Eve of the Festival: Making Myth in Odyssey 19

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

Chapter 4. Younger Brother

One of the unexplained features of the Third Cretan Lie is Odysseus’ self-characterization as Idomeneus’ younger brother. By claiming to be a brother of Idomeneus he inserts himself into the Cretan royal family, but what is achieved by specifying that he is the younger one? Further, Odysseus adds that Idomeneus is not only older, but better. [1] Why this apparent self-denigration? It is especially puzzling given the tendency for single sons in Odysseus’ family. As Telemachus explains, Akrisios has only one son, Laertes, who in turn has only one son, Odysseus, who also has only one son, Telemachus (15.117–120). There are, then, no younger brothers in the family: it is an ideal line of descent in which no wealth is dispersed among heirs.

The assumed persona of a younger brother is however just as fitting for Odysseus at the moment of the dialogue as the name Aithon, and conveys a related meaning: being a younger brother is another way of being hungry and deprived, and a particularly important one. In what follows I will suggest that posing as a younger brother sends a message about the fundamental nature of Odysseus as a hero and has specific meaning in its immediate context, in a larger context of the Odyssey as a whole, and even in a still broader context which includes the Iliad, and quite possibly Odysseus’ hero cult.

First of all, what is entailed in being a younger brother? In the Odyssey, the question of siblings is, predictably enough, bound up with the question of inheritance. For example, one of the Ithacan elders, Aigyptios, is said to have four sons. Two of them apparently inherit his land (πατρώϊα ἔργα), while of the other two one goes to Troy with Odysseus and one woos Penelope: {56|57}

καὶ γὰρ τοῦ φίλος υἱὸς ἅμ’ ἀντιθέῳ Ὀδυσῆϊ
Ἴλιον εἰς εὔπωλον ἔβη κοίλῃσ’ ἐνὶ νηυσίν,
Ἄντιφος αἰχμητής· τὸν δ’ ἄγριος ἔκτανε Κύκλωψ
ἐν σπῆϊ γλαφυρῷ, πύματον δ’ ὁπλίσσατο δόρπον.
τρεῖς δέ οἱ ἄλλοι ἔσαν, καὶ ὁ μὲν μνηστῆρσιν ὁμίλει,
Εὐρύνομος, δύο δ’ αἰὲν ἔχον πατρώϊα ἔργα.

(Odyssey 2.17–22)

And his dear son, the spearman Antiphos,
went with godlike Odysseus in hollow ships to Troy, land of fine foals.
Brutal Cyclops killed him in his cavernous cave, and it was the last dinner he prepared.
There were three other sons, and one of them was among the suitors,
Eurynomos, and the two others kept and worked their paternal land.

Nothing can be said about the other three sons, but it seems that Eurynomos at least is young, since he is one of the suitors and they are repeatedly called ‘youths’. [
2] It is at least likely that the older sons inherit the land, but in any case it is clear that some of the brothers stay put and take over from their father, while others have to seek their fortune abroad.

A variation on the same theme occurs in the Second Cretan lie, where Odysseus represents himself as an illegitimate son of a wealthy Cretan named Kastor Hylakides (14.204). Odysseus says that although Kastor esteemed him as much as his other sons, who were numerous (200), the inheritance was not divided equally and he received very little (200–210). He then improves his fortunes by marrying a wealthy woman (211–213) and turning to war and plunder (216–234), all of which makes him powerful and respected (δεινός τ᾿ αἰδοῖός τε, 14.234) among the Cretans. This particular Odyssean “ego” is a bastard, not a younger brother, but what unites both is the likelihood of not inheriting equally with the older or legitimate sons and thus having to rely on oneself. The Cretan bastard is versatile and alone pursues both strategies that are followed singly by the two sons of Aigyptios: setting out for plunder and marrying into wealth. {57|58}

Odysseus assumes the role of a person somehow disadvantaged among his brothers both in the Second and in the Third Cretan Lies, and the repetition suggests that this is a meaningful pattern. Odysseus does indeed have something in common with such initially poor but adventurous characters, in spite of his position as the sole heir of Laertes. Odysseus does not live off his estate or even confine himself to war and plunder, but turns into a traveler, a potential suitor (of Nausikaa), a wandering bard, and a beggar: in short he has a career more suited to someone not provided with a comfortable inheritance. Moreover, he occupies a somewhat inferior position, as a king from Ithaca, vis-à-vis his peers with larger domains. Odysseus’ circumstances are not as grand as those of other notable kings, and, like a typical younger brother, he compensates with personal qualities, first and foremost with cunning. The question of Odysseus’ relatively small inheritance does surface in the Odyssey. When Telemachus visits Menelaos’ palace he is astonished by its wealth, which to him seems divine, and suited for Zeus (4.74–75). Menelaos piously declines a comparison to Zeus, but does say that hardly any mortal could compete with him (4.77–80). Further, he later seems to imply (for Telemachus’ benefit, no doubt) that he is powerful enough to relocate Odysseus from Ithaca with all his possessions and settle him at the border of his own realm. Apparently, only one town ruled by Menelaos would have to be emptied to take in Odysseus and all of his people, and this presumably would be an improvement in comparison with Ithaca, at least in Menelaos’ eyes:

καί κέ οἱ Ἄργεϊ νάσσα πόλιν καὶ δώματ’ ἔτευξα,
ἐξ Ἰθάκης ἀγαγὼν σὺν κτήμασι καὶ τέκεϊ ᾧ
καὶ πᾶσιν λαοῖσι, μίαν πόλιν ἐξαλαπάξας,
αἳ περιναιετάουσιν, ἀνάσσονται δ’ ἐμοὶ αὐτῷ.

(Odyssey 4.174–177)

And I would have settled a city in Argos for him, and built him a house,
bringing him from Ithaca with his possessions and his son
and all his people. I would have emptied one city
of those that are in my territory and ruled by me.

The fanciful vision of relocation is presented as a sign of Menelaos’ great friendship for Odysseus, but it is also a statement about his superior power. In fact, it strikingly parallels the insulting (but greater) offer that Agamemnon extends to Achilles in the Iliad, the offer of seven cities at the border of Agamemnon’s own territory (Iliad 9.149–156). Telemachus seems to get the {58|59} point, and when Menelaos later presents him with a gift of horses (probably again a hint that his domain is superior, 4.590) he refuses them on the grounds that Ithaca is not suitable for them, though it is excellent in other ways (αἰγίβοτος, καὶ μᾶλλον ἐπήρατος ἱπποβότοιο, ‘good for pasturing goats, and even lovelier than places suitable for grazing horses’ 4.606). Menelaos reacts to this with a smile and attributes Telemachus’ polite but proud stance to his ‘blood’, suggesting that Odysseus too would have detected and resisted any implication that he might be inferior because his island is small and rocky:

ὣς φάτο, μείδησεν δὲ βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Μενέλαος,
χειρί τέ μιν κατέρεξεν ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζεν·
“αἵματός εἰς ἀγαθοῖο, φίλον τέκος, οἷ’ ἀγορεύεις·
τοιγὰρ ἐγώ τοι ταῦτα μεταστήσω· δύναμαι γάρ.

