Homeric Imagery and the Natural Environment

  Brockliss, William. 2019. Homeric Imagery and the Natural Environment. Hellenic Studies Series 82. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BrocklissW.Homeric_Imagery_and_the_Natural_Environment.2019.

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

Having studied floral images of the erotic that were developed by the archaic lyric poets, we turn now to the equivalent Homeric images. By comparing these two genres we can set in relief the particular choices made by the Homeric poets in their development of such imagery. As we have seen, in Greek lyric the gaze of the poet’s persona objectifies erotic bodies associated with flowers, in a manner similar to the uni-directional filmic gaze described by Laura Mulvey. But the Homeric associations of flowers and erotic bodies suggest rather different dynamics of viewing, more reminiscent of Jacques Lacan’s account of the gaze. [1]

The Homeric images that we shall study hail from very different contexts in the Homeric corpus; nevertheless they share certain basic characteristics. In all of the scenes that we shall consider, flowers are associated with erotic bodies that are in some way seductive and deceptive. Unlike their equivalents in Greek lyric, these erotic bodies both exercise an erotic attraction over the viewer and at the same time mislead her/him (cf. Latin sē-ducere). They conceal their true nature and/or hide dangers from the viewer; such concealments, moreover, further the aims of a third party.

In two of the relevant scenes, the deception of the viewer places her/him in peril but at the same time furthers the plans of Zeus. The narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter doubles the body of the “flower-faced” Korē. But she fails to notice that it is an artificially enhanced plant designed to rouse her autoerotic desires. She is, moreover, unaware of the dangers associated with the plant: in fact, her plucking of it will precipitate her abduction by Hades. This, in turn, is in accordance with the will of Zeus, who wishes to provide his brother with a bride. In the Cypria, Paris, seduced by Aphrodite and her flowery robes, declares her the winner in a beauty contest. But he is unaware that in choosing her and in accepting her offer of Helen, he will provide the catalyst for the Trojan War and thereby ensure the destruction of his own city, Troy. And again, while this represents a calamity for the viewer, the fall of Troy will further the plans of Zeus.

In the scenes that we shall discuss from the Odyssey, the viewer is deceived but not placed in danger. As with Korē in the Hymn to Demeter, Nausicaa and Penelope in Odyssey 6 and 23 are misled by enhancements to the object of their gaze: they fail to notice Athena’s improvements to Odysseus’ appearance, which include the “hyacinthine” hair of a younger man, more in keeping with their desires. Unlike Korē or Paris, neither Penelope nor Nausicaa are endangered by this deception: this is, then, the visual equivalent of a white lie. But even so, both become the unwitting instruments of Athena’s plans: firstly the goddess uses Nausicaa to win a homecoming for Odysseus, and later she helps bring about his reunion with Penelope.

In this way, the erotic bodies associated with flowers in the relevant scenes influence the viewer in a manner unparalleled by the erotic bodies associated with flowers in the lyric poems that we have discussed. And unlike Mulvey’s filmic viewers or the speaker in the poems of Ibycus, Anacreon, and Sappho discussed in Chapter 1, the viewer is not able to achieve complete dominance over them.

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

Our first example of Homeric associations of flowers with seductive, deceptive bodies is offered by the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. The opening lines of the hymn depict the girl Korē picking flowers with her companions, the daughters of Oceanus. But all is not as it seems in this meadow. The goddess Gaia has, in fact, sent up one particular flower as a trick (δόλος) for Korē. This plant, the narcissus, exhibits miraculous qualities: it possesses a hundred heads and a scent that fills heaven, earth, and the sea. The “flower-faced” (καλυκῶπις) Korē is captivated by it; she reaches out eagerly to pluck it. But as soon as she does so, the earth gapes wide; the god of the dead, Hades, rushes up from the lower world and seizes her, apparently to be his bride. For Zeus, so we are told, had granted him the girl.

Earlier studies have drawn our attention to the erotic aspects of this scene. A review of such scholarship in light of the details presented by the hymn will help us to appreciate the nature of the eroticism being described: Korē’s desire is best explained as an autoerotic attraction towards the narcissus, which is described as her double. Yet in order to understand why the narcissus qualifies as a δόλος, a trick, we need also to consider its relationship with flowers in the natural environments familiar to early audiences. Though Korē fails to realize this, the narcissus is an exaggerated version of such a plant. It possesses special qualities that rouse her desires and lure her to the flower. Moreover, unbeknownst to Korē this attractive flower conceals dangers behind it: by plucking it, she facilitates her abduction by the lord of the dead. In this way, as with the Lacanian account of the gaze, elements of Korē’s visual field—namely, the deceptive qualities of the narcissus—undermine the dominance of her perspective on the scene.

Several scholars have identified erotic dimensions in Korē’s and her companions’ activities, but they have offered contrasting viewpoints on the nature of the eroticism being described. In what follows I consider three readings of the hymn that, when taken together, encompass the full range of such viewpoints. According to the first reading, Korē’s innocent play falls victim to Hades’ heteroerotic exploitation; the second scholar argues that Korē and her companions experience homoerotic desire for one another; the third contends that Korē herself expresses an autoerotic desire. Even if it is surprising from a modern perspective, this last explanation best accounts for the details of the hymn.

Susan Deacy likewise distinguishes between the heteroerotic desire of the male intruder, Hades, and the desires of the girls. She points out that there is no evidence that the erotic desire expressed by the girls in the hymn is a desire for heterosexual experiences; we are told only that they desire the meadows themselves. [4] And Korē and her companions not only desire the flowers but are specifically likened to the flowers that they pluck. Early in the hymn the narrator identifies Korē as the “flower-faced girl” (καλυκώπιδι κούρῃ, 8) at the moment she plucks the narcissus. In this way, the narcissus is portrayed as her double. Likewise, in her own description of the scene later in the poem, Korē gives her companions floral names and epithets. These girls, Ῥοδεία (419), Ῥοδόπη (422), and Ὠκυρόη καλυκῶπις (420), are like the flowers—the ῥόδεας κάλυκας (“rose-cups,” 427)—of the meadow on which they are standing. Deacy interprets the girls’ picking of these flowers, their own doubles, as expressions of their desire for one another—their homosocial “play” shades into homoeroticism. [5] She argues that Korē’s desires can be interpreted in a similar fashion. As she points out, the external narrator’s focus on Korē’s eagerness to pluck the narcissus contrasts with Korē’s own description of the scene, in which she dwells at length on her many companions and on the many flowers of the meadow (Hymn to Demeter 417–430). Deacy believes that Korē’s speech offers a more accurate insight into her desires than the words of the narrator. According to Deacy, Korē’s speech suggests that she feels desire for the flowers and for her companions in general, rather than for the narcissus in particular.

In particular, Korē’s description of her own actions can readily be reconciled with that of the narrator, whose juxtaposition of the narcissus and the “flower-faced girl” has suggested an autoerotic desire. Firstly, Korē’s juxtaposition of the ῥόδεας κάλυκας (“rose-cups,” 427) with the names Ῥοδεία (419), Ῥοδόπη (422), and Ὠκυρόη καλυκῶπις (420) would be consistent with Deacy’s idea that the girls are assimilated to the meadow in general and that their attraction to the flowers suggests a homoerotic desire for one another. But it would also accord with Stehle’s reading of eroticism in the hymn: perhaps we should infer that each girl is assimilated to a particular flower in the meadow and that her desire for that flower is suggestive of autoeroticism.

Secondly, while both the narrator and Korē mention the many flowers of the meadow in their accounts of the abduction, each focuses ultimately on the narcissus (lines 8–16, 428–429) and on Korē’s eagerness as she plucks it: according to the narrator, Korē seizes it “with both hands” (15); in her own words, she plucked it “for joy” (περὶ χάρματι, 429). Like the narrator, then, Korē foregrounds her desire for one particular flower, rather than for the flowers of the meadow in general. Even though the narrator’s and Korē’s accounts diverge in other respects (see below), her speech is consistent with the narrator’s autoerotic interpretation of the scene and leaves that intepretation unchallenged.

