Divine plan and narrative plan

Thus far I have argued that the Dios boulē theme serves two interconnected functions in the Odyssey: it lends shape and coherence to the narrative, and it mediates the Odyssey’s relationship to other Odysseus-traditions. The attraction of Zeus to the interface between the Homeric and non-Homeric accounts I have explained in terms of the Panhellenic orientation of the former: the Odyssey was crafted to appeal to heterogeneous audiences familiar with, and patriotically attached to, differing epichoric accounts of the Trojan War. To sum up my argument in a single, if unwieldy, sentence: the Dios boulē theme is a Panhellenic and proto-Panhellenic realization of a traditional way of conceptualizing ancient Greek epic narratives.
Such interpretations are naturally incapable of proof due to the dearth of ancient Greek testimony on the practical aspects of poetics. Yet in order for my, or any, model of the Odyssey’s narrative structure to be plausible, it is necessary to consider how concepts that have been deduced from textual evidence could have arisen and functioned in the oral tradition from which the texts derive. Some of these issues were raised in the Introduction, when I considered the potential for subtext in a medium without texts. As a kind of summary of my findings in general, I return in this chapter to the significance of the plan, and of Zeus, for composition-in-performance of epics like the Odyssey.
An at least partial reason why a composer, or a narrative tradition, might bother to elaborate so formalized a conception of a song can, I propose, be found in the mechanics of oral poetry. Specifically, comparison with living (or recently deceased) epic traditions, for which first-person accounts of the practical aspects of poetics are available, suggests that the overarching perspective that I have identified in the Homeric Dios boulē theme is a broader phenomenon, and is indeed essential to the composition-in-performance of extended oral narratives. Thus, even if my model overestimates the significance of Zeus in the Odyssey, I maintain that the operation of some other character or principle must be inferred that carries out the functions I assign to the Dios boulē.

The Dios boulēin performance

The deployment of an overarching theme is a core concept in Albert Lord’s model of oral composition-in performance, for it is in this theme that he located the identity of a song. Employing the comparative methodology pioneered by his teacher Milman Parry, Lord deduced from then flourishing South Slavic epic traditions some general principles concerning this level of narrative structure that he then applied to the Homeric epics. A traditional singer’s perspective on the subject is documented in one of Lord’s earlier publications:
A Yugoslav singer told me last year that when he learned a new song he made no attempt at word-for-word memorization but learned only the “plan” of the song, which he explained as “the arrangement of the events.” This plan he then proceeded to fill in with the themes which he already knew. [1]
As this singer explained it, the identity and stability of an orally composed and transmitted narrative is founded, not on verbatim adherence to an archetypal composition, but on a different unit of content, the “plan.” Here we may wonder whether Lord’s translation of the Slavic singer’s category with this particular English word is not in part conditioned by his own familiarity with Homeric epic, specifically the Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή of the Iliad proem. [2]
In any case, further study led Lord to conclude that, regarding the overall shape of a traditional oral narrative,
His [the singer’s] idea of stability, to which he is deeply devoted, does not include the wording, which to him has never been fixed . . . He builds his performance, or the song in our sense, on the stable skeleton of narrative, which is the song in his sense. [3]
The emphasis has been added because without attention to this phrase Lord’s model can be misunderstood. The plan of a traditional oral narrative is not simply a general template for improvisation. It is rather a specific way to organize characters and action patterns into a coherent narrative. For while the “stable skeleton” does not impose word-for-word fixity on a song, it does establish firm limits on the amount of variation that occurs when the song is performed. Thus Lord observed in general “a conservativeness in regard to story,” concomitant with significant variation in the actual wording, across performances of what singers described as the “same” song. [4] The song remains “the same” from the singer’s perspective when each performance preserves the essential themes, organized according to the most essential theme of all, the plan.