(Odyssey 4.609–612)

So he spoke, and Menelaos good at the battle cry
smiled and stroked him with his hand, and spoke and addressed him by name:
“You are of noble blood, dear child, the way you speak,
so I will change these things for you, since I can.”

The same could be said about his position relative to Idomeneus, who is actually featured as his older brother in the Third Cretan Lie. According to the scholia on Odyssey 3.313, Zenodotos had in his edition variant verses in which Telemachus goes to Crete instead of Sparta. At Odyssey 1.93 Zenodotos read πέμψω δ᾿ ἐς Κρήτην καὶ ἐς Πύλον ἠμαθόεντα, ‘I will send him to Crete and to sandy Pylos’ (instead of ἐς Σπάρτην, ‘to Sparta’), while at 1.285 he read κεῖθεν δ᾿ ἐς Κρήτην τε [δὲ Κρήτηνδε Buttmann] παρ᾿ Ἰδομενῆα ἄνακτα, ‘and {59|60} from there to Crete, to the lord Idomeneus’, instead of κεῖθεν δὲ Σπάρτηνδε παρὰ ξανθὸν Μενέλαον, ‘and from there to Sparta, to blond Menelaos’. [4] Crete and Sparta seem to be in some way interchangeable when it comes to Telemachus’ journey. Presumably there was a corresponding variant narrative in which Telemachus went to Crete, and it may be asked whether it could have performed some of the functions of the Spartan episode within the macro-narrative of the poem. Was Idomeneus in this narrative in some way equivalent to Menelaos in our Odyssey? The answer, I think, is yes. Idomeneus too could easily have been presented as a fabulously grand and wealthy king who astonishes Telemachus and at the same time makes the young man proudly assert his own Ithacan identity. The effusive description of Crete in Book 19 would certainly fit with a Sparta-like role in a different Odyssey:

Κρήτη τις γαῖ’ ἔστι μέσῳ ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ,
καλὴ καὶ πίειρα, περίρρυτος· ἐν δ’ ἄνθρωποι
πολλοὶ ἀπειρέσιοι, καὶ ἐννήκοντα πόληες·
ἄλλη δ’ ἄλλων γλῶσσα μεμιγμένη· ἐν μὲν Ἀχαιοί,
ἐν δ’ Ἐτεόκρητες μεγαλήτορες, ἐν δὲ Κύδωνες
Δωριέες τε τριχάϊκες δῖοί τε Πελασγοί·
τῇσι δ’ ἐνὶ Κνωσός, μεγάλη πόλις …

(Odyssey 19.172–178)

There is a land called Crete, in the middle of the wine-like sea,
beautiful and fertile, seagirt, and in it there are people,
multiple, innumerable, and ninety cities,
and many languages mixed one with another. There are Achaeans there,
and great-hearted Eteokretans, and Kydonians,
and Dorians in three tribes and illustrious Pelasgians.
And among the cities is Knossos, a great city . . .

This Crete is everything that Ithaca is not. In contrast to Odysseus’ small and rocky territory, Crete is ‘beautiful and fertile’, filled with different and numerous peoples and dotted with ninety cities, including the grand Knossos. {60|61} The size and wealth of Idomeneus’ kingdom are similar to that of Menelaos, and even the proximity to Zeus is shared by both heroes. As we have seen, Idomeneus boasts a direct descent from the god, while Menelaos, though not a blood relation, is Zeus’ son-in-law, and he knows that he will enjoy an afterlife reserved for the select few because of it (4.569).

In short, Idomeneus makes a good “older brother” for Odysseus: a king if there ever was one, close to Zeus, the only legitimate son, and a ruler of a vast and prosperous realm. And if his domain makes Idomeneus unlike Odysseus, so also does his return. According to Nestor’s tale in Odyssey 3, Idomeneus returns safely from Troy, bringing all of his companions with him:

πάντας δ’ Ἰδομενεὺς Κρήτην εἰσήγαγ’ ἑταίρους,
οἳ φύγον ἐκ πολέμου, πόντος δέ οἱ οὔ τιν’ ἀπηύρα.

(Odyssey 3.191–192)

And Idomeneus led all of his companions back to Crete,
all those who had escaped from war, and the sea took none from him.

In the Odyssey, this mention of the companions acquires special significance, since it is just the opposite of what happens to Odysseus, as we are told in the prologue: ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο, ἱέμενός περ, ‘But not even so could he rescue his companions, although he strove to do so’ (1.6). Unlike Odysseus, Idomeneus keeps both his loot and his companions, and returns directly to his rightful position as a king, descendant of Minos. [
5] In this sense he might indeed be called ‘older and better’, at least temporarily, even if in the end Odysseus does comes back more powerful and wealthier than before. While in the actual narrative of the Odyssey the structurally similar role is played by Menelaos, in {61|62} the internal narrative that Odysseus constructs in his Third Cretan Lie, this role is played by Idomeneus.

There are, then, traits of Odysseus that make him suited for the role of a “younger brother,” if only metaphorically. The question remains, however, why he should bring up this subject in his conversation with Penelope. To begin answering this question I suggest that the apparent inferiority of Odysseus in comparison with Menelaos and Idomeneus is only a symptom of his more fundamental character, and it is this character that is relevant in the dialogue. The character, I submit, has to do with Odysseus’ special involvement with the young and with what, for lack of a better term, could be called the initiatory aspect of Odysseus’ return.

It is, of course, a platitude to say that the Odyssey in general follows the typical pattern of a rite of passage: any story of return by definition involves a separation, a transitional period, and a return, and thus fits into van Gennep’s famous tripartite scheme. However, what can be termed initiatory about Odysseus’ return is not confined to this general structure, and involves details that do not necessarily flow from the structure itself. One of these less than obvious details is Odysseus’ role as a younger brother, and, linked to it, the complicated question of his age in general. In what follows I will suggest an admittedly unprovable, but, I think, logical hypothesis that this particular detail has to do with Odysseus’ role as a hero concerned with male maturation and one who emblematizes this process in epic. Such a role is, in turn, a crucial ingredient of Odysseus’ return and reinstatement as a king and Penelope’s husband.

