Chapter 2. The Name

The name Aithon by which Odysseus introduces himself to Penelope is significant, just as his other assumed names in the Odyssey are. The word itself, αἴθων, is a nasal derivative from the root of αἴθομαι/αἴθω, ‘to burn’, and its essential meaning is ‘burning’ or ‘fiery’. Although it is often conventionally translated as ‘reddish brown’, in Homer and archaic poetry the adjective is not a color term at all, but always means ‘burning/blazing’ and refers to the character or psychological state of those it describes. [1]
One of the many connotations of αἴθων is that of hunger and longing, since aithon can connote ‘burning’ with an urgent desire. This ‘burning’ can be physical, sexual, or social, that is, the adjective can designate burning for vengeance and restitution felt by a person somehow socially deprived, for example, an exile. By extension, the adjective is associated not only with deprivation and desire but with ways of acting to which these feelings lead. A person or animal who is αἴθων is likely to be relentless, cunning, aggressive, and stop at nothing. In extreme cases, aithon can even function as a proper adjective and Aithon as a proper name for a hybristic transgressor. [2] On the other hand, the name has a strong association with vengeance, and when vengeance is supported by a divine sanction, the fire implicit in aithon can become associated with the fiery power of Zeus himself as defender of the deprived. In fact, aithon {36|37} is used as an epithet of lightning. [3] Many of these connotations of aithon are relevant to the Odyssey and activated when Odysseus assumes his name in Book 19.
A typical example illustrating the semantics of aithon is its use as a simile in the Iliad, where Ajax is compared to a lion:
ὡς δ’ αἴθωνα λέοντα βοῶν ἀπὸ μεσσαύλοιο
ἐσσεύαντο κύνες τε καὶ ἀνέρες ἀγροιῶται,
οἵ τέ μιν οὐκ εἰῶσι βοῶν ἐκ πῖαρ ἑλέσθαι
πάννυχοι ἐγρήσσοντες· ὁ δὲ κρειῶν ἐρατίζων
ἰθύει, ἀλλ’ οὔ τι πρήσσει· θαμέες γὰρ ἄκοντες
ἀντίον ἀΐσσουσι θρασειάων ἀπὸ χειρῶν,
καιόμεναι τε δεταί, τάς τε τρεῖ ἐσσυμένος περ·
ἠῶθεν δ’ ἀπονόσφιν ἔβη τετιηότι θυμῷ·
(Iliad 11.548–555)
As when dogs and rustic men drive away
a ravenous [aithon] lion from their cows’ enclosure,
and do not allow him to tear the fat out of the cows,
staying awake all night; and the lion, longing for meat,
charges at them but gets nothing, for javelins spring
from their strong arms and fly, thick and fast, at him,
and blazing torches, and he shrinks from them for all his eagerness,
and at dawn he goes away, sore at heart.
The lion of this simile is aithon not because he has tawny fur, but because he is burning with a hunger strong enough to make him spend the entire night trying to break through to the food, in spite of all the spears and torches in his way. The animal is described as longing (ἐρατίζω) for meat, just as the verb αἴθομαι is often linked with love (ἔρως), specifically when the love is unconsummated, forbidden, or unattainable. [4]
A related connotation of αἴθων, something close to ‘relentless’, perhaps ‘relentlessly resourceful’, can be seen in Pindar, where αἴθων is used about a fox:
τὸ γὰρ ἐμφυὲς οὔτ’ αἴθων ἀλώπηξ
οὔτ’ ἐρίβρομοι λέοντες διαλλάξαιντο ἦθος.
(Pindar, Olympian 11.19–21) {37|38}
For neither the relentless [aithon] fox nor the loud-roaring lion
could change their inborn temper.
Bundy has argued that the gnome refers to the poet, the laudator; foxes here symbolize the poets who are “mere technicians,” while the lion is a poet who “disdains all device” and relies, with a “straightforward confidence” on his own inspiration. [5] The foxes have to resort to devices because they lack the inborn power of the lion and yet are so keen to get ahead that they are ready to try anything. This is how the gnome is interpreted in the A scholia: πανοῦργον ζῷον ἡ ἀλώπηξ· ὁ δὲ λέων δυναμικώτερος, ‘the fox is an knavish animal, while the lion is stronger’. A similar sentiment is expressed in another Pindaric verse, spoken by the laudator: ὄπισθεν δὲ κεῖμαι θρασειᾶν ἀλωπέκων ξανθὸς λέων, ‘I lie behind the venturous foxes, a tawny lion’ (fr. 237), where the use of θρασύς sheds some light on the meaning of αἴθων in Olympian 11. The idea of persistence and daring (seen here in a negative light) is present in πανοῦργος, θρασύς, and also in αἴθων. There is a clear relationship between urgent desire and behavior, both bold and crafty, which is aimed at satisfying it.
