3. The Characterization of Agamemnon in the Odyssey

3.1 Introduction

Agamemnon is in Hades by the time the action of the Odyssey opens. This necessitates that his personal appearances be incorporeal and only in the underworld (Odyssey 11 and 24). Agamemnon as a traditional character is with us in greater and lesser ways beyond his apparitions as a specter, however. He appears metonymically, through retrospective narrative by others in various episodes. [1] Agamemnon is invoked in ways that connect him intimately with the Trojan War and its immediate aftermath, the nostoi, and later still the Oresteia; there also exist possible allusions to the House of Atreus Saga of past blood guilt. [2] Our task here is to elucidate the most significant of Agamemnon’s appearances as a basis for more general comments in this and subsequent chapters. It will become evident that certain features of Agamemnon’s story persistently adhere to his character.
Our consideration of Agamemnon will follow the chronology of the Odyssey, but we must keep in mind what I have suggested in many ways already in the preceding chapters. For the traditional audience (whom we must seek to emulate), the story of the Odyssey was not new; rather, it was already known in some form to Homer’s core audience. [3] The details from different events in Agamemnon’s life that appear scattered throughout the epic were tightly interwoven and interdependent for Homer and his listeners. While the chronological ordering of events within the Odyssey could doubtless change as we noted in Chapter 1, the traditional depth of individual characters nevertheless provided a shared connection between the singer and his core audience. Only careful consideration of Agamemnon’s manifold appearances in the Odyssey will allow us to hear what sort of character the poet and his tradition had in mind. Further, as noted in Chapter 2, characterization for the ancient audience was not abstracted and separated from events, but rather, attached inextricably to “word and deed.” Consequently, both of these aspects, language and action, will be considered in close detail in what follows. The format of this chapter on the Odyssey (and the ensuing chapter on the Iliad) will of necessity be a commentary on Agamemnon’s appearances. Within the Odyssey, we will see emerge a part of the traditional portrait of Agamemnon known to Homer, through his personal voice from Hades or as a character within recited tales.

3.2 Commentary

3.2.1 Agamemnon’s Nostos and the Oresteia: 1.30–43

The first reference to Agamemnon occurs at the very opening of the Odyssey’s tale, in the divine assembly scene. In this scene we hear of Agamemnon indirectly through the patronymic “son of Agamemnon” (’Αγαμεμνονίδης, 30, a hapax) attached to his son Orestes, the hero of the Oresteia, here remembered by Zeus as the killer of Aigisthos. Orestes’ revenge and the whole Oresteia is of course only possible following the death of Agamemnon, killed “upon his return” (νοστήσαντα, 36) from the Trojan War. The purpose of the Oresteia story for the poet of the Odyssey is to show that humans like Aigisthos are responsible for their actions, and that Aigisthos’ fate prefigures the fate of the suitors. It is “ein zentrales Thema der Apologoi” (Danek 1998:35). [4] Moreover, Agamemnon’s death at his wife’s hands, as we will see, is employed to warn Odysseus to be more thoughtful.

3.2.2 Agamemnon Taken by a “Ruse Strategist”: 1.299–300

Athena disguised as Mentes converses with Telemachos as they sit near the haughty suitors who are inflicting themselves on the absent Odysseus’ oikos. In the course of their conversation she references the example of Orestes: “Or have you not heard of the sort of fame that divine Orestes took hold of / among all people?” (ἢ οὐκ ἀΐεις οἷον κλέος ἔλλαβε δῖος Ὀρέστης / πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, 1.298–299). She urges Telemachos to consider how he could kill the suitors, and encourages him to grow up. Athena intimates that there will be future kleos if he should act like Orestes. [5] Within one premise of Athena’s persuasive argument (a statement contained within a question), we find our second reference to Agamemnon. Athena asks with some incredulity whether Telemachos has not yet heard of the sort of kleos Orestes gained (299), “since he killed a father-murderer, / Aigisthos the ruse strategist, because he killed his noble father” (ἐπεὶ ἔκτανε πατροφονῆα, / Αἴγισθον δολόμητιν, ὅ οἱ πατέρα κλυτὸν ἔκτα). Athena’s comment that Orestes’ father was killed by a “ruse strategist” (δολόμητις) is of special interest. This particularized epithet is employed almost exclusively of Aigisthos in Homer, except, interestingly enough, once, where it occurs as an epithet with Clytemnestra (and once by Hera of Zeus). [6] The nearly exclusive sharing of this epithet with Clytemnestra (who was also involved in the killing of Agamemnon), [7] suggests that it assumes the depth of the tradition related to the murder but also the connection between epithets and characterization, traditional backstories, and metonymy (see Chapter 1). The epithet is overwhelmingly negative, something not always the case with the individual verbal integers that make up this traditional expression, as we saw already with “ruse” (δόλος) in Chapter 2. [8]
We must, then, distinguish carefully the inherent meaning of the epithet “ruse strategist” (δολόμητις) as a traditional “word” from the individual occurrences of the separate words, “ruse” (δόλος) and “strategy” (μῆτις), from which it is formed. This conclusion is supported by a reading of these three distinct words within Homer. The “ruse strategist” (δολόμητις) epithet has adhering to it when used, consistently negative associations such as parricide. By contrast, “ruse” (δόλος) or “strategy” (μῆτις), individually, often have positive associations related to trickery and cunning, which in themselves can serve either good or bad ends. Such positive denotations for the latter words are evinced in Odyssey 9.422, where both words are found in close proximity to one another in a description of Odysseus. In that scene Odysseus is using “ruse” (δόλος) and “strategy” (μῆτις) to save his companions. Reading the meaning of δόλος (“ruse”) or μῆτις (“strategy”) requires that we not assume that either word is inherently “bad,” morally speaking, in the eyes of Homer or his audience. This is not to deny that these individual words are sometimes connected with negative acts, rather, just to note that, unlike in the case of the epithet δολόμητις, they need not be. In this second reference to Agamemnon, then, we learn that he was the object of a strategic ruse orchestrated by a “ruse strategist” (δολόμητις), his wife’s lover, Aigisthos. Consequently, so we are told, Aigisthos paid for his actions with his life.

3.2.3 Nestor’s Stories of Quarrel, Nostoi, and Oresteia: 3.136–310

Telemachos is visiting Nestor after leaving Ithaca by stealth. He wants to ascertain whether his father is alive or dead (Odyssey 1.287–292). In Pylos he follows Athena’s earlier counsel and questions Nestor, who outlines in his characteristically plenary response information that relates a quarrel, various nostoi, and the Oresteia. [9] Each story adds to our understanding of events centrally connected with Agamemnon’s history as a character. Nestor’s narrative begins with a quarrel between the two sons of Atreus (3.136–146) that will effectively result in two separate departures and Agamemnon’s arrival home alone (West in Heubeck, West, Hainsworth 1988:168). [10] Agamemnon is named several times in this narrative by means of the traditional patronymic, “son of Atreus” (’Ατρεΐδην). [11] Nestor’s retrospective suggests that Agamemnon’s stance in what appears to be a quarrel with his brother—Agamemnon wishes first to appease Athena’s wrath and then to leave—is the plan of a “thoughtless child” (νήπιος), “for he did not know that she [Athena] was not about to yield” (οὐδὲ τὸ ᾔδη, ὃ οὐ πείσεσθαι ἔμελλεν, 3.146).
The many instances of the vocative of νήπιος used of adults suggest “thoughtlessness” as part of the traditional meaning of this word in both the Iliad and Odyssey. [12] The term is generally unfavorable and often foreboding. Instances of its use in the Iliad include: Aphrodite of Diomedes on his thoughtless rampage (Iliad 5.406); Hector of the thoughtless fortifications of the Achaians (8.177); and the poet-narrator of Asios, who is the only Trojan who does not heed Polydamas and leave his chariot behind and so suffers as a consequence (12.113; cf. 127). Hera employs the term to describe the thoughtlessness of working against Zeus (15.104). It is used by the poet-narrator of Patroklos, who is entreating Achilles to return to battle (but, the poet adds, he was entreating his own “evil death” [θανάτον τε κακόν, 16.46]); and again of Patroklos, who lets go of the injunction of Achilles to avoid chasing the Trojans back to Troy (16.87–96), so the poet tells us, in his state of atē (16.686). Menelaos uses it in his speech to the Trojan Euphorbos in an exemplum meant to deter his opponent from facing him, a warning that goes tragically unheeded (17.32).
The instances of the vocative forms of nēpios in the Odyssey equally suggest thoughtlessness. Some examples include the especially telling and ominous comment of the poet-narrator speaking in apostrophe of Odysseus’ men who ate the cattle of Helios: “Fools, who gobbled down the cattle of Hyperion Helios; Yet he took away their homecoming day!” (νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο / ἤσθιον· αὐτὰρ ὁ τοῖσιν ἀφείλετο νόστιμον ἦμαρ, 1.8). We find it voiced by Nestor of Agamemnon who, in his dispute with Menelaos, had no idea that Athena wasn’t to be persuaded (3.146). [13] Menelaos, too, is asked if he should be addressed as νήπιος by the sea nymph Eidothea. She is shocked to watch him allowing his men to experience such hopelessness (4.371). The reason she thinks the term suits Menelaus is his negative state of inaction. [14] We get the point, when in the same line Menelaos is also asked if he is “senseless” (χαλίφρων), with the added force of “so very much” (λίην τόσον) stuck in for good measure. [15]
A contrast can be made between the address “thoughtless child” (νήπιος) and the metrically equivalent address, “[O] child” ([ὦ] τέκος), used always with favorable associations. [16] Some typical examples suffice to make the point. It is used affectionately by Nestor (Iliad 23.626) when he addresses Achilles during the funeral games for Patroklos. Priam (Iliad 24.423) employs it to address his unexpected but welcome helper Hermes. Hermes had come in the guise of a youthful attendant of Achilles and offered timely and efficacious information about Hector’s body. In this last example, a formulaic hemistich preceding a favorable address by Priam—“Thus he [Hermes] spoke and he [Agamemnon] rejoiced” (ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δέ, 424)—further affirms the traditionally positive tenor of “O child” ([ὦ] τέκος) as an address, if we consider its other occurrences in Homer. [17] “[O] child” ([ὦ] τέκος) is also used by Alkinoos who addresses his daughter (Odyssey 6.68) with all the paternal love one might expect of such a scene. Odysseus addresses Athena using this appellation (Odyssey 7.22) when she comes disguised as a “little maiden” (παρθενική, 7.20). [18] Suffice it to say, in summation, that the idiom “O child” ([ὦ] τέκος) is at odds in its traditional implications with the metrically equivalent “thoughtless child” (νήπιος) employed in the passage under consideration to characterize Agamemnon. It seems, then, that the very propensity of Agamemnon to act thoughtlessly is itself a traditional trait, highlighted here through an unfavorable and foreboding traditional idiom. [19]
When we consider Nestor’s comment in Odyssey 3.146 (νήπιος, οὐδὲ τὸ ᾔδὴ, ὃ οὐ πείθεσθαι ἕμελλεν) against the backdrop of the synchronic instances of “thoughtless child” (νήπιος) just outlined, it is not easy to excuse Agamemnon’s thoughtlessness merely on the grounds that he did not know what the gods were up to. [20] The limited perspective of Agamemnon is not the sole reason for Nestor’s use of this adjective; rather, it also insinuates the element of thoughtless miscalculation, often, as can be seen in the foregoing examples, by a character involved in a foolhardy action. There is, moreover, a certain amount of ironic disdain directed toward the person it references and his choice in a particular situation. Nestor, by using this word, becomes the poet’s spokesman for the tradition as a whole. Nestor’s speech tells of Agamemnon and Menelaos parting company in “strife” (ἔρις, Odyssey 3.136) at the beginning of the nostoi. Certain of these returns, such as Nestor’s, end in a happy telos. Others terminate in misfortune, including Agamemnon’s, the paradigmatic example of a kakos nostos. Nestor’s story unfolds some of the events of Agamemnon’s nostos, including: “how he came and how Aigisthos devised lamentable destruction” (ὥς τ’ ἦλθ’ ὥς τ’ Αἴγισθος ἐμήσατο λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον, 3.194). From this point the moral is intended most directly for Telemachos, who, Nestor notes, must act as stoutly as Orestes. It is an exhortation that spurs on Telemachos to opine about the suitors’ oppression and to verbalize his strong wish for a tisis, although his concluding comments display pessimism about whether the gods will ever bring this to pass (3.208–209). Nestor’s remarks encourage hope, including a wish for Athena’s help. Any optimism is once again rejected by Telemachos, however, who insists, ironically, that such an outcome could never come to pass (3.225–228). [21]
The ironic conversation between Nestor and Telemachos is broken by the rhetorical question and admonition of none other than Athena herself in the guise of Mentor, who touches on several elements of Agamemnon’s sad nostos. Her speech is meant to connect the traditional audience to the suffering Odysseus. She says that she would rather suffer yet get home (as the traditional audience knows will be the case with Odysseus) than (Odyssey 3.234–235), “reaching home be destroyed at the hearth, as Agamemnon / was destroyed by the ruse of Aigisthos and his own wife” (ἐλθὼν ἀπολέσθαι ἐφέστιος, ὡς Ἀγαμέμνων / ὤλεθ’ ὑπ’ Αἰγίσθοιο δόλῳ καὶ ἧς ἀλόχοιο). Through Athena’s remarks, we learn that Agamemnon was killed “at the hearth” (ἐφέστιος), and that he was killed by the “ruse” (δόλος) of both Aigisthos and “his own wife.” These are important elements not overtly mentioned in Odyssey 1.299–300, which we examined earlier in this chapter. The hearth was a place where one was supposed to be under the protection of the gods and where “sanctity was inherent in the place.” [22] The etymology of “at the hearth” (ἐφέστιος) includes “hearth” (ἑστία), a term employed, as Chantraine notes, “également pour désigner une divinité du foyer,” of Hestia. [23] The metonymy would not have been missed by Homer’s auditors. To be killed at anyone’s hearth was something miasmatic to the Greek mind, whether at one’s own oikos or at the oikos of another as a guest (under the watchful eye of Zeus xenios). [24] This is further illustrated from somewhat later Greek literature. The attachment of “pollution” (variously called ἄγος, λῦμα, μίασμα, or μύσος) to the hearth is assumed by Aeschylus (see Choephoroe 965–971 and Eumenides 169–172). The expiation ceremony for Jason and Medea’s murder of Apsyrtos is likewise connected to the hearth in Apollonius (Argonautica 4.693–717). The hearth, central in issues of pollution and purification (aspects of the sacred), was of first importance to the polis and its colonies (Malkin 2011:211, Tsakirgis 2007:225–226). The conception of the hearth as a sacred place is early, since Hestia is already a personified goddess in Hesiod’s Theogony. [25] Further, the name of public officials in Classical Athens, Peristiarchoi, the “Around the Hearth” officials, affirms the central importance of the hearth for the oikos (Parker 1983:21); yet, more broadly, the hearth symbolizes the political life of Greek communities (Kajava 2004). We can see, then, that Agamemnon’s death at the hearth of a “royal” relative carries miasmic meaning in the minds of both Homer and his core audience, both for the oikos and for the nascent Greek polis.
The question of whose hearth Homer is talking about is a problem for some scholars, however, who immediately assume the dramatic tradition that Agamemnon was killed in his own home. They see the reference “at the hearth” (ἐφέστιος) here as a rather “loose” use, since Agamemnon was not killed at “his own” hearth. They somehow feel that Homer should have made this clearer. [26] Yet, as we noted, to be killed at anyone’s hearth was something that would have been miasmatic to the Greek mind and there exists really nothing untraditional or idiosyncratic about Homer’s use of “hearth” here to reference the hearth of another. In all of its occurrences (Iliad 2.125, Odyssey 3.234, 7.248, 23.55) it stands without identifiers. There is no Homeric instance of its being used with a possessive or reflexive pronoun. [27] In fact “at the hearth” (ἐφέστιος) can be used when one person relates his presence at the hearth of another (Odyssey 7.248), again without grammatical cue. In short, in this passage there is no “loose use.” We who are not members of the traditional audience first learn at this moment in the written text that Agamemnon was killed at a hearth. That is all we know. The context within which Homer’s core audience hears “hearth” at this point, by contrast, is the larger tradition. They know already that Agamemnon was killed at the hearth of another, his cousin Aigisthos. Although this element is known to them through other renditions of this traditional story, it is not yet known to us as readers of a unique, written, and monumental text. We must glean information as we work our way through the pages of a text. It is a “fact” that we must wait to read until book 4. [28] For now, we as a later reading audience know only that Agamemnon was destroyed by his wife and her lover when he returned to his kingdom, and that the murder took place at a hearth.
The conversation with Nestor is turned by Telemachos to the circumstances surrounding Agamemnon’s “death and baleful fate” (θάνατον καὶ κῆρα μέλαιναν, 3.242), a formula that allows the poet to dwell on a narrative moment and make the event more terrible by hendiadys. [29] This exact hendiadys is only employed in the Odyssey, where it harbingers: the portending fate of the suitors (2.283, 24.127); Odysseus’ presumed death by the work of the gods, ironically, as the disheartened Telemachos speaks to Athena in the guise of Mentor (3.242); and the near fate of the prophet Theoklymenos, who fled Argos after killing a man (15.275). It is also used by the poet as narrator (Odyssey 22.14) to describe the impending doom of Antinoos as he reaches for his goblet, but instead finds death from Odysseus’ arrow. The Iliad employs an analogous expression, but fitting a different metrical shape: “slaughter and baleful fate” (φόνον καὶ κῆρα μέλαιναν), heard in the threats of Sarpedon to Tlepolemos (5.652) and Odysseus to Sokos (11.443), which each soon carried out. It is heard too, in the initial thought of Priam’s son Lykaon (21.66). He seeks first to flee from Achilles’ wrath, but is unsuccessful, and next, to supplicate him—“But you respect me and take pity on me” (σὺ δέ μ’ αἴδεο καί μ’ ἐλέησον, 21.74)—without success. Although Achilles had captured him and accepted ransom for his release just twelve days earlier (21.80–81), Lykaon now meets an Achilles with implacable fury, fed by Patroklos’ recent death (21.99–135).
Further, in Odyssey 3, Telemachos asks “How did wide-ruling Agamemnon die?” (πῶς ἔθαν’ Ἀτρεΐδης εὐρὺ κρείων Ἀγαμέμνων; 248). The epithet, “wide-ruling” (εὐρὺ κρείων) is used only of Poseidon (Iliad 11.751) beyond Agamemnon. It clearly marks the son of Atreus as a paramount basileus and leader of a Pan-Hellenic force at Troy. Although the epithet is used only here in the Odyssey, it is widely employed in the Iliad. [30] Moreover, Telemachos inquires of Nestor where Menelaos was when Agamemnon died, and what death the “ruse strategist” (δολόμητις) Aigisthos devised in his absence (249–251).
Nestor’s characteristically garrulous reply (253–328) outlines the background to Clytemnestra’s affair with Aigisthos, including the delay of Menelaos in Egypt. All the pre-nostos and nostos events work to create the right conditions for the homicide. While Menelaos is delayed, Aigisthos is described as charming Agamemnon’s wife with words and devising lamentable things in Mycenae (303). To characterize Aigisthos’ entreprise amoureuse, Homer employs the iterative “he continually charmed” (θέλγεσκε, 264), to fit his metrical needs. [31] The iterative form of this verb occurs only here of all extant Greek literature, supporting its identity as a unique creation in situ by the poet for his narrative needs. The metrically unusable imperfect for which the iterative is substituted and the narrative itself suggest the passing of time. [32] This makes the iterative form an appropriate fit for the poet keen to recall the continual wooing of Clytemnestra by Aigisthos; but also other events, such as disposing of the supervising singer, a move that helped lead to Clytemnestra’s seduction. [33] Hernández (2002:322) comments that “Agamemnon is a dismal failure in his attempt to have a poet tend the queen on his behalf, and he seems at least indirectly responsible for the poet’s unfortunate end.” Further, the consequence for Aigisthos’ killing of Agamemnon is narrated by the poet. It is the revenge of Orestes, described with the traditional idiom “he killed his father-murderer” (ἔκτανε πατροφονῆα, 307; cf. Odyssey 1.299). Orestes’ killing of Clytemnestra is not directly related, but it is insinuated in the description of the burial mound “for his hateful mother and cowardly Aigisthos” (μήτρος τε στυγερῆς καὶ ἀνάλκιδος Αἰγίσθοιο, 310). [34] Yet, this moves us beyond the scope of Agamemnon.
In Nestor’s narrative, then, we have learned that a quarrel between the sons of Atreus effectively resulted in two separate departures and Agamemnon’s arrival home alone. Significantly, as we saw, the language of Nestor’s retrospective implied that Agamemnon’s stance in this quarrel with his brother was the plan of a “thoughtless child” (νήπιος), “for he did not know what he was about to suffer” (οὐδε τὸ ᾔδὴ, ὃ οὐ πείσθαι ἔμελλεν). The many appearances of the vocative νήπιος, a term we have already considered, emphasized the “thoughtlessness” of Agamemnon. By using this word, Nestor became the spokesman for the tradition as a whole, and the implications for Agamemnon were portentous. It would be a lack of forethought that would bring about his death. Further, in the conversation between Nestor and Telemachos, we heard about the pitiful circumstances surrounding Agamemnon’s “death and baleful fate,” and the sorry tale of “wide-ruling” (εὐρὺ κρείων) Agamemnon as paramount basileus, killed upon his return home. In our overview of Odyssey 3, then, we see the same sort of portrait of Agamemnon continue to emerge that we began to see in Chapter 2. Agamemnon is a pathetic victim, in part thanks to his own thoughtlessness on a number of occasions.

