8. The (Re)Marriage of Penelope and Odysseus [1]

In the (re)marriage of Odysseus and Penelope, the Odyssey initiates 
a dialogue with the Western traditions of architecture, gender, and philosophy. [2] Although defined conceptually by discourses “invented” as different from mythology, [3] these three modes function actively in Archaic Greek culture and thought. As there was architecture before Vitruvius, gender before Freud or Lévi-Strauss, and philosophy before Plato, so in the Odyssey “para-theoretical” forms of architecture, gender, and philosophy mirror one another, creating what might be called an “Odyssean architectural theory.”
In the Odyssey, architecture is the fabrication of material meaning, the transformation of nature into a material, mortal σῆμα “sign, tomb”—the tree supporting Odysseus’ bed is the sign of immovability and unique identity, and Penelope weaves a shroud. Gender is a political instance of such architecture, insofar as it constructs the social significations of “natural” sexual difference. Odyssean gender makes difference a κίων “column” with roots in the earth. Its agent is philosophy, the knowing νόος “mind, intelligence” constructing and recognizing the σήματα “signs” of truth as unique identity. [4] Each of these three modes operates by means of mêtis, the working and work of “transformative intelligence” common to every τέχνη “craft.” [5] In a continuous relay of reciprocal production, each can imitate the other’s shape (or make the other imitate its shape) to win at the other’s game. But as Zeus swallows the goddess Metis so that she “will devise evil and good in his interest alone,” so Odyssean architectural theory confines this capacity within an ultimately uncertain “house arrest.”
What do Penelope and Odysseus have to do with architecture? In the Western tradition, they are among its founding figures. By virtue of their mêtis, Odysseus and Penelope become each a myth of architectural mind and hand. Mêtis means both the working and the work of “transformative intelligence.” It embraces both mental and manual prowess, both language and material. Mêtis works by continual shape-shifting, turning the μορφή “shape” of defeat into victory’s tool. [6] Its methods include the δόλος “trick, trap”, the κέρδος “profit-gaining scheme”, and the ability to seize the καιρός “opportunity”. Each of these exploits the essential form of mêtis, the τρόπος “turning” that binds opposites, manifest in the reversal and the circle, [7] in weaving, twisting, and knotting, and in every joint. The mistress or master of mêtis knows how to manipulate “the circular reciprocity between what is bound and what is binding.” [8] Etymologically, mêtis is derived from a verbal root meaning “to measure” with its implication of calculation and exact knowledge, preserved also in μέτρον “measurement”. [9] A traditional connection between mêtis and the builder’s skills is seen in the figure of Athena, daughter of the goddess Metis, who teaches τέκτονας ἄνδρας “builder men” to make (ποιῆσαι) elaborate war chariots and παρθενικάς “maidens” to weave (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 12–15), [10] and in the mythological architect, Trophonius. [11] The noun mêtis is the object of the verb of building itself in the phrase μῆτιν τεκτήναιτο “build a mêtis” (Iliad X 19).
The Greek mythology of mêtis dramatizes the mutual construction of architecture, gender, and philosophy under the sign of “father-ruled” marriage. Fashioned by Greek men and expressing their point of view, the myth casts mêtis as an undying female power that must be (re)appropriated through marriage by the political and philosophical power of the male. After her husband, the king Cronus, swallows her previous children to keep them from usurping his sovereignty, Rhea plots to protect her last-born, Zeus. To Cronus, she (or her mother Gaia) presents not the baby himself, but a mêtis. [12] Formally imitating his desire for another “swallowed” child, she gives him a stone wrapped in swaddling (that is, “swallowing”) clothes. [13] Cronus “swallows the trick,” thus enabling Zeus to grow up and to avenge himself by forcing his father to vomit the stone—which Zeus then “fastened down into the earth . . . to be a σῆμα ‘sign’ and θαῦμα ‘marvel’ to mortals” (Theogony 498–500). Now a political monument, the stone signifies Zeus’ regime as the containment of mêtis, immobilized (like the rooted post of Odysseus’ bed) in the ground. [14] To maintain this external, political fixation, Zeus matches it with an internal, domestic “incorporation” of mêtis in his marriage and ultimate “swallowing” of the goddess Metis herself (Theogony 886–900).
The marriage of Zeus and Metis is an “architectural contest” with her embodiment as the prize. [15] In the myth, the ultimate winner is never in doubt. In their struggle over entrance into her body, although Metis “turned into many forms to avoid being joined with him,” [16] Zeus “mixes” with her in sexual intercourse (his instrument, it would appear, is the same ἀνάγκη “force of necessity” that will compel the women in the Odyssey). Next they compete in body-making, matching their respective capacities for material and verbal transformation. Metis becomes pregnant and a prophecy reveals that she will bear a child who will usurp his father’s rule. To bind the goddess within himself and thereby reverse the power of the pregnancy, Zeus “seduces her wits by a trick of wily words” and swallows her, “so that the goddess will devise evil and good in his interest alone” and he can give birth to the child himself from his own head. The proof of his victory is the goddess Athena, mistress of mêtis as swallowed by Zeus, who presides over the (re)marriage of Penelope and Odysseus.
In the (re)marriage of Penelope and Odysseus, the Odyssey tells a myth of architectural origins that prefigures and exceeds Vitruvius’ aboriginal architects who build shelters by imitating the weaving and daubing of swallows’ nests. [17] At a schematic level, the weaving of Penelope and the (re)marriage bed of Odysseus are emblems of the two basic elements of building: vertical space-enclosure and columns supporting a horizontal load. [18] Their collaboration constructs an ideal of architecture, gender, and philosophy in and as immovable (re)marriage. The partners in this collaboration, while mutually dependent, are not equal. Penelope is in charge of the (re)union. It is by virtue of her mêtis—her κέρδος “profit-gaining scheme” of secret, false speech, her δόλος “trick, trap” of weaving, and her trick to test for their secret σήματα “signs”—that Odysseus’ mêtis of the bed can function as architect of his identity and hers. But Penelope’s design serves a “program”—a system of social requirements and the power to enforce them—that she did not write. Itself an architecture, the program of Odyssean “father-rule” attempts ever to reconstruct its model of the female gender through the philosophic force of the Odyssey itself. The Odyssey divides the ambiguity (it posits as) essential to the female into an almost complete dichotomy of praise and blame. [19] It eulogizes the mind of the blameless wife, the best “Pandora” you can get.

In Praise of the Mind of Penelope

Penelope is blameless because her wits are good. The text captures the virtue of her mind’s devices in its own ambiguous expression of Penelope’s ἀρετή “excellence,” a quality attributed to no other female in Homeric epic: whether these pronouns—his/her (οἱ) fame for her/his (ἧς) excellence—refer to Odysseus or Penelope cannot be decided. [20] For it is precisely the ἀρετή of Penelope’s mind – an exemplary mêtis in its tricky circularity of active and passive stances – to win κλέος for herself (Odyssey ii 125–126) by designing (re)marriage to the one in whom she locates all her ἀρετή:
“Stranger, truly my own excellence (ἐμὴν ἀρετὴν), both my appearance and my build,
the gods destroyed, when the Argives embarked
for Ilium and my own husband Odysseus went with them.
If that man should come and tend this life of mine, my
own fame (κλέος ἐμὸν) would be both greater (μεῖζον) and more beautiful (κάλλιον).” [21]
Odyssey xix 124–128
It is Penelope’s mêtis to make her excellence and praise ultimately take the shape of her husband’s, the shape of her husband as “her-self.” She uses the mobility built into her gender to locate herself in and as his stable oἶκος “household,” his unmoving, immovable place and space.
As foil for its praise of Penelope, the Odyssey blames Clytemnestra for using her mêtis (μήσατο) to “dys-locate” the place of her husband. [22] But in its drive to divide female mêtis into exclusive praise and blame, the text itself “dys-locates” the division. For it claims that the blame of Clytemnestra “will forever bestow a harsh word upon female women, even if there be one who does good”—even, that is, upon Penelope herself. With this censure of Clytemnestra, the Odyssey confesses the vulnerability of its architectural ideal to an independent female practice whose tropomorphic mêtis is forever reconstructed by the drive to contain it.

