Part 1. Odysseus

Chapter 1. Beginning of the Dialogue: Setting up the Third Cretan Lie

The dialogue in Book 19 stands out among the conversations in the Odyssey not only because of its length, but also because it is attempted, announced, and prepared so far in advance of the event. Not even the preliminaries of Odysseus’ supplication of Arete, also a crucial and pre-arranged moment in the poem, can compare to the elaborateness and subtlety with which the audience is prepared to witness the first verbal exchange between Penelope and her husband. Penelope first attempts to have a conversation with the beggar in Book 17 and asks Eumaeus to bring him to her. Eumaeus reacts with some alarm, concerned about the effect the stranger’s tales may have on his mistress. He compares the beggar’s story-telling to the enchanting and captivating songs of an aoidos and even summarizes his stories for Penelope, including the claim that Odysseus is alive and now in Thesprotia, nearing home (Odyssey 17.512–527). This recap is perhaps a pre-emptive measure designed to give Penelope time to prepare for what is coming. Faced with Eumaeus’ obvious reluctance, Penelope has to insist on her request and hint that she can make up her own mind about the stranger’s report:
τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπε περίφρων Πηνελόπεια·

“ἔρχεο, δεῦρο κάλεσσον, ἵν’ ἀντίον αὐτὸς ἐνίσπῃ.
(Odyssey 17.528–529)
The circumspect Penelope responded to him:
“Come, call him here, so he can tell me himself.”
There is no overt connection between this comment and what comes next. With apparent irony Penelope announces that in the meanwhile the suitors can continue to enjoy themselves at their feast, since it is not their own livelihood that they are consuming. This brings her to the absence of {21|22} Odysseus, defender of the household, and to her estimation of what would happen to her young wooers if he did come back:
εἰ δ’ Ὀδυσεὺς ἔλθοι καὶ ἵκοιτ’ ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
αἶψά κε σὺν ᾧ παιδὶ βίας ἀποτείσεται ἀνδρῶν.
(Odyssey 17.539–540)
But should Odysseus come and return to his native land
together with his son he would make them pay for their violence at once.
The beggar’s hopeful report of Odysseus in Thesprotia is known to Penelope only at second hand and is a priori suspect, and yet somehow the very talk of this new visitor leads her to the thought of what might happen if Odysseus came back. Although elsewhere Penelope denies the possibility that her husband may still return, here her statement is an expression of potentiality, not a condition contrary to fact. What happens next is even more striking: Telemachus sneezes and the ever-pessimistic Penelope laughs and takes the sneeze as a good omen. This suddenly hopeful tone is again connected to the beggar’s presence as Penelope, now for the third time, asks Eumaeus to bring the stranger to her:
ἔρχεό μοι, τὸν ξεῖνον ἐναντίον ὧδε κάλεσσον.
οὐχ ὁράᾳς, ὅ μοι υἱὸς ἐπέπταρε πᾶσιν ἔπεσσι;
τῷ κε καὶ οὐκ ἀτελὴς θάνατος μνηστῆρσι γένοιτο
πᾶσι μάλ’, οὐδέ κέ τις θάνατον καὶ κῆρας ἀλύξει.
(Odyssey 17.544–547)
Go now and call the stranger to me.
Don’t you see that my son sneezed at my words?
Therefore may death indeed come to the suitors,
all of them, and may not one escape death and fate.
Of course, Penelope laughs as she expresses this wish, and her laughter complicates the interpretation of her words. It certainly does not seem like the laughter of mirth. A wish for the suitors’ death hardly seems to be a joke. Does the laughter mean that she is not in earnest? The laugh, whatever else it may mean, sets Penelope’s remark apart from her usual tearful talk and attracts attention to it. At the same time, it seems to distance Penelope from her own words, and this means that there is something in them worth distancing, something potentially dangerous. It would be out of character {22|23} for Penelope to put too much confidence in Telemachus’ sneeze and it could be risky for her to express hope, since the suitors might notice and become suspicious. The laugh diffuses this danger and smoothes over the disparity between Penelope’s habitual grief and her behavior in this scene. It offers Penelope the possibility of denying her own words and disguises the importance of what she says. But under the cover of laughter the possibility is raised that the stranger is telling the truth, that there may be some news of Odysseus.