3.2.4 Menelaos’ Delay and Agamemnon’s Death: 4.90–92

Telemachos has just entered the palace of Menelaos, an abode resplendent with treasures from its owner’s exotic wanderings during his delayed nostos (4.81–85). In reply to Telemachos’ admiration over his home’s apparent affinity to that of Olympian Zeus, Menelaos replies that his absence from Argos came at a cost (4.90–92):
While I, about these parts, gathering much substance
was wandering, meanwhile another man killed my brother
by stealth, unexpectedly, by the ruse of his destructive wife.

εἷος ἐγὼ περὶ κεῖνα πολὺν βίοτον ξυναγείρων
ἠλώμην, τεῖός μοι ἀδελφεὸν ἄλλος ἔπεφνε
λάθρῃ, ἀνωϊστί, δόλῳ οὐλομένης ἀλόχοιο.
Menelaos’ story emphasizes that the death of Agamemnon involved “another man” (ἄλλος) who goes unnamed but who is clearly assumed to be known to the audience, while the “ruse” (δόλος) is made possible through Agamemnon’s “destructive wife” (οὐλομένη ἄλοχος). Agamemnon is killed “by stealth” (λάθρῃ), in circumstances where he was not personally expecting—“unexpectedly” (ἀνωϊστί)—what came. Reading this traditional word is difficult. Its only other occurrence is in Iliad 21.39. There the poet tells us that Achilles comes upon Lykaon, a young son of Priam and Laothöe, whom we considered earlier in relation to the formula “slaughter and baleful fate” (θάνατόν τε κακὸν καὶ κῆρα μέλαιναν). As we saw, Achilles had ransomed Lykaon the last time he caught him (but twelve days earlier), after Achilles had captured him on a night foray. The poet even provides details of that prior event. Achilles had surprised Lykaon as he was cutting fig branches for chariot rails from his father’s orchard (35–38). He captured the unwary youth and then sold him into oppressive slavery from which he had only recently escaped. At the base of the rare descriptive word “unexpectedly” (ἀνωϊστί) is “expect” (οἴομαι), a verb that stresses a rather more personal note of reflection or thoughtfulness, which, in both Lykaon’s and Agamemnon’s cases, was clearly absent. [35] Agamemnon “did not expect, feel, or personally think” [36] that such a situation would arise. This adds one more example, however passing, to the many other instances of Agamemnon’s thoughtlessness. Further, while Lykaon was given a short respite from his fate, on his second meeting, as we noted, Achilles did not hesitate to take his life. Agamemnon was not even this lucky, and lost his life through a lack of caution the first time around.

3.2.5 Proteus’ Account of Agamemnon’s Death: 4.512–537

Telemachos questions Menelaos about his father, and in his response we discover more about Agamemnon’s history as a character in Homer’s tradition. Menelaos’ speech includes a retrospective narrative about his time in Egypt during his delayed nostos. He was not experiencing favorable winds to speed his journey from Pharos back to Argos, yet received divine assistance through the advice of the nymph Eidothea who took pity on him (4.364). Menelaos followed the sea nymph’s advice. He trapped Proteus and received information that proves advantageous in our current quest for the characterization of Agamemnon in the Odyssey.
In the text under immediate consideration, Proteus first relates to Menelaos that: “somehow your brother fled from the baneful Fates and escaped in hollow ships” (σὸς δέ που ἔκφυγε κῆρας ἀδελφεὸς ἠδ’ ὑπάλυξεν / ἐν νηυσὶ γλαφυρῇσι, Odyssey 4.512–513). Some critics have regarded the subsequent narrative (514–520) as an interpolation. As Stephanie West notes, “If Agamemnon was making for the Argolid, we should not expect him to be near C. Malea, the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese” (in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:224). [37] This proposition, when used to rearrange the text, fixes some immediate geographical difficulties, but misses other possible traditional allusions. Is there an argument, other than interpolation (which has no textual support)? I suggest that the poet (and his tradition), although less intent on geographical accuracy in the real world sense, is concerned with making connections with other traditional nostoi stories and certain ominous events that are imminent for Agamemnon as he returns home. [38] The “interpolation” is really an important part of the singer’s inherited tale, which becomes clear when we consider the traditional language cues the poet includes.
In Odyssey 4.514, Agamemnon is described as almost reaching the “sheer mountain” (ὄρος αἰπύ) of Malea. Malea’s geographical position is, like the island of Pharos, problematic (West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:224–225). Of course, a traditional poet’s knowledge of the areas he speaks of need not be firsthand, since he is working as a poet in a tradition. Many elements in Homer seem concerned with real world accuracy, while others are more likely blended ideas, kept as traditional components from past performances of the same or related stories (cf. the judgment of Talbert 1985:8). Certainly this is the case with other epic traditions. Honko reports that, in his team’s venture to explore the physical geography of Siri epic, he took the singer Gopala Naika to locations he had sung about but never visited. Honko comments:
What was shocking indeed was the discovery that our singer had not seen the places we now went to examine together with him. Yet they were within walking distance. ... It was only our foreign type of (dis)believing which the singer sensed and which made him suggest that we should go and see the places in question. [39]
Honko 1998:323
The singer of Siri epic was not fully aware of the topography of his song lyrics. Yet, as Danek (1998:117) notes, simply appealing to Homer’s lack of geography should “nur ein letzter Ausweg sein,” at least as the major motivating factor. The appeal to geographical inaccuracy, in fact, misses the point. Rather, more central for our consideration of the Homeric singer’s mental topography is the meaning of the formulaic element “sheer mountain” (ὄρος αἰπύ) to the poet and his audience. An analysis of this noun-epithet combination shows that it is a traditional element in Homer’s repertoire, occurring in both the Iliad and Odyssey. It is a traditional way “mountain” (ὄρος) is indexed as a formulaic part of the last hemistich of a line with a preceding genitive of the mountain’s name. [40]
The concern over geographical obfuscation in Odyssey 4.514–515 may be partly met if we consider that perhaps the early audience heard this component of Menelaos’ narrative not simply as a set of nautical directions, but rather as making reference to something traditional within the songs they were hearing. In particular, this is the place where a nostos can experience difficulty. For the same toponym and formulaic epithet that we have heard attached to Agamemnon, “‘sheer mountain’ of Malea” (Μαλείων ὄρος αἰπύ, B2 to line end, 3.287), conjoin to provide the central moment of departure also for Menelaos who is driven to Egypt, as Powell (1970:430) notes. [41] Menelaos then misses his opportunity to thwart the homicide of his brother (3.303). The same spot consequently connects the two events within the larger nostoi, but also intertwines two component stories related to the events at the beginning of the Oresteia: Agamemnon’s homicide and Menelaos’ absence. Odysseus also experiences problems at this spot (Odyssey 9.80–81), which positions him to begin his adventures with the inhuman Polyphemos. The “‘sheer mountain’ of Malea” (Μαλείων ὄρος αἰπύ), then, is a place of portending difficulty for a nostos, and the Odyssey poet invokes its implications here as he develops his tale.
Furthermore, what is perhaps equally noteworthy in our attempt to apprehend metonymic elements in Homer’s portrayal of Agamemnon is where Agamemnon ends up. He is blown closer to the abode of Aigisthos (4.514–518):
But when indeed quickly he was about to reach the sheer mountain of Malea,
then indeed a storm wind, having snatched him up,
bore him upon the fishy sea, deeply groaning,
to the outskirts of the land, where Thyestes lived in his abode,
before, but then Aigisthos son of Thyestes lived [there].

ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ τάχ’ ἔμελλε Μαλειάων ὄρος αἰπὺ
ἵξεσθαι, τότε δή μιν ἀναρπάξασα θύελλα
πόντον ἐπ’ ἰχθυόεντα φέρεν βαρέα στενάχοντα,
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιήν, ὅθι δώματα ναῖε Θυέστης
τὸ πρίν, ἀτὰρ τότ’ ἔναιε Θυεστιάδης Αἴγισθος.
Although the order, textual history, and geographical particularities of these verses are problematic, they nevertheless contain a very important narrative element. For it seems that Homer wishes us to see Aigisthos as living near Agamemnon within the kingdom of the son of Atreus and in his father’s palace. This appears to be the case, no matter if “near” is still, in real world terms, fairly far away by land. It was near enough, thanks to the gale (θύελλα, 515).
The ensuing verses (4.519–520, in particular) are difficult to interpret, at least from a stringently logical point of view of the sort a ship’s navigator might employ. What is Agamemnon doing at such a southerly point near Cape Malea in the first place if he is heading toward the Argolid from the Troad? Is there part of Agamemnon’s nostos we are not privy to, but that is here hinted at? Or does the geographical location also suggest the influence of the historical double kingship of Sparta and Argos (so between Menelaos and Agamemnon)? [42] There is no indication of precisely when this constitutional polity actually began. It was clearly in place by the Archaic period and likely also well established in the Late Geometric period, which may be the period shaping our poet’s understanding and narrative in his descriptive mélange. [43] This “collegiate kingship” could represent an earlier performance component rather than a later contextualization by the poet. The traditional story of the potentially historical reign of Agis and Eurypon—Dorian and Argive, respectively—could have provided the model that allowed for a united view of Argolis and Laconia (Cartledge 2003:90) and consequently made a more southerly destination for Agamemnon possible. The singer’s description of mythical events, then, may have been influenced in a general way by historical stories and political realities.
What, moreover, can we make of the direction taken after Cape Malea? It was obviously a northeasterly wind that got Agamemnon home from the Troad, and yet a regularly prevailing wind would have continued to carry him south to Cythera, not north along the Peloponnesus. [44] In order to keep the text as it stands, we would, I suggest, have to interpret this change in wind direction (now from the south) as another traditional language cue. It is a potentially destructive storm wind in what it portends and represents an example of malevolent divine activity of the sort that kept Odysseus and his men on Thrinakia—an unyielding wind also from the south (ἄλληκτος ἄη νότος, Odyssey 12.325). It was this sort of incessant wind that brought Agamemnon back to “Argos” and Thyestes’ abode. [45] The scene then has an ominous aura attached to it, as implicated by the adversative statement, “but backwards the gods turned the wind [southerlies replacing northerlies], and they arrived home” (ἂψ δὲ θεοὶ οὖρον στρέψαν, καὶ οἴκαδ’ ἵκοντο, Iliad 4.520). The same somber tone is set here as in the Thrinakian corollary, where the southerly wind keeps Odysseus and his men in a dangerous situation. [46]
Alternatively, Bothe’s rearrangement (placing verses 517–518 immediately after 520), which forms the basis of Lattimore’s translation, offers another possible solution, but one not without difficulties. [47] Bothe’s rearrangement of lines, while a possible solution, has no textual support. Interpolation without textual support should remain an explanation of last resort. I am arguing instead that in the text as we have it, the poet wants us to consider Agamemnon, not just in relation to Aigisthos, but also in relation to Thyestes. What can be affirmed for Odyssey 4.514–518 as it stands is that the ensuing narrative of 519–537 wants us to see Aigisthos as living close enough to take the action he did. In this reading, certain formulaic components from the inherited tradition gain greater importance than real-life geography in the poet’s mythic landscape. One key to making sense of this difficult passage, at least in the poet’s presentation (geographical difficulties notwithstanding), may lie in what the traditional language is portending, in this case, impending danger. It is a danger already comprehended by the informed audience and further cued by formulae related to geographical locations and adverse winds. Agamemnon is facing a dilemma, and the language supports the intensity of what follows, his demise.
We turn now to consider lines 517–518 in their context, without textual rearrangement. In these two verses, we are suddenly brought face to face with an imminent peril from a story in Agamemnon’s past—the House of Atreus: “At the outskirts of the land, where Thyestes lived in his abode / before, but then Aigisthos son of Thyestes lived [there]” (ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιήν, ὅθι δώματα ναῖε Θυέστης / τὸ πρίν, ἀτὰρ τότ’ ἔναιε Θυεστιάδης Αἴγισθος). We experience here an early form of correctio. The poet is relating the story to his audience and says that Agamemnon arrived “at the outskirts of the country,” [48] where Thyestes was living, but then he notes: “Before, but then Aigisthos son of Thyestes lived [there]” (τὸ πρίν, ἀτὰρ τότ’ ἔναιε Θυεστιάδης Αἴγισθος). Other examples of correctio exist in Homer. I find three other related instances whose language parallels 518 in having “Before, but then” (τὸ πρίν, ἀτάρ) followed by an ensuing contrast created by a second temporal marker (such as “then,” τότε or “now,” νῦν) and the specifics of the correctio (Iliad 6.125, 16.573 and Odyssey 4.32). Similar poetic correctio is also known to us from the catalogue of ships in the case of Philoctetes (Iliad 2.716–725) and Achilles (2.768–779). [49] Taken together, these instances suggest a rhetorical device for Homer with possible significance in our present passage.
It appears that the poet, through rhetorical correctio in Odyssey 4.518, is acknowledging the dismal story of the House of Atreus well known in the Classical period. After Homer, we are assured, this tale included Thyestes’ bedding of Atreus’ wife, Aerope, and Atreus’ retributive and repulsive feeding of Thyestes’ children to their father. The domestic drama continues when Aigisthos is born through Thyestes’ incestuous relations with his surviving daughter, Pelopia. It is she who gives birth to the future avenger, Aigisthos. The bloody past of the House of Atreus is, however, not presented to us in any clear detail until Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (1217–1244, 1583–1611). [50] This does not mean that authors after Homer are simply inventing the stories clustering around this tale, since here we have indication that the poet may have had some knowledge of it. I am suggesting that this allusion by the singer added suspense and increased the hearer’s sense of foreboding at what was known to be imminent—Aigisthos’ long-awaited revenge through killing Agamemnon. The allusion to Thyestes may be the poet’s way of acknowledging this portentous back story that increases tension for the audience of the Odyssey, but which the poet chose not to retell in any detail. [51] While it is impossible to say exactly what elements from the House of Atreus story were known in the Late Geometric and early Archaic period (i.e., the putative time of the memorialization of the Iliad and Odyssey in writing), [52] such hints within the text are suggestive of some level of knowledge. The question of the singer’s and audience’s knowledge of this story will resurface again in Chapter 4 when we discuss another potential reference to Thyestes in the Iliad.
In our passage from the Odyssey under immediate consideration, Proteus continues his story. In doing so, he includes details of Aigisthos’ ambush (εἷσε λόχον, 4.531), before commenting (534–535): “This one [Agamemnon] then, not recognizing the destruction, he [Aigisthos] led and killed, / having fed [Agamemnon] dinner, as someone kills an ox at a trough” (τὸν δ’ οὐκ εἰδότ’ ὄλεθρον ἀνήγαγε καὶ κατέπεφνε / δειπνίσσας, ὥς τίς τε κατέκτανε βοῦν ἐπὶ φάτνῃ). Agamemnon’s ignorance of the trap set for him is emphasized—a lack of awareness that led to the success of the plot to take his life. Agamemnon’s death is here represented by a traditional simile from Proteus’ mouth. He was killed in a miserable manner, like an ox slaughtered at feeding time. This is a descriptive line that we will hear again later in Agamemnon’s own story when it will be housed in a first person narrative. [53] In Odyssey 4, a final reference to Agamemnon occurs after Menelaos recounts Proteus’ tale near the end of his speech (4.584). Menelaos reports that he made a cenotaph for Agamemnon in Egypt to render his kleos “unquenchable” (ἄσεβεστος). Menelaos acts as any good brother would when faced with the news of Agamemnon’s death in a most unheroic manner.

3.2.6 Agamemnon’s Joy: 8.75–82

In the Phaiacian palace of King Alkinoos and Queen Arete, Odysseus is being entertained as a newly arrived suppliant. After he arrives, the singer Demodokos is stirred by the Muse to find a poetic “pathway” (οἴμη) for his song. [54] In this case, Demodokos is being directed to a “quarrel” (νεῖκος) between Odysseus and Achilles, who strove with vehement words (8.76–78):
Thus once they contended at the gods’ abundant feast
with vehement words, but the ruler of men Agamemnon
was rejoicing in his mind, because the best of the Achaians were contending.

ὥς ποτε δηρίσαντο θεῶν ἐν δαιτὶ θαλείῃ
ἐκπάγλοισ’ ἐπέεσσιν, ἄναξ δ’ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων
χαῖρε νόῳ, ὅ τ’ ἄριστοι Ἀχαιῶν δηριόωντο.
Little can be substantiated about this struggle between Odysseus and Achilles outside of this short narrative by the poet, a narrative tied together by ring structure: “contended/were contending” (δηρίσαντο/δηριόωντο). Nagy (1979:42–58) has gone some way in suggesting that the story, rather than being an ad-hoc invention meant to mimic Iliad 1, [55] contains traditional themes discernable in a number of places in Homer. [56] In other words, it is a traditional story since it is built with traditional components. One scholiast’s conjecture proves less convincing, since he holds that the story is meant as a pointed contrast between Odysseus’ “intelligence” (συνέσις) and Achilles’ “courage” (ἀνδρεία). The heroes are pictured as drinking together (παρὰ πότον), with Agamemnon in attendance, when a veritable symposium turns ugly. A “disagreement” (διαφορά) broke out, based upon what each hero thought would be the best way to take Troy. The imaginative scholiast has Achilles advising that they “act with brute force” (βιάζεσθαι) and Odysseus, that they “aim at guile” (δόλῳ μετελθεῖν). [57] Yet, of greater concern in our search for Agamemnon’s character in Homer is Agamemnon’s affective reaction to these heroes’ contention. As is clear from the foregoing passage, the poet portrays Agamemnon elated at the turn of events. Agamemnon “was rejoicing in his mind” (χαῖρε νόῳ). But just why did Agamemnon react in this way? The poet next has Demodokos sing (8.79–83):
For thus to him giving an oracular response, declared Phoibos Apollo
in sacred Pytho, when he had stepped over the stone threshold
to make consultation. For then next the start of the harm was rolling along,
for both Trojans and Danaans, by the plans of great Zeus.

ὣς γάρ οἱ χρείων μυθήσατο Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων
Πυθοῖ ἐν ἠγαθέῃ, ὅθ’ ὑπέρβη λάϊνον οὐδὸν
χρησόμενος. τότε γάρ ῥα κυλίνδετο πήματος ἀρχὴ
Τρωσί τε καὶ Δαναοῖσι Διὸς μεγάλου διὰ βουλάς.
The context makes reference to an oracle of Apollo and the plans of Zeus, but it all remains difficult to interpret. Homer’s core audience was perhaps better informed, either through knowledge of traditional themes or another full epic story. Yet, we are given the reason for Agamemnon’s rejoicing in mind. It is the oracle of Apollo, a cause signaled by the particle “for” (γάρ, 79). This particle is most easily taken in the normal parataxis of story development as causative; [58] a usage Denniston confirms when he notes that “for” (γάρ) is
commoner in writers whose mode of thought is simple than in those whose logical faculties are more developed. The former tend to state a fact before investigating its reason, while the latter more frequently follow the logical order, cause and effect, whether they employ subordination or co-ordination of clauses. [59]
Denniston 1950:58
The reason for Agamemnon’s joy, then, is not the quarrel between Achilles and Odysseus, itself, a point made some time ago by Snell: “Agamemnon’s delight does not spring from the altercation of the two most valiant heroes ... but from his recollection of Apollo’s prophecy that Troy would fall when the best heroes contended with one another” (Snell 1953:12). Agamemnon had formerly consulted Delphi, here given in its usual Homeric locative form of “in Pytho” (Πυθοῖ; cf. Iliad 9.405). [60] Agamemnon was looking to the fall of Troy as his source of joy (although the heroes were reveling in their own competition to be the best). Odysseus breaks into tears as he hears the singer’s rendition of these events, and yet even Odysseus’ weeping (8.86) is best seen as related to the struggle at Troy, rather than simply his contention with Achilles. In fact, the same description of Odysseus’ crying occurs much later in the same book as Arnould (1990:102) notes. There the poet further includes a simile that likens Odysseus’ tears to that of a women lying over the body of her husband (523–524). She had just witnessed atrocities. Not only has she see him fight “for the city and children trying to beat off the pitiless day” (ἄστεϊ καὶ τεκέεσσιν ἀμύνων νηλεὲς ἦμαρ, 525) but she had been nearby “and caught sight of him dying and gasping for breath” (ἡ μὲν τὸν θνῄσκοντα καὶ ἀσπαίροντα ἰδοῦσα (526). The emphasis, then, if we read the moment with traditional resonance in mind, is first the tragedy of war for Odysseus. We will return to this point, since Agamemnon’s joy may be seen as jarring when contrasted with Odysseus’ tears.
Is there anything more about Agamemnon’s disposition that we can learn from these verses? At first glance, there seems to be an element of mindful “calculation” in the phrase “he was rejoicing in his mind” (χαῖρε νόῳ), of the sort that Snell (1953:8–22) first articulated, where “noos=understanding.” Snell contrasted noos with “thumos=emotion.” A closer consideration, however, shows in fact that the collocation “he was rejoicing in his mind” (χαῖρε νόῳ) was more likely chosen by the singer over the much more prevalent “but he was rejoicing in his thumos” (χαῖρε δὲ θυμῷ) to suit his metrical needs. [61] The singer who has the formula “but he was rejoicing in his thumos” (χαῖρε δὲ θυμῷ) in his traditional lexicon, creates—at the level of unconscious fluency of course—a synonymous formulaic hapax “he was rejoicing in his mind” (χαῖρε νόῳ) through analogy. So no difference in meaning is intended here by the poet.
What we conclude from this episode is that Agamemnon rejoiced at what he believed to be the commencement of an oracle’s fulfillment, rather than merely a neikos between two heroes. Yet the poet juxtaposes Agamemnon’s immediate rejoicing with the realities of what actually followed: “the start of the pain was rolling along” (κυλίνδετο πήματος ἀρχή, 8.81). This is a consequence, the poet observes, which affected Achaians as well as Trojans. It is what we saw caused Odysseus great goos. It moved the poet himself to set Odysseus’ tears through simile against the tragic reality of war, where women lost their husbands, and, seeking to guard their corpses, are hit with spear butts and dragged away into slavery (827–829). The story of the Trojan War and its aftermath is not a tale of immediate victory. Rather, it was a ten-year-long, drawn-out war that brought ensuing hardship, including doom for many on their voyage home and especially for Agamemnon. He had been away a long time as we noted earlier in this chapter, which to Homer and his tradition is part of the cause of his wife’s unfaithfulness. [62] What seemed a boon turned to grief and misery for all, as the poet himself tells us (83).
Agamemnon’s rejoicing is set immediately against such backstories. It suggests to Homer’s core audience an Agamemnon who is both naive and thoughtless in his comprehension, and impetuous in his reaction to the quarrel. His response seems callously arrogant when heard within the local context through Odysseus’ tears. Nor is it likely that Agamemnon’s rejoicing was in any way a rational, calculated response, free of the normal sort of emotively fed feelings sprung from the thumos. After all, the hapax phrase, “he was rejoicing in his mind” (χαῖρε νόῳ), acts as an equivalent expression for “he was rejoicing in his thumos” (χαῖρε δὲ θυμῷ). Agamemnon’s is a gut reaction, one that lacks the thoughtful and measured response one might expect from so central an Achaian leader.

