Eve of the Festival: Making Myth in Odyssey 19

  Levaniouk, Olga. 2011. Eve of the Festival: Making Myth in Odyssey 19. Hellenic Studies Series 46. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Levaniouk.Eve_of_the_Festival.2011.

Chapter 12. Aedon

Penelope begins in a striking way, with an extended comparison between herself and the nightingale – Aedon, the daughter of Pandareos. Although technically a simile, the comparison is so extensive as to amount to a mythological exemplum, and this is a noteworthy fact since Penelope’s previous narratives were all about herself and her present and her immediate past. This, by contrast, is a story about the events and people of the remote past, such as a poet might tell. It is an unprecedented move on Penelope’s part, and it commands attention:

αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν νὺξ ἔλθῃ, ἕλῃσί τε κοῖτος ἅπαντας,
κεῖμαι ἐνὶ λέκτρῳ, πυκιναὶ δέ μοι ἀμφ’ ἁδινὸν κῆρ
ὀξεῖαι μελεδῶναι ὀδυρομένην ἐρέθουσιν.
ὡς δ’ ὅτε Πανδαρέου κούρη, χλωρηῒς ἀηδών,
καλὸν ἀείδῃσιν ἔαρος νέον ἱσταμένοιο,
δενδρέων ἐν πετάλοισι καθεζομένη πυκινοῖσιν,
ἥ τε θαμὰ τρωπῶσα χέει πολυδευκέα φωνήν,
παῖδ’ ὀλοφυρομένη Ἴτυλον φίλον, ὅν ποτε χαλκῷ
κτεῖνε δι’ ἀφραδίας, κοῦρον Ζήθοιο ἄνακτος·
ὣς καὶ ἐμοὶ δίχα θυμὸς ὀρώρεται ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα,
ἠὲ μένω παρὰ παιδὶ καὶ ἔμπεδα πάντα φυλάσσω,
κτῆσιν ἐμήν, δμῳάς τε καὶ ὑψερεφὲς μέγα δῶμα,
εὐνήν τ’ αἰδομένη πόσιος δήμοιό τε φῆμιν,
ἦ ἤδη ἅμ’ ἕπωμαι, Ἀχαιῶν ὅς τις ἄριστος
μνᾶται ἐνὶ μεγάροισι, πορὼν ἀπερείσια ἕδνα.
παῖς δ’ ἐμὸς εἷος ἔην ἔτι νήπιος ἠδὲ χαλίφρων,
γήμασθ’ οὔ μ’ εἴα πόσιος κατὰ δῶμα λιποῦσαν·
νῦν δ’ ὅτε δὴ μέγας ἐστὶ καὶ ἥβης μέτρον ἱκάνει, {213|214}
καὶ δή μ’ ἀρᾶται πάλιν ἐλθέμεν ἐκ μεγάροιο,
κτήσιος ἀσχαλόων, τήν οἱ κατέδουσιν Ἀχαιοί.

(Odyssey 19.515–534)

The most troublesome and much disputed part of the comparison is doubtless Aedon’s murder of her son. Since the myth is generally understood as a confession, the murder of Itylos is often interpreted psychologically. [16] Austin sees the myth as Penelope’s way “to adumbrate some of the ambivalence in her own emotions” and express “the ambiguity of a mother’s position”; Marquardt suggests that “Penelope’s own son is in some way dead to her too”; and Anhalt sees in the nightingale Penelope’s pain at the “regrettable consequences” of her own actions, including her decision to consider remarriage. [17] Others have seen in Penelope’s myth a veiled threat against Telemachus. [18] More often, however, the myth is thought to express Penelope’s fear of causing her son’s death. Those who see Prokne in the background connect this fear with a conflict between Telemachus and his mother, who is pursuing her own goals. [19] Those who have the Theban plot in mind tend to see in the myth Penelope’s fear of harming her son by mistake. [20] Behind this fear, and mixed with it, McDonald detects an “inadmissible but powerful wish to slay the son, flee the husband, and be free, alone, singing a beautiful song of grief.” [21] I agree with some of the views mentioned so far and disagree with others, but it would be cumbersome to list such agreements and {217|218} disagreements on each point. Instead, I will simply present my interpretation of the Aedon myth in the Odyssey. The crucial element of this presentation focuses on the peculiarities and implications of the specific version of the myth as told by Penelope.

