Zeus in the Odyssey

  Marks, J. 2008. Zeus in the Odyssey. Hellenic Studies Series 31. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Marks.Zeus_in_the_Odyssey.2008.

Appendix 2: Typology of Divine Councils in the Odyssey

I have throughout this study referred to the five scenes in which Zeus has a speaking role in the Odyssey, in Books 1, 5, 12, 13 and 24, as “divine councils.” From the standpoint of the oral tradition in which the Homeric epics originated, these narrative settings can be described as “type-scenes.” This level of organization in Homeric narrative was first described systematically in the 1930s by Walter Arend, working in ignorance of Milman Parry’s pioneering and then relatively unknown work on orality in Homeric composition. Arend explained repeated narrative sequences in Homeric epic such as arrivals, messages, and dreams, which he defined as typischen Scenen, in terms of the workings of Homer’s mind. [1] Reviewing the study, Parry was appreciative of Arend’s achievement in identifying the phenomenon, but rejected his “philosophic and almost mystic” explanation for it. These “fixed action patterns,” he theorized, were analogous to the noun-epithet formulas he had himself shown to be characteristic of oral composition-in-performance. [2] Parry’s student Albert Lord went on to document type-scenes in South Slavic epic, and subsequent analysis has shown this structural feature to be ubiquitous in oral communication. [3]

Zeus and Athene I (Odyssey 1.26-102)

Zeus, Athene and Hermes (Odyssey 5.3-54)

The divine council at the beginning of Book 5 adds a crucial theme to Homeric divine council typology, namely, modification of the complaining god’s proposal. In each Odyssean divine council, the impression that Zeus merely responds to other divinities is undercut by the fact that the plan that emerges from their deliberation has undergone significant modification at the hands of Zeus.

Zeus and Helios (Odyssey 12.374-388)

While telling his adventures to the Phaiakes, Odysseus claims to have learned about an exchange between Zeus and Helios from Kalypso, who in turn heard it from Hermes (12.398-390). Thus embedded in three narrative layers, this council unsurprisingly does not receive full treatment. Helios complains (378-381) to the assembled (Ζεῦ πάτερ ἠδ᾿ ἄλλοι μάκαρες θεοί, 377) Olympians about the slaughter of his cattle by Odysseus’ crew. If the crewmembers are not made to pay for their act, the sun god threatens to go down to Hades and shine among the dead (382-383). This threat resembles a proposal, since it induces Zeus to act. Zeus’ conciliatory response, an offer to destroy the offenders himself with a thunderbolt (385-388), serves the modification function, in that Zeus responds to the other god’s complaint in a manner consistent with his own larger goals. Odysseus presently describes the implementation of Zeus’ plan from his own perspective (415-425).

Zeus and Poseidon (13.125-160)

Zeus and Athene II (Odyssey 24.472-88)

Following Odysseus’ slaughter of the suitors, Athene again complains about Odysseus’ situation (24.473-474), being concerned whether Zeus will bring to pass war or peace among the Ithakans (475-476). Athene’s two options amount to a proposal, to which Zeus responds with surprise (τέκνον ἐμόν, τί με ταῦτα διείρεαι ἠδὲ μεταλλᾶις, (478; 24.477-480=5.21-24), and invites her to “do as she wishes” (ἔρξον ὅπως ἐθέλεις, 24.481a=13.145a). Again, however, Zeus offers as a modification of her proposal what “seems best” to him (ἐρέω δέ τοι, ὡς ἐπέοικεν, 481; cf. 13.154), namely the program for quelling the incipient civil war on Ithake (481-486). Athene then departs to implement the proposal (487-488). As with the previous council, absence of the assembly theme is explained by the fact that the first three councils have established that the gods are usually seated together.

Odyssean divine council typology summarized

I hope to have demonstrated that all Odyssean divine councils can be described as the kind of complex of themes that scholars define as a “type-scene.” In such scenes, the gods are assembled; a lesser Olympian makes a complaint to Zeus concerning Odysseus; Zeus expresses surprise; Zeus issues an invitation to address the complaint; the other god makes a proposal; Zeus offers a modification; and a lesser god sees to the implementation of the modified proposal. Although not every theme is expressed in every council, the mechanics of composition by theme justifies the classification of all the scenes in which the gods meet in the Odyssey as multiforms of a “typical” narrative sequence. In the following tabulation of these findings, the columns represent the god who interacts with Zeus at each council, and each row represents one of the seven themes:

Zeus’ interlocutor Book 1: Athene Book 5: Athene Book 12: Helios Book 13: Poseidon Book 24: Athene
assembly 26-27 3-4 377    
complaint 45-62 11-20 378-381 128-138 473-474
surprise 64 22   145 481
invitation 76-77 25-27   145 481
proposal 81-95   382-383 149-152 475-476
modification   29-42 387-388 154-158 481-486
implementation 96-103 43-54 415-425 160 487-488

No other divine councils as I have defined them – on Olympos, with Zeus as one of the participants – are linked chronologically or causally with the main narrative of the Odyssey. There are however other analogous scenes that merit brief consideration.

