Divine yet Human Epics: Reflections of Poetic Rulers from Ancient Greece and India

  Pathak, Shubha. 2014. Divine Yet Human Epics: Reflections of Poetic Rulers from Ancient Greece and India. Hellenic Studies Series 62. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_PathakS.Divine_Yet_Human_Epics.2014.

3. Listening to Achilles and to Odysseus: Poetic Kings on the Ideal of Kléos in the Homeric Epics

The contrasting construals of kléos in the Iliad and the Odyssey are embodied by the poems’ bickering protagonists, Achilles and Odysseus, in the first song that Demodocus sings in Odyssey 8.72–82. In this performance, the singer does not specify the heroes’ quarrel’s source, but rather leaves it open to his audience’s speculation. The very vagueness of the disagreement’s grounds foregrounds the heroes’ difference itself, however the Odyssey’s hearers choose to explain it.

Indeed, the heroes cut quite different kingly figures. Whereas Achilles forsakes his country, Phthia, so that he can head the Achaean effort to conquer Troy, Odysseus journeys back from Troy so that he can reclaim his throne on the isle of Ithaca. While Achilles goes abroad to garner glory for giving up his life in the course of taking over another area, Odysseus, the rightful sovereign of his realm, returns home to find fame.

The two kings thus seek distinct kinds of kléos, and the epics about them vary accordingly. Moreover, the epics give away their respective endings, capturing the different sorts of glory that are in store for their heroes, by having them perform disparate poems themselves. The songs that Achilles and Odysseus sing when displaced from the lands that they should command signal the disparity not only between the fames for which the rulers aim, but also between the attitudes with which they—and the epics that immortalize them—approach their ends.

In like manner, the rulers’ poetic performances provide prolepses of the kinds of kléos that these kings will achieve ultimately. In fact, the narratives that the kings themselves share with others suggest the sorts of stories that eventually will be told about these monarchs. Thus, the rulers regale their listeners with tales that differ. Achilles recites an account abbreviated so much in the Iliad, as simply to be classified among the kléa andrō̂n. Yet his performance, in the company of his companion Patroclus, of a story that already is complete and esteemed indicates that Achilles’ securing his own self-sacrificing glory, at Troy, is a foregone conclusion that the Iliad assumes and does not need to portray. By contrast, Odysseus composes a triad of extended poems that dwell on his failures to conquer other realms, but that explain how he will obtain fame upon reclaiming his home on Ithaca at the end of the Odyssey.

Achilles as a Rhapsode Far from Phthia

Achilles articulates this glorious ideal of kléos even as he refrains from fighting at the fore of the Achaean forces attempting to take over Troy, as members of the embassy sent to soothe his wounded pride encounter him:

Murmidónōn d’ epí te klisías kaì nē̂as hikésthēn,
tòn d’ heûron phréna terpómenon phórmingi ligeíēi,
kalē̂i daidaléēi, epì d’ argúreon zugòn ē̂en,
tḕn áret’ ex enárōn pólin Ēetíōnos oléssas∙
tē̂i hó ge thumòn éterpen, áeide d’ ára kléa andrō̂n.
Pátroklos dé hoi oîos enantíos hē̂sto siōpē̂i,
dégmenos Aiakídēn, hopóte lḗxeien aeídōn.

They came upon the Myrmidons’ shelters and ships
and lighted on him delighting in the clear sounds of a
beautifully wrought, silver-bridged lyre
that he had got from the spoils of Eëtion’s city after destroying it.
With the lyre, his heart’s delight, [Achilles] was singing of the glorious deeds of men;
and only Patroclus was sitting opposite him in silence,
waiting for the moment when this scion of Aeacus would cease singing.

Iliad 9.185–191

What frees Achilles to present this impromptu recital is his double displacement. Having been called away from his kingdom in Phthia to combat at Troy, he has been driven away from the naval warfare there by his anger at Agamemnon, who has stolen from Achilles his slave woman Briseïs (Iliad 1.335–344).

Contrasting with the Homeric aoidoí, creators of the Homeric epics, are the rhapsōidoí, reciters of complete epics such as those of Homer (i.e. those that have been composed by the Homeric aoidoí ), who are brought to light by Pindaric and Herodotean passages I have cited in Chapter 1. The earliest explicit mention of rhapsōidoí occurs in connection with Cleisthenes’ cessation of Homeric recitation in section 5.67.1 of the Histories, a text that dates from the latter half of the fifth century BCE. Yet the presence of such Homeric performers appears to predate their designation as rhapsōidoí. The Nemean 2.2 reference to the Homeridae as “singers of epic poems pieced together” (rhaptō̂n epéōn … aoidoí) suggests that, by the late sixth century BCE, aoidoí were beginning to evince capacities to recite epics already completed, as well as abilities to add substantially to inchoate works of this type. And, if the Iliad’s depiction of the singing Achilles is indicative of the poetic practices of its time, aoidoí of a rhapsodic variety actually may have been present even then.

In any event, even though the lyre (phórminx) of an aoidós—rather than the staff (rhábdos) of a rhapsōidós—is what Achilles holds, [13] he is better described as a rhapsode than as a bard. And so, too, is Patroclus classified in the following passage:

Even though rhapsodic reciters may be recomposing in performance—and thereby may be contributing to the previously composed poems that have been passed down to them—this activity of theirs is distinct from that of the prior bardic poets responsible for much of the content that the reciters have received. Even if the Homeridae are in the same line of poetic transmission as the aoidoí known collectively as Homer, the difference between the two groups’ efforts is well worth observing and is anticipated in the Iliad itself. Indeed, Achilles’ Iliadic rhapsody belies Havelock’s dissolution of this distinction:

Given that “the hero [Achilles] … sings himself into the [Iliad] epic,” [
16] it is important—pace Havelock—to note the type of singer that Achilles is styled, so as to understand what his singing signifies.

Achilles’ Rhapsodic Recitation:A Prolepsis of His Kléos of Conquest

Such a sudden development suits a hero who is semi-divine himself. As the son of Thetis, Achilles is well aware of his imminent demise in a war away from home, and of his heroic death’s attendant reward of eternal glory:

mḗtēr gár té mé phēsi theà Thétis argurópeza
dikhthadías kē̂ras pherémen thanátoio télosde.
ei mén k’ aûthi ménōn Trṓōn pólin amphimákhōmai,
ṓleto mén moi nóstos, atàr kléos áphthiton éstai∙
ei dé ken oíkad’ híkōmi phílēn es patrída gaîan,
ṓletó moi kléos esthlón, epì dēròn dé moi aiṑn
éssetai, oudé ké m’ ō̂ka télos thanátoio kikheíē.

For my mother, Thetis, the goddess with silver feet, tells me that
two different destinies are taking me to the moment of my death:
if I stay here and wage war around the Trojans’ city,
then my homecoming will have been lost but I will have undying glory;
but, if I go home to my beloved fatherland,
my noble glory will have been lost, though I will have a long life
without the moment of my death quickly coming upon me.

Iliad 9.410–416

Even though Achilles frames this pair of fates as apparent alternatives, I do not think that the hero’s early death in battle is something that he ultimately is able to select freely over an immediate departure from Troy. [
18] In presenting this second outcome, Achilles considers what his life would continue to be, were he not constrained already to effect the first. Yet his consideration of this continued life is not simply “[c]ounterfactual,” [19] for this hypothetical existence provides the poetic images for his inevitable, impending death.

Achilles himself idealizes the war that will confer kléos upon him, and eschews this conflict temporarily only when he feels that it is not being conducted correctly. His indictment of Agamemnon as this commander makes plain his designs on Briseïs highlights the reward structure undergirding the current martial moral code. Agamemnon, by dint of his superior military position, is entitled to a better prize than is Achilles, even though Achilles has engaged in a far greater share of the fighting (Iliad 1.165–168). While Achilles can countenance this inequity, he cannot tolerate Agamemnon’s renegation of the warrior norm that prizes cannot be removed once awarded (Iliad 1.125–126, 229–230, 299). On the basis of Agamemnon’s imminent offense of seizing the desirable Briseïs after she already has been won, Achilles determines that his commander is not merely avaricious (i.e. “the most rapacious” [philokteanṓtate] or “preoccupied with profit” [kerdaleóphron]), but altogether “shameless” (anaidés) (Iliad 1.122, 149, 158). Agamemnon’s ill-gotten gain of this spoil is Achilles’ loss of his very honor. Knowing that he is being dishonored unjustly, Achilles no longer wishes to fight on the Trojan battlefield to accrue booty for Agamemnon and therefore threatens to retreat to Phthia (Iliad 1.244, 355–356, 412, 169–171).

After Achilles raises the initial specter of his departure in the Iliad’s opening book, he goes on in book 9 to suggest to Agamemnon’s embassy members a possible countermeasure that is beyond their control. Achilles stipulates that he will reenter the war against the Trojans only when their crown prince, Hector, fights his way to the ships of the Myrmidons, Achilles’ people, and sets these vessels on fire (Iliad 9.649–655). The Phthian ruler seems to keep open for the embassy the possibility of his homecoming to reinforce his persistent rebuke of his Mycenaean commander, who has dismissed him “as if [he] were an unhonored wanderer” (hōs eí tin’ atímēton metanástēn) (Iliad 9.648) by taking the liberty to appropriate Achilles’ concubine without her or his consent (Iliad 9.367–369).

Achilles rearticulates his righteous indignation at Agamemnon’s treatment of him “as if [he] were an unhonored wanderer” (hōs eí tin’ atímēton metanástēn) (Iliad 16.59) as he asks Patroclus to wear the divine armor in Achilles’ possession to lead the Myrmidons to battle against the Trojans (Iliad 16.64–70). Although Achilles urges Patroclus to protect the Achaeans’ homecoming from their enemy, Achilles anticipates being able to sail back to Phthia only after he and Patroclus together have defeated the Trojans. On this assumption, Achilles instructs Patroclus only to beat the Trojans back from and to keep them from burning the Phthian ships and not to engage the hostile forces at Ilium without him. Were Patroclus himself to best the Trojans there, then Achilles would lose the chance to sack their city and to win back Briseïs as an award from the Achaeans, who in their gratitude would gift him anew as well (Iliad 16.80–90). If Patroclus were to cost Achilles this opportunity, then the Phthian king would be even “more unhonored” (atimóteron) (Iliad 16.90).

Achilles, however, is poised to claim kléos for himself by avenging Patroclus’ death at the hands of Hector. Achilles acknowledges his impending act as his fate:

nûn d’ eîm’, óphra phílēs kephalē̂s oletē̂ra kikheíō,
Héktora∙ kē̂ra d’ egṑ tóte déxomai, hoppóte ken dḕ
Zeùs ethélēi telésai ēd’ athánatoi theoì álloi.
oudè gàr oudè bíē Hēraklē̂os phúge kē̂ra,
hós per phíltatos éske Diì Kroníōni ánakti∙
allá he moîra dámasse kaì argaléos khólos Hḗrēs.
hṑs kaì egṓn, ei dḗ moi homoíē moîra tétuktai,
keísom’ epeí ke thánō∙ nûn dè kléos esthlòn aroímēn,
kaí tina Trōïádōn kaì Dardanídōn bathukólpōn
amphotérēisin khersì pareiáōn hapaláōn
dákru’ omorxaménēn hadinòn stonakhē̂sai epheíēn,
gnoîen d’ hōs dḕ dēròn egṑ polémoio pépaumai∙

And now I will go to overtake Hector, the killer of a man dear to me,
for I will accept my death at the moment whenever
Zeus and the other immortal gods choose to accomplish it.
For not even powerful Heracles escaped his death,
despite being the dearest to Lord Zeus, son of Cronus.
Rather, fate felled him, as did the vexing rage of Hera.
So, too, I—if indeed a similar fate has been fixed for me—
will lie still when I die. But now allow me to win noble glory,
and to send one of the full-chested Trojan or Dardanian women
to moan vehemently while wiping off tears
from her soft cheeks with both hands.
And allow them to know for how very long I have ceased and desisted from the war.

