Homeric Conversation

  Beck, Deborah. 2005. Homeric Conversation. Hellenic Studies Series 14. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BeckD.Homeric_Conversation.2005.

Chapter 1. One-on-One Conversations (Odyssey)

Chapters 1-3 focus on one-on-one conversations. In the most basic form of one-on-one conversation, two speakers alternate without either events in the story or comments from the narrator intervening between one speech and the next. All the conversations that appear in these chapters depart from that model. I will be focusing on conversations that depart from this pattern in that they contain elaborations on this basic one-on-one alternating sequence. By “elaboration,” I mean some kind of variation within a single verse speech introduction or speech conclusion that goes beyond the normal range of structures and meanings for such formulaic verses, [1] or an extension of a single formulaic verse into a multi-verse speech frame. Occasionally, the basic alternating turn structure even disappears in order to show the emotions of speakers in a conversation. The most common type of variation involves one or both characters in a conversation feeling unusually strong emotions about the conflicting pressures of skeptical concealment and self-revealing honesty, which the narrator then describes for the audience. Although many individual conversations will be discussed in these chapters, they all create their effects in basically similar ways, and most of them are aimed at depicting emotions of characters. This provides one demonstration of the basically unified and consistent aesthetics we find in the Homeric poems.

One-on-one conversation, as distinct from other forms of speech exchange systems, [2] tends to take place between characters who are in some {49|50} sense peers, at least while the conversation is in progress. Regardless of their relative social status or ethnic affiliation in general, two people in a conversation have an equal role to play insofar as each is equally entitled to speak and equally expected to listen to what is said to him and to say something in reply. Indeed, one-on-one conversation both presupposes and establishes a kind of parity between the speakers that does not exist for other genres of speech and that is largely independent of differences in status between the two speakers. Athena and Odysseus (Odyssey 13), Penelope and Eurycleia (Odyssey 23), and Achilles and Priam (Iliad 24) all have one-on-one conversations that are dealt with in Part I even though in each of these cases, there are clear differences of status between the two participants. In each of these scenes, the characters might have interacted through other speech exchange systems that are based on a hierarchical, unbalanced power relationship, but instead, they converse. So, in Odyssey 13, Odysseus converses with Athena, he does not pray to her; Penelope does not give Eurycleia orders in Odyssey 23, but questions her in a conversational way; and Achilles does not vaunt over or (mostly) threaten Priam in their memorable meeting in Iliad 24. Indeed, the possibility of conversing with a god or an enemy or a servant shows that there is some elasticity in social relations and power dynamics, at least at the level of speech. A character can be peers with someone in one context, and his underling or superior or enemy in a different one. How characters talk to each other, or don’t talk to each other, both expresses and shapes their relationship at any given time.

The next several chapters discuss conversations that have both i) an above average number of turns and ii) elaboration or variation of some kind in between the individual speeches. These chapters focus primarily on elaborations in typical speech framing language, rather than on changes to the turn structures, in the conversations to be discussed. Hence they will contain a greater quantity of detailed close readings of specific passages from Homeric poetry than the chapters in Part II, all of which are centrally concerned with changes in turn sequences in common conversational patterns. Chapters 1 and 2 focus on the Odyssey (Chapter 1 on conversations involving various different characters, Chapter 2 on conversations between Odysseus and Penelope), while Chapter 3 focuses on elaborate conversations in the Iliad. Chapter 3 is much shorter than Chapters 1 and 2, because the Odyssey contains a greater number of elaborate one-on-one conversations than the Iliad does. In addition, the elaborations to these conversations tend to be more extensive. {50|51}

Conversation in the Odyssey

Specific elaborations that occur within conversations in the Odyssey tend to highlight this tension or its effects on the characters. These elaborations generally depict one of two things: they show either the dynamics of this conflict as it plays out over the course of a particular interaction, or several interactions; or they highlight moments when the tension is finally resolved in favor of establishing a relationship and abandoning concealment. Conversely, situations in which concealment does not conflict with an urgent desire to establish a connection (as with Odysseus and Eumaeus when Odysseus first returns to Ithaca) do not result in conversational elaborations. The Odyssey is interested in the tension between concealment and relationships, not in concealment per se. The Iliad, as we will see, uses one-on-one conversation rather differently.

Athena and Odysseus: Book 13

Not only Athena herself marks this transition, in that she begins Odysseus’ homecoming and re-entry into a basically realistic environment by being the first person he meets on Ithaca and providing his disguise. Poseidon, too, puts an end to the fabulous story-world of the first half of the Odyssey, not only for our poem but for good, by sealing off the Phaeacians on their island and preventing them from playing host to any more refugees. Starting from the general observation that Athena appears here at the beginning of Odysseus’ homecoming because she helps to make it possible, this investigation will focus on the specific ways that the meeting between Athena and Odysseus sets the stage for the reunions that occur later in the poem. More particularly, through manipulations of the sequences and formulas of one-on-one conversation, it {52|53} highlights the conflict that Odysseus feels between telling the truth and being circumspect and cautious, and it depicts his self-control and cleverness in being able to subdue his impulse to reveal himself inadvisedly. Athena, as a master of cunning herself, provides a particularly effective interlocutor for Odysseus here. If Odysseus can converse with a god and hold his own in deception while doing so, his deceptive abilities are outstanding indeed.

Although our passage is ambiguous about whether Odysseus recognizes Athena when he first addresses her, [14] what he says in his speech itself may imply that he does. He tells Athena that he is praying to her “as to a god” to tell him where he is (σοὶ . . . εὔχομαι ὥς τε θεῷ, 230-231). Either this is an ironic reference to the gap between the audience’s awareness of Athena’s identity and Odysseus’ ignorance of it, or else Odysseus himself is being disingenuous and ironic. Evidence for the latter position comes from speech framing language in Book 22, where Odysseus addresses Athena during his attack on the suitors. The language that introduces his speech there closely resembles that which precedes his initial speech to Athena in our passage: τὴν δ’ Ὀδυσεὺς γήθησεν ἰδὼν καὶ μῦθον ἔειπε (Odysseus was happy when he saw her, and hailed her, saying, 22.207). In Book 22, the narrator goes on to state {54|55} explicitly in the speech conclusion that Odysseus suspected he was addressing Athena, even though he gives no indication of the fact in what he says to her (ὣς φάτ’, ὀϊόμενος λαοσσόον ἔμμεν’ Ἀθήνην [he spoke so, but thought it was Athene, leader of armies], 210). This similar passage from Book 22 suggests that Odysseus may smile in Book 13 not only because he is happy to see anyone at all when he had thought that he was on an uninhabited island, but because he is happy to know that Athena is with him. If so, he shows his capacity to conceal important information right from the beginning of the conversation.

The structure of Athena’s speech contributes to the atmosphere of concealment and skepticism that pervades the scene. First, she calls Odysseus a fool for not knowing where he is (νήπιός εἰς, 237). This is a piece of concealment in itself, since she knows who he is and therefore that he is anything but a fool, and she also knows that he doesn’t recognize Ithaca because she herself has disguised it. She gives a long description of the place and its good qualities (238-247), prolonging Odysseus’ uncertainty and confusion as long as possible and thereby testing his self-control; only at the end does she finally give its name as “Ithaca” (248). [15] The speech frame that precedes Odysseus’ reply dwells on his emotional response to her words, at great length and in exhaustive detail.

One of the single-verse reply formulas for Odysseus could easily have substituted for this longer description of Odysseus’ state of mind: a more concise way to introduce Odysseus’ next speech using the same Odysseus epithet found in verse 250 would be τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπε πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς (then long-suffering great Odysseus spoke to him in answer). Alternatively, we might expect the more common Odysseus speech introduction that appears three times in this scene (τὴν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς [then in turn resourceful Odysseus spoke to her in answer], 311, 382, 416).

Odysseus’ reply, however, shows no signs of the emotions that the speech frame preceding it depicts. Despite the strength of his joy at learning where he is, his capacity for concealment asserts itself almost immediately. The strength of the two opposing impulses—toward happy reunion with his home, and toward concealing himself—and the rapidity with which one follows the other very effectively highlight the conflict between them. Not only does Odysseus not admit that he is Odysseus come home, but he reinforces his silence on this point with a fluent and elaborate false identification for himself (256-286). Athena replies admiringly to this cool-headed deception by saying that anyone, even a god, would have difficulty surpassing him in resourcefulness (ἐν πάντεσσι δόλοισι [in any contriving], 292), and reveals her identity to him. In a sense, the narrator depicts Athena as less tricky than Odysseus has been: the introduction to her speech reflects and reinforces the content of it instead of creating a complement or contrast with it.

ὣς φάτο, μείδησεν δὲ θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη,
χειρί τέ μιν κατέρεξε· δέμας δ’ ἤϊκτο γυναικὶ
καλῇ τε μεγάλῃ τε καὶ ἀγλαὰ ἔργα ἰδυίῃ,
καί μιν φωνήσασ’ ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα·

So he spoke. The goddess, gray-eyed Athene, smiled on him,
and stroked him with her hand, and took on the shape of a woman
both beautiful and tall, and well versed in glorious handiworks,
and spoke aloud and addressed him in winged words, saying:


This introduction includes language which mentions Athena’s amusement at the duplicity of her protégé (μείδησεν, 287), her affection for him (χειρί τέ μιν κατέρεξε, 288), and her transformation into goddess form.