The notion of burning hunger that is part of the semantics of aithon has a mythological manifestation in the character of Aithon-Erysichthon, so nicknamed, according to the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, on account of his insatiable hunger:
τὸν δ’ Αἴθων’ ἐκάλεσσαν ἐπ]ών[υ]μ[ο]ν εἵνεκα λιμοῦ
αἴθωνος κρατεροῦ φῦλα] θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων.
(Hesiod, Catalogue fr. 43a MW) [6]
The tribes of mortal men called him by a nickname, Aithon,
on account of his violent burning hunger.
In the Catalogue, Aithon has a crafty daughter, Mestra, who has magical abilities and provides for her hungry parent by being married off repeatedly and then returning home in animal shape. Mestra’s name is derived from μήδομαι, ‘to {38|39} contrive’ and signals her cunning and knowledge of “close counsels.” [7] The myth of Erysichthon brings together the idea of burning hunger and the resourcefulness that satisfies it, a logical pairing. In this case the two features are distributed between the two members of this father and daughter team, but they can also be united and collectively evoked by aithon, as is the case with Pindaric foxes.
Both hunger and craftiness are also features of beggars and poets who have to ingratiate themselves with their audiences to get a meal. [8] When he calls himself Aithon, Odysseus assumes both the role of a beggar and of just such a poet. Just as Iros, the professional beggar of the Odyssey, has a ‘raving’ (μάργῃ, 18.2) belly, a stock characteristic of beggars in Homer and Hesiod, [9] so Odysseus, posing as a beggar (and as Aithon), suffers reproaches on account of his insatiable gaster:
ἀλλ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν δὴ ἔργα κάκ’ ἔμμαθεν, οὐκ ἐθελήσει
ἔργον ἀποίχεσθαι, ἀλλὰ πτώσσων κατὰ δῆμον
βούλεται αἰτίζων βόσκειν ἣν γαστέρ’ ἄναλτον.
(Odyssey 17.226-228, cf. 18.362-364)
Βut since he has learned worthless occupations he will not agree
to go to work, but wants to feed his insatiable belly by asking for handouts,
begging through the district.
At the same time, Odysseus, unlike Iros (who is not aithon), is also distinguished by his cunning. The affinity between the Hesiodic Mestra and Odysseus is obvious, and it is probably the force behind a development in Ovid, where Mestra is said to have married Odysseus’ grandfather, Autolykos. [10] Short of new papyrus finds, it is probably impossible to establish whether Ovid invented this marriage or found it in Hesiod, [11] but Mestra is naturally associated with Autolykos through craftiness and a gift for transformations. In the extant fragments of the Catalogue of Women she interacts with another notorious trickster, Sisyphos, who, in his turn, is made a father of Odysseus in some post-Homeric {39|40} sources. [12] In the Odyssey, Odysseus seems to perform at once the role of Aithon and the role of Mestra: he may complain about his “accursed belly,” but through his craftiness he always finds a way to survive. [13] When Odysseus assumes the role of a poet on Skheria he is both skillful and eager for reward. [14]
Like Homeric lions, but also like Pindaric foxes, Odysseus the beggar, posing as an exile, is a person deprived of all he had, a victim of a hunger, literal and metaphorical. He will prove himself deserving of the name, a character driven to undertake risks, resort to cunning, and stop at nothing.
Moreover, these connotations of Aithon fit not only Odysseus himself, but his Cretan persona (a royal offspring now deprived of his native land and status), and even the imaginary Odysseus in Thesprotia, whom Odysseus describes to Penelope: all of these characters have been separated from their respective households. The very social position of all these characters makes them eligible for becoming an Aithon.
