Hippota Nestor

  Frame, Douglas. 2009. Hippota Nestor. Hellenic Studies Series 37. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Frame.Hippota_Nestor.2009.


{780|781} Starting from an Indo-European comparison the foregoing study has followed out the consequences of that comparison for the Homeric poems, including a reconstruction of the circumstances in which the poems were first composed on a monumental scale. To reach this point in the argument the role of the Homeric Phaeacians has been the bridge, and to understand the Phaeacians Nestor has been the key. Nestor’s Homeric role is a large one, larger than it seems on the surface of the poems. In the Iliad Nestor frames the story of Patroclus in Books 11 and 23, and in the Odyssey he frames the story of Odysseus’s return, first in his own persona in Book 3, and then through his Phaeacian surrogate, Alcinous, in Odysseus’s final return. In both poems Nestor adds depth to the stories that he frames through a carefully concealed irony. In the Iliad this irony reaches a climax in the chariot race in Book 23 with the untold story of Nestor’s youthful crash; in the Odyssey it reaches a climax in the catalogue of heroines in Book 11, which sets Nestor in the context of his unspoken twin myth, and adds the final piece to his relationship with the Phaeacians and to his role in the return of Odysseus. The catalogue of heroines is in fact the climax of Nestor’s role in the two Homeric poems when his role is viewed as a totality. In evaluating the case that I have made for Nestor’s Homeric role, and the consequences of his role for the origins of the Homeric poems, I put great weight on the catalogue of heroines, not only for the reason just given, that it is the climax of an irony sustained through two poems, but for the equally important reason that the very text of the catalogue of heroines depends on an appreciation of Nestor’s role; the idea that Nestor’s role has its basis in the twin myth has demonstrable consequences for this particular Homeric text, as I believe that I have shown, and in the last analysis I rest my case on this point. The catalogue of heroines, furthermore, offers genuine insight into the difference between an Ionian text of Homer and an Athenian text of Homer. A similar point can be made with regard to the text of Nestor’s story in Iliad 11, the original form of which had already been discerned in 1942 without benefit of Nestor’s twin myth, but which stands out more clearly in its original form when seen in the context of Nestor’s myth and his resulting Homeric role. Here the contrast in texts is {781|782} between the Ionian version of Nestor’s story and a relatively late Athenian reworking. This too contributes an important chapter to the complex history of the Homeric poems.

Pursuing the consequences of Nestor’s Homeric role has led to hard questions which I have done my best to address. If Nestor stands behind the Phaeacian king, it is in my view an inescapable consequence that Athena Polias, the city-goddess of Athens, stands behind the Phaeacian queen, and this has important implications for the original nature of Athena Polias, the city-goddess of Athens, as a mother-goddess. I have argued that the nature of this city-goddess underwent a change in the post-Homeric period to its known historical form, and I have made a case for the circumstances in which the change took place; if my reconstruction is correct the change in the city-goddess was at the same time a change in the city, having largely to do with the annexation of Eleusis, and implying a more warlike Athenian attitude in general. The masquerade in which the Phaeacian royal couple takes part in the Odyssey precedes any such historical development and points elsewhere for its meaning, namely to the city of Miletus and to the Neleid royal family, which traced its origins through Athens back to Pylos. The Phaeacians look like they are meant to reflect the Homeric audience, and Miletus must have been a key part of that audience; I have argued that the Homeric poems were created in the form that we know them at the festival of the Panionia, and that Miletus was the primum mobile of both the festival and the poems. Nestor’s role in the Homeric poems points to this; in particular the tradition that he was one of the twelve sons of Neleus, which coexisted with the tradition for his twin myth, points clearly to the twelve cities of the Ionian dodecapolis, which alone celebrated the Panionia, and to which Miletus must have extended its own Neleid ancestry as a means of community formation—the community of Panionians.

I have raised hard questions and I do not delude myself that I have said the last word on any of them. Other perspectives must be brought to bear before we can know for certain what the nature of Athena Polias was in Athens during the Homeric era and whether her nature changed fundamentally thereafter; or when Eleusis was incorporated into Attica and how the cult of Athena Polias may have been affected by this; or what the nature of the festival of the Panionia was in the Homeric era; or whether the Pythian part of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo was Spartan in outlook and as such provides the key to the tangled history of Pylos’s location as an ancient problem. Archaeology in particular may always bring new information for some of these questions. But for each of these questions, and here I do claim the last word, the Homeric poems remain our most important early signpost, if only we can determine its direction.