To begin building up this hypothesis I will have to leave Odysseus for the moment and reconsider from another point of view the figure of the younger brother. The examples mentioned above, the sons of Aigyptios and the Cretan of the Second Lie, suggest that the younger brother is likely to be disadvantaged when it comes to inheritance. Now, I suggest that this disadvantaged position makes the younger brother an especially suitable protagonist for an initiation-related myth. In some sense, all young have to push against the older generation to make a way for themselves, and many youths, brothers or not, arrive in the world where many goods, social and economical, are already distributed among their elders. A younger brother is thus a particularly explicit and clear example of the condition of youth in general. Indeed, the best mythological model of a younger brother is to be found in a myth concerned precisely with the coming of a new generation, the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, an example that it will be useful to consider in more detail. {62|63}

In the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, Hermes, Apollo’s younger brother, starts out in his mother’s cave having nothing and proceeds to use his wiles and tricks to win a status for himself among the Olympian gods. The stratagem he adopts to gain recognition is twofold: first, he invents the lyre, and second, he challenges Apollo by stealing some of the latter’s cattle. [6] With the lyre, he will propitiate the elder god; with the stolen cattle, he will show that he has powers and resources, and is therefore worthy to be included into the community of adults. As Apollo looks at the condemning evidence of the two cowhides he draws just the conclusion that Hermes is aiming at: ‘You don’t need to grow up much more, Cyllenian one, son of Maia!’ (Homeric Hymn to Hermes 407–8). Now that his abilities have been acknowledged, Hermes lets his elder brother know that his challenge is ultimately not hostile and that he does not want Apollo as an enemy, but as a sponsor and protector who will help him enter into his own proper position among the Olympian gods. The young god strikes up a song on his lyre, and Apollo is enchanted. Significantly, the song Hermes sings lists all the gods according to seniority (κατὰ πρέσβιν, 431) and tells how each of them has received his or her portion of the world:

κραίνων ἀθανάτους τε θεοὺς καὶ γαῖαν ἐρεμνὴν
ὡς τὰ πρῶτα γένοντο καὶ ὡς λάχε μοῖραν ἕκαστος.

(Homeric Hymn to Hermes 427–28)

He sang of the immortal gods and dark earth,
how they first came to be and how each one received his share.

The song has to do with Hermes’ fundamental concern in the Hymn: acquisition of a share for himself, now that he has arrived too late for the initial division. [
7] Since Apollo has lost two cows he knows that his new brother is someone to reckon with; since he also marvels at his music and wants it for himself, he is inclined to make a deal with this new, and apparently resourceful, arrival to the world. Hermes willingly gives the lyre to Apollo, accepting for himself {63|64} a lesser instrument, the syrinx, just as he agrees to a take a back seat to Apollo in divination: Apollo will have his glorious oracle in Delphi, while Hermes will be content with the lesser bee oracle, which Apollo himself used when he was younger. Under this condition, Apollo begins the process of creating a domain for his younger brother: he gives Hermes a ‘shining whip’ for shepherding of cattle (490–498) and later adds to it the ‘wand of prosperity and wealth’ (529). Hermes’ invention and theft establish him in the world where he, the younger brother, gets nothing by default, but has to maneuver using both power and especially cunning in order to receive a share.

On the basis of her analysis of the myth of the Hymn in its particular manifestation, Johnston argues that it “expressed concerns that were most immediately relevant to young males, whom Hermes was expected to guide during their maturation.” [8] She further suggests that a suitable context for performance of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes would have been the Hermaia, a festival that features athletic competitions for aristocratic boys and youths of different ages and that celebrated their maturation under the protection of Hermes. One of the features of the myth as it appears in the Hymn that makes it particularly suitable to such an occasion is the role of Apollo, Hermes’ older brother. Apollo’s prominence in itself is not surprising since he is the god most closely associated with the maturation of males, especially in its later stages, including the actual transition into the community of fully grown adults. His role in the Hymn, however, is so great as to require a more specific explanation. Johnston suggests that “the Hymn portrays the relationship between an older male and a younger male exactly as we would expect in a ‘coming-of-age’ tale: the older male will accept, support, and even train the younger male in skills that he himself has mastered, so long as the younger male acquiesces in his proper, subordinate role.” [9] A younger male needs to balance the contradictory strategies of challenging and placating his elders in order to gain such a sponsor and ultimately to acquire, with his help, the “full honors” of an adult. In order to do so, the young male needs to be like Hermes – quick, strong, daring and cunning.

With Hermes in mind as a model, it is now time to return to the Odyssey. There is no need to reiterate in detail the similarities between Hermes and Odysseus, which are clearly manifested in their shared epithets. For example, πολύτροπος, ‘of many turns’, perhaps the most distinctive epithet of Odysseus and uniquely his in Homer, is used of Hermes in the Hymn (13, 439), and the god is also called ποικιλομήτης, ‘of varied wiles’ (155, 514) and πολύμητις, ‘of many wiles’ (319), both epithets used many times of Odysseus. [12] Not coincidentally, all these adjectives have to do with cunning, and the same connection is overtly expressed in the Odyssey, where Odysseus’ maternal grandfather, Autolykos, who excels in perjury and theft, is said to enjoy the special favor of Hermes:

μητρὸς ἑῆς πατέρ’ ἐσθλόν, ὃς ἀνθρώπους ἐκέκαστο
κλεπτοσύνῃ θ’ ὅρκῳ τε· θεὸς δέ οἱ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν
Ἑρμείας· τῷ γὰρ κεχαρισμένα μηρία καῖεν
ἀρνῶν ἠδ’ ἐρίφων· ὁ δέ οἱ πρόφρων ἅμ’ ὀπήδει.

(Odyssey 19.395–398)

the noble father of his mother, who surpassed men
in theft and swearing of oaths; the god himself gave him this gift,
Hermes, for he burned for the god pleasing thighss
of lambs and kids. And the god readily favored him.

As has been observed, there are clear thematic parallels between the Hymn and the Odyssey. Odysseus’ way home has to do with establishing and re-establishing his identity, with regaining his position as a hero, a king, and {65|66} a husband: in short, with reclaiming his share in the world. Hermes, too, is preoccupied with establishing his identity. As Shelmerdine puts it: “He has no identity (except as Maia’s son), no status in the Olympian world, and no ‘heroic’ (divine) sphere. Like Odysseus, he uses craft to win all three.” [
13] In both cases, the process is described as ‘a long road’ (δολιχὴν ὁδόν, Odyssey 4.393, 17.426; Homeric Hymn to Hermes 86). [14]

The young man who triumphs most fully on this occasion is none other than Odysseus himself. The generation of Ithacan males coming to maturity follows the same strategies as the Cretan bastard, Odysseus’ alter ego in the Second Lie: some of them, under the leadership of Odysseus, set out for Troy, no doubt hoping to improve their fortunes by war and plunder, while others, the suitors, hope to achieve the same end by marrying Penelope. The two sons of Aigyptios (2.15–22) who belong to these two groups respectively, Antiphos and Eurynomos, are typical representatives. [18] The adventurers and the suitors {66|67} are brought together by numerous parallels and can be seen as in some way equivalent. [19] In the case of those who went to war, Odysseus is their leader, but also in a sense their competitor: they all face challenges and embark on adventures in the wilderness and Odysseus is the only one to survive. In the case of the suitors, Odysseus is not, of course, their leader literally speaking, but he is their model, because the suitors attempt to follow in his footsteps and accomplish what he accomplished – to marry Penelope. Here again, Odysseus competes against them, wins, and destroys them all. Moreover, quite apart from his success with Penelope, Odysseus succeeds in an equivalent task on Skheria: Alkinoos offers him Nausikaa’s hand, and with it presumably his own wealth. Just as he outcompetes the youngsters of Ithaca, so too he outstrips the young men of Skheria, and the offer of Nausikaa’s hand is the expected outcome of his victory. It is worth noting that this marriage, attractive as it may be, is also unequal: it would mean staying in Alkinoos’ house as a son-in-law and owing everything to his wife’s family. [20] Odysseus is offered an undoubtedly diminished position, fitting for a “younger brother” (or an illegitimate son) who has desirable personal qualities but does not have a household of his own. The marriage that benefits the Cretan bastard in the Second Lie is surely of the same kind, otherwise it probably would not be open to an illegitimate son. Odysseus’ marriage to Penelope, on the other hand, is perfect and unblemished by such complications. Among those who went to war and competed for Penelope, Odysseus is the only one to return with wealth and to win a perfect marriage for himself, and thus the only one to accomplish fully that transition which the festival of Apollo celebrates. [21]