The mêtis of the Web

Praise, Blame, and the Ambiguity of a “Woman’s Place”

Casting the situation in the terms of praise and blame, the suitor Antinous defends himself to Telemachus. Penelope has superior knowledge of κέρδεα “profit-gaining schemes.” She can make the other person look blameworthy, when it is actually she who is the αἴτιον “cause” and thus deserves the blame. The charge introduces the ambiguity of her situation.
Architecturally, Penelope’s place as an αἴτιον “cause,” locus of blame, is co-occupied by opposite but interdependent forces. For she does not change her position either in action, by returning to her father, or in word, by choosing one of the suitors or refusing to do so. In the terms of philosophical logic, A (force toward marriage as change of place) and not-A (force against marriage as change of place) occupy the same place at the same time. Here, as in buildings, the opposition of interdependent forces produces stability, but one that would arrest the Odyssean social system.
In receiving, but deflecting the suitors’ petitions, Penelope would bring to a standstill the change of place that founds society. While she collects suitors, but does not move, Penelope “gains the profit” of praise in the medium of κλέος “fame.” [23] Even the suitor Antinous’ censure—by the “circular reciprocity” of praise and blame—functions here as indirect praise. [24] But if Penelope were never to move, what then? She would be forced to, as later “she finished the shroud, even though she was unwilling, compelled by force of necessity (ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης)” (Odyssey ii 110). For the world of the Odyssey shares the system of father-rule charted by Lévi-Strauss in which men must exchange women in order to communicate with one another in networks of legitimate kinship and symbolic thought. [25] Men must move women from one oἶκος “household” to another in order to weave their social structure. A woman is moved from the oἶκος of her father and the status of an “Artemis” to the oἶκος of her husband and the sexual life of an “Aphrodite.” From there she can be moved back to the father’s house, if her husband dies, to be exchanged by her father again. Or, as in the case of Helen, she can be abducted from her husband’s house by his rival. Such is the paradoxical architecture of marriage and of the female placement in it, a location built upon the necessity of dislocation.
But for now, Penelope maintains her position unmoved. By imitating the desires of her suitors in the twin strategies of secret, false messages and the treacherous (un)weaving of Laertes’ shroud, she turns her adversaries into co-constructors of her ambiguous place.

The κέρδος “profit-making scheme” of Secret, False Speech

Here is one of the κέρδεα “profit-making schemes” that Penelope knows beyond all others. She knows how to effect the emotions of others without moving herself. She is an “unmoved mover.” This is her “gain.” The mechanism of her unmoved movement is secret, false speech: secret, a message to each man individually, breaking up the many into several “ones,” [26] and false, a fictive exterior, when her interior mind designs other things. [27] This speech is not simply semiotic. It reflects and requires the operation of two architectural elements, scale: she analyzes a compound problem (the many suitors) into its constituent module (the individual suitor) and designs a solution at that level, and space: she constructs a division between outside and inside. This κέρδος of unmoved movement is an architecture of signs.
With their capacity to move bodies and minds, Penelope’s secret messages illustrate the mistake in opposing speech to matter, an exclusion belied by writing, the “scandal of the talking body.” [28] Like walls, signs divide and enclose. Their manipulation of scale and space is itself reproduced spatially in the “written” order of the text:
πάντας μέν ῥ᾿ ἔλπει, καὶ ὑπίσχεται ἀνδρὶ ἑκάστῳ.
to all she gives hope and promises each man.
Odyssey ii 91
Here ἔλπει “gives hope” and ὑπίσχεται “promises” divide πάντας “all” at line-beginning into ἀνδρὶ ἑκάστῳ “each man” at line-end.
If they followed regular Homeric practice, however, Penelope’s ἀγγελίαι “messages” would not be conventional writings, but rather oral communications delivered by someone else. [29] For secret, false speech, such intangible messages would seem best. An “angelic” surrogate would allow Penelope the virtue of writing, the capacity to speak although absent. And as “winged words,” the messages would leave no material trace of themselves. They would seem to escape the writing’s vice of indiscriminate repetition. But the fact that Antinous can now recount Penelope’s κέρδος “profit-making scheme” shows either that the messenger (or someone else) eventually revealed the message to all the suitors, telling the many what was meant for just one, or that the suitors told one another. [30] Once “written” on the mind, the message can be repeated. Intangible traces are thus no guarantee against iterability. Subdivision by architectural semiosis—as Penelope’s scheme divides the 
suitors—entails its own instability.
Penelope’s κέρδος “profit-making scheme” works only so long as the suitors do not speak the secret, false signs to one another. This collective silence depends upon moving each individual suitor to adopt an image of himself that matches the structure of the scheme. This is the mêtis of the κέρδος—to make each suitor act out his enemy’s construction of him unawares. Each suitor must construe himself as a module divided between inside knowledge (what he knows from Penelope’s message to him) and outside speech (what he says to the others). Penelope’s mêtis of “unmoved movement” plays upon the pride of each man, upon the desire of each for unique identity as the only “chosen one”—and upon the force of that desire to displace and defer his even conceiving the possibility of another treated like himself.

