2. Fantasizing the Narcissus, Gilding the Hyacinth: Flowers, Seduction, and Deception in Homeric Poetry

Having studied floral images of the erotic that were developed by the archaic lyric poets, we turn now to the equivalent Homeric images. By comparing these two genres we can set in relief the particular choices made by the Homeric poets in their development of such imagery. As we have seen, in Greek lyric the gaze of the poet’s persona objectifies erotic bodies associated with flowers, in a manner similar to the uni-directional filmic gaze described by Laura Mulvey. But the Homeric associations of flowers and erotic bodies suggest rather different dynamics of viewing, more reminiscent of Jacques Lacan’s account of the gaze. [1]
The Homeric images that we shall study hail from very different contexts in the Homeric corpus; nevertheless they share certain basic characteristics. In all of the scenes that we shall consider, flowers are associated with erotic bodies that are in some way seductive and deceptive. Unlike their equivalents in Greek lyric, these erotic bodies both exercise an erotic attraction over the viewer and at the same time mislead her/him (cf. Latin sē-ducere). They conceal their true nature and/or hide dangers from the viewer; such concealments, moreover, further the aims of a third party.
In two of the relevant scenes, the deception of the viewer places her/him in peril but at the same time furthers the plans of Zeus. The narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter doubles the body of the “flower-faced” Korē. But she fails to notice that it is an artificially enhanced plant designed to rouse her autoerotic desires. She is, moreover, unaware of the dangers associated with the plant: in fact, her plucking of it will precipitate her abduction by Hades. This, in turn, is in accordance with the will of Zeus, who wishes to provide his brother with a bride. In the Cypria, Paris, seduced by Aphrodite and her flowery robes, declares her the winner in a beauty contest. But he is unaware that in choosing her and in accepting her offer of Helen, he will provide the catalyst for the Trojan War and thereby ensure the destruction of his own city, Troy. And again, while this represents a calamity for the viewer, the fall of Troy will further the plans of Zeus.
In the scenes that we shall discuss from the Odyssey, the viewer is deceived but not placed in danger. As with Korē in the Hymn to Demeter, Nausicaa and Penelope in Odyssey 6 and 23 are misled by enhancements to the object of their gaze: they fail to notice Athena’s improvements to Odysseus’ appearance, which include the “hyacinthine” hair of a younger man, more in keeping with their desires. Unlike Korē or Paris, neither Penelope nor Nausicaa are endangered by this deception: this is, then, the visual equivalent of a white lie. But even so, both become the unwitting instruments of Athena’s plans: firstly the goddess uses Nausicaa to win a homecoming for Odysseus, and later she helps bring about his reunion with Penelope.
In this way, the erotic bodies associated with flowers in the relevant scenes influence the viewer in a manner unparalleled by the erotic bodies associated with flowers in the lyric poems that we have discussed. And unlike Mulvey’s filmic viewers or the speaker in the poems of Ibycus, Anacreon, and Sappho discussed in Chapter 1, the viewer is not able to achieve complete dominance over them.
Rather, as with Lacan’s description of viewing, these objects of the gaze undermine the viewer’s control of the scene. As mentioned in the Preamble to Part I, Lacan recalls an experience on a Breton fishing boat that helped to draw his attention to his own lack of control over the contents of his visual field. The feeling that a glinting sardine tin was looking back at him reminded him that his was not the only perspective on the scene: those things that he had been treating simply as the objects of his vision might in fact be viewing and evaluating him. And he goes on to generalize this experience to all acts of viewing: the viewer is always subject to the gaze and evaluation of those things that he himself views. [2] Similarly, the deceptive qualities of the erotic bodies that we shall study below suggest the incompleteness of the viewer’s knowledge and the inadequacy of the her/his assessment of the scene. Korē, Paris and Penelope gaze on the objects of their desire, but they misunderstand their true significance. As in Lacan’s Breton tale, the contents of these characters’ visual fields offer a challenge to the centrality and dominance of their perspectives.

The Exaggerated Charms of the Narcissus: The Deception of Korē in the Hymn to Demeter

Our first example of Homeric associations of flowers with seductive, deceptive bodies is offered by the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. The opening lines of the hymn depict the girl Korē picking flowers with her companions, the daughters of Oceanus. But all is not as it seems in this meadow. The goddess Gaia has, in fact, sent up one particular flower as a trick (δόλος) for Korē. This plant, the narcissus, exhibits miraculous qualities: it possesses a hundred heads and a scent that fills heaven, earth, and the sea. The “flower-faced” (καλυκῶπις) Korē is captivated by it; she reaches out eagerly to pluck it. But as soon as she does so, the earth gapes wide; the god of the dead, Hades, rushes up from the lower world and seizes her, apparently to be his bride. For Zeus, so we are told, had granted him the girl.
Earlier studies have drawn our attention to the erotic aspects of this scene. A review of such scholarship in light of the details presented by the hymn will help us to appreciate the nature of the eroticism being described: Korē’s desire is best explained as an autoerotic attraction towards the narcissus, which is described as her double. Yet in order to understand why the narcissus qualifies as a δόλος, a trick, we need also to consider its relationship with flowers in the natural environments familiar to early audiences. Though Korē fails to realize this, the narcissus is an exaggerated version of such a plant. It possesses special qualities that rouse her desires and lure her to the flower. Moreover, unbeknownst to Korē this attractive flower conceals dangers behind it: by plucking it, she facilitates her abduction by the lord of the dead. In this way, as with the Lacanian account of the gaze, elements of Korē’s visual field—namely, the deceptive qualities of the narcissus—undermine the dominance of her perspective on the scene.
Several scholars have identified erotic dimensions in Korē’s and her companions’ activities, but they have offered contrasting viewpoints on the nature of the eroticism being described. In what follows I consider three readings of the hymn that, when taken together, encompass the full range of such viewpoints. According to the first reading, Korē’s innocent play falls victim to Hades’ heteroerotic exploitation; the second scholar argues that Korē and her companions experience homoerotic desire for one another; the third contends that Korē herself expresses an autoerotic desire. Even if it is surprising from a modern perspective, this last explanation best accounts for the details of the hymn.
Firstly, Patricia Rosenmeyer distinguishes between two different perspectives on expressions of eroticism in poems such as the Hymn to Demeter that describe girls playing in flowery meadows: these expressions are interpreted in one way by the girls themselves and in quite another by male characters, male poets, and/or male audience members. Rosenmeyer regards the flowery meadows of the hymn and of other Greek poems as “a place of awakening sexual awareness,” but not as settings for the mature expression of adult desire. As in other poems with comparable imagery, the hymn describes the actions of the girls as “play”: the narrator refers to Korē as “playing” (παίζουσαν, 5), and as Korē recalls the scene in conversation with her mother, she remembers that “we were playing” (παίζομεν, 425). Such “play” “is … both innocent and suggestive, meaning different things to different people”—that is, to the girls themselves, on the one hand, and to adult male poets and listeners, on the other. [3]
Susan Deacy likewise distinguishes between the heteroerotic desire of the male intruder, Hades, and the desires of the girls. She points out that there is no evidence that the erotic desire expressed by the girls in the hymn is a desire for heterosexual experiences; we are told only that they desire the meadows themselves. [4] And Korē and her companions not only desire the flowers but are specifically likened to the flowers that they pluck. Early in the hymn the narrator identifies Korē as the “flower-faced girl” (καλυκώπιδι κούρῃ, 8) at the moment she plucks the narcissus. In this way, the narcissus is portrayed as her double. Likewise, in her own description of the scene later in the poem, Korē gives her companions floral names and epithets. These girls, Ῥοδεία (419), Ῥοδόπη (422), and Ὠκυρόη καλυκῶπις (420), are like the flowers—the ῥόδεας κάλυκας (“rose-cups,” 427)—of the meadow on which they are standing. Deacy interprets the girls’ picking of these flowers, their own doubles, as expressions of their desire for one another—their homosocial “play” shades into homoeroticism. [5] She argues that Korē’s desires can be interpreted in a similar fashion. As she points out, the external narrator’s focus on Korē’s eagerness to pluck the narcissus contrasts with Korē’s own description of the scene, in which she dwells at length on her many companions and on the many flowers of the meadow (Hymn to Demeter 417–430). Deacy believes that Korē’s speech offers a more accurate insight into her desires than the words of the narrator. According to Deacy, Korē’s speech suggests that she feels desire for the flowers and for her companions in general, rather than for the narcissus in particular.
Eva Stehle arrives at a rather different understanding of Korē’s desires. She interprets the desire of the “flower-faced” Korē for the narcissus, her own double, as an expression of a youthful autoeroticism. But rather than being valorized as innocent play, this eroticism is cast in a negative light: it is portrayed as a narcissistic and sterile desire, which fittingly ends in a kind of death—in her abduction by the lord of the Underworld. [6] I would hesitate before associating Korē’s desires with sterility: most importantly, it does not seem to be the case that she desires anything like the near-death that she experiences at Hades’ hands. [7] Like Deacy, then, I would distinguish between Korē’s desires and Hades’. Nevertheless there are reasons to recommend Stehle’s autoerotic reading of Korē’s actions over Deacy’s homoerotic reading.
In particular, Korē’s description of her own actions can readily be reconciled with that of the narrator, whose juxtaposition of the narcissus and the “flower-faced girl” has suggested an autoerotic desire. Firstly, Korē’s juxtaposition of the ῥόδεας κάλυκας (“rose-cups,” 427) with the names Ῥοδεία (419), Ῥοδόπη (422), and Ὠκυρόη καλυκῶπις (420) would be consistent with Deacy’s idea that the girls are assimilated to the meadow in general and that their attraction to the flowers suggests a homoerotic desire for one another. But it would also accord with Stehle’s reading of eroticism in the hymn: perhaps we should infer that each girl is assimilated to a particular flower in the meadow and that her desire for that flower is suggestive of autoeroticism.
Secondly, while both the narrator and Korē mention the many flowers of the meadow in their accounts of the abduction, each focuses ultimately on the narcissus (lines 8–16, 428–429) and on Korē’s eagerness as she plucks it: according to the narrator, Korē seizes it “with both hands” (15); in her own words, she plucked it “for joy” (περὶ χάρματι, 429). Like the narrator, then, Korē foregrounds her desire for one particular flower, rather than for the flowers of the meadow in general. Even though the narrator’s and Korē’s accounts diverge in other respects (see below), her speech is consistent with the narrator’s autoerotic interpretation of the scene and leaves that intepretation unchallenged.
Stehle, then, gives the most promising account of the erotic aspects of this scene, and her reading will help us in our understanding of the operations of seduction and deception in the hymn. But as mentioned above, to gain a full appreciation of the workings of such themes, we need also to compare the narcissus—this “trick” sent up by Gaia—with flowers in the Greek natural environment. As we shall see, the flower’s divergence from the natural characteristics of narcissi opens up space for different perspectives on the plant: Rosenmeyer and Deacy are right, then, to point to the existence of different viewpoints on the action of the hymn. Most importantly, Korē’s perspective would have differed from that of early audiences. Korē, mistakenly, accepts the narcissus as a regular element of the natural environment. But listeners would have understood that its attractive qualities far exceed those of narcissi in the real world. [8] And it is these special qualities that lure her to pluck the flower and thereby to expose herself to danger.
The narrator makes the unusual qualities of the narcissus clear when s/he first describes the flower. The wonderful bloom and scent of the plant far surpass those of real narcissi. A hundred flowers grow from the one root; they possess a scent that causes all heaven, the earth, and the sea to rejoice:
          νάρκισσόν θ’, ὃν φῦσε δόλον καλυκώπιδι κούρῃ
          Γαῖα Διὸς βουλῇσι, χαριζομένη πολυδέκτῃ
10      θαυμαστὸν γανόωντα, σέβας τότε πᾶσιν ἰδέσθαι
          ἀθανάτοις τε θεοῖς ἠδὲ θνητοῖς ἀνθρώποις·
          τοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ ῥίζης ἑκατὸν κάρα ἐξεπεφύκει,
          κὦζ’ ἥδιστ’ ὀδμή, πᾶς δ’ οὐρανὸς εὐρὺς ὕπερθε
          γαῖά τε πᾶσ’ ἐγέλασσε καὶ ἁλμυρὸν οἶδμα θαλάσσης.
