Chapter 7. Time Games: The ‘Twenty-Year’ Absent Hero


Genetic approaches to Homeric poetry, whether they are Analytical, Unitarian, Neoanalytical, or adopting the viewpoint of historical positivism, have used repetition in different but often misleading ways. Analysts viewed repetition as a symptom of inferior poetic quality, a clear sign indicating multiple authorship. Unitarians tried to explain such repetitions by drawing analogous examples from other writers in whose case single authorship was uncontested, thus showing that repetition must not be necessarily linked to poetic inferiority nor should it be considered as a hint for suspecting the authenticity of a given passage. Neoanalysis attempted to trace the origins of such repetitions in earlier, pre-Homeric epics whose reflections can be still seen in the Homeric poems. [1] As such epics do not survive nor is there any information proving that they antedated the Iliad and the Odyssey, Neoanalysis had to reconstruct them on the basis of information found in the Homeric epics—in artistic representations of epic themes, in other poems of the Epic Cycle, and, at times, in later sources. Historical positivism adopted a different stance, which can be partly explained by the storming predominance of oral-traditional studies. As oral theory was gaining support, some scholars fostered its principal tenets, but not the necessary consequences stemming from such beliefs. Notwithstanding the serious implications of the Parry-Lord theory for studying epic songs in an oral culture, historical positivists explained certain oral features either as the result of a primitive form of style or as the proof for the existence of a master composer. Historical determinism had thus equated the old, analyst notion of poetic quality with the dogma of single authorship. The vicious circle of philological obsession with a historical Homer is now complete, as the phantom of an alleged monumental composer has returned by the back door. All of these approaches have virtually adopted a linear, genetic approach to Homer. In doing so, they have, despite their undeniable contribution to Homeric studies, failed to treat the Iliad and the Odyssey as songs recomposed in performance and, consequently, Homer not as a historical author but as an invented symbol of the tradition, “culture hero of all Hellenism, a most cherished teacher of all Hellenes, who will come back to life with every new performance of his Iliad and Odyssey.” [2]
Oral theorists also had to face the protests of literary critics who complained that once the Parry-Lord theory was accepted, large chunks of Homeric text would have to be deprived of meaning, since formulas and type-scenes are bare means employed by the bard in order to sing or recite epic poetry. A careful study of the Homeric poems shows that oral poetry can be as technically complex and sophisticated as written poetry. In order to explain this prima facie paradox some scholars employed the special term oralcy, which refers to the coexistence of oral and written cultures. [3] To that extent, it is fair to say that the Iliad and the Odyssey are oral-traditional compositions displaying features which are also known from written poetry, but do not pertain solely to it. [4]
In the light of these observations, we need to rethink the meaning and function of repetition, the Lydian stone of all intratextual [5] and intertextual references. Iliadic and Odyssean quoting can take different forms (formulaic repetition ranging from noun-epithet formulas to single- and multiple-verse repetitions, homologous similes, type-scenes, etc.) that represent sophisticated mechanisms of incorporation, appropriation, absorption, and transformation. A modern reader may be on the horns of the dilemma between Barthian intertextuality [6] and a more critical approach [7] that strives to map out the limits of intertextual references. With this in mind, Pucci’s use of the term allusion reflects exactly the effort to determine limits on the relational activity between texts, avoiding the interpretive impasse that originates from a utopian search of authorial intentionality and endless referentiality. Ad infinitum redistribution of textual material in a new text would necessarily lead to an endless spectrum of references. Likewise, a hopeless search for sibling texts would make equally plausible all interpretive readings of specific expressions, which would then lead to evoked contexts coloring the use of a formula. A subtle but critically restrained use of repetition would then help us see how a text grows through its reading of other texts. In the case of the Iliad and the Odyssey, which belong to equivalent song-traditions, formulaic repetition acquires an even more profound significance. Apart from the inevitability of stemming from the very nature of Homeric diction, formulaic repetition enhances a labyrinthine reading of the two poems, [8] a reading challenging progressive linearity as well as Iliadic or Odyssean autonomy. Conversely, it allows for an interactive link between the two epics that unconditionally engulfs the audience in a complex game of references. When comparing passages belonging to different texts, the problem of fragmentation comes to the foreground. Why is it that these two passages allude to one another? Reading thematic relevance into a passage’s details may seem a matter of choice, but it is in fact not. Heath has convincingly shown how ancient readers tended to perceive texts centrifugally, i.e. they judged details of every sort not in relation to the work’s center (which is a contestable idea anyway), but on their own basis. [9] Extending his idea further, I will try to show how the Iliad uses, in a specific case, formulaic repetition not simply to allude to an Odyssean passage where the same expression is more at home, but also to define itself through a relational process: by challenging the Odyssean perspective of a rival tradition, the Iliad incorporates a seemingly trivial detail and accommodates it to its polemical gesture against that other tradition.
To conclude I must submit a rather necessary caveat: Both the Aristotelian [10] “[j]ust as, therefore, in the other mimetic arts a unitary mimesis has a unitary object, so too the plot, since it is the mimesis of an action, should be of a unitary and indeed whole action” (χρὴ οὖν, καθάπερ καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἄλλαις μιμητικαῖς ἡ μία μίμησις ἑνός ἐστιν, οὕτω καὶ τὸν μῦθον, ἐπεὶ πράξεως μίμησίς ἐστι, μιᾶς τε εἶναι καὶ ταύτης ὅλης) and the Horatian [11] simplex dumtaxat et unum refer to a final totality, which does not deny aesthetic value to the parts of any artifact, but describes “how the poet produces a work (and the reader reads a work) in which intratextual activity of the parts makes it a text—makes it readable.” [12] Completeness is culturally determined. In fact, we—as modern readers—often interpret totality as a form of compacted wholeness, where the parts are subordinated to the totum. It is our Aristotelian and post-Aristotelian concept of totality that makes us complain when details do not fit into the whole the way we want them to. Homeric epic aims otherwise. Being both centripetal and centrifugal at the same time, the Iliad exploits the embarrassingly annoying non sequitur of Helen’s idiosyncratic autobiographical trivia not by simply determining poetic debt, but by reshuffling the cards and indulging in a meta-traditional comment. It thus aims for a different kind of totality, one that encompasses other rival traditions and defines its own voice meta-traditionally, i.e. by retrieving fragmented connotations from the Odyssean intertext only to distort and, subsequently, to reconstruct it.