3.2.7 The People of Agamemnon of the Greatest Fame: 9.263–266

In Odysseus’ introduction to the pitiless Cyclops we find our next reference to Agamemnon. Odysseus and a dozen of his handpicked hetairoi have entered the cave of Polyphemos and helped themselves to his food. [63] Polyphemos’ arrival and menacing insinuations strike immediate fear into Odysseus and his crew (9.256–257). Odysseus is able to respond all the same, and while doing so, affirms that they were part of Agamemnon’s force at Troy (263–266):
But the people of Atreus’ son Agamemnon we boast ourselves to be,
of whom indeed now greatest under heaven is his fame;
For so great a city he sacked and destroyed a people
[so] numerous.

λαοὶ δ’ Ἀτρεΐδεω Ἀγαμέμνονος εὐχόμεθ’ εἶναι,
τοῦ δὴ νῦν γε μέγιστον ὑπουράνιον κλέος ἐστί·
τόσσην γὰρ διέπερσε πόλιν καὶ ἀπώλεσε λαοὺς
Agamemnon is here associated with the fall of Troy, including the sacking of the city. The sacking of the city is made emphatic through a final colon of synonymous parallelism, “and destroyed a people” (καὶ ἀπώλεσε λαούς, 265), followed in the next line by the enjambed adjective “[so] numerous” (πολλούς). The emphasis harkens back to the heroic efforts needed to fight against and capture Troy, and not surprisingly, the description of Agamemnon’s reward for such an effort, “under heaven is his fame” (ὑπουράνιον κλέος ἐστί), finds a parallel in the Iliad. In the Doloneia we find a similar formulaic collocation of words for (promised) future fame (so, naturally εἴη, not ἐστί) for anyone who will respond to the call for action. [64] In the Iliadic example, the call to action is taken up unsurprisingly by Diomedes, who is the first to respond to Nestor’s challenge delivered to the flagging troops. [65]
The metonym “under heaven is his fame” (ὑπουράνιον κλέος ἐστί), then, is known from a heroic context in the Trojan War story. Its use in the Odyssey by Odysseus is meant as “Droh- und Prahlgebärde” (Danek 1998:181) against Polyphemos, as it makes reference to the heroic world of the Trojan War and Agamemnon as the paramount leader of that military expedition. [66] The local context, however, seems full of irony. Odysseus speaks this traditionally suggestive language to an ogre who, as we have already heard from Odysseus in his retrospective narrative, is “wild, and neither recognizes justice well nor customs” (ἄγριον, ὄυτε δίκας εὖ εἰδότα οὔτε θέμιστας, 9.215). [67] His consequent actions bear this characterization out most immediately (287–295). Homer, his external audience, and Odysseus as retrospective narrator (unlike Odysseus as a character in his own story) know that making reference to Agamemnon will have no effect on the monster. This tension takes away from the character of Agamemnon as a hero. The boast seems hollow.
What was the audience thinking about as it heard this story and the comment about Agamemnon’s fame, “greatest under heaven” (μέγιστον ὑπουράνιον)? Olson (1990:68) is right to ascribe to the scene we are considering “a grimly ironic quality” in light of Odysseus’ reference to the kleos of Agamemnon and Agamemnon’s nostos. Homer’s audience had constantly in mind what we have already heard overtly sung, the paradigmatic kakos nostos of Agamemnon. [68] So while the language of the passage elicits thoughts of Agamemnon as a paramount basileus and his eventual triumph in the Trojan War, there is also something ominous in the meaning of this traditional phrase in its present context. This is another example of the need always to gauge one aspect of Agamemnon’s characterization by the whole range of stories attached to him and known to singer and audience. [69] Set within the events of Odyssey 9 and Odysseus’ rude reception by the ogre Polyphemos (a tale whose dismal outcome is recognized proleptically by the audience), and against the backdrop of the kakos nostos of Agamemnon, Odysseus’ declaration seems portentous. The presentation of the kleos of Agamemnon carries an ambiguous and sardonic quality that Homer’s audience would not have missed. A similar ambiguity over Agamemnon’s heroic prowess will be noted in Chapter 4. There we will consider the placement and abruptness of Agamemnon’s aristeia and ask why the leader of all the Achaian forces at Troy is given such short shrift in what should be a high moment of personal heroic glory.

3.2.8 The Nekuia: 11.380–466

The first reference to Agamemnon in Odysseus’ underworld visit comes early on from the mouth of Odysseus himself. He tells his mother Antikleia that he followed Agamemnon to Troy (11.168–169). The poet next brings on stage moments from Agamemnon’s life and death beginning with Odysseus’ comments to Alkinoos during the intermezzo in Odysseus’ apologos. In his reply to the Phaiacian king, Odysseus begins with general comments that seem to anticipate the story of Agamemnon, as de Jong (2001:286.) observes. [70] For here Odysseus speaks, as she notes, in a way that ostensibly refers to his “companions” (ἑταῖροι, Odyssey 11.412), but actually applies only to Agamemnon’s nostos. He notes the “cares” (κήδεα, 382) of his companions, who “on their nostos perished by the will of an evil woman” (ἐν νόστῷ δ’ ἀπόλοντο κακῆς ἰότητι γυναικός, 384).
The Nekuia then immediately resumes via Odysseus’ narrating his encounter with Agamemnon. The psyche of Agamemnon arrives, “grieving” (ἀχνυμένη, 11.388), in the company of those who “in the house of Aigisthos death and fate encountered” (οἴκῳ ἐν Αἰγίσθοιο θάνον καὶ πότμον ἐπέσπον, 389). [71] A teary meeting follows, stirred in its heightened intensity by an Agamemnon who is but a dim shadow of his former self, without force or vigor (393–394). Odysseus addresses Agamemnon using a traditional epithet, one suggestive of Atreus’ son’s full rank as paramount basileus at Troy: “Atreus’ son renowned, ruler of men Agamemnon!” (Ἀτρεΐδη κύδιστε, ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγάμεμνον, 397). [72] Indeed, there are other less weighty ways of addressing Agamemnon in direct address that the poet could have chosen. [73] For a short form of address, the appellation “Atreus’ son” (Ἀτρεΐδη), contained within the larger formula above, is often employed. [74] The singer chose an epithet of greater scope and meaning. The poet’s choice, however, placed as it is in Odysseus’ address to the former paramount basileus at Troy now in the underworld, rings rather hollow. Moreover, the string of interrogatives that ensue, employing the rhetorical device of the “erroneous question” (de Jong 2001:287), would have struck the audience, who knew how Agamemnon died, with the full force of metonymic irony (11.398–403):
What bane now has subdued you of abasing death?
Or you with the ships, did Poseidon subdue,
having stirred up for grievous winds a miserable blowing?
Or you did hostile men injure on dry land,
cutting out cattle and beautiful flocks of sheep
or for [some] city fighting and for [its] wives?

τίς νύ σε κὴρ ἐδάμασσε τανηλεγέος θανάτοιο;
ἠέ σέ γ’ ἐν νήεσσι Ποσειδάων ἐδάμασσεν
ὄρσας ἀργαλέων ἀνέμων ἀμέγαρτον ἀϋτμήν;
ἦέ σ’ ἀνάρσιοι ἄνδρες ἐδηλήσαντ’ ἐπὶ χέρσου
βοῦς περιταμνόμενον ἠδ’ οἰῶν πώεα καλὰ
ἠὲ περὶ πτόλιος μαχεούμενον ἠδὲ γυναικῶν;
There may be in this extended rhetorical question, with its mention of “wives” (γυναικῶν), a thought bridge for the poet in his composition, as I will suggest shortly. The lines are also subtly suggestive in another way. They enumerate the traditional manner in which heroic men die (nor is piracy a dishonorable venture when it involves pillaging the enemy). [75] Moreover, Agamemnon’s response by priamel denies each of the possibilities in order (11.405–408):
Zeus-born son of Laertes Odysseus of many devices,
not me in the ships did Poseidon subdue
having stirred up for grievous winds a miserable blowing,
nor me did hostile men injure on dry land,

διογενὲς Λαερτιάδη, πολυμήχαν’ Ὀδυσσεῦ,
οὔτ’ ἐμέ γ’ ἐν νήεσσι Ποσειδάων ἐδάμασσεν
ὄρσας ἀργαλέων ἀνέμων ἀμέγαρτον ἀϋτμήν,
οὔτε μ’ ἀνάρσιοι ἄνδρες ἐδηλήσαντ’ ἐπὶ χέρσου,
The apparent intent of this pedantic, line-by-line negation by Agamemnon is to draw out through the parallelism of the neighboring narratives the momentous import of the miasmatic event he next describes—his own death. It is notable that the same erroneous question asked here of Agamemnon by Odysseus is employed by Agamemnon in his address to Amphimedon in Odyssey 24 (as we will see). There, dissimilar to Agamemnon, Amphimedon does not reply in a priamel, but instead simply narrates the events surrounding the killing of the suitors. Evidently a more rhetorical emphasis is intended by the poet in the present context of his song. Agamemnon’s line-by-line response builds and looks toward what is to come, the cardinal point, [76] when Agamemnon suddenly breaks away from his responsion to recite the real cause of his demise, the ultimate point of interest (11.409–411):
Rather for me, Aigisthos, having contrived death and doom,
killed [me] with [the help of my] destructive wife, having called me toward the oikos,
having fed [me] a meal, as someone kills an ox at a trough.

