrhenian Sea: Bibliotheca
[ back ] 57.
Tomberg 1967:198 reasonably suggests that Ptolemy was familiar with little-known accounts of Telemachus’ own sojourn in Tyrrhenia. Servius ad
10.167 has Telemachus founding the Etruscan city of Clusium.
[ back ] 58.
See Phillips 1959 on Epicharmus’ and Nicophon’s Sirens
[ back ] 59.
Phillips 1959:65. The Sirens
of Epicharmus and Nicophon also involved food and feasting.
[ back ] 60.
See references and discussion in Hunter 1983:176.
[ back ] 61.
Cf. Pheidippides’ criticism of “classical” music at his father’s symposium in Aristophanes Clouds
[ back ] 62.
[ back ] 63.
Cf. Boardman 1956; Csapo 2004:213.
[ back ] 64.
Fragments and testimonia give us some reason to think this dithyramb may have included a musical contest of sorts between Polyphemus qua
lyre-singer and Galatea, who, as I argue in Power forthcoming
2012, may have been “played” by the dithyrambic aulete.
[ back ] 65.
See Wilson 2004:269–271; Gostoli 1986. Ptolemy himself was up to the same kind of clever exegeses of Homeric pseudo-problems.
[ back ] 66.
Cf. n18 above.
[ back ] 67.
A minor emendation is required in the text of Athenaeus to give us Sacadas (the transmitted Sakatou
must be changed to Sakadou
). See Bowie 2001:53.
[ back ] 68.