Chapter 8. The Odyssey

In reading the Odyssey or the Iliad we are at a distinct disadvantage because we are reading isolated texts in a tradition. The comparison with other traditions shows us very clearly that songs are not isolated entities, but that they must be understood in terms of other songs that are current. Had we an adequate collection of ancient Greek epic songs, we could view the Homeric poems from a truer perspective. Much of the difficulty in interpretation in the past has arisen from this lack. Yet the situation would be even worse had only one song survived, and that a short one; at least there are two poems adding up to some 27,000 lines, and the two poems are on different subjects. Hesiod and especially the Cyclic fragments may be of some help in supplying a hint of other thematic material current in Homer's day. [1] And the poems themselves may point to still more such themes. We can even, with some caution, appeal to the Greek dramatists for versions of epic stories. Dares and Dictys [2] should not be completely ignored. Our task is not then entirely hopeless. Other traditions can assist us particularly in indicating what we should look for.
Of great interest and value for Homeric study are the texts on clay tablets that have been unearthed in Mesopotamia and the nearer Near East. [3] Their deciphering and interpretation are marvels of scholarship, imaginative scholarship at its best. Homer is no longer the earliest epic singer whose songs we know. Rather he stands perhaps a little before the midpoint, chronologically, of our knowledge. For we now have epic tales going back to the third millennium B.C. from peoples and cultures contiguous to Greek and with which the Greeks had contact. In other words, we have access to thematic material of Homer's neighbors before his day; we know the story climate of the Near East which taught Greece so much. If we find parallel tales and themes among these peoples they may be of service in interpreting Homer; they may verify or even help us to discover story patterns in the Homeric songs.
We should be daring enough, as well, to make use of later epic stories which follow the same or similar patterns, provided that they are traditional and oral. [4] Medieval and modern songs, if our theory of composition and transmission is correct, are extremely conservative in regard to essential story pattern, as we have seen in the case of the Yugoslav songs from the [158] Parry Collection. Our best material will be in the Homeric songs themselves and in what we know of Greek Cyclic poets and Greek drama. Next in importance is the Near Eastern corpus. And last, but by no means least, the medieval and modern parallels can be useful. For it is the essential pattern and the significant detail that concern us, not the accidental and incidental.
The Odyssey was one of many return songs told in the time of Homer. Some of them were surely in Homer's own repertory. It is clear that he had the tale of the return of Agamemnon in his mind while composing the Odyssey, and also the return of Menelaus. A son played no vital role in this story, [5] but it contained wanderings and strange adventures, shipwreck and storm, and a visit to the "other" world in the many shapes of Proteus. The romance of the journey of the Argonauts was known to Homer. [6] These songs were all, and many more, in the repertory of epic singers in his day. They surround the Odyssey. Together with it they make up a body of related thematic material.
Yet the Odyssey does not draw from the tradition; it is a part or it. I do not wish to imply that Homer used these other songs as sources, borrowing here and there, modeling this or that incident on one in another song. We should not forget the lesson from the Yugoslav tradition that songs are fluid in content. The question as to whether an incident "belongs" in a song, the question of proprietary rights, as it were, is relative in oral tradition. It is vastly important for us to understand the place of the Odyssey in the repertory of Homer and in the repertory of other singers. It is the place of one song among many others with related themes in an oral epic tradition.
After an invocation which stresses the wanderings of Odysseus and the loss of his men (but has no mention of Telemachus), the Odyssey opens with a council of the gods in which we find Zeus meditating on the story of the return of Agamemnon. Such a reference to another tale is highly sophisticated and unusual for oral epic. In the Yugoslav tradition stories are kept separate and, to the best of my knowledge, singers never refer in one song to the events of another.
Such a device of reference is, of course, far from inconsistent with the analogical thinking or associative thinking of oral poets everywhere. But I do not believe that this explains the presence of these references in the Odyssey. They make sense, however, if they are taken as part of a song telling the story of the return of the heroes of Troy, a song, in other words, that would include both the events of the Cyclic epic, the Nostoi, and the Odyssey, and possibly also the Telegony. They are not an anomaly in such a setting. Indeed, they presuppose it. This larger song with which we are dealing is the song of the returns of the Greek heroes from the Trojan War, including Agamemnon, Menelaus, Nestor, Odysseus, and, to a lesser extent, others. Perhaps the returns of the Atridae and the return of Odysseus were [159] sometimes sung as a single song, and without the extensive ornamentation of Homer this would not have to be an inordinately long song. We know that Odysseus, Telemachus, and Telegonus all appeared in the Greek return stories in some way. We can therefore postulate that we could have (a) a song including all the heroes, not emphasizing one above another, (b) a song including all, but emphasizing the return of the Atridae, and (c) a song including all, but emphasizing Odysseus. This is thoroughly consistent with oral technique. Homer probably sang the return of the Atridae as a separate song as well as the Odyssey, and it is very likely that he may sometimes have sung them together. The opening of the Odyssey, I believe, indicates just that.
The allusion to the return of Agamemnon points, then, to the scope of tales in the tradition of ancient Greece. It also provides later generations of readers, who are no longer listeners to the old songs, with an indication of another pattern of return story from that of the tale of Odysseus. Moreover, we know not only of the existence of this different pattern, but also that Homer started his Odyssey with an awareness of that pattern. The divergences in the two stories are clear: Agamemnon returns home openly and is murdered by his wife's lover, whereas Odysseus returns in disguise and murders his wife's suitors; Clytemnestra is unfaithful to her husband, but Penelope is a model of fidelity. Later in the Odyssey Homer emphasizes these differences between the two stories. But in the opening of the song Homer is thinking of the parallels, of Aegisthus and Orestes, of the violator and the avenger, of suitor and son. And as soon as the plan is laid for the release of Odysseus from Ogygia, the singer turns to the suitors of Odysseus' wife and to the actions of Odysseus' son. The pattern of release and return is scarcely begun before Homer has shifted emphasis to enclose within that pattern a multiform of the related suitor and son theme.
In the South Slavic tradition the role of the son is highly variable. Most frequently he is not present at all in the story. Of the twelve return songs in Appendix III, the son plays a part in only three. [7] Two of those three (Parry 1920 and 6229) are unusual in that the wife is not about to marry again. The son in these two provides a marriage, a theme basic to the story; the returning father finds his son about to marry. In them the son can be said, therefore, to be taking the place of the wife. He is not playing the part of an Orestes aiming to avenge his father's death or of a Telemachus who is seeking news of his father. In these two songs, at any rate, the son qua son, is not important; the son is used, by substitution, as the wife in the basic tale, to bring in the element of marriage. In fact these songs themselves are mavericks, because they contain no remarrying wife. In the second of these (Parry 6229) the son plays another role in addition to providing the marriage theme. He is the ransom stipulated by his father's captor, and after his marriage the son returns with his father to the enemy, his father is released, and the son escapes by his own efforts. This song is more interesting [160] in that it shows the son as an aid in the final freeing of the father, but it is the sort of role that in some other songs is given to the wife's suitor (see, for example, Parry and Lord, I, No. 4, in which suitor Halil helps Đulić Ibrahim in returning to Zadar). In the last analysis the son in this song is playing someone else's part as ransom; all sentiment aside he performs the same function as the head of the dead suitor, which is the promised price of freedom in some songs. He is not an avenging Orestes nor even a father-seeking Telemachus.
Only in Avdo Međedović's song (Parry 12465), which belongs in the category of the faithless wife, does the son's role approach that of Greek tradition. The significant element for the present analysis is that the son years later rescues the father from prison, a prison to which the father had returned in fulfillment of his oaths. Like Orestes, he avenges wrongs done to his father; only this time not by his mother but by the enemy. Like Orestes, the son in this story is neglected by a mother who is intent on marrying again.
In this Yugoslav song one sees the son as rescuer rather than avenger, a role interestingly enough often played in the return-rescue songs by the hero's wife (see Appendix IV, Parry 1921 (1940), 923 (sister), and 275A). Once again the son's role seems ultimately to be a substitution for the wife's role. In other words, an analysis of the Yugoslav songs seems to indicate that the son is not a basic, essential person in the drama of the Return. Only in the Agamemnon type is the son a necessary element. The evidence of traditional patterns, therefore, points in the direction of a story of the return of Odysseus in which Telemachus played no vital role as son, even though he might be present.
It may be that Telemachus enters the Odyssey because of the parallel between the story of Agamemnon and the story of Odysseus, the two return stories par excellence involving return to wife and family. The plan of Athena to send Telemachus away from Ithaca so that he will not be present when Odysseus lands on the island has a certain parallel in the exiling of Orestes, which results in his absence at the time of Agamemnon's return and murder. It is noteworthy too that when Telemachus returns, like Orestes, he brings a friend. Theoclymenus has been thought of as being a vestige of many people, [8] but I am not sure that anyone has suggested him as a Pylades. Theoclymenus thus considered is an extension of Peisistratus, son of Nestor, who makes a better Pylades to Telemachus' Orestes. Moreover, the attitude of the suitors to Telemachus as they plot to kill him is like that of Aegisthus. Since Homer opens his song with reference to the Agamemnon pattern we may not be far wrong in suggesting that this pattern was at some time influential in introducing Telemachus as the son plotted against and absented first by the suitors and then, in a later interpretation, sent by Athena to seek news of his father.