This passage as a whole is functionally equivalent to the formulaic single verse τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπε θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη (then in turn the gray-eyed goddess Athene answered), which appears repeatedly elsewhere in this conversation (see note 10 above). The details that appear here highlight from Athena’s point of view Odysseus’ skill in putting the need to conceal ahead of the desire to reveal himself: his behavior both amuses the goddess and causes her to decide to reveal herself to him. Insofar as there is a veiled contest of concealment taking place in the context of this conversation, Odysseus wins. All the language that this passage contains is {58|59} formulaic and appears in other speech frames. We can construct different hypothetical versions of this particular passage that would refer to Athena’s amusement, but not her transformation (287, 290); a shorter and therefore less emphatic version could be formed by omitting verse 289. The passage as we have it effectively depicts Athena’s affection for Odysseus, which the sequence of speeches up to this point implies is based on his capacity to conceal himself. This indirectly highlights that capacity and shows how effectively he has managed the conflict he feels here between concealment and revealing himself.

It is striking that when Athena names herself in the speech, which she does in the context of saying that Odysseus failed to recognize her (οὐδὲ σύ γ’ ἔγνως / Παλλάδ’ Ἀθηναίην, κούρην Διός, 300-301), this does not lead to an extended or unusual speech introduction for Odysseus’ next speech: τὴν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς (then in turn resourceful Odysseus spoke to her in answer), 311. This implies that Odysseus is, in fact, not surprised to find out who Athena is, but that could either be because of her physical transformation immediately before her speech, or because he has known who she was all along. As noted, there have been subtle signals before this that Odysseus may recognize Athena. Moreover, in the speech he now makes to her in her own persona (312-328), he says only that it is difficult to recognize gods in general (ἀργαλέον σε, θεά, γνῶναι βροτῷ ἀντιάσαντι [it is hard, O goddess, for even a man of good understanding / to recognize you on meeting], 312). He does not say that he did not recognize her on this particular occasion. Given Odysseus’ facility with language, his ambiguity here suggests that he has already recognized Athena but does not want to say so, particularly since her own remarks suggest that she thinks he did not recognize her. [21] After this, he and Athena converse further, and once Odysseus is repeatedly reassured that he is indeed on Ithaca at last, Athena tells him that she will remove the cloaking mist from the island so that he can see it clearly.

Here again, an elaborate speech frame falls between Athena’s speech (330-351) and Odysseus’ response (356-360), but this passage differs from the two discussed above: although it falls between two speeches in an ongoing {59|60} conversation, it is not structurally equivalent to a single verse reply formula. This is because Odysseus is not replying to Athena in his speech, but praying to a group of Naiads, which means that it is necessary to identify both the addressees and the special nature of his utterance.

ὣς εἰποῦσα θεὰ σκέδασ’ ἠέρα, εἴσατο δὲ χθών·
γήθησέν τ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτα πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεὺς
χαίρων ᾗ γαίῃ, κύσε δὲ ζείδωρον ἄρουραν.
αὐτίκα δὲ νύμφῃς ἠρήσατο χεῖρας ἀνασχών·
“νύμφαι νηϊάδες . . . ”

So speaking the goddess scattered the mist, and the land was visible.
Long-suffering great Odysseus was gladdened then, rejoicing
in the sight of his country, and kissed the grain-giving ground, then
raised his hands in the air and spoke to the nymphs, praying:
“Naiad nymphs . . . ”


In this passage, unlike the previous two elaborate speech frames, only one verse of the four contains detail unnecessary for avoiding confusion. Verse 352 describes the action of Athena that results in the unveiling of the island of Ithaca. Odysseus is named in the following verse, which is necessary to identify him as the speaker of the following speech since the alternating turn structure of one-on-one conversation is disrupted here. Finally, verse 355 tells us the kind of speech Odysseus made and the identity of those to whom he made it. However, verse 354 is not necessary to make the situation clear to the audience: while κύσε δὲ ζείδωρον ἄρουραν (kissed the grain-giving ground) describes a physical act and not a purely emotional response, this behavior enacts Odysseus’ emotion rather than clarifying the plot.

Let us consider how the passage would work if verse 354 were removed.

ὣς εἰποῦσα θεὰ σκέδασ’ ἠέρα, εἴσατο δὲ χθών·
γήθησέν τ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτα πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεὺς.
αὐτίκα δὲ νύμφῃς ἠρήσατο χεῖρας ἀνασχών·
“νύμφαι νηιάδες . . . ”

So speaking the goddess scattered the mist, and the land was visible;
Long-suffering great Odysseus was gladdened then, rejoicing. {60|61}
At once he raised his hands in the air and spoke to the nymphs, praying:
“Naiad nymphs . . . ”

This abbreviated passage makes sense in the context. We do not lose any crucial information without 354, but the evocative picture of Odysseus’ joyful reunion with the soil of his home vanishes, as does the contrast between his purely internal response to the disguised Athena’s verbal identification of Ithaca (250ff.) and his outward demonstrations here when the goddess shows him the land. For Odysseus, seeing is believing, in relation to both Athena and his home. In contrast, nothing in their subsequent discussion of the situation in the palace of Ithaca, or their plans for the future and the suitors, calls forth this kind of elaborate emphasis. The way this conversation is depicted highlights the deceptions of both Odysseus and Athena surrounding his arrival on Ithaca, his “reunion” with the land itself, and Odysseus’ response to these deceptions.

This meeting between Athena and Odysseus is the only time in the poem that the two spend a significant amount of time together. As Odysseus effects several more reunions and recognitions and dispatches the suitors, Athena lends her aid in various ways. She speaks to Odysseus again on several occasions, often in her own persona (e.g. before his reunion with Telemachus in Book 16). Moreover, an intervention by her closes the poem, insofar as she prevents renewed warfare from breaking out among the bereaved families of dead suitors and has (literally) the last word in the poem (24.542-544). But once Odysseus meets mortals from his family and household, it is his relations with them that assume center stage. He and Athena do not meet again in the extended and expansive manner that they do here, when Odysseus has just arrived on Ithaca and has not yet started the process of reintegrating himself into the society of Ithaca. At the point in the poem when Odysseus is between the fabulous and the familiar, he has his most developed meeting with the one figure who has been or will be with him (in some way) in both settings. It is to Odysseus’ relationships with the members of his family that we now turn.

Telemachus and Odysseus: Book 16

After Odysseus meets Athena, learns that he has reached Ithaca, and is assured of the goddess’ support, he sets off in disguise to test the loyalty of various servants and relatives. Before Odysseus meets Penelope in Book 19, he comes across his son Telemachus at the hut of Eumaeus in Book 16. For some readers, their reunion here is subsumed within a larger question of what Telemachus’ {61|62} role in the poem is or should be. Previous generations of scholars asserted quite energetically that the first four books of the Odyssey, which focus on Telemachus and his wanderings in search of news about Odysseus, should in fact be a separate poem (the Telemachia), and moreover that various infelicities at the beginning of Book 5, particularly the second divine assembly, betray the inexpert joining of two different works. [22] The contrary opinion, that the story of Telemachus dovetails with and reinforces that of his father, and that recognizable conventions of Homeric poetry explain the aspects of Book 5 that Analysts have found so problematic, has been recently put forward convincingly by Danek [23] and de Jong, [24] among others. [25] If Telemachus and his exploits form a legitimate part of the opening of the Odyssey and its overall structure, then his reunion with his father becomes one of the main points toward which the poem is leading. This reunion, like the earlier one with Athena and the upcoming one with Penelope, uses conversation to depict the struggles of both characters to negotiate their desires on the one hand to bridge the gulf between them, and on the other hand to keep a safe and skeptical distance. Although these tensions characterize each of the important reunions Odysseus has, they manifest themselves in a unique way for him and Telemachus because Telemachus is a youth without a relationship to Odysseus that predates his absence during the Trojan War. The conversation between them that ultimately leads to their reunion dramatizes these feelings.

The reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus in Book 16 begins with Odysseus and Eumaeus eating breakfast and the return of Telemachus from his voyage in search of news of his father. Odysseus asks Eumaeus who this young man is (8-10). However, Telemachus arrives at the hut before Odysseus finishes asking his question (οὔ πω πᾶν εἴρητο ἔπος [his whole word had not been spoken], 11). Although his speech is not so abbreviated as to contain any partial lines, Homeric speakers are not generally interrupted before they get to the end of what they want to say. Thus, at the very beginning of the reunion, contact between Odysseus and Telemachus disrupts the usual conventions of Homeric conversation.

Eumaeus recognizes Telemachus with joy and greets him affectionately. Eumaeus, at this point in the story, is essentially a father figure to Telemachus. Indeed, a simile compares Eumaeus’ feelings at seeing him to those of a father greeting his son when he returns from a foreign land (17-20):

ὡς δὲ πατὴρ ὃν παῖδα φίλα φρονέων ἀγαπάζῃ
ἐλθόντ’ ἐξ ἀπίης γαίης δεκάτῳ ἐνιαυτῷ,
μοῦνον τηλύγετον, τῷ ἔπ’ ἄλγεα πολλὰ μογήσῃ,
ὣς τότε Τηλέμαχον θεοειδέα . . .

And as a father, with heart full of love, welcomes his only son,
for whose sake he has undergone many hardships
when he comes back in the tenth year from a distant country,
so now godlike Telemachos . . .