Although it is standard practice for interpreters to rely on both versions, [22] the Odyssey refers explicitly not to the Prokne-Philomela myth, but to the Theban story of Aedon, the wife of Zethos, and I think the variance between the two versions should be taken seriously in interpreting the simile. In the Odyssey, Aedon’s father is not Pandion but Pandareos, her husband not Tereus, but Zethos. These details and differences are not trivial: there is not a single attested version of the myth in which Zethos simply substitutes for Tereus in the Prokne and Philomela plot. While the existence of two versions has, of course, been noticed, and even led to differences in interpretation, the fact of variation itself has remained in the footnotes. And yet it is likely that both versions of the myth were known to some poets and to at least some of their audiences, and the choice of one (the lesser known) of them is a deliberate move. In the highly traditional medium of Homeric poetry mythological variation is an interpretive clue to the audience. This is not to say, of course, that Penelope’s words are incomprehensible to those who are not familiar with a specific version of the myth. The very fact that many modern scholars found the story of Prokne and Philomela helpful is testimony to the contrary, and even someone who has never heard of Aedon before, in any version, could make some sense of Penelope’s words since she does state the main facts of the myth. Still, the version of the myth that is actually signaled by the poem is obviously relevant in a very different sense from the version that is not so signaled. On a more general level, such distinctions may indeed be neutralized, but they are crucial for the meaning of the myth in its immediate context. Fuller precision and deeper resonance is achieved by understanding Penelope’s words in the light of the version she signals. {218|219}

The Theban story is obviously related to the Prokne-Philomela one, but their variance is as significant as their relatedness, and on one crucial point the two are diametrically opposed: the wife of Tereus deliberately stamps out her husband’s lineage; the wife of Zethos aims at advancing it, although she achieves quite the opposite. Penelope names Zethos and not Tereus as Aedon’s husband to signal that she implies a Theban-like plot and to leave no room for uncertainty about her aims. The myth does indeed point to Penelope’s fear of causing her son’s death inadvertently, but she is not simply afraid: she makes a specific claim that what she hopes to do is the opposite – to safeguard Telemachus’ fortunes, to hold out for the best possible outcome, for him as well as for herself.

In Penelope’s simile, Itylos is both the philos child of Aedon (19.522), and the son of Lord Zethos (Ζήθοιο ἄνακτος 19.523). This double characterization captures the dual aspects of Penelope’s worry, both for her child and for the son and heir to Odysseus. Penelope herself talks of Telemachus in both these ways at the moment when her worry for him is at its highest, not in Book 19 but in Book 4, when she discovers that he has left for Pylos. At first, as soon as she can control her tears enough to speak, Penelope laments the disappearance of her beloved son (παῖδ’ ἀγαπητὸν, 4.727), but almost in the same breath she is already thinking of what to do and hoping that perhaps old Laertes may find some way of saving the offspring of Odysseus (Ὀδυσσῆος γόνον ἀντιθέοιο 4.741). The perpetuation of the genos of Laertes is an important theme in the poem from Athena-Mentes’ visit at the beginning, when she predicts that Telemachus’ stock will not become nameless (1.222–223), to Laertes’ expression of joy at his son and grandson competing in prowess (24.514–515). Penelope’s commitment to Telemachus is commitment to Odysseus, since without Telemachus there would be no continuation for Odysseus’ genos.

Opposed to the only child Itylos are the numerous children of Niobe, opposed to the only child Telemachus are his age-mates and competitors, the suitors. [34] By marrying Penelope the lucky suitor would step, at least in part, into Odysseus’ place: μητέρ ἐμὴν γαμέειν καὶ Ὀδυσσῆος γέρας ἕξειν, ‘to marry my mother and have the position of Odysseus’ (15.522), is how Telemachus {221|222} describes their goal. [35] Having Odysseus’ geras should be Telemachus’ prerogative, and thus the suitors in effect compete with him for inheritance from Odysseus. When Telemachus explains his troubles to the disguised Odysseus in Book 16, he points out precisely that he has no brothers to rely on (16.115–116), and attributes the presence of the suitors in the house to his position as the only son:

μοῦνον δ’ αὖτ’ Ὀδυσῆα πατὴρ τέκεν· αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς
μοῦνον ἔμ’ ἐν μεγάροισι τεκὼν λίπεν, οὐδ’ ἀπόνητο.
τῶ νῦν δυσμενέες μάλα μυρίοι εἴσ’ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ.