The narrator makes the unusual qualities of the narcissus clear when s/he first describes the flower. The wonderful bloom and scent of the plant far surpass those of real narcissi. A hundred flowers grow from the one root; they possess a scent that causes all heaven, the earth, and the sea to rejoice:

          νάρκισσόν θ’, ὃν φῦσε δόλον καλυκώπιδι κούρῃ
          Γαῖα Διὸς βουλῇσι, χαριζομένη πολυδέκτῃ
10      θαυμαστὸν γανόωντα, σέβας τότε πᾶσιν ἰδέσθαι
          ἀθανάτοις τε θεοῖς ἠδὲ θνητοῖς ἀνθρώποις·
          τοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ ῥίζης ἑκατὸν κάρα ἐξεπεφύκει,
          κὦζ’ ἥδιστ’ ὀδμή, πᾶς δ’ οὐρανὸς εὐρὺς ὕπερθε
          γαῖά τε πᾶσ’ ἐγέλασσε καὶ ἁλμυρὸν οἶδμα θαλάσσης.

Hymn to Demeter 8–14

          … and a narcissus, which, as a trick for the flower-faced girl,
          Gaia sent up, by the counsels of Zeus, as a favor to the Lord-of-Many
10      wonderful, shining, an object of awe then
          for all the immortal gods and mortal men to see,
          and from its roots a hundred heads had grown,
          and the sweetest smell arose, and all the wide heaven above,
          and all the earth, and the salt swell of the sea laughed.

In her report of her abduction towards the end of the hymn, she still shows no awareness of the plant’s divine origins:

425    πάιζομεν ἠδ’ ἄνθεα δρέπομεν χείρεσσ’ ἐρόεντα,
          μίγδα κρόκον τ’ ἀγανὸν καὶ ἀγαλλίδας ἠδ’ ὑάκινθον
          καὶ ῥόδεας κάλυκας καὶ λείρια, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι,
          νάρκισσόν θ’ ὃν ἔφυσ’ ὥς περ κρόκον εὐρεῖα χθών.
          αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ δρεπόμην περὶ χάρματι, γαῖα δ’ ἔνερθε
430    χώρησεν, τῇ δ’ ἔκθορ’ ἄναξ κρατερὸς πολυδέγμων.

Hymn to Demeter 425–430

425    We were playing and plucking lovely flowers with our hands,
          Mixedly, gentle saffron, irises, hyacinth,
          Rose-cups, and lilies, a wonder to behold,
          And a narcissus, which the wide earth sent up like saffron.
          And I plucked it for joy, and the earth opened beneath,
430    And there the mighty lord who welcomes many leapt out.

As noted above, both Korē and the narrator focus on the narcissus and on Korē’s eagerness in plucking it. But there are also differences in the ways in which they describe the flower, and these contrasts reveal her ignorance of the plant’s divine origins. The narrator in lines 8–10 attributes the growth of the flower to a willful goddess, Gaia, who sends it up in accordance with Zeus’ plan and in order to please Hades: νάρκισσόν θ’, ὃν φῦσε δόλον καλυκώπιδι κούρῃ / Γαῖα Διὸς βουλῇσι χαριζομένη πολυδέκτῃ / θαυμαστὸν γανόωντα (“a narcissus, which, as a trick for the flower-faced girl, / Gaia [Earth] sent up, by the counsels of Zeus, as a favor to the Lord-of-Many, / wonderful, shining …”). Korē likewise describes the earth sending up the narcissus: [
13] νάρκισσόν θ’ ὃν ἕφυσ’ ὥς περ κρόκον εὐρεῖα χθών (“a narcissus, which the wide earth sent up like saffron,” 428). But there is no indication that she has in mind the goddess Earth, since unlike the narrator she makes no reference to any divinity’s intentions. [14]

There is a contrast, then, between the narrator’s and Korē’s perspectives on the narcissus. And we should remember this contrast when we analyze the operations of erotic desire in the hymn. As noted above, the narrator at line 8 describes the narcissus as a double of Korē, who is called “flower-faced” (καλυκῶπις) in the same line. As Stehle points out, the narrator’s description of Korē’s eagerness to pluck this double of herself suggests an autoerotic desire: she is attracted to the narcissus as a reflection of her own charms. Korē’s own account, as we have seen, is consistent with this idea of autoerotic attraction: she focuses on the narcissus and remembers her eagerness in plucking it. But early audiences would have known from the narrator’s description that this is a specially enhanced flower. Gaia has endowed it with additional charms that heighten Korē’s desires and increase its attractions for her. Given that Korē is unaware of these special qualities, her interaction with the narcissus constitutes at once an autoerotic seduction and a deception.

There is more to be said, however, about the way in which the narcissus qualifies as a δόλος, a trick. Korē is unaware of the preternatural qualities of the plant; but she is also unaware of the dangers to which she is exposed by its attractions. These dangers are revealed at the moment she plucks the flower. Both the narrator and Korē make clear that her plucking the narcissus creates an opening through which Hades is able to rush up from the Underworld and abduct her:

ἡ δ’ ἄρα θαμβήσασ’ ὠρέξατο χερσὶν ἅμ’ ἅμφω
καλὸν ἄθυρμα λαβεῖν· χάνε δὲ χθὼν εὐρυάγυια
Νύσιον ἂμ’ πεδίον τῇ ὄρουσεν ἄναξ πολυδέγμων…

Hymn to Demeter 15–17

Wondering at it she reached for it with both hands
To seize the lovely toy; the earth of the wide ways gaped
Along the Nysian Plain where the lord who welcomes many rose up …

αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ δρεπόμην περὶ χάρματι, γαῖα δ’ ἔνερθε
χώρησεν, τῇ δ’ ἔκθορ’ ἄναξ κρατερὸς πολυδέγμων.

Hymn to Demeter 429–430

But I was plucking it for joy, and the earth opened
Beneath, and there the mighty lord who welcomes many leapt up.

It is unclear whether Hades views Korē’s expression of autoerotic desire as an excuse for his violent, heteroerotic action, or indeed whether the kind of dynamics described by Rosenmeyer are operative here—namely, that Hades interprets Korē’s action as a kind of erotic invitation. But it is certainly the case that Korē’s eager plucking of the flower, her own double, precipitates the abduction by opening up a pathway between the upper and lower worlds. [
16] What appears to be an act of autoerotic desire on Korē’s part exposes her to the exploitative, heteroerotic intentions of a male character: the consequences of the abduction are, at best, a forced marriage and, at worst, a rape. [17] By juxtaposing Hades’ action with her unwillingness in line 19 (ἁρπάξας ἀέκουσαν, “snatching one who was unwilling”), the narrator makes clear that Korē would not have chosen such a consummation of her desires.

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

As we have seen, the seductive, deceptive narcissus doubles the body of Korē: its special qualities heighten her autoerotic desires. In the other examples of Homeric imagery that we shall discuss, flowers are associated more directly with bodies that are in some way seductive and deceptive. One of the relevant passages derives from an episode early in the Cypria, in which Aphrodite prepares for the Judgement of Paris. The Graces and Seasons deck her body in clothes dipped in flowers:

          εἵματα μὲν χροὶ ἕστο, τά οἱ Χάριτές τε καὶ Ὧραι
          ποίησαν καὶ ἔβαψαν ἐν ἄνθεσιν εἰαρινοῖσι,
          οἷα φέρουσ’ ὧραι, ἔν τε κρόκωι ἔν θ’ ὑακίνθωι
          ἔν τε ἴωι θαλέθοντι ῥόδου τ’ ἐνὶ ἄνθεϊ καλῶι
5       ἡδέι νεκταρέωι, ἔν τ’ ἀμβροσίαις καλύκεσσιν
          αἰθέσι ναρκίσσου καλλιπνόου· ὧδ’ Ἀφροδίτη
          ὥραις παντοίαις τεθυωμένα εἵματα ἕστο.

Cypria fr. 4 Bernabé

          Her flesh was clothed with clothes that the Graces and Seasons
          Made for her and dipped in spring flowers
          Such as the seasons bear, in saffron and hyacinth
          And flourishing violet, and the beautiful, sweet, nectared
5       Flower of the rose, and the shining, ambrosial
          Cups of the beautifully scented narcissus; thus Aphrodite was clothed
          With robes perfumed with every kind of season.

The adornments described in this passage play an important role in the seduction of Paris: their charms help persuade him to choose Aphrodite in her beauty contest with Hera and Athena. Paris however is unaware of the dangers that lie behind such a choice. He believes that he is simply identifying the most beautiful goddess and taking as his reward the hand of Helen. But in fact, his choice furthers the plans of Zeus. As we learn from Cypria fr. 1 and Proclus’ summary of the poem, Zeus has hatched a plan to bring about the Trojan War and thereby to reduce the earth’s population. [
19] And this plan is put into effect immediately after Paris makes his choice. Listeners would have recognized that, in choosing Aphrodite, Paris unwittingly opts for the destruction of his own city.