Odysseus, who is indeed an only child, has been absent not ten years but twenty. He is also the actual father of the child, παῖδα (son), referred to in line 17. The relationship between the situation in the narrative and this simile {65|66} indirectly draws attention to Odysseus’ concealed identity; the emotion that the simile depicts reminds the audience of the strength of the emotions that Odysseus is hiding in order to maintain his concealment. The simile is in striking sympathy with the upcoming reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus, the central subject of Book 16 and indeed of much of the rest of the poem. [
38] In Eumaeus’ welcoming speech to Telemachus, which immediately follows the simile, he calls him γλυκερὸν φάος (sweet light, 23), a term of endearment used otherwise only by Penelope, [39] and φίλον τέκος (dear child, 25). Observing these emotions, we imagine, must increase the difficulty of Odysseus’ concealment: the simile reminds the audience of Odysseus’ self-restraint, while his presence as a bystander during this affectionate welcome heightens the difficulty of the concealment for Odysseus himself.

When Telemachus first speaks to Odysseus after his exchange of welcome and greeting with Eumaeus, he thinks the old beggar is a ξεῖνος (friend, guest: 44), having as yet no reason to think anything else. An unusual speech introduction, Τηλέμαχος δ’ ἑτέρωθεν ἐρήτυε φώνησέν τε (but Telemachos from the other side checked him and said to him, 43), precedes his courteous greeting to the supposed stranger. His appropriate behavior as a host toward Odysseus contrasts with his awkward performances as a guest of Nestor and Menelaus in Books 3 and 4 of the poem. The description of Telemachus immediately after this speech as Ὀδυσσῆος φίλος υἱός (beloved son of Odysseus, 48), implicitly contrasts their polite and unemotional contact as ξεῖνοι (guest-friends) with the love that they bear for each other as father and son.

The father-son relationship, then, has a prominent and complex role from the very beginning of Odysseus and Telemachus’ meeting. The simile before Eumaeus’ greeting simultaneously brings forward the general idea of fathers and sons and refers indirectly to the web of connections among the characters present. This very effectively brings out the strength of the watching Odysseus’ emotions, and accordingly, his strength in concealing them. Telemachus is the acknowledged surrogate son of Eumaeus and the (as yet) unacknowledged child of Odysseus, whose own position as a son as well as a father is invoked by the simile’s description of a child who has been away from home for a long time. When Telemachus speaks to his father for the first time, the unusual introductory verse at 16.43 makes his words stand out. Yet the words themselves are nothing but the merest social politeness of inviting a {66|67} guest to sit down. The use of a patronymic in the verses immediately following this speech reinforces the contrast between the momentousness of the first meeting between father and son and the banality of the words and actions of the meeting. Watchers of the action from outside the poem feel this contrast, as does Odysseus, but Telemachus is ignorant of it. His ignorance, in light of the strength of his desire for his father throughout the earlier books of the poem, lends pathos to the situation. Moreover, the gap between his ignorance and Odysseus’ understanding and self-control that is depicted so effectively here plays a central role in the unfolding of their meeting, as we are about to see.

In the ensuing conversation among the three characters, the name-epithet formulas for Odysseus emphasize the suffering that his equivocal position at this point causes him, while the name-epithet formulas for Telemachus are the same as they usually are elsewhere in the poem. At this level of diction, the conversation depicts Odysseus feeling his separation from Telemachus, but the ignorant Telemachus feeling the same way he would with any other guest. All of Telemachus’ speeches are introduced by the reply formula τὸν δ’ αὖ Τηλέμαχος πεπνυμένος ἀντίον ηὔδα (then the thoughtful Telemachos said to him in answer, 68 = 112 = 146). Odysseus, on the other hand, is πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς during this conversation (τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπε πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς [then long-suffering great Odysseus spoke to him], 90). In contrast, he is πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς (τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς [then resourceful Odysseus spoke in turn and answered him]) in the vast majority of his reply introductions in the rest of the Odyssey. [40] Indeed, reply formulas that emphasize Odysseus’ suffering rather than his cleverness appear primarily in Book 16, [41] where his suffering rather than his resourcefulness take center stage. Here we find a formulaic but comparatively rare epithet occurring in both the Iliad and the Odyssey that focuses attention not on the crafty side of Odysseus’ character, but on the suffering and self-denial he endures during the long process of making his way home to his family. This is one of a number of different techniques that appear during this conversation {67|68} to highlight the difficulty that Odysseus has in balancing his circumspection and his desire to be reunited with his family while speaking with Telemachus. At this point, Telemachus feels nothing unusual, which contributes indirectly to the emotions of Odysseus.

Once Eumaeus journeys to the city to relay the message that Telemachus has returned safely (154-155) and the coast is clear, father and son converse alone. Athena transforms Odysseus’ appearance to a strong and hearty man, and departs (155-177). The emotions of each come out much more strongly here than when Eumaeus is still with them. The astonished Telemachus casts his eyes reverently down at the sight of the transformed erstwhile beggar who reenters the hut. At the same time, the narrator calls him φίλος υἱός (beloved son, 178). In the speech immediately following, Telemachus not unreasonably concludes that his suddenly changed “guest” is in fact a god who should be propitiated (181-185). For Telemachus, in contrast to his father, the conflict which arouses the audience’s sympathy does not take place within himself or between conflicting impulses of his own. Rather, the tension here arises between his partial understanding of the situation (and his perfectly sensible response to it as he understands it), shown through his behavior and his speech; and the real state of matters, underlined by the narrator’s way of identifying him before his speech. Nevertheless, this conflict draws on the same basic notions of concealment versus reunion that underlies the internal conflicts that Odysseus feels.

At this point, we see that Telemachus is feeling the opposing pull of his desire to believe Odysseus and his skepticism, while Odysseus has put aside his desire to conceal his identity and whole-heartedly desires a reunion with his son. This puts him and Telemachus into a kind of tension as well. With one exception, the reply formulas for Odysseus in this conversation use the πολύτλας δῖος (long-suffering great) epithet, not the more regular πολύμητις (resourceful) one. The “long-suffering” epithet appears in the introduction to Odysseus’ reply to Telemachus’ first speech (186), in which Odysseus identifies himself as the young man’s father (187-189). Odysseus tells his doubtful and wary son that he is not a god, but Telemachus’ father (ἀλλὰ πατὴρ τεός εἰμι [but I am your father], 188). The expanded speech frame before Telemachus’ reply to this assertion, at 190-193, calls further attention to Telemachus’ dogged insistence that this mysterious changeling beggar is a god and not his long hoped-for father.

τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς·
“οὔ τίς τοι θεός εἰμι· τί μ’ ἀθανάτοισιν ἐΐσκεις;
ἀλλὰ πατὴρ τεός εἰμι, τοῦ εἵνεκα σὺ στεναχίζων {68|69}
πάσχεις ἄλγεα πολλά, βίας ὑποδέγμενος ἀνδρῶν.”
ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας υἱὸν κύσε, κὰδ δὲ παρειῶν
δάκρυον ἧκε χαμᾶζε· πάρος δ’ ἔχε νωλεμὲς αἰεί.
Τηλέμαχος δ’, οὐ γάρ πω ἐπείθετο ὃν πατέρ’ εἶναι,
ἐξαῦτίς μιν ἔπεσσιν ἀμειβόμενος προσέειπεν·

Then in turn long-suffering great Odysseus answered him:
“No, I am not a god. Why liken me to the immortals?
But I am your father, for whose sake you are always grieving
as you look for violence from others, and endure hardships.”
So he spoke, and kissed his son, and the tears running
down his cheeks splashed on the ground. Until now, he was always unyielding.
But Telemachos, for he did not yet believe that this was
his father, spoke to him once again in answer, saying:


Odysseus, who at long last has put aside concealment in favor of making a connection with Telemachus, is now stymied by the same circumspection that has marked his own behavior in the past. The language and structure of the conversation here dramatize the shifting gulf that exists for Telemachus as the scene progresses: whereas at the beginning of his meeting with Odysseus, his partial understanding contrasts with the real identity of his “guest,” Telemachus now faces an internal conflict between the information he has received and his own skepticism of it. This is similar to the opposing claims of honesty and concealment that Odysseus has experienced before, but at this point has put aside. Telemachus’ hesitation creates a gulf between himself and Odysseus.

These unique aspects of the formula draw out the conflict Telemachus is feeling between openness and skepticism, and they dramatize in a very concrete way the gap between him and Odysseus. Moreover, these two verses are not enjambed with the preceding lines describing Odysseus’ tender and emotional greeting of Telemachus, so that the usual one-line reply formula for Telemachus could have been used here instead of this couplet commenting on Telemachus’ demeanor. Indeed, the common reply formula for Telemachus could have taken the place of the entire passage (16.190-193) without loss of clarity. Yet the narrator’s aside describing the wary and suspicious son, contrasted with the kisses and tears of the father in the previous verses, very effectively depicts the gap between father and son and the shifting tensions between circumspection and acceptance that each experiences over the course of their interaction. However tempted he might be to welcome this supposed Odysseus, Telemachus is not convinced at all by Odysseus’ statement {70|71} of his real identity. He now repeats in essentially the same language as before his conviction that the beggar must be a god trying to cause him even more misery (194-200).

Odysseus’ explanation, however, that Athena is responsible for his dramatic shifts in physical appearance (207-212) now persuades Telemachus that this man is his father returned home. The emotion of the reunited pair now engulfs them, and similarly overwhelms the usual structure of rapid interchange in one-on-one conversations in the Homeric epics. A long and elaborate speech frame consisting of several different components appears between Odysseus’ speech (the fourth turn of eleven) and Telemachus’ reply (fifth turn, 16.213-221). This speech frame very movingly describes the emotions of the two weeping men at the moment when both have resolved their respective conflicts between skeptical distance and open acceptance in favor of the latter. First, we have a speech conclusion, which as we have seen is unusual in a one-on-one conversation. Here, moreover, the narrator takes several verses to describe the behavior of the father and son, behavior which is the reverse of what appeared at 16.190-193. Odysseus sits down, and Telemachus weeps as he embraces his father. In other words, Telemachus physically acts out that he is no longer keeping a skeptical distance from Odysseus.

ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο, Τηλέμαχος δὲ
ἀμφιχυθεὶς πατέρ’ ἐσθλὸν ὀδύρετο, δάκρυα λείβων.
ἀμφοτέροισι δὲ τοῖσιν ὑφ’ ἵμερος ὦρτο γόοιο· {71|72}

So he spoke, and sat down again, but now Telemachos
folded his great father in his arms and lamented,
shedding tears, and desire for mourning rose in both of them;


16.213 contains three formulaic expressions that are repeated elsewhere, but are combined in this way only here. ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας (so he spoke) is a common speech concluding formula; [
45] κατ’ ἄρ ἕζετο (and sat down again) appears 13 times in this position in the verse; the expression Τηλέμαχος δέ is found often. [46] However, in the other places where κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο is combined with a verse-initial formula for “having spoken,” we find #ἤτοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο (he spoke thus, and sat down again). [47] In fact, κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο is the only component of the full-verse formula ἤτοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν κατ’ ἄρ’ ἕζετο· τοῖσι δ’ ἀνέστη (he spoke thus and sat down again, and among them stood up) that appears outside of the full-verse formula. Thus, although verse 213 is composed of formulaic elements that regularly appear in other speech conclusions, these elements are used in unusual ways here.

In our passage, the basic idea of “they desired to grieve” fills not one or even two but three verses. A single-verse speech concluding formula exists for this idea, [48] which is expanded to a couplet at Iliad 23.152-153. Our expanded version of this formulaic notion focuses first on Telemachus’ physical acceptance of his father in 214 by embracing him (ἀμφιχυθεὶς πατέρ’ ἐσθλόν) and weeping (δάκρυα λείβων), just as Odysseus had kissed his son and wept when he first told the resisting and skeptical Telemachus who he really was (190-191). 215 describes this emotion as γόος (mourning), drawing out the feelings of Odysseus as well as Telemachus by means of the unusual initial half-verse ἀμφοτέροισι δὲ τοῖσιν, which refers to them as a pair. In contrast, the formula ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἄρα πατρὸς ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο (he spoke, and stirred in the other the longing to weep for his father) [49] would have directed attention to Telemachus rather than to Odysseus in the moment immediately after the speech. ὣς φάτο, τοῖσι δὲ {72|73} πᾶσιν ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο (he spoke, and started in all of them the desire for weeping) [50] would not connect the two as a pair, but rather as a less intimate and moving group. Moreover, the verses here that convey the general idea of “thus X spoke, and [someone] desired to grieve” contain additional information that increases the pathos of this moment still further. They lend special vividness to what Telemachus felt by showing how he acted on his feelings. These welcoming actions of acceptance and affection must be particularly gratifying to Odysseus after Telemachus initially greets the announcement that Odysseus is his father with suspicious aloofness (192-193).

Next, a simile further explores the emotions of the father and son with an image of parenthood taken from the animal world.

κλαῖον δὲ λιγέως, ἁδινώτερον ἤ τ’ οἰωνοί,
φῆναι ἢ αἰγυπιοὶ γαμψώνυχες, οἷσί τε τέκνα
ἀγρόται ἐξείλοντο πάρος πετεηνὰ γενέσθαι·
ὣς ἄρα τοί γ’ ἐλεεινὸν ὑπ’ ὀφρύσι δάκρυον εἶβον.

They cried shrill in a pulsing voice, even more than the outcry
of birds, ospreys or vultures with hooked claws, whose children
were stolen away by the men of the fields, before their wings grew
strong; such was their pitiful cry and the tears their eyes wept.


The presence of the simile draws out this moment, the first reunion of Odysseus and a member of his family. The narrative, indeed, could proceed smoothly from verse 214 or 215 to verse 220, but the simile draws out and thereby emphasizes this crucial and moving scene. Although Telemachus and Odysseus are presumably overjoyed to be restored to each other, the language of the narrative and the subject of the simile show instead a rending sadness. At first glance, it seems strange that the narrator should illustrate what should be a happy occasion with a comparison of sadness and bereavement. Many scholars have explained this as some type of reversal of the context [
51] or as an expression of the peril and fear that Odysseus and Telemachus face. [52] {73|74}

I believe that the simile illustrates an aspect of the situation that the narrative itself does not directly explore: the sadness and bereavement of the two because of the time together that has been lost to them. The birds of the simile have had their chicks, τέκνα . . . πάρος πετεηνά (children before their wings grew, 217-218), stolen by hunters. The detail of winglessness emphasizes both the youth of the chicks and their inability to defend themselves. Despite their own power as hunters—φῆναι ἢ αἰγυπιοὶ γαμψώνυχες (ospreys or vultures with hooked claws, 217) are both fierce birds of prey—the parents are unable to protect their offspring from harm. Just as the mighty parent birds are unable to keep their children safe, so the warrior and hero Odysseus has not fended off the incursions of the suitors against his still immature son Telemachus. The bereft birds, too, suggest that for Odysseus and Telemachus, the Trojan War and Odysseus’ long wanderings have irrevocably stolen the first stage of their father-son relationship. While we have seen several examples of speech frames that supply details that are otherwise not explicit about the emotional state of one or both speakers in a conversation, this simile goes far beyond the brief comments that appear in other conversations in terms of its length, its vividness, and the great deal of information that it implies.

Unlike other reunions between Odysseus and his household, the meeting with Telemachus marks the establishment of a relationship that did not previously exist, not the resumption of an interrupted one. They accept each other not by exchanging and recognizing σήματα (signs), as in other scenes of recognition between Odysseus and his household, but because Odysseus repeatedly states his identity and essentially forces Telemachus to accept him. Between Odysseus and Telemachus, indeed, there are no σήματα because as yet there has been no relationship between them. Telemachus has had to grow up without a father. While the father has now returned, they can never recover the loss of Telemachus’ boyhood, which is gone just as surely as the stolen chicks of the simile. Thus, while the simile seems at first glance to contrast with the narrative, in fact it brings out the underlying sadness of the happy reunion. The gap between the two characters is closed, and the conflict that each has felt between openness and concealment is over, but at the moment when this is finally accomplished, the simile tells us that the damage done by their former separation cannot be entirely undone.

At length, the pair returns to the business at hand, but the form of the lines introducing Telemachus’ first speech after the reunion scene gives a final glimpse of the great depth and strength of the emotions of Odysseus and Telemachus. {74|75}

καί νύ κ’ ὀδυρομένοισιν ἔδυ φάος ἠελίοιο,
εἰ μὴ Τηλέμαχος προσεφώνεεν ὃν πατέρ’ αἶψα·

And now the light of the sun would have set on their crying,
had not Telemachos spoken a quick word to his father:


The usual one-verse reply formula is discarded in favor of a multi-verse introduction. Here a fairly straightforward aspect of the context partly explains why a reply formula is not used. After a speech conclusion and simile delay Telemachus’ reply (in the text, if not necessarily to the same extent in the story), Telemachus can no longer be said to be replying directly to the previous speech. However, this is not the only explanation for the expansion. The contrary to fact condition here allows the audience to see how deep their grief was, since it would have gone on indefinitely but for Telemachus’ remarks. Contrary to fact speech introductions are both rarer and more systematized in their connection to the narrative in the Odyssey, where the only two examples occur in reunion scenes involving Odysseus, than they are in the Iliad. [
53] The expanded introduction at 16.220-221 extends the grief of Odysseus and Telemachus even further, both by devoting additional verses to describing it and through the image it uses to represent their emotion. Not only that, but it is Telemachus, not Odysseus, who effectively takes charge of the situation by asking his father about the details of his voyage. [54] This is the proper behavior of a host toward a guest, which Odysseus might be said to be after such a long absence. Furthermore, this verbal initiative on the part of the young man may be seen as a step along the path to adulthood, which his father’s return and the subsequent restoration of his own proper position make possible.

This extremely elaborate and moving speech frame marks the high point of the episode when both characters have put aside their cautious skepticism and have been reunited. The shorter but still elaborate speech frame at {75|76} 190-193 builds a kind of crescendo leading to this moment. After this climactic moment, which appears approximately one-third of the way through the conversation, there is a corresponding decrescendo. The conflict that Odysseus and Telemachus have experienced between concealment and openness is now over, and accordingly, there are no elaborate speech frames in this part of the conversation. Telemachus and his father now talk at some length about Odysseus’ experiences and the problem of the suitors (seven more turns, each preceded by a single verse reply formula). The conversation ends with a long speech (16.267-307) in which Odysseus gives Telemachus a series of instructions. At the end of his speech, Odysseus tells the youth to keep his true identity secret from everyone in the palace.

Here Odysseus explicitly connects the capacity to conceal important information with kinship to him. Moreover, this statement brings up in a new context the ongoing tension between concealment and openness that characterizes Odysseus’ actions throughout the second half of the poem.

