Agamemnon, the Pathetic Despot: Reading Characterization in Homer

  Porter, Andrew. 2019. Agamemnon, the Pathetic Despot: Reading Characterization in Homer. Hellenic Studies Series 78. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

3. The Characterization of Agamemnon in the Odyssey

3.1 Introduction

Agamemnon is in Hades by the time the action of the Odyssey opens. This necessitates that his personal appearances be incorporeal and only in the underworld (Odyssey 11 and 24). Agamemnon as a traditional character is with us in greater and lesser ways beyond his apparitions as a specter, however. He appears metonymically, through retrospective narrative by others in various episodes. [1] Agamemnon is invoked in ways that connect him intimately with the Trojan War and its immediate aftermath, the nostoi, and later still the Oresteia; there also exist possible allusions to the House of Atreus Saga of past blood guilt. [2] Our task here is to elucidate the most significant of Agamemnon’s appearances as a basis for more general comments in this and subsequent chapters. It will become evident that certain features of Agamemnon’s story persistently adhere to his character.

Our consideration of Agamemnon will follow the chronology of the Odyssey, but we must keep in mind what I have suggested in many ways already in the preceding chapters. For the traditional audience (whom we must seek to emulate), the story of the Odyssey was not new; rather, it was already known in some form to Homer’s core audience. [3] The details from different events in Agamemnon’s life that appear scattered throughout the epic were tightly interwoven and interdependent for Homer and his listeners. While the chronological ordering of events within the Odyssey could doubtless change as we noted in Chapter 1, the traditional depth of individual characters nevertheless provided a shared connection between the singer and his core audience. Only careful consideration of Agamemnon’s manifold appearances in the Odyssey will allow us to hear what sort of character the poet and his tradition had in mind. Further, as noted in Chapter 2, characterization for the ancient audience was not abstracted and separated from events, but rather, attached inextricably to “word and deed.” Consequently, both of these aspects, language and action, will be considered in close detail in what follows. The format of this chapter on the Odyssey (and the ensuing chapter on the Iliad) will of necessity be a commentary on Agamemnon’s appearances. Within the Odyssey, we will see emerge a part of the traditional portrait of Agamemnon known to Homer, through his personal voice from Hades or as a character within recited tales.

3.2 Commentary

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

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

Athena disguised as Mentes converses with Telemachos as they sit near the haughty suitors who are inflicting themselves on the absent Odysseus’ oikos. In the course of their conversation she references the example of Orestes: “Or have you not heard of the sort of fame that divine Orestes took hold of / among all people?” (ἢ οὐκ ἀΐεις οἷον κλέος ἔλλαβε δῖος Ὀρέστης / πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, 1.298–299). She urges Telemachos to consider how he could kill the suitors, and encourages him to grow up. Athena intimates that there will be future kleos if he should act like Orestes. [5] Within one premise of Athena’s persuasive argument (a statement contained within a question), we find our second reference to Agamemnon. Athena asks with some incredulity whether Telemachos has not yet heard of the sort of kleos Orestes gained (299), “since he killed a father-murderer, / Aigisthos the ruse strategist, because he killed his noble father” (ἐπεὶ ἔκτανε πατροφονῆα, / Αἴγισθον δολόμητιν, ὅ οἱ πατέρα κλυτὸν ἔκτα). Athena’s comment that Orestes’ father was killed by a “ruse strategist” (δολόμητις) is of special interest. This particularized epithet is employed almost exclusively of Aigisthos in Homer, except, interestingly enough, once, where it occurs as an epithet with Clytemnestra (and once by Hera of Zeus). [6] The nearly exclusive sharing of this epithet with Clytemnestra (who was also involved in the killing of Agamemnon), [7] suggests that it assumes the depth of the tradition related to the murder but also the connection between epithets and characterization, traditional backstories, and metonymy (see Chapter 1). The epithet is overwhelmingly negative, something not always the case with the individual verbal integers that make up this traditional expression, as we saw already with “ruse” (δόλος) in Chapter 2. [8]

We must, then, distinguish carefully the inherent meaning of the epithet “ruse strategist” (δολόμητις) as a traditional “word” from the individual occurrences of the separate words, “ruse” (δόλος) and “strategy” (μῆτις), from which it is formed. This conclusion is supported by a reading of these three distinct words within Homer. The “ruse strategist” (δολόμητις) epithet has adhering to it when used, consistently negative associations such as parricide. By contrast, “ruse” (δόλος) or “strategy” (μῆτις), individually, often have positive associations related to trickery and cunning, which in themselves can serve either good or bad ends. Such positive denotations for the latter words are evinced in Odyssey 9.422, where both words are found in close proximity to one another in a description of Odysseus. In that scene Odysseus is using “ruse” (δόλος) and “strategy” (μῆτις) to save his companions. Reading the meaning of δόλος (“ruse”) or μῆτις (“strategy”) requires that we not assume that either word is inherently “bad,” morally speaking, in the eyes of Homer or his audience. This is not to deny that these individual words are sometimes connected with negative acts, rather, just to note that, unlike in the case of the epithet δολόμητις, they need not be. In this second reference to Agamemnon, then, we learn that he was the object of a strategic ruse orchestrated by a “ruse strategist” (δολόμητις), his wife’s lover, Aigisthos. Consequently, so we are told, Aigisthos paid for his actions with his life.

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

A contrast can be made between the address “thoughtless child” (νήπιος) and the metrically equivalent address, “[O] child” ([ὦ] τέκος), used always with favorable associations. [16] Some typical examples suffice to make the point. It is used affectionately by Nestor (Iliad 23.626) when he addresses Achilles during the funeral games for Patroklos. Priam (Iliad 24.423) employs it to address his unexpected but welcome helper Hermes. Hermes had come in the guise of a youthful attendant of Achilles and offered timely and efficacious information about Hector’s body. In this last example, a formulaic hemistich preceding a favorable address by Priam—“Thus he [Hermes] spoke and he [Agamemnon] rejoiced” (ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δέ, 424)—further affirms the traditionally positive tenor of “O child” ([ὦ] τέκος) as an address, if we consider its other occurrences in Homer. [17] “[O] child” ([ὦ] τέκος) is also used by Alkinoos who addresses his daughter (Odyssey 6.68) with all the paternal love one might expect of such a scene. Odysseus addresses Athena using this appellation (Odyssey 7.22) when she comes disguised as a “little maiden” (παρθενική, 7.20). [18] Suffice it to say, in summation, that the idiom “O child” ([ὦ] τέκος) is at odds in its traditional implications with the metrically equivalent “thoughtless child” (νήπιος) employed in the passage under consideration to characterize Agamemnon. It seems, then, that the very propensity of Agamemnon to act thoughtlessly is itself a traditional trait, highlighted here through an unfavorable and foreboding traditional idiom. [19]

When we consider Nestor’s comment in Odyssey 3.146 (νήπιος, οὐδὲ τὸ ᾔδὴ, ὃ οὐ πείθεσθαι ἕμελλεν) against the backdrop of the synchronic instances of “thoughtless child” (νήπιος) just outlined, it is not easy to excuse Agamemnon’s thoughtlessness merely on the grounds that he did not know what the gods were up to. [20] The limited perspective of Agamemnon is not the sole reason for Nestor’s use of this adjective; rather, it also insinuates the element of thoughtless miscalculation, often, as can be seen in the foregoing examples, by a character involved in a foolhardy action. There is, moreover, a certain amount of ironic disdain directed toward the person it references and his choice in a particular situation. Nestor, by using this word, becomes the poet’s spokesman for the tradition as a whole. Nestor’s speech tells of Agamemnon and Menelaos parting company in “strife” (ἔρις, Odyssey 3.136) at the beginning of the nostoi. Certain of these returns, such as Nestor’s, end in a happy telos. Others terminate in misfortune, including Agamemnon’s, the paradigmatic example of a kakos nostos. Nestor’s story unfolds some of the events of Agamemnon’s nostos, including: “how he came and how Aigisthos devised lamentable destruction” (ὥς τ’ ἦλθ’ ὥς τ’ Αἴγισθος ἐμήσατο λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον, 3.194). From this point the moral is intended most directly for Telemachos, who, Nestor notes, must act as stoutly as Orestes. It is an exhortation that spurs on Telemachos to opine about the suitors’ oppression and to verbalize his strong wish for a tisis, although his concluding comments display pessimism about whether the gods will ever bring this to pass (3.208–209). Nestor’s remarks encourage hope, including a wish for Athena’s help. Any optimism is once again rejected by Telemachos, however, who insists, ironically, that such an outcome could never come to pass (3.225–228). [21]

The ironic conversation between Nestor and Telemachos is broken by the rhetorical question and admonition of none other than Athena herself in the guise of Mentor, who touches on several elements of Agamemnon’s sad nostos. Her speech is meant to connect the traditional audience to the suffering Odysseus. She says that she would rather suffer yet get home (as the traditional audience knows will be the case with Odysseus) than (Odyssey 3.234–235), “reaching home be destroyed at the hearth, as Agamemnon / was destroyed by the ruse of Aigisthos and his own wife” (ἐλθὼν ἀπολέσθαι ἐφέστιος, ὡς Ἀγαμέμνων / ὤλεθ’ ὑπ’ Αἰγίσθοιο δόλῳ καὶ ἧς ἀλόχοιο). Through Athena’s remarks, we learn that Agamemnon was killed “at the hearth” (ἐφέστιος), and that he was killed by the “ruse” (δόλος) of both Aigisthos and “his own wife.” These are important elements not overtly mentioned in Odyssey 1.299–300, which we examined earlier in this chapter. The hearth was a place where one was supposed to be under the protection of the gods and where “sanctity was inherent in the place.” [22] The etymology of “at the hearth” (ἐφέστιος) includes “hearth” (ἑστία), a term employed, as Chantraine notes, “également pour désigner une divinité du foyer,” of Hestia. [23] The metonymy would not have been missed by Homer’s auditors. To be killed at anyone’s hearth was something miasmatic to the Greek mind, whether at one’s own oikos or at the oikos of another as a guest (under the watchful eye of Zeus xenios). [24] This is further illustrated from somewhat later Greek literature. The attachment of “pollution” (variously called ἄγος, λῦμα, μίασμα, or μύσος) to the hearth is assumed by Aeschylus (see Choephoroe 965–971 and Eumenides 169–172). The expiation ceremony for Jason and Medea’s murder of Apsyrtos is likewise connected to the hearth in Apollonius (Argonautica 4.693–717). The hearth, central in issues of pollution and purification (aspects of the sacred), was of first importance to the polis and its colonies (Malkin 2011:211, Tsakirgis 2007:225–226). The conception of the hearth as a sacred place is early, since Hestia is already a personified goddess in Hesiod’s Theogony. [25] Further, the name of public officials in Classical Athens, Peristiarchoi, the “Around the Hearth” officials, affirms the central importance of the hearth for the oikos (Parker 1983:21); yet, more broadly, the hearth symbolizes the political life of Greek communities (Kajava 2004). We can see, then, that Agamemnon’s death at the hearth of a “royal” relative carries miasmic meaning in the minds of both Homer and his core audience, both for the oikos and for the nascent Greek polis.