State of the Problem

Helen’s time reference in Iliad XXIV 765 does not correspond to the traditional mythological pattern of the duration of the Trojan War. The death of Hector took place in the tenth and last year of the war, so the mention of a lapse of twenty years since Helen’s arrival to Troy seems awkward. It also seemed strange to the ancients themselves, and they tried to explain this temporal inconsistency. Ancient and modern explanations [13] can be classified into categories, which are worth considering since they are, I will argue, part of the interpretive problem:
The addition theory: I have grouped under the heading addition theory all efforts to interpret literally Helen’s reference to the twenty years she has been away from home. In the light of such an a priori belief, scholars, ancient and modern alike, have departed on the discovery of the ten missing years. The scholia vetera (on Iliad XXIV 765 Erbse [14] and Eustathius ad Ω 765) [15] argued that the preparation for the war had lasted ten years, [16] whereas certain present-day Homerists of the Neoanalytical school think that in this Iliadic time-reckoning, the ten years of the so-called Teuthranian expedition against the Mysian king, Telephus (which took place before the Achaeans reached Troy), are implicitly taken for granted. [17] Whether waiting in Aulis or fighting against the Mysians, the Achaeans took ten years to reach Troy.
An extreme ‘solution’ was put forward by Welcker who proposed the omission of verses XXIV 765–766, since they could not fit any rationalized time-reckoning. [18] The false ‘solution’ of a would-be interpolation was, needless to say, typical of Welcker’s time, but is rather incompatible with our present stance towards the Homeric text. Even West, who regards “references to Cyclic material that is otherwise unknown or ignored in the Iliad [19] as a special category of minor interpolations, does not adopt Welcker’s omission in his recent Teubner edition of the Iliad.
A crucial argument concerning the problematic number ‘twenty’ in Iliad XXIV 765 has been thoroughly presented by Reinhardt, [20] although the scholarly invenit belongs to Weber. [21] Reinhardt argued that the similarities between Odyssey xix 222–223 cannot be the key to our problem, since in the Odyssey these words are said “von einem Zeitpunkt” and not, as in the Iliad, “von einer Zeitdauer.” There is a clear difference between the two situations, especially since Helen’s νῦν μοι τόδ’ in Iliad XXIV 765 underscores her personal account of time. Reinhardt drew attention to the change between first and third person in the Iliadic and Odyssean passages respectively, but he used it, I think, in the wrong direction. The “Zeitpunkt”—“Zeitdauer” distinction is not deprived of problems. The syntax of the Greek is identical and there is no reason to believe that both expressions do not verbalize the same basic idea, namely that “this is the twentieth year since I/he came from that place and I/he left behind my/his homeland.”
Reinhardt’s argumentation was rejected by Hooker, [22] who argued that the number ‘twenty’ “is used according to the familiar Greek idiom, whereby the speaker would rather say ‘in the Xth year’ than ‘for a period of X years’.” [23] According to Hooker, “the epic employed ‘twenty’, as it employed ‘twelve’, to express the concept ‘more than a few’.” [24] By adopting this approach, Hooker expresses his disagreement towards Macleod, who supports the old addition theory by pointing to two Iliadic passages IV 28 and XI 770) that allude to the ten-year lapse for gathering the Achaean army before the beginning of the war. [25] Hooker argued that “by solving one problem Macleod has created another: namely, why in this one passage is Helen made to speak of a duration of twenty years?” What Hooker failed to see was that Macleod explicitly emphasized the importance of number twenty for the Iliad. ‘Twenty’ is for the poem ‘greater than ten’. [26]
Although Macleod adopts an interpretation based on the additive theory, he is able to bypass the problems created by using strict chronological criteria in order to explain the number ‘twenty’ in Iliad XXIV 765. ‘Twenty’ is for him a typical time-reckoning device, which the Iliad prefers in order to express the idea of any large number. [27]
According to another line of interpretation, Iliad XXIV 765 echoes Odyssey xix 222–223, in which the same expression is used for Odysseus. The reference to the twenty years of absence seems to be at home in the Odyssean passage, as Odysseus has been wandering for ten years after the sack of Troy. Kakridis thought that this might be an ad hoc invention restricted to Helen’s speech, but facilitated through the use of a ‘typical’ number like ‘twenty’ (10+10). [28] Willcock has argued along the same lines, maintaining that this explanation is in agreement “with the modern view that the pressure of formulaic composition leads to carelessness about details, although if this is an example, it is an extremely violent one.” [29]