In keeping with this youthful role, a remarkable sliding of age-markers characterizes Odysseus: he is represented alternatively as an ageing married man and as a youngster. One of the clearest examples of such sliding is to be found in the Phaeacian episode. On the seashore Odysseus is rejuvenated by Athena and turned into a young and strong man with curls ‘like a hyacinth {67|68} flower’ (6.229–235). This detail appears again on Ithaca, when Odysseus is described in the same way in a scene with Penelope:

And Athena, born of Zeus, made him
taller to look at and larger, and from his head
she let down locks like the hyacinth.
Just as someone overlays silver with gold,
a knowledgeable man, whom Hephaestus and Pallas Athena
have taught all kinds of craft, and he makes graceful things,
just so did she pour grace over Odysseus’ head and shoulders.

An especially remarkable element in this passage is Odysseus’ hair: the description suggests that it is long, as would befit a young man, indeed an ephebe. Further, his hair is like the hyacinth, a flower with strongly erotic associations; the comparison also brings to mind the hero Hyakinthos, a pre-adult male and Apollo’s lover. [
23] Described in this way, Odysseus seems not just beautified but restored to his ephebic appearance. Α conflict between Odysseus and Nausikaa’s potential suitors is then immediately imagined by the princess herself, who predicts that the Phaeacians might take Odysseus for her future husband (πόσις νύ οἱ ἔσσεται αὐτῇ, 6.177) and grumble that she dishonors local wooers (6.283–284). In this way, Odysseus is juxtaposed with an age-group younger than that of his natural peers, such as the kings who feast in the palace of Alkinoos. This juxtaposition continues when Odysseus participates {68|69} in athletic competitions on Skheria, competing against men of the same younger generation. He challenges the age-mates of Alkinoos’ son Laodamas, but not those of Alkinoos himself, in games introduced explicitly as a competition for the young:

βὰν δ’ ἴμεν εἰς ἀγορήν, ἅμα δ’ ἕσπετο πουλὺς ὅμιλος,
μυρίοι· ἂν δ’ ἵσταντο νέοι πολλοί τε καὶ ἐσθλοί.

(Odyssey 8.109–110)

They went to the assembly and a great throng went along with them,
countless; and many excellent young men stood up.

Odysseus is invited to participate, and Laodamas mentions that he seems both strong and young enough: οὐδέ τι ἥβης δεύεται, ‘he is not at all lacking in the vigor of youth’ (8.137). Laodamas does, however, address Odysseus as one would an older man, ξεῖνε πάτηρ, ‘father stranger’, and Odysseus at first declines the invitation, calling it mockery and pointing to the troubles that now preoccupy him:

Λαοδάμα, τί με ταῦτα κελεύετε κερτομέοντες;
κήδεά μοι καὶ μᾶλλον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν ἤ περ ἄεθλοι.

(Odyssey 8.153–154)

Laodamas, why do you urge me to do these things, mocking me?
Sorrows are on my mind, not games.

Euryalos, however, immediately attributes Odysseus’ decision not to his troubles or age, but to his lack of social status. Odysseus, he says, does not resemble a man skilled in athletic contest, but rather a merchant, the kind of man who sails around looking for profit (Odyssey 8.159–164). Under this provocation Odysseus does demonstrate his athletic abilities by throwing the discus farther than any Phaeacian, and then challenges them to match the throw. This challenge is issued specifically to the young: τοῦτον νῦν ἀφίκεσθε, νέοι, ‘Now reach that, young men!’ (8.202).

Odysseus’ choice of the event, discus, may itself emphasize his superiority over the young in particular, including not only the Phaeacian youth, but also Penelope’s suitors, against whom he will compete on Ithaca. Discus throwing is mentioned in the Odyssey as one of the suitors’ pastimes: {69|70}

μνηστῆρες δὲ πάροιθεν Ὀδυσσῆος μεγάροιο
δίσκοισιν τέρποντο καὶ αἰγανέῃσιν ἱέντες
ἐν τυκτῷ δαπέδῳ, ὅθι περ πάρος, ὕβριν ἔχοντες.

(Odyssey 4.626–628 = 17.168–170)

The suitors entertained themselves in front of Odysseus’ house
with discus and throwing of goat-spears
on leveled ground, arrogant as before.

Discus throwing also occurs in connection with prime of youth (hebe) in the Iliad, where Antilokhos is separated from Menelaos in the chariot race by the length of a discus throw:

ὅσσα δὲ δίσκου οὖρα κατωμαδίοιο πέλονται,
ὅν τ’ αἰζηὸς ἀφῆκεν ἀνὴρ πειρώμενος ἥβης.

(Iliad 23.431–432)

. . . as far as is the range of a discus, thrown from the shoulder,
that a lusty young man sends flying, probing the vigor of his youth.

In general, the confrontation of Antilokhos and Menelaos is at least in part a generational conflict, and it even bears similarities to the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. Like Hermes, Antilokhos challenges an older man, and does so by breaking the rules: he overtakes Menelaos in a narrow space by forcing him to hold back in order to avoid a crash. Like Hermes, he then retreats and by returning his unfairly gained prize shows deference to the very person he has challenged. Antilokhos tries to strike the same contradictory balance between challenging and placating the older generation that Hermes achieves in the Hymn. Like Apollo, Menelaos in the end shows favor to Antilokhos and allows him to keep the prize after all. Antilokhos, a very young man, is competing against an older, married man, and his youth is repeatedly brought up. Asked to swear an oath that he did not use trickery (dolos) against Menelaos, Antilokhos demurs and blames his youth for his rash behavior. Menelaos, he claims, is older and better, while he is young and simply behaves as such. Ostensibly, Antilokhos speaks of the folly of youth, but it is notable that the qualities he ascribes to youth are precisely the ambiguous qualities he shares both with Hermes and with Odysseus – a quick mind and cunning intelligence: {70|71}

Stop now, for I am far younger than you,
lord Menelaos, while you are older and better.
You know of what sort are the transgressions of a young man:
for his mind is quicker, and his intelligence light.