Yet as soon as Telemachus becomes an "exile," he also falls into the pattern [161] of the young hero who sets forth to win his own spurs in the world with borrowed equipment. Like Beowulf, Telemachus is thought a weakling, and like the Sirotan Alija of Yugoslav Moslem tradition [9] he must borrow the means of his transportation. The word sirotan in Serbian means "orphan" and is connected also with the word meaning "poor." Invariably the young man who sets out on adventures is fatherless and aided by mother, uncle, or friend. The usual pattern is that the equipment and the assistance are denied by one group and granted, often through intervention, by another group.
Telemachus is scorned in the assembly of the lords of Ithaca even as Bećiragić Meho is scorned by Mustajbey; both young men are refused assistance by the mighty of the realm. Telemachus in his frustration may be compared also to the boyish hero, Smailagić Meho, who, about to set forth on his first exploit, complains of his sheltered youth:
Just listen, Cifrić Hasanagha, to the boasts of the Turks in the tavern. One says that he has raised a hand, another that he has joined one. One boasts that he has raised an army, another that he has enlisted. One says that he has broadened the border, or won in combat, or taken captives. But, O uncle, Cifrić Hasanagha, by the health of my father, Smailagha, and of my uncle, Cifrić Hasanagha, I have known nothing of raiding and campaigning, not to mention single combat. The broadening of borders is unknown to me. I do not even know where the border is, nor where our ancient battle grounds are. How then could I have crossed the border to raid and take captives, and so marry off a friend? Although I am a man, there has been nothing heroic in my life. No one will say that I am a man. I have nothing more to boast about than that I can take off these men's clothes and put on those of our girls—since I have neither beard nor mustache, and my pigtail is like a maiden's tresses—and embroider and spin. Let them all say that I am a woman (Parry 6840:429–457).
Athena has said that she will go to Ithaca in order to arouse Telemachus to more vigorous action and that she will send him on his journey "to win a good report among mankind." She has thus emphasized the journey as a maturing—should we say initiatory—adventure for the young man. The pattern of the tale of the youthful hero setting out on his first adventure sometimes contains the rescue of someone from the hands of an enemy, [10] often by killing the enemy, who is possibly a supernatural monster. Sometimes the journey takes the hero into the other world, and as such entails experience with the guardians, entrances, and exits of that world. Sometimes, too, the purpose of the journey is to obtain power-bestowing knowledge or information, [11] to be used on the return by the hero, or perhaps, if not used in a specific situation, to make a powerful magician or simply "a man" of the hero. This last is actually Athena's avowed purpose in sending Telemachus to the mainland:
Near him came Athene, likened to Mentor in her form and voice, and speaking in winged words she said:
"Telemachus, henceforth you shall not be a base man nor a foolish, if in you stirs the brave soul of your father, and you like him can give effect to deed and word. Then [162] shall this voyage not be vain and ineffective. But if you are no son of him and of Penelope, then am I hopeless of your gaining what you seek. Few sons are like their fathers; most are worse, few better than the father. Yet because you henceforth wilt not be base nor foolish, nor has the wisdom of Odysseus wholly failed you, therefore there is a hope you will one day accomplish all..." [12] (2.267–280).
It makes extraordinarily good sense that the son of Odysseus of many wiles should seek knowledge in his first journey from home. His visit to Nestor and to Menelaus is, therefore, not a vain one in the deeper meanings of such journeys.
On the most obvious level Telemachus discovers from Menelaus where his father is, namely, on an island with Calypso. This was the information he was seeking; he knows now that his father is not dead. From Nestor and Menelaus Telemachus has also heard the full story of the return of the other Greeks and especially of Agamemnon. The parallel between Telemachus and Orestes has been almost painfully pointed out to Telemachus; likewise emphasized is the correspondence between affairs in Ithaca and affairs in Argos before Agamemnon's return. Orestes has proved his worth, and Homer's audience can be optimistic about Telemachus' future once Nestor's doubts of Telemachus' promise are cleared away with the knowledge that Athena is at the boy's side.
It is at Book 4, line 624, in the Odyssey that we are faced, I believe, for the first time, with a really serious problem. As long as we were following the Telemachus portion of Athena's plan, we were forgetful not of Odysseus, who is actually always in our minds, but of Athena's intention of releasing him from Calypso's island and of bringing him home. Even though it was never promised that Telemachus would find Odysseus and return with him—in fact we knew very well that this would not be so and we had been told that Telemachus' journey even overtly was merely for news—the realization that we were in a tale of the young man's first adventure, the exploit that would make a man of him, led us subconsciously to expect a rescue. There were, it would seem, versions in which Telemachus did meet his father and return to Ithaca with him. In the tale of Dictys the Cretan, Telemachus hears of his father's presence as a guest of Antenor and goes to meet Odysseus there. [13] In this tale Telemachus is married to Nausicaa, daughter of Antenor, after he and Odysseus have slain the suitors. With Telemachus feasting in Sparta and ready to return home we are now prepared for the release of Odysseus, which might well be followed eventually by the meeting of father and son. In reality this is what happens, but so much intervenes that we tend to lose sight of the fact that Telemachus' meeting with Odysseus at Eumaeus' hut (Book 16) is in essence a meeting of the two before either of them returns to the palace of Odysseus in Ithaca. Meeting there is, but postponed almost to the last moment. Yet the traditional bard has too deep a feeling for the meanings and forces in the story patterns to allow himself to violate them altogether. [163]
When we analyze the recognitions later in this chapter we shall note Homer postponing actions because other material, chiefly that related to Telemachus, interrupts. In the second half of Book 4 there is such an interruption, which postpones briefly the expected release of Odysseus from Ogygia. The scene shifts from Sparta back to Ithaca and to the discovery by the suitors and by Penelope of Telemachus' absence. Antinous now lays the plot to ambush Telemachus on his return voyage from Pylos, and Penelope's fears are allayed by a dream in which her sister assures her that the gods will protect her son. The plot against Telemachus comes, I believe, from the Agamemnon-Orestes story pattern, which is ever on Homer's mind in these early books, and it is that pattern which interrupts the action at this point.
And here a question comes to mind, consideration of which may add further depth to our understanding of the first four books of the Odyssey. Telemachus is a parallel to Orestes, but he is also in part a parallel to his own father Odysseus, especially insofar as the Odysseus pattern coincides with the Agamemnon pattern. It is not mere chance that in Greek tragedy Orestes returns to Argos in disguise and tells a deceptive tale about his identity. [14] Here Orestes and Odysseus both share the same thematic complex, that is, that of return of the hero in disguise. It is a thematic complex fraught with latent mythic meanings, the disguise being the weeds of the other world which still cling to the hero; this complex is not merely narrative framework. Orestes' return is like Odysseus' return. There is trouble awaiting both. Telemachus as he returns circumspectly to Ithaca shares with Orestes and his father Odysseus the dangers of encounter with the forces of evil at home. At the other end of Telemachus' journey he has been given instructions in regard to Penelope, and he himself repeats them, instructions that mimic the counsel given by a departing husband on his way to war. "If I do not return, then go back to your father or marry again." On the journey Telemachus is honored as his father, and first Nestor, then Helen, and then Menelaus point out how strikingly like his father he is. The patterns of Odysseus, Telemachus, Agamemnon, and Orestes merge and separate and then merge again.
Homer begins the Odyssey again in Book 5. He has let Telemachus and Orestes get a little out of hand; he has enjoyed the story and the weaving of its telling. But he is aware that it has gone a little far. Facetiously we might say that he tricked himself by that initial speech of Zeus with its introduction of the Agamemnon parallel. So Homer takes up the story of the release of Odysseus by a return to the gods in council with Athena starting off as if she had never mentioned Odysseus to Zeus before. Zeus' reply is Homer chiding Homer:
"My child," replied the Gatherer of the Clouds, "I never thought to hear such words from you. Did you not plan the whole affair yourself? Was it not your idea that Odysseus should return and settle accounts with these men? As for Telemachus, you [164] are well able to look after him: use your own skill to bring him back to Ithaca safe and sound, and let the Suitors sail home again in their ship with nothing accomplished" [15] (5.21–27).
At any rate we leave Agamemnon, Orestes, and Telemachus until Book 11, where Odysseus meets Agamemnon in the lower world, and inquires from his mother Anticlea about his son.