Textual Games

In Iliad XXIV 765–766, while uttering her γόος for Hector, Helen turns the focus on herself, who has been absent from her fatherland for a long time:
ἤδη γὰρ νῦν μοι τόδ᾿ ἐεικοστὸν ἔτος ἐστίν
ἐξ οὗ κεῖθεν ἔβην καὶ ἐμῆς ἀπελήλυθα πάτρης

And here now is the twentieth year upon me since I came
from the place where I was, forsaking the land of my fathers.
In Odyssey xix 222–223, Odysseus disguised as a beggar tells Penelope a false story about his meeting with “the real Odysseus,” who is, of course, the fictive creation of Odysseus the storyteller:
εἰπέμεν· ἤδη γάρ οἱ ἐεικοστὸν ἔτος ἐστίν
ἐξ οὗ κεῖθεν ἔβη καὶ ἐμῆς ἀπελήλυθε πάτρης·
222 τόδ᾿ P 99/ P.S.I. 979: οἱ sive μοι sive τοι sive μιν Ω

“[It is difficult for me] to speak [after parting so long ago];
and it is twenty years since he left my country.”
The textual tradition shows some interesting variants. A single papyrus offers the reading τόδ᾿ that has been adopted by von der Mühll’s text. [30] Van Thiel prints οἱ, [31] which seems to be supported by Iliad XXIV 765 (see above) and Odyssey xxiv 309–310:
αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσῆϊ τόδε δὴ πέμπτον ἔτος ἐστίν,
ἐξ οὗ κεῖθεν ἔβη καὶ ἐμῆς ἀπελήλυθε πάτρης

As for Odysseus, it is five years since he bade me farewell and left my country.
The manuscript family Ω (omnes codices) offers three dative readings (οἱ, μοι, τοι) and one accusative (μιν). It seems that we are dealing here with two separate strands in the textual tradition: (a) that offering the dative singular and accusative readings and (b) the P 99/ P.S.I. 979 reading τόδ᾿ which is consonant with the textually “safer” passages in Iliad XXIV 765 and Odyssey xxiv 309.
The variant reading τόδ᾿ that is offered by the ‘eccentric’ papyrus P 99 [32] does not contain “the ethic dative [which] is desirable and idiomatic here.” [33] Both Iliad XXIV 765 and Odyssey xxiv 309 offer interesting parallels. However, they cannot be used as supporting evidence for the reading τόδ᾿, for in both cases there is already the indispensable ‘ethical dative’ (μοι, Ὀδυσσῆϊ). Del Corno thought that the reading τόδ᾿ had originated from a scribe’s effort to eliminate the hiatus before ἐεικοστόν. [34] There is no evidence which can either guarantee Del Corno’s explanation or support von der Mühll’s adoption of τόδ᾿ in his Odyssey edition. [35]
These textual issues notwithstanding, there is another explanation for this variant reading, an explanation that is of interest to our inquiry. The expression dative + τόδ(ε) + numeral + ἔτος ἐστίν is typical and recurrent in epic poetry. It is therefore plausible that the scribe was influenced first by Iliad XXIV 765 (which seems—textually—the default mode) [36] and secondly by Odyssey xxiv 309, where τόδε was also used with the same expression.
This line of interpretation shows how easily the two distantly located passages in Iliad XXIV 765–766 and Odyssey xix 222–223 could be linked through diction and theme.