The δόλος “trick, trap” of the Shroud

Why is Penelope’s δόλος “trick, trap” persuasive? How does it make her worth waiting for? In displaying devotion to Odysseus’ aged father, Penelope shows each suitor how she would act as his wife. She would not let either him or his father die without a shroud woven by the woman of his oἶκος “household.” [31] This service to the father, enforced by the blame of other women, defers the suitors’ sexual and social drive by tapping their fear of an ignominious death.
In the Homeric world death is a “common doom,” erasing individual distinction. As a victor strips his victim’s armor, so Pluto leaves only a bare corpse, despoiling even him who “acquired much.” If the body is that of an old man like Laertes, it is κακόν “degraded, ugly, blameworthy” and αἰσχρόν “ugly, shameful.” [32] Funeral rites cover the loss. Provided as a γέρας “gift of honor in compensation” for death (Iliad XVI 457, 675), burial and tombstone keep the corpse from becoming a forgotten “feast for dogs and birds” (Iliad I 4–5). Inside this outermost shield of the dead is another, ambiguous and architecturally more ambitious, materially distinct yet moulded to the body. Giving shape by screening, the shroud is the material surface of death itself.
Men depend on women for this covering. For in the Greek world only women weave shrouds. Penelope’s δόλος “trick, trap”-speech persuades the suitors by promising to deploy this definitive mark of the female gender on behalf of the male over and against his mortality.
Why is it only women who weave shrouds? In Greek thought weaving is a mark of gender and race. Herodotus presents the men of Egypt as “virtual females” who “reverse the customs and laws of men” by weaving in the oἶκος “household,” while their women trade in the ἀγορά “marketplace.” [33] The aetiological myth of the female explains why weaving is her native art.
Weaving enters the human world with the woman and her mêtis, each as the αἴτιον “cause” of the other. It is Athena, daughter of the goddess Metis, who teaches weaving to Pandora, the first woman and model of all females, including the goddesses (like Athena and Metis) who preceded her. [34] Weaving and mêtis, too, are mutually originating. As the daughter of Metis teaches weaving, so one is said to “weave a mêtis.” [35] In the logic of aetiological myth, such reciprocal origins represent the working of a system of jointly reinforcing constructions. Weaving, mêtis, and Pandora: each is a tricky covering, an attractive outside that belies what is inside. Pandora is a work of plastic art, the ceramic likeness of a modest maiden, moulded by Hephaestus, the artisanal god. [36] Her modesty is a jar, an external verisimilitude. She is, like Penelope’s web, a δόλος “trick, trap” against which men have no μηχανή “means of resistance,” [37] and, like the κέρδος of secret falsehoods, a partition of outside from inside. For, as Athena teaches her weaving, Aphrodite and Hermes constitute Pandora as a treacherous division between external, sexual power—“graceful beauty” that causes “painful yearning” and “limb-devouring sorrows”—and internal, mental power—the “mind of a bitch,” the “character of a thief,” “falsehoods,” and that tool of mêtis wielded by Zeus against the goddess Metis, “wily words” (Works and Days 65–68, 78). [38] Pandora is an ornamental screen. Her entire skin is covered by the κόσμος “order, ornament” that Athena as goddess of craft has “fastened together upon” (ἐφήρμοσε: ἐπί “upon” + ἁρμόζω “join, fit”) it (Works and Days 76). In weaving, Pandora makes what she is, a covering of her (mêtis) inside. [39]
But why women alone are assigned the particular form of mêtis that is weaving, the myth of Pandora does not directly state. Its silence is understandable psychoanalytically. For, lacking the inhibitions of Hesiodic theology, but ultimately derivative from its formulation of the female, it is a Freudian text that locates the reason this tradition sees weaving as women’s invention—and in an area of maximum male anxiety:
The effect of penis-envy has a share, further, in the physical vanity of women, since they are bound to value their charms more highly as a late compensation for their original sexual inferiority. Shame, which is considered to be a feminine characteristic par excellence but is far more a matter of convention than might be supposed, has as its purpose, we believe, concealment (verdecken: Decke, “cover, ceiling, roof, skin, envelope, coat, pretense, screen”) of genital 
deficiency. We are not forgetting that at a later time, shame takes on other functions. It seems that women have made few contributions to the discoveries (Entdeckungen) and inventions in the history of civilization; there is, however, one technique which they may have invented—that of plaiting and weaving. If that is so, we should be tempted to guess the unconscious motive for the achievement. Nature herself would seem to have given the model which this achievement imitates by causing the growth at maturity of the pubic hair that conceals the genitals. The step that remained to be taken lay in making the threads adhere to one another, while on the body they stick into the skin and are only matted together. If you reject this idea as fantastic and regard my belief in the influence of a lack of a penis on the configuration of femininity as an idée fixe, 
I am of course defenseless. [40]
Women invented weaving to conceal their genitals, the locus of their lack and envy of the male’s (pro-)creative capacity and the place—indeed the aition—of castration, the “female” condition he fears for himself. From the Greek perspective, the covering of this place is praiseworthy, for all genitals are τὰ αἰδοῖα “the shameful parts.” Veiling them, like wrapping a corpse, displays αἰδώς “shame” that “feminine characteristic par excellence.”
Although based overtly upon women’s “original sexual inferiority,” Freud’s aetiology of weaving repeats the Greek pattern of casting the male’s creative capacity as originally female. For against its assumption of their lack and envy, Freud’s text attributes to women an originary mêtis, whereby they invent “the step that remained to be taken . . . making the threads adhere to one another.” This amounts to claiming that women use their inventiveness to cover their (lack of) genitals understood as their (lack of) inventiveness. And it is this very invention, weaving, that Greek men emulate in modes of creativity from which women in Greece are largely barred and thus might be thought to envy. For as Zeus appropriates the original Metis, so Greek men call their poetry, prophecy, and in Plato, even the art of the statesman himself, a “weaving.” [41] But with weaving as figurative speech, and poetry, prophecy, and political philosophy as figurative web, each is the “non-original origin” and the “literal figure” of the other. [42] It is to overrule such reciprocal formation that Zeus fixes his mêtis stone in the ground, the σῆμα “sign” of the philosophical and political power to erect and enforce the hierarchy of figurative over literal, the “figurative” weaving for men and “literal” weaving for women.
The same arrested relay of emulative mêtis underlies Odyssean architectural theory. For in the female invention “of making the threads adhere to one another” is also the beginning of architecture. The Vitruvian myth of aboriginal architects “imitating” the weaving and daubing of birds’ nests continues a widespread aetiology. The tradition reaches to the etymology of τεῖχος/τοῖχος “wall” derived from a root with cognates in several Indo-European languages meaning “to mould a wall of mud” [43] and to the woven constructions that comparative architectural historian and theoretician, Gottfried Semper, adduces as the origin of vertical division between inner and outer space:
. . . the beginning of building coincides with the beginning of 
The wall is that architectural element that formally represents and makes visible the enclosed space as such, absolutely, as it were, without reference to secondary concepts.
We might recognize the pen, bound together from sticks and branches, and the interwoven fence as the earliest vertical spatial enclosure that man invented. . . .
Whether these inventions gradually developed in this order or another matters little to us here, for it remains certain that the use of the crude weaving that started with the pen – as a means to make the “home,” the inner life separated from the outer life, and as the formal creation of the idea of space—undoubtedly preceded the wall, even the most primitive one constructed out of stone or any other material.
The structure that served to support, to secure, to carry this spatial enclosure was a requirement that had nothing directly to do with space and the division of space. . . .
In this connection, it is of the greatest importance to note that wherever these secondary motives are not present, woven fabrics almost everywhere and especially in the southern and warm countries carry out their ancient, original function as conspicuous spatial dividers; even where solid walls become necessary they remain only the inner and unseen structure for the true and legitimate representatives of the spatial idea: namely, the more or less artificially woven and seamed-together, textile walls. . . .
In all Germanic languages the word Wand (of the same root and same basic meaning as Gewand) directly recalls the old origin and type of the visible spatial enclosure. Likewise, Decke, Bekleidung, Schranke, Zaun (similar to Saum), and many other technical expressions are not somewhat late linguistic symbols applied to the building trade, but reliable indications of the textile origin of these building parts. [44]
Given Semper’s account of the “beginning of building,” by marking weaving as exclusively female, early Greek thought attributes to women the founding form of architectural art. But the Odyssean system of praise and blame confines the woman’s architectural power to weaving its “walls.” A praiseworthy “Pandora” weaves to cover (herself as) shame – and blames women who do not.
Why do women enforce this confinement of their weaving? A “woman’s place” in the Odyssey is subject to male force—the ἀνάγκη “force of necessity” that ultimately compels Penelope to finish the shroud (Odyssey ii 110). In this position, women have neither security nor prestige unless they weave in the interests—weave the “protection”—of the father-rule. It is the mêtis of the Odyssean architecture of gender—mêtis as “swallowed” by the ἀνάγκη of Zeus’ regime—to elicit from women its double. Women restrict their architecture in return for protection and praise.
Penelope’s δόλος “trick, trap” of the shroud is persuasive because it promises conformation with this ideal of female architecture. It is treacherous (an exemplary mêtis) because it both keeps and contravenes—indeed it keeps by contravening—its promise. For as long as it operates, Penelope’s δόλος maintains the ambiguity of her position as αἴτιον “cause,” a movement without (re)location – toward the oἶκος “household” of her husband’s rival as she weaves by day, toward her husband’s oἶκος as she unweaves at night. This is not a static stand-off, for equal spending and saving here add up to a κέρδος “profit” of praise. This scheme of rotating reversal is Penelope’s solution to the problem posed by the program of Odyssean architecture, gender, and philosophy: how to construct a praise-winning female place, when you do not know whether your husband is alive or dead? If alive, keep his place alive (unweave his father’s shroud by night). If dead, make a new place for yourself (weave his father’s shroud by day). Thereby make your place simultaneously that of both men and no man. Her strategy tropes the riddle of her situation with another: when is the most blameworthy female action, refusing marriage exchange or marrying a husband’s rival, the most praiseworthy? Answer: when they are done at the same time, just as Penelope is said to enter the room Ἀρτέμιδι ἰκέλη ἠὲ χρυσῇ Ἀφροδίτῃ “like to Artemis or golden Aphrodite” (Odyssey xvii 37, xix 54). Hers is a mêtis of doing both, while doing neither, a “circular reciprocity” that binds the suitors and the system they represent.
But it binds Penelope, too. Time does not stand still. With repetition, ambiguity becomes architectural. Resisting the question of whose place she is weaving allows and even courts its occupation by the suitors. Their prolonged presence attracts the allegiance of women trained to exercise their mêtis on behalf of the man who occupies their oἶκος “household.” Penelope’s dislocating architecture provokes its “dys-location” in the figure of the servant woman who betrays her.
A treacherous double of Penelope’s movement without changing place, the servant woman, like Clytemnestra, changes her place without movement. And like the ambiguity of Penelope’s position, the servant’s unmoved self-movement exploits the female role in marriage exchange. Although they are the passive σήματα “signs” of this system, exchanged so men can speak with each other, women are also, as Lévi-Strauss observes, active “signes parlantes” who can speak for themselves. [45] Women are thus like “linguistic shifters” (the pronouns “I” and “you,” for example) whose meaning changes according to their “place” of utterance. But a woman can also—as in the case of Clytemnestra with Aegisthus or that of Odysseus’ disloyal maidservants with the suitors—use her place or herself as place by designating its owner.
As Penelope’s κέρδος “profit-making scheme” of secret speech works only so long as the many suitors are silent, so the δόλος “trick, trap” of her shroud succeeds only so long as the many women in the oἶκος “household” speak with a single voice. Such is the vulnerability of her “vertical space enclosures” to the perforation of speech. Now, with the breaking of the women’s univocality, comes the τέλος “completion” of her weaving by ἀνάγκη “force of necessity” (Odyssey ii 110) and the order to return to her father (Odyssey ii 113–114) – and the arrival of a stranger in the oἶκος. [46] Henceforth Penelope’s mêtis is devoted to the architectural philosophy of his identification.