(Odyssey 16.119–121)

The father of Odysseus had only one son. And Odysseus too
had only me, and had no joy of it, but left me alone in his halls.
That is why so many enemies are now in the household.

Just as Aedon wishes to destroy her son’s eldest cousin, so Penelope wishes rather unsentimentally for the suitors’ death:

τῶ κε καὶ οὐκ ἀτελὴς θάνατος μνηστῆρσι γένοιτο
πᾶσι μάλ’, οὐδέ κέ τις θάνατον καὶ κῆρας ἀλύξει.

(Odyssey 17.546–547)

May death be accomplished for the suitors,
all of them, and let not a single one escape death and destruction.

As suggested by Marquardt, Penelope’s decision to encourage many suitors at once is itself a defensive stratagem, a plan that makes them keep each other at bay. [
36] The purpose of this plan is surely to buy time for Odysseus to return, but the dangers are obvious. Like Aedon, Penelope risks losing her son through a scheme that was meant to trap his competitors. {222|223}

The exact quality of the nightingale’s voice is captured by two variant epithets: πολυηχέα in verse 521, and πολυδευκέα, preserved in its place by Aelian. [42] The two adjectives are synonymous to an extent, but πολυδευκέα brings to the surface an aspect of meaning that is present but not singled out in the more general πολυηχέα. Arguing that these variants “stem ultimately from variant performances in oral poetry,” [43] Nagy has examined the archaic semantics of πολυδευκής. This word, he suggests, should be understood as “having much continuity” or “having continuity in many different ways.” The πολυδευκής song of the nightingale is, then, variable but uninterrupted, in sharp contrast to Aedon’s performance in life, rudely interrupted by her own fatal mistake. Variation with its “turns” is what enables continuity. [44] Throughout the Odyssey, Penelope is praised for just that. Τhe main metaphor for her cunning, the weaving and unweaving of Laertes’ shroud, involves both continuity and a back-and-forth movement. [45] This trick Penelope describes as δόλους τολυπεύω (19.137) with the verb τολυπεύω, (to ‘carry through’ or ‘wind on’ and hence ‘achieve’), conveying the idea of continuity. [46] Continuity through variation is thus a hallmark of Penelope’s cunning as it is of her wool working. It is also, as much as variation, a distinctive feature of the nightingale’s song. Aristotle specifically mentions that its song is continuous: ἀηδὼν ᾄδει μὲν συνεχῶς, ‘the nightingale sings without interruptions’. [47]

The diction that introduces the myth of Aedon is reminiscent of an episode in Book 4, already mentioned above, and a comparison of these two sequences can serve as a test for my proposed interpretation. There are several structural similarities between the two episodes: in both cases, Penelope laments and fears for Telemachus, searches for a useful course of action, and finds consolation in a dream. In Book 4 Penelope is vexed by cares at night, as she confesses, in a dream, to her sister’s image: {225|226}

καί με κέλεαι παύσασθαι ὀϊζύος ἠδ’ ὀδυνάων

πολλέων, αἵ μ’ ἐρέθουσι κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν.

(Odyssey 4.812–813)

And you urge me to cease from my suffering and from
the many pains which trouble me in my mind.

The cares that trouble her on that occasion are much the same as those in Book 19: worries about Telemachus, whose secret departure for Pylos has just become known to her. The image of her sister, sent by kindly Athena, promises that Telemachus will return. In Book 19, and nowhere else, what Penelope’s troubles do to her is also conveyed by the verb ἐρέθω:

κεῖμαι ἐνὶ λέκτρῳ, πυκιναὶ δέ μοι ἀμφ’ ἁδινὸν κῆρ
ὀξεῖαι μελεδῶναι ὀδυρομένην ἐρέθουσιν.