Two features of this utterance are of importance for my argument. First, Antilokhos uses same formula about Menelaos as Aithon-Odysseus does about Idomeneus, his supposed older brother: πρότερος καὶ ἀρείων (Iliad 23.588, Odyssey 19.184). The relationship between Antilokhos and Menelaos in this episode thus parallels not only that between Apollo and Hermes in the Homeric Hymn but also that between Aithon and his older brother Idomeneus in the Third Cretan Lie. Secondly, in all these cases the younger man is also the cunning one. Quick mind and subtle intelligence, those quintessentially Odyssean features, turn out to be also generational: they are features typical of the young, and Odysseus emerges as their model. Antilokhos’ behavior and rhetoric at the funeral games echo both the Homeric Hymn to Hermes and the Odyssey, suggesting that all three poems tap into a traditional nexus of themes having to do with youth and generational conflict. Moreover, an apparently arbitrary detail, the fact that Antilokhos is at one stage behind Menelaos by a discus throw, is not just a measure of distance, but part of the generational poetics that come to the fore in this scene. The same traditional tendency is active when Odysseus picks up a discus on Skheria.

Odysseus’ discus throw demonstrates not simply that he is better at the sport than the Phaeacians, but that he is best among the young. At the same time, the taunts to which Odysseus is subjected at the games emphasize his position as an outsider of questionable status, and this too is a variation on the same theme. Before he is fully accepted into the adult community, a young man is in a sense an outsider, and his status also remains to be determined. Different as these groups of people may be, there is something that the young share with foreigners and with illegitimate sons, such as the one that appears in the Second Cretan Lie: they all have yet to prove themselves to be worthy of becoming full members of their society, “kings” who can dine with Alkinoos.

At the conclusion of the Phaeacian games, Odysseus, now victorious, boasts of his warlike prowess in bow and spear and, in return, is treated by his hosts to a song and dance performance demonstrating the peaceful achievements of the Phaeacians. The themes associated with younger brother surface in this performance just as they do in Odysseus’ own conduct on Skheria. The song of Ares and Aphrodite, performed by Demodokos on the occasion, remains one of the most difficult challenges to modern scholarship, and neither its meaning nor its relevance for Odysseus are fully understood, in spite of many arguments on the subject. [26] Here I can point out only one aspect of the song that is most relevant to the present discussion, namely that, like the athletic competitions that precede it, the song is concerned in part with generational differences. The main conflict is between a married older god, Hephaestus, and an unmarried younger one, Ares. Hephaestus is lame and therefore slow, while Ares is traditionally distinguished precisely by his speed, and this distinction between the two is emphasized in the song:

Bad deeds bring no profit: a slow one overtakes a fast one,
just as now Hephaestus, while slow, captured Ares,
even though he is the fastest of the gods who dwell on Olympus
and Hephaestus is lame, but he did it by means of his craft. And so now Ares owes him compensation for adultery.

Being a good dancer, in turn, is linked to being a good lover, as the example of Paris testifies. [30] Ares is swift in war, but is he also a good dancer? Nagy suggests that the Phaeacian dancers who perform along with Demodokos dance the parts of Ares and Hephaestus, and that in this performance Ares is a nimble dancer, while Hephaestus is a slow one. As Nagy puts it, “the Phaeacians’ fleetfootedness in footracing and dancing matches the fleetfootedness associated with the god Ares himself, who is traditionally pictured as a nimble runner and dancer.” [31] It seems likely that Ares’ swiftness of foot is connected to his second traditional role, that of the quintessential lover and bridegroom. Evidence for such a role of Ares, apart from the song of Demodokos itself, is to be found in Sappho, where a bridegroom is described as ‘equal to Ares’, the same expression applied to warriors in the {73|74} Iliad. [32] Demodokos’ depiction of Ares as a lover rather than a warrior is surely a response on the part of the Phaeacians to Odysseus’ challenge. Odysseus makes no distinction between his athletic abilities and his military prowess: casting the discus, speed in running, and skill with the bow and spear are all listed together. In response, Alkinoos claims that Phaeacians are not good at warlike events. Though speed is indeed their distinctive quality, it is demonstrated not by racing, but by dancing, and accordingly their Ares appears in the song not as a warrior but as a lover.

In interpreting the song it is usually assumed that Odysseus should be compared to Hephaestus, because both are older, both are crafty, and both are defending their marriage bed. I have no doubt that this is indeed a valid parallel, but Odysseus plays multiple roles in the Odyssey, and if one of them is that of an older married man, another is that of a young man coming of age. If the Phaeacian bard celebrates Ares the lover, Odysseus is like both Ares the fighter and Ares the perfect bridegroom when he succeeds both on Skheria and on Ithaca. It is indicative of the thematics of the song that Apollo and Hermes also appear in it, and appear together, as older and younger brothers, in a way reminiscent of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. As members of the younger generation, they seem to be impressed by Ares’ achievement at least as much as by Hephaestus’ cunning, and the words they exchange are those of a teasing older brother and his younger sibling, already hungry for erotic adventures:

Ἑρμεία Διὸς υἱέ, διάκτορε, δῶτορ ἑάων,
ἦ ῥά κεν ἐν δεσμοῖσ’ ἐθέλοις κρατεροῖσι πιεσθεὶς
εὕδειν ἐν λέκτροισι παρὰ χρυσῇ Ἀφροδίτῃ;”
τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα διάκτορος Ἀργεϊφόντης·
“αἲ γὰρ τοῦτο γένοιτο, ἄναξ ἑκατηβόλ’ Ἄπολλον.
δεσμοὶ μὲν τρὶς τόσσοι ἀπείρονες ἀμφὶς ἔχοιεν,
ὑμεῖς δ’ εἰσορόῳτε θεοὶ πᾶσαί τε θέαιναι,
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν εὕδοιμι παρὰ χρυσῇ Ἀφροδίτῃ.

(Odyssey 8.335–342)

“Hermes, son of Zeus, runner, giver of goods,
would you want to lie in bed with golden Aphrodite,
weighed down by strong bonds?”
And runner slayer of Argos then responded to him: {74|75}
“If only this could happen, lord far-shooting Apollo!
May bonds three times as inextricable as these bind me,
and may all you gods look on and all the goddesses,
only let me lie with golden Aphrodite!”

Stages and aspects of male coming of age are reflected in the song of Ares and Aphrodite, and Odysseus, who listens to the song, is himself re-living this process. Granted, in the Phaeacian episode, Odysseus seems to disown his speed when he claims that he may not be able to compete in the footrace and blames the sea for this (8.230–233). He also seems to deny his youth when saying that he is no longer in possession of hebe (8.181). The situation is complicated, however. Even though exhausted by the sea, Odysseus does not completely distance himself from running, but only contemplates the possibility that someone may overcome him:

οἴοισιν δείδοικα ποσὶν μή τίς με παρέλθῃ Φαιήκων·

(Odyssey 8.230–231)

Only in the footrace do I fear that one of the Phaeacians may overtake me.