Hymn to Demeter 8–14
          ... and a narcissus, which, as a trick for the flower-faced girl,
          Gaia sent up, by the counsels of Zeus, as a favor to the Lord-of-Many
10      wonderful, shining, an object of awe then
          for all the immortal gods and mortal men to see,
          and from its roots a hundred heads had grown,
          and the sweetest smell arose, and all the wide heaven above,
          and all the earth, and the salt swell of the sea laughed.
As Josef Murr suggests, the Homeric poets here may have had in mind the Narcissus tazetta, a Greek plant “of intoxicating scent with a luxurious inflorescence of golden flowers.” [9] But even if this is right, the Homeric poets have nevertheless manipulated the characteristics of such a plant. The inflorescence of the species is indeed “luxurious,” but no specimen from the natural world would have anything close to a hundred heads: clusters of three to eighteen are the norm. [10] Another possibility is the many-headed Narcissus papyraceus; this species, however, boasts a maximum of twenty flower-heads. [11] In either case, then, the abundant blooms of the plant would represent a clear exaggeration of anything that would be found in the Greek natural environment. Likewise, despite its “intoxicating scent,” no real narcissus would possess such a powerful fragrance as to fill the whole earth, heaven, and the sea.
Details in the narrative would have encouraged audiences to trace the plant’s preternatural qualities to divine origins—to view it as a special creation that could only grow by the gods’ dispensation. It is said to have grown “in accordance with the plans of Zeus” (Διὸς βουλῇσι, line 9). We learn of these plans in lines 2–3: Zeus intends to give Korē, presumably as a bride, to his brother Hades. For the first stage of his scheme, he employs the goddess Gaia—not merely “the earth” but the personified “Earth”—to send up the narcissus. The divinely inspired plant evokes a sense of religious awe: it is an object of reverence (σέβας) and wonder (θαυμαστόν), and gives off a divine radiance (γανόωντα), all qualities that would have suggested the presence of divinity to early audiences. [12] But Korē herself does not pick up on these clues. The very characteristics that would have alerted listeners to the divinity of the plant overwhelm her senses. Wondering at (θαμβήσασ’, 15) the wondrous plant (θαυμαστόν, 10), she seizes it.
In her report of her abduction towards the end of the hymn, she still shows no awareness of the plant’s divine origins:
425    πάιζομεν ἠδ’ ἄνθεα δρέπομεν χείρεσσ’ ἐρόεντα,
          μίγδα κρόκον τ’ ἀγανὸν καὶ ἀγαλλίδας ἠδ’ ὑάκινθον
          καὶ ῥόδεας κάλυκας καὶ λείρια, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι,
          νάρκισσόν θ’ ὃν ἔφυσ’ ὥς περ κρόκον εὐρεῖα χθών.
          αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ δρεπόμην περὶ χάρματι, γαῖα δ’ ἔνερθε
430    χώρησεν, τῇ δ’ ἔκθορ’ ἄναξ κρατερὸς πολυδέγμων.
Hymn to Demeter 425–430
425    We were playing and plucking lovely flowers with our hands,
          Mixedly, gentle saffron, irises, hyacinth,
          Rose-cups, and lilies, a wonder to behold,
          And a narcissus, which the wide earth sent up like saffron.
          And I plucked it for joy, and the earth opened beneath,
430    And there the mighty lord who welcomes many leapt out.
As noted above, both Korē and the narrator focus on the narcissus and on Korē’s eagerness in plucking it. But there are also differences in the ways in which they describe the flower, and these contrasts reveal her ignorance of the plant’s divine origins. The narrator in lines 8–10 attributes the growth of the flower to a willful goddess, Gaia, who sends it up in accordance with Zeus’ plan and in order to please Hades: νάρκισσόν θ’, ὃν φῦσε δόλον καλυκώπιδι κούρῃ / Γαῖα Διὸς βουλῇσι χαριζομένη πολυδέκτῃ / θαυμαστὸν γανόωντα (“a narcissus, which, as a trick for the flower-faced girl, / Gaia [Earth] sent up, by the counsels of Zeus, as a favor to the Lord-of-Many, / wonderful, shining …”). Korē likewise describes the earth sending up the narcissus: [13] νάρκισσόν θ’ ὃν ἕφυσ’ ὥς περ κρόκον εὐρεῖα χθών (“a narcissus, which the wide earth sent up like saffron,” 428). But there is no indication that she has in mind the goddess Earth, since unlike the narrator she makes no reference to any divinity’s intentions. [14]
What is more, while the narrator suggests the divine qualities of the flower, there is no indication that Korē perceives them. The narrator makes clear that the narcissus, in particular, is θαυμαστὸν γανόωντα, σέβας τότε πᾶσιν ἰδέσθαι (“wondrous, shining, an object of awe then for all …”) and, through the echo of the related roots θαυμ- and θαμβ- in lines 10 and 15, implies that the wondrousness of the narcissus directly causes Korē’s eager reaction. As noted above, the root θαυμ- would have alerted audiences to the divine origins and characteristics of the flower. Korē for her part focuses on the narcissus and remembers her own eagerness in plucking it—she seized it περὶ χάρματι (“for joy,” 429). She acknowledges, then, her particular attraction to the flower. But her words in lines 425–428 suggest that she does not see it as a divine growth beside the natural growths of the rest of the meadow. For Korē all the flowers of the meadow are a θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι, “a wonder to behold” (427); and she notices neither the particular wondrousness of the narcissus nor its divine characteristics. Moreover, by likening the narcissus to saffron in line 428 (ὥς περ κρόκον “like saffron”) she assimilates it to the first flower that she lists (κρόκον, 426)—that is, to one of the regular flowers of the meadow. [15]
There is a contrast, then, between the narrator’s and Korē’s perspectives on the narcissus. And we should remember this contrast when we analyze the operations of erotic desire in the hymn. As noted above, the narrator at line 8 describes the narcissus as a double of Korē, who is called “flower-faced” (καλυκῶπις) in the same line. As Stehle points out, the narrator’s description of Korē’s eagerness to pluck this double of herself suggests an autoerotic desire: she is attracted to the narcissus as a reflection of her own charms. Korē’s own account, as we have seen, is consistent with this idea of autoerotic attraction: she focuses on the narcissus and remembers her eagerness in plucking it. But early audiences would have known from the narrator’s description that this is a specially enhanced flower. Gaia has endowed it with additional charms that heighten Korē’s desires and increase its attractions for her. Given that Korē is unaware of these special qualities, her interaction with the narcissus constitutes at once an autoerotic seduction and a deception.
There is more to be said, however, about the way in which the narcissus qualifies as a δόλος, a trick. Korē is unaware of the preternatural qualities of the plant; but she is also unaware of the dangers to which she is exposed by its attractions. These dangers are revealed at the moment she plucks the flower. Both the narrator and Korē make clear that her plucking the narcissus creates an opening through which Hades is able to rush up from the Underworld and abduct her:
ἡ δ’ ἄρα θαμβήσασ’ ὠρέξατο χερσὶν ἅμ’ ἅμφω
καλὸν ἄθυρμα λαβεῖν· χάνε δὲ χθὼν εὐρυάγυια
Νύσιον ἂμ’ πεδίον τῇ ὄρουσεν ἄναξ πολυδέγμων...
Hymn to Demeter 15–17
Wondering at it she reached for it with both hands
To seize the lovely toy; the earth of the wide ways gaped
Along the Nysian Plain where the lord who welcomes many rose up …

αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ δρεπόμην περὶ χάρματι, γαῖα δ’ ἔνερθε
χώρησεν, τῇ δ’ ἔκθορ’ ἄναξ κρατερὸς πολυδέγμων.
Hymn to Demeter 429–430
But I was plucking it for joy, and the earth opened
Beneath, and there the mighty lord who welcomes many leapt up.
It is unclear whether Hades views Korē’s expression of autoerotic desire as an excuse for his violent, heteroerotic action, or indeed whether the kind of dynamics described by Rosenmeyer are operative here—namely, that Hades interprets Korē’s action as a kind of erotic invitation. But it is certainly the case that Korē’s eager plucking of the flower, her own double, precipitates the abduction by opening up a pathway between the upper and lower worlds. [16] What appears to be an act of autoerotic desire on Korē’s part exposes her to the exploitative, heteroerotic intentions of a male character: the consequences of the abduction are, at best, a forced marriage and, at worst, a rape. [17] By juxtaposing Hades’ action with her unwillingness in line 19 (ἁρπάξας ἀέκουσαν, “snatching one who was unwilling”), the narrator makes clear that Korē would not have chosen such a consummation of her desires.
If we bear in mind all the elements of the scene that we have noted thus far—Korē’s eagerness to pluck the flower; Hades’ abduction of the unwilling Korē; the divine characteristics of the narcissus; and Korē’s lack of awareness of her flower’s divine characteristics—the full operations of seduction and deception in this episode of the hymn become clear. Korē is lured into an expression of autoerotic desire by the enhanced characteristics of the flower; but she would have been more cautious had she known the dreadful consequences of her action. And she is not granted the consummation of her desires but rather suffers an altogether different mode of sexual experience (violent, heteroerotic). In this way, audiences of the hymn would have received a dark and exploitative vision of the art of seduction. [18]

Aphrodite’s Flowery Accoutrements: The Deception of Paris in the Cypria

As we have seen, the seductive, deceptive narcissus doubles the body of Korē: its special qualities heighten her autoerotic desires. In the other examples of Homeric imagery that we shall discuss, flowers are associated more directly with bodies that are in some way seductive and deceptive. One of the relevant passages derives from an episode early in the Cypria, in which Aphrodite prepares for the Judgement of Paris. The Graces and Seasons deck her body in clothes dipped in flowers:
          εἵματα μὲν χροὶ ἕστο, τά οἱ Χάριτές τε καὶ Ὧραι
          ποίησαν καὶ ἔβαψαν ἐν ἄνθεσιν εἰαρινοῖσι,
          οἷα φέρουσ’ ὧραι, ἔν τε κρόκωι ἔν θ’ ὑακίνθωι
          ἔν τε ἴωι θαλέθοντι ῥόδου τ’ ἐνὶ ἄνθεϊ καλῶι
5       ἡδέι νεκταρέωι, ἔν τ’ ἀμβροσίαις καλύκεσσιν
          αἰθέσι ναρκίσσου καλλιπνόου· ὧδ’ Ἀφροδίτη
          ὥραις παντοίαις τεθυωμένα εἵματα ἕστο.
Cypria fr. 4 Bernabé
          Her flesh was clothed with clothes that the Graces and Seasons
          Made for her and dipped in spring flowers
          Such as the seasons bear, in saffron and hyacinth
          And flourishing violet, and the beautiful, sweet, nectared
5       Flower of the rose, and the shining, ambrosial
          Cups of the beautifully scented narcissus; thus Aphrodite was clothed
          With robes perfumed with every kind of season.
The adornments described in this passage play an important role in the seduction of Paris: their charms help persuade him to choose Aphrodite in her beauty contest with Hera and Athena. Paris however is unaware of the dangers that lie behind such a choice. He believes that he is simply identifying the most beautiful goddess and taking as his reward the hand of Helen. But in fact, his choice furthers the plans of Zeus. As we learn from Cypria fr. 1 and Proclus’ summary of the poem, Zeus has hatched a plan to bring about the Trojan War and thereby to reduce the earth’s population. [19] And this plan is put into effect immediately after Paris makes his choice. Listeners would have recognized that, in choosing Aphrodite, Paris unwittingly opts for the destruction of his own city.