Yet these lines do not deserve to be dismissed in this fashion. The description of flowers in Cypria fr. 4 would not be out of place in other Homeric poems: in fact, it resembles a Homeric flower catalogue that we have already encountered—the list of flowers at the opening of the Hymn to Demeter. What is more, rather than constituting empty verbiage, the epithets used would have helped audiences to imagine the impact of Aphrodite’s accoutrements on Paris and thereby to understand the workings of seduction in this scene.

We have seen, then, that like the narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter Aphrodite’s body in Cypria fr. 4 is associated with an erotic deception. As in the hymn, flowers are associated with enhanced appearances that arouse the desires of the viewer; as in the hymn, the viewer is mistaken as to what s/he is, in fact, choosing. And like the narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter, Aphrodite’s erotic appearance, enhanced by her preparations in Cypria fr. 4, both hides dangers behind it and lures Paris towards those dangers. In both poems, the Homeric poets made such perils clear to their audiences through references to the plans of Zeus and then by a description of the events that follow from the seduction of an unwary youth: Korē plucks the narcissus and is abducted by Hades; Paris accepts Aphrodite’s offer of Helen, and her abduction brings about the Trojan War. But the Cypria, by including Helenus’ and Cassandra’s prophecies of things to come, places still greater emphasis on the connection between a youth’s choice and its unpleasant consequences.

Odysseus’ Hyacinthine Hair: Erotic Encounters with Nausicaa and Penelope

While Aphrodite’s preparations for the Judgement of Paris occur near the beginning of the Trojan cycle, the last two images that we shall consider are found towards the end of the stories of Troy. In both cases the goddess Athena grants her favorite, Odysseus, hyacinthine hair, and in both cases the relevant images carry associations with seduction and deception. Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair seduces Nausicaa in Book 6 and Penelope in Book 23 by presenting them with an image of the sort of man each desires: Nausicaa sees the sort of young man that she hopes to marry; Penelope sees an image of Odysseus as he was when he left for Troy.

When, a little later, Nausicaa encounters Odysseus, his appearance is far from appealing: he emerges from the undergrowth caked with salt and clutching only a branch to cover his nakedness (127–129, 137). [40] Nevertheless, Athena must ensure that Nausicaa thinks of him as a potential husband if she is to help this stranger to reach the Phaeacian city. Accordingly, when he retires to refresh himself Athena enhances his appearance: she makes him taller and broader to look at, pours grace on his head and shoulders, and sends down locks from his head, like the flower of the hyacinth:

          τὸν μὲν Ἀθηναίη θῆκεν Διὸς ἐκγεγυῖα,
230    μείζονά τ’ εἰσιδέειν καὶ πάσσονα, κὰδ’ δὲ κάρητος
          οὔλας ἧκε κόμας, ὑακινθίνῳ ἄνθει ὁμοίας.
          ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις χρυσὸν περιχεύεται ἀργύρῳ ἀνὴρ
          ἴδρις, ὃν Ἥφαιστος δέδαεν καὶ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη
          τέχνην παντοίην, χαρίεντα δὲ ἔργα τελείει,
235    ὣς ἄρα τῷ κατέχευε χάριν κεφαλῇ τε καὶ ὤμοις.

Odyssey 6.229–235

          But Athena daughter of Zeus made him
230    Taller and broader to look at; and from his head
          She sent down curly locks, like the flower of the hyacinth.
          As when some man pours gold around silver,
          A skilled man, whom Hephaestus and Pallas Athena have taught
          Every kind of craft—he achieves graceful works—
235    So she poured grace on his head and shoulders.

These observations help us to understand how the image interacts with the erotic aspects of this scene. Odysseus has been granted the appearance of an attractive young man ready for marriage—precisely the sort of man that Nausicaa hopes to meet. In Book 6, then, Athena firstly puts Nausicaa in mind of a husband and then rouses her desires by presenting her with the sort of husband she might like.

We get a still clearer impression of the seductive, deceptive aspects of Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair when we consider the other instance of the image. This second occurrence of the image is found in Odyssey 23, prior to the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope. Except for the first line, the description of Athena’s enhancement of Odysseus is identical to lines 6.229–235:

          αὐτὰρ κὰκ κεφαλῆς χεῦεν πολὺ κάλλος Ἀθήνη
          μείζονά τ’ εἰσιδέειν καὶ πάσσονα· κὰδ δὲ κάρητος
          οὔλας ἧκε κόμας, ὑακινθίνῳ ἄνθει ὁμοίας.
          ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις χρυσὸν περιχεύεται ἀργύρῳ ἀνὴρ
160    ἴδρις, ὃν Ἥφαιστος δέδαεν καὶ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη
          τέχνην παντοίην, χαρίεντα δὲ ἔργα τελείει,
          ὣς μὲν τῷ περίχευε χάριν κεφαλῇ τε καὶ ὤμοις.

Odyssey 23.156–162

          But Athena poured much beauty from his head also,
          [Making him] taller and broader to look at; and from his head
          She sent down curly locks, like the flower of the hyacinth.
          As when some man pours gold around silver,
160    A skilled man, whom Hephaestus and Pallas Athena have taught
          Every kind of craft—he achieves graceful works—
          So she poured grace on his head and shoulders.

We have already discussed the associations of this image of hyacinthine hair and metallurgy with youth, eroticism, and artistry, and considered how those themes play out in the Nausicaa episode. But in order to understand the precise implications of the similar image in Book 23 we need to bear in mind not only its immediate context—the meeting between Odysseus and Penelope—but also its interaction with other passages in the second half of the Odyssey and in the Homeric corpus as a whole. If we compare the relevant lines with other Homeric accounts of heroes’ transformations and consider allusions to Penelope’s desires in the Odyssey, we gain clearer insights into the nature of Athena’s intervention at 23.156–162 and into the impact of Odysseus’ new appearance on his wife. The relevant passages confirm that Penelope is faced with an artificially rejuvenated version of her husband and show that Odysseus’ enhanced appearance is in accordance with her desires: she longs for the man who left for Troy twenty years ago. Penelope is thus moved to accept Odysseus as her husband more readily than she might have done if presented with a world-weary, middle-aged Odysseus. As with Nausicaa, then, Penelope is both seduced and deceived by Odysseus’ appearance.

As we have already seen, the image of hyacinthine hair and the elements of gilding in the images from Books 6 and 23 carry with them connotations of youth, eroticism, artistry and concealment, and we thereby understand that Odysseus’ middle-aged appearance has been concealed behind an attractive, youthful veneer. But to understand the deceptive qualities of Odysseus’ appearance in Odyssey 23, we should also bear in mind other descriptions of Odysseus’ transformations in the second half of the Odyssey, some of which lend him a youthful appearance, while others give him the squalid appearance of an old beggar.

Odysseus’ first such transformation occurs in Book 13, shortly after his arrival on Ithaca, and clearly carries deceptive connotations. Athena disguises Odysseus as a beggar with the explicit intention of rendering him “unrecognizable to all mortals” (ἄγνωστον … πάντεσσι βρότοισι, 13.397). [47] To this end she withers his flesh, dims his eyes, and causes him to lose his blond hair. [48] And while the Graces and Seasons deck Aphrodite in beautiful clothes in preparation for her meeting with Paris, Athena dresses Odysseus in rags:

          Ὣς ἄρα μιν φαμένη ῥάβδῳ ἐπεμάσσατ’ Ἀθήνη.
430    κάρψε μέν οἱ χρόα καλὸν ἐνὶ γναμπτοῖσι μέλεσσι,
          ξανθὰς δ’ ἐκ κεφαλῆς ὄλεσε τρίχας, ἀμφὶ δὲ δέρμα
          πάντεσσιν μελέεσσι παλαιοῦ θῆκε γέροντος,
          κνύζωσεν δέ οἱ ὄσσε πάρος περικαλλέ’ ἔοντε·
          ἀμφὶ δέ μιν ῥάκος ἄλλο κακὸν βάλεν ἠδὲ χιτῶνα,
435    ῥωγαλέα ῤυπόωντα, κακῷ μεμορυγμένα καπνῷ·
          ἀμφὶ δέ μιν μέγα δέρμα ταχείης ἕσσ’ ἐλάφοιο,
          ψιλόν· δῶκε δέ οἱ σκῆπτρον καὶ ἀεικέα πήρην,
          πυκνὰ ῥωγαλέην· ἐν δὲ στρόφος ἦεν ἀορτήρ.