The language of the verse introducing Telemachus’ reply to this speech seems to affirm that Telemachus will be able to perform the task he is given: τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσεφώνεε φαίδιμος υἱός (then in answer again his glorious son said to him, 16.308). By omitting Telemachus’ name and instead referring to him in terms of his relationship to Odysseus, the verse suggests that, as the youth is indeed the son of his father, he will be able to do what {76|77} is asked of him. This particular verse appears nowhere else in the poem, [56] although Telemachus is often described as the “dear son of Odysseus” outside of speech frames. [57] It seems significant that this line appears only here, as a signal to the audience that Telemachus will succeed both in helping Odysseus restore order to the palace and, more generally, in reestablishing himself in the position due him as Odysseus’ son (φαίδιμος υἱός). Likewise, Telemachus accepts Odysseus’ charge in his reply (309-310). Here the narrator and the characters depict the conversation in similar terms: Odysseus and Telemachus are focused not on concealment aimed by one at the other, as in the earlier portion of their conversation, but on a deception in which they both participate that is aimed at others (the household). Earlier in the conversation, in contrast, we saw that the narrator and the characters often illustrate different, complementary aspects of the conversation when it contains a conflict that in some sense pits the two characters against each other.

The scene now changes for a while to the suitors, but Telemachus and Odysseus reappear at the end of Book 16 before night falls and the poem moves on from the reunion between father and son (16.452-481). Here Telemachus begins to practice the concealment that Odysseus has enjoined on him and for which Odysseus himself is justly famous. [58] When Telemachus asks what the suitors are now doing about their ambush (461-463), Eumaeus tells him about a ship he saw in the harbor that he believes was carrying them (465-475). At this point the conversation ends, and the three men retire for the night. Before the scene closes, however, the narrator offers a brief final glimpse of the three characters.

ὣς φάτο, μείδησεν δ’ ἱερὴ ἲς Τηλεμάχοιο
ἐς πατέρ’ ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ἰδών, ἀλέεινε δ’ ὑφορβόν.

So he spoke, and Telemachos, the hallowed prince, smiled
as he caught his father’s eye, but avoided the eyes of the swineherd.

16.476-477 {77|78}

Telemachus responds to Eumaeus’ remarks about the suitors’ ambush and the situation in the town in a mature, even Odyssean manner. By smiling in response to speech, Telemachus shows a filial resemblance to Odysseus, who often smiles at someone’s statement before answering it to show his understanding, appreciation or control of a situation. [
59] Here, at the end of Book 16, Telemachus goes his father one better by not answering someone in language that generally appears elsewhere as part of a formulaic speech frame before a reply. This unexpected use of language strongly reminiscent of reply formulas emphasizes Telemachus’ self-control in keeping silent, an unusual ability that Odysseus also has. Indeed, this capacity distinguishes Odysseus from virtually every other Homeric hero. [60]

And how does Telemachus acquit himself for the remainder of the poem? As the modern audience, and most likely the ancient audience as well, is fully aware, the reunited father and son successfully remove the suitors from the palace, Penelope eventually accepts Odysseus’ assertion that he is her long-lost husband, and order is restored. Athena appears at the poem’s conclusion {78|79} to force the characters into amicable coexistence, but the audience is nevertheless left wondering about how the feelings of uncertainty and hostility that must still remain among the inhabitants of Ithaca will be resolved. This feeling of being in progress even at the conclusion of the poem is as true of Telemachus’ emerging adulthood as it is of any other story line in the tale.

The return of Odysseus does not instantly make Telemachus a self-sufficient, independent adult: for the most part it is still Odysseus who makes the plans and arranges events to his own satisfaction. Yet the young man does show real changes as a result of his own travels and the return of Odysseus, beginning with his self-control and self-reliance at the end of the reunion of Book 16. For the remainder of the poem, he consistently dissembles to the suitors and to the members of his own family in order to conceal the fact of Odysseus’ return, a degree of self-command that is hard to imagine in connection with the awkward, uncertain youth of the early part of the poem. For Telemachus, unlike for Odysseus, the simple fact of his ability to conceal things from others who would be interested in the concealed information merits special notice from the narrator (in the form of the epithets that describe him when he speaks misleadingly). There is no sense in these scenes that Telemachus feels any internal conflict from a desire to reveal his privileged information. The noteworthy feature of his deceptions is not any conflict they entail for him, but his newly developed ability to practice them at all.

All of the speeches introduced by τοῖσι δὲ καὶ/τοῖς δ’ αὖτις μετέειφ’ ἱερὴ ἲς Τηλεμάχοιο (now the hallowed prince Telemachos spoke his word to them) show Telemachus making deceptive speeches either to the suitors or for their benefit. [69] At 18.60, although this group reply formula appears, Telemachus speaks to Odysseus himself in the body of his speech. He pretends {80|81} not to know the true identity of the beggar, calling him ξεῖν’ (stranger, 61). He tells the “beggar” to fight Iros if he wants to, reasserts his own position as the host, and refers to Antinous and Eurymachus in possibly ironic terms (Ἀντίνοός τε καὶ Εὐρύμαχος, πεπνυμένω ἄμφω [Antinoös and Eurymachos, both men of prudence], 65). [70] At 18.405, this formula introduces a speech in which Telemachus tells the suitors that some god must be inciting them to their current behavior and suggests that they go home, while denying that he will force them to leave (406-409). Although this seems a harmless and ordinary remark on its face, it clearly had a different significance to the suitors, who are struck dumb at Telemachus’ words: [71]

ὣς ἔφαθ’, οἱ δ’ ἄρα πάντες ὀδὰξ ἐν χείλεσι φύντες
Τηλέμαχον θαύμαζον, ὃ θαρσαλέως ἀγόρευε.

So he spoke, and all of them bit their lips in amazement
at Telemachos, and the daring way he had spoken to them.


The other two speeches preceded by τοῖσι δὲ καὶ/τοῖς αὖτις μετέειφ’ ἱερὴ ἲς Τηλεμάχοιο both occur during the contest of the bow, and show Telemachus actively pretending to be either weaker or stupider than he really is. 21.101 introduces the speech in which he announces his intention to try to string the great bow of Odysseus (102-117). In the course of the speech, he twice refers to himself with the adjective ἄφρων (witless, 102 and 105), when in fact by this point in the story he is nothing of the kind. His attempt to string the bow, so nearly successful but for the intervention of Odysseus himself, is followed by extravagant lamentations about his own youth and inability.

καί νύ κε δή ῥ’ ἐτάνυσσε βίῃ τὸ τέταρτον ἀνέλκων,
ἀλλ’ Ὀδυσεὺς ἀνένευε καὶ ἔσχεθεν ἱέμενόν περ.
τοῖς δ’ αὖτις μετέειφ’ ἱερὴ ἲς Τηλεμάχοιο·
“ὢ πόποι, ἦ καὶ ἔπειτα κακός τ’ ἔσομαι καὶ ἄκικυς,
ἠὲ νεώτερός εἰμι . . . ” {81|82}

And now, pulling the bow for the fourth time, he would have strung it,
but Odysseus stopped him, though he was eager, making a signal
with his head. The hallowed prince, Telemachos, said to them:
“Shame on me. I must then be a coward and a weakling,
or else I am still young . . . ”


This pretense distracts the suitors from noticing that in fact Telemachus almost strung the bow, and the contest proceeds without the suitors seeming to realize Telemachus’ feat. Moreover, except for Odysseus himself, only Telemachus speaks more than once while attempting to string the bow. This gives Telemachus prominence in the contest of the bow, implicitly showing that of the young men present, he is the most nearly able to match his father’s strength and skill. Generally speaking, τοῖς αὖτις μετέειφ’ ἱερὴ ἲς Τηλεμάχοιο is found in the section of the poem in which Telemachus is capable of concealment and adult behavior. The specific contexts in which it appears all show Telemachus either dissembling for the suitors or frightening them with bold language, neither of which he was able to do persuasively in the early part of the poem.

The Analyst idea that the Telemachy (the story of Telemachus’ journey in Books 1-4) is a later addition or an inexpert grafting of a different story onto the story of Odysseus’ homecoming has now been generally abandoned. Recent scholars of various persuasions have accepted this episode as an integral part of the story that the Odyssey tells, albeit one that had alternative versions. [72] Both the prominence in the construction of the poem of the traditional story line involving Telemachus and the reunion that takes place between him and Odysseus demonstrate a consistent approach to the tools of Homeric storytelling: a skillful and effective use of traditional materials in order to tell the story of Odysseus’ homecoming in a particular way. This Odysseus derives much of his meaning and importance for the audience from his effect on those left behind, including Telemachus. The story line involving Telemachus has unusual prominence, perhaps more than normally appeared in a story about a husband returning to a wife besieged by suitors and about {82|83} to remarry, [73] thus setting up an expectation in the audience for a developed scene of reunion between Telemachus and Odysseus. When this scene does take place, it develops the type of “one-on-one conversation” at unusual length, relying on traditional types of elaboration at key points in order to bring out the strength of the conflicting feelings each feels about wanting, on the one hand, to maintain a cautious distance while also desiring closeness and reunion. The most elaborate description of their emotions occurs when this tension is finally resolved and their separation has ended in mutual acceptance and recognition. [74]

Laertes and Odysseus: Book 24

The scene gets under way when Odysseus brings Telemachus and servants with him to his father’s dwelling. Once they arrive, he tells the other members of his party to prepare a meal while he tests his father to see whether he will know Odysseus or not (24.214-218). When Odysseus first sees his father, wretchedly dressed and toiling in his orchard, he weeps and debates whether to embrace him immediately or make his trial of the old man (232-238). [78] Here, {84|85} in fact, the narrator explicitly says that Odysseus feels torn between openness and concealment. In previous reunions, as we have seen, the narrator describes the emotions of one or both speakers which, taken in conjunction with what the character(s) actually say, implicitly depicts this tension. The description here puts Odysseus’ dilemma squarely before the audience.