ἀλλά μοι Αἴγισθος τεύξας θάνατόν τε μόρον τε
ἔκτα σὺν οὐλομένῃ ἀλόχῳ οἶκόνδε καλέσσας,
δειπνίσσας, ὥς τίς τε κατέκτανε βοῦν ἐπὶ φάτνῃ.
There is close parallelism of words, events, and themes between the erroneous question and the response. Further, the cardinal point and the lines immediately following, although not completely parallel in wording, do in fact continue the cognitive responsion working within the singer’s mind. In response to the erroneous question that had Agamemnon cutting out the flocks of the enemy (402), we hear instead that Agamemnon and his men died like slaughtered animals (411, 413). Moreover, women act passively as an object of the men’s piratical and heroic raiding in the erroneous question (403), but in the reply (411), a female is the active co-perpetrator of the crime, helping to subdue the returning hero and his hetairoi. The rhetorical descent is clear: from the chance for a male to find heroic honor, to the reality of shameful acts and being unspeakably dishonored. From women as object of passive plunder to a woman who destroys with active aggression. The chiastic contrast between question and response is stark and the rhetorical device most effective in picturing the pathetic demise of the Achaians’ foremost leader. And to think, this all happened in a domestic setting, rather than in battle!
The foregoing portentous correspondences in theme, as the poet first implicates and then explicates actual events, help increase audience tension as Agamemnon speaks. The observations of Beye (2006:151) about the Oresteia are apt here: “there are tensions in the plot which make even the practiced listener of this story speculate and fantasize.” This tension in the plot may also, through irony, suggest something for our comprehension of Agamemnon’s character: his utter thoughtlessness in regard to the potential danger for himself and his men who experience complete surprise at the bloody turn of events. The animal metaphor “an ox at a trough” (βοῦν ἐπὶ φάτνῃ) may do more than just suggest victimization (though it does this too); it may hint at a lack of reflective human forethought.
The narrative of Agamemnon continues with the pathetic events of the kakos nostos: the feast, the slaughter of his men, and the killing of Cassandra by Clytemnestra (11.412–423). We already hear early on in this story that Aigisthos had Clytemnestra’s assistance in the killing. [77] As yet, however, we have not been told overtly (as readers of the text) that she actually helped in the physical act of the murder itself, something we will not learn about until much later in our written texts (Odyssey 24.97). Yet, the theme of the scheming “ruse strategist” (δολόμητις) Clytemnestra is already front and center throughout the exchange between Agamemnon and Odysseus (11.422, 428–430, 437).
Agamemnon’s reply to Odysseus also includes an element that we can see, by comparison with its use later on, is of the sort to arouse pity. Specifically, I refer to the formula of 11.412 that records Agamemnon’s description of his death. He says that he died “by a most pitiable death” (οἰκτίστῳ θανάτῳ). [78] Agamemnon makes this traditional idiom more emphatic by a summary priamel, [79] which (following a foil in 416–418) ends with the climax: “but these things especially, upon viewing, you would have lamented in [your] spirit” (ἀλλά κε κεῖνα μάλιστα ἰδὼν ὀλοφύραο θυμῷ, 418). The theme of pity for Agamemnon is extended to his men and Cassandra by the poet’s choice of words and the image he presents (421–426). In line 421, we hear the “most pitiable ... voice” (οἰκτροτάτην ... ὄπα) of Cassandra as she is killed over Agamemnon. Agamemnon lay dying, but when dead, “Clytemnestra ruse strategist” (κλυταιμνήστρη δολόμητις 422), “dog-faced” (κυνῶπις, 424) turned away (νοσφίσατ’, made emphatic by necessary enjambement), unwilling even to fulfill the customary act of shutting his eyes and mouth. [80]
In the foregoing narration by the Odyssey poet we have the first fairly full and overt exposition of the events surrounding Agamemnon’s death. De Jong (2001:288) argues that: “Agamemnon presents Clytemnestra, who had maintained a ‘low profile’ in previous versions of the ‘Oresteia’ story, as its main culprit.” The traditional audience, however, remembering not only one moment but the experiences of many epic performances was likely well aware of Clytemnestra’s role. We will revisit the active part played by Clytemnestra in Agamemnon’s death in greater detail when we consider one traditional phrase in Odyssey 24. Suffice it to say here that the momentary presentation of one element in the greater story pattern can provide emphasis, but not to the complete exclusion of other known elements. While we as linear, textual readers only become aware at this point of certain facts, by contrast, the traditional audience, through metonymy, was already more cognizant of them even where the singer is less direct (cf. Olson 1995:39). A point made in Chapter 2 bears reemphasizing here: that the singer enjoys retelling the story he presents, which is quite different from saying that the story was generally foreign or unknown to his core audience. Why and when the singer chooses to engage more fully certain aspects of his traditional story through expansion is a question of the singer’s style. When he wishes, he creates emphasis by more intently focusing our gaze on a particular scene. In the present scene, Agamemnon’s experience of Clytemnestra is being used by the poet as a warning to Odysseus himself (cf. de Jong 2001:288–289). [81] This poetic purpose becomes particularly evident in the words of Agamemnon directly following Odysseus’ commiserative comments (11.436–439). The poet has Agamemnon reply by admonishing Odysseus not to be gentle with his wife or to reveal everything he knows, but rather to reveal part of his account while keeping part hidden (441–443).
Through knowledge gained in retrospect (see 11.524–529) and with a fear of women candidly avowed, Agamemnon also advises Odysseus not to bring his ship home “openly” (ἀναφανδά, 455). The stress here appears to be on Odysseus taking Agamemnon as an example to avoid, and to do this by careful forethought. The traditional idiom used by Agamemnon to introduce a second piece of advice for Odysseus—“But this other matter to you I speak, but you cast [this] in your heart” (ἄλλο δέ τοι ἐρέω, σὺ δ’ ἐνὶ φρεσὶ βάλλεο σῇσιν, 454)—is a formula that occurs fourteen times in Homer. A consideration of all its occurrences yields its implications in the present context. The formula is used by a character to suggest the presence of extremely fervent emotion and personal participation in the information being shared. [82] Several examples will suffice to show its traditional tenor. It is used by Achilles to Agamemnon (Iliad 1.297), not long after Achilles has dashed the scepter to the ground in anger and disgust, just before the assembly is dissolved; by Zeus to Hera (4.39), after the poet has noted Zeus’ own state as “greatly vexed” (μέγ’ ὀχθήσας, 30), itself a traditional idiom stressing an emotional pitch; [83] by Diomedes to Sthenelos (5.259), who has advocated for retreat, only to receive a sharp rebuke; by Achilles to Phoinix (9.611), who tells his foster father to beware taking the side of his enemy; and by Hera to Zeus (16.444), to warn him not to save Sarpedon. [84]
In Odyssey 11, the strong emotion of Agamemnon and injunction to Odysseus for prudent action in the future seem apt. Suspense is created too, as Odysseus, limited in his perspective of cosmic actions and divine plan, does not know just how (or if!) things will work out. Yet, Agamemnon’s dismal fate, couched in emotionally charged words of warning by Agamemnon himself, acts as a caution for Odysseus that things could end badly if he is not more careful. The whole conversation is brought to a close through ring composition: “we stood, grieving, thick tears flowing down” (ἕσταμεν ἀχνύμενοι, θαλερὸν κατὰ δάκρυ χέοντες, 466; cf. 391). Through the idiomatic cue of an emotional warning, we see the poet’s portrayal of Agamemnon as an example to be avoided by planning. Odysseus should act less naively and more thoughtfully than Agamemnon.

3.2.9 Avoiding Agamemnon’s Nostos: 13.383–385

Odysseus has returned to Ithaca. He has just been met by Athena in the form of a herdsman (13.222), who subsequently reveals her identity. [85] The two sit and, employing what Athena describes as innate skills common to both of them (296–299, 372–373), devise the destruction of the suitors. During the course of her first speech in their planning session (375–386), Athena reveals the particulars of what has been portending for Odysseus for some time, an encounter with the hubristic and troublesome suitors. [86] Odysseus’ reaction is one of great surprise and appreciation, as he hears a few more details describing the state of his oikos. His astonishment is made emphatic by a great deal of hyperbaton, and the Greek word order is nearly impossible to effect in English prose. Odysseus exclaims (13.383–385):
O my my really now! [87] By Agamemnon Atreus’ son’s
evil fate I was expecting [88] to perish in the palace,
if to me, you, each of these things, goddess, had not spoken in due measure.

ὢ πόποι, ἦ μάλα δὴ Ἀγαμέμνονος Ἀτρεΐδαο
φθείσεσθαι κακὸν οἶτον ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ἔμελλον,
εἰ μή μοι σὺ ἕκαστα, θεά, κατὰ μοῖραν ἔειπες.
Odysseus’ reply is emphatic. He was expecting to perish and even earlier than he would have thought possible, had not Athena warned him. [89] His reply emphatically makes reference to Agamemnon through his patronymic “Atreus’ son,” and includes reference to Agamemnon’s “evil fate.” Yet, there has been no lead-up for Odysseus making such a reference—certainly nothing in the recorded words of Athena. By this point, what the poet means to do is to reestablish for the hearer in his present rendition of Odysseus’ nostos the close companionship of Odysseus and Athena (temporarily absent during most of the Nostoi tales). [90] Homer’s core audience know, however, as listeners informed by the larger tradition, that Odysseus is not about to walk uninformed into a trap that would turn him into a sorry hero of a kakos nostos. [91] Odysseus’ retort, then, is not random. It seeks instead to recall in our minds Agamemnon as a paradigm that portends the possibility of imminent danger to be avoided at all costs by planning. Suspense is at a high pitch. This is because the other adverse outcome for Odysseus, that he could experience a kakos nostos, exists in potentia. [92] Tension is created despite the traditional audience’s knowledge of Odysseus as a capable character and his sure participation within a known story that has him achieve a successful homecoming. [93] The sudden and unexpected reference to Agamemnon and the connotations of his pathetic nostos act as an effective foil for Odysseus’ own journey home.
The whole scene surrounding this reference to Agamemnon (13.383), including the collaborative plans of Odysseus and Athena, and even Odysseus’ consequent disguise (429–439), acts to emphasize the common effort that will retake the Ithacan polis. Through this united effort, Ithaca’s basileus and his family will be restored to hegemony, surely portrayed by the Odyssey poet as a good thing that will reinstate social order. Athena rejoins Odysseus first, to be followed by Odysseus’ faithful servants and family members, one by one. In this way, Agamemnon’s fate will not be Odysseus’ fate, thanks to the well-considered scheme of Odysseus (and his patron deity). The miserable homecoming of Agamemnon is avoided by careful forethought, something not a part of Agamemnon’s story or traditional character traits, so it seems.

3.2.10 Agamemnon as Paramount Basileus: 14.70–71, 117, 497

The embedded references to Agamemnon in Odyssey 14 occur during a conversation between the swineherd Eumaios and Odysseus disguised as a beggar. The first two occurrences of Agamemnon in this book refer to Odysseus having left for Ilion or supposedly perishing there, “for the sake of Agamemnon’s honor” (Ἀγαμέμνος εἵνεκα τιμῆς, 14.70–71), words spoken by Eumaios and repeated in Odysseus’ retort (117). The “honor” (τιμή) in each case is that attached to Agamemnon’s office as paramount basileus.
The third reference to Agamemnon is housed within a lying tale told by a disguised Odysseus as yet unrecognized by his servant-host, Eumaios. [94] Odysseus tells a story in order to test Eumaios’ hospitality. In his fictive rendition, he makes himself a nameless soldier who is treated kindly by Odysseus during a night foray. In the tale, he describes how Odysseus has another servant return at night “to Atreus’ son Agamemnon, shepherd of the people” (Ἀτρεΐδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονι, ποιμένι λαῶν, 14.497) so that he, cold and in danger of freezing to death, could have his mantle (486–502). The adonean epithet “to the shepherd of the people” (ποιμένι λαῶν), here attached to the formulaic “to Atreus’ son Agamemnon” (Ἀτρεΐδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονι, used three times in Homer) recalls, among other things, the role of Agamemnon as the paramount leader of the Achaian host. Since “to Atreus’ son Agamemnon” (Ἀτρεΐδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονι) already exists in the dative, as does the even shorter “to Atreus’ son” (Ἀτρεΐδῃ), it may be that the poet’s choice of the fuller noun-epithet formula, “to Atreus’ son Agamemnon, shepherd of the people” (Ἀτρεΐδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονι, ποιμένι λαῶν), reflects a conscious wish to emphasize the office of Agamemnon as well as his person.
Further, for the core audience, aware not only of the stories contained in the Iliad, but likely many more related to Agamemnon as paramount basileus, no doubt the epithet “to the shepherd of the people” (ποιμένι λαῶν) conjured up apposite parallel tales to which we are no longer privy. [95] It is important to note that the epithet itself does not signify whether or not Agamemnon is in fact a “good shepherd.” Its use in the Homeric tradition, according to Haubold (2000:20), may even imply something negative about the actual character of Agamemnon, the likelihood of failure: “Failure of the shepherd is the rule, not the exception.” Haubold’s contribution is intended to correct what he sees as the prevalent view (influenced, he says, by the more positive picture of the shepherd in the Judeo-Christian tradition). That said, it is important to note that the epithet can be used in Homer to describe a shepherd who is not a failure, as Haubold also mentions. In other words, even with this title, Agamemnon could have been a good shepherd. He just wasn’t, however, as we are discovering. We will revisit this theme again in greater detail in Chapter 5.

3.2.11 Nekuia Deutera: Odyssey 24.19–97

The poet takes us to the underworld for a second time, and again we meet and hear the psyche of Agamemnon. [96] As I noted earlier in this chapter, virtually the same lines introduce both appearances of Agamemnon in the underworld in Odyssey 11 and 24. [97] In Odyssey 24, Agamemnon comes grieving, surrounded by those who also met their fate in the house of Aigisthos. In this compressed scene, Agamemnon and his men will meet up with Achilles (and the newly arrived suitors) for the first time. The meeting of Achilles and Agamemnon does not occur when we might expect it to in a purely chronological account, but such a consideration is unnecessarily reductionist. [98] This dexterously woven poetic presentation reminds us that while the tradition preserves particular character traits and events, the poet in fact has extensive opportunity in his choice of presentation for variatio. What he achieves by his conflation of time frames is the occasion to verbalize a number of themes and events that form a part of Agamemnon’s history.
Achilles is the first to address Agamemnon, and it is clear that he is aware how Agamemnon died (although we are not told how he knows). The reality of what Agamemnon’s appearance in Hades means is unfolded as Achilles speaks. Homer is playing up the narrative moment. The scene is presented as the first meeting of Achilles and Agamemnon since their deaths. Achilles sounds shocked, even as he speaks, since all the Greeks considered Agamemnon dear to Zeus. After all, he had ruled over many noble men in Troy (24.26). Achilles continues (28–29): “Yet in fact for you [Agamemnon] early on, bent on approaching, was / a destructive lot!” (ἦ τ’ ἄρα καὶ σοὶ πρωῒ παραστήσεσθαι ἔμελλε / μοῖρ’ ὀλοή). The surprise in Achilles’ voice is captured by the poet through his use of “Yet in fact” (ἦ τ’ ἄρα καί). Denniston notes the effect of ἄρα with a past tense: “The reality of a past event is presented as apprehended ... at the moment of speaking” (Denniston 1950:36, II. [2]; so also de Jong 2001:568). It makes what follows “neu und interessant” (Denniston 1950:32 [agreeing with Hartung]). Further, it is not solely ἄρα that suggests this, but rather, its use here in a formulaic system that includes ἦ, which together more greatly emphasize irony and surprise. The poet’s choice of this expression to fill the first colon serves well to cue what ensues.
The irony and surprise in Achilles’ voice is followed by a vain wish (24.30: ὡς ὄφελες), but also a potential history of events of what would have happened if Agamemnon had actually died at Troy (32–33): “In that land for you, a monument, all-Achaians would have made, / and for your son, great fame you would have won afterward” (τῷ κέν τοι τύμβον μὲν ἐποίησαν Παναχιοί [99] / ἠδέ κε καὶ ᾧ παιδὶ μέγα κλέος ἤρατ’ ὀπίσσω). No doubt the audience is also thinking about the real, rather than the potential history of Agamemnon’s son, Orestes, who acts as a foil for Telemachos. [100] Further, the irony and surprise that met us in the midst of Achilles’ speech (“Yet in fact!” [ἦ τ’ ἄρα καί]) are now completed with a temporal contrariety: [101] “But in reality, by contrast, it had been doomed for you, by a most pitiable death, to be taken” (νῦν δ’ ἄρα σ’ οἰκτίστῳ, θανάτῳ εἵμαρτο [102] ἁλῶναι, 24.34). The poet’s choice of “had been doomed” (εἵμαρτο), as Dietrich (1965:282) points out, references an unpleasant mode of death in Homer. The poet wants us to see the deep pathos of Agamemnon’s situation.
Agamemnon’s response to Achilles incorporates a description of the ritual surrounding Achilles’ funeral, including the visit by Thetis and her divine attendants. Of note is the sudden threatened rout to the ships (50), which Agamemnon says would have transpired (51–52), “except a man restrained [them], knowing many and ancient things— / Nestor, whose counsel even earlier appeared best” (εἰ μὴ ἀνὴρ κατέρυκε παλαιά τε πολλά τε εἰδώς, / Νέστωρ, οὗ καὶ πρόσθεν ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή). The traditional phrase “knowing many and ancient things” (παλαιά τε πολλά τε εἰδώς) occurs three times in the Odyssey. [103] In all its occurrences, including its use as a description of Nestor by Agamemnon, it is associated with an aged traditional figure characterized by an ability to give sound advice. The counsel is not necessarily accepted and followed by everyone within a particular narrative setting, however. In Odyssey 2.188, it is used to describe Halitherses, an aged warrior and prophet. It is embedded within a threat by Eurymachos, following Halitherses’ warning and advisement to him and the other suitors. Eurymachos does not listen. Eurymachos should have listened and acted, however, as the plot of the Odyssey makes clear! In Odyssey 7.157, the poet himself employs the idiom to describe the aged hero Echeneos as he gives counsel to Alkinoos, who does listen (and act). In the present story, Agamemnon indicates that Nestor’s advice was timely, and in giving it to the trembling Achaians (Odyssey 24.49), he notes, it stayed their fear (57) and changed the outcome of events through changed action.
We do wonder at this moment, and will continue to wonder in future chapters, why Agamemnon himself was not in charge at critical moments, or at least capable of thoughtful planning. Nonetheless, the void left by Agamemnon was more than adequately filled in this case by the restraining speech of Nestor. After all, as the ensuing traditional line—“Nestor, of whom even earlier, [his] counsel appeared best” [Νέστωρ, οὗ καὶ πρόσθεν ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή]—makes clear, here as elsewhere in Homer, Nestor has always been known in this way. [104] The formula also suggests thoughtful planning and immediate action. Agamemnon’s speech outlines the enviable ceremony and kleos attached to Achilles’ death at Troy. Its primary purpose in the poet’s plan, however, is to provide a foil for Agamemnon’s own kakos nostos, a point that Homer has Agamemnon himself make (24.93–97):
Thus you yourself certainly did not, dying, destroy your name, but for you always
among all men, [your] fame will be noble, Achilles.
Yet for me in fact, what delight [is there], after I have carried through the war?
For on [my] return, for me Zeus devised lamentable destruction
by the hand of Aigisthos and [my] destructive wife.