The fragment quoted above, then, describes Aphrodite’s preparations for a crucial moment in the Trojan Cycle; even so, it has been largely neglected by critics. [20] Jasper Griffin, one of the few critics to engage closely with it, discusses it only to disparage its style relative to passages of the Homeric hymns and major epics: these lines are a “conscious attempt to compose in a richly ornamental manner,” reflected both in a careless use of epithets and in an over-expansive catalogue of flowers. He finds such stylistic inadequacies to be typical of the Epic Cycle as opposed to the Homeric hymns and major epics. [21]
Yet these lines do not deserve to be dismissed in this fashion. The description of flowers in Cypria fr. 4 would not be out of place in other Homeric poems: in fact, it resembles a Homeric flower catalogue that we have already encountered—the list of flowers at the opening of the Hymn to Demeter. What is more, rather than constituting empty verbiage, the epithets used would have helped audiences to imagine the impact of Aphrodite’s accoutrements on Paris and thereby to understand the workings of seduction in this scene.
The rose, the crocus, the hyacinth, and the violet, listed in Cypria fr. 4, are also found in the description of the flowers that Korē and her companions are picking at Hymn to Demeter 6–7. [22] Both passages present a rich catalogue of the sorts of flowers that early audiences would have witnessed in the Greek natural environment. From these catalogues listeners would have gained a sense of the charms of the meadow in the Hymn to Demeter and of Aphrodite’s accoutrements in our lines from the Cypria. [23] On this evidence, we would not be justified in excluding Cypria fr. 4 from the canon of Homeric poetry simply because it presents an extensive list of flowers.
Furthermore, the epithets employed in this passage serve a positive function: they suggest the sensual qualities of the flowers in which Aphrodite’s robes are dipped and, by extension, the effect that her appearance will have on Paris. In lines 4–5, for instance, we proceed from an allusion to the visual effect of the rose (καλῷ, “beautiful”) to descriptions of its scent (ἡδέι, “sweet”; νεκταρέωι, “nectared”). [24] The adjective ἀμβροσίαις, which describes the cups of the narcissus in line 5, may likewise evoke their scent: [25] after all, the related noun, ἀμβροσίη, refers to sweet-smelling ointments. At Odyssey 4.445–446, for instance, it is the sweet-scented unguent that enables Menelaus and his men to block out the stench of Proteus’ seals. [26] If we follow Bernabé’s reconstruction, in line 6 further emphasis is placed on the visual qualities of the narcissus-cups with the adjective αἴθεσι, “shining.” Finally, the descriptions of Aphrodite’s clothes as τεθυωμένα (“perfumed”) and, again if Bernabé’s text is correct, of the narcissus itself as καλλιπνόου (“beautifully blowing/scented”) echo the earlier references to sweet scents. [27]
These epithets, through their cumulative effect, suggest the impact that Aphrodite’s appearance will have on Paris. Her clothes take on the scents of these flowers and thereby enhance the charms of Aphrodite’s own body. And owing to the close association between the flowers, the clothes, and the goddess in these lines, the allusions to the beauty of the rose and the narcissus would have encouraged listeners to imagine the beauty of the clothes and of the goddess herself. Audiences would moreover have understood that these flowery robes help persuade Paris to choose Aphrodite in the contest between her, Hera, and Athena. [28] After all, they would have familiar with other episodes from Homeric poetry, such as the Διὸς ἀπάτη in Iliad 14, where goddesses don special clothing in order to seduce male characters. [29] As with those scenes, the sensuous experience offered by Aphrodite’s body, decked with flowery robes, and the victory that it affords her in the beauty contest amount to a seduction. [30]
But in choosing Aphrodite, Paris is also the victim of a deception. [31] As we have seen, in plucking the narcissus, Korē unwittingly exposes herself to danger. Similarly, Paris makes his choice unaware of the dangers that lie behind the seductive appearance of Aphrodite’s body—dangers that would have been well known to early listeners. We get a sense of such dangers and also of Paris’ ignorance of them when we bear in mind the context of this fragment in the Cypria. The opening of the poem anticipates the broader scheme of events in which Paris will eventually be caught up: in fr. 1 Bernabé, Zeus plans the Trojan War out of pity for the earth, which was overburdened by its human population. According to the D scholium to Iliad 1.5, this plan includes two key elements: the marriage of Thetis with a mortal and the birth of a beautiful daughter: [32] Zeus will father the beautiful Helen, and Thetis will marry the mortal Peleus.
Both events are important prerequisites for the war. As a result of the marriage the pre-eminent hero of the Trojan War, Achilles, will be born. And at the wedding ceremony itself, as we learn from Proclus’ summary of the Cypria, the goddess Eris stirs up a quarrel between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite over which of them is most beautiful. [33] The goddesses then repair to Ida to be judged by Paris. Paris chooses Aphrodite, but at the same time he accepts her offer of Zeus’ beautiful daughter, Helen. Dual prophecies emphasize the consequences of his choice: Paris’ siblings Helenus and Cassandra offer pronouncements περὶ τῶν μελλόντων, “about the things to come.” And their predictions are borne out in the ensuing narrative. As a result of Aphrodite’s promise, Paris abducts Helen and thus provides the catalyst for war between the Greeks and the Trojans, since Helen happens to be the wife of the Greek king Menelaus. [34]
Therefore, if this evidence is anything to go by, ancient audiences familiar with the Cypria would have known that in making the choice of Aphrodite and in accepting her offer of Helen Paris will bring about the Trojan War and hence the destruction of his own city. Our surviving fragments of the Cypria suggest, however, that he was unaware of any serious consequences at the time of his choice: [35] he simply followed his lusts. We have already observed the powerful effect that Aphrodite’s accoutrements would have on him. Paris’ desires are further roused by the promise of her mortal double, Helen: προκρίνει τὴν Ἀφροδίτην ἐπαρθεὶς τοῖς Ἑλένης γάμοις: “he chooses Aphrodite, excited by [the prospect of] marriage with Helen.” [36] The Iliad offers a still blunter assessment of Paris’ motives: he made his choice on the basis of the “licentiousness” offered to him by Aphrodite—τὴν δ’ ᾔνησ’ ἥ οἱ πόρε μαχλοσύνην ἀλεγεινήν (“he praised her who was offering him grievous licentiousness,” 24.30). [37]
But the order of events in Proclus’ summary suggests that, if Paris discovers the consequences of his choice, he does so only after he has already prepared for his expedition to Sparta to abduct Helen. Spurred on by Aphrodite, Paris fits out his ships for the voyage; Helenus then reveals what is to come: “then at Aphrodite’s suggestion he constructs ships, and Helenus prophesies to them about the coming events” (ἔπειτα δὲ Ἀφροδίτης ὑποθεμένης ναυπηγεῖται, καὶ Ἕλενος περὶ τῶν μελλόντων αὐτοῖς προθεσπίζει). [38] Helenus apparently addresses the Trojans in general (cf. αὐτοῖς); if this is so, Paris would probably be among those who hear the prophecy.
We have seen, then, that like the narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter Aphrodite’s body in Cypria fr. 4 is associated with an erotic deception. As in the hymn, flowers are associated with enhanced appearances that arouse the desires of the viewer; as in the hymn, the viewer is mistaken as to what s/he is, in fact, choosing. And like the narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter, Aphrodite’s erotic appearance, enhanced by her preparations in Cypria fr. 4, both hides dangers behind it and lures Paris towards those dangers. In both poems, the Homeric poets made such perils clear to their audiences through references to the plans of Zeus and then by a description of the events that follow from the seduction of an unwary youth: Korē plucks the narcissus and is abducted by Hades; Paris accepts Aphrodite’s offer of Helen, and her abduction brings about the Trojan War. But the Cypria, by including Helenus’ and Cassandra’s prophecies of things to come, places still greater emphasis on the connection between a youth’s choice and its unpleasant consequences.

Odysseus’ Hyacinthine Hair: Erotic Encounters with Nausicaa and Penelope

While Aphrodite’s preparations for the Judgement of Paris occur near the beginning of the Trojan cycle, the last two images that we shall consider are found towards the end of the stories of Troy. In both cases the goddess Athena grants her favorite, Odysseus, hyacinthine hair, and in both cases the relevant images carry associations with seduction and deception. Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair seduces Nausicaa in Book 6 and Penelope in Book 23 by presenting them with an image of the sort of man each desires: Nausicaa sees the sort of young man that she hopes to marry; Penelope sees an image of Odysseus as he was when he left for Troy.
Athena prepares for the seduction and deception of Nausicaa from the moment of Odysseus’ arrival in the girl’s homeland, Scheria. Firstly, she appears to Nausicaa in a dream to suggest an expedition to the washing-places, on the grounds that she is now of an age to marry and should wash her clothes in preparation (25–40). This is already an act of deception. Athena does not intend to provide Nausicaa with a suitable match; rather, she plans to use her good graces to gain Odysseus entrance to the Phaeacian court and thereby to win him a passage home: Athena is “plotting a return journey for great-hearted Odysseus” (νόστον Ὀδυσσῆϊ μεγαλήτορι μητιόωσα, 14). Spurred on by the dream, but suspecting nothing of Athena’s intentions, Nausicaa appeals to her father king Alcinous for the use of a carriage. Yet she is unwilling to admit to him that she has thoughts of marriage: she pretends instead that she is concerned for her unmarried brothers, who need fine clothes to attend dances, presumably with a view to their own marriages (57–65). Alcinous, however, understands Nausicaa’s true wishes and grants her the carriage (66–67). [39] Athena thus succeeds in sending Nausicaa off to a remote place with thoughts of marriage in her mind; and it is there that she will meet Odysseus.
When, a little later, Nausicaa encounters Odysseus, his appearance is far from appealing: he emerges from the undergrowth caked with salt and clutching only a branch to cover his nakedness (127–129, 137). [40] Nevertheless, Athena must ensure that Nausicaa thinks of him as a potential husband if she is to help this stranger to reach the Phaeacian city. Accordingly, when he retires to refresh himself Athena enhances his appearance: she makes him taller and broader to look at, pours grace on his head and shoulders, and sends down locks from his head, like the flower of the hyacinth:
          τὸν μὲν Ἀθηναίη θῆκεν Διὸς ἐκγεγυῖα,
230    μείζονά τ’ εἰσιδέειν καὶ πάσσονα, κὰδ’ δὲ κάρητος
          οὔλας ἧκε κόμας, ὑακινθίνῳ ἄνθει ὁμοίας.
          ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις χρυσὸν περιχεύεται ἀργύρῳ ἀνὴρ
          ἴδρις, ὃν Ἥφαιστος δέδαεν καὶ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη
          τέχνην παντοίην, χαρίεντα δὲ ἔργα τελείει,
235    ὣς ἄρα τῷ κατέχευε χάριν κεφαλῇ τε καὶ ὤμοις.
Odyssey 6.229–235
          But Athena daughter of Zeus made him
230    Taller and broader to look at; and from his head
          She sent down curly locks, like the flower of the hyacinth.
          As when some man pours gold around silver,
          A skilled man, whom Hephaestus and Pallas Athena have taught
          Every kind of craft—he achieves graceful works—
235    So she poured grace on his head and shoulders.
This image suggests both the seductive and the deceptive qualities of Odysseus’ appearance. But in order to see this, we need to take a careful look at the details of these lines. Firstly, the phrase “curly locks, like the flower of the hyacinth” (οὔλας … κόμας, ὑακινθίνῳ ἄνθει ὁμοίας, 230–231) suggests an attractive young man, as opposed to the middle-aged, careworn Odysseus. The image of curly hair pouring down from Odysseus’ head evokes the long hair of a Greek ephebe—that is, of a youth at the first moment of sexual maturity. [41]
The reference to the hyacinth would presumably have helped audiences to imagine Odysseus’ youthful hair. According to the Byzantine commentator Eustathius (on Odyssey 6.230–231), the adjective ὑακίνθινος would have suggested either a dark coloration or curliness. And though Eustathius presents them as alternatives, both senses are possible here. If the term ὑάκινθος put audiences in mind of the Hyacinthus orientalis, which is native to the eastern Mediterranean, then the phrase ὑακινθίνῳ ἄνθει would have evoked a flower with dark, curly petals. [42] The notion of dark coloration is moreover supported by Sappho fr. 105b.2 Voigt, which refers to the “dark-red” flower (πόρφυρον ἄνθος) of the hyacinth. [43] And an evocation of curly petals is clearly consistent with the description of Odysseus’ curly locks at 6.231.