Subsequent research has corroborated Lord’s findings and established a broader comparative perspective for his model of composition-in-performance. Relevant here is the work of David Rubin, a cognitive psychologist who has applied models and methods developed in his own field to the study of memory in oral traditions, including ballads and nursery rhymes as well as epics. His understanding of large-scale structure in orally composed and transmitted narratives is that
The song is a system made up of systems . . . such as the spatial and object systems of imagery or the rhyme and alliteration patterns. Similarly, the song is embedded in a system, the genre, which itself is embedded in the class of all oral traditions, and so forth. . . . Each of the systems at each level interacts. . . . The song has a boundary, which defines what is inside and what is outside the systems. Variants of one song are within the possible manifestations of the systems, but different songs are not. . . . The particular words making up the song change over time, though the basic organization does not. . . . The song maintains itself. [5]
By way of translation, Rubin’s “systems” as I understand them are functionally equivalent to Lord’s “themes,” which are defined as “basic units of content” that manifest varying capacities to organize a song. [6] Likewise, what Lord described as a song’s “plan” can be rendered in Rubin’s terms an overarching system, which interacts with the song’s sub-systems, its “spatial and object systems,” and with the broader systems of communication in the context of which the song arises.
What Rubin offers is not simply a multiplication of terms, but a complementary perspective on large-scale narrative structure. Modern systems theory helps to balance a tendency in Homeric studies to concentrate on the units of composition rather than the interactions among them, and helps to solve problems inherent in the analysis of structures in which dependent and independent variables interact. [7] Conceived of as a system that organizes other systems, the Dios boulē as I have described it extends in the Odyssey, as in the Iliad, through the system of divine councils that fall at the main inflection points in the narrative, where they provide the motivation for the plot as it unfolds. At the same time, this overarching theme or system serves as an interface between the Odyssey and the larger system of the ancient Greek epic tradition.
In this latter respect, Rubin’s concept of the “boundary” is especially useful, for it describes one of the two functions that, according to my own model, Zeus performs in the Odyssey. The boundary in the first place separates the narrative from what precedes and follows it; as we have seen, the distinction of the Odyssey from previous and succeeding events is effected by Zeus in the divine council scenes in Books 1 and 24. And again, the boundary also distinguishes the Odyssey from parallel Odysseus-traditions; it is in this capacity that I have analyzed Zeus’ role in the fate of the Phaiakes and in the cycle of reciprocal violence on Ithake. Lastly, the boundary can also be assimilated to the concept of the “facts” of the larger tradition, in that its operation implies the systematization of narrative possibilities at a level that transcends any one performer, performance, or narrative.
Plan and boundary, then, can be understood as different aspects of what is, from a functional perspective, the same theme. The special nature of this theme is apparent in its scope when compared with an epic’s other themes or systems, that is, its formulas, type-scenes, and larger patterns such as withdrawal-and-return. The plan alone embraces the entire narrative and therefore has the unique potential to impinge on all other themes.
A further distinction is that a plan is acquired in a manner different from less comprehensive themes. These latter themes may recur in any number of narratives, for a traditional singer internalizes them during training, and devotes to them no more conscious thought than a traditional musician does to scales. By contrast, a singer consciously acquires plans that can organize basic themes into performable, transmissible, and distinct songs. [8] And while a plan allows for substitution of non-essential themes and for the expansion or contraction of the narrative in response to performance circumstances, it at the same time imposes strict limits on essential features, such as overall chronology, setting, and characters. From the perspective of poets who do not rely on written texts for their repertoire, the plan is the song.
Turning now to Homeric narrative, I suggest that Zeus, as the character traditionally endowed with the greatest power to control other characters and the world they inhabit, is a natural figure with which to identify an overarching plan. In the case of the Odyssey, the Dios boulē theme carries out the functions that Lord and Rubin assign to the plan or boundary in oral composition-in-performance. [9] Zeus, identified with the top of the hierarchy of the Odyssey’s themes, provides the stable skeleton for the poem’s overall thematic coherence and unity and establishes the boundary between pre- and post-Odyssean events as well as between Homeric and non-Homeric Odysseus-traditions. Zeus’ essential role, though obscured by his own strategies and rhetoric, is nevertheless communicated through his dramatic appearances at the cardinal points of the narrative, and may well have commanded the attention of Homeric audiences, which were accustomed by familiarity with the larger tradition to expect divine motivation at just such junctures.