The question of whose hearth Homer is talking about is a problem for some scholars, however, who immediately assume the dramatic tradition that Agamemnon was killed in his own home. They see the reference “at the hearth” (ἐφέστιος) here as a rather “loose” use, since Agamemnon was not killed at “his own” hearth. They somehow feel that Homer should have made this clearer. [26] Yet, as we noted, to be killed at anyone’s hearth was something that would have been miasmatic to the Greek mind and there exists really nothing untraditional or idiosyncratic about Homer’s use of “hearth” here to reference the hearth of another. In all of its occurrences (Iliad 2.125, Odyssey 3.234, 7.248, 23.55) it stands without identifiers. There is no Homeric instance of its being used with a possessive or reflexive pronoun. [27] In fact “at the hearth” (ἐφέστιος) can be used when one person relates his presence at the hearth of another (Odyssey 7.248), again without grammatical cue. In short, in this passage there is no “loose use.” We who are not members of the traditional audience first learn at this moment in the written text that Agamemnon was killed at a hearth. That is all we know. The context within which Homer’s core audience hears “hearth” at this point, by contrast, is the larger tradition. They know already that Agamemnon was killed at the hearth of another, his cousin Aigisthos. Although this element is known to them through other renditions of this traditional story, it is not yet known to us as readers of a unique, written, and monumental text. We must glean information as we work our way through the pages of a text. It is a “fact” that we must wait to read until book 4. [28] For now, we as a later reading audience know only that Agamemnon was destroyed by his wife and her lover when he returned to his kingdom, and that the murder took place at a hearth.

The conversation with Nestor is turned by Telemachos to the circumstances surrounding Agamemnon’s “death and baleful fate” (θάνατον καὶ κῆρα μέλαιναν, 3.242), a formula that allows the poet to dwell on a narrative moment and make the event more terrible by hendiadys. [29] This exact hendiadys is only employed in the Odyssey, where it harbingers: the portending fate of the suitors (2.283, 24.127); Odysseus’ presumed death by the work of the gods, ironically, as the disheartened Telemachos speaks to Athena in the guise of Mentor (3.242); and the near fate of the prophet Theoklymenos, who fled Argos after killing a man (15.275). It is also used by the poet as narrator (Odyssey 22.14) to describe the impending doom of Antinoos as he reaches for his goblet, but instead finds death from Odysseus’ arrow. The Iliad employs an analogous expression, but fitting a different metrical shape: “slaughter and baleful fate” (φόνον καὶ κῆρα μέλαιναν), heard in the threats of Sarpedon to Tlepolemos (5.652) and Odysseus to Sokos (11.443), which each soon carried out. It is heard too, in the initial thought of Priam’s son Lykaon (21.66). He seeks first to flee from Achilles’ wrath, but is unsuccessful, and next, to supplicate him—“But you respect me and take pity on me” (σὺ δέ μ’ αἴδεο καί μ’ ἐλέησον, 21.74)—without success. Although Achilles had captured him and accepted ransom for his release just twelve days earlier (21.80–81), Lykaon now meets an Achilles with implacable fury, fed by Patroklos’ recent death (21.99–135).

Nestor’s characteristically garrulous reply (253–328) outlines the background to Clytemnestra’s affair with Aigisthos, including the delay of Menelaos in Egypt. All the pre-nostos and nostos events work to create the right conditions for the homicide. While Menelaos is delayed, Aigisthos is described as charming Agamemnon’s wife with words and devising lamentable things in Mycenae (303). To characterize Aigisthos’ entreprise amoureuse, Homer employs the iterative “he continually charmed” (θέλγεσκε, 264), to fit his metrical needs. [31] The iterative form of this verb occurs only here of all extant Greek literature, supporting its identity as a unique creation in situ by the poet for his narrative needs. The metrically unusable imperfect for which the iterative is substituted and the narrative itself suggest the passing of time. [32] This makes the iterative form an appropriate fit for the poet keen to recall the continual wooing of Clytemnestra by Aigisthos; but also other events, such as disposing of the supervising singer, a move that helped lead to Clytemnestra’s seduction. [33] Hernández (2002:322) comments that “Agamemnon is a dismal failure in his attempt to have a poet tend the queen on his behalf, and he seems at least indirectly responsible for the poet’s unfortunate end.” Further, the consequence for Aigisthos’ killing of Agamemnon is narrated by the poet. It is the revenge of Orestes, described with the traditional idiom “he killed his father-murderer” (ἔκτανε πατροφονῆα, 307; cf. Odyssey 1.299). Orestes’ killing of Clytemnestra is not directly related, but it is insinuated in the description of the burial mound “for his hateful mother and cowardly Aigisthos” (μήτρος τε στυγερῆς καὶ ἀνάλκιδος Αἰγίσθοιο, 310). [34] Yet, this moves us beyond the scope of Agamemnon.

In Nestor’s narrative, then, we have learned that a quarrel between the sons of Atreus effectively resulted in two separate departures and Agamemnon’s arrival home alone. Significantly, as we saw, the language of Nestor’s retrospective implied that Agamemnon’s stance in this quarrel with his brother was the plan of a “thoughtless child” (νήπιος), “for he did not know what he was about to suffer” (οὐδε τὸ ᾔδὴ, ὃ οὐ πείσθαι ἔμελλεν). The many appearances of the vocative νήπιος, a term we have already considered, emphasized the “thoughtlessness” of Agamemnon. By using this word, Nestor became the spokesman for the tradition as a whole, and the implications for Agamemnon were portentous. It would be a lack of forethought that would bring about his death. Further, in the conversation between Nestor and Telemachos, we heard about the pitiful circumstances surrounding Agamemnon’s “death and baleful fate,” and the sorry tale of “wide-ruling” (εὐρὺ κρείων) Agamemnon as paramount basileus, killed upon his return home. In our overview of Odyssey 3, then, we see the same sort of portrait of Agamemnon continue to emerge that we began to see in Chapter 2. Agamemnon is a pathetic victim, in part thanks to his own thoughtlessness on a number of occasions.

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

Telemachos has just entered the palace of Menelaos, an abode resplendent with treasures from its owner’s exotic wanderings during his delayed nostos (4.81–85). In reply to Telemachos’ admiration over his home’s apparent affinity to that of Olympian Zeus, Menelaos replies that his absence from Argos came at a cost (4.90–92):

While I, about these parts, gathering much substance
was wandering, meanwhile another man killed my brother
by stealth, unexpectedly, by the ruse of his destructive wife.

εἷος ἐγὼ περὶ κεῖνα πολὺν βίοτον ξυναγείρων
ἠλώμην, τεῖός μοι ἀδελφεὸν ἄλλος ἔπεφνε
λάθρῃ, ἀνωϊστί, δόλῳ οὐλομένης ἀλόχοιο.

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

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

Telemachos questions Menelaos about his father, and in his response we discover more about Agamemnon’s history as a character in Homer’s tradition. Menelaos’ speech includes a retrospective narrative about his time in Egypt during his delayed nostos. He was not experiencing favorable winds to speed his journey from Pharos back to Argos, yet received divine assistance through the advice of the nymph Eidothea who took pity on him (4.364). Menelaos followed the sea nymph’s advice. He trapped Proteus and received information that proves advantageous in our current quest for the characterization of Agamemnon in the Odyssey.

In Odyssey 4.514, Agamemnon is described as almost reaching the “sheer mountain” (ὄρος αἰπύ) of Malea. Malea’s geographical position is, like the island of Pharos, problematic (West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:224–225). Of course, a traditional poet’s knowledge of the areas he speaks of need not be firsthand, since he is working as a poet in a tradition. Many elements in Homer seem concerned with real world accuracy, while others are more likely blended ideas, kept as traditional components from past performances of the same or related stories (cf. the judgment of Talbert 1985:8). Certainly this is the case with other epic traditions. Honko reports that, in his team’s venture to explore the physical geography of Siri epic, he took the singer Gopala Naika to locations he had sung about but never visited. Honko comments:

Honko 1998:323

The singer of Siri epic was not fully aware of the topography of his song lyrics. Yet, as Danek (1998:117) notes, simply appealing to Homer’s lack of geography should “nur ein letzter Ausweg sein,” at least as the major motivating factor. The appeal to geographical inaccuracy, in fact, misses the point. Rather, more central for our consideration of the Homeric singer’s mental topography is the meaning of the formulaic element “sheer mountain” (ὄρος αἰπύ) to the poet and his audience. An analysis of this noun-epithet combination shows that it is a traditional element in Homer’s repertoire, occurring in both the Iliad and Odyssey. It is a traditional way “mountain” (ὄρος) is indexed as a formulaic part of the last hemistich of a line with a preceding genitive of the mountain’s name. [

Furthermore, what is perhaps equally noteworthy in our attempt to apprehend metonymic elements in Homer’s portrayal of Agamemnon is where Agamemnon ends up. He is blown closer to the abode of Aigisthos (4.514–518):

But when indeed quickly he was about to reach the sheer mountain of Malea,
then indeed a storm wind, having snatched him up,
bore him upon the fishy sea, deeply groaning,
to the outskirts of the land, where Thyestes lived in his abode,
before, but then Aigisthos son of Thyestes lived [there].

ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ τάχ’ ἔμελλε Μαλειάων ὄρος αἰπὺ
ἵξεσθαι, τότε δή μιν ἀναρπάξασα θύελλα
πόντον ἐπ’ ἰχθυόεντα φέρεν βαρέα στενάχοντα,
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιήν, ὅθι δώματα ναῖε Θυέστης
τὸ πρίν, ἀτὰρ τότ’ ἔναιε Θυεστιάδης Αἴγισθος.

Although the order, textual history, and geographical particularities of these verses are problematic, they nevertheless contain a very important narrative element. For it seems that Homer wishes us to see Aigisthos as living near Agamemnon within the kingdom of the son of Atreus and in his father’s palace. This appears to be the case, no matter if “near” is still, in real world terms, fairly far away by land. It was near enough, thanks to the gale (θύελλα, 515).