If the return of Agamemnon has been a potent influence in shaping the part of the Odyssey that concerns Telemachus, the return of Menelaus, narrated in Nostoi [16] and also in Book 4 of the Odyssey, has been effective in fashioning the Circe and Underworld episodes. Menelaus, it will be recalled, was detained on an island off the coast of Egypt waiting for favorable winds. He meets the daughter of Proteus, Eidothea, who advises him to question her father as to why he is kept from proceeding further with his ships. She tells him how to capture the old man of the sea. Proteus, when finally subdued, first answers Menelaus' questions as to who of the gods is keeping him in Egypt and what his homeward way is. After this Menelaus asks Proteus about the returns of the other heroes from Troy, and Proteus prophesies Menelaus' own future.
The points of coincidence of pattern with the story of Odysseus are clear: (1) Menelaus and Odysseus are both being detained on an island; (2) they are both advised by a supernatural female to seek information from an aged second-sighter; (3) there is a certain ritual to be gone through in order to get the seer to talk; (4) the seer tells them both why they are having difficulty with the immortals, how they can overcome these difficulties, and he prophesies the nature of the death of each.
Menelaus first asks Eidothea: "Rather tell me—for gods know all—which of the immortals chains me here and bars my progress; and tell me of my homeward way, how I may pass along the swarming sea" (4.379–381). In her advice about her father she says: "He would tell you of your course, the stages of your journey, and of your homeward way, how you may pass along the swarming sea. And he would tell you, heaven-descended man, if you desire, all that has happened at your home, of good or ill, while you have wandered on your long and toilsome way" (4.389–393). This last has more relevance to Odysseus, it will be noted, than it does to Menelaus. At the close of her instructions to Menelaus as to how to capture Proteus, Eidothea tells him: "Then, hero, cease from violence and set the old man free, but ask what god afflicts you, and ask about your homeward way, how you may pass along the swarming sea" (4.422–424). Menelaus' actual question to the captive Proteus is word-for-word the same as his original question to Eidothea, given above.
Odysseus on his part in Book 10 is told by Circe, when he asks her permission to return home, that he "must first perform a different journey, and go to the halls of Hades and of dread Persephone, there to consult the spirit of Teiresias of Thebes, the prophet blind, whose mind is steadfast [165] still" (10.490–493). Odysseus objects and asks who will pilot them, and Circe gives full instructions which end; "Thither the seer will quickly come, O chief of men, and he will tell your course, the stages of your journey, and of your homeward way, how you may pass along the swarming sea" (10538–540). Odysseus then tells his men that they are to leave, saying: "For potent Circe has at last made known to me the way" (10.549)—and later when they were mustered: "But Circe has marked out for us a different journey, even to the halls of Hades and of dread Persephone, there to consult the spirit of Teiresias of Thebes" (10.563–565). In the land of the dead, after the ritual, after talking with Elpenor, Teiresias comes up and speaks to Odysseus, without the latter asking him any questions (11.99).
It will be noted that the reason for the journey to the lower world to consult Teiresias is given only once, at the end of Circe's instructions about the ritual to be performed. Odysseus himself, incidentally, does not ask why he must go. The journey is imposed by Circe, not suggested as the consultation with Proteus is suggested by Eidothea. Hence one has the impression of a labor, like that of Heracles. In the case of Menelaus there is a plethora of questions and reasons for the journey. The closest version in the Menelaus passage (Book 4) to the words of Circe in Book 10 about inquiring concerning the journey home occurs at the close of Eidothea's first advice (not the ritual instructions) to Menelaus, in which she uses exactly the same words: "He would tell you of your course, the stages of your journey, and of your homeward way, how you may pass along the swarming sea" (4.389–390). And it is here that she adds..." and he would tell you, heaven-descended man, if you desire, all that has happened at your home, of good or ill, while you have wandered on your long and toilsome way" (4.391–393). This would have made sense in reference to Odysseus. Of the three questions which Odysseus might have been sent to ask, the three, indeed, that the seer answers without being asked, namely, (1) who of the gods is angry, (2) how can I get home, and (3) what is going on at home, only one is made explicit in the instructions. We know the others partly from the answers given by Teiresias and partly from the parallel with another multiform of the theme, the questioning of Proteus by Menelaus. Actually it would have been better on the part of the bard to let us infer from the answers what the questions to be asked were. The first question would not make much sense under the circumstances, because the only immortal holding Odysseus and his men back at this point seems to be Circe herself, and she will release them (if they go to Hades?). The second question would make sense if Teiresias really answered it, but he doesn't, and Odysseus gets the answer when he returns from Circe herself. In other words, the question which is really listed is not answered. And even if the third question had been asked, no one could have been less interested than Odysseus in the answer, to judge from his reaction to what Teiresias tells him of affairs at home. Odysseus says: "Teiresias, these are [166] the threads of destiny the gods themselves have spun (referring to the prophecy of his own death). Nevertheless, declare me this, and plainly tell; I see the spirit of my dead mother here...” (11.139–141). He completely ignores the information given him. This is in contrast to the weeping of Menelaus in the earlier passage.
From the parallel of the Menelaus-Proteus passage we understand why Teiresias gives the "replies" he does—to questions that are not asked. But we are still left with several difficult questions ourselves: (1) Why did Circe send him to consult Teiresias, if not to find out how to get home? (2) What is the role of Elpenor? (3) Why does Odysseus ignore the information about affairs at home? and (4) Why does his mother's account of things at home differ from that of Teiresias?
The parallel with Menelaus-Proteus may suggest an answer to the question of why Odysseus ignores Teiresias' information about things at home. The earlier passage has influenced the inclusion of this account in the speech of the seer, but it does not belong as things stand because it duplicates the questions and answers of Odysseus and his mother. (It contradicts them, too, of course.) In regard to this question and answer, in other words, Teiresias is a duplication of Odysseus' mother (or vice versa?). And note, please, that the account of affairs at Ithaca in that it describes an evil situation at home parallels the Agamemnon tale. Once again the Agamemnon pattern, with its Telemachus-Orestes correspondence, interrupts the story of Odysseus. Now, from the account of Ithacan affairs given by Anticleia, one would judge that Odysseus was not supposed to learn about the suitors from anyone in Hades. This part of the scene indicates either that there was no trouble at home, or else that Odysseus was to find out about it elsewhere. In the Dictys version, it is worth mentioning, he finds out about it from Telemachus, who meets him at Antenor's home! [17] We have several patterns conflicting at this point, each one contributing something to the story. Just as there were forms of the story in which Odysseus did not find out about the suitors from anyone in Hades, so there may well have been versions of the Return in which all was well at home and the wife was not besieged by suitors, as Anticleia's tale would seem to indicate. We are reminded that such versions are to be found in the Yugoslav tradition (see Appendix III, Parry 1920 and 6229).
The story of Menelaus may help us in other parts of our puzzle also. Elpenor has at least a partial counterpart in Nestor's tale of Menelaus' journey as related to Telemachus in Book 3. Thus:
"Now as we came from Troy, the son of Atreus and myself set sail together full of loving thoughts; but when we were approaching sacred Sunion, a cape of Athens, Phoebus Apollo smote the helmsman of Menelaus and slew him with his gentle arrows while he held the rudder of the running ship within his hands. Phrontis it was, Onetor's son, one who surpassed all humankind in piloting a ship when winds were wild. So Menelaus tarried, though eager for his [167] journey, to bury his companion and to pay the funeral rites."
This incident is like the death of another helmsman, even Tiphys in the Argonauts; [18] and all together are the ancestors of Palinurus in the Aeneid and a host of others. True, Elpenor is not a helmsman, and he is not buried until later. But the loss of a man who must be given burial rites, occurring in a story in which there are other more striking parallels, tends to confirm what we have said about the force of thematic correspondences.
Corroborative also is another detail from Menelaus' journeyings, this time as told by the hero himself in Book 4. After the prophecy of Proteus: "So back again to Egypt's waters, to its heaven-descended stream, I brought my ships and made the offerings due. And after appeasing the anger of the gods that live forever, I raised a mound to Agamemnon, that his fame might never die" (4.581–584). Thus also Odysseus and his men returned to Circe's island and there buried Elpenor with due ceremony and piled a mound for him, topped by the oar he pulled when alive.
Professor Whitman's analysis of Odysseus' Adventures [19] exhibits the kind of geometric scheme that he has found elsewhere in Homer, particularly in the Iliad. In it Elpenor frames the all-important central episode of the Journey to the Dead. The picture that emerges is neat, but a question arises when we consider the connections between the several parts. The implication of Whitman's scheme is that Homer had the pattern, CIRCE, Elpenor, NEKYIA, Elpenor, CIRCE in his mind and was fitting the events to this configuration. Are we to infer that Elpenor remains unburied so that Homer can fulfill his program of returning to Aeaea, to the Elpenor theme, and hence to Circe, purely for the aesthetic effect of geometric regularity? It does not seem likely that the force of the artistic pattern, qua artistic pattern, in a traditional oral song would be great enough in itself to cause either the placing or displacing of incidents. I doubt if the artistic pattern is dynamic to this degree and in this way. This is not to deny that such balances of pattern are felt by the singers—we have seen them operative on the level of interlinear connections, where they play a part in determining the position of words in a line and perhaps even thereby the choice of words. But to suppose that such patterns would be the cause of changes of essential idea and meaning may be carrying their influence too far.