It is hard to know who sees Penelope laughing: is it only Eumaeus, or also Telemachus and the suitors? This and other conversations on Ithaca are complicated by their crowded settings, with maids, the suitors, Telemachus, and above all Penelope herself listening, observing, and overhearing words not addressed directly to them. In any case, Telemachus’ sneeze turns Penelope’s words into an omen predicting Odysseus’ return, and it is Penelope herself who interprets it this way. Even with the distancing laugh the fact that such an interpretation is uttered at all is remarkable, and it whets the audience’s appetite for Penelope’s conversation with the beggar.
Yet eager as the audience and Penelope herself may be to hear the beggar’s tale, they all have to wait. Eumaeus does summon the stranger, but now it is the disguised Odysseus’ turn to behave in an unexpected way. Claiming to be afraid of the arrogant suitors, he declines the interview for the moment and requests that Penelope wait until the evening when the suitors are gone. From the start he seems to be an unlikely beggar, a beggar who is invited by the mistress of the house to come and earn a reward of clothes for his report yet does not leap at the chance. Instead, he makes a further request, namely that Penelope seat him closer to the fire when they do talk. An advance request for a seating arrangement on the part of a beggar seems extraordinary. This is confirmed by the fact that Odysseus immediately camouflages his bold words by offering an ostensibly simple justification: he wants to sit closer to the fire because his clothes are so poor, as Eumaeus himself well knows (Odyssey 17.572–573). This is unlikely to be an honest desire for warmth, since later the beggar-Odysseus declines blankets and a warm bed offered to him (19.337–338) and he surely could ask Penelope herself for a place near the fire instead of doing so in advance. Poor clothes are a way of masking the actual goal of this seating request, which has to be concealed probably not so much from Eumaeus as from the suitors, who might overhear the conversation. Eumaeus completely understands what the beggar is doing and when he relates the message to Penelope, he interprets it as a request not for warmth but for privacy: {23|24}
καὶ δὲ σοὶ ὧδ’ αὐτῇ πολὺ κάλλιον, ὦ βασίλεια, 

οἴην πρὸς ξεῖνον φάσθαι ἔπος ἠδ’ ἐπακοῦσαι.
(Odyssey 17.583–584)
And for you too, o queen, it would be much better
to speak to a stranger and listen to him when you are alone.
Penelope’s initial reaction upon seeing the swineherd come back without the stranger suggests that what Odysseus does here is unusual: as she puts it, ‘a shy beggar is a poor one’ (κακὸς δ’ αἰδοῖος ἀλήτης, 17.579). Once Eumaeus relates Odysseus’ request, however, Penelope remarks that, whoever he is, this stranger is intelligent (οὐκ ἄφρων ὁ ξεῖνος ὀΐεται, ὥς περ ἂν εἴη, ‘The stranger is no fool about how things might be’, 17.586). She has formed a first impression of her guest, and the upcoming interview has gained in importance by being postponed until it can be conducted in relative secrecy.
Book 18 intervenes, in which Penelope reveals her concern for the beggar when she reproaches Telemachus for being a poor host to him. In the same book, Odysseus observes Penelope appearing before the suitors, who are undone by desire as they look at her. When Eurymachus expresses his admiration, Penelope claims that her beauty and success perished when Odysseus left for Troy (the same words she uses later in her conversation with Odysseus himself), but also renews the suitors’ hopes for marriage. She reminds them that Odysseus told her to take good care of the household, especially of his parents, and to remarry once Telemachus grows a beard. Significantly, she does not say when she plans to remarry, but only that it will happen, and that she is not being courted properly. In the past, she says, the suitors used to give gifts, not devour the property of others:
ἀλλὰ τόδ’ αἰνὸν ἄχος κραδίην καὶ θυμὸν ἱκάνει· 

μνηστήρων οὐχ ἥδε δίκη τὸ πάροιθε τέτυκτο, 

οἵ τ’ ἀγαθήν τε γυναῖκα καὶ ἀφνειοῖο θύγατρα 

μνηστεύειν ἐθέλωσι καὶ ἀλλήλοισ’ ἐρίσωσιν· 

αὐτοὶ τοί γ’ ἀπάγουσι βόας καὶ ἴφια μῆλα 

κούρης δαῖτα φίλοισι, καὶ ἀγλαὰ δῶρα διδοῦσιν·

ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἀλλότριον βίοτον νήποινον ἔδουσιν.