We turn now to consider lines 517–518 in their context, without textual rearrangement. In these two verses, we are suddenly brought face to face with an imminent peril from a story in Agamemnon’s past—the House of Atreus: “At the outskirts of the land, where Thyestes lived in his abode / before, but then Aigisthos son of Thyestes lived [there]” (ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιήν, ὅθι δώματα ναῖε Θυέστης / τὸ πρίν, ἀτὰρ τότ’ ἔναιε Θυεστιάδης Αἴγισθος). We experience here an early form of correctio. The poet is relating the story to his audience and says that Agamemnon arrived “at the outskirts of the country,” [48] where Thyestes was living, but then he notes: “Before, but then Aigisthos son of Thyestes lived [there]” (τὸ πρίν, ἀτὰρ τότ’ ἔναιε Θυεστιάδης Αἴγισθος). Other examples of correctio exist in Homer. I find three other related instances whose language parallels 518 in having “Before, but then” (τὸ πρίν, ἀτάρ) followed by an ensuing contrast created by a second temporal marker (such as “then,” τότε or “now,” νῦν) and the specifics of the correctio (Iliad 6.125, 16.573 and Odyssey 4.32). Similar poetic correctio is also known to us from the catalogue of ships in the case of Philoctetes (Iliad 2.716–725) and Achilles (2.768–779). [49] Taken together, these instances suggest a rhetorical device for Homer with possible significance in our present passage.

It appears that the poet, through rhetorical correctio in Odyssey 4.518, is acknowledging the dismal story of the House of Atreus well known in the Classical period. After Homer, we are assured, this tale included Thyestes’ bedding of Atreus’ wife, Aerope, and Atreus’ retributive and repulsive feeding of Thyestes’ children to their father. The domestic drama continues when Aigisthos is born through Thyestes’ incestuous relations with his surviving daughter, Pelopia. It is she who gives birth to the future avenger, Aigisthos. The bloody past of the House of Atreus is, however, not presented to us in any clear detail until Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (1217–1244, 1583–1611). [50] This does not mean that authors after Homer are simply inventing the stories clustering around this tale, since here we have indication that the poet may have had some knowledge of it. I am suggesting that this allusion by the singer added suspense and increased the hearer’s sense of foreboding at what was known to be imminent—Aigisthos’ long-awaited revenge through killing Agamemnon. The allusion to Thyestes may be the poet’s way of acknowledging this portentous back story that increases tension for the audience of the Odyssey, but which the poet chose not to retell in any detail. [51] While it is impossible to say exactly what elements from the House of Atreus story were known in the Late Geometric and early Archaic period (i.e., the putative time of the memorialization of the Iliad and Odyssey in writing), [52] such hints within the text are suggestive of some level of knowledge. The question of the singer’s and audience’s knowledge of this story will resurface again in Chapter 4 when we discuss another potential reference to Thyestes in the Iliad.

3.2.6 Agamemnon’s Joy: 8.75–82

Little can be substantiated about this struggle between Odysseus and Achilles outside of this short narrative by the poet, a narrative tied together by ring structure: “contended/were contending” (δηρίσαντο/δηριόωντο). Nagy (1979:42–58) has gone some way in suggesting that the story, rather than being an ad-hoc invention meant to mimic Iliad 1, [55] contains traditional themes discernable in a number of places in Homer. [56] In other words, it is a traditional story since it is built with traditional components. One scholiast’s conjecture proves less convincing, since he holds that the story is meant as a pointed contrast between Odysseus’ “intelligence” (συνέσις) and Achilles’ “courage” (ἀνδρεία). The heroes are pictured as drinking together (παρὰ πότον), with Agamemnon in attendance, when a veritable symposium turns ugly. A “disagreement” (διαφορά) broke out, based upon what each hero thought would be the best way to take Troy. The imaginative scholiast has Achilles advising that they “act with brute force” (βιάζεσθαι) and Odysseus, that they “aim at guile” (δόλῳ μετελθεῖν). [57] Yet, of greater concern in our search for Agamemnon’s character in Homer is Agamemnon’s affective reaction to these heroes’ contention. As is clear from the foregoing passage, the poet portrays Agamemnon elated at the turn of events. Agamemnon “was rejoicing in his mind” (χαῖρε νόῳ). But just why did Agamemnon react in this way? The poet next has Demodokos sing (8.79–83):

For thus to him giving an oracular response, declared Phoibos Apollo
in sacred Pytho, when he had stepped over the stone threshold
to make consultation. For then next the start of the harm was rolling along,
for both Trojans and Danaans, by the plans of great Zeus.

ὣς γάρ οἱ χρείων μυθήσατο Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων
Πυθοῖ ἐν ἠγαθέῃ, ὅθ’ ὑπέρβη λάϊνον οὐδὸν
χρησόμενος. τότε γάρ ῥα κυλίνδετο πήματος ἀρχὴ
Τρωσί τε καὶ Δαναοῖσι Διὸς μεγάλου διὰ βουλάς.

The reason for Agamemnon’s joy, then, is not the quarrel between Achilles and Odysseus, itself, a point made some time ago by Snell: “Agamemnon’s delight does not spring from the altercation of the two most valiant heroes … but from his recollection of Apollo’s prophecy that Troy would fall when the best heroes contended with one another” (Snell 1953:12). Agamemnon had formerly consulted Delphi, here given in its usual Homeric locative form of “in Pytho” (Πυθοῖ; cf. Iliad 9.405). [60] Agamemnon was looking to the fall of Troy as his source of joy (although the heroes were reveling in their own competition to be the best). Odysseus breaks into tears as he hears the singer’s rendition of these events, and yet even Odysseus’ weeping (8.86) is best seen as related to the struggle at Troy, rather than simply his contention with Achilles. In fact, the same description of Odysseus’ crying occurs much later in the same book as Arnould (1990:102) notes. There the poet further includes a simile that likens Odysseus’ tears to that of a women lying over the body of her husband (523–524). She had just witnessed atrocities. Not only has she see him fight “for the city and children trying to beat off the pitiless day” (ἄστεϊ καὶ τεκέεσσιν ἀμύνων νηλεὲς ἦμαρ, 525) but she had been nearby “and caught sight of him dying and gasping for breath” (ἡ μὲν τὸν θνῄσκοντα καὶ ἀσπαίροντα ἰδοῦσα (526). The emphasis, then, if we read the moment with traditional resonance in mind, is first the tragedy of war for Odysseus. We will return to this point, since Agamemnon’s joy may be seen as jarring when contrasted with Odysseus’ tears.

Agamemnon’s rejoicing is set immediately against such backstories. It suggests to Homer’s core audience an Agamemnon who is both naive and thoughtless in his comprehension, and impetuous in his reaction to the quarrel. His response seems callously arrogant when heard within the local context through Odysseus’ tears. Nor is it likely that Agamemnon’s rejoicing was in any way a rational, calculated response, free of the normal sort of emotively fed feelings sprung from the thumos. After all, the hapax phrase, “he was rejoicing in his mind” (χαῖρε νόῳ), acts as an equivalent expression for “he was rejoicing in his thumos” (χαῖρε δὲ θυμῷ). Agamemnon’s is a gut reaction, one that lacks the thoughtful and measured response one might expect from so central an Achaian leader.

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

What was the audience thinking about as it heard this story and the comment about Agamemnon’s fame, “greatest under heaven” (μέγιστον ὑπουράνιον)? Olson (1990:68) is right to ascribe to the scene we are considering “a grimly ironic quality” in light of Odysseus’ reference to the kleos of Agamemnon and Agamemnon’s nostos. Homer’s audience had constantly in mind what we have already heard overtly sung, the paradigmatic kakos nostos of Agamemnon. [68] So while the language of the passage elicits thoughts of Agamemnon as a paramount basileus and his eventual triumph in the Trojan War, there is also something ominous in the meaning of this traditional phrase in its present context. This is another example of the need always to gauge one aspect of Agamemnon’s characterization by the whole range of stories attached to him and known to singer and audience. [69] Set within the events of Odyssey 9 and Odysseus’ rude reception by the ogre Polyphemos (a tale whose dismal outcome is recognized proleptically by the audience), and against the backdrop of the kakos nostos of Agamemnon, Odysseus’ declaration seems portentous. The presentation of the kleos of Agamemnon carries an ambiguous and sardonic quality that Homer’s audience would not have missed. A similar ambiguity over Agamemnon’s heroic prowess will be noted in Chapter 4. There we will consider the placement and abruptness of Agamemnon’s aristeia and ask why the leader of all the Achaian forces at Troy is given such short shrift in what should be a high moment of personal heroic glory.

3.2.8 The Nekuia: 11.380–466

The Nekuia then immediately resumes via Odysseus’ narrating his encounter with Agamemnon. The psyche of Agamemnon arrives, “grieving” (ἀχνυμένη, 11.388), in the company of those who “in the house of Aigisthos death and fate encountered” (οἴκῳ ἐν Αἰγίσθοιο θάνον καὶ πότμον ἐπέσπον, 389). [71] A teary meeting follows, stirred in its heightened intensity by an Agamemnon who is but a dim shadow of his former self, without force or vigor (393–394). Odysseus addresses Agamemnon using a traditional epithet, one suggestive of Atreus’ son’s full rank as paramount basileus at Troy: “Atreus’ son renowned, ruler of men Agamemnon!” (Ἀτρεΐδη κύδιστε, ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγάμεμνον, 397). [72] Indeed, there are other less weighty ways of addressing Agamemnon in direct address that the poet could have chosen. [73] For a short form of address, the appellation “Atreus’ son” (Ἀτρεΐδη), contained within the larger formula above, is often employed. [74] The singer chose an epithet of greater scope and meaning. The poet’s choice, however, placed as it is in Odysseus’ address to the former paramount basileus at Troy now in the underworld, rings rather hollow. Moreover, the string of interrogatives that ensue, employing the rhetorical device of the “erroneous question” (de Jong 2001:287), would have struck the audience, who knew how Agamemnon died, with the full force of metonymic irony (11.398–403):

What bane now has subdued you of abasing death?
Or you with the ships, did Poseidon subdue,
having stirred up for grievous winds a miserable blowing?
Or you did hostile men injure on dry land,
cutting out cattle and beautiful flocks of sheep
or for [some] city fighting and for [its] wives?