There is real difficulty, I think, with understanding the role of Elpenor, unless we try to analyze his part in the story on the basis of the dynamic mythic patterns involved. Only these have the power needed. The difficulty begins when Elpenor is left unburied. The Menelaus pattern to which we referred above supplies room for the loss of a companion, but time is taken for burial. It may well be that the death of a companion in this configuration is sacrificial and a necessary element for the successful journey to the land of the dead. I think that in a sacrificial death, due burial would be expected, and thus it happens in the Menelaus pattern. [168]
The Menelaus pattern, however, does not provide for the return of the hero to the woman who sends him into the other world to consult with a seer. We are left with one question for which no answer has been suggested: why did Circe send Odysseus to the Underworld? There are two parts to that question: why Circe? and why the Underworld?
The parallel with the Menelaus episode suggests that the excursion to the world of mystery belongs to the story pattern wherein the journey is planned or ordered by the daughter of a sage or sorcerer, herself a sorceress. Any hero who has been away a long period from home and returns is fit subject for the lower world journey, because he has already followed the pattern of the myth by reason of a long absence in the other world and a return to this. The journey to the Underworld is but a microcosm of the macrocosm. Nostoi, [20] we are told, also contained a visit to Hades—we do not know just where in Nostoi—a Hades that probably included Tantalus, hence of the old-fashioned kind similar to the end of the Underworld narrative in the Odyssey. Odysseus visited there a seer, one, indeed, whose death and burial are narrated in Nostoi. [21] There is no journey to the Underworld in Dictys, but it is related that Odysseus went to an island on which was a certain oracle and that the oracle answered his questions about everything except what happens to the souls of men in the hereafter. It is not recorded what the questions and answers were, nor where the oracle was. But the event occurred after his visit to Circe and Calypso, sisters who lived in Aulis, whose realms he visited in the order given, Circe's and then Calypso's. It is not said that Calypso sent him to the oracle; it is said rather "and then I came to an island..." [22]
In these two sections we have seen how a knowledge of other traditional multiforms in the charged atmosphere of oral literature helps to explain the structure and even the "inconsistencies" of any given multiform. Just as any single return tale elaborated in Appendix III must be understood in terms of the others which surround it, and, in a real sense, are contained in it themselves, so the Odyssey must be read with an awareness of the multi-forms operative in its own structure.
From the time that Odysseus leaves the farm with Eumaeus for his own house until the recognition of the wanderer by his wife, the singer of the Odyssey is elaborating the central and most vital portion of the return story. We shall shortly be concerned with the recognitions before the hero enters the town of Ithaca and after he has left it for his father's farm. Now let us examine the central core, which is to say, the recognition of Odysseus by his wife. At his home Odysseus is recognized by or revealed to a dog, a nurse, two farm hands, and his wife, in addition, of course, to the suitors. The dog recognizes him instinctively; the nurse knows him by the scar; the suitors find out about his identity by the trial of the bow; he [169] tells the farm hands who he is. His wife recognizes him by three different methods: (a) by the trial of the bow, (b) by the bath, [23] and (c) by the token of the bed. Any one of these means would have been sufficient, but Homer, or the tradition before him, has woven them all together, making only the last final. The singer renders many lines of story before he finally reaches this recognition. Odysseus departs from the swineherd's hut and arrives at his own palace in the middle of Book 17, but recognition is consummated near the close of Book 23. It is, I believe, legitimate to ask why the narration takes so long, why the recognition is postponed several times, including a last minute delay while Odysseus bathes and his wife waits.
It should first be noted that there are two returns to the palace recorded here: that of Telemachus and that of Odysseus. The two returns are kept separate. That of Telemachus deserves special scrutiny. The opening scene of Book 17 (Telemachus asks Eumaeus to take the stranger, Odysseus, to the city to beg his living, while he, Telemachus goes ahead to tell his mother of his return) parallels in part the scene in Book 15 when Telemachus arrives on the shores of Ithaca and sends Peiraeus with Theoclymenus on to the city while he goes to Eumaeus' hut. In both passages Telemachus is sending to the city someone whom he has met before his own return to Ithaca, and this stranger is accompanied by a friend. These two scenes look like multiforms of the same theme, and it is not surprising that scholars [24] have sometimes thought that Theoclymenus is a duplication of Odysseus. The impression that this is so is strengthened when we see that Telemachus goes home and awaits the coming first of Theoclymenus and then of Odysseus. In fact, Book 17 begins with a twofold plan, the first part of which is concerned with Telemachus and the second with Odysseus. As at the beginning of the Odyssey, the first plan is followed, Telemachus goes home and the narrative continues with his return with Theoclymenus, and then the second plan, the return from the farm of Odysseus and Eumaeus, is fulfilled.
The parallel between these two plans in Book 17 and those set forth in Book 1 is made even more compelling by the similarity in the technique of moving from plan one to plan two in both parts of the song. In Book 4 Menelaus has concluded his account of his meeting with Proteus and has invited Telemachus to stay for a while with him, then he will send him forth with goodly gifts. Telemachus has requested him to let him go, and asks for some small gift rather than horses and chariot, and Menelaus has said he will give him a bowl of silver with a rim of gold. At this moment the singer says:
So they conversed together. But banqueters were coming to the palace of the noble king. Men drove up sheep, and brought the cheering wine, and their veiled wives sent bread. Thus they were busied with their dinner in the hall. Meanwhile before the palace of Odysseus the suitors were making merry, throwing the discus and the hunting spear upon the level pavement, holding riot as of old.
(4.620–627) [170]
Compare with this passage that in Book 17 which is the transition from Telemachus at home with Penelope and Theoclymenus to the suitors. Telemachus has reported to Penelope (and Theoclymenus) his conversation with Menelaus in Sparta; Theoclymenus has prophesied that Odysseus is already in Ithaca, when Penelope says with a sigh that she wishes this were so; if it were she would give him, Theoclymenus, many a gift. "So they conversed together. Meanwhile before the palace of Odysseus the suitors were making merry, throwing the discus and the hunting spear upon the level pavement, holding riot as of old" (17.166–169). [25]
The two passages given above are like watersheds between the plot of Telemachus' journey to the mainland and the suitors at home. On the other hand the subsequent passages about the suitors lead to, or are at the least themselves followed by, the narrative which directly concerns Odysseus. It is true that there is great difference in length between the passage about the suitors in Book 4 and that in Book 17; the former is over two hundred lines long and the latter less than twenty. Nevertheless, they have the same plot material before them, and the same after them.
The scene in Book 17 ending with the passage given above begins with the arrival of Telemachus at the palace of his father. Because this entire theme has affinities with the final recognition theme between Odysseus and Penelope in Book 23, we may learn something of importance by analyzing the theme in Book 17 and its earlier relatives. Let us first, however, note the points of similarity between the scene in Book 17 and that in Book 23, the goal of our present investigation. Telemachus returns to the palace and is greeted first by Eurycleia, then by the other maids, and after this his mother enters, greets him, and asks what he saw on his journey. At the end of Book 22, after the slaughter of the suitors, Odysseus talks with Eurycleia, has a fire lighted and the house fumigated, and next is greeted by the faithful maids; then Eurycleia, at the beginning of Book 23, goes and finally brings Penelope to meet Odysseus. Although the conversation between Eurycleia and Penelope is of some length and, therefore, has no parallel itself in the earlier passage, nevertheless, there is a similarity of pattern in the order of persons greeted. Father and son follow the same pattern, in the beginning of the two scenes.
In both these passages something strange happens after the entrance of Penelope. In Book 17 she asks, as we have seen, for a report from Telemachus. Instead of giving her a report, he tells her to take a bath, change, and pray to Zeus while her son goes to the market place to pick up a stranger to bring home for supper! Penelope does as he orders, he fetches Theoclymenus, they bathe and eat with Penelope nearby spinning. Finally she says that she is going to bed and she asks him for the report, stating that he had not dared to give it before because of the suitors—yet the suitors were not present at the time of his return. At any rate, now at last Telemachus tells his mother what he learned from Nestor and Menelaus. [171] So much at the moment for Book 17. In Book 23 at this point Penelope and Odysseus sit staring at one another until Telemachus upbraids his mother for not speaking to his father after so many years. Penelope says that she and Odysseus have ways of knowing one another; then he suggests that he and Telemachus carry out a ruse to protect them against the suitors' relatives. He takes a bath and then comes back to where Penelope is sitting patiently. There is clearly hugger-mugger of some sort at both these points! Penelope is kept waiting first for the report of her husband from her son and then for a report from her husband. In both passages the report is delayed by one or more baths, by the departure and return of the person who is to give the report.