These social connotations of Aithon can be placed, at least as far as the Homeric poems are concerned, within the framework of the institution of xenia. The relationship between the fundamental Homeric institutions of oikos and xenia has been much discussed, and I cite here Redfield’s formulation: “Household self-sufficiency is modified by the positive reciprocities involved in relations with xenoi – and, at a deeper level, by marriage-exchange – and by the negative reciprocities of the vendetta.” [15] The Homeric model of xenia involves a reciprocal exchange of hospitality and treasures (keimelia) between the representatives of two aristocratic households. Whenever a traveling aristocrat receives hospitality and gifts at a host’s house, the expectation is that a member of the hosts’ household should receive gifts and hospitality in return if he travels one day to the guest’s land.
This aristocratic form of gift exchange is fundamentally different from other forms of gift-giving and receiving, such as the reception of gifts by the poet in return for his performance. Even if elevated to the point of being heroic or semi-divine, the poet can never have the same status as the host of his performance. Alkinoos will never receive gifts at Demodokos’ house. {40|41}
Having a household with a store of keimelia is therefore essential for participating in these aristocratic forms of exchange, while it is not necessary, for example, in order to be a poet. [16] A person who is deprived of his household through exile or other misfortune loses his ability to reciprocate, and has to become a perpetual “guest,” someone who can be seen metaphorically as always “hungry.”
Such social dislocation obviously applies to Odysseus until he regains his position on Ithaca, but it also applies in a different way to Aithon-Erysichthon in Hesiod and Callimachus. In Hesiod, Aithon violates the reciprocal agreement involved in marriage: instead of exchanging his daughter for a bride price (hedna), he takes the hedna but also keeps the daughter, which ultimately leads to conflict with the other household. In Callimachus, a very different Erysichthon eats through his family’s possessions and is finally forced to abandon his previous social position and beg at the crossroads – the ultimate form of a non-reciprocal relationship.
The hungry exile burns for return and the restoration of his fortune, but not only this. He can have other goals, chief among them vengeance on those who are responsible for his deprivation or have occupied his former place. This is Odysseus’ situation: return is unthinkable without his taking revenge upon the suitors. Aithon as a name in poetry also has associations that are particularly fitting to this situation, as can be seen from its appearance in an elegy of Theognis.
In deliberately enigmatic verses, of which I quote only the first two, Theognis calls himself Aithon:
Αἴθων μὲν γένος εἰμί, πόλιν δ’ εὐτείχεα Θήβην
οἰκῶ, πατρῴας γῆς ἀπερυκόμενος.
(Theognis 1209–1210)
I am Aithon by birth, and I have my abode in the well-walled city of Thebes,
kept away by force from my native land.
Nagy suggests that the poet here alludes to his own burial in Thebes, since the verb οἰκῶ can be used in reference to a hero’s abode after death, as it is in Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus (27, 28, 92, 627, 637). [17] Within the same poem Theognis says {41|42} that his city is next to the plain of Lethe, a reference to the underworld, which confirms this understanding of οἰκῶ (1215–1216). Elsewhere Theognis pictures himself as an exile, a person whose property has been taken by others (1197–2000) and who dies in exile (337–50). [18] Yet he also contemplates a return to his native city of Megara and revenge on those who have displaced him, even if it is after death (345–350). The name Aithon is thus as appropriate for Theognis as it is for Odysseus: both are destitute, separated from their native land, and both have a burning desire for return and vengeance on their enemies. Moreover, Nagy suggests further points of contact between Odysseus and Theognis, most of them having to do, directly or indirectly, with return and revenge. [19]
Theognis directly compares himself with Odysseus, who returns from the dead:
Μή με κακῶν μίμνησκε· πέπονθά τοι οἷά τ’ Ὀδυσσεύς,
ὅστ’ Ἀίδεω μέγα δῶμ’ ἤλυθεν ἐξαναδύς,
ὃς δὴ καὶ μνηστῆρας ἀνείλατο νηλέι θυμῶι,
Πηνελόπης εὔφρων κουριδίης ἀλόχου,
ἥ μιν δήθ’ ὑπέμεινε φίλωι παρὰ παιδὶ μένουσα
(Theognis 1123–1127)
Do not remind me of hardships. I have suffered the same things as Odysseus,
who came back after emerging from the great house of Hades,
and destroyed, with his pitiless will, glad in his heart,
the suitors of Penelope, his wedded wife,
who waited for him a long time remaining by her son.