τὸν δ’ ὡς οὖν ἐνόησε πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεὺς
γήραϊ τειρόμενον, μέγα δὲ φρεσὶ πένθος ἔχοντα,
στὰς ἄρ’ ὑπὸ βλωθρὴν ὄγχνην κατὰ δάκρυον εἶβε.
μερμήριξε δ’ ἔπειτα κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμὸν
κύσσαι καὶ περιφῦναι ἑὸν πατέρ’ ἠδὲ ἕκαστα
εἰπεῖν, ὡς ἔλθοι καὶ ἵκοιτ’ ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ἦ πρῶτ’ ἐξερέοιτο ἕκαστά τε πειρήσαιτο.

Now when much-enduring great Odysseus observed him,
with great misery in his heart, and oppressed by old age,
he stood underneath a towering pear tree and shed tears for him,
and deliberated then in his heart and his spirit
whether to embrace his father and kiss him and tell him
everything, how he was come again to his own dear country,
or question him first about everything, and make trial of him.

Only here does Odysseus hesitate at all in his dealings with a family member or friend whom he is meeting for the first time. In every other case, most notably with Penelope (on which see the next chapter), Odysseus sticks inexorably to his plan to reveal himself only after testing and reassuring himself about the loyalty of the person whom he is meeting again. Kisses, tears, and embraces all characterize the moment when reunion actually occurs in the other important reunions in the Odyssey, [
79] but Odysseus either does or feels the need to do these things before he has even spoken to his father. The greater strength and prominence of Odysseus’ conflicted emotions here puts his relationship with his father, and hence his reunion with him, on a different and in some sense higher footing than his meetings with other loved ones, even with Penelope. [80]

The conversation between Odysseus and Laertes has eight turns in all, several of which have multi-verse speech frames. In addition, the climax of {85|86} the conversation halfway through is marked not by an elaboration like the one we saw in the reunion with Telemachus, but by a unique disruption in the turn structure of this one-on-one conversation. Odysseus—at least initially—decides that testing his father is the best course and addresses him accordingly (244-279). The grief-stricken father laments his lost son and asks the supposed stranger who he is (281-301). Odysseus replies with another of his false identities and asserts that “Odysseus” had visited him five years before (303-314). [81] Laertes now bursts into tears upon hearing what he imagines to be a true report of his son. A formulaic speech conclusion begins the passage that describes the grief of the father upon hearing this news of his son, grief that has a striking effect upon the son as he watches it.

ὣς φάτο, τὸν δ’ ἄχεος νεφέλη ἐκάλυψε μέλαινα·
ἀμφοτέρῃσι δὲ χερσὶν ἑλὼν κόνιν αἰθαλόεσσαν
χεύατο κὰκ κεφαλῆς πολιῆς, ἁδινὰ στεναχίζων.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμός, ἀνὰ ῥῖνας δέ οἱ ἤδη
δριμὺ μένος προὔτυψε φίλον πατέρ’ εἰσορόωντι.
κύσσε δέ μιν περιφὺς ἐπιάλμενος ἠδὲ προσηύδα·
“κεῖνος μέν τοι ὅδ’ αὐτὸς ἐγώ, πάτερ, ὃν σὺ μεταλλᾷς,
ἤλυθον εἰκοστῷ ἔτεϊ ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν.
ἀλλ’ ἴσχευ κλαυθμοῖο γόοιό τε δακρυόεντος.”

He spoke, and the black cloud of sorrow closed on Laertes.
In both hands he caught up the grimy dust and poured it
over his face and grizzled head, groaning incessantly.
The spirit rose up in Odysseus, and now in his nostrils
there was a shock of bitter force as he looked on his father.
He sprang to him and embraced and kissed him and then said to him:
“Father, I am he, the man whom you ask about. I am
here, come back in the twentieth year to the land of my father.
But stay now from your weeping, shedding of tears, and outcry.”


The formulaic verse at 315, appearing three times in the Homeric poems, also describes the grief-stricken Achilles after Antilochus comes to him at the {86|87} beginning of Iliad 18 to tell him of the death of Patroclus. Similarly, Laertes performs the actions of a newly bereaved person when he puts dirt on himself and groans aloud. [
82] It is unclear exactly why he acts like a bereaved person here: is he showing his sorrow that Odysseus is not, in fact, here to welcome this stranger who was hoping to see his guest-friend again (314-315)? Expressing his belief that Odysseus is dead, in spite of this report that he was alive relatively recently? Neither the immediate context nor comparison with the behavior of other characters elsewhere permits a firm conclusion on this point. Whatever the specific reason for Laertes’ grief about Odysseus may be, the use of the language of mourning to describe it sets his grief apart from that of other members of Odysseus’ family. Neither Penelope nor Telemachus, however much they were grieved by Odysseus’ absence, ever behaved like a person in mourning on his account.

In fact, this passage gives equal prominence to the response of Odysseus to his father’s grief as to the father’s response to what Odysseus has said. This is quite remarkable: not only are extended speech frames of any sort unusual in one-on-one conversation, but a speech frame that describes the effect of the listener’s emotion on the speaker who has just finished speaking is anomalous. This is also unlike Odysseus’ behavior on other occasions when he is confronted with a grieving relation. Odysseus does, of course, respond to the grief of other people many times during the poem, but he generally does this either in the breach (as in his first meeting with Penelope in Book 19) or else after he has already declared himself to be Odysseus (which happens with both Telemachus and Penelope). Elsewhere, Odysseus can manage the conflict between his desire for openness and his impulse to conceal himself, but here, it appears, he cannot.

Moreover, Odysseus responds to his father’s displays of grief by abandoning not only his plan to test Laertes, but even the alternating turn structure of the conversation. Laertes weeps and disfigures himself here in response to Odysseus’ reference to hosting “Odysseus” in his false persona, and Odysseus also makes the speech after this one (that is, he takes both the third and the fourth turn in the sequence of eight). There are only seventeen successive speeches in the entire Odyssey, and the other sixteen are made either to or in a group. This is the only one that occurs in a one-on-one conversation. Only in his father is Odysseus unable to face the spectacle of the grief and bereavement {87|88} of a relative who wrongly believes him to be lost. Only here does he abandon a previously designed plan to test and to lie because he is so deeply affected by the emotions of the person he sees weeping for him. The disruption of the turn structure itself is a fitting way to show that Odysseus cannot control the tension he feels between honesty and circumspection. Rather than simply describing this overwhelming emotion, the narrator depicts it overwhelming a typical pattern of one-on-one conversation that is observed everywhere in the Odyssey except for here.

Indeed, when he speaks, he does not say “I am Odysseus” or even “I am your son,” as he says “I am your father” to Telemachus in Book 16. Instead, he simply says κεῖνος μέν τοι ὅδ’ αὐτὸς ἐγώ, πάτερ, ὃν σὺ μεταλλᾷς (Father, I am he, the man whom you ask about, 321) asserting his own identity through the actions of his father. Although the structural anomaly in this conversation differs markedly from the long emphatic passages of simile and description that occur in other reunions in the poem, like those elaborations, it does rely on the typical patterns of one-on-one conversation to create its effect. In its own way, it shows a starker and more basic emotional upheaval for Odysseus than the striking similes that audiences have loved since antiquity in the reunion scenes with Telemachus and Penelope.

Now that Odysseus has broken down under the weight of his father’s grief and given up his testing plan, the tables are turned on him and Laertes tests him instead. [83] Just as Penelope did in Book 23, Laertes responds to Odysseus’ statement of his identity by asking him for a σῆμα, a sign to prove his identity (328-329). In his reply, Odysseus provides not just one but two such tokens: he points to his scar (331-335), which has already revealed him inadvertently to Eurycleia, and he describes the trees in the orchard that the two used to walk among together when Odysseus was a little boy (336-344). Hearing these “signs,” and recognizing them, Laertes is again overcome with emotion. [84]

ὣς φάτο, τοῦ δ’ αὐτοῦ λύτο γούνατα καὶ φίλον ἦτορ,
σήματ’ ἀναγνόντος, τά οἱ ἔμπεδα πέφραδ’ Ὀδυσσεύς·
ἀμφὶ δὲ παιδὶ φίλῳ βάλε πήχεε· τὸν δὲ ποτὶ οἷ
εἷλεν ἀποψύχοντα πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς. {88|89}
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ’ ἔμπνυτο καὶ ἐς φρένα θυμὸς ἀγέρθη,
ἐξαῦτις μύθοισιν ἀμειβόμενος προσέειπε·

He spoke, and Laertes’ knees and the heart within him went slack,
as he recognized the clear proofs that Odysseus had given.
He threw his arms around his dear son, and much-enduring
great Odysseus held him close, for his spirit was fainting.
But when he had got his breath back again, and the spirit gathered
into his heart, once more he said to him, answering:


Laertes physically demonstrates rather than saying in words that he accepts Odysseus as his son; moreover, in his speech (351-355), he hopes that the suitors will get their just desserts but fears that they will attack (presumably because they have heard that Odysseus has returned, although Laertes does not specify the reason for their hypothetical hostilities). This assumes that Odysseus is going to avenge the suitors and that he has the standing as the head of the household to do so.