Zeus Panhellenikos

Its centrality to the Odyssey aside, the Dios boulē was not, according to my model, the only, or even the most common, form that the essential plan theme assumed in the ancient Greek epic tradition. Rather, I have suggested that equation of Zeus’ divine plan with the epic narrative plan was a specifically Panhellenic phenomenon. Panhellenism is often understood as a synthetic process, whereby epichoric traditions were blended into narratives and practices that emphasized similarities and downplayed differences. Many aspects of the Olympian system can indeed be explained in this way. Thus the gods who appear in the epics are those who were worshipped in one form or another in most or all Greek communities, to the exclusion of more localized deities, such as the Cretan-Aiginetan Britomartis or Boiotian-Thessalian Kabeiroi. Likewise, the Homeric (and Hesiodic) gods are departicularized: Poseidon, for instance, appears in his widely recognized role as sea-god, while his less common association with horse cult is largely unobserved. The Panhellenic synthesis can in these respects be understood as an abstraction from the prevailing beliefs about the gods in Greece at the time when the epics were taking shape.
It might then be expected that Zeus’ position of dominance in Panhellenic epic reflects a dominant role in ancient Greek religious life. However, it appears that Zeus did not attract the intensity of attention, measured in terms of resources devoted to him and symbolic status accorded to him, that Greek communities directed to other divinities portrayed in the epics. It is this very fact, I suggest, that made Zeus especially well suited to preside over Panhellenic narratives. For while Zeus was recognized in most or all ancient Greek communities, and seems to have maintained, perhaps as an outgrowth of his conception as a sky god, some vague claim to supremacy over other deities, actual cult activity devoted to him was largely restricted to contexts that were outside the domain of the polis, residing either entirely within the oikos, or at the level of Panhellenic cult, which transcends the polis. The relatively low profile of the supreme god of the epic pantheon in other contexts is particularly significant given that many if not most aspects of Greek religion centered on the polis. [10] As a consequence, Zeus was relatively less encumbered than any other deity by associations with particular communities or regions. [11]
It will be useful to approach this line of argumentation, which appears at first glance counterintuitive, in diachronic terms. To begin with, there can be no doubt that worship of Zeus was deeply ingrained in ancient Greek religion. The earliest documents in Greek, written in the so-called Linear B syllabary and dating mainly to the thirteenth and twelfth centuries, establish that Zeus was among the deities – along with Dionysos, Hephaistos, Here, Hermes, and Poseidon (certainly), and Athene and Ares (possibly), but not Apollo, Demeter, Aphrodite, or Artemis – whose worship persisted after the Bronze Age. Alphabetic Greek “Zeus” corresponds to Linear B di-w -, a name that appears in the palace archives in connection with a shrine at Pylos (dedicated to di-wi-jo), as the name of a month at Knossos (di-wi-jo-jo), and as a component of personal names at Thebes, Knossos, and possibly Mykene. Moreover, di-w- is associated with e-ra, later Greek “Here,” at Pylos, and with a different goddess, di-wi-ja ‘Dione’, at Pylos and perhaps Knossos; there also may have been a common cult of Zeus and Dionysos at Chania. That the relationships among these deities were to some degree systematized is suggested by dedications “to all gods” (pa-si te-o-i) at Knossos, to an apparent triad of divinities at Thebes, and also by references to a “mother of the gods” (ma-te-re te-i-ja) and possibly to a “son of Zeus” (di-wo i-je-we) at Pylos. [12]
Bronze Age Greeks, then, recognized Zeus and associated him with other gods. The relationships among these deities can only be inferred, but it is at least worth noting that the scanty evidence gives no indication that Zeus was reckoned as the leader of the gods, or even as one of the more significant among them. In the archives at the best-documented site, Pylos, the relative frequencies of divine names, and the activities and functionaries with which these names are associated, imply greater emphasis on Poseidon and the goddess Potnia than on Zeus. Other deities appear to have been more important than Zeus at the other palace centers, and there is no clear reference at all to Zeus as a god at Thebes or Mykene. [13]
This trend in Zeus-worship persists in later Greek religion. To review briefly the well-known facts, the collapse of the Bronze Age palace communities, a process complete by around 1050 BCE, occasioned or was followed by a steep decline in population, so that Greek communities of the Early Iron Age (1050-800) were few, small, and isolated compared with those of earlier and later periods. Early Iron Age Greece also contrasts with preceding and succeeding periods in the complete absence of literacy and of monumental architecture, and the near-absence of representational art. [14] Greek religion after the Bronze Age, not surprisingly, displays both continuity and change. By the time written records begin to become available again in the eighth century (and with them the possibility of capturing epic poetry in performance), the aforementioned new pantheon has become established in Greece, while new religious systems have emerged in place of those sustained by the palaces.