These observations help us to understand how the image interacts with the erotic aspects of this scene. Odysseus has been granted the appearance of an attractive young man ready for marriage—precisely the sort of man that Nausicaa hopes to meet. In Book 6, then, Athena firstly puts Nausicaa in mind of a husband and then rouses her desires by presenting her with the sort of husband she might like.
And the erotic charms that Athena has instilled into Odysseus work their effect immediately. Nausicaa wonders at (θηεῖτο, 237) Odysseus and his hyacinthine hair. Unlike Korē in her interaction with the narcissus, Nausicaa is alive to the possible presence of divinity: she tells her companions that the previously uncouth stranger now seems to her like the gods (242–243). Nevertheless his charms work their effect on her, in the manner that Athena has planned. She expresses a wish that Odysseus—or someone like him—should be her husband: αἲ γὰρ ἐμοὶ τοιόσδε πόσις κεκλημένος εἴη / ἐνθάδε ναιετάων, καί οἱ ἅδοι αὐτόθι μίμνειν (“I wish such a man might be called my husband, / dwelling here, and that it should please him to remain here,” 244–245). A little later (276–284), she again betrays her desires. She tells Odysseus what might happen if they were to enter the city together: the Phaeacians might gossip and say that they are destined to be married. [44]
We have seen, then, that the suggestions of an attractive young man conveyed by the image of hyacinthine hair are fully in keeping with Nausicaa’s reaction to Odysseus’ new guise: the young girl is attracted to Odysseus as a potential husband. As with our passages from the Hymn to Demeter and the Cypria, then, flowers are here associated with the theme of seduction. The deceptive qualities of Odysseus’ appearance are emphasized by other elements of the image from 6.229–235. Specifically, the allusions to metallurgy in the simile introduce the concepts of artistry, precious value, and concealment. A smith, taught by Athena and Hephaestus, pours gold around silver, much as Athena pours grace on the head and shoulders of Odysseus (232–235). Odysseus’ regular characteristics, impressive in themselves, are thus concealed by Athena’s artistry, endowing him with a more precious appearance. If he had simply washed off the brine and donned new clothes, he would not have been aesthetically appalling: his appearance would still have merited comparison with the precious metal silver. But the image of gold poured around silver suggests that something of great value is being concealed by something of still greater value. [45]
By presenting Nausicaa with this more attractive, more youthful version of Odysseus, Athena both offers her the kind of man she desires and conceals his more regular appearance. However impressive Odysseus may look without Athena’s intervention, he is nevertheless a middle-aged man, who has been away at war for ten years and at sea for a further ten. But Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair grants him the appearance of a younger man. And despite noticing divine aspects to his appearance, Nausicaa is nevertheless led to believe that Odysseus could be a suitable husband. [46]
We get a still clearer impression of the seductive, deceptive aspects of Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair when we consider the other instance of the image. This second occurrence of the image is found in Odyssey 23, prior to the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope. Except for the first line, the description of Athena’s enhancement of Odysseus is identical to lines 6.229–235:
          αὐτὰρ κὰκ κεφαλῆς χεῦεν πολὺ κάλλος Ἀθήνη
          μείζονά τ’ εἰσιδέειν καὶ πάσσονα· κὰδ δὲ κάρητος
          οὔλας ἧκε κόμας, ὑακινθίνῳ ἄνθει ὁμοίας.
          ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις χρυσὸν περιχεύεται ἀργύρῳ ἀνὴρ
160    ἴδρις, ὃν Ἥφαιστος δέδαεν καὶ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη
          τέχνην παντοίην, χαρίεντα δὲ ἔργα τελείει,
          ὣς μὲν τῷ περίχευε χάριν κεφαλῇ τε καὶ ὤμοις.
Odyssey 23.156–162
          But Athena poured much beauty from his head also,
          [Making him] taller and broader to look at; and from his head
          She sent down curly locks, like the flower of the hyacinth.
          As when some man pours gold around silver,
160    A skilled man, whom Hephaestus and Pallas Athena have taught
          Every kind of craft—he achieves graceful works—
          So she poured grace on his head and shoulders.
We have already discussed the associations of this image of hyacinthine hair and metallurgy with youth, eroticism, and artistry, and considered how those themes play out in the Nausicaa episode. But in order to understand the precise implications of the similar image in Book 23 we need to bear in mind not only its immediate context—the meeting between Odysseus and Penelope—but also its interaction with other passages in the second half of the Odyssey and in the Homeric corpus as a whole. If we compare the relevant lines with other Homeric accounts of heroes’ transformations and consider allusions to Penelope’s desires in the Odyssey, we gain clearer insights into the nature of Athena’s intervention at 23.156–162 and into the impact of Odysseus’ new appearance on his wife. The relevant passages confirm that Penelope is faced with an artificially rejuvenated version of her husband and show that Odysseus’ enhanced appearance is in accordance with her desires: she longs for the man who left for Troy twenty years ago. Penelope is thus moved to accept Odysseus as her husband more readily than she might have done if presented with a world-weary, middle-aged Odysseus. As with Nausicaa, then, Penelope is both seduced and deceived by Odysseus’ appearance.
As we have already seen, the image of hyacinthine hair and the elements of gilding in the images from Books 6 and 23 carry with them connotations of youth, eroticism, artistry and concealment, and we thereby understand that Odysseus’ middle-aged appearance has been concealed behind an attractive, youthful veneer. But to understand the deceptive qualities of Odysseus’ appearance in Odyssey 23, we should also bear in mind other descriptions of Odysseus’ transformations in the second half of the Odyssey, some of which lend him a youthful appearance, while others give him the squalid appearance of an old beggar.
Odysseus’ first such transformation occurs in Book 13, shortly after his arrival on Ithaca, and clearly carries deceptive connotations. Athena disguises Odysseus as a beggar with the explicit intention of rendering him “unrecognizable to all mortals” (ἄγνωστον … πάντεσσι βρότοισι, 13.397). [47] To this end she withers his flesh, dims his eyes, and causes him to lose his blond hair. [48] And while the Graces and Seasons deck Aphrodite in beautiful clothes in preparation for her meeting with Paris, Athena dresses Odysseus in rags:
          Ὣς ἄρα μιν φαμένη ῥάβδῳ ἐπεμάσσατ’ Ἀθήνη.
430    κάρψε μέν οἱ χρόα καλὸν ἐνὶ γναμπτοῖσι μέλεσσι,
          ξανθὰς δ’ ἐκ κεφαλῆς ὄλεσε τρίχας, ἀμφὶ δὲ δέρμα
          πάντεσσιν μελέεσσι παλαιοῦ θῆκε γέροντος,
          κνύζωσεν δέ οἱ ὄσσε πάρος περικαλλέ’ ἔοντε·
          ἀμφὶ δέ μιν ῥάκος ἄλλο κακὸν βάλεν ἠδὲ χιτῶνα,
435    ῥωγαλέα ῤυπόωντα, κακῷ μεμορυγμένα καπνῷ·
          ἀμφὶ δέ μιν μέγα δέρμα ταχείης ἕσσ’ ἐλάφοιο,
          ψιλόν· δῶκε δέ οἱ σκῆπτρον καὶ ἀεικέα πήρην,
          πυκνὰ ῥωγαλέην· ἐν δὲ στρόφος ἦεν ἀορτήρ.
Odyssey 13.429–438
          Having spoken thus Athena touched him with her wand.
430    She withered the beautiful flesh on his flexible limbs,
          And made him lose the blond hairs from his head and placed
          Around all his limbs the skin of an old man,
          And she dimmed his eyes that had formerly been beautiful;
          And she cast around him new clothing—evil rags and a tunic,
435    Filthy, torn, and soiled badly with smoke;
          And clothed him all round with the great hide of a swift deer,
          Which was threadbare; and she gave him a staff and a shameful pouch,
          Full of holes; and on it was a twisted strap.
In this way, Odysseus takes on a false appearance that is designed to deceive viewers (“all mortals,” 13.397): they will mistake the lord of Ithaca for a mere beggar. [49]
If this passage were our only guide to the implications of the image from Odyssey 23 we might assume that in granting Odysseus hyacinthine hair and thereby casting off his beggar disguise Athena is restoring him to his original appearance. But other evidence from the Odyssey shows that this is not the case and that, in fact, Odysseus’ enhanced appearance in Book 23 is a disguise no less than his beggar costume.
We get a sense of this from the account of Odysseus’ transformation from a beggar to a young man in Book 16. Shortly before Odysseus reveals to Telemachus that he has returned, Athena removes his beggar disguise and enhances his appearance. She grants him fine clothes, a dark complexion, and a dark beard:
          Ἦ καὶ χρυσείῃ ῥάβδῳ ἐπεμάσσατ’ Ἀθήνη.
          φᾶρος μέν οἱ πρῶτον ἐϋπλυνὲς ἠδὲ χιτῶνα
          θῆκ’ ἀμφὶ στήθεσσι, δέμας δ’ ὤφελλε καὶ ἥβην.
175    ἂψ δὲ μελαγχροιὴς γένετο, γναθμοὶ δὲ τάνυσθεν,
          κυάνεαι δ’ ἐγένοντο γενειάδες ἀμφὶ γένειον.
Odyssey 16.172–176
          Athena spoke and touched him with her golden wand.
          First she placed a well-washed cloak and a tunic
          Around his chest, and she increased his body and youth.
175    He became dark of complexion again, and his jaw was stretched,
          And a dark beard grew around his chin.
Telemachus has previously encountered the returned Odysseus only in his beggar disguise. [50] When he sees him in this new state, he protests that Odysseus must be a god: only a god could transform himself from an old to a young man (194–200). In reply, Odysseus assures Telemachus that his transformation is the work of Athena, who is able to make him “at one time like a beggar and at another time again like a young man with beautiful clothes around his flesh” (ἄλλοτε μὲν πτωχῷ ἐναλίγκιον, ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε / ἀνδρὶ νέῳ καὶ καλὰ περὶ χροῒ εἵματ’ ἔχοντι, 209–210). Odysseus, then, reveals two options for his appearance in the latter books of the Odyssey: either it is that of an old beggar or that of a young man. [51] Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair is clearly a variant on the latter option: as with his transformation at 16.172–176, it replaces his beggar disguise in Book 23; moreover, as we have seen the image carries connotations of youthfulness.
Neither of these guises represents Odysseus’ regular appearance, but of the two the appearance of a young man marks the greater departure from what we would expect him to look like at this stage in his life. As noted above, early audiences would have been aware that Odysseus has been away at war for ten years and has suffered toils on his travels for a further ten. They would have expected him, then, to bear a closer resemblance to the old man of the beggar disguise than to the young man who presents himself to Telemachus. [52] By “increas[ing] his youth” (16.174), Athena reverses the ageing process and lends him the appearance of a much younger man. The beggar disguise by contrast exaggerates the careworn characteristics of a middle-aged man who has had his share of troubles.
As Athena makes clear in Book 13, the beggar disguise will deceive onlookers. But given the fact that his guise as a young man departs more clearly from his more regular appearance, the latter if anything carries a greater potential to deceive. We get our first glimpse of this potential in the meeting of Odysseus and Telemachus. In declaring that Odysseus must be a god, Telemachus makes a mistake about his father’s identity (16.183–185, 194–200). His mistake is understandable: he no less than early audiences would expect Odysseus to have the appearance of a middle-aged man, not of the young man who stands before him. [53]
This is not, however, a case of a successful deception, which would require not merely that a character makes a mistake about Odysseus’ appearance but also that s/he makes a mistake in the manner desired by the one who engineered the deception—in this case, Athena. In fact, her transformation of Odysseus fails to achieve what she is intending. She tells Odysseus at line 168 to “speak a word to your son nor conceal it” (σῷ παιδὶ ἔπος φάο μηδ’ ἐπίκευθε) so that they can then plot together against the suitors. Presumably she means for him to talk openly both about his identity and his plans. It seems, then, that by granting Odysseus a youthful appearance Athena is trying to support Odysseus in his efforts to reunite with his son. But Odysseus’ transformation has the opposite and undesirable effect of causing Telemachus to doubt that Odysseus is his father.