(Odyssey 18.274–280)
But this terrible distress comes to my heart:
this is not what the way of suitors used to be,
those who wish to woo a good woman, a wealthy man’s daughter, {24|25}
and compete with each other.
They themselves bring cattle and fat sheep
to feast the young woman’s family, and give glorious gifts:
they do not devour without recompense the livelihood of others.
Penelope never speaks to the beggar, only to Telemachus and the suitors, but one wonders whether some of what she says might not actually aimed at him. Certainly he hears Penelope’s long and impassioned reproach to Telemachus for not defending his guest (Odyssey 18.215–225). Penelope will express the same concerns directly to her guest in Book 19 (325–334). Odysseus also hears what she says to the suitors, and can observe that she is still loyal to her husband and remembers his parting instructions. As for talk of remarriage, Odysseus recognizes it for a cunning solicitation of gifts. Penelope claims that the hateful remarriage is approaching, but her disguised husband rejoices because he sees that she is not sincere and has other plans:
ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,
οὕνεκα τῶν μὲν δῶρα παρέλκετο, θέλγε δὲ θυμὸν
μειλιχίοισ’ ἐπέεσσι, νόος δέ οἱ ἄλλα μενοίνα.
(Odyssey 18.281–283)
So she spoke, and godlike Odysseus rejoiced,
because she extracted gifts from them, and charmed their minds
with her honeyed words, but in her mind she had another intent.
At the beginning to Book 19 the suitors are gone, but the maids are still in the house, taunting Odysseus. He responds to their insults and Penelope overhears his words, upbraids the maids, and asks Eurynome to seat the stranger. As in books 17 and 18, there seems to be a conversational game being played in the room, not just a series of isolated exchanges between pairs of speakers. Odysseus addresses his words to the maid Melantho, but he is surely aware that Penelope is within earshot. At the end of his speech he warns Melantho that her overbold behavior might yet get her into trouble and that her mistress might become angry with her (Odyssey 19.83). As if prompted by Odysseus’ words, Penelope at once threatens the offending servant (19.91–95). The beggar also warns Melantho that Odysseus may yet come back, that there {25|26} is still hope (19.84), and this remark, like the previous one, is likely to be aimed at Penelope as much as at the maid. Finally, Odysseus says that Telemachus will no longer ignore the behavior of the women in his house, because he is no longer a child, something that is also manifestly true and well known to Penelope (19.85–88).
Both in Book 17, when Penelope makes her first attempt at conversation with the beggar, and also in Book 19, when the conversation is about to begin, we hear hopeful words about Odysseus’ return and threatening words about destruction of the suitors and punishment of the maids. Plans for the murder of the suitors are indeed already afoot as Book 19 begins, with Odysseus and Telemachus removing weapons from the hall. The tone is thus set for the dialogue and reinforced: the same themes adhere to the planning of the interview in Book 17 and to its beginning two books later. Both Penelope and Odysseus come to their first conversation aware of each other’s intelligence and complex motives, with the return of Odysseus, maturity of Telemachus, and destruction of the suitors on their minds and tongues. In a sense, a relationship is established between them even before the first words are exchanged. This relationship, like the dialogue itself, is unobserved by the suitors. The mutual awareness of the couple, the long delay of the actual dialogue, and Odysseus’ request for privacy all increase the suspense and raise the audience’s expectations of the dialogue. Even before husband and wife sit down to talk it seems unlikely that much of what will be said is going to be simple, straightforward, or lacking in ulterior motives.
The conversation, of course, does not disappoint. Penelope starts with a conventional introductory question about the beggar’s name and origins, but her interlocutor does not respond to the question, gives no name, and says nothing of his polis and parents. Instead, he immediately moves beyond the ordinary and sets the tone for all that is to come. He compares Penelope to a perfect king:
ὦ γύναι, οὐκ ἄν τίς σε βροτῶν ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν
νείκεοι· ἦ γάρ σευ κλέος οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἰκάνει,
ὥς τέ τευ ἢ βασιλῆος ἀμύμονος, ὅς τε θεουδὴς
ἀνδράσιν ἐν πολλοῖσιν καὶ ἰφθίμοισιν ἀνάσσων
εὐδικίας ἀνέχῃσι, φέρῇσι δὲ γαῖα μέλαινα
πυροὺς καὶ κριθάς, βρίθῃσι δὲ δένδρεα καρπῷ,
τίκτῃ δ’ ἔμπεδα μῆλα, θάλασσα δὲ παρέχῃ ἰχθῦς
ἐξ εὐηγεσίης, ἀρετῶσι δὲ λάοι ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.