τίς νύ σε κὴρ ἐδάμασσε τανηλεγέος θανάτοιο;
ἠέ σέ γ’ ἐν νήεσσι Ποσειδάων ἐδάμασσεν
ὄρσας ἀργαλέων ἀνέμων ἀμέγαρτον ἀϋτμήν;
ἦέ σ’ ἀνάρσιοι ἄνδρες ἐδηλήσαντ’ ἐπὶ χέρσου
βοῦς περιταμνόμενον ἠδ’ οἰῶν πώεα καλὰ
ἠὲ περὶ πτόλιος μαχεούμενον ἠδὲ γυναικῶν;

There may be in this extended rhetorical question, with its mention of “wives” (γυναικῶν), a thought bridge for the poet in his composition, as I will suggest shortly. The lines are also subtly suggestive in another way. They enumerate the traditional manner in which heroic men die (nor is piracy a dishonorable venture when it involves pillaging the enemy). [
75] Moreover, Agamemnon’s response by priamel denies each of the possibilities in order (11.405–408):

Zeus-born son of Laertes Odysseus of many devices,
not me in the ships did Poseidon subdue
having stirred up for grievous winds a miserable blowing,
nor me did hostile men injure on dry land,

διογενὲς Λαερτιάδη, πολυμήχαν’ Ὀδυσσεῦ,
οὔτ’ ἐμέ γ’ ἐν νήεσσι Ποσειδάων ἐδάμασσεν
ὄρσας ἀργαλέων ἀνέμων ἀμέγαρτον ἀϋτμήν,
οὔτε μ’ ἀνάρσιοι ἄνδρες ἐδηλήσαντ’ ἐπὶ χέρσου,

There is close parallelism of words, events, and themes between the erroneous question and the response. Further, the cardinal point and the lines immediately following, although not completely parallel in wording, do in fact continue the cognitive responsion working within the singer’s mind. In response to the erroneous question that had Agamemnon cutting out the flocks of the enemy (402), we hear instead that Agamemnon and his men died like slaughtered animals (411, 413). Moreover, women act passively as an object of the men’s piratical and heroic raiding in the erroneous question (403), but in the reply (411), a female is the active co-perpetrator of the crime, helping to subdue the returning hero and his hetairoi. The rhetorical descent is clear: from the chance for a male to find heroic honor, to the reality of shameful acts and being unspeakably dishonored. From women as object of passive plunder to a woman who destroys with active aggression. The chiastic contrast between question and response is stark and the rhetorical device most effective in picturing the pathetic demise of the Achaians’ foremost leader. And to think, this all happened in a domestic setting, rather than in battle!

The foregoing portentous correspondences in theme, as the poet first implicates and then explicates actual events, help increase audience tension as Agamemnon speaks. The observations of Beye (2006:151) about the Oresteia are apt here: “there are tensions in the plot which make even the practiced listener of this story speculate and fantasize.” This tension in the plot may also, through irony, suggest something for our comprehension of Agamemnon’s character: his utter thoughtlessness in regard to the potential danger for himself and his men who experience complete surprise at the bloody turn of events. The animal metaphor “an ox at a trough” (βοῦν ἐπὶ φάτνῃ) may do more than just suggest victimization (though it does this too); it may hint at a lack of reflective human forethought.

In the foregoing narration by the Odyssey poet we have the first fairly full and overt exposition of the events surrounding Agamemnon’s death. De Jong (2001:288) argues that: “Agamemnon presents Clytemnestra, who had maintained a ‘low profile’ in previous versions of the ‘Oresteia’ story, as its main culprit.” The traditional audience, however, remembering not only one moment but the experiences of many epic performances was likely well aware of Clytemnestra’s role. We will revisit the active part played by Clytemnestra in Agamemnon’s death in greater detail when we consider one traditional phrase in Odyssey 24. Suffice it to say here that the momentary presentation of one element in the greater story pattern can provide emphasis, but not to the complete exclusion of other known elements. While we as linear, textual readers only become aware at this point of certain facts, by contrast, the traditional audience, through metonymy, was already more cognizant of them even where the singer is less direct (cf. Olson 1995:39). A point made in Chapter 2 bears reemphasizing here: that the singer enjoys retelling the story he presents, which is quite different from saying that the story was generally foreign or unknown to his core audience. Why and when the singer chooses to engage more fully certain aspects of his traditional story through expansion is a question of the singer’s style. When he wishes, he creates emphasis by more intently focusing our gaze on a particular scene. In the present scene, Agamemnon’s experience of Clytemnestra is being used by the poet as a warning to Odysseus himself (cf. de Jong 2001:288–289). [81] This poetic purpose becomes particularly evident in the words of Agamemnon directly following Odysseus’ commiserative comments (11.436–439). The poet has Agamemnon reply by admonishing Odysseus not to be gentle with his wife or to reveal everything he knows, but rather to reveal part of his account while keeping part hidden (441–443).

Through knowledge gained in retrospect (see 11.524–529) and with a fear of women candidly avowed, Agamemnon also advises Odysseus not to bring his ship home “openly” (ἀναφανδά, 455). The stress here appears to be on Odysseus taking Agamemnon as an example to avoid, and to do this by careful forethought. The traditional idiom used by Agamemnon to introduce a second piece of advice for Odysseus—“But this other matter to you I speak, but you cast [this] in your heart” (ἄλλο δέ τοι ἐρέω, σὺ δ’ ἐνὶ φρεσὶ βάλλεο σῇσιν, 454)—is a formula that occurs fourteen times in Homer. A consideration of all its occurrences yields its implications in the present context. The formula is used by a character to suggest the presence of extremely fervent emotion and personal participation in the information being shared. [82] Several examples will suffice to show its traditional tenor. It is used by Achilles to Agamemnon (Iliad 1.297), not long after Achilles has dashed the scepter to the ground in anger and disgust, just before the assembly is dissolved; by Zeus to Hera (4.39), after the poet has noted Zeus’ own state as “greatly vexed” (μέγ’ ὀχθήσας, 30), itself a traditional idiom stressing an emotional pitch; [83] by Diomedes to Sthenelos (5.259), who has advocated for retreat, only to receive a sharp rebuke; by Achilles to Phoinix (9.611), who tells his foster father to beware taking the side of his enemy; and by Hera to Zeus (16.444), to warn him not to save Sarpedon. [84]

In Odyssey 11, the strong emotion of Agamemnon and injunction to Odysseus for prudent action in the future seem apt. Suspense is created too, as Odysseus, limited in his perspective of cosmic actions and divine plan, does not know just how (or if!) things will work out. Yet, Agamemnon’s dismal fate, couched in emotionally charged words of warning by Agamemnon himself, acts as a caution for Odysseus that things could end badly if he is not more careful. The whole conversation is brought to a close through ring composition: “we stood, grieving, thick tears flowing down” (ἕσταμεν ἀχνύμενοι, θαλερὸν κατὰ δάκρυ χέοντες, 466; cf. 391). Through the idiomatic cue of an emotional warning, we see the poet’s portrayal of Agamemnon as an example to be avoided by planning. Odysseus should act less naively and more thoughtfully than Agamemnon.

3.2.9 Avoiding Agamemnon’s Nostos: 13.383–385

Odysseus’ reply is emphatic. He was expecting to perish and even earlier than he would have thought possible, had not Athena warned him. [89] His reply emphatically makes reference to Agamemnon through his patronymic “Atreus’ son,” and includes reference to Agamemnon’s “evil fate.” Yet, there has been no lead-up for Odysseus making such a reference—certainly nothing in the recorded words of Athena. By this point, what the poet means to do is to reestablish for the hearer in his present rendition of Odysseus’ nostos the close companionship of Odysseus and Athena (temporarily absent during most of the Nostoi tales). [90] Homer’s core audience know, however, as listeners informed by the larger tradition, that Odysseus is not about to walk uninformed into a trap that would turn him into a sorry hero of a kakos nostos. [91] Odysseus’ retort, then, is not random. It seeks instead to recall in our minds Agamemnon as a paradigm that portends the possibility of imminent danger to be avoided at all costs by planning. Suspense is at a high pitch. This is because the other adverse outcome for Odysseus, that he could experience a kakos nostos, exists in potentia. [92] Tension is created despite the traditional audience’s knowledge of Odysseus as a capable character and his sure participation within a known story that has him achieve a successful homecoming. [93] The sudden and unexpected reference to Agamemnon and the connotations of his pathetic nostos act as an effective foil for Odysseus’ own journey home.

The whole scene surrounding this reference to Agamemnon (13.383), including the collaborative plans of Odysseus and Athena, and even Odysseus’ consequent disguise (429–439), acts to emphasize the common effort that will retake the Ithacan polis. Through this united effort, Ithaca’s basileus and his family will be restored to hegemony, surely portrayed by the Odyssey poet as a good thing that will reinstate social order. Athena rejoins Odysseus first, to be followed by Odysseus’ faithful servants and family members, one by one. In this way, Agamemnon’s fate will not be Odysseus’ fate, thanks to the well-considered scheme of Odysseus (and his patron deity). The miserable homecoming of Agamemnon is avoided by careful forethought, something not a part of Agamemnon’s story or traditional character traits, so it seems.

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

The embedded references to Agamemnon in Odyssey 14 occur during a conversation between the swineherd Eumaios and Odysseus disguised as a beggar. The first two occurrences of Agamemnon in this book refer to Odysseus having left for Ilion or supposedly perishing there, “for the sake of Agamemnon’s honor” (Ἀγαμέμνος εἵνεκα τιμῆς, 14.70–71), words spoken by Eumaios and repeated in Odysseus’ retort (117). The “honor” (τιμή) in each case is that attached to Agamemnon’s office as paramount basileus.

3.2.11 Nekuia Deutera: Odyssey 24.19–97

Achilles is the first to address Agamemnon, and it is clear that he is aware how Agamemnon died (although we are not told how he knows). The reality of what Agamemnon’s appearance in Hades means is unfolded as Achilles speaks. Homer is playing up the narrative moment. The scene is presented as the first meeting of Achilles and Agamemnon since their deaths. Achilles sounds shocked, even as he speaks, since all the Greeks considered Agamemnon dear to Zeus. After all, he had ruled over many noble men in Troy (24.26). Achilles continues (28–29): “Yet in fact for you [Agamemnon] early on, bent on approaching, was / a destructive lot!” (ἦ τ’ ἄρα καὶ σοὶ πρωῒ παραστήσεσθαι ἔμελλε / μοῖρ’ ὀλοή). The surprise in Achilles’ voice is captured by the poet through his use of “Yet in fact” (ἦ τ’ ἄρα καί). Denniston notes the effect of ἄρα with a past tense: “The reality of a past event is presented as apprehended … at the moment of speaking” (Denniston 1950:36, II. [2]; so also de Jong 2001:568). It makes what follows “neu und interessant” (Denniston 1950:32 [agreeing with Hartung]). Further, it is not solely ἄρα that suggests this, but rather, its use here in a formulaic system that includes ἦ, which together more greatly emphasize irony and surprise. The poet’s choice of this expression to fill the first colon serves well to cue what ensues.