The deceptive qualities of Odysseus’ two guises are revealed more clearly when we read the relevant lines alongside other Homeric passages describing the alteration of a hero’s appearance. In two such passages the change that is described correlates with certain aspects of Odysseus’ transformation into a beggar. In both Iliad 18 and Odyssey 13, Athena exaggerates a hero’s existing traits; earlier in the Iliad, Patroclus puts on Achilles’ armor in order to play the role of his friend, much as Odysseus dons a beggar’s rags. A third Iliadic scene offers a closer parallel for Athena’s gift of hyacinthine hair, which returns Odysseus’ appearance to that of a much younger man: Aphrodite intervenes to preserve Hector’s body in Iliad 23, thus reversing the ageing process and lending it a potentially deceptive appearance.
The mechanics of Achilles’ transformation in Iliad 18 offer a closer parallel for the beggar disguise than for the hyacinthine Odysseus of Odyssey 6 and 23. At Iliad 18.203–206, Athena places the aegis around Achilles’ shoulders and causes fire to shine from his head; in addition, she adds her own voice to his as he bellows from the ditch (217–221). In this way, she greatly enhances Achilles’ already fearsome characteristics. But unlike her gift of hyacinthine hair to Odysseus in Odyssey 6 and 23, which gives a middle-aged man the appearance of a young man, Athena does not reverse any of Achilles’ existing traits. Rather, the exaggeration of Achilles’ appearance in Iliad 18 parallels that of Odysseus in Odyssey 13: in the one case, Athena enhances the already impressive characteristics of the youthful Achilles; in the other, she exaggerates the characteristics of a careworn traveler.
We should however bear in mind the distinctions between these episodes, one of which gives us a further insight into the nature of the deception practiced by Odysseus’ beggar disguise. Firstly, while in Odyssey 13 Athena lends Odysseus a foul and unimpressive appearance, in Iliad 18 she endows Achilles with terrifying characteristics designed to cause panic in the Trojan ranks. Secondly, when Achilles’ enhanced appearance in Iliad 18.203–206 sows panic among the Trojans, they could not be said to have made a mistake about his appearance: rather, they are simply reacting to the flame around his head and to his bellowing, both of which they correctly perceive (225–229). They are aware, moreover, that this is Achilles standing before them—a man whose mere presence, if the hero’s own words are accurate, used to keep Hector within the walls of Troy (9.351–355). There is no indication, then, that Achilles’ appearance is deceptive, or even potentially so. [54]
In Odyssey 13, Athena likewise exaggerates the existing characteristics of a hero; but she also enables Odysseus to play a new role—that of a beggar—by dressing him in squalid rags. The deceptiveness of Odysseus’ new guise depends on such role-play. [55] A closer parallel would exist between the two scenes if Achilles were to take on the role of another—say, the god Apollo—in addition to his enhanced appearance and if the Trojans had then mistaken him for this other character.
In fact, Odysseus’ donning rags and playing the part of a beggar resembles an Iliadic scene where a hero’s body is not transformed by a god. A little earlier in the Iliad, Patroclus goes out to battle wearing Achilles’ armor and is thereby able to impersonate his friend on the battlefield. Patroclus hopes that the Trojans will mistake him for the more fearsome Achilles and thereby allow the Greeks some breathing space (16.40–43). And his plan has the desired effect: the Trojans take fright in the belief that Achilles has returned to the fighting (278–282). Audiences would have been able to compare Odysseus’ beggar disguise with such scenes and thereby to understand its deceptive qualities. The disguise exaggerates existing physical characteristics and to that extent might not qualify as deceptive; but the fact that Odysseus dons a costume and plays a role explains his ability to mislead viewers in this guise. [56]
Other transformations of heroes offer more promising parallels for Athena’s gift of hyacinthine hair in Odyssey 6 and 23, which reverses the ageing process rather than exaggerating existing traits. [57] And indeed audiences’ knowledge of such scenes would have helped them to understand the deceptive potential of Odysseus’ appearance in the relevant passages. For instance, Aphrodite’s treatment of Hector’s corpse in Iliad 23 halts the natural process of decay and lends it potentially deceptive qualities. Aphrodite preserves Hector’s body with “rosy, ambrosial oil” (ῥοδόεντι … ἐλαίῳ / ἀμβροσίῳ, 186–187); as a result, according to Hermes the corpse takes on a fresh, “dewy” (ἐερσήεις, 24.419) appearance, such that Hector’s father Priam would wonder at it (θηοῖό κεν αὐτός, 418). [58] Hector’s body, moreover, has the potential to mislead viewers. Hecuba notes that he now looks like one who has been slain by the arrows of Apollo—i.e., like someone who died a peaceful death (24.758–759). She knows that he died at the hands of Achilles; but someone else might not realize this if s/he happened on his body. [59]
Odysseus’ transformations into a young man offer a closer parallel for Aphrodite’s preservation of Hector’s body at Iliad 23.186–187 than for Athena’s enhancement of Achilles’ body at Iliad 18.203–206. Odysseus’ guise as a beggar and Achilles’ appearance in Iliad 18 both exaggerate existing traits. Comparison of the two shows that the deceptiveness of Odysseus’ appearance in this case inheres not so much in such exaggerations as in his adoption of a new role. But the preservation of Hector’s body and the transformation of Odysseus into a young man both carry the potential to deceive. They hold in check or reverse natural processes. Aphrodite’s intervention halts the process of decay; similarly, Odysseus’ appearance as a young man constitutes a reversal of the ageing process. [60] Like the viewers imagined by Hecuba, who would think that Hector had passed away peacefully, viewers might well make a mistake about Odysseus in his new guise. [61]
As we shall see, in accordance with the deceptive potentials of Odysseus’ guise as a young man the hyacinthine hair that Athena grants him at Odyssey 23.156–162 successfully deceives Penelope. But in order to gain a full understanding of Penelope’s reaction to Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair, it is necessary to consider also an earlier passage from the Odyssey that offers important insights into her desires. In the light of this passage, we see that the scene in Odyssey 23, as with the meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa, incorporates not only a successful deception but also a successful seduction. Athena’s actions at 6.229–235 lend Odysseus the appearance of the sort of young man that Nausicaa might want as a husband. Similarly, by presenting Odysseus to Penelope in the form of a young man Athena is giving her what she desires—namely, the Odysseus that she remembers from before the Trojan War. [62]
Penelope’s desires are suggested at 20.79–90, where she both expresses a wish to be struck down by Artemis so that she might see Odysseus again in the Underworld (80–81) and also speaks of her joy at a vision she had of the young Odysseus: [63]
τῇδε γὰρ αὖ μοι νυκτὶ παρέδραθεν εἴκελος αὐτῷ,
τοῖος ἐὼν οἷος ᾖεν ἅμα στρατῷ· αὐτὰρ ἐμὸν κῆρ
χαῖρ’, ἐπεὶ οὐκ ἐφάμην ὄναρ ἔμμεναι, ἀλλ ὕπαρ ἤδη.
Odyssey 20.88–90
On this night one like him lay beside me,
Such as he was when he went along with the expedition; but my heart
Rejoiced, since I thought it was no dream but now a waking vision.
In Penelope’s vision, Odysseus returns to her as he was when he set sail for Troy. [64] Moreover, the language that Penelope uses suggests a vision not only of reunion but also of erotic fulfillment. The only other Homeric instance of the verb παραδαρθάνω, here in the aorist form παρέδραθεν (20.88), occurs in a clearly erotic context. At Iliad 14.163–164, the infinitive παραδραθέειν describes Hera’s intentions in a scene of seduction that we shall discuss in the next chapter, the Διὸς ἀπάτη: εἴ πως ἱμείραιτο παραδραθέειν φιλότητι / ᾖ χροίῃ (“if perhaps [Zeus] should desire to lie beside her flesh in love”). In Iliad 14, Hera manipulates Zeus’ desires; Penelope’s waking dream in Odyssey 20 is an expression of her desire for the Odysseus she lost twenty years ago. [65]
The evidence considered thus far suggests that Odysseus adopts two potentially deceptive guises in the second half of the Odyssey—that of an old beggar and that of a young man—and that Penelope desires the Odysseus she knew from before the expedition to Troy. Earlier we found that the image of hyacinthine hair evokes four themes in particular: youth, eroticisim, artistry, and concealment. With these findings in mind, we can now analyze the interaction of the image from Odyssey 23 with its immediate context.
Firstly, there are deceptive qualities to Odysseus’ appearance at 23.156–162, and these qualities are closely connected with the themes of youth and concealment: Athena lends Odysseus the appearance of an attractive young man and thereby conceals the careworn appearance of a middle-aged traveler. As Odysseus himself makes clear at 16.208–210, Athena’s interventions in the second half of the Odyssey lend him the form either of an old beggar or of a younger man. At 23.156–162, she transforms Odysseus from his beggar disguise: listeners would, then, have expected that she has given him the guise of a younger man, as she does in preparation for his meeting with Telemachus at 16.173–176. And such expectations would have been confirmed by the implications of the image of hyacinthine hair. As we have seen, the image evokes an attractive young man, not a middle-aged traveler. In addition, the references to craftsmanship and concealment in these lines suggest not only the beauty of Odysseus’ appearance at this point in the Odyssey but also its artificial qualities. As noted above, his guise as a younger man reverses the ageing process: the (valuable) silver of his regular, middle-aged appearance is concealed behind the (more precious) gold of a youthful Odysseus.
By granting Odysseus an artificially rejuvenated appearance, Athena presents Penelope with an Odysseus more in keeping with her desires. [66] We can infer from 20.88–90 that Penelope desires not merely Odysseus but Odysseus as he was when he left for Troy. And such an inference is in keeping with the events of Book 23. At first, with Odysseus in his beggar disguise, Penelope fails to recognize him: ἀγνώσασκε κακὰ χροῒ εἵματ’ ἔχοντα (“she did not recognize him with evil clothing on his flesh,” 95). [67] Odysseus then retires to bathe, at which point Athena grants him hyacinthine hair (153–163), thereby giving him the appearance of a younger man. [68] Approaching her in his new guise, he asks that she now lay aside her stubbornness and accept him as her husband (166–172). In response she makes reference directly to the younger man who left her to go to Troy: μάλα δ’ εὖ οἶδ’ οἷος ἔησθα / ἐξ Ἰθάκης ἐπὶ νηὸς ἰὼν δολιχηρέτμοιο (“I know well how you were / when you left Ithaca on your long-oared ship,” 175–176). Penelope has to judge whether the man standing before her really is Odysseus by comparing him with such memories.
Penelope hesitates before making her choice. In her caution she differs from Korē, who without hesitation seizes the narcissus, her own double, or indeed from Paris, who makes no attempt to resist the charms of Aphrodite. [69] But after testing his knowledge of the construction of their marriage bed (173–204), she accepts Odysseus in his artificially rejuvenated form (205–208). [70] Odysseus’ demonstration of knowledge in lines 183–204 contributes to Penelope’s recognition of her husband; [71] but his appearance must be acceptable to her if she is to make such a choice. Presumably, she compares the young man of her memories, to whom she refers in lines 175–176, with the Odysseus who stands before her and concludes that the two are sufficiently alike for her to welcome him back as her husband. But in fact, Athena has altered Odysseus’ appearance. His hyacinthine hair elides the twenty years that they have spent apart and facilitates her comparison of the Odysseus of Book 23 with the Odysseus she once knew. [72] Odysseus’ enhanced appearance, engineered by Athena, helps to overcome Penelope’s resistance to reunion with her husband, circumspect though she is.