(Odyssey 19.516–517)

I lie in my bed and bitter cares, swarming around my heart,
vex me as I grieve.

This verb is usually translated in these passages as ‘to trouble’. Lattimore renders it as ‘torment’, Fitzgerald has bitter thoughts ‘crowding’ on Penelope, Cunliffe has a separate gloss for the two passages in question, ‘to keep from rest, trouble’, and LSJ lists ‘disquiet’ as an Odyssean meaning, again citing only these two passages. But elsewhere this verb and the related ἐρεθίζω mean not only to trouble, but to provoke – to anger or to fighting, mostly. For example, in the Iliad Aphrodite threatens to abandon Helen saying: μή μ’ ἔρεθε σχετλίη, μὴ χωσαμένη σε μεθείω, ‘Do not provoke me, wretch, or I may abandon you in anger’ (3.414). The ‘cares’ do not simply trouble Penelope: they goad her on and compel her to act.

In Book 4, Penelope is ‘provoked’ because she has just learned that Telemachus is away from Ithaca. She grieves for her son more than she does for her husband and is desperately afraid for him:

τοῦ δὴ ἐγὼ καὶ μᾶλλον ὀδύρομαι ἤ περ ἐκείνου.
τοῦ δ’ ἀμφιτρομέω καὶ δείδια μή τι πάθῃσιν.

(Odyssey 4.819–820)

I grieve for him even more than for that other man.
I am afraid for him and fear that something may happen to him. {226|227}

Although there is little Penelope can do while Telemachus is away, her frantic search for some useful plan of action is captured in a striking comparison:

ὅσσα δὲ μερμήριξε λέων ἀνδρῶν ἐν ὁμίλῳ
δείσας, ὁππότε μιν δόλιον περὶ κύκλον ἄγωσι,
τόσσα μιν ὁρμαίνουσαν ἐπήλυθε νήδυμος ὕπνος.

(Odyssey 4.791–793)

As much as a lion ponders, caught in a crowd of men,
in fear, when they draw their treacherous circle around him,
so much she was anxiously pondering when sweet sleep came over her.

Homeric women are not typically compared to lions, but, as Foley puts it, “Penelope . . . has come remarkably close to enacting the role of a besieged warrior.” [
51] The simile captures Penelope’s valiant effort to defend her son, to do what her husband might be expected to do, were he present. It also captures her limitations: the lion is cornered. Still, Penelope does not give up and consent to marriage with one of her suitors, but rather does what she can to diminish the risk to her son, and continues to hold out. [52] In fact, the lion in Book 4 is even reminiscent of the nightingale in Book 19 in one respect. This is the only Homeric lion whose action is described by μερμηρίζω. This verb often refers to deciding between two options, and this makes the strategizing lion of Book 4 all the more similar to the wavering Penelope of Book 19. A typical formula involving this verb is διάνδιχα μερμήριξεν, ‘ponder this way and that’, and the verb is frequently followed by a construction expressing two alternatives (e.g. Odyssey 16.73–76). In the same way, Penelope describes herself as torn between two options in her self-comparison to Aedon:

ὣς καὶ ἐμοὶ δίχα θυμὸς ὀρώρεται ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.

(Odyssey 19.524)

In the same way my heart is roused this way and that. {227|228}

In Book 4 Penelope decides to send Dolios with a message to Laertes, hoping that the old king can instill some shame into the Ithacans and prevent them from ‘destroying his offspring and that of godlike Odysseus’ (ὅν καὶ Ὀδυσσῆος φθῖσαι γόνον ἀντιθέοιο, 4.741). Specifically, Penelope hopes that Laertes can devise some cunning way (μῆτιν ὑφήνας, 4.739) to appeal and complain to the people (λαοῖσιν ὀδύρεται 4.740), and the diction of her request makes Laertes into a figure very much like Penelope herself, characterized by weeping and cunning. Unlike Penelope, Laertes can appear at the male gathering of the λαός, but his old age and the absence of his son has reduced him to having more or less the same resources as a woman. In the absence of Odysseus, a woman and an elder have to do their best to fill the void. They would not be in this position had Odysseus been there – but he, of course, is absent. By contrast, in Book 19 there is no more need to call on Laertes: Odysseus himself can fulfill his proper role, and Penelope in effect challenges him to do so. {228|}


[ back ] 1. For the translation of χλωρηίς see Irwin 1974:68–75.