Iliad 18.114–125

Achilles knows full well that reentering the war will lead to his decease, because Thetis has already revealed that he will succeed Hector in death (Iliad 18.96). Hence, Achilles connects to his own acceptance of his fated demise his requital against Hector (Iliad 18.114–116). The Phthian recognizes the inexorability of his dire destiny, likening it to the end of Heracles (Iliad 18.117–121). Here Achilles implies that, if such a fate can befall a semi-divine being who—by virtue of having been fathered by the immortal ruler (Zeus) rather than a mortal one (such as Peleus)—is even higher in status than Achilles, then he, too, as a mere great-grandson of Zeus, will die soon, despite having a divine mother. Before Achilles accrues kléos as a consequence of his own death in combat, he will make a widow out of Hector’s wife, Andromache, who indeed will be in tears and in the company of other Trojan women when she mourns him (Iliad 18.121–125, 22.515, 24.746).

At the same time that Achilles alludes to Andromache’s laments, he evokes the women whom he and Patroclus plundered from the cities that they were sacking (Iliad 18.341–342). These “full-chested Trojan and Dardanian women” (Trōiaì kaì Dardanídes bathúkolpoi), observes Achilles while mourning Patroclus, “will wail for nights and days while shedding tears” (klaúsontai núktas te kaì ḗmata dákru khéousai) for him (Iliad 18.339–340). In making this observation, Achilles is aware that he and Patroclus alike have been destined to die at Troy (Iliad 18.329–330). While Achilles’ Ilian end will ensue in kléos for him, Patroclus will attain only an accessory renown as Achilles’ companion, rather than the fame of a storied warrior. When the Phthian king explains that his promise to Patroclus’ father, Menoetius, “to bring back his glorious son to Opoeis” (hoi eis Opóenta periklutòn huiòn apáxein), their city, has rung hollow, Achilles himself remarks that “Zeus does not accomplish all the aims of humans” (ou Zeùs ándressi noḗmata pánta teleutâi) (Iliad 18.326, 328). Instead of acquiring kléos at the sacking of Ilium, as well as his share of the attendant spoils, Patroclus dies beforehand and will be bewailed immediately and only by women whom he and Achilles carried off in the past, rather than eventually and additionally by concubines who could have belonged to these men in the future to enjoy for the remainders of their lives. Aptly, Patroclus, prior to his demise, appears with Achilles as he sings kléa such as his own to come (Iliad 9.189–191). Yet Patroclus, despite his proximity to Achilles, does not sing kléa himself, as if to underscore that his own glory will be postponed eternally. While he plays the part of the next rhapsode in the symbolic performance of Achilles’ kléos, Patroclus’ own song is forestalled forever.

By contrast, Achilles’ own untimely demise in Troy, with its guarantee of undying glory, is a gift from Zeus. Hence, when Achilles is seen in the act of reciting men’s fames, in the manner in which he himself will be sung, he is said to be the “scion of Aeacus” (Aiakídēn) (Iliad 9.191). This epithet emphasizes Achilles’ proximity to Zeus, [23] who is the father of Achilles’ paternal grandfather, Aeacus, and makes possible Achilles’ poetic immortalization. Although Achilles attributes his dire destiny to the gods in general (“… for I will accept my death at the moment whenever / Zeus and the other immortal gods choose to accomplish it” [… kē̂ra d’ egṑ tóte déxomai, hoppóte ken dḕ / Zeùs ethélēi telésai ēd’ athánatoi theoì álloi] [Iliad 18.115–116, 22.365–366]), the hero singles out Zeus here because this deity, by deciding what to dispense from his containers of banes and benefits (Iliad 24.527–528), determines the quality of a mortal’s lot in life and death. The best destiny from Zeus for which a human can hope is mixed (Iliad 24.529–530), as is illustrated by the case of Achilles’ father, Peleus, who has received divine favors such as prosperity, riches, kingship over the Myrmidons, and a goddess for a wife, but has sired only one short-lived son who will not be able to care for Peleus in his old age (Iliad 24.534–540, 19.322–325). In citing Peleus’ situation, Achilles, the current king of the Myrmidons (Iliad 1.180; 16.211; 24.448–449, 452), alludes to his own situation, for he also receives divine assistance—as evinced both by his inheritance of the immortal horses and godly armor that divinities have given to his father (Iliad 16.145–154; 19.399–400; 16.380–381, 866–867; 17.441–444, 194–197; 18.82–84) and by the replacement of this armor by the immortal smith, Hephaestus, thanks to the intercession of Thetis (Iliad 18.457–461). In continuing parallel to Peleus, Achilles has already been separated from and will not be able to enjoy an old age in the care of his son, Neoptolemus (Iliad 19.326–327).

But the benefit of being subject as a human to some of Zeus’ “banes” (kakō̂n) (Iliad 24.528) is that Achilles can attain kléos. According to Helen, the semi-divine daughter of Zeus (Iliad 3.199, 237–238), Zeus has set a “baneful fate” (kakòn móron) upon Hector’s brother Paris and her so that they may become a subject of song for people, even in the future (Iliad 6.357–358). Similar renown will redound to Zeus’ mortal great-grandson, despite being doubtful while Achilles is in danger of drowning ignominiously in the waters of Scamander when this river rises to war with the Phthian. Certainly, Achilles’ subsequent prayer to his great-grandfather for succor is answered finally by Zeus’ son Hephaestus and his drying fire, at the behest of his mother—Hera—Zeus’ wife and sister (Iliad 21.272–283, 328–355). With the support of such immortals, Achilles is able to live up to his illustrious patriline, which he vaunts well in advance of his encounter with Scamander, just before slaying Asteropaeus—the grandson of Axius, another river (Iliad 21.184–202, 140–142).

The imagery employed to describe the fire that Hephaestus deploys for Achilles against Scamander sheds light on the hero’s own glory:

prō̂ta mèn en pedíōi pûr daíeto, kaîe dè nekroùs
polloús, hoí rha kat’ autòn hális ésan, hoùs ktán’ Akhilleús∙
pân d’ exēránthē pedíon, skhéto d’ aglaòn húdōr.
hōs d’ hót’ opōrinòs Boréēs neoardé’ alōḕn
aîps’ anxēránēi∙ khaírei dé min hós tis etheírēi∙
hṑs exēránthē pedíon pân, kàd d’ ára nekroùs
kē̂en∙ ho d’ es potamòn trépse phlóga pamphanóōsan.
kaíonto pteléai te kaì itéai ēdè murîkai,
kaíeto dè lōtós te idè thrúon ēdè kúpeiron,
tà perì kalà rhéethra hális potamoîo pephúkei∙
teíront’ enkhélués te kaì ikhthúes hoì katà dínas,
hoì katà kalà rhéethra kubístōn éntha kaì éntha
pnoiē̂i teirómenoi polumḗtios Hēphaístoio.

First, the fire was set on the plain and burned the many dead bodies
that thronged around it after having been killed by Achilles;
and the entire plain was dried up and the sparkling water was halted.
And, just as when at harvest time the north wind dries a newly watered orchard
quickly and delights the man who tills it,
thus was the entire plain dried up as [Hephaestus] burned through the dead bodies.
He then turned the shining flame toward the river.
Elms and willows and tamarisks burned.
Clover burned, and rushes and galingale,
all of which had grown profusely around the river’s pretty streams.
Eels and fish were afflicted, jumping out along the eddies,
along the pretty streams here and there,
while afflicted by the blast of Hephaestus, who was crafty in many ways.

Iliad 21.343–355

Hephaestus contributes here to Achilles’ kléos by enabling the hero to best “the protective river of Troy” [
24] —and thus to battle the city’s inhabitants while free of this formidable natural obstacle (Iliad 21.359–360). Yet the agricultural simile for Hephaestus’ act illuminates another facet of Achilles’ fame. At first glance, comparing the furnace effect of Hephaestus’ conflagration to a fast, wind-driven evaporation favorable to crops (Iliad 21.343–349) may appear bizarre, particularly in light of the Scamander River’s necessity to “the fertility of the Trojan plain, and hence [to] the life of Troy as a whole.” [25] But the coupling of the destructive and the productive in this comparison recalls Achilles’ own juxtaposition above of the death that threatens him at Troy and the life that he has left behind in Phthia (Iliad 9.410–416). Moreover, the barrier between these two states breaks down when considered in connection with kléos: fighting to the death at Troy will destroy Achilles, but will produce his glory, while living in Phthia has allowed him to produce wealth and ultimately acclaim for his heir, but has promised to destroy Achilles’ own prospects for fame.

He carries Phthia with him when he wields the shield specifically crafted by Hephaestus for Achilles’ return to arms. The alter ego of Phthian king Achilles whom this immortal smith forges from his heavenly alloy (Iliad 18.474–475) is the ruler featured in one of the shield’s inner scenes:

En d’ etíthei témenos basilḗïon∙ éntha d’ érithoi
ḗmōn oxeías drepánas en khersìn ékhontes.
drágmata d’ álla met’ ógmon epḗtrima pîpton éraze,
álla d’ amallodetē̂res en elledanoîsi déonto.
treîs d’ ár’ amallodetē̂res ephéstasan∙ autàr ópisthe
paîdes dragmeúontes, en ankalídessi phérontes,
asperkhès párekhon∙ basileùs d’ en toîsi siōpē̂i
skē̂ptron ékhōn hestḗkei ep’ ógmou gēthósunos kē̂r.
kḗrukes d’ apáneuthen hupò druï̀ daîta pénonto,
boûn d’ hiereúsantes mégan ámphepon∙ hai dè gunaîkes
deîpnon eríthoisin leúk’ álphita pollà pálunon.

And inside [Hephaestus] placed a king’s property, and there laborers
were reaping with the sharp sickles that they had in their hands.
While some swaths were falling to the earth, one after another, in a row,
others sheaf-binders were binding together with bands.
Three sheaf-binders took their positions; then, behind them,
boys gathering the fallen swaths by the armful
gave them to the sheaf-binders, without stopping; and among them, in silence,
stood the king, holding his scepter and rejoicing to the core at the reaping row.
Apart from them, heralds were preparing a feast beneath an oak tree
and were attending to the great bull that they had sacrificed. The maidservants
strewed plenty of white barley for the laborers’ main meal.

Iliad 18.550–560

I regard the “property” (témenos) (Iliad 18.550) over which this ruler presides not as “the kind of privilege which any great basileus [or king] might hope to return to after the war, the kind which Achilles might have had if he had chosen long life instead of a glorious death,” [
27] but as the very patrimony that this hero has been constrained to enjoy only briefly. On this view, Phthia looms not as a potential destination, but as a piece of a completed—if fleeting—past. And this land is named aptly, assuming that its appellation “is motivated by the theme of vegetal death as conveyed by the root phthi.” [28] Although the king of Phthia, Achilles, grew like a shoot after he had been born to Thetis, who tended him like a tree in the sunniest spot of an orchard (Iliad 18.56–57, 437–438), his life will be cut short in the Trojan War. And Phthia, without its king, will languish as Peleus withers away in his old age, waiting for Neoptolemus to return to his roots—from Scyrus, the island where he is being reared (Iliad 19.326–327)—and to take over.

Thus, fertile Phthia (Iliad 1.155), memorialized on Achilles’ shield, already has started to disappear after suffering his departure. The soldered kingdom, even in its metal plenitude, is an emblem of the insufficiency that he seeks to sow elsewhere. Just as he himself no longer can enjoy the abundance of his distant homeland, he aims to make the plenty of Troy nothing but imaginary to its inhabitants as well. Hence the losses that he inflicts upon them are conveyed by images of copiousness that no longer will be seen in the Trojan country.