Athena has practiced a deception: Penelope does not notice that Odysseus’ appearance has been enhanced, but these improvements nevertheless encourage her to accept him as her husband. [73] And indeed the reasons that she goes on to give for her initial hesitation draw attention to the deception. At 216–217, Penelope explains the reason for her caution: she had always feared “that some mortal would come and trick her with words” (μή τίς με βροτῶν ἀπάφοιτο ἔπεσσιν / ἐλθών). [74] Given the dynamics of the scene in Book 23, there is a deep irony to what Penelope has to say: she has indeed been tricked, but by Odysseus’ appearance rather than his words. [75]
The deception introduces a somewhat unsettling note to the episode, though Penelope does not suffer the sorts of unpleasant consequences described in the scenes from the Hymn to Demeter and the Cypria that we have discussed. Not only Penelope’s ignorance of Athena’s actions, but also the fact that Odysseus never takes off this disguise in Book 23 cast a slight shadow over the renewal of the marriage: we never hear that Odysseus is reunited with Penelope in his unenhanced state. Odysseus’ speech to Penelope at 23.264–284 has a similarly unsettling effect. Odysseus anticipates a further journey that he will have to undertake in order to propitiate Poseidon, leaving her behind. And this calls into question the notion that their marriage has been re-established on a stable and permanent basis. [76] Nevertheless, in comparison with the other scenes that we have studied in this chapter, the deception practiced by Odysseus’ artificially youthful appearance has relatively benign consequences for the viewer. Fortunately for Penelope, Odysseus’ deceptive appearance does not place her in peril: Odysseus has in fact returned, and she has not been taken in by an impostor.
At the same time, Book 23 tells the story of a successful seduction. As Penelope embraces her husband and kisses his head in lines 205–206, she not only accepts that he is Odysseus but also welcomes him back as her lover, as is shown by subsequent events. She and the hyacinthine Odysseus retire to bed where in addition to conversation “they enjoyed desirous love” (φιλότητος ἐταρπήτην ἐρατεινῆς, 300). In Odyssey 23, then, a Homeric floral image is once more associated with an erotic body that is both seductive and deceptive: the deceptive appearance of Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair contributes to the (re-)seduction of his wife.
* * *
In Chapter 1, we discovered that poems from across the corpus of archaic Greek lyric show certain core similarities in their treatment of floral images of the erotic. Whether associated with girls or boys, with homosexual or heterosexual desire, whether found in the work of male or female lyric poets, erotic bodies associated with flowers are cast as the object of the speaker’s gaze. In this chapter, we have encountered four instances of Homeric floral imagery that resemble one another in key respects. In all four cases, flowers are associated with an erotic body that both seduces and in some way deceives the one who encounters it.
As we have seen, the floral images of the two genres explore two different configurations of the relationship between subject and object, between viewer and viewed. The lyric poems that we have studied present similar dynamics of the gaze, whether the speaker or the object of the gaze happens to be male or female. In this way, they diverge from the films analyzed by Mulvey: according to her, the gaze in film is associated with the masculine gender. But in another respect the operations of the gaze in the relevant poems closely resemble those described by Mulvey. As in Mulvey’s films, the viewer’s subjectivity dominates the object of her/his gaze: in our poems the first-person speaker claims the right both to view and to evaluate the desirable bodies that are associated with flowers. [77]
By contrast, in the Homeric passages that we have studied the viewer does not exercise the same control over the object of her/his gaze. Erotic bodies associated with flowers both seduce and deceive the viewer. Korē misses the special enhancements of the narcissus that heighten her autoerotic desires for the flower, her own double. Moreover, the narcissus conceals hidden dangers: by plucking it, Korē exposes herself to abduction by Hades. Similarly, Aphrodite’s flowery accoutrements facilitate her seduction of Paris, but unwelcome consequences hide behind the goddess’ attractive appearance: audiences would have recognized that, in choosing Aphrodite and accepting her offer of Helen, Paris ensures the destruction of his city. Finally, Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair conceals his middle-aged appearance and seduces both Nausicaa and Penelope; fortunately for both women, however, no unpleasant dangers lurk behind his appearance. Nausicaa’s hopes that Odysseus might prove a suitable husband are dashed, but she suffers no worse fate; and though Penelope accepts Odysseus in his enhanced form, she is nonetheless reunited with her husband.
And insofar as the erotic bodies in all these different episodes of Homeric poetry are both seductive and deceptive, they challenge the viewer’s control over the scene. The dynamics of these interactions, then, resemble Lacan’s account of the gaze: things in the visual field disturb the neat distinctions between subject and object that viewers might like to maintain. [78]
More specifically, while the viewer is able to judge erotic bodies that are associated with flowers in Greek lyric, the seductive and deceptive qualities of such bodies in Homeric poetry cause the viewer to misjudge their value. Sappho’s girls or the boys and girls in Ibycus and Anacreon do not deceive the viewer; accordingly, the speaker/viewer is able to place a value on their beauty. In fr. 122 Voigt, for instance, Sappho (or her persona in the poem) judges a girl to be ἄγαν ἁπάλαν, “too attractive.” By contrast the deceptive appearance of Homeric bodies misleads the viewer by concealing their true value. This is, for instance, suggested by the image of gold poured around silver in Odyssey 6 and 23: Nausicaa and Penelope behold an Odysseus artificially rejuvenated to stir their desires.
We have already observed some of the ways in which these images from Greek lyric and Homeric poetry interact with the characteristics of flowers in the Greek natural environment. I have suggested that associations of flowers with erotic bodies in Greek lyric drew on audiences’ experiences of viewing flowers and judging them to be beautiful. We have also explored the relationship of particular flowers in Homeric poetry with the notions of seduction and deception: for instance, Korē’s narcissus, with its hundred heads, represents an exaggeration of the sorts of narcissi that audiences would have encountered in the natural environment, and it rouses the autoerotic desires of this “flower-faced girl” with its special charms.
But given that different scenes focus on different plants—the narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter, the hyacinth in Odyssey 6 and 23—the Homeric corpus as a whole presents an association of seduction and deception with flowers in general. We should also, then, consider the bases for such associations in the natural phenomena familiar to these poets and their audiences. We should try to explain how the Homeric poets were able to draw on the characteristics of flowers in the Greek natural environment in order to illustrate the operations of seduction and deception in the relevant passages. The following chapter offers just such an explanation.


[ back ] 1. Mulvey 1989b, Lacan 1977.
[ back ] 2. Lacan 1977:95–96.
[ back ] 3. Rosenmeyer 2004, with quotations from pp. 176 and 177. On the innocence of Korē’s desire see also Arthur (Katz) (1994:237): Korē’s/Persephone’s eagerness to pluck the flower, together with her acceptance of a pomegranate seed later in the hymn (lines 371–374) suggest a “youthful naiveté,” which is easily exploited by the dangers posed by Hades: “Persephone’s easy seduction by these symbols indicates her greater susceptibility to the dangers and pleasures of sexuality with the male.” For the distinctions between male and female perspectives on the action of the hymn, cf. DeBloois 1997, who points out that female characters such as Demeter see the abduction of Korē as a rape or as a kind of death, but Zeus and Hades regard it as a marriage. For the associations of the abduction of Korē with death, see Chapter 9 and the discussion of Stehle’s argument below.
[ back ] 4. Deacy 2013; to quote her analysis of depictions of Europa’s abduction by Zeus in poetry and visual art, Europa’s “desire … is for the sexualised meadow rather than for the Zeus-bull who intrudes into that sensuous space” (p. 401). For the story of Europa, see also n18 below.
[ back ] 5. What Deacy describes, then, is something akin to the eroticized groves, the havens of mutual female eroticism, that Winkler (1996) finds in Sappho’s poetry. See Chapter 1 for discussion of flowers and eroticism in Sappho, and of Winkler’s analysis thereof.
[ back ] 6. Stehle (Stigers) 1977, esp. 94–96. For other interpretations of the erotic dimensions of Korē’s actions, see Lincoln 1981:71–90, Arthur (Katz) 1994, Calame 1999:154–155, and Suter 2002:40–41 and 54–56. Like Stehle, Suter identifies autoerotic dimensions in the scene: “Persephone finds herself desirable and wants to possess herself in the flower” (p. 55).
[ back ] 7. For Korē’s near-death in the hymn, see also Chapter 9 below and n3 above.
[ back ] 8. Elliger (1975:160–161) is possibly the only other critic to have noted the contrast between flowers in the Greek natural environment and the representation of the narcissus in the hymn. He observes that the “Steigerung der Blütenpracht” (p. 161; cf. Hymn to Demeter 10–11) of the plant elicits a heightened response on the part of viewers, both mortal and immortal.
[ back ] 9. Murr 1969:248: “von betäubendem Wohlgeruche mit einer üppigen Dolde gelblicher Blüten.” On the scent of the Narcissus tazetta, see Huxley and Taylor 1977:153: the flowers are “very fragrant.”
[ back ] 10. Huxley and Taylor 1977:153 and Polunin 1980:502. See Plate 4 for an example of such a plant.
[ back ] 11. Polunin 1980:502. My own study of specimens of the genus Narcissus at the Herbarium of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew suggests that examples with more than nine heads are rare: of the 917 specimens that I surveyed (the majority of the Kew collection), only fourteen had more than nine heads; none had more than fifteen. For further discussion of the many-headedness of Korē’s narcissus, see Chapter 9.
[ back ] 12. For the divine connotations of θαῦμα, see Prier 1989:84–97. Motte (1971:35), commenting on the Hymn to Demeter, notes that an encounter with a θαυμαστός object evoked the sorts of emotions that the Greeks experienced in the face of the sacred. The term γάνος conveys “une intuition de la nature scintillante et magicienne ...” (Motte 1971:431; cf. Jeanmaire 1939:436).
[ back ] 13. For the implications of the use of φύω in this passage, see chapter 6 below.
[ back ] 14. Moreover, in describing the emergence of the narcissus Korē employs the lexeme χθών rather than Γαῖα/γαῖα, the regular term for the goddess Earth in early hexameter; cf. Theogony 159–166 (Earth enlists the help of her children against Heaven); 493–495 (Earth deceives Cronus); 821 (Earth sends up Typhoeus). For parallels between the birth of Typhoeus and the growth of the narcissus, see Chapter 9 below.
[ back ] 15. Cf. Hymn to Demeter 177–178: the narrator likens the hair of the daughters of Celeus to the saffron flower (χαῖται … κροκηΐῳ ἄνθει ὁμοῖαι). Their hair has not been enhanced by the gods; Korē’s description of the narcissus as “like saffron” likewise suggests a regular flower. By contrast, as we shall see the hyacinthine hair of Odysseus in Odyssey 6 and 23 is the result of divine intervention.
[ back ] 16. For the narcissus as a path between worlds, see Chapter 4 below.
[ back ] 17. On the tale of the hymn as a rape, cf. Lincoln 1981:78, DeBloois 1997, and Deacy 2013.
[ back ] 18. A fragment of Hesiodic poetry offers a partial parallel for this Homeric scene. In fr. 140 MW, from the Catalogue of Women, Zeus spies Europa gathering flowers and is struck with desire for her. With the intention of seducing her, he transforms himself into a bull and breathes on her with saffron breath (κρόκον ἔπνει). Having thus deceived her, he is able to mount her (ἀπατήϲαϲ ἐβάϲταϲε). Quotations of Hesiodic poetry are from West 1966, 1978, and Merkelbach and West 1967. For the story of Europa, see also n4 above.
[ back ] 19. Proclus at Bernabé 1996:38–39 lines 4–7. See also the D-scholium to Iliad 1.5 (van Thiel 2000 p. 5, lines 8–13 of the scholium).
[ back ] 20. Where Cypria fr. 4 Bernabé is mentioned, it tends to be adduced as a comparandum for other, better known and better loved passages within or beyond the Homeric corpus, which likewise associate flowers and the erotic; see Faulkner 2008:20n62, Scheid and Svenbro 1996:57–58, Janko 1994 on Iliad 14.172–174, Maggiuli 1989:187.