Among the elements of continuity in religion from the Late Bronze Age to the Classical period, if we except the evidence of the epics themselves, is Zeus’ lack of prominence as suggested by the Linear B documents, which obtains throughout the Archaic and Classical periods. For again, deities that are represented as subordinate to Zeus in the epics played a more prominent role than him in Greek religious life. This conclusion emerges clearly from an analysis of the most complete tabulation of the post-Bronze Age religious archaeology of ancient Greece to date, Alexander Mazarakis Ainian’s massive survey of 304 Early Iron Age to archaic sites in mainland Greece, Ionia, and Magna Graecia:

Survey Early Iron Age to Archaic period sanctuaries and cult sites [15]

divine dedicatee number of sites associated with dedicatee
Apollo 44
Athene 33
Artemis 32
Demeter 18
Zeus 17
Here 12
Aphrodite 9
Poseidon 7
Dionysos 6
Hermes 3
Ares 1
Hephaistos 1
subtotal: 186
other deities or heroes 86
unidentified 87
total attributions: 359
Zeus here ranks well behind Apollo, Athene, and Artemis in terms of the number of cult sites dedicated to him from the end of the Bronze Age to the dawn of the Classical period. To be sure, caveats are in order. The recipient of cult has not been identified for about half of the sites surveyed by Mazarakis Ainian; attributions to activity before around 600 are mostly conjectural if often uncontroversial; and multiple deities or different deities at different times may have been worshipped at the same site. Further, the figures in are influenced by the varying tendencies of communities to set up the inscriptions that offer the firmest evidence, and by the tendency among archaeologists to focus on certain regions of ancient Greece (particularly Attica). Historical circumstances may also distort the picture; thus for example Poseidon’s relatively low ranking on the table could be linked to Persian encroachment on Ionia, where worship of the sea god is thought to have been especially popular. [16]
Nevertheless, the sample size is large enough, and the variation in the attention given to individual gods sufficiently marked, to support the general conclusion that Zeus was no more prominent in later Greek communities than he appears to have been in those of the Bronze Age. Moreover, Zeus’ Iron Age cult sites tend to be located on mountain tops (e.g. his sanctuary on Mt. Hymettos in Attica) or similarly remote places and to lack substantial material remains, in contrast with the tendency for the more numerous sites dedicated to Apollo, Athene, and Here to be located within or near communities. [17]
The overall trend in cult activity is similarly consistent with Zeus’ absence from the list of deities to which the earliest monumental stone temples were dedicated. In partial vindication of my analysis of Mazarakis Ainian’s findings, three other gods ranked high in Table 00 seem to have been the only recipients of this expensive and labor-intensive honor before the seventh century: Here at Samos and Argos, Apollo at Corinth and Eretria, and Artemis at Ephesos. [18] A parallel trend can be found in a striking aspect of community-sanctioned Zeus-worship: although every Greek polis identified itself with a divine patron, or “poliad” deity, such as Athene at Athens or Here at Argos, not one community is known to have worshipped Zeus in this capacity before the Hellenistic period. [19]
Again, it is in contexts that were either more personal or more broadly based than those of the polis that the worship of Zeus is most evident in Archaic and later Greece. On the one hand, cult titles associated with the oikos, including Zeus Herkeios (“of the wall [around the oikos]”), Xenios (“of guest-friendship,” i.e. formal relationships among oikoi), and Ktesios (“of [household] property”) demonstrate that Zeus was a significant figure at what might be called the “sub-polis” level. Likewise, individuals could appeal to Zeus Soter (“of safety”) and Hiketesios (“of suppliants”) for personal protection. Recognition of Zeus by these titles was sanctioned in some circumstances by some poleis, but this phenomenon appears to be an extension of his association with oikos. Thus, for example, candidates for archonships at Athens were required to display a household or family shrine to Zeus Herkeios. [20] Not surprisingly, sub-polis aspects of Zeus-worship were represented in the most general terms in Panhellenic narratives; thus the Odyssey for instance acknowledges Zeus Herkeios, Hiketesios, and Xenios without naming any attendant rites or narrative traditions.