The simile that evinces this tendency most expressly finds Achilles simultaneously on the battlefield and on the threshing floor:

hōs d’ hóte tis zeúxēi bóas ársenas eurumetṓpous
tribémenai krî leukòn eüktiménēi en alōē̂i,
rhímpha te lépt’ egénonto boō̂n hupò póss’ erimúkōn,
hṑs hup’ Akhillē̂os megathúmou mṓnukhes híppoi
steîbon homoû nékuás te kaì aspídas∙ haímati d’ áxōn
nérthen hápas pepálakto kaì ántuges haì perì díphron,
hàs ár’ aph’ hippeíōn hopléōn rhatháminges éballon
haí t’ ap’ epissṓtrōn∙ ho dè híeto kûdos arésthai
Pēleḯdēs, lúthrōi dè palásseto kheîras aáptous.

And, just as when a man yokes broad-fronted bulls
to trample white barley on a well-built threshing floor,
and the husked grain soon appears under the feet of the loud-bellowing bulls,
like so, below great-hearted Achilles, his uncloven-hooved horses
were trampling dead bodies and shields at once. The whole axle
had been spattered beneath with blood, and the railing around the chariot,
which drops of blood—from the horses’ hooves and from the wheel rims—struck.
But Peleus’ son was speeding on, to attain honor;
and, with gore, he spattered his unhandleable hands.

Iliad 20.495–503

The threshing action of Achilles’ immortal horses calls to mind the reaping scene depicted on his divine shield (Iliad 18.550–557). Both events involve grain—at least figuratively, if not literally: in fact, threshing is what must happen to the barley in order for humans like the reapers who have harvested it to consume it (Iliad 18.559–560). Furthermore, the productiveness of these imagined acts forms a mold for the real destruction around them. As Achilles speeds over the lifeless bodies beneath his horse-drawn vehicle, he is akin to the man guiding yoked oxen across the husks from cut stalks that are to be crushed. The thresher in this simile, like the reapers on Achilles’ shield, embodies this king’s ability to increase his country’s yield. As the shield reveals, laborers of this agricultural variety provide the might that he presumably has overseen in Phthia, and thus may be seen as an extension of his own strength. However, on the battlefield in Troy, where Achilles brandishes his shield as he leads not laborers but warriors, this king will visit his own destiny of a lost country on another ruler whose city he wants to spoil. Moreover, just as the metal Phthia of Achilles’ shield becomes a symbol of all that will be lost in Troy, so too the aforementioned blast sent from Hephaestus in Achilles’ behalf (Iliad 21.346–349) evokes a northern breeze pleasing to the kind of farmer who once was found in Phthia, in Achilles’ employ, but whose services no longer will be needed in a soon-to-be desolate Troy. Trojans will fall not only like the trees that Hephaestus burns down (Iliad 21.349–350), but also like Achilles himself, whose own growth—as Thetis bemoans (Iliad 18.54–60, 436–441)—will be cut short. But, before then, Achilles will keep mowing down Trojans. Even though the corpses crushed under his chariot in the threshing simile above are dead already, the blood that these bodies leave on his hands hints that, before reaching his end, he will continue to kill in force—as he, like “divinely kindled fire” (the-spidaès pûr), already has been doing by the time that Hephaestus discharges his “divinely kindled fire” (thespidaès pûr) near Scamander (Iliad 20.490, 21.342).

Priam’s city faces a similar fate. On the day when Achilles once anticipated reaching Phthia after leaving Troy, Achilles instead stays there and extinguishes the Trojans’ leading light, Hector, [30] having slain by then many of Hector’s forty-nine brothers and half-brothers as well (Iliad 9.356–363; 24.248–262, 477–479). In the absence of Priam’s most illustrious son and Troy’s most ardent defender (Iliad 6.403, 22.507, 24.499), the future of Ilium and its inhabitants dims, as the newly widowed Andromache—the “dire-fated” (ainómoron) daughter of “ill-fated” (dúsmoros) Eëtion—and the now bereft Priam alike are all too painfully aware (Iliad 22.479–481; 24.723–742, 777–781):

As the reader approaches the end of the poem, the visions of the future fate of the city increase in clarity and pathos. Priam foresees the fall of Troy, the slaughter or enslaving of its inhabitants, and his own death (xxii, 59-71); he prays that he may die before his eyes behold the sacking of the city (xxiv, 244-246). In like manner Andromache after Hector’s death bewails her fate and that of [their son] Astyanax (xxii, 485-507). She later laments the bondage and toil that will await her and the other captives, and with unerring prophetic vision she even foresees the death of Astyanax, whom some Achaean may seize and hurl from the wall (xxiv, 725-738).

Even though Achilles will be killed by divine Apollo and human Paris (Iliad 22.359–360) and will not live to see Troy sacked by fellow Achaean Odysseus, an event anticipated in the Iliad and celebrated in the Odyssey, [
32] the Phthian’s fate is inseparable from that of Ilium, whose downfall he is and whose name gives rise to the rubric for the epic praising his exploits.

Odysseus as a Bard on Scheria and Ithaca

Like Achilles, Odysseus acts like a poet. However, unlike Achilles, who performs in the manner of a rhapsode, Odysseus assumes the character of a bard.

Odysseus strikes similar bardic poses after he has made his way home to Ithaca, where, in action and in station, he has much in common with the aoidós Phemius. For both men, taletelling is a matter of survival. In the guise of an elderly beggar, Odysseus approaches Antinous—Penelope’s most brutal suitor—and asserts that “[he] will make [Antinous] glorious throughout the boundless earth” (egṑ … ké se kleíō kat’ apeírona gaîan) (Odyssey 17.418), if Antinous gives him better food than the other suitors have given him. Odysseus, in making this promise, evokes Phemius, who sings of the “deeds of men and gods … that singers make glorious” (érg’ andrō̂n te theō̂n te, tá te kleíousin aoidoí) (Odyssey 1.338). In addition to taking on the singer’s role as raconteur and sharing with Antinous a false story about going to Egypt with plundering pirates, being sent to Cyprus, and then coming to Ithaca (Odyssey 17.414–476), Odysseus demonstrates the duress under which Phemius operates. When Odysseus reproves Antinous for insulting him and for telling him to stay away from Antinous’ table, this irascible suitor throws a footstool at and hits him (Odyssey 17.445–463). This blatant abuse that Odysseus—as a performer—suffers at the hands of his unwilling patron probably resembles the implicit violence threatened by the new patrons of Phemius, “who s[i]ng[s] before the suitors because they forc[e] him to” (hós rh’ ḗeide parà mnēstē̂rsin anánkēi) (Odyssey 1.154). Seemingly Phemius is subject to such compulsion, because he, like Odysseus, sings for his supper.

Even though unfortunate circumstances necessitate Phemius’ and Odysseus’ command performances, the men are consummate entertainers. While recalling the experience of hearing one of incognito Odysseus’ Cretan tales, his Ithacan host Eumaeus observes:

hōs d’ hót’ aoidòn anḕr potidérketai, hós te theō̂n èx
aeídēi dedaṑs épe’ himeróenta brotoîsi,
toû d’ ámoton memáasin akouémen, hoppót’ aeídēi∙
hṑs emè keînos éthelge parḗmenos en megároisi.

Just as when a man beholds a singer, who
sings to mortals delightful things in songs that he has learned from the gods,
and they are insatiably eager to hear him whenever he sings,
like so, [the Cretan] charmed me as he sat in my home.

Odyssey 17.518–521

Similarly enchanting are “the many other charms for mortals” (pollà … álla brotō̂n thelktḗria) that Phemius has in his repertoire (Odyssey 1.337).

The talents that he and Odysseus evince distinguish them from other dependents. Even though Odysseus himself, as the unnamed Cretan, notes that he is a ptōkhós (beggar) (Odyssey 17.18), the swineherd Eumaeus begs to differ as he explains why he (the Syran king’s son who had been kidnapped by Phoenician traders who went on to sell him as a slave to Odysseus’ father [Odyssey 15.403, 412–413, 415–416, 474–475, 482–483]) has brought this man to Odysseus’ palace:

tís gàr dḕ xeînon kaleî állothen autòs epelthṑn
állon g’, ei mḕ tō̂n hoì dēmioergoì éasi,
mántin ḕ iētē̂ra kakō̂n ḕ téktona doúrōn,
ḕ kaì théspin aoidón, hó ken térpēisin aeídōn;
hoûtoi gàr klētoí ge brotō̂n ep’ apeírona gaîan∙
ptōkhòn d’ ouk án tis kaléoi trúxonta hè autón.

For what man coming from another place himself invites another stranger,
unless [this stranger] is one of those men who work for the people—
a prophet or a healer of illnesses or a woodworker
or, in fact, an inspired singer, who delights by singing?
For these are the very men who are invited all over the boundless earth,
but no one would invite a beggar, who would eat him out of house and home.

Odyssey 17.382–387

Eumaeus—in justifying his invitation of the Cretan itinerant—devotes a longer description to the epic singer than to the other popular practitioners, and places the singer in the prominent final position on the practitioner list. Given that Eumaeus goes on to compare the Cretan pauper to an aoidós (Odyssey 17.518–521), the swineherd probably regards him as an aoidós (at least in his present effect, if not in his current employment).

Acting like a bard, both on the Phaeacian land, Scheria, and on Ithaca, affords Odysseus the creative capacity to craft his past as he sees fit. This ability becomes necessary symbolically in the wake of the Trojan War, when the hero strives for a different kind of glory as he turns from distant conquests to the disorder in his house. Instead of rhapsodizing assuredly like Achilles, who—while performing—already is poised to claim kléos for fighting to the death to take over Troy, Odysseus sings uncertainly of the hindrances to his homecoming. As he creates custom-made narratives about the particular hardships that he has had to overcome to take back his throne, he attaches to his compositions predictions of his triumph, which are required to shore up its sureness. Thus, at the same time that he resembles an aoidós, he is akin to a mántis (prophet). By taking on the roles of these two types of traveling tradesmen—that is, by fashioning his future as well as his past—Odysseus ensures that the people on whom he has relied previously will work with him to reestablish his rule.

Odysseus’ Bardic Compositions:Prolepses of His Kléos of Restoration

The first supporter whom Odysseus sounds out about his restoration is Alcinous. Although Odysseus has met this Phaeacian monarch only on the previous evening, before performing like a poet at Alcinous’ court, by the time of this performance Alcinous already has hosted Odysseus for the night, has lavished valuable presents upon him, and has promised him conveyance to his homeland (Odyssey 7.207–225, 335–347; 8.389–397, 424–432; 7.191–196, 317–328; 8.26–36, 555–557). Now, then, at the mercy and under the protection of a powerful and benevolent sovereign, Odysseus lets down his guard and shares with the court an unvarnished narrative of his recent trials. While his performance follows that of Demodocus, Odysseus’ story contrasts sharply with the aoidós’ account, in character as well as in content. Whereas Demodocus recounts what amounts to the rationale for the kléos that he already has ascribed to Odysseus—namely, his engineering of the sack of Troy by leading the Achaean charge from the Trojan Horse—Odysseus describes what is initially a dilatory voyage on which he is unable to achieve any kléos, a journey comprising conflicts with more powerful peoples (Cicones and Lotus-Eaters) and beings (Cyclopes and Laestrygones), from whom he flees (Odyssey 8.73–74, 499–521; 9.1–10.202).