The ‘Twenty-Year’ Absent Hero

In Odyssey xxiv 309–310, when Laertes eagerly asks a stranger standing in front of him about his son, Odysseus-the-stranger pretends to be Eperitus, son of Apheidantus, who has met Laertes’ son (the real Odysseus) in the past:
αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσῆϊ τόδε δὴ πέμπτον ἔτος ἐστίν,
ἐξ οὗ κεῖθεν ἔβη καὶ ἐμῆς ἀπελήλυθε πάτρης

As for Odysseus, it is five years since he bade me farewell and left my country.
Why is this the fifth year? The situation resembles that of Odysseus’ false tale to Penelope in Odyssey xix 107–307, where Odysseus disguised as a beggar set his meeting with the supposedly ‘real’ Odysseus ‘twenty’ years ago. Are there any specific reasons for this different time reckoning? Metrical criteria have to be excluded, for the text could very well stand even if the number ‘twenty’ was used, e.g. αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσῆϊ τόδ᾿ ἐεικοστὸν ἔτος ἐστίν. The context is again that of lament, since Laertes performs acts pertaining to the ritual mourning for the dead (he pours dust over his head, he wails deeply and bitterly). [37] The answer lies in Odysseus’ quick response to his father’s tears (Odyssey xxiv 321–323):
κεῖνος μέν τοι ὅδ᾿ αὐτὸς ἐγώ, πάτερ, ὃν σὺ μεταλλᾷς,
ἤλυθον εἰκοστῷ ἔτεϊ ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν.
ἀλλ᾿ ἴσχεο κλαυθμοῖο γόοιό τε δακρυόεντος.

Father, here I am, the very man you asked about, home in my own land after twenty years. But no more tears and lamentation.
The new, true time reckoning is consonant with the disclosure of Odysseus’ real identity. The initial false reckoning is employed in order to be nullified by the unveiling of Laertes’ son. In Odyssey xix 222–223, Odysseus refrained from disclosing his identity to Penelope, whereas here his self-revelation happens right away. The Odyssey lets itself play with the idea of a five-year absence, only to allow its hero, Odysseus, to make a majestic disclosure of his identity, one that does not include his name (as it is the case with other recognition scenes throughout the poem), but that lets the hero define himself in terms of his ‘twenty’ years of absence, which have become an Odyssean alias to his persona, the symbolical trademark of his figure. A hero who is defined in terms of his absence is a hero using time in a centripetal manner, with a clear-cut, self-referential focus. By guilefully entertaining the five-year absence scenario only to refute and correct it, the Odyssey rightly earns a standing ovation for its technical sophistication in manipulating time.

The Common Intertext

Let us now look at the context within which the two passages are placed (Iliad XXIV 761–776):
τῇσι δ᾿ ἔπειθ᾿ Ἑλένη τριτάτη ἐξῆρχε γόοιο·
“Ἕκτορ, ἐμῷ θυμῷ δαέρων πολὺ φίλτατε πάντων·
{ἦ μέν μοι πόσις ἐστὶν Ἀλέξανδρος θεοειδής,
ὅς μ᾿ ἄγαγε Τροίηνδ᾿· ὡς πρὶν ὤφελλον ὀλέσθαι·}
ἤδη γὰρ νῦν μοι τόδ᾿ ἐεικοστὸν ἔτος ἐστίν
ἐξ οὗ κεῖθεν ἔβην καὶ ἐμῆς ἀπελήλυθα πάτρης,
ἀλλ᾿ οὔ πω σέ᾿ ἄκουσα κακὸν ἔπος οὐδ᾿ ἀσύφηλον,
ἀλλ᾿ εἴ τίς με καὶ ἄλλος ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ἐνίπτοι
δαέρων ἢ γαλόων ἠ᾿ εἰνατέρων εὐπέπλων
ἢ ἑκυρή - ἑκυρὸς δὲ πατὴρ ὣς ἤπιος αἰεί -
ἀλλὰ σὺ τόν γ᾿ ἐπέεσσι παραιφάμενος κατέρυκες
σῇ τ᾿ ἀγανοφροσύνῃ καὶ σοῖς ἀγανοῖς ἐπέεσσιν.
τὼ σέ θ᾿ ἅμα κλαίω καὶ ἔμ᾿ ἄμμορον ἀχνυμένη κῆρ·
οὐ γάρ τίς μοι ἔτ᾿ ἄλλος ἐνὶ Τροίῃ εὐρείῃ
ἤπιος οὐδὲ φίλος, πάντες δέ με πεφρίκασιν.᾿᾿
ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ᾿, ἐπὶ δ᾿ ἔστενε δῆμος ἀπείρων.