[ back ] 21. Griffin 1977:50–51.
[ back ] 22. The crocus and hyacinth are also paired at Iliad 14.348 and at Hymn to Pan 25 (see Chapter 4 and 5 below, respectively).
[ back ] 23. For the close relationship of Cypria fr. 4 Bernabé with other passages of Homeric poetry, see Bernabé 1996 ad loc., West 2013:75–76, and Sammons 2017:185–186. West stresses the conventionality of the diction of these lines. For instance, he notes parallels between the flowers mentioned in this fragment of the Cypria and those described in two of the passages that I discuss elsewhere in Part I: the opening of the Hymn to Demeter (above) and the Διὸς ἀπάτη (Chapter 4 below).
[ back ] 24. For ἡδύς as a reference to scent in Homeric poetry, cf. Odyssey 4.446, 9.210, and 12.369.
[ back ] 25. The adjective ἀμβρόσιος frequently describes divine garments in Homeric poetry, including as here the robes of Aphrodite (Iliad 5.338). For other such descriptions of divine clothing, see Iliad 14.178, 21.507, 24.341, Odyssey 1.97, 5.45.
[ back ] 26. The term ἀμβροσίη also refers to the unguent with which Hera anoints herself in preparation for the Διὸς ἀπάτη (14.170); on Hera’s preparations for the Διὸς ἀπάτη, see also Chapter 3 below. For ἀμβροσίη as an ointment, cf. 16.670 and 680, where Apollo anoints the body of Sarpedon.
[ back ] 27. See Bernabé 1996 ad loc. on the different attempts to emend the reading καλλιρρόου that is preserved in our manuscripts.
[ back ] 28. As with the narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter, the divine origins of the flowers in these lines suggest that they will have a greater impact on the senses than flowers of the same names from the Greek natural environment. The narcissus is created specially by the goddess Gaia; here, the divine Graces and Seasons prepare Aphrodite’s robes.
[ back ] 29. For the Διὸς ἀπάτη, see Chapter 3 below.
[ back ] 30. For the Judgement of Paris as a seduction scene, see Currie 2016:154 and Sammons 2017:186.
[ back ] 31. A similar scene from Hesiodic poetry is explicitly marked as a deception: at Theogony 589 and Works and Days 83, Pandora is described as δόλον αἰπὺν, ἀμήχανον ἀνθρώπων, “a sheer trick, impossible for mankind.” In preparation for the seduction and deception of Epimetheus and of men more generally, the Seasons (Works and Days 74–75) wreathe her “with spring flowers” (ἄνθεσιν εἰαρινοῖσιν). The same phrase is used in connection with the Graces and the Seasons at Cypria fr. 4.2 Bernabé. If lines 576–577 belong to the Theogony (see West 1966 ad loc. for reasons to doubt their authenticity), then Pandora is decked with flowery wreaths in that poem also, this time by Athena. For the resemblances between these accounts of the preparation of Pandora and the Homeric seduction scenes that we are studying in this chapter, see Richardson 1974:38, West 1978 on Works and Days 73–75 and 2013:75, Holmberg 1990:74n75. There is also one other Hesiodic scene that offers a partial parallel for these Homeric scenes: see n18 above.
[ back ] 32. Van Thiel 2000:5, lines 11–12 of the scholium to the words Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή.
[ back ] 33. West 2013:68–70.
[ back ] 34. Proclus’ summary of the Cypria at Bernabé 1996:38–40 lines 4–26, with quotation from lines 9–11. Unfortunately his summary is too threadbare for us to be sure quite how Zeus engineers these events in the version(s) of the Cypria known to Proclus. If Paris is to choose Helen and thereby provide the catalyst for the war, Eris must provoke the quarrel that leads to the Judgement of Paris, and Aphrodite must make her offer of Helen’s hand. But Proclus passes straight from a description of Zeus’ plans to an allusion to Eris’ presence at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, without explaining the connection between the two elements of the story (Bernabé 1996:38–39 lines 4–7). Likewise, he fails to explain how Zeus ensures that Aphrodite offers Helen to Paris.
[ back ] 35. Aphrodite may also be the unwitting instrument of Zeus’ plans in this episode, as she is in her Homeric Hymn: see Sammons 2017:188. For Aphrodite’s ignorance in the hymn, see also Chapter 3 n13 below.
[ back ] 36. Proclus’ summary of the Cypria at Bernabé 1996:39 line 8. On Helen as a double for Aphrodite, see Brillet-Dubois 2011:110 on this passage of the Cypria, and Clader 1976:53–54, Stehle 1996:196, and Brillet-Dubois 2001:258–259 on Homeric poetry in general.
[ back ] 37. The adjective ἀλεγεινήν, “grievous,” suggests the dire consequences of Paris’ lusts, both for himself and for the Trojans in general: see Richardson 1993 ad loc.
[ back ] 38. Bernabé 1996:39 lines 9–10. The architect Harmonides, who built the ships for Paris, was likewise unaware of the consequences of his actions—both for the Trojans and for himself: “he fashioned the equal ships for Alexander, / the beginnings of evil, which became an evil thing for the Trojans / and for himself, since he knew nothing of the pronouncements from the gods” (Ἀλεξάνδρῳ τεκτήναντο νῆας ἐΐσας / ἀρχεκάκους, αἳ πᾶσι κακὸν Τρώεσσι γένοντο / οἷ τ’ ἀυτῷ, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι θεῶν ἐκ θέσφατα ᾔδη, Iliad 5.62–64). The ships are mentioned in connection with Harmonides’ personal tragedy: he loses his son Phereclus in the war (59–68).
[ back ] 39. “Thus she spoke; for she felt ashamed to mention her flourishing marriage / to her dear father; but he understood everything and answered authoritatively” (Ὣς ἔφατ’· αἴδετο γὰρ θαλερὸν γάμον ἐξονομῆναι / πατρὶ φιλῷ· ὁ δὲ πάντα νόει καὶ ἀμείβετο μύθῳ· 6.66–67).
[ back ] 40. Athena’s subsequent actions prepare the ground for the seduction of Nausicaa. But they also correct expectations of a more disturbing encounter that are created by the description of Odysseus’ emergence from the undergrowth. At that stage of the story the girls, like Korē and her companions in the Hymn to Demeter, are “playing” (Hymn to Demeter 5, 425; Odyssey 6.100) in a space far from human civilization (for the erotic connotations of such “play,” see Rosenmeyer 2004 and the discussion above). The simile at Odyssey 6.130–134 compares Odysseus as he goes amongst the girls with a hungry lion attacking sheep. If Odysseus is hungry like this lion, then the following lines suggest that we should understand his hunger in erotic terms. The verb μίσγομαι (literally, “mingle”), which is frequently used of sexual intercourse in Homeric poetry, describes him as he prepares to go among the girls: ὣς Ὀδυσεὺς κούρῃσιν ἐϋπλοκάμοισιν ἔμελλε / μίξεσθαι, γυμνός περ ἐών ... (“thus Odysseus was about to mingle with the lovely-haired maidens, naked though he was …” 6.135–136). The suggestion is that, like Hades in the Hymn to Demeter, Odysseus will threaten the girls with sexual violence. For the sexual connotations of μίσγομαι in this scene, see Ahl and Roisman 1996:51–52, Felson 1997:47, Glenn 1998:111–114; see also more generally LSJ s.v. μείγνυμι B.4, Snell 1955–2010 s.v. μίσγω I.2d, and specific instances from the Homeric poems, such as Iliad 2.232, Odyssey 1.73, and Hymn to Aphrodite 39. For the use of μίσγομαι later in Book 6, see n44 below.
[ back ] 41. See Irwin 1990, Levaniouk 2011:67–68. In addition, if Anacreon fr. 1 Leo is anything to go by, the hyacinth may have had more general associations with eroticism: as we saw in Chapter 1, the poem associates “hyacinthine fields” (ὑακιν[θίναϲ ἀρ]ούραϲ, line 7) both with Aphrodite and with the attractive girl Herotima.
[ back ] 42. Given that H. orientalis was not originally found in the Greek mainland, scholars have suggested other possibilities for the ancient Greek ὑάκινθος, including plants of the genera Scilla, Delphinium, Iris, and Gladiolus: cf. Irwin 1990n51, with bibliography. Nevertheless, it is perfectly possible that at Odyssey 6.231 and Sappho 105b.2 Voigt the term refers to the H. orientalis. Since it is native to the eastern Mediterranean (cf. Polunin 1980:496), it would have grown in areas of Asia Minor familiar to early audiences of Homeric and Sapphic verse. See also Amigues 1992, who identifies the ὑάκινθος at Odyssey 6.231 as H. orientalis and suggests that this plant was introduced to Greece as a whole at an early date.
[ back ] 43. Moreover, when Athena gives Odysseus the appearance of a younger man at 16.172–176, a dark beard (κυάνεαι ... γενειάδες, 176) grows on his chin. As Irwin (1990) points out, such a description contrasts with the reference to the middle-aged Odysseus’ blond hair at 13.431, which Athena “made him lose” (ὄλεσε) in order to create his beggar disguise. But perhaps, as Eustathius (on Odyssey 6.230–231) suggests, we should infer that Odysseus’ hair became lighter with age. If that is the case, the three guises of Odysseus that we shall study below are distinguished by three different looks for his hair: the dark, flowing hair of the ephebe, the blond hair of the middle-aged man, and the patchy hair of the old beggar.
[ back ] 44. Nausicaa’s desires are moreover suggested by her use of the verb μίσγομαι in these lines, which is associated elsewhere in Homeric poetry with sexual intercourse (see n40 above). Earlier Nausicaa uses the verb μίσγομαι of strangers who come amongst the Phaeacians (205) but, once she has seen him in his enhanced state, she uses it also of Odysseus himself (241). At 286–288, she modestly distances herself from girls who would “mingle with” men before marriage: καὶ δ’ ἄλλῃ νεμεσῶ, ἥ τις τοιαῦτά γε ῥέζοι, / ἥ τ’ ἀέκητι φίλων πατρὸς καὶ μητρὸς ἐόντων / ἀνδράσι μίσγηται πρίν γ’ ἀμφάδιον γάμον ἐλθεῖν. (“And I find blame with any other girl who would do such things, who mingles with men against the will of her father and mother while they are alive, before entering into a public marriage.”) But seeing as she has just imagined how onlookers would gossip about Odysseus as a potential match for her (276–284), she appears to be intimating her desires to Odysseus in these lines: see de Jong 2001 on Odyssey 6.275–285, 286–288.
[ back ] 45. Eustathius on Odyssey 6.231: the image of gold poured around silver suggests that Odysseus, “beautiful by nature” (φύσει καλὸς ὤν) is rendered still more beautiful (ἐξαλλάγη πρὸς τὸ κάλλιον). I quote Eustathius from Stallbaum 1825. Cf. Duigan 2004:81 on the themes of deception, concealment, and value in this image.
[ back ] 46. Odysseus, by contrast, looks upon Nausicaa’s beauty (e.g., Odyssey 6.160–169) but is not seduced: see Grethlein 2018:35–39.
[ back ] 47. Cf. 13.192–193 (Athena plans that his wife, fellow citizens, and friends not recognize him before he has taken revenge on the suitors) and 16.455–459 (after his reunion with Telemachus in an enhanced form, Athena restores Odysseus’ beggar disguise so that Eumaeus will not recognize him). For Odysseus’ meeting with Telemachus, see below.
[ back ] 48. On the apparent disjunction between Odysseus’ blond hair in this passage, his dark hair at 16.176, and also the suggestions of dark coloration in the image of hyacinthine hair, see n43 above.