Yet the tide turns for Odysseus when he decides to set sail for the underworld: appropriately, his Hades journey occurs at the center of his thirteen adventures, being both preceded and succeeded by six others. [36] Odysseus—on the recommendation of immortal sorceress Circe (Odyssey 10.487–495, 503–540)—seeks in Hades the advice of deceased Theban mántis Teiresias, who states:

nóston dízēai meliēdéa, phaídim’ Odusseû∙
tòn dé toi argaléon thḗsei theós∙ ou gàr oḯō
lḗsein ennosígaion, hó toi kóton éntheto thumō̂i,
khōómenos hóti hoi huiòn phílon exaláōsas.
all’ éti mén ke kaì hṑs kaká per páskhontes híkoisthe,
aí k’ ethélēis sòn thumòn erukakéein kaì hetaírōn,
hoppóte ke prō̂ton pelásēis euergéa nē̂a
Thrinakíēi nḗsōi, prophugṑn ioeidéa pónton,
boskoménas d’ heúrēte bóas kaì íphia mē̂la
Ēelíou, hòs pánt’ ephorâi kaì pánt’ epakoúei.
tàs ei mén k’ asinéas eáais nóstou te médēai,
kaí ken ét’ eis Ithákēn kaká per páskhontes híkoisthe∙
ei dé ke sínēai, tóte toi tekmaírom’ ólethron
nēḯ te kaì hetárois∙ autòs d’ eí pér ken alúxēis,
opsè kakō̂s neîai, olésas ápo pántas hetaírous,
nēòs ep’ allotríēs∙ dḗeis d’ en pḗmata oíkōi,
ándras huperphiálous, hoí toi bíoton katédousi
mnṓmenoi antithéēn álokhon kaì hédna didóntes.
all’ ē̂ toi keínōn ge bías apotíseai elthṓn∙
autàr epḕn mnēstē̂ras enì megároisi teoîsi
kteínēis ēè dólōi ḕ amphadòn oxéï khalkō̂i,
érkhesthai dḕ épeita, labṑn euē̂res eretmón,
eis hó ke toùs aphíkēai hoì ou ísasi thálassan
anéres, oudé th’ hálessi memigménon eîdar édousin∙
oud’ ára toì ísasi néas phoinikoparḗious,
oud’ euḗre’ eretmá, tá te pterà nēusì pélontai.
sē̂ma dé toi eréō mál’ ariphradés, oudé se lḗsei∙
hoppóte ken dḗ toi sumblḗmenos állos hodítēs
phḗēi athērēloigòn ékhein anà phaidímōi ṓmōi,
kaì tóte dḕ gaíēi pḗxas euē̂res eretmón,
rhéxas hierà kalà Poseidáōni ánakti,
arneiòn taûrón te suō̂n t’ epibḗtora kápron,
oíkad’ aposteíkhein érdein th’ hieràs hekatómbas
athanátoisi theoîsi, toì ouranòn eurùn ékhousi,
pâsi mál’ hexeíēs∙ thánatos dé toi ex halòs autō̂i
ablēkhròs mála toîos eleúsetai, hós ké se pephnēi
gḗrai húpo liparō̂i arēménon∙ amphì dè laoì
ólbioi éssontai∙ tà dé toi nēmertéa eírō.

You seek your honeyed homecoming, illustrious Odysseus,
but a god will make it difficult for you, for I cannot imagine that
you will escape the notice of the Earth-Shaker, who has harbored anger at you in his heart
and continues to be rankled because you blinded his own son [Polyphemus].
But you still may reach home, even as you suffer afflictions,
if you are willing to curb your desire and that of your comrades
when you first bring your well-made ship
to Thrinacia Island—after you have eluded the blue-violet sea—
and you come upon the grazing cattle and fat sheep
of Helius, who sees everything and hears everything.
If you leave these unharmed and keep in mind your homecoming,
even as you suffer afflictions, you still may come home to Ithaca;
but, if you harm them, then I predict your destruction
and that of your ship and comrades. And—even if you yourself escape—
you will come home with afflictions after a long time, having lost all of your comrades,
on a ship that is not your own; and at home you will come upon woes,
reckless men who devour your livelihood,
while wooing your godlike wife and tendering bride-prices.
Yet, to tell you the truth, you will avenge the wrongdoing of those very men after you come home;
but—after you have killed the suitors in your hall,
either by guile or in plain view with honed bronze—
then and only then grab a well-constructed oar and proceed
until you reach people who do not know the ocean
and do not eat food mixed with salt,
and thus do not know red-prowed ships
nor well-constructed oars, which are the wings of ships.
And I will tell you of a sign that is very easy to discern and that will not elude you:
at the very moment when another traveler, upon encountering you,
says that you are carrying a winnowing fan on your shining shoulder,
right then plant your well-constructed oar in the earth,
sacrifice fine offerings to Lord Poseidon—
a ram and a bull and a boar, the mate of sows—
and return home and offer holy hecatombs
to the immortal gods who inhabit widespread heaven,
to each one in the proper order. And death of a very gentle sort will come upon
you yourself away from the sea, doing you in
when you are worn out by a pleasant old age; and, all around you, your people
will be prosperous. I am telling you the truth.

Odyssey 11.100–137

The events that Teiresias sees and foresees place Odysseus’ fate and fame in stark contrast with those of Achilles. Whereas Achilles is favored by Hephaestus, who blasts his fire to help the Phthian repel the Scamander River in Troy (Iliad 21.349–355), Odysseus has angered ocean god Poseidon, who has hindered the Ithacan’s homecoming—roiling the sea enough to disperse the remnants of Odysseus’ raft as he approaches the coast of Scheria—and who perturbs Odysseus enough on his way there that, upon arriving, he takes refuge in a much smoother river (Odyssey 11.102–103; 5.291–296, 313–332, 366–370; 7.270–277; 5.388–457; 7.278–282). Before reaching Scheria, Odysseus suffers the loss of his crewmen when he cannot prevent them from feeding on sun god Helius’ livestock on Thrinacia (Odyssey 12.353–419). Achilles himself, however, wreaks havoc on the royal owners of the oxen and sheep that he finds when he sails to Thebe; and thus is free to loot this land as he pleases (Iliad 6.416, 421–427). And, at Troy, whose people war with Achilles on sea as well as on land, he garners glory for heroics that keep him from coming home to Phthia ever again (Iliad 18.94–125). But Odysseus will be renowned not only for returning to Ithaca but also for wresting it away from the avaricious young men who have overrun it and for restoring it to its prewar prosperity once he has introduced worship of Poseidon and the other Olympians to a faraway landlocked people unfamiliar with the sea (Odyssey 11.113–114, 115–120, 136–137, 121–134).

Even the scenes surrounding the necromancy cast Odysseus’ life and death into relief from those of Achilles. In the fertile Phthia on Achilles’ shield, maidservants “stre[w] … white barley” (leúk’ álphita … pálunon) (Iliad 18.560) while preparing to nourish the laborers who have been working the king’s land (Iliad 18.559–560). But, in the underworld, Odysseus “strew[s] white barley” (álphita leukà pálunon) (Odyssey 11.28) that will not be eaten by Teiresias and the other blood-drinking dead as they arrive to provide information that will help the Ithacan win back his kingdom (Odyssey 11.28–50). Immediately after Odysseus disperses the fruitless seed, he promises the dead that in his uncertain future on Ithaca he will sacrifice to them a “sterile cow” (steîran boûn) (Odyssey 11.30), which contrasts with the “great [and likely fertile] bull” (boûn … mégan) (Iliad 18.559) that the heralds on Achilles’ shield offer in their prosperous king’s realm (Odyssey 11.29–31; Iliad 18.558–559), which is permanently fixed in the present as a testament to Phthia’s past.

Ithaca and Phthia’s divide is illuminated further by Odysseus’ recently deceased mother, Anticleia. She informs him of the decrepitude that has crept up upon his father, Laertes, who—in his sorrow for his long-gone son—eschews the city for the country, comfortable bedding for fireside ashes, and royal raiment for rags (Odyssey 11.187–196). Yet Laertes will be rejuvenated after Odysseus comes back to Ithaca from the dead, rids his palace of Penelope’s overweening pursuers, and reclaims his name and ancestral land (Odyssey 24.365–382). So, even as Anticleia describes the decay that has beset her husband—and, by extension, Ithaca [37] —in Odysseus’ absence, her speech anticipates the regeneration that her son will reintroduce upon his return to the island. Associated as she is here both with the absence of Odysseus’ glory from his languishing kingdom as he battles at Troy and with the resurgence of this fame when Odysseus returns to Ithaca and sets everything right, Anticleia aptly goes by a bivalent name, and thus is known as a lady who is opposed, as well as akin, to kléos. But, while Odysseus’ kléos is connected to the condition of his kingdom and precursor, Achilles’ is not. In fact, after the Phthian’s glorious death, his father and predecessor, Peleus, is likely to decline so rapidly that he will resemble not only the bereaved Trojan leader Priam (Iliad 24.485–506), but also the enfeebled Ithacan king in Anticleia’s account. Thus, what lies in Laertes’ past by the end of the Odyssey looms in Peleus’ future by the end of the Iliad. [38] Indeed, even before Achilles dies, Thetis describes Peleus as having been worn out by his woeful old age (Iliad 18.434–435).

While he would rather be alive than be dead, he wants to relive the end of his life (when he strove for glory in war), not his life’s penultimate part (when he ruled over his people in Phthia). When the specter of Achilles speaks longingly of laboring on fertile land that is not his own (Odyssey 11.489), he refers metaphorically to his term as a grim reaper on the battlefield in faraway Troy, which—like Achilles’ homeland, Phthia, as memorialized on his shield—is “fertile” (eribṓlaki) (Iliad 24.86, 1.155). The man whom the shadowy Achilles imagines hiring him (Odyssey 11.490) is Agamemnon, who lacks land and sustenance in the ironic sense that he wants to increase his already immense holdings abroad, and to take not only Troy itself, but also its spoils (Iliad 2.225–240, 9.135–138). Achilles’ postmortem portrayal of Agamemnon as “a man having little land” (andrì … aklḗrōi) (Odyssey 11.490) recalls, yet counters, this ruler’s Iliadic characterizations of himself as “… not … / … be[ing] prizeless” (… mḕ … / … agérastos éō …) and as “… neither plunderless … / nor propertyless …” (oú … alḗïos … / oudé … aktḗmōn …) (Iliad 1.118, 119; 9.125, 126). Agamemnon’s second self-description is echoed by Odysseus (Iliad 9.267, 268), whose repetition of its alpha-privative compounds while negating their language of lack accents Agamemnon’s avarice. But both Agamemnon’s and Odysseus’ uses of these terms occur in lists of the gifts that Agamemnon has authorized his embassy to give to Achilles as recompense for Agamemnon’s offense against him (Iliad 9.119–157, 259–299). Thus, Agamemnon itemizes his holdings at the moment when he is willing to confer some of them to Achilles. Were Agamemnon to cede what he promised to Achilles, then the Mycenaean ruler would be closer to being in need, given his great greed. At the same time that the dead Achilles satirizes his former commander’s acquisitiveness, the Phthian warrior may also be expressing here his regret that he did not serve under a ruler less voracious than Agamemnon. Still, Achilles’ shade deems being under Agamemnon’s command at Troy better “than be[ing] king over all the dead, who have perished” (ḕ pâsin nekúessi kataphthiménoisin anássein) (Odyssey 11.491). Continuing to reign over Phthia—the domain that is named for death itself, and that is home to people whose own hopes for glory in war are dead unless these Phthians go elsewhere—would be worse for Achilles than working for Agamemnon would be, because only in the latter state could Achilles act again to garner undying fame in battle, the only kind of kléos that the Odyssey, as well as the Iliad, allows him.