Third and last, Helen led the song of sorrow among them:
“Hektor, of all my lord’s brothers dearest by far to my spirit:
my husband is Alexandros, like an immortal, who brought me
here to Troy; and I should have died before I came with him;
and here now is the twentieth year upon me since I came
from the place where I was, forsaking the land of my fathers. In this time
I have never heard a harsh saying from you, nor an insult.
No, but when another, one of my lord’s brothers or sisters, a fair-robed
wife of some brother, would say a harsh word to me in the palace,
or my lord’s mother—but his father was gentle always, a father
indeed—then you would speak and put them off and restrain them
by your own gentleness of heart and your gentle words. Therefore
I mourn for you in sorrow of heart and mourn myself also
and my ill luck. There was no other in all the wide Troad
who was kind to me, and my friend; all others shrank when they saw me.”
So she spoke in tears, and the vast populace grieved with her.
Odyssey xix 204–223:
τῆς δ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἀκουούσης ῥέε δάκρυα, τήκετο δὲ χρώς.
ὡς δὲ χιὼν κατατήκετ᾿ ἐν ἀκροπόλοισιν ὄρεσσιν,
ἥν τ᾿ Εὖρος κατέτηξεν, ἐπὴν Ζέφυρος καταχεύῃ·
τηκομένης δ᾿ ἄρα τῆς ποταμοὶ πλήθουσι ῥέοντες·
ὣς τῆς τήκετο καλὰ παρήϊα δάκρυ χεούσης,
κλαιούσης ἑὸν ἄνδρα παρήμενον. αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεύς
θυμῷ μὲν γοόωσαν ἑὴν ἐλέαιρε γυναῖκα,
ὀφθαλμοὶ δ᾿ ὡς εἰ κέρα ἕστασαν ἠὲ σίδηρος
ἀτρέμας ἐν βλεφάροισι· δόλῳ δ᾿ ὅ γε δάκρυα κεῦθεν.
ἡ δ᾿ ἐπεὶ οὖν τάρφθη πολυδακρύτοιο γόοιο,
ἐξαῦτίς μιν ἔπεσσιν ἀμειβομένη προσέειπε·
“νῦν μὲν δή σευ, ξεῖνε, ὀΐω πειρήσεσθαι,
εἰ ἐτεὸν δὴ κεῖθι σὺν ἀντιθέοις ἑτάροισι
ξείνισας ἐν μεγάροισιν ἐμὸν πόσιν, ὡς ἀγορεύεις
εἰπέ μοι ὁπποῖ᾿ ἄσσα περὶ χροῢ εἵματα ἕστο,
αὐτός θ᾿ οἷος ἔην, καὶ ἑταίρους, οἵ οἱ ἕποντο.᾿᾿
τὴν δ᾿ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς·
“ὦ γύναι, ἀργαλέον τόσσον χρόνον ἀμφὶς ἐόντα
εἰπέμεν· ἤδη γάρ οἱ ἐεικοστὸν ἔτος ἐστίν
ἐξ οὗ κεῖθεν ἔβη καὶ ἐμῆς ἀπελήλυθε πάτρης·