Overcoming death is a theme present elsewhere in Theognis, and it is dependent, as in the Odyssey, on unflagging noos and cunning: no one can return once he enters Hades, except for Sisyphos, who did so by his wits:
ἀλλ’ ἄρα κἀκεῖθεν πάλιν ἤλυθε Σίσυφος ἥρως
ἐς φάος ἠελίου σφῆισι πολυφροσύναις.
(Theognis 711–712) [20] {42|43}
Βut it turns out that Sisyphus returned even from there
to the light of the sun, using his great intelligence.
Both Sisyphos and Odysseus feature in the corpus of Theognis’ poetry as heroic figures cognate with Theognis himself, figures of wisdom who return from the dead. But Odysseus is a fuller parallel to Theognis because of the themes of suffering and vengeance that he shares with the poet and that are not associated with Sisyphos. The initial point of comparison between Theognis and Odysseus in Theognis is their suffering (πέπονθά τοι οἷά τ’ Ὀδυσσεύς, 1123), and the grievous necessity for Odysseus to descend into Hades before he can return. Odysseus’ subsequent return is then connected with his pitiless vengeance upon the suitors.
When Theognis, for his part, contemplates vengeance, he pictures himself as a dog that crosses a wintry torrent wishing to drink his enemies’ blood:
αἶσα γὰρ οὕτως ἐστί. τίσις δ’ οὐ φαίνεται ἡμῖν
ἀνδρῶν, οἳ τἀμὰ χρήματ’ ἔχουσι βίηι
συλήσαντες· ἐγὼ δὲ κύων ἐπέρησα χαράδρην
χειμάρρωι ποταμῶι πάντ’ ἀποτεισάμενος·
τῶν εἴη μέλαν αἷμα πιεῖν· ἐπί τ’ ἐσθλὸς ὄροιτο
δαίμων, ὃς κατ’ ἐμὸν νοῦν τελέσειε τάδε.
(Theognis 345–350) [21]
This is how it is destined, but no retribution appears for me
against the men who robbed me by force and have
my possessions. But I am a dog and cross the ravine
with its wintry stream and will make them pay for all.
May I drink their black blood! And may a good spirit observe it,
and may it accomplish these things according to my intent.
Earlier in this fragment, Theognis longs to exact retribution from his offenders while he is still alive. Then, he says, he would ‘appear to be a god among men’ (339–340).
But since he does not see any retribution falling on those who seized his property, the poetic figure of Theognis contemplates death, and his wish for revenge transforms into the image of a dog crossing the stream, {43|44} a prayer to drink the blood of his enemies, and the wish that a good daimon may oversee this post mortem revenge. As Murray has argued, the torrent in this case is likely to correspond to the river Styx, which is also ice-cold, and Theognis’ infernal hound is thus comparable to the Erinyes, also imagined as deadly hounds coming from the underworld to drink the blood of their prey. [22] Although Odysseus is able to return from the underworld alive, while Theognis’ return is only possible in the form of a ghostly dog, in both cases it is a return from the dead crowned with vengeance on the living. Burning for this return and vengeance seems to be captured in both cases by the name Aithon.
In the Odyssey, moreover, the themes of burning and revenge co-occur with a striking depiction of a dog. Immediately after the conversation between Odysseus-Aithon and Penelope, at the beginning of Book 20, Odysseus is so filled with indignation at the women who sleep with the suitors that he wants to kill them on the spot. Odysseus’ emotional state is described by unique expression, κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει, ‘his heart barked inside him’ (20.13) [23] , which leads into a dog-simile:
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
(Odyssey 20.14–16)
Just as a dog stands over her tender cubs and,
not recognizing a man, barks and is crazed to fight,
just so his heart barked inside of him as he looked in indignation upon their wicked deeds.