Although his aspirations have not changed after his death, his permanent position in the underworld has relegated him, as well as his Iliadic glory, to the periphery of the Odyssey. This shift also evinces itself in the fate of Neoptolemus, of which the dead Achilles must learn from the living Odysseus (Odyssey 11.492–507). He has escorted Achilles’ son from Scyrus to Troy, where Neoptolemus has proved to be a formidable warrior (Odyssey 11.508–509, 513–521). Yet, in surviving the city’s sacking and in sailing toward his homeland on a ship laden with goods (Odyssey 11.533–537), Neoptolemus has more in common with the Ithacan than with Achilles. To highlight the link between Odysseus and Neoptolemus, Anthony T. Edwards describes “how closely the Wooden Horse is identified with Odysseus and his heroism,” and observes that, “in his summary of Neoptolemus’ exploits at Troy, Odysseus stresses the young hero’s obedience to him in the Wooden Horse, and the importance of that strategem as the final action of the war.” [40] Yet, even before Odysseus wends his way home from Troy and becomes famous for restoring Ithaca to its prewar glory, Neoptolemus becomes famous himself for returning Phthia to its Achillean prosperity: “Kingship and marriage crown the maturation of Neoptolemos. He has succeeded Akhilleus as king of the Myrmidons ([Odyssey] 4.9) and, when Telemakhos arrives at Sparta, [Helen and Menelaus’ daughter] Hermione is about to depart to become [Neoptolemus’] bride ([Odyssey] 4.3ff).” [41] More precisely, Hermione will be on her way “to the glorious city of the Myrmidons, over whom [her intended] rule[s]” (Murmidónōn protì ástu periklutón, hoîsin ánassen) (Odyssey 4.9). Neoptolemus’ renown, despite differing in nature from Achilles’ own (given that Achilles gains glory for dying in a distant war fought to return Helen to her Spartan home, whereas Trojan War veteran Neoptolemus attains fame for restoring his homeland, Phthia, where he will live with his wife, Helen’s daughter, after she arrives from Sparta), nevertheless remains a source of paternal pride and pleasure for Aeacus’ scion (Odyssey 11.538–540).

For Odysseus, however, the Odyssean kléos of restoration is far more uncertain. The contrast in character between Odysseus’ and Achilles’ fames is conveyed by their distinct connections to denizens of Thebes and Thebe, the homonymous cities of the regions of Boeotia and Mysia, respectively. Whereas the Iliad’s kléos of conquest and the ease of its accomplishment by Achilles are emblematized by the lyre that he has taken in the course of killing Theban king Eëtion and his heirs, the Odyssey’s kléos of restoration and the difficulty of its achievement by Odysseus are represented by the contents of the prophecy presented by Theban mántis Teiresias. While the dangers of which the prophet warns his auditor hover like specters over the remainder of the Ithacan ruler’s ill-fated journey, the lyre’s sweet strains imply that the Phthian king can refrain from concerning himself with the manner in which his own fames will live on after he is gone. Achilles’ rhapsody signifies the certainty of his glory as a conqueror and requires no accompaniment other than that provided by the Theban lyre, his prior prize. But Odysseus’ bardery, fraught with the uncertainty of whether he will survive his woes and will achieve glory as his homeland’s restorer, requires reinforcement of a prophetic variety. Odysseus hears about his future restoration from a Theban prophet whom he has reached by journeying away from Troy, a city that he helped to conquer in the past. Conversely, Achilles sings on a lyre that he got in the past by conquering Thebe, and his song anticipates his future victory at Troy.

Before performing narratives, both Achilles and Odysseus have had access to divine foreknowledge of their futures. The two heroes, however, have had different types of access. Achilles hears directly of his death—from his mother, the goddess Thetis. Odysseus, in contrast, hears indirectly of his death—from Apollo, the god who has enabled Teiresias to prophesy. Given that the heroes have been granted prescience divinely from disparate distances, these men address the future differently in their performances: Achilles—implicitly and affirmatively, confident in the firsthand account that Thetis has offered to him; while Odysseus—explicitly and interrogatively, not having spoken himself with Apollo but having had to rely on Teiresias to relay this immortal’s message. Although Teiresias, as a prophet, is regarded as an authority by his society, Odysseus differs from semi-divine Achilles, because the Ithacan interacts less directly than does the Phthian with the divinity who reveals his future. Achilles also has a less formal relationship with his mother, Thetis (with whom he himself can converse), than does Odysseus with Apollo (whom the Ithacan must consult through an intermediary, such as Teiresias).

Odysseus—by incorporating the prophecy of Theban Teiresias, who foresees the Ithacan’s success—bolsters on Scheria the story that he himself tells. His temporary assumption of Teiresias’ prophetic persona is effective rhetorically as assurance of Ithaca’s restoration. After hearing the portion of Odysseus’ woeful tale following the prophecy’s rearticulation, Alcinous—on the recommendation made by his queen, Arete, immediately after she hears from Odysseus about Teiresias and the women in Hades—is moved to encourage every Phaeacian man in Odysseus’ audience to contribute a bronze tripod and cauldron to the Ithacan and thus to his cause (Odyssey 11.138–332, 378–640; 12.1–453; 11.336–352; 13.3–22). With the Phaeacians’ generous support, he can set forth on the final leg of his postwar journey home, and can replenish the stores that have been plundered by the suitors there.

Yet, Eumaeus is taken in by the remainder of the Cretan’s tale (Odyssey 14.360–362). And the swineherd is right to be taken in, because the ostensibly fictive story that the Cretan, in the manner of a poet, has presented also can be read as a cryptic prediction of what Odysseus actually will do—a prediction that the Cretan has delivered as if he were a prophet. Eumaeus himself hints that the Cretan may be playing this double role, for the occupations with which the swineherd starts and ends his speculation on the Cretan’s specialty are the mántis and the aoidós (Odyssey 17.384, 385). In acting like both practitioners at once, the Cretan relates a narrative that is masked. On its face, the account sounds like a doleful poem whose Cretan protagonist randomly loses his livelihood, wages a distant war, seeks a sovereign’s support upon failing to loot his land, and suffers at sea. Yet, unraveling the Cretan’s yarn as such a poem reveals it to be the complete opposite of a prophecy of the strategies that Odysseus will employ to regain and to restore his kingdom and thus his glory. In fact, the Ithacan ruler ultimately protects his patrimony, by standing—with his father and son—against the kinsmen of the suitors slain in his own palace with the assistance of Eumaeus, among others; replenishes the plundered royal estate with spoils from Scheria and from Ithaca; and propitiates Poseidon, in order to die peacefully among the prosperous Ithacan people (Odyssey 24.496–515; 16.227–232; 23.355–358, 277–284).

Odysseus’ juxtaposition of poetry and prophecy continues as he faces Penelope alone for the first time since he left her for Troy. In meeting with her, as with Alcinous and with Eumaeus, Odysseus tests her fidelity while providing her with reassurances that he will return gloriously. But his poetic and prophetic activities intensify in front of her, because of the closeness of his relationship to her and because of the necessity of its success to his efforts to restore his royal family as well as his patrimony.

When he, in the guise of Aethon, interacts with his queen in book 19, he acts first as an aoidós, then as a mántis, then simultaneously as an oneiropólos (dream interpreter) and an oiōnopólos (bird-omen interpreter), and finally as both a mántis and an aoidós.

Aethon starts by behaving like a bard. When Penelope asks Aethon who he is, he praises her, evades her question, and—when she persists—tells her a false story about being from Crete and seeing Odysseus there after the Troy-bound Achaeans had been thrown off course (Odyssey 19.102–202, 214–248). But Aethon, before beginning his narrative, is sincere as he lauds Penelope and her husband:

ō̂ gúnai, ouk án tís se brotō̂n ep’ apeírona gaîan
neikéoi∙ ē̂ gár seu kléos ouranòn eurùn hikánei,
hṓs té teu ḕ basilē̂os amúmonos, hós te theoudḕs
andrásin en polloîsi kaì iphthímoisin anássōn
eudikías anékhēisi, phérēisi dè gaîa mélaina
puroùs kaì krithás, bríthēisi dè déndrea karpō̂i,
tíktēi d’ émpeda mē̂la, thálassa dè parékhēi ikhthûs
ex euēgesíēs, aretō̂si dè laoì hup’ autoû.

My lady, no mortal on the boundless earth
could have quarrel with you, for certainly your glory reaches widespread heaven—
as does that of a blameless king, a god-fearing man who,
as the lord among many noble men,
upholds good laws; and the black earth bears
wheat and barley, and the trees are loaded with fruit,
and the sheep bear young continuously, and the sea provides fish
because of his good leadership; and his people thrive under him.

Odyssey 19.107–114

That Odysseus is the “blameless king” (basilē̂os amúmonos) whose “trees are loaded with fruit” (bríthēisi … déndrea karpō̂i) and whose “sheep bear young continuously” (tíktēi … émpeda mē̂la) makes sense because of the abundance of his orchards and flocks of sheep and because Aethon goes on to extol Odysseus’ regalia (Odyssey 19.109, 112, 113; 24.336–344; 14.100; 19.224–235). But Aethon does not name the absent king whom he glorifies, and thus cannot ensure that the ruler’s name will live on. Nonetheless, Aethon’s praise of Penelope suggests that his poetry resembles that of Demodocus in its efficacy. Aethon’s declaration that no one “could have quarrel with” (neikéoi) the queen, whose “glory reaches widespread heaven” (kléos ouranòn eurùn hikánei), recalls Demodocus’ song about the “quarrel” (neîkos) of Odysseus and Achilles, a song whose “glory … reached widespread heaven” (kléos ouranòn eurùn híkane) (Odyssey 19.108; 8.75, 74). Moreover, as Penelope reacts to Aethon’s yarn, she parallels Odysseus in his response to Demodocus’ ballad about the Trojan War. Although the Phaeacian aoidós sings of the Achaean victory at Troy, the Ithacan king grieves rather than rejoices:

Taût’ ár’ aoidòs áeide periklutós∙ autàr Odusseùs
tḗketo, dákru d’ édeuen hupò blephároisi pareiás.
hōs dè gunḕ klaíēisi phílon pósin amphipesoûsa,
hós te heē̂s prósthen pólios laō̂n te pésēisin,
ásteï kaì tekéessin amúnōn nēleès ē̂mar∙
hē mèn tòn thnḗiskonta kaì aspaíronta idoûsa
amph’ autō̂i khuménē líga kōkúei∙ hoi dé t’ ópisthe
kóptontes doúressi metáphrenon ēdè kaì ṓmous
eíreron eisanágousi, pónon t’ ekhémen kaì oïzún∙
tē̂s d’ eleeinotátōi ákheï phthinúthousi pareiaí∙
hṑs Oduseùs eleeinòn hup’ ophrúsi dákruon eîben.
énth’ állous mèn pántas elánthane dákrua leíbōn,
Alkínoos dé min oîos epephrásat’ ēd’ enóēsen,
hḗmenos ánkh’ autoû, barù dè stenákhontos ákousen.

Of these very things, the glorious bard sang. But Odysseus
melted, and, beneath his eyelids, tears steeped his cheeks.
And—just as a woman embraces and wails over her beloved husband,
who has fallen before his city and people
while warding away the pitiless day from his city and children,
and she, upon seeing him laboring to take his last breaths,
throws her arms around him and shrieks shrilly, but the men behind her
strike her with their spear shafts on the back and shoulders
and carry her away into slavery to suffer labor and sorrow,
and her cheeks waste away with the most piteous grief—
like so, Odysseus shed pitiful tears beneath his brows.
In shedding his tears, he eluded the attention of everyone else there
except Alcinous, the only one who looked at and took notice of him
while sitting near him, because of having heard him groaning grievously.

Odyssey 8.521–534

Penelope sorrows similarly as she hears Aethon’s story:  [

Íske pseúdea pollà légōn etúmoisin homoîa∙
tē̂s d’ ár’ akouoúsēs rhée dákrua, tḗketo dè khrṓs.
hōs dè khiṑn katatēket’ en akropóloisin óressin,
hḗn t’ Eûros katétēxen, epḕn Zéphuros katakheúēi∙
tēkoménēs d’ ára tē̂s potamoì plḗthousi rhéontes∙
hṑs tē̂s tḗketo kalà parḗïa dákru kheoúsēs,
klaioúsēs heòn ándra parḗmenon. autàr Odusseùs
thumō̂i mèn goóōsan heḕn eléaire gunaîka,
ophthalmoì d’ hōs ei kéra héstasan ēè sídēros
atrémas en blephároisi∙ dólōi d’ hó ge dákrua keûthen.