Conversations between Telemachus and his mother (and it is a conversation of mother and son that is the focal point of the difficulty in both these passages) have had special significance since the very beginning of the song. It could also be said that the arrival of a stranger at the palace of Odysseus, or elsewhere, for that matter, has also been of significance from the opening of the Odyssey. Moreover, both a conversation between Telemachus and Penelope and the arrival of a stranger are frequently combined in the same scene. We are concerned with two of these scenes. Can other similar combinations give us any clues to the strange puzzles of this pair? What can other multiforms show us about the two in question?
Once again in connection with the beginning of Book 17 are we referred back to Book 1. In the first scene in Ithaca, the arrival of a stranger precedes rather than follows the conversation between Telemachus and Penelope, but both these elements are present. We are reminded by Telemachus' words to his mother when she complains about the bard's song that the son's role now is to give orders to his mother; for Athena has visited him, and the days of his maturity are at hand. In Book 1 as in Book 17 he orders Penelope to go upstairs; in both cases she obeys without a word. There is no meeting of mother and son between that in Book 1 and that in Book 17, but in Book 4 we note that when the news of Telemachus' absence is reported to Penelope, she is comforted by Eurycleia and then bathes, changes, goes to her upper chamber, and prays, this time to Athena. Although she does not talk with Telemachus between Book 1 and Book 17, she does enter the great hall once in Book 16 to rebuke Antinous for the plot to kill her son. Eurymachus swears falsely that no harm will come to Telemachus from the suitors; thereupon Penelope, without further word, returns to her chamber to weep for Odysseus—the same words being used here as in the passage in Book 1.
A pattern emerges, then, in which we see Penelope enter the scene to rebuke someone and to be herself in turn rebuked or ignored and, especially by her son, sent back to her room. For this reason we do not question Telemachus' sending her back to bathe and pray in Book 17; the sense of Penelope's theme is thus being carried out. This is what happened to her [172] both times when she has appeared before. And it is in part what happens when we see her again in Book 18 after the match between Irus and Odysseus, when she comes into the hall and rebukes Telemachus for allowing a stranger to be badly treated. Telemachus corrects her; matters have turned out well for the stranger in this match. When Penelope enters again in Book 19, Telemachus has gone to bed, but by a sort of attraction there is rebuking in the scene that follows; the maid Melantho rebukes Odysseus and is rebuked in her turn by both Odysseus and Penelope. The pattern is kept with different actors. Whatever the logic of the situation, the sense of the patterns prepares us to accept Telemachus' rebuke of his mother's silence in Book 23. This has ever been the general tenor of their exchanges of words and, indeed, of most of the entrances of Penelope.
Such comparison with other appearances of a theme may show us in this case why we accept without much question the postponing of Telemachus' report to Penelope, and it is possible that the habit of a pattern may have caused such an illogical situation in the narrative. But it is not enough here, because Homer has himself given a reason, although late, for the postponement, namely that the suitors were present and their presence deterred Telemachus. Perhaps Homer thought that it was clear that hostile people were on the scene when Telemachus was greeted by Penelope. It is more likely that Telemachus' story had to be saved until Theoclymenus was present. The preserving of smaller habitual patterns has helped to gloss over or to make palatable to the hearer a breaking, or at least mingling of larger patterns. Theoclymenus is a nuisance, a disturbing influence, yet Homer insists on him.
When Athena at the beginning of Book 15 appears to Telemachus in Sparta, urging him to return home, she makes no mention of this hitchhiker, but she advises Telemachus to leave his ship before it reaches the city and to spend a night at Eumaeus' hut, sending the swineherd ahead to tell Penelope that he has returned safe and sound. This is not what happens. It is clear by now, I believe, that we are dealing with a song that is a conflation, an oral conflation, I maintain, of a number of versions of the return song. Formula analysis of a passage is useful in establishing the orality of a text, in textual criticism, and in poetic evaluation. The study of thematic repetitions, as we have just seen, also helps to establish orality; to confirm textual readings; in limited ways to explain structural patterns; to provide the aura around the theme which corresponds to that around a formula. As units of composition, formula and theme are as indispensable to the scholar as they are to the singer. Yet we have, I think, demonstrated that there is a class of problems that can be answered only by reference to a multiple-text study like that in the appendix—in other words, by awareness of the multiplicity of versions in and around songs belonging to an oral tradition.
The singer begins in Book 17 to follow a pattern of the return of Telemachus [173] that is correct for a Telemachus (or anyone else) returning home with a report, provided there is no Theoclymenus who should be either with him or at someone else's house. Similarly, in Book 23 the singer is following a pattern that is perfectly all right if there were no Telemachus in the hall with Odysseus when Penelope entered. Other factors are involved in both these cases, but part of the difficulty is that the patterns are suitable for simple not for complex situations; for straight-line versions rather than for mixed versions.
But, if I am not mistaken, it is not merely that two themes have been juxtaposed, or that one was started and then interrupted by another. It seems that themes have been telescoped together in a distinctive way. Telemachus' report is postponed; what takes its place is a different thematic complex beginning with the arrival of the stranger and his entertainment. The stranger has news of Odysseus also, and this fact links the two themes, the theme of Telemachus' report and that of Theoclymenus. The two reports are juxtaposed, that of Telemachus which is the tale of Menelaus; that of Theoclymenus, which is the prophecy of a seer. This is one way of looking at the telescoping, but it does not provide a motive strong enough for such radical countering of logic as Telemachus' lack of response to his mother's first question. Suppose, however, that the Theoclymenus episode were really the arrival of Odysseus disguised as Theoclymenus, with Penelope wishing to ask him about Odysseus. We have a hint of something of this sort with Mentes in Book 1, when it is suggested that if he had only stayed he might have given information about Odysseus. The Yugoslav parallels would support such a supposition very strongly. [26] But this version simply cannot stand with one in which an Odysseus is already on his way to town or about to leave for town with Eumaeus. What are telescoped together, then, are not a report of Telemachus and a prophecy, but a report of Telemachus and a deceptive story by Odysseus. There seems to be evidence, in other words, of a version in which Telemachus met his father at Pylos and returned with him, and another version in which he met Odysseus at Eumaeus' hut. They have been put together in oral tradition as we have it in this song of Homer's. The result is duplication often with one element in the duplication being vestigial or partial, and hence an apparent postponement and suspense, or an inconsistency.
Duplication or repetition is a characteristic of the portion of the song we are now analyzing. For example, there are repeated buffetings and insulting of Odysseus. Blows begin when he is on the road to the palace with Eumaeus and they are joined by the goatherd Melanthius, who abuses Odysseus with words and then kicks him on the hip, after he has prophesied that "many a footstool from men's hands flying around his head his ribs shall rub, as he is knocked about the house" (17.231–232). This pattern is indeed found again in Book 17 when Antinous insults Odysseus as he begs food from him and the suitor hurls a footstool at him. Near the close of Book [174] 18 the same theme occurs again. Eurymachus abuses Odysseus and hurls a footstool at him, missing him, but striking the right hand of the wine-pourer. And at line 284 of Book 20 the theme is introduced with the same words as the quarrel with Eurymachus: "Yet Athena allowed the haughty suitors not altogether yet to cease from biting scorn. She wished more pain to pierce the heart of Laertes' son, Odysseus." Ctesippus now taunts the hero and throws an ox-hoof at him. It misses him and strikes the wall. These actions all incur rebuke: Melanthius is rebuked by the swineherd, Antinous by the suitors, Eurymachus by Telemachus, and Ctesippus also by Telemachus. These incidents are multiforms of a single theme four times repeated, whose meaning, deeply bedded in the myth underlying the story, is that the resurrected god in disguise is rejected by the unworthy, who cannot recognize him. These episodes are actually testings.
The boxing match with Irus in Book 18 is a different kind of incident. It is a set contest between the representative or champion of the suitors and Odysseus, and its parallel is to be found in the trial of the bow! Odysseus in reality abandons his disguise in both scenes. For the boxing match Athena fills out his limbs and men wonder; Irus quakes and wants to run away. Here is a frustrated, a vestigial recognition scene brought about by accomplishing a feat of strength possible only to the returned hero. The match follows after the scene in which Penelope summons Eumaeus, asking him to bring the beggar to her so that she may question him about Odysseus; she has heard of his being struck by Antinous. Proceeding in the reverse order, we begin with (a) the abuse of Odysseus by Antinous, (b) rebuke by the suitors, (c) Penelope tries to meet Odysseus but is put off, and (d) vestigial recognition scene in the match with Irus. We can begin the pattern again with (a) the abuse by Eurymachus, (b) the rebuke by Telemachus, (c) Odysseus and Telemachus remove the armor from the hall, and (d) the recognition scene with Eurycleia. If we begin a third time, we have (a) the abuse by Ctesippus, (b) the rebuke by Telemachus, (c) Theoclymenus' prophecy of doom, the abuse of him, and his departure, and (d) the trial of the bow and recognition. This thrice-repeated general pattern is strengthened even more by the realization that in Book 17 (a) the abuse of Odysseus by Melanthius is followed by (b) the rebuke by Eumaeus, and (d) the recognition by the dog Argus! The third element in this pattern is variable, but the other three elements are clear: abuse, rebuke, "x," recognition.