(Odyssey 19.106–114) {26|27}
Lady, none on the boundless earth would reproach you.
For indeed your fame reaches the broad sky,
just like the fame of some perfect king, who upholds justice,
god-fearing, as he rules over many and valiant men,
and the black earth bears wheat and barley, and trees are laden with fruit,
and sheep constantly bear young, the sea provides fish,
because of his good leadership, and the people under him prosper.
I will come back to this very complex utterance in another chapter to consider its peculiarities as a compliment to Penelope. For the moment, however, I set aside its implications for her and even for the development of the dialogue and focus on only one aspect of Odysseus’ pronouncement, namely what it reveals about Odysseus himself.
This utterance has been identified by Watkins as an instance of “ruler’s truth,” a notion he defines as an “active intellectual force, verbally expressed, which ensures society’s prosperity, abundance of food, fertility, and its protection from plague, calamity, and enemy attack.” [1] On the basis of comparison between the Hindu act of truth and the Early Irish institution of ruler’s truth, it is possible to reconstruct an Indo-European cultural notion of a vital force brought into being by the ruler’s spoken word. [2] The power of this word derives from its truth, and this notion, as Watkins suggests, is expressed in Greek by the word δίκη, ‘justice’. In a cognate passage from Works and Days, straight δίκη leads to peace and prosperity (225–235), whereas its opposite leads to devastation (235–247). In the same way, in the Odyssey, both the natural and social state of plenty depends on the king who can uphold good δίκη (εὐδικίας ἀνέχῃσι). [3]
The notion of the ruler’s truth is at the core of the Audacht Morainn, the earliest known Irish example of the ‘Instruction of Princes’ (speculum principum) genre, and Martin suggests, on the basis of a detailed comparison between Greek and Irish evidence, that the same genre is the source of several cognate utterances in the Odyssey and Hesiodic poetry, among {27|28} them Odysseus’ description of the perfect king in Book 19. [4] It seems that the ruler’s truth is not only an inherited cultural notion, but an inherited part of a king’s education. As Martin puts it, “speaking well and truthfully is traditionally important advice in Irish Instruction of Princes.” [5] He further argues that the very deployment of this genre characterizes the speaker as a king. Comparing what Odysseus says to Penelope and what he says to Euryalos in Book 8, where he describes an ideal speaker, Martin concludes that “Odysseus allows his interlocutor to know that he is king – provided the interlocutor recognizes the genre in which Odysseus is speaking.” [6] In other words, Odysseus’ very ability to perform in the genre of “ruler’s truth” marks him as a king.
Odysseus’ utterance, then, is essentially self-referential even though it is ostensibly about Penelope. He does not, to be sure, claim to be Odysseus, but in the context of Ithaca his very command of the relevant discourse identifies him as such: on Ithaca, there can be only one perfect king, Odysseus himself. Penelope may have had many visitors, and many of them may have made false claims, but this visitor is different because he reveals himself to be a true king not by claiming that he is one (that is the next step) but by speaking like one. Moreover, by describing the flourishing of the land under the perfect king’s care, Odysseus verbally ushers in the recovery of Ithaca after the dark days of his absence. He begins his conversation with his wife by indirectly revealing himself, an action tantamount to a verbal enactment of his own return. [7]
When Penelope then repeats her question about her guest’s identity, the dialogue moves onto a different level, and now Odysseus’ response, which constitutes what is known as the Third Cretan Lie, is both specific and rich in detail. It has long been observed that the Cretan lies are highly polished rhetorical pieces, each one carefully aimed at its internal audience. [8] For example, the first lie (13.266–270), directed at Athena in the guise of a young shepherd, contains a veiled warning: Odysseus claims that he has killed a young man in an ambush, letting the shepherd know that he can defend himself. [9] The second lie (14.192–359) indirectly praises Eumaeus and makes Odysseus into a figure likely to win the swineherd’s sympathy, a victim {28|29} of abduction and enslavement like Eumaeus himself. [10] With these two lies Odysseus wins a favorable reaction from their respective addressees: Athena smiles with pleasure at his caution and cunning (13.287–288), while Eumaeus is full of sympathy for this guest, even if he does not believe all that the latter says (14.361–365).