Agamemnon’s response to Achilles incorporates a description of the ritual surrounding Achilles’ funeral, including the visit by Thetis and her divine attendants. Of note is the sudden threatened rout to the ships (50), which Agamemnon says would have transpired (51–52), “except a man restrained [them], knowing many and ancient things— / Nestor, whose counsel even earlier appeared best” (εἰ μὴ ἀνὴρ κατέρυκε παλαιά τε πολλά τε εἰδώς, / Νέστωρ, οὗ καὶ πρόσθεν ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή). The traditional phrase “knowing many and ancient things” (παλαιά τε πολλά τε εἰδώς) occurs three times in the Odyssey. [103] In all its occurrences, including its use as a description of Nestor by Agamemnon, it is associated with an aged traditional figure characterized by an ability to give sound advice. The counsel is not necessarily accepted and followed by everyone within a particular narrative setting, however. In Odyssey 2.188, it is used to describe Halitherses, an aged warrior and prophet. It is embedded within a threat by Eurymachos, following Halitherses’ warning and advisement to him and the other suitors. Eurymachos does not listen. Eurymachos should have listened and acted, however, as the plot of the Odyssey makes clear! In Odyssey 7.157, the poet himself employs the idiom to describe the aged hero Echeneos as he gives counsel to Alkinoos, who does listen (and act). In the present story, Agamemnon indicates that Nestor’s advice was timely, and in giving it to the trembling Achaians (Odyssey 24.49), he notes, it stayed their fear (57) and changed the outcome of events through changed action.

We do wonder at this moment, and will continue to wonder in future chapters, why Agamemnon himself was not in charge at critical moments, or at least capable of thoughtful planning. Nonetheless, the void left by Agamemnon was more than adequately filled in this case by the restraining speech of Nestor. After all, as the ensuing traditional line—“Nestor, of whom even earlier, [his] counsel appeared best” [Νέστωρ, οὗ καὶ πρόσθεν ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή]—makes clear, here as elsewhere in Homer, Nestor has always been known in this way. [104] The formula also suggests thoughtful planning and immediate action. Agamemnon’s speech outlines the enviable ceremony and kleos attached to Achilles’ death at Troy. Its primary purpose in the poet’s plan, however, is to provide a foil for Agamemnon’s own kakos nostos, a point that Homer has Agamemnon himself make (24.93–97):

Thus you yourself certainly did not, dying, destroy your name, but for you always
among all men, [your] fame will be noble, Achilles.
Yet for me in fact, what delight [is there], after I have carried through the war?
For on [my] return, for me Zeus devised lamentable destruction
by the hand of Aigisthos and [my] destructive wife.

ὣς σὺ μὲν οὐδὲ θανὼν ὄνομ’ ὤλεσας, ἀλλά τοι αἰεὶ
πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους κλέος ἔσσεται ἐσθλόν, Ἀχιλλεῦ·
αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ τί τόδ’ ἦδος, ἐπεὶ πόλεμον τολύπευσα;
ἐν νόστῳ γάρ μοι Ζεὺς μήσατο λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον
Αἰγίσθου ὑπὸ χερσὶ καὶ οὐλομένης ἀλόχοιο.

The placement of “certainly” (μέν) after “you” (σύ, 93) is meant to emphasize the pronoun that precedes it (Denniston 1950:360, s.v. 2). Taken together with the following strongly adversative expression, “Yet for me in fact” (αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ, 95)—“Yet in fact” (αὐτάρ) taking the place of “but” (δέ)—the ensuing contrast between Achilles and Agamemnon is given a greater level of focus for Homer’s hearers (Denniston 1950:55). Further, Agamemnon blames Zeus for his destruction. This is caused in part by the character’s limited narrative perspective, but it may also point to Agamemnon’s traditional character that includes a habitual unwillingness to face his own errors. [

What is new in the foregoing description by Agamemnon of his own demise is the association of Clytemnestra with the physical killing of Agamemnon, a feature not until this time so openly foregrounded by the Odyssey poet. It seems clear here that Agamemnon wants us to consider that he is not only the victim of his wife’s machinations, but also her harmful actions. She was also physically involved in the homicide itself. This becomes apparent when we consider the traditional idiom, “by the hand of” (ὑπὸ χερσί), used in the phrase “by the hand of Aigisthos and a destructive wife” (Αἰγίσθου ὑπὸ χερσὶ καὶ οὐλομένης ἀλόχοιο), unless “hands” (χερσί) is to be taken metaphorically in this passage. Standing against a metaphorical view is the fact that all the other occurrences of the collocation “by the hand of” (ὑπὸ χερσί) in the Iliad (sixteen times) and Odyssey (one other time) refer to a physical act (usually death, but always minimally of subduing another in some way, physically): of Chromis and Nastes, subdued by Achilles (Iliad 2.860, 874); in a prayer by Menelaos to strike down Paris (3.352); by Hector of his own possible death (6.368); of the Achaians struck down by the Trojans (8.344); by Diomedes about to kill Dolon (10.452); of Agamemnon killing Trojans (11.189); and of the killing of Trojans by Greeks (15.2). It describes the potential death of Sarpedon in Zeus’ choice (16.438) and the action of Patroklos to take the gates of Troy (16.699). It is used of the Achaians who “bit the dust” during Achilles’ absence from the war (19.62) and by Aeneas who relates how he was once nearly subdued by Achilles (20.94). It is spoken by Poseidon, who threatens the subjugation of any god who does not leave the battlefield (20.143); by Priam, of the portending destiny for Troy—destruction and the dragging away of his daughters-in-law (22.65); by Epeios the boxer who threatens to beat down any opponent with great violence and lay him flat (23.675); by Priam of his son Hector, subdued by Achilles (24.638). Beyond our present example, the expression is also used by the Odyssey poet himself as narrator of the portending subjugation of Antinoos “by the hand and spear” (ὑπὸ χερσὶ καὶ ἔγχεϊ, Odyssey 18.156) of Telemachos. Agamemnon’s death as narrated in Odyssey 24 suddenly looms all the more sinister and grisly, then, since the tradition appears from this perspective to include the physical act of being killed by his own wife. This is something not directly mentioned by Homer before this moment. It is a reality, too, filled with shame.

The pitiable return of Agamemnon, his demise at the hands of both Aigisthos and his wife, ends the recorded conversation between Agamemnon and Achilles. The final verbal exchange of Agamemnon in Odyssey 24 takes place when a suitor, Amphimedon, is newly come to Hades. Agamemnon addresses him in a moment of emphatic apostrophe (Odyssey 24.192–202) directed at the more blessed outcome for Odysseus: “Blessed child of Laertes, much-devising Odysseus, to be sure you acquired a wife with great virtue!” (ὄλβιε Λαέρταο πάϊ, πολυμήχαν’ Ὀδυσσεῦ, / ἦ ἄρα σὺν μεγάλῃ ἀρετῇ ἐκτήσω ἄκοιτιν, 192–193). The narrative moment serves to highlight a theme from Homer’s tradition that we have heard before, that of the kakos nostos of Agamemnon versus the olbios nostos (24.192) of Odysseus. Homer names the consequences of the two opposed homecomings as a “favorable song” (ἀοιδήν … χαρίεσσαν, 197–198) for Penelope, but a “loathsome song” (στυγερή … ἀοιδή, 200) for Clytemnestra. It is fitting that our consideration of the Odyssey’s text should end here, since the whole poem has as its principal foil such antitheses. Such thematic contrasts, however, have at their core not only Penelope versus Clytemnestra, [108] with all that could describe these two polarities in character, but also Odysseus versus Agamemnon. [109] As de Jong (2001:567)points out, moreover, Agamemnon lies on the very bottom of an ascending scale of outcomes among leading Greek heroes woven into the fabric of the Odyssey.


[ back ] 1. Odyssey 1.30–39, 299–300, 3.136–156, 162–164, 193–198, 232–235, 247–275, 305–308, 4.90–92, 512–537, 548, 8.77–79, 9.263–266, 11.168–169, 380–466, 13.383–385, 14.70–71, 117, 497, 19.183, 24.20–97, 101–124, 186, and 191–204.

[ back ] 2. By Oresteia I mean the events surrounding the revenge taken by Orestes. Of course, this is in reality a continuation and consequence of the kakos nostos and an extension of the story of the House of Atreus. For an overview of the House of Atreus myth, see especially Gantz 1993:489, 540, and 544–556. For a consideration of the overall nostos theme (Homeric and extra-Homeric), see Bonifazi (2009), who argues that the root meaning of nostos for Homer is escaping death and saving oneself. I think, however, that Odysseus’ (like Agamemnon’s) main goal is getting home safely. While I agree with Bonifazi that there is “multidirectionality” (506) in Homer, the primary goal for the Homeric nostos is unidirectional.

[ back ] 3. Of course, we cannot hear the epic exactly as the ancient audience, since much of the story content and many of the performance dynamics are lost to us (see Chapter 1, notes 31, 35, and 68). We can, however, recover something of the original impact of idioms, patterns, and rhetorical devices that appear in the text.

[ back ] 4. Cf. West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:77, Louden 1999:19, and Saïd 2011:122.

[ back ] 5. For the motif of promised future booty, see Chapter 2, n. 38.

[ back ] 6. Odyssey 1.300, 3.198, 250, 308, 4.525; 11.422 of Clytemnestra; Iliad 1.540 of Zeus.

[ back ] 7. More will be said on Clytemnestra’s involvement in the killing of her husband.

[ back ] 8. See Chapter 2, s.v. 2.2.4 Menestheus and Odysseus: 4.327–364.

[ back ] 9. On Nestor’s loquacious nature, see Chapter 2, s.v. 2.2.3 Nestor: 4.293–326.

[ back ] 10. Barker (2009:77 and 114n88) adds that Athena’s hostility in spurring on this quarrel is a result of Ajax’s earlier crimes.

[ back ] 11. See Odyssey 3.156, 164, 193, 248, 268, and 305, but once in the plural inclusive of Menelaos in 3.136.