In contrast to this caution is the confidence he displays when he challenges any Phaeacian except for Laodamas to compete with him in any event, including foot racing:

τῶν δ’ ἄλλων ὅτινα κραδίη θυμός τε κελεύει,
δεῦρ’ ἄγε πειρηθήτω, ἐπεί μ’ ἐχολώσατε λίην,
ἢ πὺξ ἠὲ πάλῃ ἢ καὶ ποσίν, οὔ τι μεγαίρω,
πάντων Φαιήκων πλήν γ’ αὐτοῦ Λαοδάμαντος.

(Odyssey 8.204–207)

Let one of the others, whomever his heart and spirit urges on,
come here and try me, since you have angered me very much,
in boxing or wrestling or in running, I have no objection,
anyone of the Phaeacians except for Laodamas himself.

It seems that Odysseus’ progress towards Ithaca is represented both by an enactment of his “younger brother” role and by a gradual overcoming of it. Once he has defeated the suitors Odysseus will be able to stop playing a youngster. The final overcoming, however, will have to wait until Ithaca. In the meanwhile, the fluctuation in age, and with it, speed, remains a fundamental feature of Odysseus. {75|76}

This victory is an anomaly. In the Iliad, Odysseus does not belong to the generation of unmarried young men, such as Antilokhos, but to a previous generation of married mature men. In age and status he is on his way to becoming a geron, even thought he is not yet old, as is indicated by Antilokhos’ characterization of him as ὠμογέρων, literally ‘an unripe old man’, a Homeric hapax. [35] Moreover, it is interesting that in the Iliad Idomeneus, who becomes Odysseus’ older brother in the Third Cretan Lie, is characterized in a similar way, namely as μεσαιπόλιος, ‘half-grey’ (13.361), another hapax. Idomeneus, then, is also on his way to becoming a geron. One of the crucial differences between them, however, is precisely swiftness of foot: Idomeneus is specifically described as slow because of his age. For example, he cannot strip off the armor of Oinomaos because he is no longer fast enough:

οὐ γὰρ ἔτ’ ἔμπεδα γυῖα ποδῶν ἦν ὁρμηθέντι,
οὔτ’ ἄρ’ ἐπαΐξαι μεθ’ ἑὸν βέλος οὔτ’ ἀλέασθαι.
τώ ῥα καὶ ἐν σταδίῃ μὲν ἀμύνετο νηλεὲς ἦμαρ,
τρέσσαι δ’ οὐκ ἔτι ῥίμφα πόδες φέρον ἐκ πολέμοιο.

(Iliad 13.512–515)

For in an onslaught his legs were no longer steady enough
either to dart out after his own spear or to dodge that of another man.
And so in a standing fight he kept off the pitiless day,
but his feet no longer carried him running quickly out of fighting.

This feature is especially noticeable because at Idomeneus’s side is his therapon and nephew, Meriones, who is a generation younger, and whom Idomeneus addresses with a mention of his speed in running: Μηριόνη, Μόλου υἱέ, πόδας ταχύ, φίλταθ᾿ ἑταίρων, ‘Meriones, son of Molos, swift-footed, most dear of my companions’ (13.249). [
36] {77|78}

On Ithaca, the return of Odysseus signals at least a partial end to his life as a younger brother: opposed to his wanderings is a settled life amidst his family and property, an ideal repeatedly envisaged by the Odyssey. Telemachus, for example, wishes he could be the son of a man who is overtaken by old age on his estate:

ὡς δὴ ἐγώ γ’ ὄφελον μάκαρός νύ τευ ἔμμεναι υἱὸς
ἀνέρος, ὃν κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσ’ ἔπι γῆρας ἔτετμε.

(Odyssey 1.217–218)

And so I wish I could have been the son of some fortunate man,
whom old age has overtaken among his possessions.

Eurykleia attributes the same wish to Odysseus, recalling how he used to sacrifice to Zeus and pray to come to a ‘sleek old age’ and to bring up his son {78|79} (19.367–368). In his prophecy, Teiresias promises Odysseus that at the end of all his adventures a gentle death will come to him when he is ‘worn out by sleek old age’ (γήρᾳ ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον, Odyssey 11.137). And although the same prophecy sends Odysseus away from Ithaca yet again, the vision of an old age at home is a positive prospect in the end, as Penelope acknowledges:

εἰ μὲν δὴ γῆράς γε θεοὶ τελέουσιν ἄρειον,
ἐλπωρή τοι ἔπειτα κακῶν ὑπάλυξιν ἔσεσθαι.

(Odyssey 23.283–284)

But if the gods accomplish a better old age,
then there is hope for an escape from troubles.

Initiatory or maturational activities are generational, recurring on a regular basis: each new generation has to go through these stages, and this process is part of the recurrent renewal of society. It is such a renewal that is afoot in Ithaca, set in motion by the return of Odysseus. This renewal occurs within the ritual framework of a seasonally recurring festival of Apollo, a festival which involves assemblies of young men and is likely to have had an initiatory component. In this context, Odysseus’ re-becoming a king acquires a cultic flavor. Although in the Odyssey the return of Odysseus can obviously happen only once, the fact that it is a return, the fact that it re-enacts a transition into adulthood, and the fact that it happens within the context of a festival point to a ritual subtext, in which such return and renewal is a periodic occurrence. Viewed this way, some of the features that from the point of view of the Odyssean narrative may look like character-traits of Odysseus emerge {79|80} as generational. For example, Antilokhos in the Iliad attributes ‘quick noos’, a hallmark of Odysseus’ personality, to the young in general (Iliad 23.589–90). These are qualities of Odysseus, but also of the “younger brothers,” of those who need to make way for themselves in a world where older and well-established players are in control.

Within the Odyssey, the festival of Apollo is not only a celebration of a new generation but also more broadly a festival of renewal, perhaps something akin to a New Year festival: it is on this day, at new moon, that the dark period of inversion and dissolution on Ithaca comes to an end with the return of Odysseus. These two components, that of renewal, social and natural, and that of the entry of a new generation into the community, are in fact combined in actual festivals. For example, the Spartan Hyacinthia has been interpreted as a New Year festival, and is certainly a festival of renewal, but it is also concerned with maturation of males, a concern expressed in the corresponding myth, the death of Hyakinthos, a younger male, loved and “sponsored” by Apollo. [39] Similarly, it seems that festivals in honor of Zeus Kretaigenes on Crete celebrated both renewal in a larger sense and specifically the rise of new citizens. [40] Apollo’s festival in the Odyssey seems akin to such historically attested festivals. On the one hand, Odysseus puts himself under Apollo’s protection, thus occupying the position of a youth coming of age. At the same time, it is his return to Ithaca that ends a period of darkness and brings back prosperity and social stability, thus accomplishing renewal, both natural and social. In this association between Odysseus’ return, the festival of Apollo, and renewal of life on Ithaca, there is, again, a glimpse of Odysseus as a cult hero. It may or may not be the case that some historical cults of Odysseus influenced the evolution of the Odyssey, but in any event he emerges as more than a king, a cult hero of the Odyssean Ithaca within the Odyssey itself. It is as if the panhellenic epic creates a virtual local community that is Ithaca, with its cult hero, Odysseus. As an epic hero, Odysseus returns only once, but as a cult hero he may be expected to “take part” in the festival of renewal on a seasonally recurring basis, and each time to be both the king/hero of Ithaca who can assure its flourishing and a patron and model for each new generation. Perhaps the strange redoubling of Odysseus’ coming of age actually corresponds to this {80|81} kind of ritual role, as does the fluctuation of his age and status between that of a mature and fabulously wealthy hero and that of an unmarried and “hungry” youngster.