The structure of this particular passage resembles the structure of two closely related passages that appear in the reunion of Penelope and Odysseus. [85] However, the two reunions take different courses. Whereas Penelope is only able to succeed in her attempts to test Odysseus after a prolonged period of being tested herself, and after failing initially to test him, Laertes breaks Odysseus’ resolve to test him and almost immediately takes over the role of tester. The somewhat elaborate speech frame here provides a second emotional peak in the reunion scene at the by-now expected point when both characters have put aside any impulse toward concealment and have identified and recognized each other. This high point, unlike the unique successive speeches by Odysseus earlier in the scene, resembles the techniques of elaboration that we find in other reunion scenes in the poem in both its structure and what the structure depicts. Unlike the reunions with Telemachus or with Penelope, however, which both contain multiple elaborations that build up to one climactic moment in the episode, the two different high points of emotion in the reunion with Laertes operate rather {89|90} differently from one another from an aesthetic standpoint. As a result, they do not tend to reinforce one another to create one unified crescendo effect. Instead, the scene contains two intertwined tensions or developments: a unique one, in which Odysseus is overmastered against his will by his desire for frankness; and another more usual one in which the frankness Odysseus finds himself practicing gradually results in the mutual recognition of two characters.


This chapter has argued that a consistent aesthetic outlook and approach to traditional materials operates in the various conversations in the second half of the Odyssey that mark important points in Odysseus’ homecoming. In each of these scenes, the narrator highlights a tension that Odysseus feels between revealing himself at once to the person with whom he speaks in order to re-establish a relationship with that person, and concealing his identity. Typical conversation patterns depict this conflict: the narrator manipulates or draws out the usual structures of one-on-one conversation without substantially changing them. When Odysseus meets Athena, his first conversation on Ithaca, and when he is reunited with his son, wife (as we will see shortly), and father, {90|91} a one-on-one conversation occurs that is unusually long and that contains elaborations of various kinds in between the individual speeches where we would normally expect single-verse reply formulas. These elaborations are one of the main sources of emotion and pathos in these various scenes.


[ back ] 1. Such as the context-specific participles found in Appendix II.

[ back ] 2. Such as prayer, orders, assembly and athletic games; Part II treats several regularly occurring kinds of speech exchange that are not one-on-one conversation.

[ back ] 3. See e.g. Murnaghan 1987.

[ back ] 4. See Chapter 3, note 1.

[ back ] 5. I will explore the possible reasons for this in Chapter 3.

[ back ] 6. Clay 1983:188.

[ back ] 7. See more recently Clay 1983 (Chapter IV). Clay asserts that the scene is simply a difficult one, and that “neither minor nor major surgery can remedy all the difficulties it presents” (189). Her ultimate goal is to argue that the scene shows that Athena was angry with Odysseus because his excessive cleverness calls into question the superiority of gods over men (209).

[ back ] 8. 1972:144-145.

[ back ] 9. The question of whether he really does recognize her, which is controversial, will be discussed in more detail below.

[ back ] 10. For Athena: τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπε [or τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα] θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη (then in turn the gray-eyed goddess Athene answered): 236, 329, 361, 392, 420. For Odysseus: τὴν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς (then in turn resourceful Odysseus spoke to her in answer): 311, 382, 416.

[ back ] 11. All of these citations, in spite of their length, refer to the speech frames, not to the speeches themselves.

[ back ] 12. Verses 222-225 describe Athena and her disguise as a young herdsman.

[ back ] 13. Compare Odyssey 23.247, καὶ τότ’ ἄρ’ ἣν ἄλοχον προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς (then resourceful Odysseus spoke to his wife).

[ back ] 14. Muellner 1976:51 believes that Odysseus does recognize her here. Those who take the opposite position include Clay 1983, whose analysis of the scene seems to assume that Odysseus does not recognize Athena (see e.g. 196-199) but does not explicitly say this. Austin 1975 thinks that Athena is hurt by Odysseus’ failure to recognize “the goddess who is his Olympian alter ego” (203).

[ back ] 15. Lloyd 2004:86 suggests that Odysseus views this speech as a joke at his expense, but as will become clear, my reading of the scene is that if it is a joke, Odysseus is certainly in on it.

[ back ] 16. Lattimore translates this epithet “resourceful,” as though it were the more common Odysseus epithet πολύμητις. In fact, these two epithets are used differently in the Odyssey, as I will discuss later in this chapter, and so I have changed the translation to reflect the actual epithet.

[ back ] 17. This same verse appears at Odyssey 7.329, 8.199, 18.281; with μείδησεν for γήθησεν, 23.111.

[ back ] 18. Higbie 1995 notes that this is the only time in the Homeric poems that the narrator states in a speech introduction that the speaker is lying (72).

[ back ] 19. The other exception to this rule appears at Odyssey 17.591-592. It includes only one verse after the formula ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα rather than our passage’s three: αἶψα δὲ Τηλέμαχον ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα [sc. Eumaeus] / ἄγχι σχὼν κεφαλήν, ἵνα μὴ πευθοίαθ’ οἱ ἄλλοι (at once he spoke his winged words to Telemachos, leaning / his head close to him, so that none of the others might hear him).

[ back ] 20. Martin 1989:69-70 argues that μῦθος (word, speech) and ἔπεα πτερόεντα (winged words) are equivalent. He supports this by pointing out that although the phrase πάλιν δ’ ὅ γε λάζετο μῦθον (he checked that word from the outset) introduces Agamemnon’s retraction of his rebuke of Odysseus in the Epipolesis of Iliad 4, the phrase ἔπεα πτερόεντα introduces most of Agamemnon’s other speechess in this scene. It will be clear from my arguments here that I concur with the general idea that both introduce marked speech. However, I disagree with the idea that they are synonyms. [ back ] In particular, in the quotation given above as well as in the Iliad 4 passage (4.356-357), I disagree with the suggestion that πάλιν δ’ ὅ γε λάζετο μῦθον demonstrates that μῦθος and ἔπεα πτερόεντα are synonymous: it seems to me that in both passages, μῦθον refers to what the speaker did not say in contrast to ἔπεα πτερόεντα, which refers to what is said. This is particularly true in our passage in Odyssey 13, which in the same speech introduction distinguishes what Odysseus decides to omit (οὐδ’ ὅ γ’ ἀληθέα εἶπε, πάλιν δ’ ὅ γε λάζετο μῦθον, 254) from what he says (ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα, 253).

[ back ] 21. Hoekstra (writing in Heubeck et al. 1990b) 183 has an extensive note on Athena’s various disguises when in contact with Odysseus, and more generally on the portrayal of their relationship by the “tradition” vs. “poetical elaboration.” He strongly implies in his discussion that Odysseus is, indeed, surprised by Athena’s metamorphosis here.

[ back ] 22. Page 1955:52-73 summarizes the positions of previous proponents of the Analyst view of the beginning of the Odyssey and puts forward his own case for it.

[ back ] 23. 1998:32-33.

[ back ] 24. 2001:3-5, with extensive bibliography.

[ back ] 25. Also Lesky 1968:810.

[ back ] 26. The following discussion is an adaptation of Beck 1999.

[ back ] 27. For tables that summarize the speech introductory language for Odysseus and Telemachus in the Odyssey, see Beck 1999:140-141.

[ back ] 28. 30, 68, 112, 146, 240, 262.

[ back ] 29. 460.

[ back ] 30. 43, 308.

[ back ] 31. 45, 77, 107, 392, 598.

[ back ] 32. A more literal translation of ἱερὴ ἲς Τηλεμάχοιο might be “holy strength of Telemachus,” but “hallowed prince Telemachos” is much more graceful and does not obscure any aspect of this formula that is important for the following discussion. For a historical discussion of the expression ἱερὴ ἲς Τηλεμάχοιο and related naming expressions using the phrase ἱερὸν μένος (holy strength), see Schmitt 1967:109-115 and Nagy 1974:86-89.

[ back ] 33. Hainsworth in Heubeck et al. 1990a on Odyssey 8.388. Austin 1975:77-78 suggests that the dual association of πεπνυμένος with both young men and heralds indicates that a young man so designated is viewed as “a man of promise” (77). This is a satisfactory formulation for its application to Telemachus, but does not explain why the narrator should use this word for Nestor, Menelaus, and Odysseus.

[ back ] 34. 3.203 (Antenor), 7.347 (also Antenor, with different verbs of speaking), 13.254 and 13.266 (both Meriones), 18.249 (Polydamas), 23.586 (Antilochus). The other uses of πεπνυμένος appear either in speech introductions or descriptions of heralds (7.276, 7.278, 9.689) or in reference to young men (3.148, 9.58, 23.570).

[ back ] 35. For a more elaborate and detailed presentation of this idea, see Heath 2001 on the use of epithet for Telemachus over the course of the Odyssey.

[ back ] 36. 90, 186, 225, 258, 266.

[ back ] 37. See the appendix of Pope 1960 (129-135) on the various epithets for Odysseus in the Iliad, Doloneia, and Odyssey.

[ back ] 38. Danek 1998:301 sensitively brings out the various undercurrents in this simile, and connects it with his more general idea that Eumaeus is consistently a parallel figure to Laertes in the Odyssey.

[ back ] 39. Also as a greeting when she first meets her son after he returns from his journey, Odyssey 17.41.

[ back ] 40. Machacek’s very interesting and useful article points out that there are several speech introductory lines for Odysseus that are equivalent except for the epithet(s) applied to Odysseus (1994:324), but he does not explore in detail how such a set of alternatives might be used by the poet.

[ back ] 41. τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπε πολύτλας δῖος Ο., 14.148; 16.90, 225, 258, 266; 17.560 and τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα πολύτλας δῖος Ο., 15.340, 16.186, 17.280 (then long-suffering O. spoke to him in answer). Examples outside the reunion of Telemachus and Odysseus in Book 16 appear in contexts closely related to Odysseus’ return, as in 14.148, which introduces a speech in which Odysseus swears an oath to Eumaeus (concealing his identity) that “Odysseus” will come home, or 17.560, where he learns that Penelope wants to see him and replies that he will tell the truth to her.