[ back ] 49. Deception is a major theme in the scene in which this transformation takes place. Athena takes on the appearance of a shepherd (13.222–325). She also renders the island unrecognizable to Odysseus by shrouding it in mist (189–197). She eventually reveals to him that he has indeed arrived on Ithaca; but even after hearing this, the wary Odysseus tells her a lying tale of his adventures (256–286). In response, Athena notes that he is “insatiable in his trickery” (δόλων ἆτ’, 293) and that, while he is “best among all mortals for counsel and speeches” (βροτῶν ὄχ’ ἄριστος ἁπάντων / βουλῇ καὶ μύθοισιν), she herself is “renowned for cunning and stratagems among all gods” (ἐν πᾶσι θεοῖσι / μήτι τε κλέομαι καὶ κέρδεσιν, 298–299).
[ back ] 50. What is more, Telemachus was presumably too young to remember Odysseus’ appearance when he left for Troy. Odysseus has been away twenty years, and in the narrative timeframe of the Odyssey Telemachus is just reaching manhood (see, for instance, 18.175–176).
[ back ] 51. Levaniouk 2011:67, commenting on Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair: “a remarkable sliding of age-markers characterizes Odysseus: he is represented alternatively as an ageing married man and as a youngster.”
[ back ] 52. Penelope herself acknowledges as much when, speaking of Odysseus in his beggar disguise, she tells Eurycleia to “wash your master’s agemate” (νίψον σοῖο ἄνακτος ὁμήλικα, 19.358). She supposes that “Odysseus’ hands and feet are similar now, since mortals age quickly in their misery” (καί που Ὁδυσσεὺς / ἤδη τοιόσδ’ ἐστὶ πόδας τοιόσδε τε χεῖρας· / αἶψα γὰρ ἐν κακότητι βροτοὶ καταγηράσκουσιν, 358–360). It is possible that Penelope suspects at this point that the beggar is Odysseus: see n70 below. Nevertheless, she finally accepts him as her husband in his guise as a young man (in Book 23).
[ back ] 53. See Ahl and Roisman 1996:194–195. In fact, Odysseus resembles the mature young man Telemachus has become. A key indication of Telemachus’ maturity is his new beard (18.175–176, 269–270); Odysseus’ beard is emphasized at 16.176.
[ back ] 54. The Odyssey’s descriptions of the transformations of Penelope and Telemachus seem to fall into this category: Athena enhances their existing traits, but unlike in the case of Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair, her interventions do not reverse the ageing process; moreover, unlike Odysseus in Book 13 the characters in question do not take on new roles. At Odyssey 2.12–13 and 17.63–64, for instance, Athena pours grace on Telemachus; she does the same for Odysseus at 6.235 and 23.162. As a result of Athena’s intervention, the Ithacans wonder at Telemachus (θηεῦντο, 2.13, 17.64); but they do not mistake him for someone else or for a younger man. Similarly, much as Athena makes Odysseus “larger and broader” at 6.230 and 23.157, she renders Penelope “taller and broader” at 18.195 “so that [the suitors] might wonder” (ἵνα … θησαίατ’, 191). And Penelope’s appearance does, indeed, rouse their desires (211–212). But it is not deceptive: the suitors make no mistake about her identity. Any deceptive qualities in the scene center not on her appearance, but on her speech at 251–280. Penelope extracts gifts from the suitors with her possibly misleading suggestion that she is now ready to remarry (250–303); see Levine 1983 on deception in this scene.
[ back ] 55. The clothes that Laertes wears as he tends his orchard, which are described at 24.227–231, might likewise have the potential to deceive (see Murnaghan 1987:26–30). Indeed, Odysseus pretends to mistake him for a slave, albeit one of impressive appearance (249–255). For the meeting of Odysseus and Laertes, see also Chapter 5 and n60 below.
[ back ] 56. Patroclus’ deception of the Trojans differs, however, from Odysseus’ use of a beggar disguise to the extent that it imperils the deceiver himself. At Iliad 16.46–47 the narrator comments that, in asking Achilles for his armor, he was asking for his own death, and Patroclus is killed shortly after entering battle (786–857).
[ back ] 57. Cf. Iliad 19.38–39, where Thetis drips the divine substances ambrosia and nectar into the nostrils of Patroclus’ corpse to leave his flesh “unchanging or still better” (ἔμπεδος, ἢ καὶ ἀρείων, 19.33).
[ back ] 58. The “dewy” appearance of Hector’s corpse might also have carried floral connotations for audiences familiar with Homeric poetry: see Chapter 7 n16 below.
[ back ] 59. For Aphrodite’s rosy oil and the effect of Hector’s body on viewers, see also Chapter 7 below.
[ back ] 60. Unlike other transformations of Odysseus’ family members in the Odyssey (for which see n54 above), Athena’s enhancement of Laertes’ appearance at 24.367–369 could be understood as deceptive. In his new guise, he resembles a god (371), and Odysseus correctly surmises that a god has intervened to alter his appearance (373–374). What is more, at 24.376–382 Laertes expresses the wish that he were still the man he was when he took the city of Nericus. These lines might have led listeners to suspect that Athena has, in fact, given him the appearance of such a warrior and that therefore, as with Odysseus in Books 6, 16, and 23, she has rendered him more youthful. What is more, much as Athena dresses Odysseus in better clothing instead of his beggar’s rags (16.173–174), Laertes dons a “beautiful cloak” (χλαῖναν καλήν, 24.367) in place of the squalid clothing that he had been wearing (227–231). For Laertes’ clothing, see also n55 above.
[ back ] 61. Moreover, in each case the goddess’ actions benefit the object of her attentions. Odysseus’ enhanced appearance helps him to secure a homecoming from the Phaeacians (Odyssey 6) and to achieve a reunion with Penelope (Odyssey 23). Aphrodite’s ministrations in Iliad 23 help to preserve Hector’s corpse (see 23.182–191).
[ back ] 62. For the identification of the two episodes as seduction scenes, see Sowa 1984:67–73, Pucci 1987:91–92, Murnaghan 1987:92–103, Glenn 1998, Currie 2016:189–193; see also van Nortwick 1979, who observes that Nausicaa, more than any other female on Odysseus’ travels, resembles his wife. For the parallels between the two scenes, see also Pucci 1987:91-92 and Arthur (Katz) 1991:114–115, 136–137.
[ back ] 63. Odysseus hears Penelope weeping as she recalls her vision and has a vision of his own, in which she recognizes him (20.92–94). The references to the younger Odysseus and to Penelope’s recognition of Odysseus anticipate the events in Book 23 that we shall discuss below: Penelope eventually accepts Odysseus in his younger, hyacinthine form.
[ back ] 64. Russo (1982:14) argues that the phrase εἴκελος αὐτῷ at 20.88 both refers to the Odysseus of twenty years ago and also suggests the beggar, whom Penelope likens to Odysseus as he would appear now at 19.358–360 (see n52 above). But such an allusion to the older Odysseus would create an awkward contrast with the clear reference in the next line to the Odysseus of twenty years ago.
[ back ] 65. A second dream, which Penelope reports to Odysseus in his beggar disguise at 19.536–553, may offer a further indication of Penelope’s desires. She mentions that she has twenty geese the sight of which warms her heart (536–537); an eagle arrives and kills them (538–540); Penelope remembers her distress at their deaths (541–543); the eagle explains clearly that he is Odysseus and that he will slay the suitors (546–550); but when she awoke the geese were still alive in her courtyard (552–553). Perhaps her distress at the apparent death of the geese and their actual survival reflects a certain tenderness that she has developed towards the suitors: see Rankin 1962 and Russo 1982 (cf. Marquardt 1985:43–45: the dream reflects her fear that she might be suspected of such desires). If this is the case, her tender feelings towards these younger men are consistent with her desire for the younger Odysseus and resistance to Odysseus in his guise as an old beggar.
[ back ] 66. On this image as a reflection of Odysseus’ artificial rejuvenation, see also Levaniouk 2011:67–68.
[ back ] 67. Odysseus recognizes Penelope’s state of mind at 23.115–116: “now because I am filthy and clothed in evil clothing on my flesh, / for that reason she dishonors and does not say that I am he” (νῦν δ’ ὅττι ῥυπόω, κακὰ δὲ χροῒ εἵματα εἷμαι, / τοὕνεκ’ ἀτιμάζει με καὶ οὔ πώ φησι τὸν εἶναι). For the connection of these lines with Penelope’s desire for the younger Odysseus, see Felson 1997:62: “it is as if [Odysseus] had overheard her earlier fantasy, when she dreamed he lay beside her ‘as he was when he went with the army’ (20.89–90).”
[ back ] 68. The themes introduced by Odysseus’ instructions to Telemachus at 23.130–136 are in keeping with Odysseus’ new guise. Telemachus should clean his clothes and tell the bard Phemius to play music for a wedding. In his hyacinthine guise, Odysseus resembles not only the young man who left for Troy, but also the youth who married her. She renews their marriage with Odysseus in this guise.
[ back ] 69. As Heitman (2005:89–95) points out, Penelope in her caution differs also from other characters in the Odyssey faced with Odysseus’ enhanced appearance: Telemachus and Nausicaa, for instance, despite likening Odysseus to a god, soon accept his transformed appearance.
[ back ] 70. It is possible, as some scholars have argued, that Penelope recognizes Odysseus or has her suspicions about his identity earlier than Book 23: Harsh 1950, Amory 1963, Winkler 1990:129–161, Ahl and Roisman 1996:229–272. If Penelope does have her suspicions, this would help to explain her decision to hold the archery contest shortly after meeting the disguised Odysseus (21.1–4) and her insistence that Odysseus be allowed a turn with the bow (21.111–142). Nevertheless, Penelope only accepts him as her husband when she has seen him in the guise of a younger man with hyacinthine hair. For Penelope’s suspicions regarding Odysseus’ identity, see also n52 above.
[ back ] 71. See Chapter 5 below for discussion of imagery connected with Odysseus’ bed.
[ back ] 72. Cf. Murnaghan 1987:16: Athena’s actions give Penelope the illusion that she is looking at the Odysseus who left her to fight at Troy.
[ back ] 73. For the deceptive qualities of Odysseus’ appearance, see Pucci 1987:92, who observes that Odysseus’ seductive appearance in Book 23 is no truer than the beggar disguise it replaces, Ahl and Roisman 1996:264, who contend that “Athena recreates an image, a phantasm of the Odysseus Penelope loved,” and Nooter 2019:49, who proposes that Athena’s treatment of Odysseus “is framed not as an uncovering of the true Odysseus from under the cloak of his beggarly disguise, but rather as itself an act of artistic subterfuge on the part of a god.” Dougherty (2015:134–140) argues that Odysseus’ change of appearance at Odyssey 23.156–162 is part of a productive trial of different roles, as he and Penelope negotiate their new relationship with each other. But at this point Penelope is excluded from the game: her ignorance of the transformation that has occurred and its manipulation of her desires qualify Odysseus’ appearance as deceptive.
[ back ] 74. If Murnaghan (1987:141–142) is correct, Penelope’s puzzling reference to Helen’s adultery immediately afterwards (218–224) continues her explanation for her hesitancy. According to Murnaghan, Penelope hesitates precisely because she has always feared giving in to her desires (as Helen gave in to her desires) and accepting an impostor as Odysseus on the basis of his plausible speech (ἔπεσσιν).
[ back ] 75. In a further irony, Penelope notes shortly beforehand that “the gods … begrudged us the chance to enjoy youth, remaining with one another” (θεοί / ... νῶϊν ἀγάσαντο παρ’ ἀλλήλοισι μένοντε / ἥβης ταρπῆναι, 23.210–212). Penelope herself will not enjoy a second youth, but, as we have seen, she is unaware that she has been presented with an artificially youthful Odysseus.
[ back ] 76. For these and other unsettling elements in the denouement of the Odyssey, see Pucci 1987:83–97, Ahl and Roisman 1996:247–272, Purves 2006 and 2010:65–96. As we shall see in Chapter 5 below, such elements are balanced by arboreal images that suggest the endurance of Odysseus’ and Penelope’s marriage.
[ back ] 77. Mulvey 1989b.
[ back ] 78. Lacan 1977, e.g., pp. 95–96.