It is clear from the simile that the violence of Odysseus’ emotion is due to his defensiveness about his household: the dog in the simile is ready to fight for her pups. It is significant that this dog is female: in contrast, for example, to the hunting dog Argos, this one is the guardian of her “household” and “dependents.” But the simile also reinforces the theme of vengeance, as has been shown by Franco in an extended study of the ancient Greek concept of the dog. [24] She argues that the dog’s well-attested reputation as a mother is of a particular nature: it comes from the dog’s fearlessness and even madness in defending and avenging her young. [25] This madness is marked in the Odyssey {44|45} by the use of the expression μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι, ‘is crazed to fight’ (20.15). The association between the dog’s motherly protectiveness and her raving rage can be seen most clearly in the figure of Hecuba, the Trojan queen, who is transformed into a dog. According to a tradition preserved by the scholia, Odysseus himself is involved in her story. [26] After sailing away from Troy, Odysseus and his men put in at a place called Maroneia, and plunder it. Hecuba, who is there, curses them, is killed by Odysseus’ men and thrown into the sea, and the place where she is thus “buried” acquires the name ‘Dog’s grave,’ Kynos Sema. This Kynos Sema was a known landmark on the Hellespont, mentioned by Thucydides and Strabo. [27] In Lycophron, Hecuba unleashes her curses on the Achaeans after the sacrifice of Polyxena and is stoned by them, and here again Odysseus is implicated more than others in her death: he is the first to cast a stone (Alexandra 330–334, 1174–1188). No transformation is mentioned directly, but Lycophron does say that in Hades Hecuba becomes the hound of Hekate (Alexandra 1174–1177). [28] In Euripides, the queen’s fate of being turned into a dog and being immortalized in the Kynos Sema is foretold after her terrible vengeance on Polymestor (Hecuba 1265). Here again, Odysseus plays a central role in her fate since he is the one to take Polyxena away from her for sacrifice (339–432). Finally, in the Trojan Women Euripides brings together the two enemies, Odysseus and the Trojan queen, although in a different way: here she is allotted to Odysseus as a slave and is in despair (Trojan Women 227–292).
Odysseus consistently appears in a central role in the myths about Hecuba, and this connection is also likely to be part of the tradition. It is even possible that the dog in Odyssey 20 is an allusion to her, but whether this is so or not, Hecuba and her transformation story show what kind of a dog Odysseus is compared to. The simile operates by the logic of reversal, conspicuous elsewhere in the Odyssey. Just as at the court of Alkinoos Odysseus cries like a woman whose husband is killed and city sacked, whereas at Troy he was himself the killer and the sacker; so here he is compared to a furious mother-dog defending her young, whereas at Troy he is himself the destroyer of children (in the Iliou Persis he kills Astyanax) [29] and indeed the murderer of Hecuba, the vengeful mother-dog.
In Euripides’ Hecuba there is an interesting detail: Polyxena tells her she will become a dog with fiery eyes, κύων γενήσῃ πύρσ’ ἔχουσα δέργματα {45|46} (1265). The dog’s eyes are also full of fire in PMG 965, an anonymous fragment that may refer to the same transformation (χαροπὰν κύνα, ‘bright-eyed dog,’ PMG 965.1). Dogs in general were imagined as fiery and especially as fiery-eyed, and this quality is directly connected both to their function as guardians and to their proclivity towards lussa. [30] Hecuba is thus emblematic of the dog’s fiery nature, as Franco suggests: “il case della cagna-madre no fosse che una manifestazione particolare, canonicamente emblematica, di questa lyssa canina, di questo eccesso di focosità sempre pronto a divampare.” [31] The fire in the eyes of dog-Hecuba is akin to the burning for revenge experienced by the two Aithones, Odysseus and Theognis. The associations go deep, and although neither Hecuba’s transformation into a dog nor Odysseus’ involvement in her death is mentioned in Homer, these and similar themes are unlikely to be late. In fact, the Euripidean Hecuba is directly comparable to the Iliadic one. Segal observes that as the Iliad progresses, the escalation of violence and savagery gradually gives way to a more weary, reflective, and even conciliatory atmosphere in which broader horizons of human life and death can be contemplated. One person who takes little part in this development, however, is Hecuba. As Segal puts it, “For her, the bereaved mother, the hatred and savagery of the war are still alive. There can be no reconciliation, analogous to that between Priam and Achilles, between the killer and the mother who gave birth to the victim.” [32] Just as Priam prepares to set off across the enemy lines in hopes of persuading Achilles to return Hektor’s body, his wife reaches a horrible pinnacle of vengefulness in her desire to eat Achilles’ liver raw:
τῷ δ’ ὥς ποθι Μοῖρα κραταιὴ
γιγνομένῳ ἐπένησε λίνῳ, ὅτε μιν τέκον αὐτή,
ἀργίποδας κύνας ἆσαι ἑῶν ἀπάνευθε τοκήων
ἀνδρὶ πάρα κρατερῷ, τοῦ ἐγὼ μέσον ἧπαρ ἔχοιμι
ἐσθέμεναι προσφῦσα· τότ’ ἂν τιτὰ ἔργα γένοιτο
παιδὸς ἐμοῦ . . .