The other major locus of Zeus-worship was in “super-polis” contexts; and this brings us back to the subject of Panhellenism. For Zeus’ most conspicuous role in Archaic Greek religious life is as the patron deity of Panhellenic festivals and cults, in particular at Dodona, Nemea, and most famously Olympia. The material evidence, as discussed in Chapter 4, implies that these sites were either undeveloped or entirely local in orientation during the Early Iron Age, and only in the Archaic period began to evince intense activity and a Panhellenic orientation. [21] This was clearly the case at Olympia, where not until the seventh century did a permanent settlement grow up around the sanctuary of Zeus and a significant number of votives from outside west Greece begin to appear, while at the same time the cult of Here at Olympia was at least as prominent in the early Archaic period. The same is true at Dodona, where evidence of a sustained Panhellenic constituency appears late in the Archaic period. [22] And at Nemea, where no material evidence predates the late ninth century, Zeus’ association with the site cannot be confirmed prior to the establishment of the Panhellenic festival there in 573. [23]
This comparative and material evidence, then, suggests that Zeus’ supremacy in the canonical epics reflects circumstances that brought together Greeks from different communities and regions. Viewed this way, the emergence of Zeus-worship outside the oikos, and of the Olympian system described in the epics, are interrelated phenomena, to be associated with the rise of an interstate elite class as a community apart from epichoric, polis-based affiliations. [24] The social institution by which this elite class established and maintained interstate relationships was xenia, which can be seen as a bypassing of polis-tradition through the extension of Zeus’ function in the oikos under the cult title Xenios. These elites developed interstate sanctuaries and associated festivals as places to define their status relative to one another in the Greek world at large. In this respect the Iliad, which dramatizes the assembly of an elite group drawn from many poleis to compete for kleos, can be seen as a metaphor for the formation of elite groups in the arenas of Panhellenic festivals.
In sum, Zeus’ failure to number among pre-Hellenistic poliad deities, and among dedicatees of early stone temples, implies that he was less central to the rituals and myths of individual communities than were Athene, Apollo, Here, and Artemis. Conversely, because he was no city’s poliad deity, Zeus was a natural choice to preside over a Panhellenic religious system that claimed authority, at least on special occasions, over the variegated mass of epichoric beliefs and practices. [25] In these Panhellenic contexts, the goddess worshipped on the Athenian acropolis, for instance, would not be subordinated to the sea god worshipped at the Panionion, or vice versa.
The transcendent perspective of a Panhellenic Zeus may have been reinforced in turn by his apparently age-old role as a weather god, whose power descends from the sky and is felt in the polis where Athene and Apollo reside, in the liminal spaces where Artemis resides, on the sea where Poseidon resides, and so on. The figure of an otiose, or at least disengaged, father or sky god is certainly precedented in ostensibly cognate mythological systems. [26] In any case, it is my reading of this evidence that the Olympian system represents a synthesis of epichoric religious perspectives under the authority of what was in the Archaic period a new principle, a Panhellenizing Zeus. [27]
In a synthetic, Panhellenic narrative, then, Zeus’ plans either gratify or frustrate other gods’ “local” aims, aligning the narrative with, or distancing it from, various epichoric traditions. More figuratively, as the plan of Zeus sanctions a series of negotiations among the local and competing aims of lesser divinities, the Homeric epics themselves represent by analogy Panhellenic syntheses of conflicting epichoric traditions. That is, conflicts among epichoric traditions are dramatized in the Panhellenic epics as conflicts among poliad deities and of these deities with Zeus. Zeus himself, on the other hand, being relatively free of epichoric attachments, subsumes competing aims and authorizes a coherent path through the tangle of parallel narrative possibilities. By presenting a song as a “plan of Zeus,” then, an epic singer could draw attention away from the variety of beliefs and practices with which the members of individual Greek poleis identified, in order to create for the emerging Panhellenic elite a synthetic vision of Hellenicity.