… the tears poured from Penelope’s eyes and drenched her cheeks. As the snow
that the West Wind has brought melts on the mountain tops when the East
Wind thaws it, and, melting, makes the rivers run in spate, so did the tears she
shed drench her fair cheeks as she wept for the husband who was sitting at her
side. But though Odysseus’ heart was wrung by his wife’s distress, his eyes, as if
made of horn or iron, remained steady between their lids, so guilefully did he
repress his tears. When Penelope had wept to her heart’s content she said in
answer, “Now, stranger, I mean to test you and find out whether you really
entertained my husband and his godlike company in your palace as you say.
Tell me what sort of clothes he was wearing and what he looked like; and
describe the men who were with him.” “My lady,” replied the resourceful
Odysseus, “it is difficult for me to speak after parting so long ago; and it is
twenty years since he left my country.”
The two passages share a common intertext, which is of prime importance for understanding the deeper intertextual play that they orchestrate. Unlocking the function of these two couplets, the Iliadic and the Odyssean, we should avoid the obstacle of determining the priority and antiquity of one of them at the expense of the other. Ramersdorfer [38] has studied the singuläre iterata of the first ten Books of the Iliad in comparison to the equivalent expressions found in the Odyssey, Hesiod, and the Homeric Hymns. His approach has been a linear one, trying to locate the ‘first’ passage upon which the ‘second’ one has been modeled. The approach undertaken here is rather different as the Iliad and the Odyssey are seen as open traditions, not as written texts crystallized and standardized during such an early period. The matter of priority is, therefore, nullified by the very nature of oral composition and recomposition in performance. In light of these observations, I propose a different reading of the two passages in question, with a keen eye for locating the common intertext they share and, then, determining the impact of this intertext in the process of creating a different kind of meaning, one based not just on contextual parameters but also on larger intertextual references. For the full meaning of this reformulated repetition can be grasped and appreciated once it is set anew within the true whole to which it belongs: that of epic poetry at large.
Before discussing the serious implications these references have, let us glance at the extended simile the Odyssey employs to describe Penelope’s lamentation. In the first part of Odysseus’ false tale to Penelope, Odysseus-the-beggar presents a fictive visit by the ‘real’ Odysseus to Crete, which takes place only ten or eleven days following their departure for Troy (xix 192–193). After receiving the king’s hospitality and gifts, Odysseus and his comrades are ready to sail to Ilium. Unfortunately, they are prevented by the north wind, which makes them wait in Crete for twelve days, only to depart on the thirteenth day. At this point, the external narrator takes the floor and turns the narrative lens on Penelope. Odysseus’ words make her tears fall, drench her cheeks, and make her body melt. The simile of the snow melting on the high mountain tops because of the west wind and becoming water that fills the rivers is indeed a powerful one. The downward motion of the falling tears and the melted snow is captivating, but one should not fail to connect the simile with the reference to the wind preventing the fictive Odysseus from sailing away from Crete as well as the text’s preoccupation, one could even speak of obsession, with time. The external narrator thus makes a welcoming gesture to Odysseus’ fictive narrative by using the winds as a device linking Odysseus’ false tale with the description of his wife’s feelings. Time is also emphasized in Odysseus’ narrative, especially since Odysseus-the-narrator presents his fictive Odysseus as arriving at Crete soon after his departure towards Troy. Therefore, the meeting between the Cretan king and the fictive Odysseus takes place when our hero is within the realm of a war-epic.
I would like, therefore, to suggest that the aforementioned Odyssean lament context can help us locate similar resonances in the equivalent Iliadic lament context, namely that of Helen’s lament for Hector in Iliad XXIV. Penelope’s tears constitute her response to Odysseus’ fictive narrative (xix 204: τῆς δ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἀκουούσης ῥέε δάκρυα, τήκετο δὲ χρώς). Likewise, Iliadic Helen laments Hector, whose kind words always protected her amidst the unfriendly Trojans (Iliad XXIV 767–772: ἀλλ᾿ οὔ πω σέ᾿ ἄκουσα κακὸν ἔπος οὐδ᾿ ἀσύφηλον, // ἀλλ᾿ εἴ τίς με καὶ ἄλλος ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ἐνίπτοι // δαέρων ἢ γαλόων ἠ᾿ εἰνατέρων εὐπέπλων // ἢ ἑκυρή - ἑκυρὸς δὲ πατὴρ ὣς ἤπιος αἰεί - // ἀλλὰ σὺ τόν γ᾿ ἐπέεσσι παραιφάμενος κατέρυκες // σῇ τ᾿ ἀγανοφροσύνῃ καὶ σοῖς ἀγανοῖς ἐπέεσσιν). One can see that from our initial point of departure, namely the reformulated two-verse repetition that originated from the ‘problematic’ use of number ‘twenty’ in Iliad XXIV 765, we have been able to locate an entire nexus of resonances between the corresponding Iliadic and Odyssean contexts. These textual echoes constitute the framework where this special time reckoning belongs.