[ back ] 2. On the meaning of ἀφραδίη see below.

[ back ] 3. Even the name of Penelope signals the theme of lament, being derived from penelops, a bird that is associated in poetry with such typical birds of lament as the nightingale and halcyon. See Levaniouk 1999 and below.

[ back ] 4. Discussions of the comparison include: Austin 1975:228–9, Russo 1982 and 1992.100–101, Marquardt 1985:40, Katz 1991:145, Felson 1994:31–32, Papadopoulou-Belmehdi 1994:153–160, Nagy 1996a:7–58, McDonald 1997, Anhalt 2001–2. Anhalt (2001–2:145) characterizes the comparison as “powerful but puzzling, the analogy’s precise relevance to Penelope’s own situation inexplicit and unclear.”

[ back ] 5. The names Aedon and Khelidon, attested first on the seventh-century temple at Thermos (see n6 below) are surely traditional and early. In what follows I will refer to this version of the myth as the Prokne-Philomela story, to make it easily distinguishable from the other version in which the heroine’s name is Aedon.

[ back ] 6. This version of the plot seems to appear for the first time in Aeschylus’ Hiketides (60–68), but the account that later became standard seems to derive from Sophocles’ Tereus (certainly if P.Oxy. 42.3013 is the hypothesis of that play). Of the unfragmentary sources, the story is told by Apollodorus (3.14.8) and later by Ovid Metamorphoses 6.427–674. Other attestations include: Aeschylus Agamemnon 1140–1145, Sophocles Electra 147–149, Euripides Heracles 1020, Aristophanes Birds 200–210, Thucydides 2.29.3, Demosthenes Funeral Oration 28, Pausanias 1.5.4, 1.24.3, 1.41.8, 10.49, and Strabo 9.3.13. For an exhaustive discussion of the myth and its variants see Cazzaniga 1950.27–93, Mihailov 1995:167–168, 174–175, 180–182. Aedon and Khelidon (Χελιδϝων) are depicted on a metope from the seventh-century temple of Apollo at Thermos: see Sotiriadis 1903:74, 90 and p.5, Cazzaniga 1950:21, Antonetti 1990:178–181 and 386 (pl.11), Mihailov 1995:150–151. The metope from Thermos is sufficient evidence that Aedon could be used as a proper name, pace Russo who thinks that the scholia misunderstood ἀηδών in 19.518 in this way (Russo 1992:100). Aedon and Khelidon are so called in Boios (ap. Antoninus Liberalis 11).

[ back ] 7. Scholia to the Odyssey (V1, V2, B2) 19.518, Pherecydes FGrH 3 F 124. The Scholion B1 is the briefest of all and states simply that Aedon killed a son of Amphion, and then out of fear of revenge killed her own.

[ back ] 8. Eustathius on 19.51. Russo (1992:100) writes: “This story may be an earlier variant of the Attic tale, or perhaps a fiction largely invented by the scholia, which misunderstood ἀηδών of 518 as a proper name.” I regard the latter hypothesis as highly improbable. If the Theban myth did not already exist, the scholiasts, familiar with the Attic version, would no doubt have transplanted it into the Theban setting, with Zethos in place of Tereus, instead of inventing a completely different tale. The independence of the scholia’s version is further confirmed by the fact that in it Aedon and Zethos have a daughter, Neis, who is not mentioned in Homer. The scholia are also independent of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, where Amphion had either twenty or nineteen children (fr. 183 MW).

[ back ] 9. Ahl and Roisman 1996:235, and, more generally, 229–242 on Penelope’s reluctance to accept Odysseus as he is in place of her fantasy of Odysseus as he was twenty years earlier.

[ back ] 10. Austin 1975:228–229, Papadopoulou-Belmehdi 1994:137–160, Katz 1991:128–154 and 54, 80, 85. Cf. Russo 1992:100.

[ back ] 11. Anhalt 2001–2:155–156.