The mêtis of the (Re)Marriage Bed

The Test for Architectural Signs

The mêtis of the (re)marriage bed begins with Penelope sleeping upon it, while Odysseus slaughters the suitors—sleeping more sweetly than ever before, since Odysseus left for Troy, so sweetly that she berates the nurse Eurycleia for awakening her with the news of his return (Odyssey xxiii 15–19). Penelope refuses to believe the nurse. Eurycleia replies that Odysseus has returned “really” (ἔτυμον, Odyssey xxiii 26). Overjoyed, Penelope asks to hear “unerringly” (νημερτές, Odyssey xxiii 35), if he “really” (ἐτεόν, Odyssey xxiii 36) has returned, how he “although being only one,” slaughtered the many (Odyssey xxiii 38). After listening to Eurycleia’s account, she denies that it is a “true story” (μῦθος ἐτήτυμος, Odyssey xxiii 62) and initiates a test for the real identity of this “stranger” (ὁ ξεῖνος, Odyssey xxiii 28).
Earlier in the day she set up a contest to see who could string Odysseus’ bow and hit a target through a row of twelve axes, promising to marry whoever succeeded. [47] The winner had to be at least a good copy, someone εἴκελος “like” or ὁμοῖος “same as, equal to” Odysseus—not false pretenders to his place like the suitors, but not necessarily the original man. [48] Now, in order to determine Odysseus’ unique identity, Penelope designs a πεῖρα “penetration to the boundary, test” that is at once a work of architectural philosophy and of philosophic architecture. [49] Penelope’s πεῖρα will define Odysseus by penetrating the space up to the πείρατα “boundaries” that enclose an individual, an inside distinct from all that is outside. These “boundaries” of Odysseus are architectural signs: the σῆμα “sign” of the scar engraved on his body and the σήματα “signs” of the bed he built. Qualified by Penelope as σήματα “which we two only know hidden from others” (Odyssey xxiii 110), the signs of the bed circumscribe an interior location, an exclusive mental place occupied by the two alone, another κέρδος “profit-making scheme” of secret, but this time not false, signification. In defining himself, Odysseus’ architecture of the (re)marriage bed defines Penelope in and as the same place. And by the circular reciprocity of mêtis, Penelope’s πεῖρα of Odysseus will prove her own identity as well. “Penelope” is just she who moves (herself as) the target so that it becomes something immovable and “Formal”—again, an “unmoved mover”—something only Odysseus in his “Formal” uniqueness can hit.

The σῆμα “sign, tomb” of the Scar

In keeping with the proper procedure in early Greek tradition of testing the identity of a “stranger,” Penelope claims first that he is a god (Odyssey xxiii 63). [50] This assertion elicits from Eurycleia the σῆμα ἀριφραδές “very clear sign” (Odyssey xxiii 73) of Odysseus’ scar, the one she had recognized as she bathed him the previous night. Her moment of recognition occasioned the text’s extended reconstruction of the mark: it is the sign of the wound Odysseus received from a boar’s tusk, while hunting on Parnassus with the sons of his mother’s father Autolycus. It was Autolycus who gave him his name as an infant and promised to give him many possessions when he grew up. It was to collect this patrimony that Odysseus came to Parnassus and during the hunt that he received this initiatory sign of naming and manhood (Odyssey xix 386–475).
The σῆμα “sign, tomb” in Homer is most often a three-dimensional object entailing recognition, interpretation, and knowledge, in particular the grave marker. [51] Embedded in the body, a scar is a sort of grave marker concave, a trace of mortality in the living organism. It marks identity as born at the writing on the body of the body’s death. It is the sign of name as incision.
After listening to Eurycleia’s description of her discovery of the scar, a sign Penelope will have recognized as well as anyone, she leaves the bedchamber and goes down to see “the men, suitors, dead, and him who slew them” (Odyssey xxiii 84).