[ back ] 12. These representative samples taken chronologically from the appearances of νήπιος in the Iliad and Odyssey suggest the possible connotations of this oft-used term. The use of νήπιος other than as a vocative to A1 (it is not used elsewhere in this form; for metrical terms, see Appendix A), as when it is employed as a description of a character within a narrative, does allow for less pejorative and even neutral implications (e.g. Odyssey 2.313, 4.818, 11.449), but calumnious castigation can attend this usage as well (e.g. Odyssey 9.44, 273). For similar findings in the Iliad, see Kelly 2007a:205–208. For a consideration of the associated impaired mental activity in adults suggested by nēpios (and a consideration of nēpios and its derivative nēputios), see the detailed study of Edmunds 1990:60–97.

[ back ] 13. Menelaos also uses it to describe Eteoneus (so, as a predicate nominative rather than a vocative), who failed miserably to show proper hospitality to Telemachos and Peisistratos (Odyssey 4.31–32).

[ back ] 14. As Kelly (2007a:205) has shown for the Iliad and I find also applies to the Odyssey, these judgments also cue the audience to the “disjuncture between the intention or understanding of the character so labelled and the actuality of any situation.”

[ back ] 15. The weight of this intensifying adverbial addition, while grammatically modifying the first hemistich with νήπιος, by its position in the second hemistich, can also be understood to intensify the second hemistich’s χαλίφρων. The junction between the first and second hemistich, after all, is the most likely moment where the aoidos took a breath, as Nagy (2000:14) notes.

[ back ] 16. It should be noted that both formulaic forms of address can be used in the first colon (to A1), and so the presence or absence of an initial consonant (to precede ν or ὦ) does not affect the poet’s vocabulary choice. The vocative τέκος appears with or without ὦ, depending on the poet’s metrical needs. See also the findings of Edmunds 1990:3.

[ back ] 17. The half-line formula “Thus x spoke and y rejoiced” (ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δέ) occurs with a great many characters in its present position (to B2, or with an elided δ’ to B1). It describes Diomedes’ happy state after he realized his inherited xenia relationship with Glaukos (Iliad 6.212). It characterizes Athena who is ranging among the Danaans after she has heard Menelaos’ willingness to defend Patroklos’ body, if only he had her aid (Iliad 17.567). Odysseus is depicted by this formula too, after he has heard from Alkinoos of his suitability as a model son-in-law and been given assurance of his conveyance home to Ithaca (Odyssey 7.329). Further examples of this favorable idiom include Odyssey 8.199, 385, 13.250, and 18.281.

[ back ] 18. [ὦ] τέκος (cf. also 24.425, 732, 18.170), ἐμὸν τέκος (Iliad 21.331, 22.56), and μοι τέκος (Iliad 18.95) may act as syncopated or alternative forms of the much more common and always affectionate or respectful vocative φίλον τέκος, when for metrical reasons, φίλον is not possible: Iliad 3.162, 192, 5.373, 8.39, 9.437, 444, 14.190, 18.63, 21.509, 22.38, 183, 24.373, Odyssey 4.611, 16.25, 19.474, 23.5. The use of τέκος within larger epithets, however, such as αἰγιόχοιο Διὸς τέκος Ἀτρυτώνη and preceded by the formulaic ὢ πόποι, is not always used as a positive address (cf. ὢ πόποι ἀργυρότοξε Διὸς τέκος [Iliad 21.230] used by Skamandros in disgust to address Apollo). The use of the vocative even here, however, is not intended to deny a positive relationship between Zeus and Athena, when used by Hera in disgust (Iliad 2.157, 5.714, 8.352, 427, 21.420). It is, however, a different idiom than the formula φίλον τέκος.

[ back ] 19. We will meet this same descriptive term characterizing Agamemnon again in Chapter 4, where, in considering his conduct in Iliad 2.38, I will suggest that he seems to misapprehend what the best course of action should be.

[ back ] 20. We note a reference to contrary divine activity, a regular feature that reminds us of the dual nature of causality in Homer (brought out explicitly by Nestor in this instance). We will return to the question of Homeric causality in greater detail in Chapter 4, s.v. 4.2.10 Agamemnon and Atē: 19.76–144.

[ back ] 21. Irony exists here because of the external audience’s “superior position and knowledge” (Porter 2011:513; see also the extensive bibliography listed there) that in fact Odysseus will return. On irony, see also Chapter 2.

[ back ] 22. See Parker (1983:51 et passim) on issues of pollution and purification; see Nilsson (1940:76–77) and LfgrE 13:1250, s.v. ἱστίη (H. W. Nordheider), on Zeus xenios.

[ back ] 23. Chantraine 1968–1980:379, s.v. ἑστία.

[ back ] 24. Cf. Odyssey 9.266–271 and Dowden 2006:79.

[ back ] 25. Theogony 454 (ἱστίην). Kajava 2004:2: “In any case, the cult of Hestia as a goddess in her own right obviously goes back to those remote times when fire and hearth, as essential constituents of society, were regarded as divine and magic elements. The consequence of all this was that, besides the current Greek word for ‘hearth,’ Hestia was the name of its tutelary goddess, being, moreover, sometimes used to refer to ‘altar,’ and thus more equivalent to βομός or ἐσχάρα.”

[ back ] 26. See West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth (1988:174): “‘at home,’ used a little loosely, since Agamemnon is said to have been killed in Aegisthus’ house (iv. 524ff., xi 409ff.).”

[ back ] 27. The first overt reference within Greek literature to whose house the hearth is actually in where one comes, is found (and for emphasis only) in Aeschylus Eumenides. There we find Orestes a suppliant at the hearth of Apollo’s house (ἱκέτης ὅδ’ ἁνὴρ καὶ δόμων ἐφέστιος/ ἐμῶν, 577).

[ back ] 28. This is another example of the traditional core audience’s (ad)vantage(d) point of reference, a point we first considered in Chapters 1 and 2.

[ back ] 29. In other places, the poet uses only a singular noun, with or without an epithet.

[ back ] 30. Iliad 1.203, 355, 411, 3.178, 7.107, 322, 11.107, 238, 751, 13.112, 16.273, and 23.887.

[ back ] 31. The poet completes the adonean clausula with ἔπεσσιν: πόλλ’ Ἀγαμεμνονέην ἄλοχον θέλγεσκεν ἔπεσσιν, 264.

[ back ] 32. [ἔ]θελγε[ν]: Iliad 12.255, 15.594, 21.276, 604, 24.343, Odyssey 1.57, 5.47, 12.40, 44, 14.387, 16.195, 17.514, 521, 18.282, 24.3.

[ back ] 33. On the supervising singer led off by Aigisthos to a desert island, see Odyssey 3.263–275; on the determination of Aigisthos, despite divine warning, see Odyssey 1.35–43. Olson (1990:66) argues that that the audience would be thinking of Penelope when hearing of Clytemnestra: “Perhaps Penelope’s resistance to the suitor [like Clytemnestra’s to Aigisthos] will collapse as well, now that Telemachos [like the singer who guarded Clytemnestra] is absent from the household.” Tsitsibakou-Vasalos (2009:198) sees a parallel in Homer’s mind and language between the adultery of Aigisthos-Clytemnestra and Ares-Aphrodite (Odyssey 8.266–236). See Danek (1998:92–93), however, for caution against more speculative neoanalytical readings. He agrees instead with Olson (1995:24–42) by suggesting that Homer had variants in mind (but “daß bestimmte Elemente hervorgehoben, andere unterdrückt werden”).

[ back ] 34. This is the only reference to the matricide in Homer that I am aware of.

[ back ] 35. Chantraine 1968:785, s.v.οἴομαι, contrasts νομίζω (unused by Homer) and ἡγέομαι.

[ back ] 36. Chantraine 1968:785, s.v. οἴομαι suggests for οἴομαι avoir l’impression /sentiment /croire personellement (que).

[ back ] 37. It is traditionally the place where ships are blown off course, as Danek (1998:118) notes. We will return to consider this point in greater detail.

[ back ] 38. In this way, my emphasis is on the meaning of Homer’s traditional language, rather than with the singer’s concern with multiple versions of Agamemnon’s return, on which see Danek 1998:117–120, 237.

[ back ] 39. As a contrast to Honko, we might take the example of the byliny collector, Marjanović (in Čolaković 2007:338, quoted in Ready 2015:31), who corrected topographical or historical confusion by byliny singers, a practice that consequently resulted in a “lack of mythic poems in his collection.”

[ back ] 40. The formulaic element, found twice in the Iliad (2.603, 2.829) and twice in the Odyssey (3.287, 4.514), forms part of a larger formula beginning at either B1 or B2. The sole exception to the use of this epithet is really present metri causa in Iliad 2.868: the epithet ἀκριτόφυλλον is used instead, when the singer had in his mind a place that would end at C1: οἳ Μίλητον ἔχον / B1 Φθιρῶν / C1 τ’ ὄρος ἀκριτόφυλλον.

[ back ] 41. Powell observes a correspondence in the story patterns of Menelaos and Odysseus within their nostoi and remarks that “both Odysseus and Menelaos lost their way home here.” My findings are much in agreement with his, and his earlier suggestions are supported by my analysis of the traditional language.

[ back ] 42. Cf. West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:224. Danek (1998:117) rejects this idea.

[ back ] 43. The system of dual kingship, however, could have originated much earlier, during the Dorian influx after 1100 BC, since it might have represented an ameliorating response between two ethnic groups. The first mention of dual kingship (other than this possible reference in Homer) occurs in Herodotus (6.52), where two characteristically opposed explanations (mythological versus historical) are offered. Although there is no secure date for the inception of dual kingship, yet as noted by Ian Worthington in private correspondence, “it must have taken place during the Dark Ages, and is probably related to whatever it was that brought monarchy in Greece as a whole to an end and replaced it with eupatrid rule.” Herodotus defines the separate roles of the two founding families (6.56–60). On the whole question, see Fraser 1898:312, Murray 1973:161–162, and Cartledge 2002:55–67; 2003:90–91.

[ back ] 44. See Thomas and Stubbing 1962; and West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:224. Cf. the route of Odysseus in Odysseus 9.80–81.

[ back ] 45. On the larger meaning of Argos, see Wace and Stubbings 1962:289–290.

[ back ] 46. This, it seems to me, is a missing component to the otherwise excellent observations of Bill 1930:112–113.

[ back ] 47. See West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth 1988:224–225 for disputes over the exact extent of territory and the implications of toponyms related to the kingdoms of the Atreidai in the Peloponnesus. Janko, in private response to my query over this passage, noted that Bothe’s rearrangement raises another problem: “It’s unparalleled in the textual transmission of either Homeric epic for a couplet to have been displaced in the entire paradosis, which is what Bothe’s otherwise attractive transposition requires, so I would discount that.” Powell’s translation of the Odyssey also rejects Bothe’s rearrangement of the text.