[ back ] 12. Austin 1975:229

[ back ] 13. Russo 1992:100. Katz (1991:145) agrees with Russo in translating it as “in her senseless folly.”

[ back ] 14. McDonald 1997:9.

[ back ] 15. Stanford (1965:336 ad 19.518), Felson (1994:31, “inattentiveness”). Rutherford (1992:192) takes it to imply that the killing is accidental.

[ back ] 16. This approach seems to owe much to Austin’s study of the Odyssey (1975).

[ back ] 17. Austin 1975:223–229, Marquardt 1985:40, Anhalt 2001–2:151.

[ back ] 18. Ahl and Roisman 1996:234–235.

[ back ] 19. Katz 1991:54, 80, 85, 128–54, Papadopoulou-Belmehdi 1994:137–151, Ahl and Roisman 1996:235, Anhalt 2001–2.

[ back ] 20. E.g., Felson (1994:31), Rutherford (1992:192). Marquardt (1985:40) suggests (rightly, in my opinion) that Penelope “must question whether her encouragement of the suitors did not unintentionally create the painful situation which prevails in Ithaca,” and thus endanger Telemachus.

[ back ] 21. McDonald 1997:18.

[ back ] 22. Anhalt (2001–2:148) expresses the prevailing opinion that “we can never know for certain which version of the nightingale story Penelope evokes.” Austin (1975) leaves the matter without comment; Russo (1982, 1992.100), Katz (1991), Papadopoulou-Belmehdi (1994), and Ahl and Roisman (1996) cite Prokne’s tale; Marquardt (1985:40) lists both versions, labeling the Theban one as “later,” with unclear implications for the Odyssey. Rutherford (1992:192–93) acknowledges that the Odyssey refers to the Theban version but does not examine its implications. McDonald (1997:16) exceptionally observes that the Prokne-Philomela story is not told in the Odyssey, but in his interpretation focuses, in the first instance, on features shared by both versions, and secondarily on the Prokne-Philomela myth, which, he argues, is present “in the fabric” of the two Odysssean Pandareid stories.

[ back ] 23. Anhalt (2001–2:149–150) observes that prior to the simile “Penelope has shown no ambivalence toward Telemachos.”

[ back ] 24. The idea that the reserved and cunning Penelope confesses freely to a stranger is far from self-evident, yet Austin saw in Penelope’s words “the inner resources of her thought” (1975:228) and the simile is still analyzed on this assumption. A notable exception is Ahl and Roisman 1996:215–272.

[ back ] 25. The early sources are all fragmentary, and it is quite possible that there were Proknes, lost to us, who agonized prior to the murder, like the Euripidean Medea. Such a Prokne, however, could no longer be said to kill her son in a fury or madness.

[ back ] 26. Cf. Odyssey 14.480, where “Odysseus” thoughtlessly leaves his cloak behind (ἀφραδίῃς) and Iliad 16.354, where some sheep are attacked by wolves due to inattentiveness (ἀφραδίῃσι) of the shepherd. In reading aphradia in this way I am in agreement with Marquardt 1985:40, Felson 1994:31, Rutherford 1992:192.

[ back ] 27. Ahl and Roisman (1996:234) object to the translations that imply a simple accident. This does not mean, however, that ‘madness’ is the correct translation.

[ back ] 28. See below and Murnaghan 1987:155–166. Anhalt articulates the view that Penelope’s choice is that between Telemachus and Odysseus: “if Penelope remains faithful to Odysseus she must therefore perpetuate the tense situation in the palace and even, possibly, endanger Telemachos’ life; if she remains loyal to Telemachos (and chooses a new husband), she must therefore consider Odysseus dead.” A similar view is held by Ahl and Roisman (1996:235). Scodel 2001.324 describes Penelope’s strategy as “consistently trying to avoid the worst outcomes.”

[ back ] 29. Penelope is well aware that she may be a crucial link in legitimizing Telemachus’ succession (1.215–216).

[ back ] 30. E.g., Odyssey 1.345–387.

[ back ] 31. E.g., Odyssey 4.696–710.