[ back ] 42. Of Penelope reunited with Odysseus, δακρύσασα . . . κάρη δ’ ἔκυσ’ ἠδὲ προσηύδα (she burst into tears . . . and kissed his head, saying), Odyssey 23.207-208. See Murnaghan 1987:22 on the physical accompaniments to reunions in the Odyssey.

[ back ] 43. de Jong 1987a:62 discusses γάρ in connection with the primary narrator-focalizer’s transmission of information to the primary recipient of the story. She is interested in γάρ as an explanation of a negative statement by the narrator (“X did not Y, γάρ . . . ”), while here it takes the more unusual form of a negative explanation for a positive statement: Telemachus did answer, γάρ he did not believe . . .

[ back ] 44. Most recently to Eumaeus, Odyssey 14.149-408.

[ back ] 45. 57 times in the Iliad and Odyssey, with either masculine or feminine participle.

[ back ] 46. Only here is it verse-final, however, and of 29 occurrences, the majority (19 cases) have δέ elided.

[ back ] 47. See Chapter 5 on this formula and its use in formal assemblies.

[ back ] 48. Listed in Appendix IV.

[ back ] 49. Iliad 24.507, Odyssey 4.113. See Chapter 3 (141) on this verse in the conversation between Achilles and Priam in Iliad 24.

[ back ] 50. Iliad 23.108, Odyssey 4.183; cf. Iliad 23.152-153.

[ back ] 51. E.g. Podlecki 1971:85; Foley 1978:7-8.

[ back ] 52. Moulton 1977:133-134 relates the simile to the danger the two still must encounter, Minchin 2001:147-148 to Odysseus’ fear that he would never be reunited with his son.

[ back ] 53. Speeches that begin “and [such and such] would have happened, if X hadn’t . . . .” are a variant of the usual speech introduction structure that appear from time to time in the Homeric epics, Iliad 11.311-312, 21.211-212, 23.154-155, 490-491, 540-542; 24.713-715; Odyssey 16.220-221, 21.226-227 (during Odysseus’ reunion with Eumaeus). On if-not situations generally, see de Jong 1987a:68-81. Lang 1989 surveys conditions in Homer, making the extremely useful and important distinction between affirmative and negative protases; Louden 1993 argues that what he calls “pivotal contrafactuals” may sometimes connect related episodes, among which he includes the reunions of Odysseus with Telemachus, Penelope, and his herders (193-194).

[ back ] 54. Louden 1993:194 notes this as a consistent feature of the Odyssean reunions in which conditions are found: the person who ends the situation referred to in the condition takes charge of the situation generally.

[ back ] 55. An alternate reading of this line is found in three MSS and read by Plutarch at vita Homeri ii.149: ἐμοὶ δέ σ’ ἐγείνετο μήτηρ (your mother bore you to me). In fact, this variant makes basically the same point about family resemblance being shown through concealment as does the reading given here, but via the mother more than the father.

[ back ] 56. But compare 24.243, of Odysseus speaking to Laertes: τὸν δὲ παριστάμενος προσεφώνεε φαίδιμος υἱός (and now his glorious son stood near, and spoke to him, saying). Edwards 1969 notes that in these passages φαίδιμος υἱός “is used to stress, very effectively, the father-son relationship of the two parties” (85).

[ back ] 57. A full-verse formula in the nominative or accusative, Τηλέμαχος/ον φίλος/ον υἱὸς/ον Ὀδυσσῆος θείοιο (Telemachos, beloved son of godlike Odysseus), is found at Odyssey 3.398, 15.554, 17.3, 20.283, and 21.432.

[ back ] 58. In that Odysseus is himself famous for his ability to dissemble and conceal, Telemachus’ own power of concealment may be considered not just a test of loyalty but a mark of family resemblance (Lateiner 1995:153).

[ back ] 59. See Levine 1984 on Odysseus’ smiles.

[ back ] 60. Murnaghan 1987:4.

[ back ] 61. 2.409, where he tells his companions of his intention to leave in quest of information about his father without telling his mother.

[ back ] 62. Hainsworth 1968:10, “within the context of the poet’s technique it is a simple matter to assume that a hero of the stature of Achilles or Odysseus is sui generis, and so merits his own honorific [epithet].”

[ back ] 63. Another difference between the two expressions is where the name “Telemachus” falls in the verse. Kahane 1994 asserts that names which fall in the middle of the verse deny the character in question “the nominative markers of a ‘hero’” (135) while major characters’ name-epithets tend to fall at the end of the verse. The periphrasis may be seen, according to this line of reasoning, as a way of increasing Telemachus’ heroic stature by moving the location of his name within a speech introductory verse.

[ back ] 64. A characterization with which Heath 2001 disagrees.

[ back ] 65. 18.60, 18.405, 21.101, 21.130, 22.354-355 (combining a speech concluding verse that contains our formula for Telemachus with a context-specific speech introduction).

[ back ] 66. 17.3, 18.214, 20.283, 21.432, 22.350, 24.505.

[ back ] 67. See Introduction, 38-39.

[ back ] 68. τοῖσι δὲ Τηλέμαχος πεπνυμένος ἄρχετο μύθων (the thoughtful Telemachos began speaking among them) appears at Odyssey 1.367 (with an alternate reading of ἀντίον ηὔδα, which is not used elsewhere of a speech not immediately preceded by another speech) and 15.502. This verse does not occur after Book 16.

[ back ] 69. The epithets for Hera in Iliad 14 function in a similar way; see Chapter 3. Lateiner 1995:156 makes the suggestion that the newly mature Telemachus has assumed his adolescent-self as a disguise: “paradoxically, Telemachus’ assuming the disguise of an adolescent proves his manhood. No adolescent would or could perform that fraud.”

[ back ] 70. Edwards 1966:165 notes that this is the only time a suitor is called πεπνυμένος, and he suggests that Telemachus uses the word on purpose here (“[πεπνυμένος] is never attributed to any of the suitors . . . except by the crafty lips of the young man himself”). While I find this suggestion provocative, I also find it problematic, since it seems to me to imply that the characters are using the narrator’s vocabulary in the same way that the narrator does.

[ back ] 71. The same couplet appears at 1.381-382 (omitted by some manuscripts) and 20.268-269. Olson 1995:75 suggests that the suitors are surprised in Odyssey 1 (381-382), when this couplet first appears, because until this point, Telemachus and the suitors have had good relations. It is not clear according to this line of reasoning why the suitors are still surprised in Book 18.

[ back ] 72. See Reece 1994 for an interesting speculation about versions in which Telemachus goes to Crete, meets Odysseus there, and returns with him to Ithaca. At the end of his paper (170 171), he offers a concise and well-observed appreciation of the role of the Telemachy in our Odyssey.

[ back ] 73. Reece 1994:161.

[ back ] 74. Danek 1998:308 discusses the specific construction of this reunion and its relation both to the underlying themes of our Odyssey and to alternative versions of the Telemachus aspects of the story.

[ back ] 75. Rather than attempt myself to recapitulate this “indigestible mass of material” (Heubeck in Russo et al. 1992:342), interested readers are referred to Heubeck’s discussion of the scholion, the “τέλος” of the Odyssey, and the immense bibliography that has grown up around the question (Russo et al. 1992:342-345). He espouses the unitarian position, which is very ably opposed by West 1989.

[ back ] 76. Danek 1998:488-492 provides a useful overview of these various problems and of possible alternative story versions pertaining to the reunion of Odysseus and Laertes.

[ back ] 77. To me this is one of the questions about the Homeric epics that remain unanswerable because of our ignorance about the composition and transmission of the poems in the period before the Hellenistic editors. These are matters to which I will return in the Conclusion.

[ back ] 78. See the note of Heubeck ad 24.235-240 (in Russo et al. 1992) on the unusual construction of this passage in comparison to other cases where someone debates among various possible alternatives. He condemns the passage, but I think it is consistent with the lack of resolve that Odysseus demonstrates throughout the episode, which contrasts so strongly and movingly with his firm resolve in similar situations earlier in the poem.

[ back ] 79. Murnaghan 1987:22.

[ back ] 80. Similarities between this scene and the meeting with Penelope include: testing not only by but of Odysseus; the grief of the other person upon hearing Odysseus’ description of a false “sign”; Odysseus provides a true sign of his identity after he has told his relation the truth about who he is.

[ back ] 81. Introduced by a regular reply formula containing the epithet πολύμητις (resourceful), 302.

[ back ] 82. Indeed, the language that describes his groaning in verse 317 closely resembles that which is used in the formulaic speech frames for formal laments, on which see Chapter 6.

[ back ] 83. As we will see in the next chapter, Penelope too tests Odysseus, but in Book 19, Odysseus is able to bear the spectacle of his grieving wife as he is not able to bear that of his weeping father here.

[ back ] 84. The formulaic language that occurs here also appears earlier in the Odyssey when Penelope hears Odysseus describing their bed to her (24.345-346 ~23.205-206).

[ back ] 85. 19.249-252, when Penelope “recognizes” the description of “Odysseus’” clothes by the disguised beggar, and 23.205-208, after Odysseus describes their bed (23.205-206 ~ 24.345-346). Danek 1998:490 suggests, in fact, that there may have been versions of the Laertes aspect of the story in which the recognition was split into two sections similar to the construction of the Penelope-Odysseus reunion.

[ back ] 86. West 1989:117.

[ back ] 87. For one-on-one conversations in the Iliad see Chapters 3 and 4.