Odyssey 13.429–438

          Having spoken thus Athena touched him with her wand.
430    She withered the beautiful flesh on his flexible limbs,
          And made him lose the blond hairs from his head and placed
          Around all his limbs the skin of an old man,
          And she dimmed his eyes that had formerly been beautiful;
          And she cast around him new clothing—evil rags and a tunic,
435    Filthy, torn, and soiled badly with smoke;
          And clothed him all round with the great hide of a swift deer,
          Which was threadbare; and she gave him a staff and a shameful pouch,
          Full of holes; and on it was a twisted strap.

In this way, Odysseus takes on a false appearance that is designed to deceive viewers (“all mortals,” 13.397): they will mistake the lord of Ithaca for a mere beggar. [

If this passage were our only guide to the implications of the image from Odyssey 23 we might assume that in granting Odysseus hyacinthine hair and thereby casting off his beggar disguise Athena is restoring him to his original appearance. But other evidence from the Odyssey shows that this is not the case and that, in fact, Odysseus’ enhanced appearance in Book 23 is a disguise no less than his beggar costume.

We get a sense of this from the account of Odysseus’ transformation from a beggar to a young man in Book 16. Shortly before Odysseus reveals to Telemachus that he has returned, Athena removes his beggar disguise and enhances his appearance. She grants him fine clothes, a dark complexion, and a dark beard:

          Ἦ καὶ χρυσείῃ ῥάβδῳ ἐπεμάσσατ’ Ἀθήνη.
          φᾶρος μέν οἱ πρῶτον ἐϋπλυνὲς ἠδὲ χιτῶνα
          θῆκ’ ἀμφὶ στήθεσσι, δέμας δ’ ὤφελλε καὶ ἥβην.
175    ἂψ δὲ μελαγχροιὴς γένετο, γναθμοὶ δὲ τάνυσθεν,
          κυάνεαι δ’ ἐγένοντο γενειάδες ἀμφὶ γένειον.

Odyssey 16.172–176

          Athena spoke and touched him with her golden wand.
          First she placed a well-washed cloak and a tunic
          Around his chest, and she increased his body and youth.
175    He became dark of complexion again, and his jaw was stretched,
          And a dark beard grew around his chin.

Telemachus has previously encountered the returned Odysseus only in his beggar disguise. [
50] When he sees him in this new state, he protests that Odysseus must be a god: only a god could transform himself from an old to a young man (194–200). In reply, Odysseus assures Telemachus that his transformation is the work of Athena, who is able to make him “at one time like a beggar and at another time again like a young man with beautiful clothes around his flesh” (ἄλλοτε μὲν πτωχῷ ἐναλίγκιον, ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε / ἀνδρὶ νέῳ καὶ καλὰ περὶ χροῒ εἵματ’ ἔχοντι, 209–210). Odysseus, then, reveals two options for his appearance in the latter books of the Odyssey: either it is that of an old beggar or that of a young man. [51] Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair is clearly a variant on the latter option: as with his transformation at 16.172–176, it replaces his beggar disguise in Book 23; moreover, as we have seen the image carries connotations of youthfulness.

This is not, however, a case of a successful deception, which would require not merely that a character makes a mistake about Odysseus’ appearance but also that s/he makes a mistake in the manner desired by the one who engineered the deception—in this case, Athena. In fact, her transformation of Odysseus fails to achieve what she is intending. She tells Odysseus at line 168 to “speak a word to your son nor conceal it” (σῷ παιδὶ ἔπος φάο μηδ’ ἐπίκευθε) so that they can then plot together against the suitors. Presumably she means for him to talk openly both about his identity and his plans. It seems, then, that by granting Odysseus a youthful appearance Athena is trying to support Odysseus in his efforts to reunite with his son. But Odysseus’ transformation has the opposite and undesirable effect of causing Telemachus to doubt that Odysseus is his father.

The deceptive qualities of Odysseus’ two guises are revealed more clearly when we read the relevant lines alongside other Homeric passages describing the alteration of a hero’s appearance. In two such passages the change that is described correlates with certain aspects of Odysseus’ transformation into a beggar. In both Iliad 18 and Odyssey 13, Athena exaggerates a hero’s existing traits; earlier in the Iliad, Patroclus puts on Achilles’ armor in order to play the role of his friend, much as Odysseus dons a beggar’s rags. A third Iliadic scene offers a closer parallel for Athena’s gift of hyacinthine hair, which returns Odysseus’ appearance to that of a much younger man: Aphrodite intervenes to preserve Hector’s body in Iliad 23, thus reversing the ageing process and lending it a potentially deceptive appearance.

The mechanics of Achilles’ transformation in Iliad 18 offer a closer parallel for the beggar disguise than for the hyacinthine Odysseus of Odyssey 6 and 23. At Iliad 18.203–206, Athena places the aegis around Achilles’ shoulders and causes fire to shine from his head; in addition, she adds her own voice to his as he bellows from the ditch (217–221). In this way, she greatly enhances Achilles’ already fearsome characteristics. But unlike her gift of hyacinthine hair to Odysseus in Odyssey 6 and 23, which gives a middle-aged man the appearance of a young man, Athena does not reverse any of Achilles’ existing traits. Rather, the exaggeration of Achilles’ appearance in Iliad 18 parallels that of Odysseus in Odyssey 13: in the one case, Athena enhances the already impressive characteristics of the youthful Achilles; in the other, she exaggerates the characteristics of a careworn traveler.

Penelope’s desires are suggested at 20.79–90, where she both expresses a wish to be struck down by Artemis so that she might see Odysseus again in the Underworld (80–81) and also speaks of her joy at a vision she had of the young Odysseus: [63]

τῇδε γὰρ αὖ μοι νυκτὶ παρέδραθεν εἴκελος αὐτῷ,
τοῖος ἐὼν οἷος ᾖεν ἅμα στρατῷ· αὐτὰρ ἐμὸν κῆρ
χαῖρ’, ἐπεὶ οὐκ ἐφάμην ὄναρ ἔμμεναι, ἀλλ ὕπαρ ἤδη.

Odyssey 20.88–90

On this night one like him lay beside me,
Such as he was when he went along with the expedition; but my heart
Rejoiced, since I thought it was no dream but now a waking vision.

In Penelope’s vision, Odysseus returns to her as he was when he set sail for Troy. [
64] Moreover, the language that Penelope uses suggests a vision not only of reunion but also of erotic fulfillment. The only other Homeric instance of the verb παραδαρθάνω, here in the aorist form παρέδραθεν (20.88), occurs in a clearly erotic context. At Iliad 14.163–164, the infinitive παραδραθέειν describes Hera’s intentions in a scene of seduction that we shall discuss in the next chapter, the Διὸς ἀπάτη: εἴ πως ἱμείραιτο παραδραθέειν φιλότητι / ᾖ χροίῃ (“if perhaps [Zeus] should desire to lie beside her flesh in love”). In Iliad 14, Hera manipulates Zeus’ desires; Penelope’s waking dream in Odyssey 20 is an expression of her desire for the Odysseus she lost twenty years ago. [65]

The evidence considered thus far suggests that Odysseus adopts two potentially deceptive guises in the second half of the Odyssey—that of an old beggar and that of a young man—and that Penelope desires the Odysseus she knew from before the expedition to Troy. Earlier we found that the image of hyacinthine hair evokes four themes in particular: youth, eroticisim, artistry, and concealment. With these findings in mind, we can now analyze the interaction of the image from Odyssey 23 with its immediate context.

Firstly, there are deceptive qualities to Odysseus’ appearance at 23.156–162, and these qualities are closely connected with the themes of youth and concealment: Athena lends Odysseus the appearance of an attractive young man and thereby conceals the careworn appearance of a middle-aged traveler. As Odysseus himself makes clear at 16.208–210, Athena’s interventions in the second half of the Odyssey lend him the form either of an old beggar or of a younger man. At 23.156–162, she transforms Odysseus from his beggar disguise: listeners would, then, have expected that she has given him the guise of a younger man, as she does in preparation for his meeting with Telemachus at 16.173–176. And such expectations would have been confirmed by the implications of the image of hyacinthine hair. As we have seen, the image evokes an attractive young man, not a middle-aged traveler. In addition, the references to craftsmanship and concealment in these lines suggest not only the beauty of Odysseus’ appearance at this point in the Odyssey but also its artificial qualities. As noted above, his guise as a younger man reverses the ageing process: the (valuable) silver of his regular, middle-aged appearance is concealed behind the (more precious) gold of a youthful Odysseus.