The third and shortest of the Cretan lies, the one Odysseus addresses to his wife, is presumably equally well-aimed, but it elicits quite a different reaction from its audience, both unexpected and striking. Her guest describes his land, tells Penelope his genealogy and name, and says that he once offered hospitality to Odysseus who was blown to Crete by a storm on his way to Troy. No doubt one would expect Penelope to be moved by the tale, but the extent to which she is moved seems quite extraordinary:
τῆς δ’ ἄρ’ ἀκουούσης ῥέε δάκρυα, τήκετο δὲ χρώς.
ὡς δὲ χιὼν κατατήκετ’ ἐν ἀκροπόλοισιν ὄρεσσιν,
ἥν τ’ εὖρος κατέτηξεν, ἐπὴν ζέφυρος καταχεύῃ,
τηκομένης δ’ ἄρα τῆς ποταμοὶ πλήθουσι ῥέοντες·
ὣς τῆς τήκετο καλὰ παρήϊα δάκρυ χεούσης,
κλαιούσης ἑὸν ἄνδρα, παρήμενον.
(Odyssey 19.204–209)
And as she listened her tears flowed and her face melted,
just like the snow melts on the topmost mountains,
when the East Wind melts it, after the West Wind has poured it on,
and the flowing rivers are in flood as it melts.
In this way her fair cheeks melted as she poured tears,
crying for her husband, who was present.
Although Penelope’s weeping is frequently mentioned, nowhere else is her reaction described at such a length or compared to the melting of snow. In what follows, I will suggest that in a sense recognition has already happened here. Just as Odysseus will need to say much more to Penelope, but in a sense has already said it all by performing the ruler’s truth, so Penelope by her tears makes evident the change that will happen and that is already happening in her life and in the world of Ithaca: the return of Odysseus. To be sure, she too will have much to say later, and in great detail, and a lot still to decide and {29|30} to wait for. Nothing is made verbally explicit, yet the striking image of crying Penelope in a sense says it all: spring is coming to Ithaca after a long winter, the snow is melting, and change is in the air. This is not to say, of course, that the drama of Odysseus’ return is over at this point or that Penelope’s own struggles are at an end. Throughout the poem Penelope is praised, and sometimes blamed, for her immense self-control, her heart of iron, and she will continue to exercise this quality in her interactions with Odysseus even after the suitors are dead, all the way until the final recognition scene in Book 23. Yet already here, in the beginning, there is a sign that this stranger is not like the others questioned by Penelope and that something new is afoot. The verb τήκω, ‘to dissolve, melt’ occurs, in various forms, five times in as many lines in the description of Penelope’s tears (19.204, 205, 206, 207, 208), and although there is perhaps nothing surprising about Penelope’s emotion in reaction to memories of her husband alive and well on his way to Troy, this emphasis on dissolving in tears is remarkable. [11]
It may be hard to understand what it is exactly about the beggar’s words that triggers such a reaction, but that is a different matter. The reaction itself suggests that there is more to the Third Cretan Lie than meets the eye, whether or not we can ever understand precisely what this is. Moreover, there are structural considerations that strengthen the suspicion that Penelope’s crying on this occasion has special meaning.
There are two other similar breakdowns in the Odyssey that can shed some light on the broad outlines of the scene in Book 19: these are at 8.521–527 and 24.315–317. Before moving on to consider the details of Odysseus’ tale itself, it is worthwhile to take a look at the broad structural elements of this scene in comparison with its simpler and clearer analogues.
To begin with the more remote parallel, Laertes gives way to grief when Odysseus, unrecognized, provides himself with a highly unusual and mysterious name (Eperitos, son of Apheidas, son of Polypemon, 24.305–306) and an equally mysterious place of origin (Alybas, 24.304–306). [12] There are only two occasions, apart from the quite different case of Outis in the cave of the Cyclops, when Odysseus invents a name for himself: his meeting with Laertes and his meeting with Penelope. The supposed Eperitos then mentions that he comes from a well-off family and that he had entertained Odysseus lavishly at his house, praises the latter as a guest, and recalls how he departed with good {30|31} omens (24.309–313). Laertes reacts with an intense outburst of grief that is not described as “melting,” but is as extreme as Penelope’s emotional reaction and erupts just as suddenly. The old man is ‘covered by a cloud of grief’ and pours dust over his head:
ὣς φάτο, τὸν δ’ ἄχεος νεφέλη ἐκάλυψε μέλαινα·
ἀμφοτέρῃσι δὲ χερσὶν ἑλὼν κόνιν αἰθαλόεσσαν
χεύατο κὰκ κεφαλῆς πολιῆς, ἁδινὰ στεναχίζων.