[ back ] 48. Stanford (1958:220) suggested “the part beyond the cultivated area,” but this will not quite do. The phrase ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιήν means “at the outskirts of the land” (although Redfield [1975:189–199] may be correct in suggesting the mediatory meaning of this phrase between nature and culture). Its other three occurrences in Homer are all in the Odyssey: Odysseus is compared to a burning log in an ash heap that someone buries “at the outskirts of the land” as he buries himself on the seashore of Phaiacia (5.489); Eurymachos offers Odysseus work “at the outskirts of the land” where he makes stone fences and grows trees (18.358); and “at the outskirts of the land” is where the swineherd lives (24.150). The idiom minimally suggests that Thyestes, and Aigisthos before him, lived out of view of the public eye.

[ back ] 49. I am indebted to Richard Janko, in private communication, for noting these last two examples of correctio. In these cases I note the use of the formula ἀλλ’ ὅ μέν to introduce the correctio. Cf. also Iliad 7.229, Odyssey 3.410.

[ back ] 50. Securing details from early poets like Stesichorus is difficult because of the fragmentary and secondary nature of the material (Davies 1969 is of little help; see Neshke 1986, on the fragmenta). Pindar (Pythian 11) mentions the killing of Iphigeneia and the presence of Cassandra, but clearly Pindar did not invent his illustrations. It is within Aeschylus (see Garvie 1986:ix–xli) that clear evidence of story details of the House of Atreus (including the Oresteia) is found. For a detailed collection of the iconographic evidence, see Prag 1986 and Knopfler 1993. For an outline of the myth, see Gantz 1993:540, 544–556, 587.

[ back ] 51. Did Atreus’ cooking up of his children prove a little too grisly or physical (likewise Homer avoids details about eating, sex, or other bodily functions), or was it just the case that the story was not part of the poet’s intended ὄιμη? (The story of Thyestes then is only background information, while the story of Aigisthos’ dastardly actions is centrally noted in the Odyssey.) Doubtless Homer chose song components that matched his audience’s tastes and his own narrative emphasis at any particular moment. Nor should we assume that the performance of the Iliad and Odyssey necessarily called for the same sort of rendition by the poet (regardless of whether or not the Iliad and Odyssey were sung by the same poet). After all, the tenor of each poem is different (Bowra 1962:61–72 and Saïd 2011:258–259; cf. our discussion in Chapter 1, n. 63).

[ back ] 52. Janko (1982; cf. 2012) establishes the likely chronological order of Homer’s works. Janko’s principal contribution is not meant to suggest absolute dating, but rather, relative chronology, which places the Iliad, at most, a few decades before the Odyssey. Martin West’s (1995) arguments for a very late date for the Iliad are only partially convincing. The actual evidence he presents suggests that we need not place the memorialization of Homer’s Iliad any later than 700 BC. (Cf. Fowler 2004b:225n22). Yet, the question is not easily answered, since the process of textualization is itself a vexed one. See the discussion of “oral-derived,” in Chapter 1.

[ back ] 53. In Odyssey 11.411, which we will consider shortly.

[ back ] 54. The term οἴμη is found in the Odyssey (8.74, 471; 22.347) with this meaning. On the possible derivation of οἴμη, including οἶμος (note the reading, attested in some manuscripts, of οἶμος ἀοιδῆς in Homeric Hymn to Hermes 451), see Chantraine (1968:783, s.v. οἴμη) who proffers “chemin.” Edwards (1987:19) comments on the sparse use of the motif of the Muse’s invocation in the Iliad (only four times), a motif even less overtly induced in the Odyssey.

[ back ] 55. Marg (1956) and Rüter (1969:247–254) had earlier suggested a connection with the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles in the Iliad 1; so also now Rinon (2006:210–211). The difficulty with this view poses, however, is that the wrath of Achilles would then be based, not upon dissention between Achilles and Agamemnon (as in the Iliad we know), but between Achilles and Odysseus (cf. the comments of Broeniam 1996:5). Further, as Notopoulos (1964:32–33) comments: “to maintain that the wrath of other heroes is a pale copy of the wrath of Achilles would only point to an unimaginative bookish mentality,” and so miss “a common theme in oral epics.” On the possible link of this dispute and the one related in the Cypria, see Proclus 34, Strabo 1.2.4, and Kullmann 2015:121.

[ back ] 56. Nagy suggests, for example, a convergence in themes between this story in the Odyssey and the embassy in Iliad 9. Broeniman (1996), building on Nagy’s argument of shared themes, views the episode as an aberrant representation of the Iliad, quite appropriate for the odd Phaiacians. Finkelberg (1987:128–132) sees it as Homer’s creation of a doublet anticipating the upcoming Trojan horse song to place greater emphasis on Odysseus.

[ back ] 57. Σ Odyssey 8.75 (Dindorf 1855:361–362). The scholiast’s placing of the event “after the death of Hector” (μετὰ τὴν Ἕκτορος ἀναίρεσιν), however, seems too late.

[ back ] 58. On Homer’s paratactic rather than periodic style, see Edwards 1987:55–60.

[ back ] 59. Although overly simplistic, Denniston’s findings may suggest one difference between oral and some literary composition. The particle γάρ suggests that explanation or expansion, so premises, follow the conclusion. It is a question of arrangement. This phenomenon is common in Homer’s mode of oral composition. See for instance Iliad 1.9, 55, 63, 78, 113, 120, etc.

[ back ] 60. The institution of an oracle at Pytho cannot be securely dated earlier than the eighth century (Fontenrose 1978:4). The other common place of oracular consultation (but filling different metrical positions) is Piraean Dodona: Iliad 16.233–234, Odyssey 14.327, and 19.296.

[ back ] 61. χαῖρε δὲ θυμῷ: Iliad 14.156, 21.423, 22.224, Odyssey 8.483, 14.113, 24.145. Both phrases likely mean the same thing. The substitution of “in mind” (νόῳ, 8.78, to A2) in the run-over line is an instance of necessary enjambement. It occurs because the singer is one syllable shy of the space needed for “but in spirit” (δὲ θυμῷ) when placed before the upcoming formulaic phrase “because the best of the Achaians” (ὅ τ’ ἄριστοι Ἀχαιῶν, A2–C2). This phrase is itself a variation of the more oft used singular ὅ τ’ ἄριστος Ἀχαιῶν (Iliad 1.222, 412, 2.82, 5.103, 414, etc.), on which see Nagy 1979.

[ back ] 62. See Nestor’s Stories of Quarrel, Nostoi, and Oresteia: 3.136–310, and Homer’s use of θέλγεσκε in Odyssey 3.264, which highlighted the passage of time.

[ back ] 63. Reece (1993:131) observes that this is the only Homeric hospitality scene in which the host is not at home when the guests arrive; Cf. Schein 2016:37. This is quite in keeping with the other type scene inversions found in the Polyphemos episode, as Reece (130–143) notes.

[ back ] 64. Iliad 10.212–213: μέγα κέν οἱ ὑπουράνιον κλέος εἴη / πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, καί οἱ δόσις ἔσσεται ἐσθλή.

[ back ] 65. See Chapter 2, s.v. 2.2.5 Diomedes and Sthenelos: 4.365–418.

[ back ] 66. Danek follows Friedrich (1987) in seeing this as an indication that Odysseus is still in the world of the κλέος-driven Heroic epic, rather than the newer world of Odyssean virtues.

[ back ] 67. Heubeck in Heubeck and Hoekstra (1989:28) comments that here “Odysseus is still unaware that he is outside the heroic milieu, and confronted by a being as unimpressed by the deeds and status of heroes as by the moral order of the heroic world.”

[ back ] 68. This is unsurprising if we consider that “the contrast between the homecoming of Odysseus and Agamemnon … seems to preoccupy the poet of the Odyssey from beginning to end,” as Tsagalis (2008a:41n38) reminds us. He notes the proclivity in Odyssey 1.32–34, 298–300, 3.194–198, 4.519–537, 11.385–461, 13.383–385. See also Klinger 1964:75–79, and Hölscher 1967.

[ back ] 69. Cf. my earlier remarks in 3.2.6 Agamemnon’s Joy: Odyssey 8.75–82.

[ back ] 70. For the Nekuia more generally, see Eisenberger 1973:160–191, Crane 1988:96–100, Olson 1990, Danek 1998:214–250, and Saïd 2011:174–177.

[ back ] 71. Odyssey 11.387–389=24.20–24, except for a minor variation in 11.387 and 24.20.

[ back ] 72. This full address to Agamemnon is also used in Iliad 2.434, 9.96, 9.163, 677, 697, 10.103, 19.146, 199, Odyssey 11.397, and 24.121.

[ back ] 73. This, however, is the traditional way the poet uses to address “Agamemnon” (Ἀγάμεμνον) by name, since “Agamemnon” (Ἀγάμεμνον) does not exist en seul as a vocative in the singer’s lexicon of expressions. Ἀγαμέμνων is employed without an epithet in the nominative and all oblique cases, however. Yet, other fuller expressions are available, as Friedrich has shown. I think that Friedrich’s (2007:48) listing of Ἀτρεΐδη κύδιστε, ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγάμεμνον with such metrically equivalent expressions as Ἀτρεΐδη κύδιστε φιλοκτεανώτατε πάντων (Iliad 1.122), demonstrates not the post oral nature of the epithet system of oral poetics, but rather, that the epithet could actually be heard in its local as well as traditional context as suggested in Chapter 1 (see s.v. 1.3 Reading Characterization Traditionally).

[ back ] 74. For example, Iliad 1.59, 222, 232, 282, 2.242, 254, 284, 344, 434, 3.182, etc.

[ back ] 75. Cf. Thucydides 1.5.2 and 6.5.4, whose comments may be influenced by Homer. Cf. Strabo 1.3.2. On piracy and heroes, see Souza 1999:20–23.

[ back ] 76. On the cardinal point, see Race 1982:14–15.

[ back ] 77. “Aigisthos … killed [me] with [my] destructive wife” (Αἴγισθος … ἔκτα σὺν οὐλομένῃ ἀλόχῳ, 409–410).

[ back ] 78. νῦν δ’ ἄρα σ’ οἰκτίστῳ θανάτῳ ἁλῶναι. This formula is likewise found in Odyssey 24.34, where it acts as a description of Agamemnon’s death told to him to him by Achilles in conversation between these two shades in the underworld.