Demodokos’ song of Ares and Aphrodite (Odyssey 8.266-366)



[ back ] 1. Arend 1933.

[ back ] 2. Parry 1971:404-407.

[ back ] 3. Lord 1960:88-94; cf. the informative overview by M. Edwards 1987:71-77; recent perspectives and bibliography in Rubin 1995:210-220. Fenik 1974 surveys and analyzes type-scenes in the Odyssey.

[ back ] 4. On Homeric arming scenes see Rubin 1995: 201-220 with bibliography.

[ back ] 5. Cf. M. Edwards 1980:26, who notes some general differences between assemblies of gods and those of men.

[ back ] 6. Finnegan 1977:58, citing Nichols 1961, draws attention to a parallel phenomenon in the Chanson de Roland, where “the poet uses as a vehicle for his composition … the many councils in Roland and the recurrent stages within the council episodes.”

[ back ] 7. In keeping with the reservations of Hainsworth CHO 1:250, I note that my aim is not to describe strict units of composition, but rather general concepts in Homeric composition.

[ back ] 8. While Iliadic divine councils are beyond the scope of this book, I note in anticipation of further study that these themes occur there as well, though with the addition of some themes that do not occur in the Odyssey, such as hostility. Gunn 1971 demonstrates that Iliadic and Odyssean type-scenes are in general often indistinguishable. Likewise, mortal councils in both Homeric epics share some of the themes I discuss here, but differ significantly from divine councils in featuring more speakers, a less formalized leadership structure, and settings of various inclusivity, from the council of leaders who meet to discuss Agamemnon’s dream in Iliad 2 to the assemblies of the Ithakans in Odyssey 2 and 24 analyzed in Chapters 1 and 3.

[ back ] 9. Cf. the ‘Klage eines Gottes’ Motivbereich described by Usener 1990:71-72.

[ back ] 10. Lord 1960:146-147; see Chapter 6 for further discussion of Lord’s concept of “theme” in oral performance.

[ back ] 11. The non-Olympian goddess Ino/Leukothea, who helps Odysseus reach Scherie (Odyssey 5.333-353), knows the outcome of the “second” divine council, specifically, that the Phaiakes will aid Odysseus (cf. 344-345 with 34-37). Thus “pity” (ἥ ῥ᾿ Ὀδυσῆ᾿ ἐλέησεν, 336) does not seem to be the sole motivation for Ino’s aid to Odysseus, a situation with which we may compare Hera’s concern for the Greeks dying from Apollo’s plague (Iliad 1.I 55-56): in both cases the possibility remains that unexpressed divine councils were understood by Homeric audiences to precede the divine intervention.

[ back ] 12. S. Richardson 1990:99-100 applies Genette’s term, “paralipsis,” to the omission of individual themes from larger thematic complexes in Homeric narrative. Cf. discussion of “filling in” by Lord 1960:68-98.

[ back ] 13. Lord 1960:146 observes that the Homeric Olympian family “is usually always together except for individuals away on a mission.”

[ back ] 14. According to the Iliad, each Olympian has his or her own dwelling (δῶμα) on Olympos (Iliad 1.606-608; cf. Odyssey 8.324-325); that Hephaistos is able to address them all at once implies that they are gathered together.

[ back ] 15. Thus Cook 1995:122n28 on Hermes. S. West CHO 1:79 ad 1.37ff, by contrast, concludes that the god acts on his own initiative; however, the only Homeric parallel for independent action by Hermes is an Iliadic digression on his seduction of a mortal woman (16.179-186). The Odyssey is not entirely consistent in this respect; Athene departs to Athens after facilitating Odysseus’ approach to Alkinoos’ home on Scherie (7.80), which act furthers the plan specified in Zeus’ instructions to Hermes in Book 5 (34-37).

[ back ] 16. Thus M. Edwards IC 5:115 ad 17.545-546 notes, apropos of Athene’s mission to rally the Greeks protecting Patroklos’ corpse, that “it can well be argued that 545-6 provide a condensed version of the conversation with Zeus which is the usual preliminary of Athene’s missions to inspire a hero.”