At the same time, Book 23 tells the story of a successful seduction. As Penelope embraces her husband and kisses his head in lines 205–206, she not only accepts that he is Odysseus but also welcomes him back as her lover, as is shown by subsequent events. She and the hyacinthine Odysseus retire to bed where in addition to conversation “they enjoyed desirous love” (φιλότητος ἐταρπήτην ἐρατεινῆς, 300). In Odyssey 23, then, a Homeric floral image is once more associated with an erotic body that is both seductive and deceptive: the deceptive appearance of Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair contributes to the (re-)seduction of his wife.

* * *

In Chapter 1, we discovered that poems from across the corpus of archaic Greek lyric show certain core similarities in their treatment of floral images of the erotic. Whether associated with girls or boys, with homosexual or heterosexual desire, whether found in the work of male or female lyric poets, erotic bodies associated with flowers are cast as the object of the speaker’s gaze. In this chapter, we have encountered four instances of Homeric floral imagery that resemble one another in key respects. In all four cases, flowers are associated with an erotic body that both seduces and in some way deceives the one who encounters it.

By contrast, in the Homeric passages that we have studied the viewer does not exercise the same control over the object of her/his gaze. Erotic bodies associated with flowers both seduce and deceive the viewer. Korē misses the special enhancements of the narcissus that heighten her autoerotic desires for the flower, her own double. Moreover, the narcissus conceals hidden dangers: by plucking it, Korē exposes herself to abduction by Hades. Similarly, Aphrodite’s flowery accoutrements facilitate her seduction of Paris, but unwelcome consequences hide behind the goddess’ attractive appearance: audiences would have recognized that, in choosing Aphrodite and accepting her offer of Helen, Paris ensures the destruction of his city. Finally, Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair conceals his middle-aged appearance and seduces both Nausicaa and Penelope; fortunately for both women, however, no unpleasant dangers lurk behind his appearance. Nausicaa’s hopes that Odysseus might prove a suitable husband are dashed, but she suffers no worse fate; and though Penelope accepts Odysseus in his enhanced form, she is nonetheless reunited with her husband.

More specifically, while the viewer is able to judge erotic bodies that are associated with flowers in Greek lyric, the seductive and deceptive qualities of such bodies in Homeric poetry cause the viewer to misjudge their value. Sappho’s girls or the boys and girls in Ibycus and Anacreon do not deceive the viewer; accordingly, the speaker/viewer is able to place a value on their beauty. In fr. 122 Voigt, for instance, Sappho (or her persona in the poem) judges a girl to be ἄγαν ἁπάλαν, “too attractive.” By contrast the deceptive appearance of Homeric bodies misleads the viewer by concealing their true value. This is, for instance, suggested by the image of gold poured around silver in Odyssey 6 and 23: Nausicaa and Penelope behold an Odysseus artificially rejuvenated to stir their desires.

We have already observed some of the ways in which these images from Greek lyric and Homeric poetry interact with the characteristics of flowers in the Greek natural environment. I have suggested that associations of flowers with erotic bodies in Greek lyric drew on audiences’ experiences of viewing flowers and judging them to be beautiful. We have also explored the relationship of particular flowers in Homeric poetry with the notions of seduction and deception: for instance, Korē’s narcissus, with its hundred heads, represents an exaggeration of the sorts of narcissi that audiences would have encountered in the natural environment, and it rouses the autoerotic desires of this “flower-faced girl” with its special charms.

But given that different scenes focus on different plants—the narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter, the hyacinth in Odyssey 6 and 23—the Homeric corpus as a whole presents an association of seduction and deception with flowers in general. We should also, then, consider the bases for such associations in the natural phenomena familiar to these poets and their audiences. We should try to explain how the Homeric poets were able to draw on the characteristics of flowers in the Greek natural environment in order to illustrate the operations of seduction and deception in the relevant passages. The following chapter offers just such an explanation.


[ back ] 1. Mulvey 1989b, Lacan 1977.

[ back ] 2. Lacan 1977:95–96.

[ back ] 3. Rosenmeyer 2004, with quotations from pp. 176 and 177. On the innocence of Korē’s desire see also Arthur (Katz) (1994:237): Korē’s/Persephone’s eagerness to pluck the flower, together with her acceptance of a pomegranate seed later in the hymn (lines 371–374) suggest a “youthful naiveté,” which is easily exploited by the dangers posed by Hades: “Persephone’s easy seduction by these symbols indicates her greater susceptibility to the dangers and pleasures of sexuality with the male.” For the distinctions between male and female perspectives on the action of the hymn, cf. DeBloois 1997, who points out that female characters such as Demeter see the abduction of Korē as a rape or as a kind of death, but Zeus and Hades regard it as a marriage. For the associations of the abduction of Korē with death, see Chapter 9 and the discussion of Stehle’s argument below.

[ back ] 4. Deacy 2013; to quote her analysis of depictions of Europa’s abduction by Zeus in poetry and visual art, Europa’s “desire … is for the sexualised meadow rather than for the Zeus-bull who intrudes into that sensuous space” (p. 401). For the story of Europa, see also n18 below.

[ back ] 5. What Deacy describes, then, is something akin to the eroticized groves, the havens of mutual female eroticism, that Winkler (1996) finds in Sappho’s poetry. See Chapter 1 for discussion of flowers and eroticism in Sappho, and of Winkler’s analysis thereof.

[ back ] 6. Stehle (Stigers) 1977, esp. 94–96. For other interpretations of the erotic dimensions of Korē’s actions, see Lincoln 1981:71–90, Arthur (Katz) 1994, Calame 1999:154–155, and Suter 2002:40–41 and 54–56. Like Stehle, Suter identifies autoerotic dimensions in the scene: “Persephone finds herself desirable and wants to possess herself in the flower” (p. 55).

[ back ] 7. For Korē’s near-death in the hymn, see also Chapter 9 below and n3 above.

[ back ] 8. Elliger (1975:160–161) is possibly the only other critic to have noted the contrast between flowers in the Greek natural environment and the representation of the narcissus in the hymn. He observes that the “Steigerung der Blütenpracht” (p. 161; cf. Hymn to Demeter 10–11) of the plant elicits a heightened response on the part of viewers, both mortal and immortal.

[ back ] 9. Murr 1969:248: “von betäubendem Wohlgeruche mit einer üppigen Dolde gelblicher Blüten.” On the scent of the Narcissus tazetta, see Huxley and Taylor 1977:153: the flowers are “very fragrant.”

[ back ] 10. Huxley and Taylor 1977:153 and Polunin 1980:502. See Plate 4 for an example of such a plant.

[ back ] 11. Polunin 1980:502. My own study of specimens of the genus Narcissus at the Herbarium of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew suggests that examples with more than nine heads are rare: of the 917 specimens that I surveyed (the majority of the Kew collection), only fourteen had more than nine heads; none had more than fifteen. For further discussion of the many-headedness of Korē’s narcissus, see Chapter 9.

[ back ] 12. For the divine connotations of θαῦμα, see Prier 1989:84–97. Motte (1971:35), commenting on the Hymn to Demeter, notes that an encounter with a θαυμαστός object evoked the sorts of emotions that the Greeks experienced in the face of the sacred. The term γάνος conveys “une intuition de la nature scintillante et magicienne …” (Motte 1971:431; cf. Jeanmaire 1939:436).

[ back ] 13. For the implications of the use of φύω in this passage, see chapter 6 below.

[ back ] 14. Moreover, in describing the emergence of the narcissus Korē employs the lexeme χθών rather than Γαῖα/γαῖα, the regular term for the goddess Earth in early hexameter; cf. Theogony 159–166 (Earth enlists the help of her children against Heaven); 493–495 (Earth deceives Cronus); 821 (Earth sends up Typhoeus). For parallels between the birth of Typhoeus and the growth of the narcissus, see Chapter 9 below.

[ back ] 15. Cf. Hymn to Demeter 177–178: the narrator likens the hair of the daughters of Celeus to the saffron flower (χαῖται … κροκηΐῳ ἄνθει ὁμοῖαι). Their hair has not been enhanced by the gods; Korē’s description of the narcissus as “like saffron” likewise suggests a regular flower. By contrast, as we shall see the hyacinthine hair of Odysseus in Odyssey 6 and 23 is the result of divine intervention.