(Iliad 24.209–214) [33] {46|47}
Somehow in this way strong Destiny
spun with his life-thread for him [Hektor] when he was born, when I myself bore him,
to sate with his body the swiftfooted dogs, far away from his parents,
at the hands of a strong man. I wish I could eat his liver,
biting into the middle of it. Then I would pay him back for what he did
to my son . . .
Hecuba’s ghastly wish is an expression of vengeance (τότ’ ἂν τιτὰ ἔργα γένοιτο), a theme elsewhere connected to the figure of the dog, and dogs appear in her speech, feeding on the body of Hektor. This is a traditional cluster of themes, and Theognis’ dream of drinking the blood of his enemies belongs to the same stock.
Both Theognis’ ghastly hound and the dog-Hecuba have much in common with the Erinyes. In Euripides’ Hecuba, Polymnestor compares Hecuba and the women who helped her to murderous hunting dogs, while he himself is the beast (1173), just as the Erinyes can be pictured as hunting dogs running down their prey (e.g. in Aeschylus, Eumenides 131–132 and 246–247). A little earlier, Polymnestor imagines the Furies (‘maenads of Hades’) dividing the bodies of his sons and the dogs feasting on them (1076–1077). The barking dog in the Odyssey is similar. Like Theognis and Hecuba, Odysseus is burning to avenge a transgression against his household; like Hecuba, the dog in the simile is defending her young; and like the Erinyes, Odysseus can even come back from the dead to reach his offenders.
In the Odyssey, the simile of the dog is accompanied by the diction of fire, and recasts in an unexpected way the themes embodied by Aithon and present throughout this part of the Odyssey. Restraining his violent emotions, Odysseus strikes his chest and addresses his own heart (τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης, ‘endure, my heart; you have once endured an even greater outrage’, 20.18), referring to the loss of his companions in the cave of the Cyclops. Yet his craving for revenge does not lessen, and now it is described as ‘burning’:
τῷ δὲ μάλ’ ἐν πείσῃ κραδίη μένε τετληυῖα
νωλεμέως· ἀτὰρ αὐτὸς ἑλίσσετο ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.
ὡς δ’ ὅτε γαστέρ’ ἀνὴρ πολέος πυρὸς αἰθομένοιο,
ἐμπλείην κνίσης τε καὶ αἵματος, ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα
αἰόλλῃ, μάλα δ’ ὦκα λιλαίεται ὀπτηθῆναι, {47|48}
ὣς ἄρ’ ὅ γ’ ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα ἑλίσσετο μερμηρίζων
ὅππως δὴ μηνστῆρσιν ἀναιδέσι χεῖρας ἐφήσει
(Odyssey 20.23–29).
And his resilient heart obeyed
without letting up; but he himself tossed and turned this way and that.
Just as when a man turns a sausage full of fat and blood
this way and that over a high-blazing fire,
and wants it to be roasted very quickly,
in this way he turned back and forth, contriving
how he might lay hands on the shameless suitors.
Here there is once more a mention of the gaster, but now it is a sausage, not the belly. Nevertheless, it is surely still evocative of hunger, especially since the man roasting this sausage is impatient for it to cook quickly: Odysseus is on fire, burning with rage and impatient to get his revenge. Moreover, the use of κύντερον, ‘more dog-like’, about the gory meal of the Cyclops picks up the theme of the dog, and even the allusion to cannibalism resonates with the themes of vengeance.
To come back to Theognis, there is one more detail that unites his poetic persona with Odysseus. Both Aithon-Theognis and Aithon-Odysseus return from Hades to exact their vengeance, although Odysseus, of course, achieves this during his lifetime, making himself, from the point of view of Theognis, ‘a god among men’ (339), while Theognis can only prophesy his own return. Nevertheless, there is a striking possibility that both returns are (or will be) accomplished with the help of the same divine agent, Ino-Leukothea. In mysterious verses, Theognis claims that a ‘sea corpse’ is calling him home with a ‘mouth that is alive’:
Ἤδη γάρ με κέκληκε θαλάσσιος οἴκαδε νεκρός,
τεθνηκὼς ζωιῶι φθεγγόμενος στόματι.