Now the trial of the bow brings about the revelation of Odysseus to the farm hands and then to all else. The tale proceeds untroubled until line 58 of Book 23, when to our amazement (and that of Eurycleia as well) Penelope still has doubts. Thus what might have been the first recognition by Penelope, that of the trial of the bow, ceases to be a recognition and becomes only one link in a chain of evidence. When she descends to see her son, the suitors who are dead, and him who slew them—as she herself [175] says—it is her first appearance since the setting of the trial by the bow. As she descends she even debates within her heart whether she should question Odysseus apart or whether she should rush to him as to her husband. We may wonder whether Homer is himself debating this question. At any rate, we find that a scene that begins to lead toward recognition is sidetracked into plans for safety following the slaying of the suitors, plans concocted by Odysseus and Telemachus while Penelope, as it were, "stands by."
Loosely associated with these plans is a bath taken by Odysseus. This bath has caused Homerists much trouble; [27] for Penelope simply, it seems, waits for Odysseus' return, their recognition scene being suddenly postponed again in a most brutal way. It is the second time at least (the first being the refusal of Odysseus to go to Penelope's chamber) that poorly motivated postponement has occurred. The bath belongs in the tale of the return—it surely has ritual significance. Even on the most realistic grounds it should be required after the grime and blood of the slaughter. Eurycleia urged a change of clothes on Odysseus earlier, right after the slaughter, at the end of Book 22, which Odysseus refused, thus putting оff the doffing of his disguise until the scene with Penelope. This earlier reference makes one suspect that the placing here by Homer may be deliberate. He indicated that he had a choice—as he does fairly frequently. The bath cannot be delayed any longer; it must come before Odysseus and Penelope begin to speak in earnest about the signs which they alone understand.
It seems to me that the singer was about to embark on the final recognition scene between husband and wife—Penelope will know him when he emerges from the bath without disguise, whether the bath was taken before she came on the stage or while she waited—when he was once again turned from it by Telemachus material. Yet the ingredients of the "second" recognition by Penelope (the trial by the bow being the first) stay in place, namely, there is conversation about the state of his clothes, he bathes, he emerges in bright glory. This recognition also then has become another link in the chain of evidence, and the final recognition now follows immediately. Although it would seem that Penelope has not moved from her chair in the hall, one might argue that she now "appears" again on the stage of the singer's and hearer's attention. And this will be her final appearance in the song.
Just as the accumulating of disguises emphasizes by duplication the force of the testing of recognition, so the threefold recognition by Penelope, the last following the ritual cleansing and loss of the traces of death, leaves no doubt of the importance of this element in the story. Logical inconsistency there may be, but there is no mythic ambiguity. The conflation in oral tradition has resulted in increased power of the myth.
In terms of mythic meanings the coming of age of Telemachus is emphasized [176] by his journey and its success, by the presence of a god on his side, ultimately by his ability to draw the bow of Odysseus, if it were not that he was restrained by his father. We tend to forget that Penelope tells us that Odysseus had instructed her to wait until Telemachus' beard grew before she remarried. The dramatic piling up of evidence of Telemachus' change to manhood stresses the fact that the time for remarriage has come. It is the last moment for Odysseus' return. In the myth of death and resurrection the darkest hour of devastation is at hand, and the return of the dying god, still in the weeds of the other world of deformity but potent with new life, is imminent.
The inner logic of the tale of Odysseus makes it impossible that the story could be stopped at line 296 of Book 23. I do not believe in interpolators any more than I believe in ghosts, even less, but had Homer not continued beyond that point, someone would have had to or the narrative would have remained unfinished.
The first section of this "continuation" really contains no difficulty, and Page [28] seems to me to be entirely correct when he says that were it not for the Alexandrians this passage would not have come under question. Such résumés are perfectly normal in oral poetry, and numerous examples can be found. [29]
The second scene of the continuation (23.344–the end; 24.205–411), the recognition of the returned hero by his parent, in the case of the Odyssey, his father, is a well-established element in the general story of return. Whatever the reason may be, the hero has one surviving parent at home; the other is dead. In the Yugoslav variants outlined in Appendix III, it is invariably the mother who is alive, and only once (Parry 1939) is the father even mentioned in the early part of the story, only to be quite forgotten later. The mother usually dies after the recognition takes place and is duly buried by her son. It is not surprising that the Yugoslav songs have chosen the mother rather than the father to be the surviving parent, since she plays a much larger role in Yugoslav poetry than does the father. For some reason the return of the hero is associated with the death of one of the characters in his immediate circle upon recognition. (In the case of the Odyssey it is the dog Argus who dies when he recognizes his master; in the Yugoslav songs it is the mother!) Recognition by a parent is a necessary element in the story and a regularly recurring part of the theme of recognitions.
It is not the recognition itself, then, which causes trouble in the Odyssey, but its position in the poem. That its place after the recognition by Penelope is not governed by rational or sentimental reasons is clear. Eumaeus told Odysseus straightway about his father's situation. They are already outside [177] of town, and nothing would seem easier than for Odysseus to relieve his father's distress by going at once to him. This might have involved an earlier recognition by Eumaeus, but there seems to be no earthly reason why this would have done any harm, since Eumaeus has been proved loyal. Obviously the oral poet is not motivated by such considerations of reasoning. This approach is clearly not productive.
The order of recognitions in the Yugoslav songs in our chart gives support to the placing of the recognition by the parent after that by the wife. In the ten songs in which the parent is mentioned, only once does the recognition by the mother occur before that by the wife, although in one case it is ambiguous. In six of these instances the mother recognizes her son immediately after the wife. There seems then to be reason to believe that the singer of the Odyssey was following a common practice in the order of recognitions in respect to that of wife, parent. In these songs, of course, the mother is in the same physical place, in the same house with the wife, but in the classical Christian Yugoslav song of The Captivity of Janković Stojan, [30] the mother is out in the vineyard, and the hero goes to her after the recognition by the wife and the settlement with the suitor. In the Odyssey, once Odysseus has gone to town, the recognition with Laertes can take place only after affairs have been settled in the city.
The objection that the structure of the scene of recognition itself is faulty because it is so long drawn out has no basis in the logic of oral epic. The lengthy deceptive story may seem merciless to us, but it is so integral a part of the recognition scene, particularly of one so elaborately told as this, that it would have been illogical to omit it. Anyone versed in recognition scenes would scarcely think to question it. In the Yugoslav material (see Appendix III) the deceptive tale told to the mother is even more merciless, for she hears that her son is dead and buried and that the man before her was an eye-witness of that death and the instrument of the burial. She has not even hope. The son leaves her and reveals himself to others before he gives any alleviation of his mother's grief. Whatever the reason may be for the deceptive story in return songs, it is so much part of the thematic complex, that we should not label as faulty any recognition scene in which it occurs. It is natural and right in that context.
In spite of all this, there is something wrong with this scene from the point of view of oral epic. Equally as important as the deceptive story is the element of disguise. Indeed the deceptive story makes no sense without the disguise. Salih Ugljanin felt so strongly about this that he stopped in the middle of his song and sang it over again from the point at which he had told of his hero donning the armor of a guard whom he had killed. When Odysseus left his palace he put on his own splendid armor! The only kind of recognition scene which could have been used after this (unless Laertes was blind, which he was not) was the variety in which the hero comes up and [178] says, "Here I am, your son is back." But the elaborate recognition by scar and trees depends on disguise and is associated with deceptive story.
That the recognition by Laertes belongs earlier, before Odysseus has changed his disguise, even before he went into town, is indicated in the beginning of the scene. When he accosts his father, Odysseus pretends that he has just arrived in the island and inquires if he is really in Ithaca and if the old man knows anything about a friend of his named Odysseus. Although there is logically no objection to these questions as they are and where they stand, they would certainly be as well situated earlier in the song, soon after Odysseus' arrival in Ithaca, even better placed indeed. It seems most likely, therefore, that a multiform of the recognition theme designed for one place has been transferred to a position normally taken by another multiform of the theme. Thus an inconsistency has arisen. We have observed this kind of shift in the Yugoslav songs and know it to be not uncommon in oral epic.
Homer does his best as always to gloss this over. Odysseus tells Telemachus, "But I will put my father to the proof, and try if he will recognize and know me by the sight, or if he will fail to know me who have been absent long" (24.216–218). He also disposes of his weapons (but not his armor) before he goes to meet his father. He is hesitant whether to go straight to his father and tell him directly of his return to Ithaca. These bits make me strongly suspect that Homer was aware of the difficulty, but that the traditional recognition scene with Laertes could not be eschewed.
We have seen that Homer probably had authority for the position of the recognition by the parent following that of recognition by the wife. This undoubtedly facilitated the shift. But there was also authority for meeting and even recognition by parent and son earlier in the song. At least one of the Yugoslav songs shows the order of mother, wife, rather than the reverse. In Volume I, No. 4, the mother is among the first to recognize her son, and her death and burial occur before the recognition by the wife. It will be noted, moreover, that in these songs, whatever the order of the recognitions, the mother is among the very first whom the son meets on his return and to whom he tells the deceptive story. Recognition comes only after an interval. There is, then, good authority for the earlier position of this theme, at least for the encounter and the deceptive story; but also for the recognition itself.