The σήματα “signs” of the Bed

The ultimate conversation of Penelope and Odysseus begins with the woman’s uncertainty. She debates whether to question or to kiss him (Odyssey xxiii 85–87). The two sit apart, beside the architectural form associated with each, she by the wall, reminiscent of her weaving, and he beside the column, looking down and waiting (Odyssey xxiii 89–90). “At one time she looks him in the face and at another, she does not recognize (ἀγνώσασκε) him, wearing foul clothes on his skin” (Odyssey xxiii 94–95). When her son berates his mother for holding back, she insists:
If really (ἐτεόν) indeed
he is Odysseus and has come home, indeed we two especially
shall know (γνωσόμεθ’) each other even better. For we have
signs (σήμαθ’) which we two only know hidden from others.
Odyssey xxiii 107–110
Apparently recognizing in these words an αἶνος, an “allusive speech” to test his knowledge of the secret signs, [52] Odysseus smiles and bids his son, “allow your mother to test me” (ἔασον πειράζειν ἐμέθεν). And quickly she will point things out to herself even better” (Odyssey xxiii 111, 113–114).
With this invitation to his wife, Odysseus sets the scene for a (re)marriage of the two. He directs the men and women to dress handsomely and the bard to sing the “wedding song” (expected after the contest of the axes to decide the bridegroom) so as to put off any rumor of the suitors’ slaughter (Odyssey xxiii 130–151). Alleging his ragged clothes to be the reason his wife denies him, the bridegroom himself is bathed and beautified (Odyssey xxiii 115, 153–163). [53] Now “like (ὁμοῖος) to the immortals in build,” he sits down again “opposite his wife” (Odyssey xxiii 163–165).
Accusing Penelope of a heart more stubborn than any woman’s and answering her test of their private σήματα “signs” with an αἶνος “allusive speech” of his own, Odysseus asks the nurse to make him up a bed (Odyssey xxiii 166–172). His counter-αἶνος elicits from Penelope the final move of her πεῖρα “test.” By way of “testing her husband” (πόσιος πειρωμένη, Odyssey xxiii 181), she orders Eurycleia to “make up a firm bed for him outside (ἐκτός) of the well-stabilized bedchamber he made himself (αὐτὸς ἐποίει). [54] Put his firm bed out there (ἔνθα οἱ ἐκθεῖσαι)” (Odyssey xxiii 177–179). Odysseus responds with the self-identifying sign of the bed he built so long ago.
He first stresses the unique resistance of the bed to the instability of both the oἶκος “household” and the female, lateral displacement. He demands to know who put his bed “in another place” (ἄλλοσε, Odyssey xxiii 184). Not a god himself could easily put it “in another place” (ἄλλῃ ἐνὶ χώρῃ, Odyssey xxiii 186). No mortal could “move it to the other side” (μετοχλίσσειεν, Odyssey xxiii 188), “since a great sign (μέγα σῆμα) has been built into the skillfully-wrought bed” (τέτυκται ἐν λέχει ἀσκητῷ, Odyssey xxiii 188–189). Metonymic of such fixity, Odysseus emphasizes his unique architectural authorship, “I myself wrought it with toil and no one else” (τὸ δ’ ἐγὼ κάμον οὐδέ τις ἄλλος, Odyssey xxiii 189). Finally, he declares the details of his building, first of the bedchamber and its entrance, and then of the bed inside:
A long-leafed trunk of an olive tree grew inside the enclosure,
blooming to the topmost. Its thickness was like that of a column (κίων).
Surrounding this, I built the bedchamber until I finished it,
with close-set stones, and I roofed it well down from above.
I put upon it compacted doors, jointed closely.
And then I cut off the foliage of the long-leafed olive,
and trimming the trunk from the root up, I planed it around with the bronze,
well and with knowledge (ἐπισταμένως), and I made it straight to a chalkline,
thereby constructing a bed-post. I bored through it all over with an auger.
Beginning from this I kept carving my bed, until I finished it,
decorating [55] it with gold and silver and ivory.
And I stretched inside the thong of an ox, shining with purple.
So I have articulated for you this sign (σῆμα). But I do not know
whether the bed is still in place (ἔμπεδον), woman, or whether now some other man
put it elsewhere (ἄλλοσε), by cutting under the stump of 
the tree.
Odyssey xxiii 190–204
This architecture is the secret σῆμα “sign” that Odysseus and Penelope know apart from others.
What is it a sign of? The bed is a sign of the Odyssean ideal of architecture, gender, and philosophy in and as immovable (re)marriage. The bed is a sign of support made immovable by transmuting organism and structure, model and copy. By planing off the bark, Odysseus removes the only part of the tree that is alive, its only source of growth either lateral or vertical. Now the tree will turn into the material of monumental building. Now surpassing even the stability of its model, a κίων “column,” the tree is a copy with roots in the ground. It embodies the “Formal” ideal that all columnar forms imperfectly emulate. [56]
By its fixity, the bedpost signifies the ideal immovability of (re)marriage and, a fortiori, of the woman, once she is moved to weave the place of the bed. It is the σῆμα “sign” of female mobility limited to the movement of (re), of “again” within parentheses, of “again” within the walls of the οἶκος “household.” Built by and for the man himself, the stationary bed betokens (re)marriage as his “swallowing” of the female’s pharmacological movement, that movement whose logos shares the structure of the φάρμακον “cure, poison.” A woman must be movable, so that men can communicate. She must enclose, so that he can support. But if the female can move, then her placement is unreliable. If she can weave, she can unweave space and place. What makes marriage possible makes its stability uncertain. So this constraint of the female architectural capacity—the containment of her movement and her weaving—is both health and harm, requiring its own architectural antidote, the immovable (re)marriage bed.
How can the bed guarantee the immovability of (re)marriage? Built into its roots is the μέγα σῆμα “great sign” of secret knowledge. Apparatus of gender and truth as exclusive difference, this secret sign divides inside from outside. By its secret structure and its structure as a secret, the bed frames the unity of a shared knowledge that cannot be replaced with a representative, an equivalent, or an imitation. [57] Designed so that disclosure and displacement coincide, the knowledge and the location of the bed operate as sumbola, twin tokens of unique identity as unique relationship. [58] If he knows the bed, he is (her) Odysseus. Unless he has told the secret or she has, no one other than the actual man, not a pseudo-Odysseus but only the one “like to himself” (εἴκελος αὐτῷ) can speak its “hidden signs.” [59] If she has not moved the bed, she remains (his) Penelope and their (re)marriage unmoved. But if it has been moved, then Penelope has castrated the marriage and, with it, her κλέος “fame” as female paragon. [60]
But the bed has not been moved. And Odysseus has spoken its “hidden signs.” The text reiterates their architectural function:
So he spoke, and right there her knees and her own heart were released as she
recognized (ἀναγνούσῃ) the fixed signs (σήματ’ . . . ἔμπεδα) that Odysseus spoke to her.
Odyssey xxiii 205–206
The σήματα “signs” of the bed are ἔμπεδα “footed in” the ground, firmly standing, exclusively separating inside from out, the τέλος “completion” of Penelope’s architectural and philosophic quest. Recognizing them brings ecstasy.

The mêtis of the Odyssean Architectural Ideal

In acknowledging her recognition, within the security of her immovable (re)marriage, Penelope inserts a parenthesis:
But now, since you have now spoken signs easy to recognize (σήματ’ ἀριφραδέα)
of our bed, that no other mortal man has seen,
but only you and I—and only one handmaiden,
Actoris, whom my father gave to me when I came here,
who guarded the door of our firm chamber—
you indeed persuade my spirit, though it is very unfeeling.
Odyssey xxiii 225–230
Here—in the “parenthetical” person of the maid Actoris—is a potential gap in the σήματα ἀριφραδέα “signs easy to recognize” of Odyssean architecture, gender, and philosophy. Stationed in the liminal position of the female, mistress of passages, Actoris, “she who leads,” could have told what she knew about the bed to others, just as Penelope’s disloyal handmaids earlier revealed the mêtis of the web.
But what did Actoris know? In Greek “to know” is “to have seen.” Did the sight of the bed reveal its foundation? And if Actoris did know and tell, who would be compromised? Only Penelope, since it would mean that someone other than Odysseus could speak the secret signs now or in the past. “We” know that either the present speaker is the true Odysseus or the Odyssey itself is a “Cretan lie.” Penelope cannot. As for the past, if anyone has spoken these signs before, Penelope cannot take the present speaker for the unique Odysseus, unless she is hiding a past deception. Did a stranger melt her heart, as did Odysseus himself, with ψεύδεα ὁμοῖα ἐτύμοισιν “false things like to real things” (Odyssey xix 203–212)? [61] Did he speak signs with the same uncertain footing as the apparently σήματα ἔμπεδα “fixed signs” that were “recognized” by Penelope in Odysseus’ description of his mantle and brooch? [62] Again, the authority of the Odyssey vouches for Penelope’s fidelity. Odysseus cannot. If Actoris has told its secret, the bed fails as a construction of gender and philosophy, for it cannot maintain (re)marriage as immovable nor identity as unique.
Such a subversion of the system is a possibility that Odysseus overlooks. He weeps and holds the wife who is “jointed to his heart” (θυμαρέα, Odyssey xxiii 232). Against all its detractors—such as the Hesiodic account of Pandora that concludes: “Any man who marries and has a praiseworthy (κεδνήν) wife, one who is jointed to his mind (ἀρηρυῖαν πραπίδεσσι), for him evil matches itself against (ἀντιφερίζει) good forever” (Theogony 607–610)—with this consummate image of its ideal “joint,” Odyssean architecture would close 
the door. [63]