[ back ] 79. On the summary priamel, see Race 1982:31.

[ back ] 80. We will consider the connotations of κυνῶπις in greater detail in Chapter 4 (s.v. 4.2.1 Agamemnon’s Dishonoring and Hubristic Actions: 1.6–344), where we see it applied to Agamemnon himself. The conflict caused by the homecoming hero (with concubine in tow) will also be considered in more detail there. I will simply note here, as Danek (1998:234) persuasively argues, that this tension is already present for Homer within his tradition, where Agamemnon is remembered as thoughtlessly naive.

[ back ] 81. Foley (1999:140) shows the background of the story pattern and the necessary ambiguity attached to this scene for an audience aware that “the wrong fork in the narrative road” was taken by Agamemnon who advises caution. This would add to the suspense of the scene, though the audience was aware that Penelope would be faithful and secure for Odysseus a safe nostos. In Foley’s words (in private correspondence), we are dealing with “the difference between two complementary frames of reference, the Return Song [pattern] and this Return Song.” For Penelope’s part in the Return Song morphology, see Foley 1999:142–157.

[ back ] 82. The formula is usually followed by a very strong warning or plea as suggested here by ἄλλο. The use of the first part of this well attested idiom also occurs in three other places beyond those I note here (Iliad 15.212, 23.82, and Odyssey 24.248), each with different concluding hemistiches, and may be instances of formulae by analogy.

[ back ] 83. μέγ’ ὀχθήσας is used a total of thirteen times in Homer, always preceded by τὴν δέ or τὸν δέ, to complete the first hemistich to B1. It is used of Zeus, greatly vexed because of Thetis’ request for him temporarily to assist the Trojans and so pit himself against Hera (Iliad 1.517); again of Zeus, in a confrontation with Hera (4.30) and in his reaction to Poseidon’s strong speech against the Achaian wall (7.454); of Poseidon in his reaction to Hera’s proposal to fight against Zeus (8.208); again of Poseidon, in his reaction to Zeus’ authoritarian orders (15.184); of Achilles in his emotional reaction to Patroklos’ request for his armor (16.48); of Menelaos, guarding the corpse of Patroklos against a glory-seeking Panthoös (17.18); of Achilles, speaking of his own and Patroklos’ death (18.97); of Achilles, vexed by his horse Xanthos given voice to prophesy his death (19.419), and again of Achilles who is troubled by the deception of Apollos (22.14). In the Odyssey, it is first used of Menelaos, vexed by the lack of hospitality shown by his servant to Telemachos and Peisistratos (4.30); again of Menelaos, agitated by Telemachos’ report of the rapacious suitors (4.332); and of Eumaios, utterly concerned for the disguised Odysseus’ safety (15.325).

[ back ] 84. The other instances of its use include: Patroklos to Hector (Iliad 16.851); Lykaon to Achilles (21.94); Odysseus to Telemachos (Odyssey 16.281, 299); Penelope to Eumaios (17.548); Odysseus to Penelope (19.236); and Penelope to Odysseus (19:570).

[ back ] 85. On the centrality of Athena in Homer’s version of the Odyssey, see Schwinge 1993.

[ back ] 86. Cf. the prophecies of the Cyclops (Odyssey 9.526–536) and Teiresias (Odyssey 11.110–120).

[ back ] 87. The first hemistich—ὢ πόποι, ἦ μάλα δή—found ten times in Homer, must clearly be kept together in any English translation that wishes to retain the original idiom intact (although the first part of the lager idiom, ὢ πόποι, admits of many possible variations, depending upon what is coming at the end of the line). Chantraine (1968–1980:928) notes its onomatopoeic nature. As part of other expressions or alone, ὢ πόποι occurs fifty times in Homer.

[ back ] 88. Hoekstra in Heubeck and Hoekstra (1989:187; cf. Stanford [1958:213]) notes that the verb μέλλω in Homer indicates less futurity than likelihood. The use of the future infinitive, however, does suggest futurity (Chantraine 1963:307) and also immediacy (Monro 1891:203; Chantraine 1963:308) in the expected outcome.

[ back ] 89. Chantraine’s (1963:308) summary makes clear the type of futurity intended by the infinitive after μέλλω in Odysseus’ words: “l’accent et mis sur l’énonciation d’un événement à venir plutôt que sur la volonté.”

[ back ] 90. See Odysseus’ complaint (13:316–323) and Athena’s response (339–343). Clay (1983:54–68) connects this absence with the theme of Athena’s wrath. I also see it as part of an overall emphasis in the Odyssey on human motivation and self-responsibility—an increasing humanism (an emphasis one may legitimately contrast with that of the Iliad). Cf. the connection of human motivation and justice in Deneen 2003:63–66.

[ back ] 91. See my comments in Chapter 2 (s.v. 2.1.2 Character Traits and History).

[ back ] 92. The first words of Telemachos to the disguised Odysseus (Odyssey 16.73–77) concern the potentially ambivalent plans of Penelope and so increase the tension within the poet’s traditional rendition. On the possibility of variable nostoi even for Odysseus (e.g. to Thesprotia) and the appropriation of Odysseus by particular communities over time, see Malkin 1998:126–134.

[ back ] 93. As Foley (1999:138) expresses it: “From this perspective the trek homeward is foreordained from the initial book of the Odyssey: there is no question that the hero will inevitably reach Ithaka after requisite trials and tribulations. But what he finds there must always to some degree hang in the balance. Even if the names of Odysseus and Penelope themselves forecast a successful reunion of long-suffering hero and his equally long-suffering faithful wife, the expressive force of the Return sēma introduces a palpable tension.”

[ back ] 94. The “lying” tale that Odysseus recounted doubtless had parallels in other contemporary “true” tales involving night raids that were actually part of the Trojan War stories. The Doloneia, which we will consider in the next chapter, may represent such a tale.

[ back ] 95. The epithet is used fifty-six times in Homer, all in the dative and accusative cases, to describe various characters. For lists of its occurrence in Homer, Hesiod, and other early epic traditions, see Haubold 2000:197.

[ back ] 96. The sudden switch to the underworld has been seen as a problem for some time (Σ Odyssey 23.296 [Dindorf 1855:722]): Ἀριστοφάνης δὲ καὶ Ἀρίσταρχος πέρας τῆς Ὀδυσσείας τοῦτο ποιοῦνται. This is argued on stylistic and linguistic grounds (Merkelbach 1951:142–155, Erbse 1972:166–244), although many scholars feel it is authentic and important for the overall story (Moulton 1974:127n23, Heubeck 1974:128–130, Danek 1998:463, Saïd 2011:218, and Marks 2008:62–81), which is my own position. For an outline of the debate, see especially Wender 1978:19–38 and Marks 2008:62–81; for the Nekuia as a “decreasing doublet,” an oral compositional technique, see Kelly 2007b.

[ back ] 97. See Chapter 3, s.v. 3.2.8 The Nekuia: 11.380–466.

[ back ] 98. de Jong (2001:568) finds this “breach of [chronological] realism” in the Odyssey comparable to the Teichoskopia of the Iliad, and we might also add to such “breaches” the duel between Paris and Menelaos in Iliad 3.

[ back ] 99. This traditional language is also employed in the Odyssey by Eumaios (24.32) to describe what could have been done for Agamemnon; and by Telemachos (1.239), to describe what could have been done for Odysseus.

[ back ] 100. Cf. my comments in this chapter, s.v. 3.2.1 Agamemnon’s Nostos and the Oresteia: 1.30–43.

[ back ] 101. That is, it provides the contrast for the whole μέν clause.

[ back ] 102. On εἵμαρτο (the root perhaps also responsible for μοῖρα and αἴσα), see Dietrich (1965:184, 207, 263–264, 278, 282).

[ back ] 103. The adjective παλαιά, here used substantively, only occurs in Homer within this traditional phrase. The phrase does not occur in the Iliad.

[ back ] 104. See Nestor in Chapter 2, s.v. 2.2.3 Nestor: 4.293–326. Cf. Iliad 7.325, 9.94. In contrast with this formulaic line as a whole, which references only Nestor, a segment of this traditional collocation, “[his] counsel appeared best” (ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή), exists outside of this formula in a larger idiom, where it is used only of figures other than Nestor. It suggests thought that leads to action: of Zeus pondering how he will bring Achilles honor (Iliad 2.5); of Agamemnon who is thinking during the night and considering what he should do (10.17); of Hera who wants to beguile Zeus (14.161); of Odysseus, who is ruminating about how to defeat the Cyclops (Odysseus. 9.318); of Odysseus, who considers how to leave the Cyclops’ cave (9.424); and of Odysseus, as he decides how best to question pseuchai in the underworld (11:230).

[ back ] 105. Blaming Zeus, as we will see in the next chapter, is a character trait strongly attached to Agamemnon in Homer’s tradition.

[ back ] 106. As a control for this contention concerning social norms, we may compare the death of Aigisthos in the collected plates in Prag’s study. He is justifiably killed by a male agent of vengeance, and this act is represented in manifold ways and makes up the greater number of plates in Prag’s study. Further, while iconography exists portraying Aigisthos and Clytemnestra being led to their death, there are virtually no images showing the actual matricide, another socially distasteful aspect of the Oresteia. Prag (1986:35–43) appropriately rejects earlier, more questionable attempts to read scenes of the killing of Clytemnestra into extant iconography. Actually, even with the clear indication of Clytemnestra’s killing of Agamemnon found in Aeschylus, there is only very limited (extant) iconography picturing the event after the play’s production. Instead, the more palatable killing of Aigisthos remains front and center. For conjecture about societal conditions for Homeric epic, see Latacz 1996:32–59.

[ back ] 107. Cf. the wish of Abimelech in Judges 9.54 to avoid being killed by a woman. Even though he had just had a millstone dropped on his head, his concern was first with a loss of honor that being killed by a woman would bring.

[ back ] 108. On the contrasting dual of Penelope vs. Clytemnestra in Homer, see D’Arms and Hulley 1946:211–212, Suzuki 1989:74, Marquardt 1992:244, van Duzer 1996:309–313, and de Jong 2001:287–289.

[ back ] 109. On the use of Agamemnon’s story as a [negative] “Exemplum-Charakter” for Odysseus, see Danek 1998:97; and Heubeck in Heubeck et al. 1988. Such antithesis or “doublets” (cf. Fenik 1974:172–207) are not simple binaries, however. More than one contrast can exist. Penelope is a case in point, since she also acts as a contrast for Helen, as Blondell (2013:88–95) has observed.