ὣς σὺ μὲν οὐδὲ θανὼν ὄνομ’ ὤλεσας, ἀλλά τοι αἰεὶ
πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους κλέος ἔσσεται ἐσθλόν, Ἀχιλλεῦ·
αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ τί τόδ’ ἦδος, ἐπεὶ πόλεμον τολύπευσα;
ἐν νόστῳ γάρ μοι Ζεὺς μήσατο λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον
Αἰγίσθου ὑπὸ χερσὶ καὶ οὐλομένης ἀλόχοιο.
The placement of “certainly” (μέν) after “you” (σύ, 93) is meant to emphasize the pronoun that precedes it (Denniston 1950:360, s.v. 2). Taken together with the following strongly adversative expression, “Yet for me in fact” (αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ, 95)—“Yet in fact” (αὐτάρ) taking the place of “but” (δέ)—the ensuing contrast between Achilles and Agamemnon is given a greater level of focus for Homer’s hearers (Denniston 1950:55). Further, Agamemnon blames Zeus for his destruction. This is caused in part by the character’s limited narrative perspective, but it may also point to Agamemnon’s traditional character that includes a habitual unwillingness to face his own errors. [105]
What is new in the foregoing description by Agamemnon of his own demise is the association of Clytemnestra with the physical killing of Agamemnon, a feature not until this time so openly foregrounded by the Odyssey poet. It seems clear here that Agamemnon wants us to consider that he is not only the victim of his wife’s machinations, but also her harmful actions. She was also physically involved in the homicide itself. This becomes apparent when we consider the traditional idiom, “by the hand of” (ὑπὸ χερσί), used in the phrase “by the hand of Aigisthos and a destructive wife” (Αἰγίσθου ὑπὸ χερσὶ καὶ οὐλομένης ἀλόχοιο), unless “hands” (χερσί) is to be taken metaphorically in this passage. Standing against a metaphorical view is the fact that all the other occurrences of the collocation “by the hand of” (ὑπὸ χερσί) in the Iliad (sixteen times) and Odyssey (one other time) refer to a physical act (usually death, but always minimally of subduing another in some way, physically): of Chromis and Nastes, subdued by Achilles (Iliad 2.860, 874); in a prayer by Menelaos to strike down Paris (3.352); by Hector of his own possible death (6.368); of the Achaians struck down by the Trojans (8.344); by Diomedes about to kill Dolon (10.452); of Agamemnon killing Trojans (11.189); and of the killing of Trojans by Greeks (15.2). It describes the potential death of Sarpedon in Zeus’ choice (16.438) and the action of Patroklos to take the gates of Troy (16.699). It is used of the Achaians who “bit the dust” during Achilles’ absence from the war (19.62) and by Aeneas who relates how he was once nearly subdued by Achilles (20.94). It is spoken by Poseidon, who threatens the subjugation of any god who does not leave the battlefield (20.143); by Priam, of the portending destiny for Troy—destruction and the dragging away of his daughters-in-law (22.65); by Epeios the boxer who threatens to beat down any opponent with great violence and lay him flat (23.675); by Priam of his son Hector, subdued by Achilles (24.638). Beyond our present example, the expression is also used by the Odyssey poet himself as narrator of the portending subjugation of Antinoos “by the hand and spear” (ὑπὸ χερσὶ καὶ ἔγχεϊ, Odyssey 18.156) of Telemachos. Agamemnon’s death as narrated in Odyssey 24 suddenly looms all the more sinister and grisly, then, since the tradition appears from this perspective to include the physical act of being killed by his own wife. This is something not directly mentioned by Homer before this moment. It is a reality, too, filled with shame.
The traditional audience is aware of this aspect and needs no excessive elaboration of what was clearly a distasteful matter. Clytemnestra’s killing of her husband may be represented on a seal from around 700 BC. Knoepfler (1993:21) feels that this interpretation is more likely than an erotic reading, which “semble bien moins vraisemblable.” The extra-Homeric iconographical correlatives to the killing of Agamemnon are otherwise sparse. The reluctance to show the slaughter of Agamemnon in iconography, as Prag (1985:5) suggests in his detailed study, is due to its unsettling nature for societal norms, something that I suggest is the case too for the Homeric aoidos singing to his audience. [106] Thus we note that social mores have conditioned the nature of the representations that are acceptable in the creation of iconography (or perhaps more accurately, that would have been supported by patrons), just as they have affected the tenor of the presentation of the Homeric aoidoi who do not play up the killing of Agamemnon by his wife. The Homeric performance was conditioned by audience taste. Agamemnon’s death at his wife’s hand was a shameful thing, yet part of his character’s history, and so could not be wholly kept “off stage.” [107]
The pitiable return of Agamemnon, his demise at the hands of both Aigisthos and his wife, ends the recorded conversation between Agamemnon and Achilles. The final verbal exchange of Agamemnon in Odyssey 24 takes place when a suitor, Amphimedon, is newly come to Hades. Agamemnon addresses him in a moment of emphatic apostrophe (Odyssey 24.192–202) directed at the more blessed outcome for Odysseus: “Blessed child of Laertes, much-devising Odysseus, to be sure you acquired a wife with great virtue!” (ὄλβιε Λαέρταο πάϊ, πολυμήχαν’ Ὀδυσσεῦ, / ἦ ἄρα σὺν μεγάλῃ ἀρετῇ ἐκτήσω ἄκοιτιν, 192–193). The narrative moment serves to highlight a theme from Homer’s tradition that we have heard before, that of the kakos nostos of Agamemnon versus the olbios nostos (24.192) of Odysseus. Homer names the consequences of the two opposed homecomings as a “favorable song” (ἀοιδήν ... χαρίεσσαν, 197–198) for Penelope, but a “loathsome song” (στυγερή ... ἀοιδή, 200) for Clytemnestra. It is fitting that our consideration of the Odyssey’s text should end here, since the whole poem has as its principal foil such antitheses. Such thematic contrasts, however, have at their core not only Penelope versus Clytemnestra, [108] with all that could describe these two polarities in character, but also Odysseus versus Agamemnon. [109] As de Jong (2001:567)points out, moreover, Agamemnon lies on the very bottom of an ascending scale of outcomes among leading Greek heroes woven into the fabric of the Odyssey.