If we have information to show us that the scene is really out of place (provided one can use this term in discussing oral epic), we ought to have some basis also for hazarding an opinion as to where the scene would have been "in place." There are, I think, three points at which it might well have occurred, in two of which at least Homer himself indicates that he was about to embark upon a scene with Laertes but gave it up. We can learn much [179] about the structure of the Odyssey as oral epic by examining these three passages.
The first is toward the end of Book 15, after line 389. In Book 14 Odysseus was received by Eumaeus; he told his deceptive tale, tested Eumaeus, and found him both good and loyal. As Book 14 closes, we could expect either a recognition of Odysseus by Eumaeus or the meeting of Odysseus with another person whom he tests with the deceptive story. Both patterns we can find in our Yugoslav material. Instead of either of these, however, we are directed to Sparta with Athena and Telemachus. The pattern is interrupted by the return to the Telemachus thread in the poem. The return to this thread here may have been made easier by the fact that one of our expectations is of another meeting and deceptive story. In Book 15, line 301, while Telemachus is on his voyage home, we are back with Odysseus in Eumaeus' hut. Odysseus turns the conversation to affairs in the palace in town and asks about his father and mother. Eumaeus tells him about them. Here, at line 389, I think, we are ready for the expedition with Eumaeus to Laertes' farm for the recognition with the father. But the flow is interrupted again by Eumaeus' tale of his own life, which lasts late into the night. This tale, if I read the signs correctly, should be part of a recognition scene between Eumaeus and Odysseus. We saw that the stage had already been set for this recognition before the interlude with Telemachus in Sparta. We have examples in the Yugoslav material in which the recounting of how someone came to know the hero or his family is part of a recognition theme leading to the question, "By what means would you recognize him if he were to appear?" [31] Eumaeus' tale, then, may be a fragment of a recognition scene that is never completed, but is attracted to this position because such a scene is expected here. Moreover, it is also the kind of tale that Odysseus might tell as a deceptive story, another part, as we know, of the recognition complex. From this point of view it might be said to take the place of the deceptive story to Laertes, which could have come at this point. Surely at the end of Eumaeus' story (line 495) we might have gone on to the Laertes recognition scene on the following day.
But once again the Telemachus thread interrupts, and instead of the recognition scene with Laertes we have one with Telemachus. The pattern is kept, but Telemachus has taken Laertes' place and the singer has again postponed the recognition with the parent! In other words, by this point, Eumaeus' recognition has been twice postponed and so has the recognition with Laertes. In each case the interruption has been caused by the Telemachus part of the story: at the end of Book 14 and at 15.495 for Eumaeus; at 15.389 and 495 for Laertes. The first interruption may contain a vestigial recognition scene (or at least the deceptive story part of it, including disguise) between Telemachus and Theoclymenus-Odysseus; the second interruption [180] is a full-fledged recognition. By these maneuvers the first recognition remains that between Odysseus and his son.
What an amazing feat of construction. How cleverly indeed have the two threads been woven together! Telemachus and Odysseus have met and recognition has taken place. Homer and the singers of ancient Greece (for we have no proof that Homer did this himself, but must realize the probability that this was the way he heard the story) have accomplished the masterly interweaving of plots by following the lead of the elementary forces in the story itself!
The last opportunity for the recognition by Eumaeus and by Laertes before the whole party goes to town comes in Book 16 at line 298, after the recognition by Telemachus. At this point the singer shows his awareness of the possibility and excludes it once and for all. Odysseus instructs Telemachus not to tell Laertes, nor the swineherd, nor anyone else until they have sounded them out, although he suggests that they might make trial of some of the men. Telemachus objects even to this. At line 456, just before Eumaeus' return from town, Athena transforms Odysseus into a beggar again, and the singer comments: "for fear the swineherd looking in his face might know, and go and tell the tale to steadfast Penelope, not holding fast the secret in his heart" (16.457–459). At this point Homer is clearly and consciously following a pattern that will have the recognitions by the swineherd and the father later in the song.
There are two matters worthy of notice in connection with this final opportunity for Laertes' recognition of his son. At the time when Telemachus arrives and sends Eumaeus to town to tell his mother that he is safely back (thus, incidentally, duplicating the messenger sent from the ship to tell Penelope the news), Eumaeus suggests that he stop by the farm on his way and inform Laertes of his grandson's safety. Telemachus hinders him from this and states that the best news to tell the old man and anyone else would be that his father has returned. Laertes is certainly on the singer's mind.
The second valuable clue is in Odysseus' suggestion that they sound out some of the men, the suggestion voted down by Telemachus. By rejecting the recognition of Laertes the singer has also rejected the possible assistance of certain minor characters scarcely noticed in reading the poem, namely the old man Dolius and his sons, who are actually the last people to recognize Odysseus. It may be pure speculation, but it is possible that Eumaeus is a duplication of the group of Laertes, Dolius, et al., or that in some songs of the tradition we would find him either completely absent or a member of that group. By having him as a separate figure, the singer is forced later to associate the neatherd with him. There are real signs of the traditional, oral combining and recombining of configurations in this part of the Odyssey as elsewhere. Certainly if any scene in the poem is a part of it, that [181] scene is the recognition of Laertes. We have no less an authority than Homer himself, as well as Greek tradition, and the whole tradition of the Return since Homer's day.
Having investigated the question of where the scene might have been, there being doubt that as constituted it is in its "proper" place, we must now consider why it is where it is. Actually, it has been put at one of the most significant places in the story. After the recognition by the wife and the essential remarriage and the settlement of affairs with the suitors, as represented at least by their slaying, Odysseus, or the returned hero, must depart from home. Teiresias has told Odysseus this in the Underworld, and Odysseus has just told Penelope that this is his fate. The Telegony takes Odysseus, after the burial of the suitors by their kinsmen, first to inspect his herds in Elis, then to Thesprotis, and after each of these journeys back again to Ithaca, where he is finally killed by Telegonus. We are told that when Odysseus returned from Elis he performed the "sacrifices ordered by Teiresias," action which does not gibe very well with what we know of Teiresias' instructions from the Odyssey (although all we learn about what happened in Elis is that he was entertained by Polyxenus and received a mixing bowl as a gift, and that the story of Trophonius and Agamedes and Augeas followed). [32] But that is in the Telegony. It helps to show that Greek epic tradition relates that Odysseus did continue his travels. They are, however, ignored by Dictys.
At this point in the Yugoslav songs the hero returns to his former captor. The recognition scene, which involves a departure from home and a return to the country, has been placed where a departure and return occur in the Yugoslav material, and where a departure is found in the Telegony. The Captivity of Janković Stojan tells of a departure to the vineyard where the hero had first met his mother, although there is no return to captor. In this song a substitution has taken place; return to vineyard is substituted for return to captor. The essence of departure and return is kept. In the Telegony the journey to Thesprotis, at least, seems also to be a return. The deceptive story told to Eumaeus (Book 14) and to Penelope (Book 19) tells of Odysseus in that land. Visiting the herds in Elis may be parallel to the visit to Laertes' farm.
But the references to herds in Elis, to Proxenus, and to the story of Trophonius seem to be of special interest. A glance at the article on Proxenus (3) and (4) in Pauly-Wissowa [33] is sufficient to assure one that all these elements are in some way connected with the lower world and with chthonic cult. Thesprotis too in Epirus is distinguished by the river Acheron, a well-known entrance to the Underworld, and the gateway to Dodona. The Telegony provides evidence, therefore, that Odysseus not only went on further travels but that those further travels were somehow connected with the other world from which he had just come. Everything in oral tradition points to the conclusion that at this moment in the story of [182] Odysseus' return there should be departure from Penelope and another visit to that strange world from which the hero had been rescued or released. The journey out to the country to Laertes' farm for the recognition with the hero's parent suits the requirement of departure from Penelope and, perhaps, a mild idea of return in the fact that he had come into town from the country.
The singer is, to be sure, not satisfied with this substitute. As soon as Odysseus and Telemachus have set out from town, the singer lets them go their way, and the story continues without them in that strange puzzle that is the Second Nekyia (Book 24.1–204). In some form or other a journey to the other world belongs, and is in fact required, here, as we have seen above. The pull of the significant pattern is strong. Whatever problems the present form of the Underworld journey in the last book of the Odyssey poses for us (and they are many and not to be ignored), however abrupt its introduction here, and the return to the Laertes scene when this passage is completed, the forces that hold together a song in oral tradition demand that some such journey occur at this moment in the tale. If there is any passage that could be termed "out of place" in the ending of the Odyssey it is not the Second Nekyia.