When Odysseus introduces himself as the younger and lesser brother of Idomeneus, he sends a complicated message. The genealogy points to his place as a Zeus-nourished king, which Odysseus will in the end occupy, and which he claims as his own. At the same time, his role as a younger brother qualifies this message. This self-description reminds Penelope of the particular kind of heroism that is characteristic of her husband, and this reminder acquires special meaning on the eve of Apollo’s festival. The Third Cretan Lie points to two related aspects of Odysseus: a husband and king, on the one hand, and a youngster coming to full adulthood on the other hand. This double identity seems to have cultic overtones: Odysseus’ power to revive Ithaca is like that of a local hero, while his involvement with the rising generation is fitting for a hero concerned with male maturation. Within the Odyssey, this splitting of Odysseus’ age is also paralleled by Penelope, who is depicted both as a married woman and as a girl on the verge of marriage. Perhaps the wavering in age for both Odysseus and Penelope has to do with the “cultic” mechanics of Odysseus’ return and Ithaca’s renewal, with all that is symbolized by the festival of Apollo. {81|}


The same formula appears in the Iliad about Protesilaos, who is an elder and better brother of Podarkes: αὐτοκασίγνητος μεγαθύμου Πρωτεσιλάου | ὁπλότερος γενεῇ· ὁ δ’ ἅμα πρότερος καὶ ἀρείων | ἥρως Πρωτεσίλαος ἀρήϊος (2.706–708). (ἅμα in 171 is an Aristarchean reading, while all the manuscripts have ἄρα).

νέοι: 13.425, 14.61, 17.494, 18.6, 20.361, 21.179, 184 and κοῦροι: 2.96, 16.248, 250, 17.174, 19.141, 24.131.

The gifts of the Phaeacians deposited on Ithaca are described as follows (13.137–138): πόλλ’, ὅσ’ ἂν οὐδέ ποτε Τροίης ἐξήρατ’ Ὀδυσσεύς, | εἴ περ ἀπήμων ἦλθε, λαχὼν ἀπὸ ληΐδος αἶσαν.

The scholia allege that Zenodotos invented this variant, but this seems unlikely (see West 1988:43 for a discussion of this question). West does not express a strong opinion on whether these variant verses are conjectures, but, as she admits, it is hard to imagine why such conjectures would arise and equally hard to see how they would become part of the written transmission of the poem (1988:43). Yet there must have been a reason for the existence of these variants, and the simplest reason is a corresponding narrative, a multiform of the Odyssey in which Telemachus does indeed go to Crete.

See Frame 1978:81–115 on Nestor as ‘returner’ (the meaning of his name) and his role in the Odyssey. The information that Idomeneus arrives safely with all his men is relayed by Nestor, and the same Nestor suggests that Odysseus complicated his own return by making an initial mistake on departure from Troy. As Nestor explains, Odysseus and he always agreed while at Troy (3.126–129), but once the war was over, Zeus devised a grievous return for the Achaeans (3.130–132). The implication is that agreement between the two heroes ended, and indeed in what follows Nestor says that the Achaeans were divided in two groups, those who left earlier with Nestor himself and Menelaos, and those who remained at Troy for sacrifices with Agamemnon. Nestor makes it clear that Agamemnon’s delay was a mistake (3.146–147). Odysseus at first sets off with the first group, but after reaching Tenedos turns around and goes back to Agamemnon (3.163–165), thus presumably also making a mistake. And while Nestor reaches home safely with all of his ships (3.165–183), Odysseus pays for this moment of blindness and his return becomes a very different matter from that point onwards.

For a discussion of Hermes’ strategy and parallels to it in modern Greece, see Johnston 2002, who also discusses cattle rustling as initiatory activity. Her interpretation is based on Herzfeld’s anthropological insights into sheep stealing by youngsters on Crete (Herzfeld 1985).

Johnston 2002:124 (citing Haft 1996:43 and Clay 1989:109, 138) points out how the content of each of Hermes’ songs (54–61; 427–28) in the Hymn reflect his position and aspirations at the time he sings them, the first celebrating his mother and her home, the second, after his successful cattle raid, the cosmos and the gods and their privileges and honors, in which he hopes to share. Cf. also Shelmerdine 1986:52 on Hermes’ lack of status among the Olympians, quoted below.

Johnston 2002:111.

Johnston 2002:121.

In Strabo 10.4.21. See following section for more on this.

For an example, see the discussion of Antilokhos and Menelaos at the funeral games for Patroklos, below.

For a fuller discussion of dictional and thematic parallels between the Odyssey and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, see Shelmerdine 1986.

Shelmerdine 1986:52

Shelmerdine 1986:52–53.

Burkert 1975:10.

Burkert 1975:11, 18–19.

This need not, of course, be the only focus on the festival. On Apollo in this role see, e.g. Versnel 1993:313–334, Graf 1979:2–22.

See Heitman 2005:15 for Aigyptios’ family as representative of the interests of the Ithacans.

Cf. Cook 1995:24–26 on parallels between Odysseus’ crew, Aigisthos, and the suitors.

For the lack of prestige and even humiliation attached to uxorilocal marriage, see Redfield 1975:15–16 and Donlan 1993:165–166 on Achilles’ rejection of Agamemnon’s offer of marriage to one of his daughters (Iliad 9.388–391).

Cf. Nagy 1990a:122 for the notion of victory in competition as the survival of the victor and death of his competitors or opponents: “In some societies, the real death of one person is compensated proportionately: one other person ‘dies’ in a ritual contest, while the one or ones who competed with this other person ‘live.’ In other societies, however, including the Greek, the proportion is inverted: one person ‘lives’ by winning in a ritual contest, while the one or ones who competed with this person ‘die’ by losing.”

Lines 6.229 and 23.156 are not however identical.

For the erotic associations of the hyacinth, see e.g. Anacreon fr. 1.1.7, Anacreontea 31.1, Theocritus 11.26, Euripides Iphigeneia in Aulis 1299. Further references in Irwin 1990:214 n49, who specifically discusses Odyssey 6.231 and its meaning, pointing out in addition (215–218) the importance of the term anthos in the description, which itself has connotations of erotic youth (cf. ἄνθος ἥβης, Iliad 13.484).