[ back ] 16. For the narcissus as a path between worlds, see Chapter 4 below.

[ back ] 17. On the tale of the hymn as a rape, cf. Lincoln 1981:78, DeBloois 1997, and Deacy 2013.

[ back ] 18. A fragment of Hesiodic poetry offers a partial parallel for this Homeric scene. In fr. 140 MW, from the Catalogue of Women, Zeus spies Europa gathering flowers and is struck with desire for her. With the intention of seducing her, he transforms himself into a bull and breathes on her with saffron breath (κρόκον ἔπνει). Having thus deceived her, he is able to mount her (ἀπατήϲαϲ ἐβάϲταϲε). Quotations of Hesiodic poetry are from West 1966, 1978, and Merkelbach and West 1967. For the story of Europa, see also n4 above.

[ back ] 19. Proclus at Bernabé 1996:38–39 lines 4–7. See also the D-scholium to Iliad 1.5 (van Thiel 2000 p. 5, lines 8–13 of the scholium).

[ back ] 20. Where Cypria fr. 4 Bernabé is mentioned, it tends to be adduced as a comparandum for other, better known and better loved passages within or beyond the Homeric corpus, which likewise associate flowers and the erotic; see Faulkner 2008:20n62, Scheid and Svenbro 1996:57–58, Janko 1994 on Iliad 14.172–174, Maggiuli 1989:187.

[ back ] 21. Griffin 1977:50–51.

[ back ] 22. The crocus and hyacinth are also paired at Iliad 14.348 and at Hymn to Pan 25 (see Chapter 4 and 5 below, respectively).

[ back ] 23. For the close relationship of Cypria fr. 4 Bernabé with other passages of Homeric poetry, see Bernabé 1996 ad loc., West 2013:75–76, and Sammons 2017:185–186. West stresses the conventionality of the diction of these lines. For instance, he notes parallels between the flowers mentioned in this fragment of the Cypria and those described in two of the passages that I discuss elsewhere in Part I: the opening of the Hymn to Demeter (above) and the Διὸς ἀπάτη (Chapter 4 below).

[ back ] 24. For ἡδύς as a reference to scent in Homeric poetry, cf. Odyssey 4.446, 9.210, and 12.369.

[ back ] 25. The adjective ἀμβρόσιος frequently describes divine garments in Homeric poetry, including as here the robes of Aphrodite (Iliad 5.338). For other such descriptions of divine clothing, see Iliad 14.178, 21.507, 24.341, Odyssey 1.97, 5.45.

[ back ] 26. The term ἀμβροσίη also refers to the unguent with which Hera anoints herself in preparation for the Διὸς ἀπάτη (14.170); on Hera’s preparations for the Διὸς ἀπάτη, see also Chapter 3 below. For ἀμβροσίη as an ointment, cf. 16.670 and 680, where Apollo anoints the body of Sarpedon.

[ back ] 27. See Bernabé 1996 ad loc. on the different attempts to emend the reading καλλιρρόου that is preserved in our manuscripts.

[ back ] 28. As with the narcissus in the Hymn to Demeter, the divine origins of the flowers in these lines suggest that they will have a greater impact on the senses than flowers of the same names from the Greek natural environment. The narcissus is created specially by the goddess Gaia; here, the divine Graces and Seasons prepare Aphrodite’s robes.

[ back ] 29. For the Διὸς ἀπάτη, see Chapter 3 below.

[ back ] 30. For the Judgement of Paris as a seduction scene, see Currie 2016:154 and Sammons 2017:186.

[ back ] 31. A similar scene from Hesiodic poetry is explicitly marked as a deception: at Theogony 589 and Works and Days 83, Pandora is described as δόλον αἰπὺν, ἀμήχανον ἀνθρώπων, “a sheer trick, impossible for mankind.” In preparation for the seduction and deception of Epimetheus and of men more generally, the Seasons (Works and Days 74–75) wreathe her “with spring flowers” (ἄνθεσιν εἰαρινοῖσιν). The same phrase is used in connection with the Graces and the Seasons at Cypria fr. 4.2 Bernabé. If lines 576–577 belong to the Theogony (see West 1966 ad loc. for reasons to doubt their authenticity), then Pandora is decked with flowery wreaths in that poem also, this time by Athena. For the resemblances between these accounts of the preparation of Pandora and the Homeric seduction scenes that we are studying in this chapter, see Richardson 1974:38, West 1978 on Works and Days 73–75 and 2013:75, Holmberg 1990:74n75. There is also one other Hesiodic scene that offers a partial parallel for these Homeric scenes: see n18 above.

[ back ] 32. Van Thiel 2000:5, lines 11–12 of the scholium to the words Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή.

[ back ] 33. West 2013:68–70.

[ back ] 34. Proclus’ summary of the Cypria at Bernabé 1996:38–40 lines 4–26, with quotation from lines 9–11. Unfortunately his summary is too threadbare for us to be sure quite how Zeus engineers these events in the version(s) of the Cypria known to Proclus. If Paris is to choose Helen and thereby provide the catalyst for the war, Eris must provoke the quarrel that leads to the Judgement of Paris, and Aphrodite must make her offer of Helen’s hand. But Proclus passes straight from a description of Zeus’ plans to an allusion to Eris’ presence at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, without explaining the connection between the two elements of the story (Bernabé 1996:38–39 lines 4–7). Likewise, he fails to explain how Zeus ensures that Aphrodite offers Helen to Paris.

[ back ] 35. Aphrodite may also be the unwitting instrument of Zeus’ plans in this episode, as she is in her Homeric Hymn: see Sammons 2017:188. For Aphrodite’s ignorance in the hymn, see also Chapter 3 n13 below.

[ back ] 36. Proclus’ summary of the Cypria at Bernabé 1996:39 line 8. On Helen as a double for Aphrodite, see Brillet-Dubois 2011:110 on this passage of the Cypria, and Clader 1976:53–54, Stehle 1996:196, and Brillet-Dubois 2001:258–259 on Homeric poetry in general.

[ back ] 37. The adjective ἀλεγεινήν, “grievous,” suggests the dire consequences of Paris’ lusts, both for himself and for the Trojans in general: see Richardson 1993 ad loc.

[ back ] 38. Bernabé 1996:39 lines 9–10. The architect Harmonides, who built the ships for Paris, was likewise unaware of the consequences of his actions—both for the Trojans and for himself: “he fashioned the equal ships for Alexander, / the beginnings of evil, which became an evil thing for the Trojans / and for himself, since he knew nothing of the pronouncements from the gods” (Ἀλεξάνδρῳ τεκτήναντο νῆας ἐΐσας / ἀρχεκάκους, αἳ πᾶσι κακὸν Τρώεσσι γένοντο / οἷ τ’ ἀυτῷ, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι θεῶν ἐκ θέσφατα ᾔδη, Iliad 5.62–64). The ships are mentioned in connection with Harmonides’ personal tragedy: he loses his son Phereclus in the war (59–68).

[ back ] 39. “Thus she spoke; for she felt ashamed to mention her flourishing marriage / to her dear father; but he understood everything and answered authoritatively” (Ὣς ἔφατ’· αἴδετο γὰρ θαλερὸν γάμον ἐξονομῆναι / πατρὶ φιλῷ· ὁ δὲ πάντα νόει καὶ ἀμείβετο μύθῳ· 6.66–67).

[ back ] 40. Athena’s subsequent actions prepare the ground for the seduction of Nausicaa. But they also correct expectations of a more disturbing encounter that are created by the description of Odysseus’ emergence from the undergrowth. At that stage of the story the girls, like Korē and her companions in the Hymn to Demeter, are “playing” (Hymn to Demeter 5, 425; Odyssey 6.100) in a space far from human civilization (for the erotic connotations of such “play,” see Rosenmeyer 2004 and the discussion above). The simile at Odyssey 6.130–134 compares Odysseus as he goes amongst the girls with a hungry lion attacking sheep. If Odysseus is hungry like this lion, then the following lines suggest that we should understand his hunger in erotic terms. The verb μίσγομαι (literally, “mingle”), which is frequently used of sexual intercourse in Homeric poetry, describes him as he prepares to go among the girls: ὣς Ὀδυσεὺς κούρῃσιν ἐϋπλοκάμοισιν ἔμελλε / μίξεσθαι, γυμνός περ ἐών … (“thus Odysseus was about to mingle with the lovely-haired maidens, naked though he was …” 6.135–136). The suggestion is that, like Hades in the Hymn to Demeter, Odysseus will threaten the girls with sexual violence. For the sexual connotations of μίσγομαι in this scene, see Ahl and Roisman 1996:51–52, Felson 1997:47, Glenn 1998:111–114; see also more generally LSJ s.v. μείγνυμι B.4, Snell 1955–2010 s.v. μίσγω I.2d, and specific instances from the Homeric poems, such as Iliad 2.232, Odyssey 1.73, and Hymn to Aphrodite 39. For the use of μίσγομαι later in Book 6, see n44 below.