In the Iliad, Helen ‘invents’ the detail of the twenty years in order to alleviate her position and ameliorate her place within a hostile Trojan community. Now that Hector is dead she has to evoke even more the sympathy of the audience, both external and internal. Helen, as an internal narrator, manipulates biographical details and invents her own autobiography, one not consonant with mathematically proven chronology, but one based on her own and the poem’s perception of time. The Iliad here allows for a different kind of deception by allowing Helen to construct her own fictive and idiosyncratic chronology. In the Odyssean passage, Odysseus-the-beggar dupes Penelope with his false story, not with chronological trivia. In the Iliadic passage, Helen attempts to deceive the Trojan internal audience at a moment of deep pathos, during the lamentation for Hector. She therefore constructs a fictive internal narrative in a manner resembling the way Odysseus-the-beggar invents his own fictive self. There is no Trugrede here but a sophisticated use of chronemics that Helen employs, thus inviting the audience to flirt with the idea that she may also evoke sympathy, just like Penelope in the corresponding Odyssean passage. [39]
As Hector’s death symbolizes the fall of Troy, Helen adopts a post-war focalization, which is that of the post-war epic par excellence, the Odyssey. The Iliad refrains from using its own, Iliadic time reckoning and adopts an Odyssean stance, facilitated by the context of the lament. Temporal reshuffling through a mixture of past, present, and future events mediated by anachronies, proleptic and analeptic alike, are common to lament narrative. By citing Odyssean time, the Iliad makes a gesture to the Odyssean tradition, since it insinuates that such a temporal input usurps the extended time-span of its rival epic. The essential question, however, lies ahead: How is this usurpation effectuated?
By using the number ‘twenty’ when referring to Odysseus’ absence, the Odyssey implies that its own perspective includes that of the Iliad. The ten years of the Iliadic war (in Odyssean terms phase A of Odysseus’ absence) are taken for granted and are regarded as an indisputable time-span guaranteed by the authority of the Iliad. They are consequently added to the other ten years of Odysseus’ Odyssean adventures, his Odyssean absence with which the Odyssey systematically deals. Thus, the epic of return successfully incorporates Iliadic time into its own time, in terms of Odysseus’ absence from his fatherland. This is a polemical gesture against the Iliad, intending to subordinate it to the extended time-frame of the Odyssey.
Helen’s reactivation in the audience’s mind of the time frame of the Odyssey entails important implications concerning questions of poetic authority. In a traditional medium like Homeric song-traditions, authority is not based on “a personalized subject (the ‘author’)” but “is invested in a set of impersonal rules (the narrative code) embodied in words.” [40] By resisting authorship, oral song-cultures claim authority through sanctioning the medium of performing the given epic ‘code’. Under this perspective, the Iliadic tradition claims its authority by pushing the narrative ‘code’ to its limits, i.e. by having a plot-character (Helen) attempt to ‘master’ one of the most central features of another song-tradition’s narrative ‘code’, the ‘twenty-year’ time-span. Helen thus becomes, once more, a meta-traditional device, an internal reflection of an epic performer or skilled practitioner. Through the use of the meta-traditional number ‘twenty’, she depersonalizes the reiteration, making “irrelevant the obvious change … in the reference of the speaking ‘I’ or other shifters deliberately included in the text.” [41] ‘Twenty’ thus becomes an almost ‘magical word’, whose repetition confers undisputed authority.
In light of these observations, we can now see how in XXIV 765–766 the Iliad employs an Odyssean expression to make an even more provocative statement, to utter, so to speak, its own polemical cry against the Odyssey; to the Odyssean usurpation of Iliadic time, the Iliad suggests its own usurpation of the Odyssey ’s Pan-Hellenic diffusion and authority, of the Odyssey ’s undisputed (for any ancient audience) time-span of ‘twenty’ years. Helen, as the speaker of the lament, acquires a meta-traditional role and situates herself in the overarching post-war epic intertext, which is at hand after Hector’s death. Such an intertext encompasses both the war-epics (such as the Cypria, the Iliad, the Aethiopis, the Little Iliad, and the Iliou Persis) and the post-war epics (the Nostoi, the Odyssey, and the Telegony). Both Odysseus in the Odyssey and Helen in the Iliad are the transitional links between the war epics and the post-war epics, as her departure from Sparta initiated the former, whereas his return to Ithaca concluded the latter. [42]
If there is something that the scholia vetera can teach us on this issue, it is that there was an effort to explain the peculiarity of the number ‘twenty’. The awkwardness of this number in respect to the Iliad’s time-frame presupposes the Odyssey ’s Pan-Hellenic impact and diffusion, which had established the duration of the Trojan War as a ten-year period and Odysseus’ adventures before his return to Ithaca as another ten-year period. Screening out the relative chronology of the two Homeric epics, we can see that one song-tradition with a Pan-Hellenic viewpoint attempts to match another one with a Pan-Hellenic prominence. The Iliad thus adopts the Odyssean viewpoint, namely that Helen has been away for as many years as the hero of the other Pan-Hellenic epos, the Odyssey. [43]