[ back ] 1. An earlier version of this essay appeared in The Ages of Homer, edited by J. Carter and S. Morris, Austin, 1995:205–320. It is a pleasure to thank Jane Carter, Sarah Morris, and Laura Slatkin for helpful reading of that text. A modified version appeared in Assemblage: A Critical Journal of Architecture and Design Culture 21 (1993) 6–23.
[ back ] 2. The term “(re)marriage” is used to designate the renewal of an existing relationship, rather than a “remarriage” proper following either divorce or death.
[ back ] 3. For the foundation of history and philosophy via the “invention” of mythology as their differentiating “other,” see Detienne 1986. For a psychoanalytic and an anthropological account of the relation between gender and what is understood as biological sex, see Mitchell and Rose 1982, and MacCormack and Strathern 1980. For a review of research on gender, see Laqueur 1990:1–24.
[ back ] 4. For νόος “mind” as the mental faculty of recognition and knowledge of the σῆμα “sign, tomb,” see Nagy 1983.
[ back ] 5. For the essential work on mêtis, see Detienne and Vernant 1978. For the work and the intelligence of the artisan as mêtis, see Vidal-Naquet, “A Study in Ambiguity: Artisans in the Platonic City,” in Vidal-Naquet 1986:224–245.
[ back ] 6. For classic examples, see Detienne and Vernant 1978:34, 37. The hunted fox reverses its direction and plays dead, lying in wait as a trap for the hunter. When caught, the fox-fish turns its body inside out, so that its interior becomes its exterior and the hook falls out.
[ back ] 7. See Detienne and Vernant 1978:46, “The ultimate expression of these qualities is the circle, the bond that is perfect because it completely turns back on itself, is closed in on itself, with neither beginning nor end, front nor rear, and which in rotation becomes both mobile and immobile, moving in both directions at once. . . . The circle unites within it several opposites, each one giving birth to its opposite; it appears as the strangest, most baffling thing in the world, thaumasiotaton, possessing a power which is beyond ordinary logic.”
[ back ] 8. See Detienne and Vernant 1978:305.
[ back ] 9. See Chantraine 1999 s.v. μῆτις. Chantraine cites the cognate verbs μέδομαι and μήδομαι “devise, contrive” and the nouns, Sanskrit mâti “measure, exact knowledge” and Anglo-Saxon mœd “measure.” See below on Clytemnestra’s use of mêtis to “devise” (μήσατο) evil for her husband.
[ back ] 10. For the building of war machines as a part of the ancient architectural repertoire, see Vitruvius De Architectura 10.10–16. For the connection between weaving and architecture, see also Callimachus Hymn to Apollo 55–57: “Men follow Phoebus when they measure out cities. For Phoebus always delights in founding cities, and he himself weaves (ὑφαίνει) their foundations (θεμείλια).”
[ back ] 11. 1See Petrie 1979. For the ancient sources of the myth of Trophonius and its many variants in other cultures, see Frazer’s note on Pausanias 9.37 (Frazer 1913:176–179). The activities of Trophonius and his brother Agamedes exemplify architectural mêtis. After building many monuments, including the temple of Apollo at Delphi, the pair design the treasury of a king who, like his divine counterpart, requires the products of mêtis to preserve his political “property.” But rather than securing the king’s gold, the architects build a secret passage through which to steal it gradually. Thus reversing the “proper” architectural function, the architects construct a means for exposure instead of enclosure and dispossess their client of the economic talisman of his political identity. Once he discovers their δόλος “trick,” the king sets a trap of his own in which Agamedes is caught. The contest then continues as the brothers imitate the enemy to beat him at his own game. In an ironic assimilation of the king’s loss of recognition, the two prevent the king from recognizing them by depriving themselves of identifiable form: Agamedes asks Trophonius to cut off his head, and after obliging his brother, Trophonius is swallowed up by the earth and becomes an oracular hero.
[ back ] 12. The trick of the stone is termed a mêtis at Theogony 471, when Rhea begs Gaia and Uranus to “devise together with her (συμφράσσασθαι) a mêtis by which she could make him forget that she bore her dear child.” It is Gaia who takes the newborn Zeus to be raised secretly in the Cretan cave (Theogony 479–484) and she could be the subject of the phrase “having swaddled a great stone, she handed it to the son of Uranus” (Theogony 485), unless a change of subject back to Rhea is to be understood.
[ back ] 13. With the substitution of the swaddled stone for the real child, compare the Muses’ capacity to substitute ψεύδεα ὁμοῖα ἐτύμοισιν “false things like to real things” and ἀληθέα “true things” εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν “whenever we wish” (Theogony 27–28) in “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought” in this collection. For the architectural significance of such swaddling, compare the Bekleidung “dressing, cladding” of a building in the theory of 19th century comparative architectural historian and theoretician Gottfried Semper (1989:24, 34, 36–40, 103–110, 240–243). On the relations between Semper’s work and Karl Botticher’s Die Tektonik der Hellenen, see Chapter 3, “Semper and the Archeologist Botticher,” in Herrmann 1984.
[ back ] 14. This monolith would count among the examples of what Hegel calls “symbolic” architecture, the first stage in the progressive development toward the Classical and finally the Romantic/Gothic types. In contrast to the Classical, in which the elements must “display” (zeigen) their definitively architectural function, as a column, to take Hegel’s prime example, demonstrates its load-bearing, the purpose of symbolic architecture is “the erection of something which is a unifying point for a nation.” Its elements are often imitative of natural, organic forms and emphasize the unroofed enclosure of space rather than load-bearing support. See Hegel 1975:II.630–700. See also Payot 1982:29–50.
[ back ] 15. Aristotle’s Generation of Animals presents a similar “battle of the sexes” as the sperm, a dynamic τέκτων “builder,” attempts to master (κρατεῖν) the passive material of the menstrual fluid with the instrument of his “informing” soul (Generation of Animals 730b, 766b, 767b).
[ back ] 16. Apollodorus Bibliotheca 1.3.6. See also Theogony 886–900.
[ back ] 17. See Vitruvius De Architectura 2.1.2: “Therefore, since because of the invention of fire there was born at the beginning, a coming together among men and reasoning together and living together, and many came together into one place, by having from nature an advantage over other animals, so that they walked not with their head down but upright and gazed upon the magnificence of the world and the stars, and likewise with their hands and fingers they handled easily whatever they wished, they began in that joining together, some to make shelters (tecta) from a branch, others to dig caves under mountains, several by imitating (imitantes) the nests of swallows and their modes of constructing (aedificationes) to make places (loca) from mud and wattles which they might go under.” For the view of Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti that it was “roof and walls” that first brought humans together in community, see Alberti 1988:3. On the Western tradition of myths of original architecture deriving from both Vitruvian and Biblical exemplars, see Rykwert 1972.