[ back ] 1. Odyssey 1.30–39, 299–300, 3.136–156, 162–164, 193–198, 232–235, 247–275, 305–308, 4.90–92, 512–537, 548, 8.77–79, 9.263–266, 11.168–169, 380–466, 13.383–385, 14.70–71, 117, 497, 19.183, 24.20–97, 101–124, 186, and 191–204.
[ back ] 2. By Oresteia I mean the events surrounding the revenge taken by Orestes. Of course, this is in reality a continuation and consequence of the kakos nostos and an extension of the story of the House of Atreus. For an overview of the House of Atreus myth, see especially Gantz 1993:489, 540, and 544–556. For a consideration of the overall nostos theme (Homeric and extra-Homeric), see Bonifazi (2009), who argues that the root meaning of nostos for Homer is escaping death and saving oneself. I think, however, that Odysseus’ (like Agamemnon’s) main goal is getting home safely. While I agree with Bonifazi that there is “multidirectionality” (506) in Homer, the primary goal for the Homeric nostos is unidirectional.
[ back ] 3. Of course, we cannot hear the epic exactly as the ancient audience, since much of the story content and many of the performance dynamics are lost to us (see Chapter 1, notes 31, 35, and 68). We can, however, recover something of the original impact of idioms, patterns, and rhetorical devices that appear in the text.
[ back ] 4. Cf. West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:77, Louden 1999:19, and Saïd 2011:122.
[ back ] 5. For the motif of promised future booty, see Chapter 2, n. 38.
[ back ] 6. Odyssey 1.300, 3.198, 250, 308, 4.525; 11.422 of Clytemnestra; Iliad 1.540 of Zeus.
[ back ] 7. More will be said on Clytemnestra’s involvement in the killing of her husband.
[ back ] 8. See Chapter 2, s.v. 2.2.4 Menestheus and Odysseus: 4.327–364.
[ back ] 9. On Nestor’s loquacious nature, see Chapter 2, s.v. 2.2.3 Nestor: 4.293–326.
[ back ] 10. Barker (2009:77 and 114n88) adds that Athena’s hostility in spurring on this quarrel is a result of Ajax’s earlier crimes.
[ back ] 11. See Odyssey 3.156, 164, 193, 248, 268, and 305, but once in the plural inclusive of Menelaos in 3.136.
[ back ] 12. These representative samples taken chronologically from the appearances of νήπιος in the Iliad and Odyssey suggest the possible connotations of this oft-used term. The use of νήπιος other than as a vocative to A1 (it is not used elsewhere in this form; for metrical terms, see Appendix A), as when it is employed as a description of a character within a narrative, does allow for less pejorative and even neutral implications (e.g. Odyssey 2.313, 4.818, 11.449), but calumnious castigation can attend this usage as well (e.g. Odyssey 9.44, 273). For similar findings in the Iliad, see Kelly 2007a:205–208. For a consideration of the associated impaired mental activity in adults suggested by nēpios (and a consideration of nēpios and its derivative nēputios), see the detailed study of Edmunds 1990:60–97.
[ back ] 13. Menelaos also uses it to describe Eteoneus (so, as a predicate nominative rather than a vocative), who failed miserably to show proper hospitality to Telemachos and Peisistratos (Odyssey 4.31–32).
[ back ] 14. As Kelly (2007a:205) has shown for the Iliad and I find also applies to the Odyssey, these judgments also cue the audience to the “disjuncture between the intention or understanding of the character so labelled and the actuality of any situation.”
[ back ] 15. The weight of this intensifying adverbial addition, while grammatically modifying the first hemistich with νήπιος, by its position in the second hemistich, can also be understood to intensify the second hemistich’s χαλίφρων. The junction between the first and second hemistich, after all, is the most likely moment where the aoidos took a breath, as Nagy (2000:14) notes.
[ back ] 16. It should be noted that both formulaic forms of address can be used in the first colon (to A1), and so the presence or absence of an initial consonant (to precede ν or ὦ) does not affect the poet’s vocabulary choice. The vocative τέκος appears with or without ὦ, depending on the poet’s metrical needs. See also the findings of Edmunds 1990:3.
[ back ] 17. The half-line formula “Thus x spoke and y rejoiced” (ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δέ) occurs with a great many characters in its present position (to B2, or with an elided δ’ to B1). It describes Diomedes’ happy state after he realized his inherited xenia relationship with Glaukos (Iliad 6.212). It characterizes Athena who is ranging among the Danaans after she has heard Menelaos’ willingness to defend Patroklos’ body, if only he had her aid (Iliad 17.567). Odysseus is depicted by this formula too, after he has heard from Alkinoos of his suitability as a model son-in-law and been given assurance of his conveyance home to Ithaca (Odyssey 7.329). Further examples of this favorable idiom include Odyssey 8.199, 385, 13.250, and 18.281.
[ back ] 18. [ὦ] τέκος (cf. also 24.425, 732, 18.170), ἐμὸν τέκος (Iliad 21.331, 22.56), and μοι τέκος (Iliad 18.95) may act as syncopated or alternative forms of the much more common and always affectionate or respectful vocative φίλον τέκος, when for metrical reasons, φίλον is not possible: Iliad 3.162, 192, 5.373, 8.39, 9.437, 444, 14.190, 18.63, 21.509, 22.38, 183, 24.373, Odyssey 4.611, 16.25, 19.474, 23.5. The use of τέκος within larger epithets, however, such as αἰγιόχοιο Διὸς τέκος Ἀτρυτώνη and preceded by the formulaic ὢ πόποι, is not always used as a positive address (cf. ὢ πόποι ἀργυρότοξε Διὸς τέκος [Iliad 21.230] used by Skamandros in disgust to address Apollo). The use of the vocative even here, however, is not intended to deny a positive relationship between Zeus and Athena, when used by Hera in disgust (Iliad 2.157, 5.714, 8.352, 427, 21.420). It is, however, a different idiom than the formula φίλον τέκος.
[ back ] 19. We will meet this same descriptive term characterizing Agamemnon again in Chapter 4, where, in considering his conduct in Iliad 2.38, I will suggest that he seems to misapprehend what the best course of action should be.
[ back ] 20. We note a reference to contrary divine activity, a regular feature that reminds us of the dual nature of causality in Homer (brought out explicitly by Nestor in this instance). We will return to the question of Homeric causality in greater detail in Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.10 Agamemnon and Atē: 19.76–144.
[ back ] 21. Irony exists here because of the external audience’s “superior position and knowledge” (Porter 2011:513; see also the extensive bibliography listed there) that in fact Odysseus will return. On irony, see also Chapter 2.
[ back ] 22. See Parker (1983:51 et passim) on issues of pollution and purification; see Nilsson (1940:76–77) and LfgrE 13:1250, s.v. ἱστίη (H. W. Nordheider), on Zeus xenios.
[ back ] 23. Chantraine 1968–1980:379, s.v. ἑστία.
[ back ] 24. Cf. Odyssey 9.266–271 and Dowden 2006:79.
[ back ] 25. Theogony 454 (ἱστίην). Kajava 2004:2: “In any case, the cult of Hestia as a goddess in her own right obviously goes back to those remote times when fire and hearth, as essential constituents of society, were regarded as divine and magic elements. The consequence of all this was that, besides the current Greek word for ‘hearth,’ Hestia was the name of its tutelary goddess, being, moreover, sometimes used to refer to ‘altar,’ and thus more equivalent to βομός or ἐσχάρα.”
[ back ] 26. See West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth (1988:174): “‘at home,’ used a little loosely, since Agamemnon is said to have been killed in Aegisthus’ house (iv. 524ff., xi 409ff.).”
[ back ] 27. The first overt reference within Greek literature to whose house the hearth is actually in where one comes, is found (and for emphasis only) in Aeschylus Eumenides. There we find Orestes a suppliant at the hearth of Apollo’s house (ἱκέτης ὅδ’ ἁνὴρ καὶ δόμων ἐφέστιος/ ἐμῶν, 577).
[ back ] 28. This is another example of the traditional core audience’s (ad)vantage(d) point of reference, a point we first considered in Chapters 1 and 2.
[ back ] 29. In other places, the poet uses only a singular noun, with or without an epithet.
[ back ] 30. Iliad 1.203, 355, 411, 3.178, 7.107, 322, 11.107, 238, 751, 13.112, 16.273, and 23.887.
[ back ] 31. The poet completes the adonean clausula with ἔπεσσιν: πόλλ’ Ἀγαμεμνονέην ἄλοχον θέλγεσκεν ἔπεσσιν, 264.
[ back ] 32. [ἔ]θελγε[ν]: Iliad 12.255, 15.594, 21.276, 604, 24.343, Odyssey 1.57, 5.47, 12.40, 44, 14.387, 16.195, 17.514, 521, 18.282, 24.3.
[ back ] 33. On the supervising singer led off by Aigisthos to a desert island, see Odyssey 3.263–275; on the determination of Aigisthos, despite divine warning, see Odyssey 1.35–43. Olson (1990:66) argues that that the audience would be thinking of Penelope when hearing of Clytemnestra: “Perhaps Penelope’s resistance to the suitor [like Clytemnestra’s to Aigisthos] will collapse as well, now that Telemachos [like the singer who guarded Clytemnestra] is absent from the household.” Tsitsibakou-Vasalos (2009:198) sees a parallel in Homer’s mind and language between the adultery of Aigisthos-Clytemnestra and Ares-Aphrodite (Odyssey 8.266–236). See Danek (1998:92–93), however, for caution against more speculative neoanalytical readings. He agrees instead with Olson (1995:24–42) by suggesting that Homer had variants in mind (but “daß bestimmte Elemente hervorgehoben, andere unterdrückt werden”).
[ back ] 34. This is the only reference to the matricide in Homer that I am aware of.
[ back ] 35. Chantraine 1968:785, s.v.οἴομαι, contrasts νομίζω (unused by Homer) and ἡγέομαι.
[ back ] 36. Chantraine 1968:785, s.v. οἴομαι suggests for οἴομαι avoir l’impression /sentiment /croire personellement (que).
[ back ] 37. It is traditionally the place where ships are blown off course, as Danek (1998:118) notes. We will return to consider this point in greater detail.
[ back ] 38. In this way, my emphasis is on the meaning of Homer’s traditional language, rather than with the singer’s concern with multiple versions of Agamemnon’s return, on which see Danek 1998:117–120, 237.
[ back ] 39. As a contrast to Honko, we might take the example of the byliny collector, Marjanović (in Čolaković 2007:338, quoted in Ready 2015:31), who corrected topographical or historical confusion by byliny singers, a practice that consequently resulted in a “lack of mythic poems in his collection.”
[ back ] 40. The formulaic element, found twice in the Iliad (2.603, 2.829) and twice in the Odyssey (3.287, 4.514), forms part of a larger formula beginning at either B1 or B2. The sole exception to the use of this epithet is really present metri causa in Iliad 2.868: the epithet ἀκριτόφυλλον is used instead, when the singer had in his mind a place that would end at C1: οἳ Μίλητον ἔχον / B1 Φθιρῶν / C1 τ’ ὄρος ἀκριτόφυλλον.
[ back ] 41. Powell observes a correspondence in the story patterns of Menelaos and Odysseus within their nostoi and remarks that “both Odysseus and Menelaos lost their way home here.” My findings are much in agreement with his, and his earlier suggestions are supported by my analysis of the traditional language.
[ back ] 42. Cf. West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:224. Danek (1998:117) rejects this idea.
[ back ] 43. The system of dual kingship, however, could have originated much earlier, during the Dorian influx after 1100 BC, since it might have represented an ameliorating response between two ethnic groups. The first mention of dual kingship (other than this possible reference in Homer) occurs in Herodotus (6.52), where two characteristically opposed explanations (mythological versus historical) are offered. Although there is no secure date for the inception of dual kingship, yet as noted by Ian Worthington in private correspondence, “it must have taken place during the Dark Ages, and is probably related to whatever it was that brought monarchy in Greece as a whole to an end and replaced it with eupatrid rule.” Herodotus defines the separate roles of the two founding families (6.56–60). On the whole question, see Fraser 1898:312, Murray 1973:161–162, and Cartledge 2002:55–67; 2003:90–91.
[ back ] 44. See Thomas and Stubbing 1962; and West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:224. Cf. the route of Odysseus in Odysseus 9.80–81.
[ back ] 45. On the larger meaning of Argos, see Wace and Stubbings 1962:289–290.
[ back ] 46. This, it seems to me, is a missing component to the otherwise excellent observations of Bill 1930:112–113.
[ back ] 47. See West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:224–225 for disputes over the exact extent of territory and the implications of toponyms related to the kingdoms of the Atreidai in the Peloponnesus. Janko, in private response to my query over this passage, noted that Bothe’s rearrangement raises another problem: “It’s unparalleled in the textual transmission of either Homeric epic for a couplet to have been displaced in the entire paradosis, which is what Bothe’s otherwise attractive transposition requires, so I would discount that.” Powell’s translation of the Odyssey also rejects Bothe’s rearrangement of the text.
[ back ] 48. Stanford (1958:220) suggested “the part beyond the cultivated area,” but this will not quite do. The phrase ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιήν means “at the outskirts of the land” (although Redfield [1975:189–199] may be correct in suggesting the mediatory meaning of this phrase between nature and culture). Its other three occurrences in Homer are all in the Odyssey: Odysseus is compared to a burning log in an ash heap that someone buries “at the outskirts of the land” as he buries himself on the seashore of Phaiacia (5.489); Eurymachos offers Odysseus work “at the outskirts of the land” where he makes stone fences and grows trees (18.358); and “at the outskirts of the land” is where the swineherd lives (24.150). The idiom minimally suggests that Thyestes, and Aigisthos before him, lived out of view of the public eye.
[ back ] 49. I am indebted to Richard Janko, in private communication, for noting these last two examples of correctio. In these cases I note the use of the formula ἀλλ’ ὅ μέν to introduce the correctio. Cf. also Iliad 7.229, Odyssey 3.410.
[ back ] 50. Securing details from early poets like Stesichorus is difficult because of the fragmentary and secondary nature of the material (Davies 1969 is of little help; see Neshke 1986, on the fragmenta). Pindar (Pythian 11) mentions the killing of Iphigeneia and the presence of Cassandra, but clearly Pindar did not invent his illustrations. It is within Aeschylus (see Garvie 1986:ix–xli) that clear evidence of story details of the House of Atreus (including the Oresteia) is found. For a detailed collection of the iconographic evidence, see Prag 1986 and Knopfler 1993. For an outline of the myth, see Gantz 1993:540, 544–556, 587.
[ back ] 51. Did Atreus’ cooking up of his children prove a little too grisly or physical (likewise Homer avoids details about eating, sex, or other bodily functions), or was it just the case that the story was not part of the poet’s intended ὄιμη? (The story of Thyestes then is only background information, while the story of Aigisthos’ dastardly actions is centrally noted in the Odyssey.) Doubtless Homer chose song components that matched his audience’s tastes and his own narrative emphasis at any particular moment. Nor should we assume that the performance of the Iliad and Odyssey necessarily called for the same sort of rendition by the poet (regardless of whether or not the Iliad and Odyssey were sung by the same poet). After all, the tenor of each poem is different (Bowra 1962:61–72 and Saïd 2011:258–259; cf. our discussion in Chapter 1, n. 63).
[ back ] 52. Janko (1982; cf. 2012) establishes the likely chronological order of Homer’s works. Janko’s principal contribution is not meant to suggest absolute dating, but rather, relative chronology, which places the Iliad, at most, a few decades before the Odyssey. Martin West’s (1995) arguments for a very late date for the Iliad are only partially convincing. The actual evidence he presents suggests that we need not place the memorialization of Homer’s Iliad any later than 700 BC. (Cf. Fowler 2004b:225n22). Yet, the question is not easily answered, since the process of textualization is itself a vexed one. See the discussion of “oral-derived,” in Chapter 1.
[ back ] 53. In Odyssey 11.411, which we will consider shortly.
[ back ] 54. The term οἴμη is found in the Odyssey (8.74, 471; 22.347) with this meaning. On the possible derivation of οἴμη, including οἶμος (note the reading, attested in some manuscripts, of οἶμος ἀοιδῆς in Homeric Hymn to Hermes 451), see Chantraine (1968:783, s.v. οἴμη) who proffers “chemin.” Edwards (1987:19) comments on the sparse use of the motif of the Muse’s invocation in the Iliad (only four times), a motif even less overtly induced in the Odyssey.