My model can be refined here with a consideration of what I have termed the “proto-Panhellenic” register of the ancient Greek epic tradition. As discussed in the Introduction, the non-Homeric Kypria is an example of an epic that deploys a prominent Dios boulē theme, but that does not represent a canonical, or in other words fully Panhellenic, tradition. The strategy of this epic as I see it was however similar to that of the canonical epics: the Kypria tried to present the story of the early part of the Trojan War in a way that appealed to most or all Greeks, and it is in part for this reason that the Dios boulē theme is prominent in surviving summaries and fragments. [28] Though many scholars have followed Aristotle (Poetics 1459b) in attributing the failure of the Kypria to achieve canonicity to aesthetic factors, [29] the historical context is equally worthy of consideration. For absorption of Greek Ionia into the Persian empire in the later Archaic period, at the moment when Panhellenic institutions were developing, led to the marginalization of Greek communities in the east, including those on Cyprus, a probable locus of Kypria-tradition, with the result that narrative traditions from this region were in a sense denied the opportunity to achieve, or at least to compete for, full Panhellenic authority.


I have tried in this chapter to frame my interpretation of Zeus’ role in the Odyssey in terms of the epic’s status as a traditional orally-derived text that was intended to appeal to a Panhellenic audience. I note that my approach here combines synchronic and diachronic perspectives. As a tool or strategy of performance, the Dios boulē theme in the Odyssey can be seen as one aspect of a synchronic “snapshot” of the Homeric performance tradition. On the other hand, as a specifically Panhellenic construct, the Dios boulē can be seen as a mechanism that evolved diachronically in response to historical developments in Greek religion and in performance contexts for epic narratives.
The overarching Dios boulē theme in the Odyssey, then, is both an essential feature of epic composition-in-performance and a manifestation of a specifically Panhellenic (and proto-Panhellenic) perspective on the defining event of ancient Greek mythical history, the Trojan War. Thus the main story is tied to Zeus, first with his programmatic Oresteia, from which an outline of the Telemachia and Mnesterophonia can be deduced, again in Book 5, where the god himself defines the terms of the hero’s return, including an opening for the Apologoi sequence, which in turn reifies the themes that inform the main narrative, and lastly at the end of the story, where Zeus is deployed in order to achieve closure in a manner consistent with the themes that he has been identified with throughout the narrative. Thus the Dios boulē theme offers to performers and to audiences a unifying perspective on the action, and a convenient way to conceptualize, and to keep track of, themes that are essential to the Homeric version of Odysseus’ story.
I have argued that a complementary function of the Dios boulē theme is to authorize a specific set of narrative choices among the various traditional accounts of Odysseus’ story over which the Panhellenic Odyssey claims authority. Zeus’ plan for the Odyssey relies on themes that distinguish the Homeric account from one or more epichoric accounts: the hero must have a single son, a faithful wife, a lack of allies outside his own oikos, and no defense against the social repercussions of the revenge that he is bound by the tradition to exact. Zeus’ one appearance outside the main narrative, when he destroys Odysseus’ crew in Book 12, dramatizes the significance of these themes, for it is this act that closes off the possibility that Odysseus may return like Agamemnon at the head of an army and fight, rather than scheme, for control of Ithake. [30] Zeus’ plan for the closure of the narrative in turn truncates the consequences of the Mnesterophonia and in so doing de-authorizes traditions in which reaction to the suitors’ deaths undermines Odysseus’ political and social position. Zeus’ power to negotiate the Odyssey’s engagement with non-Homeric traditions can also, I have proposed, be seen in the case of the Phaiakes, whose fate has far-reaching consequences for Odysseus’ and Telemachos’ later adventures and was therefore left to be articulated through the character of Zeus during each performance of the epic.
The manner in which Zeus exerts this control over the Odyssean narrative is notable for its subtlety. Rather than issuing decrees, as he regularly does in the Iliad, Zeus in the Odyssey relies on Athene to pick up on verbal cues, so that her interests are organically subsumed under his own. Zeus employs the same delicacy with which he handles the goddess of mētis when he deals with the other major divine character in the Odyssey, Poseidon, the bluff god of biē. Zeus’ plan for Odysseus’ return incorporates Poseidon’s wishes, and even relies on him as an agent. The angry god Helios is treated with similar finesse in Book 12. In each of these cases, the subordinate deities’ narrow perspectives and parochial interests can be compared to “epichoric viewpoints.” That is, the Dios boulē theme in the Odyssey embraces and imposes order on Odysseus-tradition in a manner analogous to Zeus’ coordination of Athene’s, Poseidon’s, and Helios’ competing concerns.