The first difficulty brought forth in the passage itself is that Hermes Psychopompos is not found elsewhere in Homer and is hence unhomeric, in fact not at home in Greek epic. We cannot take this too seriously, I think. Actually we have two songs. Anyone acquainted with traditional material can realize how infinitesimal a part of any tradition are two texts, no matter how long and how rich. True, souls go to the Underworld fairly frequently in the Homeric poems and Hermes might have been introduced to conduct them, but he is not. It seems to me that there is something special about this particular departure of souls on their journey to Hades that requires someone as companion if not guide for them, something special that does not occur elsewhere in Homeric song.
The journeyer in this case should have been Odysseus; for there is some reason to think that he was supposed to bring these suitors back as ransom or sacrifice or for purification. The Yugoslav patterns at this point in the story help us in suggesting this possibility (see Appendix III). In them the hero is released for ransom and he always returns with it to his captor. In some cases the ransom is the head of his wife's suitor, in at least one case it is his son, often it is one or more other heroes or their horses or weapons, which are but substitutes for them. Yet Odysseus, unlike the Yugoslav heroes, cannot make this journey. For one thing, he is busy elsewhere. But the feeling is strong that there must be someone at their head, and Hermes is a good choice. Was it not he who brought the message from Zeus to Calypso releasing him from the other world? Was not Hermes involved in some way with his coining back into the world of reality?
It is also objected that the geography of the journey is peculiar and unlike [183] that of other Homeric journeys, or references to such, to the lower world, with the exception, at least, of Ocean Stream. I submit that the geography here is especially fitting for Odysseus. At least it takes the suitors off in the direction of Thesprotis, whence Odysseus pretended he had come and whither the Telegony says he later went. For Hermes guides the suitors from Ithaca across the Ocean, past Leucas to the Gates of the Sun, which is to say to the entrance to the lower world. With all that has been written about Leucas, [34] I cannot understand Page's rhetorical question: "Who ever heard, before or since, of a Rock Leucas, or White Rock, near the entrance to Hades across the river Oceanus?" [35] The river Oceanus is where you want it to be, it seems to me, and if you are in Ithaca, or anywhere else in Greece, it is not far away, unless you want it to be, of course. [36] The Island or promontory of Leucas, noted for its white rock from which human sacrifice was made for purification or to appease Apollo, as any traveler knows, is across a narrow strait from Corcyra, not far north of Ithaca. The White Rock is a clue not merely geographically but also ideologically to this journey; it indicates, I believe, the nature of the slaughter of the suitors, as sacrifice or purification for Odysseus. As for its being near the entrance to Hades, one needs only to look again at the map to see that it is not far south of Thesprotis and the river Acheron; indeed, for anyone going there from Ithaca, it is right on the road. This is, in short, another version of the journey of Odysseus to Thesprotis, exactly what one might expect to find just at this point.
It would be wrong to leave any discussion of the Second Nekyia without referring to the likelihood that both its position and its content—and perhaps its very existence—are due to the parallel with the Agamemnon type of return story, which we have noted as being often on Homer's mind in the dictating of the Odyssey. We know from the Nostoi that there was a descent to the land of Hades [37] and we have assumed that it was made by one of the heroes in his wanderings before returning home. Is it possible that the journey to the Underworld in the Nostoi occurred at the end and that the traveler was Agamemnon after his murder, or since we do not know whether Orestes' vengeance was included in the Nostoi, might the traveler have been Aegisthus himself? If the parallel is still operating here, then not only the Second Nekyia but also the final reconciliation at the close of the Odyssey is not merely the tying together of loose threads but as necessary a conclusion of the feud as either the murder of Aegisthus by Orestes or the final placating of the Furies. Viewed from this light these final sections of the Odyssey are inevitable because of the influence of the related pattern of the Orestes story.
On the level of myth the existence of these two parallel Returns, both in the same song, but also in the same tradition, must give us pause. They are contradictory. One of them would seem to be the return from the other world to set aright devastation at home, to bring new life, to be ever [184] repented, the myth of death and resurrection, the other a myth of return to death, of tragedy and annihilation, demanding righteous vengeance, the inexorability of original sin, as exemplified in the curse on the House of Atreus. Yet the coupling of two such contradictory patterns, the one concerned with life and the other with death, should not amaze us. They are complementary, not contradictory. [185]


[ back ] 1. See H. G. Evelyn-White, Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns, and Homerica. The best discussion of the Cyclic poets is still that in D. B. Monro, Homer's Odyssey Books XIII to XXIV (Oxford, 1901), pp. 340ff.
[ back ] 2. Daretis Phrygii De Excidio Trojae Historia, ed. F. Meister (Teubner, Leipzig, 1873). Dictys Cretensis' work, Ephemeris de Historia Belli Trojani, also edited by F. Meister (Teubner, Leipzig, 1872).
[ back ] 3. See J. B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, and S. N. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology (Philadelphia, 1944).
[ back ] 4. See, for example, the stimulating article by V. M. Žirmunskij, "Epičeskoe skazanie ob Alpamyše i 'Odisseja' Gomera," Izvestija academii nauk SSSR, Otdelenie literatury i jazyka, 16:97–113 (1957). Under Professor Žirmunskij's editorship a handsome Russian translation of the Uzbek folk epic, Alpamyš, by Lev Pen'kovskij, was recently published: Alpamyš, uzbekskij narodnyj epos (Moscow, 1958). I am indebted to Professor Žirmunskij for copies of these works as well as for the little book on Homer, Aedy, by I.I. Tolstoj (Moscow, 1958).
[ back ] 5. Although it should be noted that Homer mentions the marriage of Menelaus' son, Megapenthes, in Odyssey 4.11.
[ back ] 6. Odyssey 12:70. For a list of early Greek epics, see the article on the epic cycle by William Francis Jackson Knight in the Oxford Classical Dictionary. Note also the article by C. M. Bowra on Greek epic poetry in the same dictionary, as well as Bowra's recent Homer and His Forerunners, Andrew Lang Lecture, Feb. 16, 1955 (Edinburgh, 1955).
[ back ] 7. In two others (Parry 6812 and 1939) sons are mentioned but they play no role. For another return with a son, see I, No. 32.
[ back ] 8. See Denys Page, The Homeric Odyssey (Oxford, 1955), pp. 83ff. and the excellent article on Theoclymenus in Pauly-Wissowa, Zweite Reihe X (1934), 1997–99.
[ back ] 9. See Parry and Lord, Serbocroatian Heroic Songs, I, No. 24.
[ back ] 10. See Parry and Lord, I, No. 24.
[ back ] 11. See Martti Haavio, Väinämöinen, Eternal Sage.
[ back ] 12. Passages from the Odyssey, unless indicated otherwise, are quoted in the translation of George Herbert Palmer, The Odyssey of Homer (Cambridge, Mass., 1912).
[ back ] 13. Dictys, VI, 6. See also Guido De Columnis, Historia Destructionis Troiae, Mediaeval Academy of America, Publication No. 26, edited by N. E. Griffin (Cambridge, Mass., 1936), pp. 261–262.
[ back ] 14. In Aeschylus' Choephori, Sophocles' Electra, and with less emphasis on Orestes' deceptive story in Euripides' Electra.
[ back ] 15. Quoted from the translation by E. V. Rieu (Penguin Books, 1951), p. 87.
[ back ] 16. See Evelyn-White, pp. 525–527.
[ back ] 17. See note 13 above.
[ back ] 18. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2:851 ff.
[ back ] 19. Cedric H. Whitman, Homer and the Homeric Tradition, p. 288.
[ back ] 20. See Evelyn-White, p. 529.
[ back ] 21. Ibid. p. 527.
[ back ] 22. Guido De Columnis, pp. 258–259.
[ back ] 23. Odyssey 23:153ff. For a discussion of the awkwardness of this bath, see Denys Page, pp. 114ff.
[ back ] 24. See note 8 above.
[ back ] 25. The line δίσκοισιν τέρποντο καὶ αἰγανέῃσιν ἵεντες occurs only in these two passages, 4:626 and 17:168.
[ back ] 26. See Appendix III.
[ back ] 27. Denys Page, pp. 114ff.
[ back ] 28. Ibid. p. 116.
[ back ] 29. See, for example, Parry, 6431, from Mujo Velić of Bihać, given under Return-Rescue Songs in Appendix IV.
[ back ] 30. See V. S. Karadžić, Srpske narodne pjesme, vol. III, No. 25. For Parry Collection versions, see Parry and Lord, I, p. 340.
[ back ] 31. See, for example, Parry and Lord, I, No. 24.
[ back ] 32. See Evelyn-White, p. 531.
[ back ] 33. Pauly-Wissowa, XLV (1957), 1029–1032.
[ back ] 34. See the article on Leucas in Pauly-Wissowa, XXIV (1925), 2213–2257.
[ back ] 35. Denys Page, pp. 117–118.
[ back ] 36. See Pauly-Wissowa, XXXIV (1937), 2308–2361.
[ back ] 37. See Evelyn-White, p. 529.