[ back ] 41. See Irwin 1990, Levaniouk 2011:67–68. In addition, if Anacreon fr. 1 Leo is anything to go by, the hyacinth may have had more general associations with eroticism: as we saw in Chapter 1, the poem associates “hyacinthine fields” (ὑακιν[θίναϲ ἀρ]ούραϲ, line 7) both with Aphrodite and with the attractive girl Herotima.

[ back ] 42. Given that H. orientalis was not originally found in the Greek mainland, scholars have suggested other possibilities for the ancient Greek ὑάκινθος, including plants of the genera Scilla, Delphinium, Iris, and Gladiolus: cf. Irwin 1990n51, with bibliography. Nevertheless, it is perfectly possible that at Odyssey 6.231 and Sappho 105b.2 Voigt the term refers to the H. orientalis. Since it is native to the eastern Mediterranean (cf. Polunin 1980:496), it would have grown in areas of Asia Minor familiar to early audiences of Homeric and Sapphic verse. See also Amigues 1992, who identifies the ὑάκινθος at Odyssey 6.231 as H. orientalis and suggests that this plant was introduced to Greece as a whole at an early date.

[ back ] 43. Moreover, when Athena gives Odysseus the appearance of a younger man at 16.172–176, a dark beard (κυάνεαι … γενειάδες, 176) grows on his chin. As Irwin (1990) points out, such a description contrasts with the reference to the middle-aged Odysseus’ blond hair at 13.431, which Athena “made him lose” (ὄλεσε) in order to create his beggar disguise. But perhaps, as Eustathius (on Odyssey 6.230–231) suggests, we should infer that Odysseus’ hair became lighter with age. If that is the case, the three guises of Odysseus that we shall study below are distinguished by three different looks for his hair: the dark, flowing hair of the ephebe, the blond hair of the middle-aged man, and the patchy hair of the old beggar.

[ back ] 44. Nausicaa’s desires are moreover suggested by her use of the verb μίσγομαι in these lines, which is associated elsewhere in Homeric poetry with sexual intercourse (see n40 above). Earlier Nausicaa uses the verb μίσγομαι of strangers who come amongst the Phaeacians (205) but, once she has seen him in his enhanced state, she uses it also of Odysseus himself (241). At 286–288, she modestly distances herself from girls who would “mingle with” men before marriage: καὶ δ’ ἄλλῃ νεμεσῶ, ἥ τις τοιαῦτά γε ῥέζοι, / ἥ τ’ ἀέκητι φίλων πατρὸς καὶ μητρὸς ἐόντων / ἀνδράσι μίσγηται πρίν γ’ ἀμφάδιον γάμον ἐλθεῖν. (“And I find blame with any other girl who would do such things, who mingles with men against the will of her father and mother while they are alive, before entering into a public marriage.”) But seeing as she has just imagined how onlookers would gossip about Odysseus as a potential match for her (276–284), she appears to be intimating her desires to Odysseus in these lines: see de Jong 2001 on Odyssey 6.275–285, 286–288.

[ back ] 45. Eustathius on Odyssey 6.231: the image of gold poured around silver suggests that Odysseus, “beautiful by nature” (φύσει καλὸς ὤν) is rendered still more beautiful (ἐξαλλάγη πρὸς τὸ κάλλιον). I quote Eustathius from Stallbaum 1825. Cf. Duigan 2004:81 on the themes of deception, concealment, and value in this image.

[ back ] 46. Odysseus, by contrast, looks upon Nausicaa’s beauty (e.g., Odyssey 6.160–169) but is not seduced: see Grethlein 2018:35–39.

[ back ] 47. Cf. 13.192–193 (Athena plans that his wife, fellow citizens, and friends not recognize him before he has taken revenge on the suitors) and 16.455–459 (after his reunion with Telemachus in an enhanced form, Athena restores Odysseus’ beggar disguise so that Eumaeus will not recognize him). For Odysseus’ meeting with Telemachus, see below.

[ back ] 48. On the apparent disjunction between Odysseus’ blond hair in this passage, his dark hair at 16.176, and also the suggestions of dark coloration in the image of hyacinthine hair, see n43 above.

[ back ] 49. Deception is a major theme in the scene in which this transformation takes place. Athena takes on the appearance of a shepherd (13.222–325). She also renders the island unrecognizable to Odysseus by shrouding it in mist (189–197). She eventually reveals to him that he has indeed arrived on Ithaca; but even after hearing this, the wary Odysseus tells her a lying tale of his adventures (256–286). In response, Athena notes that he is “insatiable in his trickery” (δόλων ἆτ’, 293) and that, while he is “best among all mortals for counsel and speeches” (βροτῶν ὄχ’ ἄριστος ἁπάντων / βουλῇ καὶ μύθοισιν), she herself is “renowned for cunning and stratagems among all gods” (ἐν πᾶσι θεοῖσι / μήτι τε κλέομαι καὶ κέρδεσιν, 298–299).

[ back ] 50. What is more, Telemachus was presumably too young to remember Odysseus’ appearance when he left for Troy. Odysseus has been away twenty years, and in the narrative timeframe of the Odyssey Telemachus is just reaching manhood (see, for instance, 18.175–176).

[ back ] 51. Levaniouk 2011:67, commenting on Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair: “a remarkable sliding of age-markers characterizes Odysseus: he is represented alternatively as an ageing married man and as a youngster.”

[ back ] 52. Penelope herself acknowledges as much when, speaking of Odysseus in his beggar disguise, she tells Eurycleia to “wash your master’s agemate” (νίψον σοῖο ἄνακτος ὁμήλικα, 19.358). She supposes that “Odysseus’ hands and feet are similar now, since mortals age quickly in their misery” (καί που Ὁδυσσεὺς / ἤδη τοιόσδ’ ἐστὶ πόδας τοιόσδε τε χεῖρας· / αἶψα γὰρ ἐν κακότητι βροτοὶ καταγηράσκουσιν, 358–360). It is possible that Penelope suspects at this point that the beggar is Odysseus: see n70 below. Nevertheless, she finally accepts him as her husband in his guise as a young man (in Book 23).

[ back ] 53. See Ahl and Roisman 1996:194–195. In fact, Odysseus resembles the mature young man Telemachus has become. A key indication of Telemachus’ maturity is his new beard (18.175–176, 269–270); Odysseus’ beard is emphasized at 16.176.

[ back ] 54. The Odyssey’s descriptions of the transformations of Penelope and Telemachus seem to fall into this category: Athena enhances their existing traits, but unlike in the case of Odysseus’ hyacinthine hair, her interventions do not reverse the ageing process; moreover, unlike Odysseus in Book 13 the characters in question do not take on new roles. At Odyssey 2.12–13 and 17.63–64, for instance, Athena pours grace on Telemachus; she does the same for Odysseus at 6.235 and 23.162. As a result of Athena’s intervention, the Ithacans wonder at Telemachus (θηεῦντο, 2.13, 17.64); but they do not mistake him for someone else or for a younger man. Similarly, much as Athena makes Odysseus “larger and broader” at 6.230 and 23.157, she renders Penelope “taller and broader” at 18.195 “so that [the suitors] might wonder” (ἵνα … θησαίατ’, 191). And Penelope’s appearance does, indeed, rouse their desires (211–212). But it is not deceptive: the suitors make no mistake about her identity. Any deceptive qualities in the scene center not on her appearance, but on her speech at 251–280. Penelope extracts gifts from the suitors with her possibly misleading suggestion that she is now ready to remarry (250–303); see Levine 1983 on deception in this scene.

[ back ] 55. The clothes that Laertes wears as he tends his orchard, which are described at 24.227–231, might likewise have the potential to deceive (see Murnaghan 1987:26–30). Indeed, Odysseus pretends to mistake him for a slave, albeit one of impressive appearance (249–255). For the meeting of Odysseus and Laertes, see also Chapter 5 and n60 below.