I have suggested that the relationship between divine plan and narrative plan in the Odyssey is obscured for those outside the tradition by the economy and strategy of Zeus’ interactions with other gods. For those within the tradition, however, ancient Greeks who were familiar with narratives like the Iliad and the Kypria, there may have been the expectation that a Panhellenic narrative would have as its “internal” architect the supreme god Zeus. By Panhellenic convention, in other words, gods that are in other contexts poliads come into conflict over the fate of a hero, while the relatively less partisan Zeus decides the issue.
To return to an earlier formulation, Zeus’ harmonization of the conflicting aims of Athene and Poseidon in the Odyssey can be seen as a staged metaphor for the process of the Odyssey’s own composition and for the evolution of its Panhellenic perspective. As the epic Zeus manipulates and cajoles other deities into furthering his plan within the narrative, the Odyssey finesses, as far as possible, the competing claims of non-Homeric traditions, according to each as much recognition and authority as Homeric thematics allow.


[ back ] 1. Lord 1951:74.
[ back ] 2. See for instance Lord 1960:188-189.
[ back ] 3. Lord 1960:99.
[ back ] 4. Lord 1960:113, 123; cf. Finnegan 1977:134-169.
[ back ] 5. Rubin 1995:96-97; for his debt to Lord see 4-9, 137-141.
[ back ] 6. See Lord 1960:68-69 for this definition of “theme.”
[ back ] 7. Rubin 1995:95-96.
[ back ] 8. In cognitive-psychological terms, basic themes or systems, e.g. meter, reside in “implicit memory;” the plan, by contrast, resides in “explicit memory;” see Rubin 1995:191.
[ back ] 9. On the functional nature of a divine apparatus in an oral medium cf. M. Edwards 1987:131-134, Havelock 1961:169-171. Admittedly, Lord himself considered Zeus’ speech at the beginning of the Odyssey to be “ornamental” (1951:76; see Chapter 3 n8), but I respectfully submit that, on this particular occasion, my interpretation of the Odyssey is closer to the spirit of Lord’s model than is his own.
[ back ] 10. Thus for instance Sourvinou-Inwood 1988:259 argues that “the polis provided the fundamental, basic framework in which Greek religion operated, [and it] anchored and legitimated, and mediated, all religious activity.”
[ back ] 11. Thus Hall 1997:101 argues that “on the ritual level at which Greek religion ultimately operated, there is little evidence that the Homeric vision of the society of gods, headed by the patriarchal Zeus, found much of an early material realisation in the cultic geography of the various Greek poleis.”
[ back ] 12. Zeus’ shrine at Pylos: Mb1366, An42; Tn316; month named for Zeus at Knossos: Fp5; personal names: Thebes, Ug11, Of26, Of33; Knossos, Vc293; Mykene Oe103; Zeus and Here: Tn316 (Here appears to have been worshipped in Thebes also, Of28, and perhaps Knossos, Da 1323, Fh 357); Zeus-derived goddess: Pylos, An607, Tn316, Cn1287; Knossos, Xd97 (this deity may resurface as Dione, the mother by Zeus of Aphrodite at Iliad 5.370-417 (cf. Hesiod Theogony 17), and as Zeus’ consort at the oracle of Dodona); “son of Zeus”: PY172 = Tn316 (Burkert 1985 43, 46; contrast Palmer 1963 264 with Ventris and Chadwick 1973 s.v. i-je--we); sacrifice to “all gods”: e.g. Fp1+, Gg705; “mother of gods”: Fr1202; divine triad at Thebes: Fq121. Discussion in Schachter 2000; Ventris and Chadwick 1973:125-126, 286-289; Mylonas 1966:158-161; Palmer 1963:235-268 passim.
[ back ] 13. Cf. Palmer 1963:103; Schachter 2000:15.