He made the many lies that he told seem like truths,
and, as she listened, her tears flowed and her body melted.
Just as snow melts on mountain peaks,
snow that the East Wind melts when the West Wind showers it down,
and—as it melts—the flowing rivers flood,
like so, her beautiful cheeks melted as she showered tears
and lamented her husband even as he sat beside her. But, although Odysseus
pitied his weeping wife in his heart,
his eyes stared ahead as if made of horn or iron,
unmoving under his eyelids; and, with deceit, even he concealed his tears.

Odyssey 19.203–212

As Penelope mirrors Odysseus’ sorrow, she herself resembles the apparently Trojan widow to whom he has been compared already. The horror of the Trojan War is brought home to Penelope when she hears the name of her absent and perhaps dead husband on the lips of Aethon, the apparent brother of Odysseus’ brother-in-arms. Here, as the Cretan Aethon, Odysseus departs from his earlier self-disclosure (as the unnamed Cretan) that he was fathered by Castor (Hylax’s son), and instead claims to be Minos’ grandson, Deucalion’s son, and the younger brother of Idomeneus, whom Aethon identifies as Odysseus’ close friend and fellow fighter (Odyssey 14.199–206, 19.178–191). Penelope’s reaction to hearing from Aethon of the hardships her husband faced in Crete as he tried to embark for Troy in harsh weather (Odyssey 19.185–189, 199–201)—namely, her ability to share Odysseus’ own despair at Demodocus’ Trojan War reminder—confirms for Odysseus that she will be receptive to his return and helpful to him as he strives to make Ithaca thrive once again. Odysseus will achieve glory by leaving behind the lives that he and other Achaeans have destroyed at Troy and by recreating on Ithaca a kingdom that produces as well as it has in the past. Odysseus’ departure from the Iliadic ideal is revealed by his identification with the war widow. Indeed, hearing about winning Achaeans leads him to lament like the wives of the warriors whom Achilles will have killed to obtain kléos (Iliad 18.121–125). These women include Hector’s wife, Andromache, whose natal and marital homelands of Thebe and Troy, respectively, have been and will be pillaged—in effect—by Achilles, when he collects handsome ransoms for two of the kingdoms’ most prominent inhabitants: Eëtion’s widowed queen, who is Andromache’s mother and dies—apparently in childbirth—shortly afterward; and King Priam’s most heroic son to have died, Hector (Iliad 22.515; 6.425–428; 24.493–502, 572–579). Unlike Achilles’ widow-making strikes, Odysseus’ widow-like outcry indicates that he now is ready to tend to the hurts that his own wartime absence has inflicted on his queen and kingdom.

Although Odysseus is not yet ready to reveal himself to Penelope, he does offer her solace in the form of prophecy. In fact, in his forecasts of his own emergence and her suitors’ demise, he bears a striking resemblance to the mántis Theoclymenus. As Aethon, Odysseus promises:

… émpēs dé toi hórkia dṓsō.
ístō nûn Zeùs prō̂ta, theō̂n húpatos kaì áristos,
histíē t’ Odusē̂os amúmonos, hḕn aphikánō∙
ē̂ mén toi táde pánta teleíetai hōs agoreúō.
toûd’ autoû lukábantos eleúsetai enthád’ Odusseús,
toû mèn phthínontos mēnós, toû d’ histaménoio.

… Nevertheless, I will give you my word.
Let Zeus, highest and best of the gods, now be my witness first;
and the hearth of blameless Odysseus, to which I come.
I swear that all these things will come to pass as I tell you.
Within this very month Odysseus will come here,
as one month ends and the next begins.

Odyssey 19.302–307

In its opening text, Aethon’s prediction—which is “almost the same” as one that he utters to Eumaeus in regard to Odysseus’ return (Odyssey 14.158–162) [
48] —evokes a prophecy that Theoclymenus makes on the basis of a bird omen (Odyssey 17.160–161):

… emeîo dè súntheo mûthon∙
atrekéōs gár toi manteúsomai oud’ epikeúsō.
ístō nûn Zeùs prō̂ta theō̂n xeníē te trápeza
histíē t’ Odusē̂os amúmonos, hḕn aphikánō,
hōs ē̂ toi Oduseùs ḗdē en patrídi gaíēi,
hḗmenos ḕ hérpōn, táde peuthómenos kakà érga,
éstin, atàr mnēstē̂rsi kakòn pántessi phuteúei∙

… But listen to my words,
for I will prophesy to you precisely and will not hold back anything.
Let Zeus, first of the gods, now be my witness—and the table of hospitality
and the hearth of blameless Odysseus, to which I come—
to the fact that Odysseus already is in his fatherland,
staying still or moving while learning of these evil acts,
and he is planting evil for all the suitors.

Odyssey 17.153–159

The connection between both prognostications is strengthened when they elicit the identical reaction from Penelope: [49]

Tòn d’ aûte proséeipe períphrōn Pēnelópeia∙
aì gàr toûto, xeîne, épos tetelesménon eíē∙
tō̂i ke tákha gnoíēs philótētá te pollá te dō̂ra
ex emeû, hōs án tís se sunantómenos makarízoi.

Wise Penelope replied to him,
“If only your word would be accomplished, my guest,
then soon you would know my favor and so many gifts
from me that anyone who met you would say that you were blessed.”

Odyssey 17.162–165, 19.308–311

That Penelope is equally welcoming to her guests is unsurprising, given the similarity of their circumstances. Like Theoclymenus, who has fared away from his fatherland, Hyperesia (Odyssey 15.224, 272, 252–256), Odysseus journeys far from his home during much of the Odyssey; and, even when he is home, his beggar disguise distances him from his customary way of life. Moreover, both men bring Penelope happy news. While Aethon actually is not a mántis and merely can attest to alter ego Odysseus’ intention to emerge on Ithaca, Theoclymenus is inspired to prophesy the tremendous penalty Odysseus will exact from the suitors there once he is fully aware of their wicked acts. The extent of this penalty becomes clear in the vision that this prophet shares with the suitors the day after Penelope interviews Aethon:

toîsi dè kaì metéeipe Theoklúmenos theoeidḗs∙
â deiloí, tí kakòn tóde páskhete; nuktì mèn huméōn
eilúatai kephalaí te prósōpá te nérthe te goûna,
oimōgḕ dè dédēe, dedákruntai dè pareiaí,
haímati d’ errádatai toîkhoi kalaí te mesódmai∙
eidṓlōn dè pléon próthuron, pleíē dè kaì aulḗ,
hieménōn Érebósde hupò zóphon∙ ēélios dè
ouranoû exapólōle, kakḕ d’ epidédromen akhlús.
Hṑs éphath’, hoi d’ ára pántes ep’ autō̂i hēdù gélassan.
toîsin d’ Eurúmakhos, Polúbou páïs, árkh’ agoreúein∙
aphraínei xeînos néon állothen eilēlouthṓs.

Then godlike Theoclymenus spoke among them:
“Poor wretches, what is this misfortune that you are suffering?
Your heads and faces and knees below are wrapped up in darkness,
and wailing has burst out, and your cheeks are coated with tears,
and the walls and the pretty pillars are bestrewed with blood!
The entryway is full of phantoms, and the courtyard is filled as well,
[with phantoms] going under the gloom of the netherworld. The sun
has disappeared from the sky, and a foul mist has spread all over!”
Thus he spoke, but all the [suitors] guffawed at him.
And Eurymachus, Polybus’ son, began to speak among them:
“The stranger who just arrived from somewhere else is out of his mind!”

Odyssey 20.350–360

The fact that Theoclymenus witnesses the future is confirmed by the correspondence between components of his vision (the bloody walls and pillars, the crowd of phantoms in the entryway and courtyard, and the foul mist) and actual events (the blood of the suitors spewing in Odysseus’ palace hall, the pile of their corpses beside his courtyard doors, and the stench of the burning sulfur that he uses as a fumigant) (Odyssey 20.354–355, 357; 22.407; 23.49–51). And Aethon, while not having prophet Theoclymenus’ access to the particulars of the suitors’ future retribution, knows at least how Odysseus intends to dispose of these evildoers.

But, before Odysseus takes their lives, Aethon—by providing, in the manners of both an oneiropólos and an oiōnopólos, his own prediction of Odysseus’ execution of Penelope’s suitors—makes certain that she will countenance their killing. She asks Aethon to interpret her dream: the necks of twenty geese around her house are broken by a powerful eagle, who declares that the geese were Penelope’s suitors, that he is Odysseus, and that he will kill the suitors. Aethon not only interprets this dream, as an oneiropólos, but also acts as an oiōnopólos (Odyssey 19.535–558), basing his prediction on information given by Odysseus the dream eagle, who reads himself. The oiōnopólos Halitherses similarly foretells the suitors’ death at Odysseus’ hands, by reading an eagle omen; and recalls prophesying, on Odysseus’ departure for Troy, that the Ithacan would return alone and incognito twenty years later (Odyssey 2.146–176). Penelope, in her dream, weeps at the death of her twenty geese-suitors, because she is mourning the twenty youthful years that she was forced to live in Odysseus’ absence and that she will not be able to relive with him upon his return—lost time that she will bemoan again, when she reunites with him (Odyssey 23.210–212). Birds likewise symbolize years for the Iliad’s Calchas (Iliad 2.303–332), a prophet who regards as the nine years that the Achaeans will suffer before sacking Troy the nine sparrows devoured by a snake that Zeus finally turns into stone. [50] Although Penelope laments in her avian dream the time with Odysseus that she has lost forever, she responds positively to Aethon’s dream reading, wanting it to be correct and telling him of the archery contest she is planning that will spur Odysseus to reappear (Odyssey 19.569–581).

Aethon, at the end of his interaction with Penelope in book 19, makes a prediction for her as would a prophet; but, in doing so, elicits a reaction from her as would a poet. Upon hearing of her decision to hold the archery contest, Aethon tells her that she should do so and that Odysseus will return to her before her suitors string his bow and shoot an arrow through the iron of the twelve axes she will have had propped up (Odyssey 19.582–587). Aethon—in suggesting to her that Odysseus, with his bow, will best the suitors—supplements Theoclymenus’ prophecies that Odysseus is at hand and he will send these younger men to their ends. Yet, Penelope’s answer to Aethon (“If you, my guest, were willing to sit beside me in my hall / to delight me, sleep would not spread over my eyelids” [eí k’ ethélois moi, xeîne, parḗmenos en megároisi / térpein, oú ké moi húpnos epì blephároisi khutheíē] [Odyssey 19.589–590]) seems like a reflex to a poetic, rather than a prophetic, stimulus. Penelope’s rapt attention to Aethon’s speech is reminiscent of the unsleeping Phaeacians’ absorption in Odysseus’ nocturnal storytelling, and Aethon appears able to delight his listener just as the bards Phemius and Demodocus delight theirs (Odyssey 11.333–334, 13.1–2, 1.345–347, 8.43–45).

The simultaneity of Aethon’s yoretelling and foretelling anticipates the explicit link between poetry and prophecy that Hesiod would forge. In the proem to his Theogony, he details the process whereby poets like Phemius and Demodocus acquire “the inspired art of singing” (théspin aoidḗn) (Theogony 31–32; Odyssey 1.328, 8.498). [51] In fact, Hesiod claims to have experienced inspiration firsthand: “… [the Muses] breathed their divinely sweet voice into me / so that I could make glorious the things that would be and the things that had been before” (… enépneusan … moi audḕn / théspin, hína kleíoimi tá t’ essómena pró t’ eónta). Here Hesiod brings poetry even closer to prophecy than does Homer, for the Hesiodic aoidós not only is inspired by the Muses (who are Zeus’ daughters and the followers of their choral leader, Apollo, who inspires prophecy), but also has access both to past and to future events, as does the Iliadic mántis and oiōnopólos Calchas (“who kn[o]w[s] the things that [a]re, the things that w[i]l[l] be, and the things that [were] before” [hòs ḗidē tá t’ eónta tá t’ essómena pró t’ eónta] [Iliad 1.70]). Nagy regards the prophetic nature of the Hesiodic poet as a survival of “an earlier stage in which poet and prophet were as yet undifferentiated.” Nagy writes:

Like Nagy’s focus, Hesiod, Aethon may evoke poet-prophets of old. Yet, his holdover eloquence concerning past events and future events has another source.