(Odyssey 24.315–317)
So he spoke, and a black cloud of grief covered him;
with both hands he grasped the sooty dust
and poured it over his gray head, groaning incessantly.
The only exact parallel to these lines is Iliad 18.22–24 (Iliad 18.22–23 = Odyssey 24.315–316), where Achilles reacts to the news of Patroklos’ death, which suggests that in the Odyssey Laertes is thinking of Odysseus’ death. [13] The force of his grief is expressed by the idea of pouring of dust, just as Penelope pours tears in Book 19.
The two scenes thus share a number of elements: invented names, the noble origins of their supposed bearer, his guest-friendship with Odysseus, a mention of Odysseus’ open-ended departure from some location (Crete, Alybas), and the reaction of extreme grief from the listeners, expressed through the diction of pouring and melting. Moreover, in both cases Odysseus feels pity looking at the suffering his words have caused, although he reacts differently in each scene. With Penelope, he has to keep back his tears by a superhuman effort (19.210–212), while with Laertes there is no call for such restraint: Odysseus is on the verge of crying, but instead he hugs his father and reveals directly who he is (24.318–322).
The revelation is followed by a test: Laertes asks for a clear sign, a proof of the stranger’s identity, and Odysseus responds not only by demonstrating the scar, but by enumerating all the fruit trees that Laertes himself once gave to him (24.331–344). In response, Laertes is even more overpowered by emotion as he recognizes the signs:
ὣς φάτο, τοῦ δ’ αὐτοῦ λύτο γούνατα καὶ φίλον ἦτορ,
σήματ’ ἀναγνόντος, τά οἱ ἔμπεδα πέφραδ’ Ὀδυσσεύς·
(Odyssey 24.345–346) {31|32}
So he spoke, and his knees and heart went slack
as he recognized the sure signs that Odysseus showed him.
The effect that these signs have on Laertes is the same as a different set of signs has on Penelope in Book 23, where she subjects Odysseus to the famous test of the bed and the reunited couple finally fall into each other’s arms:
ὣς φάτο, τῆς δ’ αὐτοῦ λύτο γούνατα καὶ φίλον ἦτορ,
σήματ’ ἀναγνούσῃ, τά οἱ ἔμπεδα πέφραδ’ Ὀδυσσεύς·
(Odyssey 23.205–206)
So he spoke, and her knees and heart went slack
as she recognized the sure signs that Odysseus showed her.
The scene in Book 19, on the other hand, is both like and unlike these reunions. In Book 19, as in Book 24, Odysseus gives himself invented names and recalls entertaining “Odysseus” as a guest, and his story makes Penelope melt. Like Laertes, she asks for signs (but in this case ostensibly only to prove that her guests really did meet Odysseus) and like Laertes she grieves even more after receiving them:
ὣς φάτο, τῇ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο
σήματ’ ἀναγνούσῃ, τά οἱ ἔμπεδα πέφραδ’ Ὀδυσσεύς.
(Odyssey 19.249–250)
So he spoke, and roused her grief even more
as she recognized the sure signs which Odysseus showed her.
The occurrence of the same formula, which does not appear elsewhere in the Odyssey, unites the three episodes: only on these three occasions does a family member recognize Odysseus’ signs as ἔμπεδα, ‘firmly in place’, a marked term in the poem. [14]
It appears, then, that some elements of the Laertes scene are paralleled in the Penelope scene in Book 19, while others are found in the scene in Book 23, as if the process of reunion that is condensed for Laertes is expanded and broken up into two parts for Penelope. Odysseus’ dialogue with Laertes is much simpler than that with Penelope and much more direct, so that elements analogous to one scene with Laertes are dispersed over several scenes with Penelope. Nevertheless, the similar structure of all these episodes and the dictional echoes that unite them suggest that revelation is in the {32|33} air in Book 19 no less than in Books 23 and 24. In contrast to what happens with Laertes, there is no open disclosure of Odysseus’ identity, but there is, I suggest, an indirect one. Like Laertes, Penelope tests her guest. But while in the Laertes scene a direct revelation is followed by a direct test, in Book 19 an indirect revelation is followed by an indirect test: Penelope asks the beggar to describe Odysseus’ clothes as they were twenty years ago (19.215–219). The test is similar to the one that confirms Odysseus’ identity in Laertes’ eyes, a test of memory. For his father, Odysseus recalls the number and kinds of trees that Laertes himself once gave to him; for his wife, he recalls clothes and a pin that she herself once gave to him. On the surface, Penelope asks about the clothes only to check whether her guest really saw Odysseus twenty years ago, yet his reaction to her request suggests that there is a subtext to his claim. The “beggar” points out that it is hard to satisfy her demand after such a long time (19.221–223), then proceeds to describe the clothes in all their detail, eliciting a reaction from Penelope that is elsewhere associated only with the recognition of Odysseus.