[ back ] 18. 17. See Semper, “Structural Elements of Assyrian-Chaldean Architecture,” Chapter 10 of “Comparative Building Theory” (Vergleichende Baulehre 1850) in Herrmann (1984:204) for these “two basic elements of building—the roof with the supporting columns, and the vertical enclosure later to become the wall of the living room.” For these two elements as exemplary functions of the “Classical” and “Symbolic” stages respectively in Hegel’s philosophy of architecture, see Hegel 1975:630–676.
[ back ] 19. For this ambiguity of the female, see “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought” in this collection.
[ back ] 20. On this passage, see Nagy 1979:36–38, 255–256. Nagy interprets ἀρετή here as belonging to Odysseus, taking σὺν μεγάλῃ ἀρετῇ in 193 as instrumental with ἐκτήσω (“it is truly with great merit that you got a wife”) and κλέος ἧς ἀρετῆς in 196–197 as “the kleos of his aretê,” with the merit consisting in having won such a wife as Penelope. The ἀοιδὴ χαρίεσσα “song of grace” for Penelope in 197–198, clearly a gloss upon κλέος ἧς ἀρετῆς, is “part of the overall kleos of Odysseus.”
[ back ] 21. See also Odyssey xviii 251–255.
[ back ] 22. For the relationship between μέδομαι and μῆτις, see Chantraine 1999 s.v. μῆτις.
[ back ] 23. See above on Odyssey ii 125.
[ back ] 24. For the circular relation of praise and blame, compare Pindar fr. 181 SM: ὁ γὰρ ἐξ οἴκου ποτὶ μῶμον ἔπαινος κίρναται “for by virtue of common origin (literally, ‘from the household’) praise is mixed with blame.”
[ back ] 25. See Lévi-Strauss 1967:548–570 = 1969:478–497.
[ back ] 26. Compare Odysseus’ ability to work as one against the many suitors.
[ back ] 27. Compare Achilles’ condemnation of such a dichotomy at Iliad IX 312–313.
[ back ] 28. Compare Felman 1980.
[ back ] 29. Compare the case of Bellerophon, Iliad VI 155–202.
[ back ] 30. Was it the woman mentioned in Odyssey ii 108 who revealed the mêtis of the web to the suitors? It could also be a herald (Medon) or the domestic Dolion (Odyssey iv 735).
[ back ] 31. Antigone is a witness to the preeminent importance of proper death rites. For the role of women as leaders of funeral ritual, compare the mourning for Hector at the end of the Iliad and Alexiou 1974. For an analysis of the Homeric treatment of the corpse in terms of a cross-cultural account of the role of women in funerary rituals, see Bloch 1982:211–230.
[ back ] 32. Compare Priam’s contrast between the corpse of a young man which retains its “beauty” (καλά) even in death and that of an old man, when “dogs disgrace (αἰσχύνωσι) the gray head and the gray beard and the shameful parts (αἰδῶ) (Iliad XXII 71–76) and the analysis of Vernant 1991:50–74.
[ back ] 33. See Herodotus 2.35. See also Dissoi Logoi [90] 2.17 DK.
[ back ] 34. See “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought” with bibliography in this collection.
[ back ] 35. For “weave a mêtis,” see Iliad VII 324, IX 93, Odyssey iv 678, 739, Hesiod Shield 28, for “weave a δόλος ‘trick, trap,’” see Iliad VI 187, and for both as objects of “weave,” see Odyssey ix 422.
[ back ] 36. Hesiod Works and Days 70–71 and Theogony 571–572: “Immediately from earth renowned Hephaestus moulded (πλάσσε) a likeness to a modest maiden.”
[ back ] 37. Hesiod Theogony 588–589 of Pandora: “Marvel held both the immortal gods and mortal men, when they saw the sheer trap (δόλον αἰπύν), irresistible (ἀμήχανον) to men.”
[ back ] 38. For γυιοβόρους “limb-devouring” vs. γυιοκόρους at 66, see West 1978.
[ back ] 39. As a construction enclosing her mêtis, Pandora is analogous to her jar containing hope. This jar, the body of Pandora, is also described as a house: “There in the unbreakable halls (δόμοισιν) hope alone was remaining inside under the lips of the jar, and it did not fly out from the door (θύραζε)” (Hesiod Works and Days 96–97). See Vernant 1989:77. As both body and house, the jar parallels Pandora with the οἶκος “household.” The relation between the two is, however, hierarchical rather than equal. For the οἶκος is designed to work like the “swallowing” body of Zeus: to keep the female inside, able to use her mêtis for “weaving” only the walls of the οἶκος as an image and extension of the ideal wife. See “Female Fetish Urban Form” in this collection.
[ back ] 40. Freud 1933 [1932]: 132.
[ back ] 41. See Durante 1960. See also Schmitt 1967:299–301, Durante 1976:48,167–179, Snyder 1981, Scheid and Svenbro 1996, esp.111–130, Nagy 1996a:84–92, Nagy 1996b:63–74, Graziosi 2002:18–40, Nagy 2002:70–98. For the statesman’s art as “weaving,” see Plato Politicus 278e4–279c3. In the Politicus, weaving is appropriated as the paradigm of the statesman’s ἐπιστήμη “knowledge,” while the weaving τέχνη itself is degraded as a small, material, visible εἴδωλον “image” of one of τὰ ἀσώματα, κάλλιστα ὄντα καὶ μέγιστα “the immaterial things, being most beautiful and greatest” (Politicus 285d4–286b1). On the figure of weaving in Platonic thought, see Frère 1986.
[ back ] 42. For the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle as opposed to, while founded upon, metaphor, see Derrida 1972b = 1982.
[ back ] 43. See Chantraine 1999, s.v. τεῖχος “to fashion out of earth” (façonner de la terre), “make a wall out of earth” (faire un mur de terre). Cognates include Avestan pairi-daêza “enclosure, garden” and its Greek derivative paradeisos “garden, paradise.” Compare also the architectural element of the “frieze” derived via French frise “border, fringe, ornament” from Latin phrygium (compare Phrygiae vestes “embroidered garments”) and cognate with the verb “frieze” meaning “to cover with a nap” or “to embroider with gold.” It is a pleasure to thank Richard Janko and Sarah Morris for suggesting these two etymological reflections of the processes of daubing and weaving respectively.
[ back ] 44. “The Textile Art” (Semper 1989:254–255, italics original); see also “The Four Elements of Architecture” (Semper 1989:102–103). Compare “Structural Elements of Assyrian-Chaldean Architecture,” Chapter 10 of “Comparative Building Theory” (Vergleichende Baulehre 1850) in Herrmann 1984:205: It is well known that any wild tribe is familiar with the fence or a primitive hurdle as a means of enclosing space. Weaving the fence led to weaving movable walls of bast, reed, or willow twigs and later to weaving carpets of thinner animal or vegetable fiber. . . . Using wickerwork for setting apart one’s property and for floor mats and protection against heat and cold far preceded making even the roughest masonry. Wickerwork was the original motif of the wall. It retained this primary significance, actually or ideally, when the light hurdles and mattings were later transformed into brick or stone walls. The essence of the wall was wickerwork.
[ back ] 45. Lévi-Strauss 1967:548–570 = 1969:478–497.
[ back ] 46. See Odyssey xxiv 146–150, where the ghost of the suitor Amphimedon indicates that the finishing of the shroud directly precedes or is contemporaneous with the return of Odysseus.
[ back ] 47. Penelope uses the same instrument to construct her husband’s identity as Clytemnestra uses to murder Agamemnon, the axe. The basic architectural function of incising material can either edify or destroy. I thank Sarah Morris for pointing out this contrasting use of the axe.
[ back ] 48. For the relation between Odysseus and the suitors as simulacra or “false pretenders” to his unique identity, see Deleuze 1969: “Platonism is the philosophical Odyssey; the Platonic dialectic is neither a dialectic of contradiction nor of contrariety, but a dialectic of rivalry (amphisbetesis), a dialectic of rivals and suitors (prétendants)” (293). “Copies are secondary possessors. They are well-founded ‘suitors’ (prétendants), guaranteed by resemblance; simulacra are like false ‘suitors’ (prétendants), built upon a dissimilarity, implying an essential perversion or a deviation. It is in this sense that Plato divides in two the domain of images-idols: on one hand there are copies-icons, on the other there are simulacra-phantasms” (296).