[ back ] 55. Marg (1956) and Rüter (1969:247–254) had earlier suggested a connection with the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles in the Iliad 1; so also now Rinon (2006:210–211). The difficulty with this view poses, however, is that the wrath of Achilles would then be based, not upon dissention between Achilles and Agamemnon (as in the Iliad we know), but between Achilles and Odysseus (cf. the comments of Broeniam 1996:5). Further, as Notopoulos (1964:32–33) comments: “to maintain that the wrath of other heroes is a pale copy of the wrath of Achilles would only point to an unimaginative bookish mentality,” and so miss “a common theme in oral epics.” On the possible link of this dispute and the one related in the Cypria, see Proclus 34, Strabo 1.2.4, and Kullmann 2015:121.
[ back ] 56. Nagy suggests, for example, a convergence in themes between this story in the Odyssey and the embassy in Iliad 9. Broeniman (1996), building on Nagy’s argument of shared themes, views the episode as an aberrant representation of the Iliad, quite appropriate for the odd Phaiacians. Finkelberg (1987:128–132) sees it as Homer’s creation of a doublet anticipating the upcoming Trojan horse song to place greater emphasis on Odysseus.
[ back ] 57. Σ Odyssey 8.75 (Dindorf 1855:361–362). The scholiast’s placing of the event “after the death of Hector” (μετὰ τὴν Ἕκτορος ἀναίρεσιν), however, seems too late.
[ back ] 58. On Homer’s paratactic rather than periodic style, see Edwards 1987:55–60.
[ back ] 59. Although overly simplistic, Denniston’s findings may suggest one difference between oral and some literary composition. The particle γάρ suggests that explanation or expansion, so premises, follow the conclusion. It is a question of arrangement. This phenomenon is common in Homer’s mode of oral composition. See for instance Iliad 1.9, 55, 63, 78, 113, 120, etc.
[ back ] 60. The institution of an oracle at Pytho cannot be securely dated earlier than the eighth century (Fontenrose 1978:4). The other common place of oracular consultation (but filling different metrical positions) is Piraean Dodona: Iliad 16.233–234, Odyssey 14.327, and 19.296.
[ back ] 61. χαῖρε δὲ θυμῷ: Iliad 14.156, 21.423, 22.224, Odyssey 8.483, 14.113, 24.145. Both phrases likely mean the same thing. The substitution of “in mind” (νόῳ, 8.78, to A2) in the run-over line is an instance of necessary enjambement. It occurs because the singer is one syllable shy of the space needed for “but in spirit” (δὲ θυμῷ) when placed before the upcoming formulaic phrase “because the best of the Achaians” (ὅ τ’ ἄριστοι Ἀχαιῶν, A2–C2). This phrase is itself a variation of the more oft used singular ὅ τ’ ἄριστος Ἀχαιῶν (Iliad 1.222, 412, 2.82, 5.103, 414, etc.), on which see Nagy 1979.
[ back ] 62. See Nestor’s Stories of Quarrel, Nostoi, and Oresteia: 3.136–310, and Homer’s use of θέλγεσκε in Odyssey 3.264, which highlighted the passage of time.
[ back ] 63. Reece (1993:131) observes that this is the only Homeric hospitality scene in which the host is not at home when the guests arrive; Cf. Schein 2016:37. This is quite in keeping with the other type scene inversions found in the Polyphemos episode, as Reece (130–143) notes.
[ back ] 64. Iliad 10.212–213: μέγα κέν οἱ ὑπουράνιον κλέος εἴη / πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, καί οἱ δόσις ἔσσεται ἐσθλή.
[ back ] 65. See Chapter 2, s.v. 2.2.5 Diomedes and Sthenelos: 4.365–418.
[ back ] 66. Danek follows Friedrich (1987) in seeing this as an indication that Odysseus is still in the world of the κλέος-driven Heroic epic, rather than the newer world of Odyssean virtues.
[ back ] 67. Heubeck in Heubeck and Hoekstra (1989:28) comments that here “Odysseus is still unaware that he is outside the heroic milieu, and confronted by a being as unimpressed by the deeds and status of heroes as by the moral order of the heroic world.”
[ back ] 68. This is unsurprising if we consider that “the contrast between the homecoming of Odysseus and Agamemnon ... seems to preoccupy the poet of the Odyssey from beginning to end,” as Tsagalis (2008a:41n38) reminds us. He notes the proclivity in Odyssey 1.32–34, 298–300, 3.194–198, 4.519–537, 11.385–461, 13.383–385. See also Klinger 1964:75–79, and Hölscher 1967.
[ back ] 69. Cf. my earlier remarks in 3.2.6 Agamemnon’s Joy: Odyssey 8.75–82.
[ back ] 70. For the Nekuia more generally, see Eisenberger 1973:160–191, Crane 1988:96–100, Olson 1990, Danek 1998:214–250, and Saïd 2011:174–177.
[ back ] 71. Odyssey 11.387–389=24.20–24, except for a minor variation in 11.387 and 24.20.
[ back ] 72. This full address to Agamemnon is also used in Iliad 2.434, 9.96, 9.163, 677, 697, 10.103, 19.146, 199, Odyssey 11.397, and 24.121.
[ back ] 73. This, however, is the traditional way the poet uses to address “Agamemnon” (Ἀγάμεμνον) by name, since “Agamemnon” (Ἀγάμεμνον) does not exist en seul as a vocative in the singer’s lexicon of expressions. Ἀγαμέμνων is employed without an epithet in the nominative and all oblique cases, however. Yet, other fuller expressions are available, as Friedrich has shown. I think that Friedrich’s (2007:48) listing of Ἀτρεΐδη κύδιστε, ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγάμεμνον with such metrically equivalent expressions as Ἀτρεΐδη κύδιστε φιλοκτεανώτατε πάντων (Iliad 1.122), demonstrates not the post oral nature of the epithet system of oral poetics, but rather, that the epithet could actually be heard in its local as well as traditional context as suggested in Chapter 1 (see s.v. 1.3 Reading Characterization Traditionally).
[ back ] 74. For example, Iliad 1.59, 222, 232, 282, 2.242, 254, 284, 344, 434, 3.182, etc.
[ back ] 75. Cf. Thucydides 1.5.2 and 6.5.4, whose comments may be influenced by Homer. Cf. Strabo 1.3.2. On piracy and heroes, see Souza 1999:20–23.
[ back ] 76. On the cardinal point, see Race 1982:14–15.
[ back ] 77. “Aigisthos ... killed [me] with [my] destructive wife” (Αἴγισθος ... ἔκτα σὺν οὐλομένῃ ἀλόχῳ, 409–410).
[ back ] 78. νῦν δ’ ἄρα σ’ οἰκτίστῳ θανάτῳ ἁλῶναι. This formula is likewise found in Odyssey 24.34, where it acts as a description of Agamemnon’s death told to him to him by Achilles in conversation between these two shades in the underworld.
[ back ] 79. On the summary priamel, see Race 1982:31.
[ back ] 80. We will consider the connotations of κυνῶπις in greater detail in Chapter 4 (s.v. 4.2.1 Agamemnon’s Dishonoring and Hubristic Actions: 1.6–344), where we see it applied to Agamemnon himself. The conflict caused by the homecoming hero (with concubine in tow) will also be considered in more detail there. I will simply note here, as Danek (1998:234) persuasively argues, that this tension is already present for Homer within his tradition, where Agamemnon is remembered as thoughtlessly naive.
[ back ] 81. Foley (1999:140) shows the background of the story pattern and the necessary ambiguity attached to this scene for an audience aware that “the wrong fork in the narrative road” was taken by Agamemnon who advises caution. This would add to the suspense of the scene, though the audience was aware that Penelope would be faithful and secure for Odysseus a safe nostos. In Foley’s words (in private correspondence), we are dealing with “the difference between two complementary frames of reference, the Return Song [pattern] and this Return Song.” For Penelope’s part in the Return Song morphology, see Foley 1999:142–157.
[ back ] 82. The formula is usually followed by a very strong warning or plea as suggested here by ἄλλο. The use of the first part of this well attested idiom also occurs in three other places beyond those I note here (Iliad 15.212, 23.82, and Odyssey 24.248), each with different concluding hemistiches, and may be instances of formulae by analogy.
[ back ] 83. μέγ’ ὀχθήσας is used a total of thirteen times in Homer, always preceded by τὴν δέ or τὸν δέ, to complete the first hemistich to B1. It is used of Zeus, greatly vexed because of Thetis’ request for him temporarily to assist the Trojans and so pit himself against Hera (Iliad 1.517); again of Zeus, in a confrontation with Hera (4.30) and in his reaction to Poseidon’s strong speech against the Achaian wall (7.454); of Poseidon in his reaction to Hera’s proposal to fight against Zeus (8.208); again of Poseidon, in his reaction to Zeus’ authoritarian orders (15.184); of Achilles in his emotional reaction to Patroklos’ request for his armor (16.48); of Menelaos, guarding the corpse of Patroklos against a glory-seeking Panthoös (17.18); of Achilles, speaking of his own and Patroklos’ death (18.97); of Achilles, vexed by his horse Xanthos given voice to prophesy his death (19.419), and again of Achilles who is troubled by the deception of Apollos (22.14). In the Odyssey, it is first used of Menelaos, vexed by the lack of hospitality shown by his servant to Telemachos and Peisistratos (4.30); again of Menelaos, agitated by Telemachos’ report of the rapacious suitors (4.332); and of Eumaios, utterly concerned for the disguised Odysseus’ safety (15.325).
[ back ] 84. The other instances of its use include: Patroklos to Hector (Iliad 16.851); Lykaon to Achilles (21.94); Odysseus to Telemachos (Odyssey 16.281, 299); Penelope to Eumaios (17.548); Odysseus to Penelope (19.236); and Penelope to Odysseus (19:570).
[ back ] 85. On the centrality of Athena in Homer’s version of the Odyssey, see Schwinge 1993.
[ back ] 86. Cf. the prophecies of the Cyclops (Odyssey 9.526–536) and Teiresias (Odyssey 11.110–120).
[ back ] 87. The first hemistich—ὢ πόποι, ἦ μάλα δή—found ten times in Homer, must clearly be kept together in any English translation that wishes to retain the original idiom intact (although the first part of the lager idiom, ὢ πόποι, admits of many possible variations, depending upon what is coming at the end of the line). Chantraine (1968–1980:928) notes its onomatopoeic nature. As part of other expressions or alone, ὢ πόποι occurs fifty times in Homer.
[ back ] 88. Hoekstra in Heubeck and Hoekstra (1989:187; cf. Stanford [1958:213]) notes that the verb μέλλω in Homer indicates less futurity than likelihood. The use of the future infinitive, however, does suggest futurity (Chantraine 1963:307) and also immediacy (Monro 1891:203; Chantraine 1963:308) in the expected outcome.
[ back ] 89. Chantraine’s (1963:308) summary makes clear the type of futurity intended by the infinitive after μέλλω in Odysseus’ words: “l’accent et mis sur l’énonciation d’un événement à venir plutôt que sur la volonté.”
[ back ] 90. See Odysseus’ complaint (13:316–323) and Athena’s response (339–343). Clay (1983:54–68) connects this absence with the theme of Athena’s wrath. I also see it as part of an overall emphasis in the Odyssey on human motivation and self-responsibility—an increasing humanism (an emphasis one may legitimately contrast with that of the Iliad). Cf. the connection of human motivation and justice in Deneen 2003:63–66.
[ back ] 91. See my comments in Chapter 2 (s.v. 2.1.2 Character Traits and History).
[ back ] 92. The first words of Telemachos to the disguised Odysseus (Odyssey 16.73–77) concern the potentially ambivalent plans of Penelope and so increase the tension within the poet’s traditional rendition. On the possibility of variable nostoi even for Odysseus (e.g. to Thesprotia) and the appropriation of Odysseus by particular communities over time, see Malkin 1998:126–134.
[ back ] 93. As Foley (1999:138) expresses it: “From this perspective the trek homeward is foreordained from the initial book of the Odyssey: there is no question that the hero will inevitably reach Ithaka after requisite trials and tribulations. But what he finds there must always to some degree hang in the balance. Even if the names of Odysseus and Penelope themselves forecast a successful reunion of long-suffering hero and his equally long-suffering faithful wife, the expressive force of the Return sēma introduces a palpable tension.”
[ back ] 94. The “lying” tale that Odysseus recounted doubtless had parallels in other contemporary “true” tales involving night raids that were actually part of the Trojan War stories. The Doloneia, which we will consider in the next chapter, may represent such a tale.
[ back ] 95. The epithet is used fifty-six times in Homer, all in the dative and accusative cases, to describe various characters. For lists of its occurrence in Homer, Hesiod, and other early epic traditions, see Haubold 2000:197.
[ back ] 96. The sudden switch to the underworld has been seen as a problem for some time (Σ Odyssey 23.296 [Dindorf 1855:722]): Ἀριστοφάνης δὲ καὶ Ἀρίσταρχος πέρας τῆς Ὀδυσσείας τοῦτο ποιοῦνται. This is argued on stylistic and linguistic grounds (Merkelbach 1951:142–155, Erbse 1972:166–244), although many scholars feel it is authentic and important for the overall story (Moulton 1974:127n23, Heubeck 1974:128–130, Danek 1998:463, Saïd 2011:218, and Marks 2008:62–81), which is my own position. For an outline of the debate, see especially Wender 1978:19–38 and Marks 2008:62–81; for the Nekuia as a “decreasing doublet,” an oral compositional technique, see Kelly 2007b.
[ back ] 97. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.8 The Nekuia: 11.380–466.
[ back ] 98. de Jong (2001:568) finds this “breach of [chronological] realism” in the Odyssey comparable to the Teichoskopia of the Iliad, and we might also add to such “breaches” the duel between Paris and Menelaos in Iliad 3.
[ back ] 99. This traditional language is also employed in the Odyssey by Eumaios (24.32) to describe what could have been done for Agamemnon; and by Telemachos (1.239), to describe what could have been done for Odysseus.
[ back ] 100. Cf. my comments in this chapter, s.v. 3.2.1 Agamemnon’s Nostos and the Oresteia: 1.30–43.
[ back ] 101. That is, it provides the contrast for the whole μέν clause.
[ back ] 102. On εἵμαρτο (the root perhaps also responsible for μοῖρα and αἴσα), see Dietrich (1965:184, 207, 263–264, 278, 282).
[ back ] 103. The adjective παλαιά, here used substantively, only occurs in Homer within this traditional phrase. The phrase does not occur in the Iliad.
[ back ] 104. See Nestor in Chapter 2, s.v. 2.2.3 Nestor: 4.293–326. Cf. Iliad 7.325, 9.94. In contrast with this formulaic line as a whole, which references only Nestor, a segment of this traditional collocation, “[his] counsel appeared best” (ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή), exists outside of this formula in a larger idiom, where it is used only of figures other than Nestor. It suggests thought that leads to action: of Zeus pondering how he will bring Achilles honor (Iliad 2.5); of Agamemnon who is thinking during the night and considering what he should do (10.17); of Hera who wants to beguile Zeus (14.161); of Odysseus, who is ruminating about how to defeat the Cyclops (Odysseus. 9.318); of Odysseus, who considers how to leave the Cyclops’ cave (9.424); and of Odysseus, as he decides how best to question pseuchai in the underworld (11:230).
[ back ] 105. Blaming Zeus, as we will see in the next chapter, is a character trait strongly attached to Agamemnon in Homer’s tradition.
[ back ] 106. As a control for this contention concerning social norms, we may compare the death of Aigisthos in the collected plates in Prag’s study. He is justifiably killed by a male agent of vengeance, and this act is represented in manifold ways and makes up the greater number of plates in Prag’s study. Further, while iconography exists portraying Aigisthos and Clytemnestra being led to their death, there are virtually no images showing the actual matricide, another socially distasteful aspect of the Oresteia. Prag (1986:35–43) appropriately rejects earlier, more questionable attempts to read scenes of the killing of Clytemnestra into extant iconography. Actually, even with the clear indication of Clytemnestra’s killing of Agamemnon found in Aeschylus, there is only very limited (extant) iconography picturing the event after the play’s production. Instead, the more palatable killing of Aigisthos remains front and center. For conjecture about societal conditions for Homeric epic, see Latacz 1996:32–59.
[ back ] 107. Cf. the wish of Abimelech in Judges 9.54 to avoid being killed by a woman. Even though he had just had a millstone dropped on his head, his concern was first with a loss of honor that being killed by a woman would bring.
[ back ] 108. On the contrasting dual of Penelope vs. Clytemnestra in Homer, see D’Arms and Hulley 1946:211–212, Suzuki 1989:74, Marquardt 1992:244, van Duzer 1996:309–313, and de Jong 2001:287–289.
[ back ] 109. On the use of Agamemnon’s story as a [negative] “Exemplum-Charakter” for Odysseus, see Danek 1998:97; and Heubeck in Heubeck et al. 1988. Such antithesis or “doublets” (cf. Fenik 1974:172–207) are not simple binaries, however. More than one contrast can exist. Penelope is a case in point, since she also acts as a contrast for Helen, as Blondell (2013:88–95) has observed.