[ back ] 32. Cf. Finley’s formulation of Penelope’s strategy (1978:5): “If she gained nothing final, she lost nothing final and meanwhile, though at a loss of property, maintained a kind of order and kept the future open for Telemachus and for herself.” See also Marquardt 1985:35 and Murnaghan 1987:155–166.

[ back ] 33. Odyssey 2.365 (μοῦνος ἐὼν ἀγαπητός), 11.68, 16.19, 16.117–120.

[ back ] 34. Penelope addresses her suitors as κοῦροι, e.g. 19.141. They are obviously a little older than Telemachus, but comparable in age.

[ back ] 35. Telemachus is here speaking specifically of Eurymachus, but there is little doubt that others, certainly Antinoos, share his goal at least initially, though their chances are not as good and accordingly they seem to give up this goal while Eurymachus still persists in it. See Scodel 2001 for an illuminating discussion of the suitors’ motives at each stage in the development of events. The question of what would happen to Odysseus’ property if Penelope married one of the suitors is too complex to be addressed here, but to a certain extent Penelope herself is part of Odysseus’ geras, and having her as wife would in and of itself put her future husband in Odysseus’ place.

[ back ] 36. Marquadt 1985:32–48. See Odyssey 13.379–381.

[ back ] 37. Murnaghan 1987:157 and, more generally, 155–66.

[ back ] 38. Penelope’s ruthlessness in eliminating competition is a trait she may have also possessed outside of the Odyssey: Sophocles’ Euryalus probably dramatized Penelope luring Odysseus into killing his own son by another woman, an Epirote princess Euippe (Parthenius, Erotica 3, see Sutton 1984:46).

[ back ] 39. Cf. Scodel 2001:324, who argues that in order to understand Penelope’s decision to set up the bow contest it is not necessary to consider her psychology at all “except to see her as consistently trying to avoid the worst outcomes.”

[ back ] 40. Aelian Varia Historia 12.20.

[ back ] 41. Nikokhares fr. 16 (Koch). Cf. Nonnus Dionysiaca 5.411, Lucian Halcyon 2, and Ovid Metamorphoses 11.410. Cf. also Dionysius De Avibus 2.7.

[ back ] 42. Aelian De natura animalium 5.38. See Nagy 1996a:8 on this variant.

[ back ] 43. Nagy 1996a:9.

[ back ] 44. Nagy 1996a:55–58 on mimesis as “continuity through variety.”

[ back ] 45. In fact, the back and forth movement is doubled in this case, since any kind of weaving involves moving back and forth in front of the loom as, e.g., in Pindar Pythian 9.18: ἁ μὲν οὔθ’ ἱστῶν παλιμβάμους ἐφίλησεν ὁδούς, “she [Kyrene] did not love the back-and-forth paths of the loom.”

[ back ] 46. Cf. Nagy 1996a:49–52 on the parallel semantics of Latin ducere in the expression filum deducere ‘draw out a thread’. For more on the implications of this verb, see below.

[ back ] 47. Aristotle, Historia Animalium 632b21. I am indebted to Nagy (1996:49) for these references as well as a Latin parallel: Pliny (Natural History 10.81) describes the nightingale’s song as garrulus sine intermissu cantus.

[ back ] 48. Irwin 1974:72–73.

[ back ] 49. See the quotation at the beginning of this section. The alliteration may be schematically depicted as follows: 521: d -dr-p-p, 522: th-tr-p-p-ph, 523: p-ph-ph-p (and 522: lon-lon-hon), 525: m-p-p-d-mp-d-p-nt-ph. Cf. end of 522 and 523: kh-k-kt-k-kt.

[ back ] 50. Telemachus certainly is in danger, but the suitors are not decisive about killing him: δεινὸν δὲ γένος βασιλήϊόν ἐστι κτείνειν, “it is dangerous to kill the royal stock,” says Amphinomos (16.401–402). At 20.240–247 they give up their plans (at least for the moment) because of a bad omen.

[ back ] 51. Foley 1978:10.

[ back ] 52. Penelope’s consent to marry would presumably save Telemachus’ life for the moment, though arguably it would not completely guarantee his safety in the future. If Scodel’s (2001) assessment of the suitors’ motives and chances is right, then marriage at this point would also likely lead to a loss of Telemachus’ fortune.