[ back ] 14. My understanding of the post-Bronze Age “collapse” has been informed in particular by Morris 2000:195-198; Shelmerdine 1997:580-584; Snodgrass 1980:20-23.
[ back ] 15. Mazarakis Ainian 1997:420-424; cf. Coldstream 1977:327-328. My tabulation includes every possible attribution to a deity at a given site; thus some sites are counted more than once, which is why the 359 total attributions exceed the 304 sites actually considered. My category “other deities and heroes” includes Mazarakis Ainian’s attributions to hero, chthonic, household, and ancestor cults, as well as to (relatively rare) non-Olympians such as Pan; under “unidentified” I include cases where cult activity cannot be established with certainty. Omitted are sites for which Mazarakis Ainian cites only Homeric authority.
[ back ] 16. For Poseidon’s association with Ionia see Herodotos 1.148; Burkert 1985:136.
[ back ] 17. Morgan 1990:26-29, who suggests that Zeus may have been worshipped more as an agriculture deity in the period before the relatively late appearance of his cult in civic contexts.
[ back ] 18. 8th-century stone temples: Snodgrass 1980:33-34, 58-62, 141-149; Mazarakis Ainian 1997:425.
[ back ] 19. Zeus’ lack of poliad status is observed by e.g. Burkert 1985:130; de Polignac 1995; Graf OCD3 s.v. “Zeus.” Note that Zeus’ post-Classical role as poliad occurs at colonies, such as Baktria, whose settlers were drawn from many poleis – that is, the populations of these later colonies were Panhellenic.
[ back ] 20. Zeus Herkeios: Odyssey 22.334-335; Athenaion Politeia 55.3 (on qualification for archonship). Xenios: Odyssey 14.389; cf. Burkert 1985:248. Ktesios: Isaios 8.15-16. Soter: Xenophon Anabasis 3.2.9. Hiketesios: Odyssey 16.422-423. Polis-sanctioned worship of Zeus Olympios and Polios, at least in Athens, dates to the sixth-century; cf. Simon 1983:15-16 and Parke 1967:144-145 (contra: Robertson 1992:139-140). Cults of Zeus Agoraios (“of the market”), attested in Sparta, Elis, and Thebes (Pausanias 3.11.9, 5.15.4, and 11.24.1, respectively), presumably date to a similar period.
[ back ] 21. Contra: Morris 1998:55, who suggests that Dodona was a regional center already in the tenth century, despite the lack of evidence he acknowledges earlier in his article (42).
[ back ] 22. For Olympia and Dodona see Chapter 4; for the cult of Here at Olympia, see Mazarakis Ainian 1997:323 and Morgan 1990:42.
[ back ] 23. The emergence of Olympia, Dodona, and Nemea as fully Panhellenic only in the late Archaic period corresponds chronologically with the emergence of Panhellenic sites dedicated to other deities, such as Apollo at Delos (Morgan 1990:205-208) and Delphi (Fontenrose 1988:121, 125), Isthmia (Morgan 1994, esp. 121-125), and Poseidon at the Panionion.
[ back ] 24. Morgan 1993:130 urges that “it would be wrong to assume that a pan-Hellenic system of values had early origins, or that pan-Hellenic sanctuaries were pre-state institutions.”
[ back ] 25. Cf. Burkert 1985:130: “Zeus is…uniquely qualified to be the god of all Greeks.”
[ back ] 26. Thus for example the cognate ancient Indic god Dyaus is a minor character in the Vedas, while in the Germanic pantheon the thunder god Thor is subordinate to the war god Odin, and the earliest account of the their pantheon ranks the Gauls’ equivalent of Iuppiter below that of Mercury (Caesar Gallic Wars 6.16-17). On the obsolesence of sky gods, see Nagy 1990b:94-95n53.
[ back ] 27. Not to be confused with the Roman-period cult of Zeus Panhellenios, on which see Price 1999:157.
[ back ] 28. Marks 2002 explores Zeus’ role in the Kypria.
[ back ] 29. An argument made forcefully by Griffin 1977.
[ back ] 30. Cook 1995:121-127 draws attention to the importance for the Odyssey’s theodicy of the fact that Zeus (rather than Helios) destroys the last of Odysseus’ crew.