Once he is tested by Laertes, Odysseus is openly acknowledged by his father. In Book 19 an equivalent stage is present too, although it takes a reduced form: Penelope announces that her guest has now put himself on an entirely different footing and has become both near and dear to her, an expression that is used of one’s equals:
νῦν μὲν δή μοι, ξεῖνε, πάρος περ ἐὼν ἐλεεινός,
ἐν μεγάροισι ν ἐμοῖσι φίλος τ’ ἔσῃ αἰδοῖός τε·
(Odyssey 19.253–254) [15]
Stranger, before I felt pity for you,
but now in my house you are a respected friend.
In sum, the parallels between Odysseus’ reunion with Laertes and the scene of the Third Cretan Lie suggest that not only the former but also the latter revolve around, or rather are structured by, the theme of Odysseus’ self-revelation. [16]
The second meltdown comparable to that of Penelope is experienced by Odysseus himself, and this melting, designated by τήκω, plays a clear and crucial part in his self-revelation. Odysseus dissolves in tears at the end of Book 8, where he is compared to a woman lamenting for her husband: {33|34}
ταῦτ’ ἄρ’ ἀοιδὸς ἄειδε περικλυτός· αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς
τήκετο, δάκρυ δ’ ἔδευεν ὑπὸ βλεφάροισι παρειάς.
ὡς δὲ γυνὴ κλαίῃσι φίλον πόσιν ἀμφιπεσοῦσα,
ὅς τε ἑῆς πρόσθεν πόλιος λαῶν τε πέσῃσιν,
ἄστεϊ καὶ τεκέεσσιν ἀμύνων νηλεὲς ἦμαρ·
ἡ μὲν τὸν θνῄσκοντα καὶ ἀσπαίροντα ἰδοῦσα
ἀμφ’ αὐτῷ χυμένη λίγα κωκύει·
(Odyssey 8.521–527)
Thus sang the singer surpassing in glory. And Odysseus
melted, and tears from under his eyelids drenched his cheeks.
Just as a woman cries, falling and embracing her dear husband,
who fell defending his city and its people,
warding off the pitiless day from the city and children.
She sees him dying and gasping for breath
and she pours herself over him and cries in a piercing voice.