While “[h]e ma[k]e[s] the many lies that he t[e]l[ls] seem like truths” (Íske pseúdea pollà légōn etúmoisin homoîa) (Odyssey 19.203)—and thereby foreruns Hesiod’s Muses, who “know how to tell many lies that seem like truths” (ídmen pseúdea pollà légein etúmoisin homoîa) (Theogony 27)—Aethon’s speaking talent stems from his true status as a king. According to Hesiod:

Whomever—among kings nurtured by Zeus—great Zeus’ daughters honor
and look upon at the moment of his birth,
upon his tongue they pour sweet dew,
and honeyed words flow from his mouth …

Theogony 81–84

As a monarch blessed thus, Odysseus—as the unnamed Cretan and the Cretan Aethon—can call up his own keenly observed accounts of having endured an arduous journey after the Trojan War, as well as articulate eloquently his intention to replenish his realm. As he prepares to take vengeance upon Penelope’s pursuers, he personifies his strategic connection of narration and prediction:

… polúmētis Odusseús,
autík’ epeì méga tóxon ebástase kaì íde pántēi,
hōs hót’ anḕr phórmingos epistámenos kaì aoidē̂s
rhēïdíōs etánusse néōi perì kóllopi khordḗn,
hápsas amphotérōthen eüstrephès énteron oiós,
hṑs ár’ áter spoudē̂s tánusen méga tóxon Odusseús.
dexiterē̂i d’ ára kheirì labṑn peirḗsato neurē̂s∙
hē d’ hupò kalòn áeise, khelidóni eikélē audḗn.
mnēstē̂rsin d’ ár’ ákhos géneto méga, pâsi d’ ára khrṑs
etrápeto. Zeùs dè megál’ éktupe sḗmata phaínōn.

… [A]s soon as Odysseus, the man of many devices,
grasped the great bow and looked it over on every side—
just as when a man expert in the lyre and in the art of singing
easily stretches a string around a new peg,
after fastening the skillfully twisted strand of sheep gut at both ends—
like so, Odysseus effortlessly strung the great bow.
Then he took it into his right hand and tried out the bowstring,
and it sang well under [his hand], like a swallow in voice.
A great grief now came over the suitors, and the flesh of every one of them
changed color. And Zeus thundered loudly, showing his portents.

Odyssey 21.404–413

Here, Odysseus simultaneously evokes the lyre-playing poets Phemius and Demodocus and signals the imminent fulfillment of the recurrent prediction that Odysseus will return home and kill the suitors, whose execution he initiates with his great bow—an instrument with which he dispenses his justice (Odyssey 1.153–155; 8.261–262, 266; 22.8, 15–16). Moreover, the god who grants him glory for the victories of stringing his bow and hitting his target is Apollo (Odyssey 21.338, 22.5–7)—the only deity who, in addition to being a dread archer, accompanies poetry and inspires prophecy. He himself—in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (ca. 690–640 BCE)—highlights his threefold status, making the following declaration shortly after he is born:

eíē moi kítharís te phílē kaì kampúla tóxa,
khrḗsō d’ anthrṓpoisi Diòs nēmertéa boulḗn.

May the lyre and the curved bow be dear to me,
and I will prophesy to human beings Zeus’ infallible will.

Homeric Hymn to Apollo 131–132

Odysseus’ invocation—prior to his own completion of a feat of archery—of the similarly poetic and prophetic Apollo becomes even clearer in light of the association of this deity’s archery with pestilence followed by purification. Just as Apollo—with his arrows—inflicts acute illness upon errant communities and gives his surviving devotees the knowledge that they need to cleanse themselves of their offenses and thus to heal, [
54] Odysseus—from his quiver and weapon stores—visits sudden death upon the wicked suitors in his midst and purifies his palatial premises immediately afterward with the aid of his servants (Odyssey 22.8–501). Fittingly, when Odysseus avenges the suitors’ outrages, he does so “on a day consecrated to the archer god.” [55] With Apollo’s blessings, the arrows of sure-shooting Odysseus find their marks: suitor-intruders, whom he drives away from the doors trapping them in his own home. Once again, then, Odysseus contrasts with Achilles, who dies at the hands of Apollo and Paris, who kill the Phthian with arrows as he tries to invade the gates of Troy. [56]

When Odysseus is about to discard his beggar rags (Odyssey 22.1)—and, with them, the arduousness of his life at Troy, where he pretended to be a beggar before, in order to enter the city undetected and to kill a number of its residents (Odyssey 4.242–258) [57] —then he is ready to be the subject of actual poetry and prophecy rather than of Cretans’ imitative speeches. As Theoclymenus has prophesied (Odyssey 17.157–159), Odysseus shifts from a state of inaction (and impotence)—personified by an Aethon staring with eyes like horn or iron as he sits with a Penelope crying at his Cretan tale of meeting Odysseus (Odyssey 19.209–212)—to the powerful activity of stringing his bow containing horn (Odyssey 21.393–395) to shoot his arrow through the series of iron axes that she has had set up. The Ithacan ruler’s impending realization of the suitors’ predicted slaughter is portended at the end of the bowstringing passage, by Zeus’ thunder, which echoes the thunder that he sounded earlier as a response to Odysseus’ request for an external sign showing him that the gods supported his plan to exterminate the suitors (Odyssey 21.413; 20.97–121). In addition to bringing to pass the prophecy of his return and reinstatement, he, in taking hold of his bow, reclaims his kingly identity and thus attaches his own name to the blameless monarch whose kléos Aethon has characterized (Odyssey 19.109–114). Stated another way, “Odysseus’ reassertion of his heroic persona and his restoration to wife, house, and kingship consist precisely in this movement from singer to actor. He (re-)creates kleos in song when he recites the apologoi [accounts] to Alcinous’ court skillfully like a professional bard, but he finally wins kleos in deeds when he makes the warrior’s bow sing like the poet’s lyre.” [58] When he (as Cretans) impersonates (in effect) a poet, he passes through an intermediary phase between song and action, repeatedly using his “singing” strategically to test Eumaeus’ and Penelope’s fidelity to him.

On the heels of these entertaining yet expedient efforts, Odysseus ultimately will find fame for replenishing his realm, which has been depleted by the suitors’ depredations (Odyssey 23.356–358, 4.318–321, 14.89–95, 17.534–538, 18.274–280, 23.303–305). Appropriately, “[a]utumnal and winter pictures which had accompanied Odysseus’ journey from Scheria to Ithaka—the windblown chaff, night frosts, fallen leaves, bitter storms—give way, on the day of vengeance, to the sounds and sights of nightingales, swallows, farmers breaking the soil or cutting grass, and pasturing cattle.” [59] Moreover, the vernal, agricultural nature of Odysseus’ glory is captured by a substance of his weapon (the bow that he was given, as a boy, by Iphitus, prince of Oechalia, when the two were working individually in Messene to recover rustled livestock—three hundred Ithacan sheep and twelve Oechalian mares nursing mule colts [Odyssey 21.11–23, 31–33]): horn that symbolically both is linked to and links Odysseus to the land where he will reap kléos as soon as his herds, flocks, fields, and orchards flourish again. Even the doors to the room where his bow has been stored while he has been away from Ithaca and at war (Odyssey 21.38–41) evoke the once-and-future peaceable kingdom for which he will be known. These portals—when opened by his wife (and son’s mother) Penelope, who has aroused Odysseus’ potency in the past, and will do so again when she reunites with him on their live olive-tree bed made up by maids Eurynome (Widely Ranging or Ruling) and Eurycleia (Widely Glorious)—sound like a bellowing (and presumably virile) bull grazing on (ostensibly fertile) pastureland (Odyssey 23.289–296, 21.48–50). Odysseus ensures that he will live on in song by making sure that its makers are secure. Odysseus spares from the suitors’ slaughter Phemius and Medon (the herald who gives the poet his lyre) and hence sustains these entertainers in the manner of Alcinous, who feeds and supports Demodocus and his lyre-provider, the herald Pontonous (Odyssey 22.375–377, 1.153–154, 8.65–71). Patronizing the Ithacan performers is part of Odysseus’ larger restoration project: “Both in song and action, [his] task is to restore domestic, civic, and cosmic order. He reestablishes song and feasting as a sign of that order in his palace when the bard, spared from death by the grim warrior-king ([Odyssey] 22.330–[3]57), can once more play the accompaniment to joyful dancing and merriment as king and queen are about to be united ([Odyssey] 23.143–[1]45; 22.332b = 23.133b).” [60]

The two types of renown that redound to Achilles and Odysseus each contrast with an outcome of the life of Agamemnon, who commanded both men during the Trojan War—a double distinction drawn during the Odyssey’s second excursus into the underworld. Here, the shade of Achilles comments that “great glory for [Agamemnon’s] son” (sō̂i paidì méga kléos) (Odyssey 24.33) remained hypothetical, rather than becoming real, because his father did not die on the Trojan battlefield (Odyssey 24.30–31, 34). As the shade of Agamemnon acquiesces to the spectral Achilles’ account, a few of the circumstances that the shadowy Agamemnon characterizes as having created Achilles’ kléos are akin to conditions that Agamemnon himself was unable to fulfill. While this Mycenaean commander of the Achaeans met his doom near home, the Phthian ruler died in Troy (Odyssey 24.96–97, 36–37). Moreover, a consecrated host of Achaean spearmen heaped up for Achilles “a great and unblemished burial mound” (mégan kaì amúmona túmbon) (Odyssey 24.80) that would be seen from afar at that time and in the future, but no such memorial—not even a mere “burial mound” (túmbon) (Odyssey 24.32)—was erected to Agamemnon by the Achaeans (Odyssey 24.80–81, 83–84, 32, 34). Whereas Agamemnon did not manage to achieve any glory for his heir, Orestes, “… [Achilles] did not lose [his] name even after dying, but always … / will have noble glory among all people …” (… sù mèn oudè thanṑn ónom’ ṓlesas, allá toi aieì / pántas ep’ anthrṓpous kléos éssetai esthlón …) (Odyssey 24.93–94) to leave as a legacy for Neoptolemus. In fact, Achilles, as the semi-divine son of a goddess, was celebrated in exceptional ways upon his death: he was lamented by Thetis and the other Nereids, who adorned him with immortal garments; the nine Muses sang his dirge; the golden funerary urn that contained his bones, intermingled with those of Patroclus, had been forged by Hephaestus and presented by Thetis as a gift from Dionysus, god of wine and revelry; and, at Thetis’ request, gods had provided the fine prizes that she set aside for the winners of Achilles’ funeral games (Odyssey 24.47–49, 58–61, 73–77, 85–92).