[ back ] 56. Patroclus’ deception of the Trojans differs, however, from Odysseus’ use of a beggar disguise to the extent that it imperils the deceiver himself. At Iliad 16.46–47 the narrator comments that, in asking Achilles for his armor, he was asking for his own death, and Patroclus is killed shortly after entering battle (786–857).

[ back ] 57. Cf. Iliad 19.38–39, where Thetis drips the divine substances ambrosia and nectar into the nostrils of Patroclus’ corpse to leave his flesh “unchanging or still better” (ἔμπεδος, ἢ καὶ ἀρείων, 19.33).

[ back ] 58. The “dewy” appearance of Hector’s corpse might also have carried floral connotations for audiences familiar with Homeric poetry: see Chapter 7 n16 below.

[ back ] 59. For Aphrodite’s rosy oil and the effect of Hector’s body on viewers, see also Chapter 7 below.

[ back ] 60. Unlike other transformations of Odysseus’ family members in the Odyssey (for which see n54 above), Athena’s enhancement of Laertes’ appearance at 24.367–369 could be understood as deceptive. In his new guise, he resembles a god (371), and Odysseus correctly surmises that a god has intervened to alter his appearance (373–374). What is more, at 24.376–382 Laertes expresses the wish that he were still the man he was when he took the city of Nericus. These lines might have led listeners to suspect that Athena has, in fact, given him the appearance of such a warrior and that therefore, as with Odysseus in Books 6, 16, and 23, she has rendered him more youthful. What is more, much as Athena dresses Odysseus in better clothing instead of his beggar’s rags (16.173–174), Laertes dons a “beautiful cloak” (χλαῖναν καλήν, 24.367) in place of the squalid clothing that he had been wearing (227–231). For Laertes’ clothing, see also n55 above.

[ back ] 61. Moreover, in each case the goddess’ actions benefit the object of her attentions. Odysseus’ enhanced appearance helps him to secure a homecoming from the Phaeacians (Odyssey 6) and to achieve a reunion with Penelope (Odyssey 23). Aphrodite’s ministrations in Iliad 23 help to preserve Hector’s corpse (see 23.182–191).

[ back ] 62. For the identification of the two episodes as seduction scenes, see Sowa 1984:67–73, Pucci 1987:91–92, Murnaghan 1987:92–103, Glenn 1998, Currie 2016:189–193; see also van Nortwick 1979, who observes that Nausicaa, more than any other female on Odysseus’ travels, resembles his wife. For the parallels between the two scenes, see also Pucci 1987:91-92 and Arthur (Katz) 1991:114–115, 136–137.

[ back ] 63. Odysseus hears Penelope weeping as she recalls her vision and has a vision of his own, in which she recognizes him (20.92–94). The references to the younger Odysseus and to Penelope’s recognition of Odysseus anticipate the events in Book 23 that we shall discuss below: Penelope eventually accepts Odysseus in his younger, hyacinthine form.

[ back ] 64. Russo (1982:14) argues that the phrase εἴκελος αὐτῷ at 20.88 both refers to the Odysseus of twenty years ago and also suggests the beggar, whom Penelope likens to Odysseus as he would appear now at 19.358–360 (see n52 above). But such an allusion to the older Odysseus would create an awkward contrast with the clear reference in the next line to the Odysseus of twenty years ago.

[ back ] 65. A second dream, which Penelope reports to Odysseus in his beggar disguise at 19.536–553, may offer a further indication of Penelope’s desires. She mentions that she has twenty geese the sight of which warms her heart (536–537); an eagle arrives and kills them (538–540); Penelope remembers her distress at their deaths (541–543); the eagle explains clearly that he is Odysseus and that he will slay the suitors (546–550); but when she awoke the geese were still alive in her courtyard (552–553). Perhaps her distress at the apparent death of the geese and their actual survival reflects a certain tenderness that she has developed towards the suitors: see Rankin 1962 and Russo 1982 (cf. Marquardt 1985:43–45: the dream reflects her fear that she might be suspected of such desires). If this is the case, her tender feelings towards these younger men are consistent with her desire for the younger Odysseus and resistance to Odysseus in his guise as an old beggar.

[ back ] 66. On this image as a reflection of Odysseus’ artificial rejuvenation, see also Levaniouk 2011:67–68.

[ back ] 67. Odysseus recognizes Penelope’s state of mind at 23.115–116: “now because I am filthy and clothed in evil clothing on my flesh, / for that reason she dishonors and does not say that I am he” (νῦν δ’ ὅττι ῥυπόω, κακὰ δὲ χροῒ εἵματα εἷμαι, / τοὕνεκ’ ἀτιμάζει με καὶ οὔ πώ φησι τὸν εἶναι). For the connection of these lines with Penelope’s desire for the younger Odysseus, see Felson 1997:62: “it is as if [Odysseus] had overheard her earlier fantasy, when she dreamed he lay beside her ‘as he was when he went with the army’ (20.89–90).”

[ back ] 68. The themes introduced by Odysseus’ instructions to Telemachus at 23.130–136 are in keeping with Odysseus’ new guise. Telemachus should clean his clothes and tell the bard Phemius to play music for a wedding. In his hyacinthine guise, Odysseus resembles not only the young man who left for Troy, but also the youth who married her. She renews their marriage with Odysseus in this guise.

[ back ] 69. As Heitman (2005:89–95) points out, Penelope in her caution differs also from other characters in the Odyssey faced with Odysseus’ enhanced appearance: Telemachus and Nausicaa, for instance, despite likening Odysseus to a god, soon accept his transformed appearance.

[ back ] 70. It is possible, as some scholars have argued, that Penelope recognizes Odysseus or has her suspicions about his identity earlier than Book 23: Harsh 1950, Amory 1963, Winkler 1990:129–161, Ahl and Roisman 1996:229–272. If Penelope does have her suspicions, this would help to explain her decision to hold the archery contest shortly after meeting the disguised Odysseus (21.1–4) and her insistence that Odysseus be allowed a turn with the bow (21.111–142). Nevertheless, Penelope only accepts him as her husband when she has seen him in the guise of a younger man with hyacinthine hair. For Penelope’s suspicions regarding Odysseus’ identity, see also n52 above.

[ back ] 71. See Chapter 5 below for discussion of imagery connected with Odysseus’ bed.

[ back ] 72. Cf. Murnaghan 1987:16: Athena’s actions give Penelope the illusion that she is looking at the Odysseus who left her to fight at Troy.

[ back ] 73. For the deceptive qualities of Odysseus’ appearance, see Pucci 1987:92, who observes that Odysseus’ seductive appearance in Book 23 is no truer than the beggar disguise it replaces, Ahl and Roisman 1996:264, who contend that “Athena recreates an image, a phantasm of the Odysseus Penelope loved,” and Nooter 2019:49, who proposes that Athena’s treatment of Odysseus “is framed not as an uncovering of the true Odysseus from under the cloak of his beggarly disguise, but rather as itself an act of artistic subterfuge on the part of a god.” Dougherty (2015:134–140) argues that Odysseus’ change of appearance at Odyssey 23.156–162 is part of a productive trial of different roles, as he and Penelope negotiate their new relationship with each other. But at this point Penelope is excluded from the game: her ignorance of the transformation that has occurred and its manipulation of her desires qualify Odysseus’ appearance as deceptive.

[ back ] 74. If Murnaghan (1987:141–142) is correct, Penelope’s puzzling reference to Helen’s adultery immediately afterwards (218–224) continues her explanation for her hesitancy. According to Murnaghan, Penelope hesitates precisely because she has always feared giving in to her desires (as Helen gave in to her desires) and accepting an impostor as Odysseus on the basis of his plausible speech (ἔπεσσιν).

[ back ] 75. In a further irony, Penelope notes shortly beforehand that “the gods … begrudged us the chance to enjoy youth, remaining with one another” (θεοί / … νῶϊν ἀγάσαντο παρ’ ἀλλήλοισι μένοντε / ἥβης ταρπῆναι, 23.210–212). Penelope herself will not enjoy a second youth, but, as we have seen, she is unaware that she has been presented with an artificially youthful Odysseus.

[ back ] 76. For these and other unsettling elements in the denouement of the Odyssey, see Pucci 1987:83–97, Ahl and Roisman 1996:247–272, Purves 2006 and 2010:65–96. As we shall see in Chapter 5 below, such elements are balanced by arboreal images that suggest the endurance of Odysseus’ and Penelope’s marriage.

[ back ] 77. Mulvey 1989b.

[ back ] 78. Lacan 1977, e.g., pp. 95–96.