[ back ] 49. For the root *per “go to the end point,” in πείρω “penetrate, pierce,” πεῖρα “penetration to the end, test,” and πεῖραρ “boundary line, determinant,” see Bergren 1975.
[ back ] 50. Compare the procedure of Anchises in “Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite: Tradition and Rhetoric, Praise and Blame” in this collection.
[ back ] 51. For the verbs of recognition, interpretation, and knowledge of the σῆμα – ἀναγιγνώσκω, νοέω, and γιγνώσκω – see Nagy 1983. Apropos of the σῆμα as a gravestone, see Vermeule 1979:45: “The classical sêma can be both the external sign of the invisible dead in the grave, and the substitute person, especially kept alive in memory when written upon.” On the tomb as a signal instance of “symbolic architecture” in Hegelian philosophy, see Hegel 1975, esp. 650–654 on the pyramids and the Mausoleum.
[ back ] 52. For the αἶνος, see Odyssey xiv 462–506 and Nagy 1979:234–241. Compare the use of an αἶνος-mode of eliciting information and testing knowledge in “Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite: Tradition and Rhetoric, Praise and Blame” in this collection.
[ back ] 53. After his bath, Athena pours “great beauty” (πολὺ κάλλος) upon Odysseus so that his body looks bigger and thicker and lets down his hair in curls that are “like (ὁμοίας) to hyacinths” (Odyssey xxiii 156–158), a description that recalls the girth and locks of archaic kouroi. Compare Stewart 1990:2, plates 44–54, 57, 60, 132–135. The text then practices its own capacity to “liken” by comparing Athena’s divine art to the work of a human sculptor: “And as when a man with knowledge (ἀνὴρ ἴδρις) pours gold around silver, one whom Hephaestus and Athena have taught every sort of art (τέχνην παντοίην) and he produces works of grace (χαρίεντα δὲ ἔργα τελείει), so did the goddess pour grace (χάριν) around his head and shoulders” (Odyssey xxiii 159–162). From Athena’s sculpting (as assimilated to the human art that imitates her own) Odysseus emerges “like (ὁμοῖος) to the immortals in build” (Odyssey xxiii 163). In this context of poetic and sculptural “likening,” the simile suggests a chiastic parallel between poet and sculptor made possible by (if it does not itself promote) anthropomorphic theology: as the poet fashions anthropomorphic divinities who imitate human sculptors, so the sculptor fashions humans who look like gods.
[ back ] 54. See Stanford 1973:2.378 on xxiii 178, citing van Leeuwen’s collection of examples of the imperfect ἐποίει “he made” in artists’ signatures on works of 6th century BCE art.
[ back ] 55. On the significance of the use of δαιδάλλων here, see Morris 1992:29–30.
[ back ] 56. For the κίων “column” as derived from the tree, being already rectilinear in its trunk and branches, and as exemplary of the beauty of Classical architecture, that is, the pure display of architectural purpose, see Hegel 1975:665–669.
[ back ] 57. Compare the relation of truth in the Platonic system as that of the ὅμοιον, the “like, same, equal to itself.” For the Platonic idiom, “to be ὅμοιος ‘like to’ yourself,” see Symposium 173d4, Republic 549e2. For the collocation of “like” and “true” as synonymous, see Sophist 252d1 and Philebus 65d2–3, as reciprocal, Phaedrus 273d2–6. The basis of this relation is the “likeness” or “sameness” of the sensible particular and the intelligible Form or paradigm; see, for example, Timaeus 28b–29d, Republic 472c9–d1, Parmenides 132d1–4 (where the participation of the particular in the paradigm is precisely the relation of likeness), and Sophist 264c–268d. The vulnerability of this mimetic conception of truth is registered in the Muses’ speech, when they claim they can “say many false things (ψεύδεα) like (ὁμοῖα) to real things.” See “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought” in this collection.
[ back ] 58. On the early Greek sumbolon, see “Similes and Symbolization in Odyssey v” in this collection. Used as a means of identification, especially to secure contracts and treaties, the sumbolon designates an incomplete object, such as one half of a knucklebone, that must be brought together (sumballein) with the other half to prove the identity of the bearer. The term is also used of a single object related to individuals by their exclusive knowledge of it. In the case of the objects that identify Creusa and Ion as mother and son, for example, Creusa’s description of the contents of Ion’s cradle, before seeing them, works as her “half of the knucklebone” (Euripides Ion 1386–1442). In the same category belong the purple mantle and golden pin that the disguised Odysseus describes in response to Penelope’s πεῖρα “test” of his claim to have been Odysseus’ host in Crete (Odyssey xix 215–250). Penelope “recognizes” (ἀναγνούσῃ) them as “fixed signs” (σήματ’ . . . ἔμπεδα) of their speaker’s identity, when in fact they can signify either Odysseus, his host, or any other guest present at the time.
[ back ] 59. The phrase “like to himself” (εἴκελος αὐτῷ) is used at Odyssey xx 88 in a prefiguration of their recognition: Penelope awakes weeping from a dream in which Odysseus appeared “like to himself, such as he was when he went with the army. And my heart was rejoicing, since I said it was not a dream, but a waking vision,” and Odysseus, perceiving her cry, “imagined she had already recognized him” (δόκησε δέ οἱ . . . ἤδη γινώσκουσα, Odyssey xx 93–94).
[ back ] 60. See Odyssey xix 109–114, where Odysseus appropriately likens Penelope’s κλέος “fame” to that of the model male, a “blameless” king.
[ back ] 61. See Odyssey xiv 124–130 where Eumaeus, although insisting that Penelope cannot be persuaded by the report of a wanderer, describes needy vagabonds who “tell lies (ψεύδοντ’) and are unwilling to say true things (ἀληθέα)” and admits that Penelope used to receive any wanderer who came to Ithaca, entertain him, question him, and mourn, “since this is the right conduct (θέμις) of a wife, whenever her husband has perished elsewhere.”
[ back ] 62. See notes 57 and 60 above.
[ back ] 63. The argument of this paper finds a confirming supplement in the analysis offered per litteras by Deirdre von Dornum: “The story of Aphrodite and Hephaestus at Odyssey viii 266–366 is the thematic and architectural counterpart to the (re)marriage of Penelope and Odysseus.” In contrast to “restrained” Penelope (ἐχέφρων, Odyssey iv 111), Aphrodite is “unrestrained” (οὐκ ἐχέθυμος, Odyssey viii 320), unstable, does move, and so endangers her marriage, leading to blame (Odyssey viii 309, 319). As Odysseus builds his bed as a σῆμα “sign” to keep his marriage immovable, Hephaestus constructs a δόλος “trick, trap” in the form of a bed (Odyssey viii 276, compare 281–282) in order to stop Aphrodite’s shifting (at Odyssey viii 275 he makes her ἔμπεδον “fixed,” compare Odysseus’ bed as ἔμπεδον “fixed” and his σήματα ἔμπεδα “fixed signs” at Odyssey xxiii 203, 206). While Odysseus’ bed permits mutual recognition of unique identity, Hephaestus’ bed-trick forces Ares’ and Aphrodite’s recognition (γίγνωσκον) that they cannot shift (οὐκέτι φυκτὰ πέλοντο, Odyssey viii 299). By changing the symbol of his betrayal into the sign of his control, shifting the shape of the bed to keep Aphrodite from shifting (in) bed, Hephaestus “turns the μορφή ‘shape’ of defeat into victory’s tool.” His triumph is qualified, however, as Aphrodite receives mixed praise and blame (in contrast to Clytemnestra) and is able to shift again (Odyssey viii 337, 342), thanks to the mediation of Poseidon. Although a master builder, Hephaestus is outwitted by Aphrodite with the complicity of her society. Their bed scene represents the construction of failed marriage through impermanent, public architecture versus successful (re)marriage through permanent, private architecture.