A similar expression is used by Diomedes at Iliad 10.226, where he explains that a second mind is useful in an ambush because a lone warrior may not think quickly, or well, enough: ἀλλά τέ οἱ βράσσων τε νόος, λετπὴ δέ τε μῆτις. Antilokhos uses κραιπνότερος ‘quicker’ where Diomedes has βράσσων ‘slower’ and, in contrast to Diomedes, seems to prevaricate: his words can be understood to mean that his decision was rushed and his intelligence slight, or they could mean that his mind was quick and his cunning subtle. Given Nestor’s earlier advice that Antilokhos use “every kind of metis” (23.313-318) that latter meaning is certainly present in Antilokhos’ words and the irony apparent. In his response, Menelaos also mentions Antilokhos’ youth, but is understandably unwilling to grant his intellectual superiority. While Antilokhos says that his youthfully nimble mind took him too far, Menelaos says simply that his youth got the better of his mind: νῦν αὖτε νόον νίκησε νεοίη (Iliad 23.604).

The earliest attestation of this version of the myth is in Hesiod fr. 171.6–8.

See, for example, Burkert 1960, Braswell 1982, Brown 1989, Olson 1989.

One of the traditional epithets of Ares is θοός, ‘swift’ (e.g., Iliad 5.430, 8.215), derived from θέω, ‘to run’. See Nagy 1979:327–328 on this epithet and related words.

For more on this, see below on the distinction between Idomeneus, an older and slow warrior, and Meriones, a young and swift one. On warriors as therapontes of Ares see Nagy 1979:17.5–6.

See below on the age of Meriones.

Aphrodite compares Paris to a man returning from, or going to, a dance when she forces Helen to go to him: κάλλεΐ τε στίλβων καὶ εἵμασιν· οὐδέ κε φαίης | ἀνδρὶ μαχεσσάμενον τόν γ’ ἐλθεῖν, ἀλλὰ χορὸν δὲ | ἔρχεσθ’, ἠὲ χοροῖο νέον λήγοντα καθίζειν (Iliad 3.392–394).

Nagy forthcoming: 215. On dance and Ares see also Muellner 1990:83–90.

Sappho fr. 111.5 Voigt. For the formula in the Iliad, see Iliad 11.295, 13.802 (of Hektor); 11.604 (of Patroklos); 22.132 (of Achilles).

It has been suggested that the competitors’ performances in the foot race for Patroklos predict their nostoi, namely that Ajax Oileus falls during the race and subsequently dies during his nostos, while Odysseus wins both the race and his return with the help of Athena (Whitman 1958:264). On the same hypothesis, further details of the race may find correspondence in the quality, rather than the mere fact, of Odysseus’ return.

The epithet πόδας τάχυς and expressions such as ταχέες δὲ πόδες/ταχέεσσι πόδεσσι, for example, are applied to Paris (Iliad 6.514), Achilles (Iliad 13.348, 17.709, 18.354, 20.189, 21.564,), Meriones (Iliad 13.249), Aineas (Iliad 13.482), and Antilokhos (Iliad 18.2), all youthful characters. In his First Cretan Lie, Odysseus, talking to a youthful shepherd, who is actually Athena in disguise (ἀνδρὶ δέμας εἰκυῖα νέῳ, ἐπιβώτορι μήλων,| παναπάλῳ, Odyssey 13.222–223), claims to have killed a son of Idomeneus, a man one generation younger than himself and who is described as an excellent runner:

φεύγω, ἐπεὶ φίλον υἷα κατέκτανον Ἰδομενῆος, | Ὀρσίλοχον πόδας ὠκύν, ὃς ἐν Κρήτῃ εὐρείῃ | ἀνέρας ἀλφηστὰς νίκα ταχέεσσι πόδεσσιν (13.259–261).

The exact connotations of the epithet are unclear. As Falkner (1989:61n78) points out, the expression must be related to ἐν ὠμῷ γήραι at Odyssey 15.357, where Antikleia is said to place Laertes in ‘raw’ old age by her death. In this instance, ‘raw’ is usually taken to mean ‘premature’.

On Crete one way to define ephebic status seems to have been the ephebe’s relationship to running. Ancient commentators explain the use of Cretan term apodromos to mean ‘ephebe’ since ephebes could not yet take part in this event: ἐν δὲ Κυρήνῃ τοὺς ἐφήβους τριακαδίους καλοῦσιν· ἐν δὲ Κρήτῃ ἀποδρόμους, διὰ τὸ μηδέπω τῶν κοινῶν δρόμων μετέχειν (Aristophanes Grammaticus, fr. 1.12). It is interesting that some commentators in a sense link the status of the ephebe with that of the old man when they reject the interpretation of apodromos as one no longer able to take part in the event: οὐ διὰ τὸ πεπαῦθαι τῶν δρόμων, καθ’ ὃ δὴ σημαινόμενον τῆς <ἀπο> προθέσεως ἄπιχθυς λέγεται ὁ μὴ ἐσθίων . . . ἀλλὰ δηλαδὴ ἀπόδρομοι ἐν Κρήτῃ, οἱ μήπω τῶν κοινῶν δρόμων μετέχοντες ἔφηβοι (Eustathius 2.630 on Iliad 8.518). Note Eustathius’ comment on Odyssey 8.247, where he explains that Alkinoos takes Odysseus for an apodromos, a person who no longer takes part in the footraces (ὁ Ἀλκίνοος ἀπόδρομον τὸν Ὀδυσσέα ἐνόμισεν, ὡς ἤδη πεπαυμένον ἀπὸ τῶν δρόμων, Eustathius 1.292). There may have been real variation in the regional use of the term apodromos, but there is also a common core meaning to all instances: what unites the young with the old is that they are excluded from the competitions in running, which are thereby associated with full maturity and manhood. There is, of course, also an important difference between the young and the old: while the old are no longer as fast as they used to be, the ephebes, on the contrary, may be presumed to take part in races of their own and training for the grown-up races, where they will soon show their speed.

Apollodorus 3.3.1, Diodorus Siculus 5.79. There is much more to be said about the similarities and points of contact between Odysseus and Meriones, and it has been suggested that Odysseus, in his Second Cretan Lie, makes himself out to be a Meriones-like figure (Clay 1983:88). For a detailed discussion of this question see Clay 1983:77–89 and Haft 1984. See also below, pp172–175.

Nagy 1979:62–63 and 142–144, with further references.

Hesiod fr. 171 MW, Apollodorus 3.10.3, Euripides Helen 1469–1474, Palaiphatos 46, Lucian Dialogues of the Dead 16, Ovid Metamorphoses 10.162–219, Pausanias 3.19.4. For a discussion of Spartan Hyakinthia, an annual festival of Apollo, as a rite of separation, the first step of the tri-partite rite of passage (separation, liminal period, integration) and also as a rite of passage aiming at marriage, see Pettersson 1992:9–41.

West 1965, and see further below p104.