As with Penelope and Laertes, the diction of pouring is prominent, for not only is Odysseus said to shed tears and wet his cheeks (like Penelope: ὣς τῆς τήκετο καλὰ παρήϊα δάκρυ χεούσης, ‘in this way her beautiful cheeks melted as she shed [χεούσης] streaming tears’ 19.208), but the grieving woman to whom he is compared ‘pours’ herself in an embrace onto the body of her dying husband (χημένη, 8.527). [17] There are no other such descriptions of melting in tears in the Odyssey. Odysseus’ melting signals a turning point in his interactions with the Phaeacians: his tears prompt Alkinoos to ask the guest yet again who he is, and lead directly to Odysseus’ announcement of his name and the telling of his story. Moreover, deliberate design on the part of Odysseus is involved in this self-revelation. In contrast with the first two songs of Demodokos, this one is requested by Odysseus, and if earlier he tries to hide his tears behind a cloak, no such attempt is mentioned when he listens to the third song. [18] Just as Penelope often cries, but never in the same way as when she listens to {34|35} Odysseus in Book 19, so Odysseus weeps on many occasions, but only here is his weeping described as melting and marked with an extended simile. [19]
It appears, then, that such “meltdowns” in the Odyssey signal key turning points in the process of Odysseus’ self-revelation. This is not to say that we should ascribe to Penelope in Book 19 instant certainty about Odysseus’ identity, or claim that she “recognizes” him. It is rather that the structure and diction of the scene suggest that the dialogue in Book 19, like the meeting with Laertes and the third song of Demodokos, has to do with Odysseus’ self-revelation. Moreover, it is likely that the initial message is much more complex than simply “I am Odysseus,” and has a negative side to it. With Laertes, Odysseus’ story reflects his own grief and catalyzes his father’s. Similarly, on Skheria the song about the Trojan horse and the sack of Troy prompts Odysseus’ weeping, because the song both identifies Odysseus and brings him grief. What Odysseus says to Penelope has a similar effect: it both triggers grief and begins a process of self-revelation. I conclude that, quite apart from the content of the Third Cretan Lie, its context and the compositional structure into which it fits suggest that it should contain veiled claims to Odysseus’ identity. Such evidence, external to the lie itself, is obviously insufficient to argue the point, and I will now proceed to the suggestion that there are indeed such veiled claims, based on the internal evidence of the lie itself. On the surface, the lie is a rather innocent utterance: Odysseus simply introduces himself as a Cretan named Aithon, a brother of Idomeneus, describes Crete, and tells the queen how he once entertained Odysseus at his house. And yet many details of the lie are rich in traditional meanings and implications that are directly functional in the Odyssey. In what follows I consider Odysseus’ assumed name, his self-description as a younger brother of Idomeneus, and finally the effect of his references to Crete and Cretan landmarks. {35|}


[ back ] 1. Watkins 1995:85.
[ back ] 2. The comparison is first made by Dillon 1947. For a detailed discussion see Watkins 1979:182.
[ back ] 3. It is interesting that in Hesiod ἀτάσθαλα appear as one of the opposite qualities to straight δίκη, just as in the Odyssey ἀτασθαλία is the quality of the suitors and Odysseus’ companions that leads to their demise.
[ back ] 4. Martin 1984: 38, 46.
[ back ] 5. Martin 1984: 36.
[ back ] 6. Martin 1984: 46.
[ back ] 7. See Martin 1984, esp. 44 and 47.
[ back ] 8. See e.g. Haft 1984.
[ back ] 9. Erbse 1972:154–155.
[ back ] 10. On similarities between Eumaeus and the protagonist of the second lie see, e.g., Trahman 1952:37–39, Emlyn-Jones 1986:6–7. King (1999:75) argues that Odysseus uses this lie to “validate and commend Eumaeus’ moral outlook.”
[ back ] 11. See Nagy 2009:305 and nn253–255 on the meaning and connotations of tekesthai in this scene and 2009:300–312 on its meaning in connection to the Orphic and Bacchic mysteries, in particular the theme of eternal flow.
[ back ] 12. On these names see Heubeck 1992:395, ad loc., and Breed 1999:149–159.
[ back ] 13. The formulaic verse ὣς φάτο, τὸν δ᾿ ἄχεος νεφέλη ἐκάλυψε μέλαινα occurs also at 17.591 (but with a different continuation).
[ back ] 14. See Zeitlin 1995:125–127 on this term in the Odyssey.
[ back ] 15. Cf. the same expression used by Nestor about Menelaos (Iliad 10.114), by Hera about herself in relation to Zeus (Iliad 14.210), by Kharis and Hephaestus about Thetis (Iliad 18.386, 425), Kalypso about Hermes (Odyssey 5.88), and by Odysseus about Idomeneus (Odyssey 19.191).
[ back ] 16. See Breed 1999, esp. 147–159.
[ back ] 17. On the internalized lamentation of Odysseus in this scene, and on the distinction between kleos and penthos/akhos depending on a character’s personal involvement in the song, see Nagy 1979:100–101.
[ back ] 18. Cf. Ahl/Roisman 1996:85 for the observation that Odysseus’ crying is here noticeably contrary to his usual “emotional restraint” and the idea that it is “carefully orchestrated” and designed “to precipitate his self-disclosure” (though Alkinoos is still the only one to notice the weeping).
[ back ] 19. For an extended discussion of the diction of dissolving and pouring both in the simile and in the scene, see Nagy 2009:348–352. As Nagy shows, the diction of dissolving in this scene has far-reaching meanings and connotations having to do with lament, eroticism, and the fluidity of song.