[ back ] 1. On Neoanalysis, see Kakridis 1949, 1971; Kullmann 1960, 1992; Pestalozzi 1945, Schadewaldt 19654, 19664. Willcock 1996:174–189 is the most recent account of the impact of the Neoanalytical school on Homeric studies.
[ back ] 2. Nagy 1996b:112.
[ back ] 3. See Robb 1994:191, 218, 232.
[ back ] 4. The bibliography on oral poetry is immense. The best account of previous research is Foley 1985. Edwards 1986:171–230, 1988:11–60 is excellent on metrical issues such as the origins of the dactylic hexameter, the formula and its localization within the verse as well as certain peculiarities of Homeric diction.
[ back ] 5. On intratextuality, see Sharrock 2000:1–39. For an exemplary application in Homer, see Martin, 2000:43–65.
[ back ] 6. See Barthes 1975, who attempted to break Balzac’s text into elementary units that show no traces of a structural organization. I owe this reference to Sharrock 2000:15.
[ back ] 7. On intertextuality in Homer, see Pucci 1987:18–19, 28–30, 51–52, 236–238.
[ back ] 8. Reading is here used in its metaphorical sense.
[ back ] 9. Heath 1989:59–70 has argued that ancient readers and audiences judged centrifugally (without paying special attention to details diverging from the alleged unity and cohesion of a thematic nucleus), whereas modern readers (and scholars) tend to ‘read’ centripetally (focusing on the connections between the parts and the whole, as if everything should be in orbit around a thematic center). Heath’s observation is right, but one should not confuse the way ancient audiences ‘read’ and the way(s) a poetic composition flows.
[ back ] 10. Poetics 1451a8. I have used the OUP edition of Kassel 1965.
[ back ] 11. Ars Poetica 23.
[ back ] 12. Sharrock 2000:18.
[ back ] 13. A good survey of the problem is offered by Richardson 1993:358 ad loc.
[ back ] 14. See scholia vetera on Iliad XXIV 765a (Erbse).
[ back ] 15. See van der Valk 1987, IV, 984, 6–15.
[ back ] 16. This was also the opinion of Severyns 1948:433 (I owe this reference to Kullmann 1960:192n1. The original article was inaccessible to me).
[ back ] 17. See Kullmann 1960:189–200; 1992:191–192.
[ back ] 18. Welcker 18822:265.
[ back ] 19. West 2001:12.
[ back ] 20. Reinhardt 1961:485–490.
[ back ] 21. Weber 1925:341–343.
[ back ] 22. Hooker 1986:111–113.
[ back ] 23. Hooker 1986:111.
[ back ] 24. Hooker 1986:112.
[ back ] 25. Macleod 1982:154–155.
[ back ] 26. Macleod 1982:154.
[ back ] 27. Macleod 1982:154 offers a list of epic uses of the number ‘twenty’ as “an intensification of ten” (154). See Iliad IX 379.
[ back ] 28. Kakridis 1960:407.
[ back ] 29. Willcock 1984:321.
[ back ] 30. Von der Mühll 1946 ad Odyssey xix 222.
[ back ] 31. See van Thiel 1991 ad loc.
[ back ] 32. See West 1967:272. This is a third century BC papyrus of unknown provenance, now in the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence. It was first edited by Vitelli and Norsa 1927:189, no. 979. See also Del Corno 1961:43. I owe these references to West 1967:270.
[ back ] 33. West 1967:272. See also Chantraine 1986–19886 (1948–1953):74 (GH 2) and Schwyzer 1950:152.
[ back ] 34. See West 1967:272 ad loc. to whom I owe the reference to Del Corno.
[ back ] 35. Von der Mühll 1946 ad Odyssey xix 222.
[ back ] 36. I consider Iliad XXIV 765 to be the default mode as it is a whole-verse expression containing the numeral ἐεικοστόν that is also used in Odyssey xix 222.
[ back ] 37. See Odyssey xxiv 316–317: ἀμφοτέρῃσι δὲ χερσὶν ἑλὼν κόνιν αἰθαλόεσσαν // χεύατο κὰκ κεφαλῆς πολιῆς, ἁδινὰ στεναχίζων. Even the whole-verse formula used by the external narrator (Odyssey xxiv 315: ὣς φάτο, τὸν δ᾿ ἄχεος νεφέλη ἐκάλυψε μέλαινα) describes a situation of deep pain.
[ back ] 38. See Ramersdorfer 1981.
[ back ] 39. See Clarke 1987, who in chapter 4 of his thesis explores the relation of the complementary figures of Penelope and Helen, different yet linked, with respect to language and poetry: i.e. Penelope and the bard Phemius, Helen recounting the fall of Troy, Penelope’s loving lies before Odysseus.
[ back ] 40. Kahane 2005:12.
[ back ] 41. Kahane 2005:13.
[ back ] 42. Iliadic Helen and Odyssean Odysseus share at least two common features: an exceptional ability for disguise, verbal and literal alike, and a special beauty that is recognised as such by others. See Maronitis 1999:216–217; Worman 2001:34. See also chapter 6.
[ back ] 43. The scholia and Eustathius missed this point, while Kullmann (1960:189–203) aimed at explaining the number ‘twenty’ by using the argument about the Teuthranian expedition. Neither considered the possibility that the mention of this expedition probably reflected and promoted local interests, probably of that part of the Troad where the Mysian king Telephus comes from. For a similar argument concerning the cities of Lyrnessos and Pedasos, see Dué 2002:21–36 (in particular 22–23).