(Theognis 1229–1230)
Already the corpse of the sea is summoning me back,
dead, but calling out with a mouth that is alive.
Nagy has argued that the ‘corpse’ in this version may be an allusion to the local traditions of Megara about the corpse of Ino being washed up on Megarian shores, suggesting that it is in fact Ino who is calling Theognis {48|49} back. [34] After her fatal plunge off the Molourian rocks, Ino was believed to have emerged from the sea as the goddess Leukothea, but in Megara she also had a grave and a heroic precinct. [35] Ino and Leukothea are not easily separable, and while Leukothea was believed to aid sailors at sea, she is more than a marine goddess: her role of rescuing sailors is only one manifestation of her more fundamental role of assisting in transitions through death. [36] It is in this role that she appears in the Odyssey and rescues Odysseus from death at sea in the guise of a sea bird, aithuia, whose name is a feminine form of Aithon (Odyssey 5.337, 353).
What emerges from these parallels between Odysseus and Theognis is that their respective returns are cognate: both return from the dead with the assistance of Ino, both burn for revenge, both are pictured as or compared to a dog, and both bear the name Aithon. As Nagy suggests, the differences between the two returns may be conditioned by the distinction between relatively more local and more panhellenic levels of discourse. [37] In local Megarian cult, the focus is on Ino’s death and burial, while on the panhellenic level it shifts to her deification as Leukothea. This difference is paralleled by Theognis and Odysseus. Megarian Theognis hopes to come back from the dead only as a vengeance on his enemies, while panhellenic Odysseus, like a god among men, literally comes back alive from the underworld.
For all his “lies” and disguises, Odysseus rarely invents a name for himself. When he talks to Penelope, his assumed name, Aithon, encapsulates in a very condensed form several themes that are essential for the hero: his fate of being a hungry wanderer, his displacement from the position typical of a king, his burning desire for return, his violent and implacable revenge, his passage through the underworld, and his return from the dead with its promise of rebirth. It would be an oversimplification to say that Odysseus selects a nom parlant for himself, because Aithon is more than a name: it is a type of a hero, a traditional figure. Odysseus is an Aithon, just as Erysikhthon and Theognis both are in their distinct ways. {49|}


[ back ] 1. For a more detailed discussion of the semantics of aithon, and arguments against its interpretation as a color term in Homer, see Levaniouk 2000a:26–36. Glossing aithon as a color term has had its impact on the interpretation of Aithon in Odyssey 19. See, for example, Russo 1992:86, LSJ, DGE. Cf. McKay 1959:12–13. The suggestion that Aithon in the Odyssey means ‘foxy’, ‘cunning’, is also usually based on taking aithon as a color term referring to fox’s fur (see McKay 1959:9n2 with references). Although I believe, as will become clear, that one aspect of Aithon in the Odyssey is close to ‘foxiness’, and that the same semantic developments lead to the adjective’s appearance as an epithet of foxes and to its appearance as a name of Odysseus, I do not think color is involved.
[ back ] 2. An example is Aithon-Erysikhthon (Hesiod fr. 43a MW, cf. Callimachus Hymn 6, 66–67, where Callimachus alludes to Erysikhthon’s name in Hesiod).
[ back ] 3. E.g. Pindar Olympian 10.83. For more on aithon as applied to lightning, see below.
[ back ] 4. E.g. Xenophon Cyropedia 5.1.16, Anthologia Palatina 12.83.2, Apollonius Rhodius 3.296.
[ back ] 5. Bundy1962:30–32.
[ back ] 6. ‘Erysichthon’ is restored in the fragment on the basis of ‘son of Triopas’ in line 3; Aithon occurs twice. Later sources give various versions of Erysichthon/Aithon’s story, but his insatiable hunger is a constant. The sources are: Callimachus’ Hymn 6, Lycophron 1393–1396 and Scholia, (2.384–385 Scheer = 43b MW), Suda s.v. αἴθων, Hellanicus in Athenaeus 416b (FGH 4 F 7), Antoninus Liberalis 17.5 (with an uncertain ascription to Nicander), Achaeus TrGF 20 F6–11 Snell (a satyr-play entitled Aithon which may be about Erysikhthon, but the fragments are insufficient to be certain) and Ovid Metamorphoses 8.738–878. For a detailed discussion of the sources, see McKay 1962:5–60 and Hopkinson 1984:18–31.