When the shadowy Achilles argues that Orestes inherited no glory from Agamemnon, the Phthian king’s specter restricts the qualifications for Iliadic kléos. Earlier in the Odyssey, the kléos ascribed to Trojan War veteran Agamemnon had two sources. Odysseus averred before the Cyclops Polyphemus that the commander of the Achaeans had “the greatest glory beneath the sky” (mégiston hupouránion kléos), given “… [how] great a city he [had] sacked and / [how] many people he [had] killed …” (tóssēn … diéperse pólin kaì apṓlese laoùs / polloús …) (Odyssey 9.264, 265–266). Furthermore, Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus, who was away from their native land, Mycenae, when he learned of Agamemnon’s death, “heaped up a burial mound for [him] so that he would have inextinguishable glory” (kheû’ Agamémnoni túmbon, hín’ ásbeston kléos eíē) (Odyssey 4.584). But the location of this funeral in Egypt (Odyssey 4.581–584) precluded Agamemnon’s people from participating in the ritual. Its private rather than public nature, as well as its temporal and geographical distance not only from the Achaeans’ taking of Troy but also from Agamemnon’s freshly rendered remains in Mycenae, evidences the spectral Achilles’ implication that Agamemnon did not claim kléos. Instead of having a hero’s farewell in Ilium among the Achaean forces, as Achilles did within days after dying (Odyssey 24.43–46, 68–70), Agamemnon was mourned formally some seven years after he had been murdered upon his return to Mycenae from Troy, assuming that his “harmless homecoming” (nóstos apḗmōn) (Odyssey 4.519) had allowed him to disembark fairly soon after setting sail—certainly no more than a year later if the watchman who had alerted Agamemnon’s killer to his target’s arrival had been in position since the end of the Trojan War (Odyssey 4.519–528). Agamemnon’s relatively quick trip contrasts with the arduous journey that had extended Menelaus’ travel from Troy into an eighth year before he heard of Agamemnon’s slaying and soon afterward redocked at Egypt, Menelaus’ final stop on his way back to Mycenae (Odyssey 4.81–92, 460–586).

The fate that Zeus assigned to Agamemnon (Odyssey 24.96–97) is opposed to that of Odysseus. After this Ithacan king dispatches Penelope’s suitors to the underworld, their shades attest to the ultimate success of her schemes and her husband’s intent to keep anyone else away from her bed and his throne (Odyssey 24.98–190). Upon hearing the phantasmic suitors’ report, the shadowy Agamemnon proclaims that Penelope, in her fidelity to Odysseus, has virtue whose “glory will never be destroyed” (kléos oú pot’ oleîtai) and, in her prudence, will be the subject of “… a delightful song” (… aoidḕn / … kharíessan …) (Odyssey 24.196, 197, 198). But there will be only “a hateful song” (stugerḕ … aoidḕ) (Odyssey 24.200) about Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, who in Agamemnon’s wartime absence from Mycenae took a lover, Aegisthus, and clandestinely convinced him to kill her husband (his cousin) when he returned to his homeland (Odyssey 1.35–36, 4.514–535, 11.409–430, 24.199–200), and who consequently “… will bestow a burdensome reputation / upon all women …” (… khalepḕn … phē̂min opássei / thēlutérēisi gunaixí …) (Odyssey 24.201–202). Clytemnestra’s own infamy, embodied by the doomed bard whom Agamemnon had entrusted to protect her while he was in Troy, and whom Aegistus relegated to a desert island and thus rendered as the prey of birds (Odyssey 3.267–271), assures further that her husband will not have his own kléos, while Penelope’s fame, forged in her defense of the home that she and Odysseus have made together, enhances that of her husband.

The disparate destinies of Agamemnon and Odysseus inform the efforts of their sons. When Orestes attains kléos for slaying Aegisthus and avenging Agamemnon (Odyssey 1.29–30, 298–300; 3.203–204), Agamemnon’s son supersedes “his glorious father” (hoi patéra klutòn) (Odyssey 1.300; 3.198, 308), whose kléos for sacking Troy will be canceled by Achilles ten years after the sack (Odyssey 5.105–108), by the conclusion of the Odyssey. Even earlier, Menelaus—“in the eighth year” (ogdoátōi étei) after leaving Troy (Odyssey 4.82)—pays his last respects to Agamemnon in Egypt shortly before Agamemnon—“in the eighth” (ogdoátōi) year after his death (Odyssey 3.306)—is avenged by Orestes in Mycenae. Moreover, as seen in Odyssey 3.309–312, Menelaus (before moving on to his Spartan stronghold) actually arrives in Mycenae from Egypt—with cargo, as if in congratulatory celebration—on the very day when Orestes is hosting a funeral feast for “his hateful mother [Clytemnestra] and uncourageous Aegisthus” (mētrós te stugerē̂s kaì análkidos Aigísthoio) (Odyssey 3.310). In rightfully reclaiming the Mycenaean monarchy, Orestes is cited by Athena as a model for Telemachus (Odyssey 1.298–302), who too has a father of whose “great glory [this son] always ha[s] heard” (méga kléos aièn ákouon) (Odyssey 16.241)—a warrior who, like Agamemnon, took part in the taking of Troy. However, because Telemachus himself has no memory of Odysseus (Odyssey 4.112, 11.445–450), the son uses the phrase kléos eurù to mean “a far-reaching rumor” of his father when asking his garrulous senior Nestor of Pylus after Odysseus’ whereabouts; whereas, on Ithaca, Penelope, uttering the same phrase at the same line position (just before the trochaic caesura), refers to her beloved long-gone husband’s “widespread glory” (Odyssey 3.83; 1.344; 4.726, 816).

Even as Telemachus terms the rumor about his father kléos as well, as if to accent how far in the past his father’s fame seems to him, Telemachus departs from Orestes’ example. Rather than render his father’s glory an even more distant memory while achieving kléos that is all his own, the Ithacan prince works to return his father to his rightful position on Ithaca’s throne. From here, Odysseus can restore his kingdom and claim the kléos attendant upon its righteous rule. To attain this end, Odysseus rids his land of the pretenders to it. Upon slaying Penelope’s suitors, he transforms “the far-reaching rumor” (kléos eurù) of their execution—whose spread through his capital he attempts to check by commanding Phemius to sing in accompaniment to what will seem to be a wedding feast in the palace to any onhearers outside (Odyssey 23.133–139)—to a reality that seals Odysseus’ “widespread glory” (Odyssey 23.137), his phrase echoing and encompassing those of his son and wife as it occupies the same metrical place as did theirs. Thus, although Odysseus will be known for a different type of glory than is Achilles, both of the best of the Achaeans excel their erstwhile commander—a warrior who does not die in battle, as well as a monarch who cannot rule after returning from war.

The difference between the Achillean and Odyssean types of fame informs not only the poetic performances of the heroes, but also the epics that center on them. The Iliad and the Odyssey offer different solutions to the human problem of striving for poetic immortality against divinely sanctioned hostility: in stark contrast to the Iliad’s pat and patent answer of Achilles’ ready, faraway glory (foreshadowed briefly in his own wartime rhapsody) is the Odyssey’s cryptic and tortuous response of Odysseus’ hard-won fame at home (foretold and encoded repeatedly in his postwar, bardic odes). The Greek epics’ Indian counterparts, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, also pose through royal poetry distinct reactions to an issue facing the human beings inhabiting a universe ordered by gods. In the Indian instance, however, the poetic rulers perform for the epic heroes, who consequently listen to accounts that incorporate these protagonists’ varyingly successful efforts to maintain dharma—and thus to do right in an increasingly immoral world.


[ back ] 1. Nagy 1999:59.

[ back ] 2. Nagy 1999:45–46, 47, 48–49.

[ back ] 3. Even Nagy (1999:317–318, 319–321) himself breaks down his dichotomy between Iliadic bíē and Odyssean mē̂tis, in observing that bíē operates in the Odyssey as well as in the Iliad.

[ back ] 4. On this oracular passage’s allusive nature, see Jong 2001:8.73–82n.

[ back ] 5. Genette 1980:40.

[ back ] 6. Bal 1997:97.

[ back ] 7. The poetic power of Homeric kingship as a representation of heroic glory rests—at least in ancient times—on the historical reality of kingship in Archaic Greek society. The relationship between this reality and its poetic depiction has been studied most extensively by classicist Robert Drews (1983:99–105, 108–115, 129–131) and historian Pierre Carlier (1984:137–138, 210–214, 503–505, 509–511).

[ back ] 8. M. W. Edwards 1987:16.

[ back ] 9. Buchan 2004:107–109.

[ back ] 10. Seidensticker 1978:13n32.

[ back ] 11. Wilson 2002:101.

[ back ] 12. Foley 2004:186.

[ back ] 13. For further discussion of the distinct implications of these different poetic implements, see Burkert 2001:101–102.

[ back ] 14. Nagy 1996a:71.

[ back ] 15. Havelock 1978:11.

[ back ] 16. Andersen 1992:20.

[ back ] 17. Segal 1994:124; Cairns 2001:30–31.

[ back ] 18. In other words, “Achilles’ choice is a false choice” ([l]e choix d’Achille est un faux choix) (Frontisi-Ducroux 1986:58).

[ back ] 19. Burgess 2009:52.

[ back ] 20. Slatkin 1991:34–35.

[ back ] 21. Vernant 1991:51.

[ back ] 22. Lynn-George 1988:153.

[ back ] 23. Schein 1984:122n8.

[ back ] 24. Whitman 1958:139.

[ back ] 25. Taplin 1992:228.

[ back ] 26. King 1987:107–108.

[ back ] 27. Taplin 1980:8.

[ back ] 28. Nagy 1999:185.

[ back ] 29. Zarker 1965:114.

[ back ] 30. Mueller 1984:47.

[ back ] 31. Duckworth 1933:31–32.

[ back ] 32. Haft 1990:38, 41, 42, 45–55.

[ back ] 33. Redfield 1994:36.

[ back ] 34. Thalmann 1984:170–171; Wyatt 1989:241–242; Beye 1993:172–173.

[ back ] 35. Segal 1994:86.

[ back ] 36. Finley 1978:76.

[ back ] 37. Austin 1975:102–103.

[ back ] 38. This paternal parallel has been elaborated by classicist Anthony T. Edwards (1985:52–59).

[ back ] 39. For further discussion of this position, see Schmiel 1987:35.

[ back ] 40. A. T. Edwards 1985:31, 32. For further evidence of Odysseus and Neoptolemus’ connection, see A. T. Edwards 1985:59–67, 68.

[ back ] 41. Felson 1997:71.

[ back ] 42. Murnaghan 1987:167.

[ back ] 43. The tradition of suspicion of Odysseus for this reason has been delineated by classicist W. B. Stanford (1963:95).

[ back ] 44. M. W. Edwards 1987:128–129.

[ back ] 45. Dimock 1989:260.

[ back ] 46. Haft 1984:299.

[ back ] 47. The melting metaphors used in Odyssey 8.522 and 19.204 for these weeping episodes have been likened to one another by classicist Irene J. F. de Jong (2001:19.204–209n).

[ back ] 48. Podlecki 1967:20.

[ back ] 49. Harsh 1950:12; Amory 1963:102.

[ back ] 50. Athanassakis 1987:261–262.

[ back ] 51. For further discussion of this process vis-à-vis these Homeric bards, see M. W. Edwards 1987:18–19.

[ back ] 52. Nagy 1990b:56, 56–57.

[ back ] 53. In Theogony 81, I, with West (1966, commentary on Theogony:81n), read timḗsousi (they honor) as the third-person plural form of the aorist short-vowel subjunctive.

[ back ] 54. Burkert 1985:145–148.

[ back ] 55. Jong 2001:20.276–278n. The timing of Odysseus’ requital has also been remarked on by classicist William G. Thalmann (1984:176).

[ back ] 56. For further discussion of these events alluded to in the Iliad and treated at length elsewhere, see Burgess 2009:29, 38–39, 43, 44–45, 46–47.

[ back ] 57. The connection between Odysseus’ beggarly turns has been observed by classicists Ignace Wieniewski (1924:123–124) and Hartmut Erbse (1972:97), as well as by Beye (1993:148).

[ back ] 58. Segal 1994:109.

[ back ] 59. Austin 1975:247. For an enumeration of these signs of spring, see Austin 1975:246–253.

[ back ] 60. Segal 1994:109.

[ back ] 61. Olson 1995:183.

[ back ] 62. For an explanation of how the suitors have reaped what they have sown, see Segal 1994:221.