[ back ] 7. Fr. 43a9 MW.
[ back ] 8. Odyssey 14.124-127 and 11.363-369. See Svenbro 1976:50–59, Nagy 1979:261n4, 1985:77–80.
[ back ] 9. On γαστήρ and themes associated with it, see Svenbro 1976.50–59; Arthur 1983.97–116, especially 102–4; Pucci 1987.173–180.
[ back ] 10. Ovid Metamorphoses 8.738
[ back ] 11. For an argument in favor of a lost Hellenistic model, see McKay 1962:44–47. For a reply to McKay, see Hollis 1970:128.
[ back ] 12. fr. 43a MW, Sophocles Philoctetes 417 and Scholia.
[ back ] 13. In Book 9, it is Odysseus’ desire for xenia that compels him to wait for the arrival of Polyphemos, (an example of ‘hunger’, perhaps), but it is his cunning that allows him to escape (9.214–461). Cf. also Menelaos, who rescues himself and his starving crew (4.369) from Pharos with the help of a cunning plan devised by Eidothea (δόλον δ’ ἐπεμήδετο, 4.437) and the wisdom of her equally cunning father Proteus (4.455).
[ back ] 14. Odyssey 10.14–18, 11.363–369, 13.1–15, 14.124–132, 19.203. See Nagy 1985:77.
[ back ] 15. Redfield 1983:231.
[ back ] 16. The totality of the household wealth is expressed by the merism κειμήλιά τε πρόβασίν τε (Odyssey 2.75). For more on this formula, which is paralleled by English “goods and chattels” and Hittite iyata dameta, see Watkins 1994. See also Watkins 1995:154.
[ back ] 17. Nagy 1985:76–78.
[ back ] 18. See Nagy 1985:68–72.
[ back ] 19. Nagy 1985:74–76.
[ back ] 20. Sisyphos’ return (like that of Odysseus) is directly connected to his noos (Theognis 305). See Frame 1978 on nostos as ‘return’ specifically from the dead, and on the etymological connection between noos and nostos, which is mirrored by the thematic connection. Theognis’ own noos is equally crucial for his plans of return and retribution (350): see Nagy 1985:74–76.
[ back ] 21. See Nagy 1985:68–72 for a justification of the emendation ἀποτεισάμενος in 348, as opposed to the transmitted ἀποσεισάμενος.
[ back ] 22. Murray 1965:279. Cf. Choephori 924, 1054. Drinking blood: Choephori 578, Eumenides 264–266.
[ back ] 23. For a discussion of this expression and a discussion of the following simile, Rose 1979:215–230.
[ back ] 24. Franco 2003:63–64, 207.
[ back ] 25. Franco 2003:208–213.
[ back ] 26. Hypothesis 10–15.
[ back ] 27. Thucydides 8.104.5, 8.105.2, 8.106.4; Strabo 7.1.56, 13.1.28.
[ back ] 28. Hecuba also turns into a dog in Nicander (Scholia on Euripides, Hecuba 3) and in Quintus of Smyrna (14.347–351).
[ back ] 29. Proclus, Chrestomathia 268.
[ back ] 30. Franco 2003:215: “Lyssa canina e fiamma che divampa, si diceva, son strettamente associati nell’immaginario greco. Ancor più precisamente, questa scintilla di follia latente che alberga nel cane si manifesta nel suo sguardo.”
[ back ] 31. Franco 2003:214–215.
[ back ] 32. Segal 1971:69.
[ back ] 33. For a detailed discussion of this passage see Segal 1971:61–62. Segal points out that when Hecuba calls Achilles ‘raw-eating’ (ὠμηστής) in 207 she is using an adjective not otherwise applied to humans, but only to fish (24.82) in the context of killing, and to dogs and birds scavenging on corpses (11.453–454, 22.67).
[ back ] 34. Nagy 1985:79.
[ back ] 35. Pausanias 4.43.4, 1.42.7.
[ back ] 36. Levaniouk 2000a:197–217.
[ back ] 37. Nagy 1985:79–81.