Weaving Truth: Essays on Language and the Female in Greek Thought

  Bergren, Ann. 2008. Weaving Truth: Essays on Language and the Female in Greek Thought. Hellenic Studies Series 19. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BergrenA.Weaving_Truth.2008.

8. The (Re)Marriage of Penelope and Odysseus [1]

What do Penelope and Odysseus have to do with architecture? In the Western tradition, they are among its founding figures. By virtue of their mêtis, Odysseus and Penelope become each a myth of architectural mind and hand. Mêtis means both the working and the work of “transformative intelligence.” It embraces both mental and manual prowess, both language and material. {215|216} Mêtis works by continual shape-shifting, turning the μορφή “shape” of defeat into victory’s tool. [6] Its methods include the δόλος “trick, trap”, the κέρδος “profit-gaining scheme”, and the ability to seize the καιρός “opportunity”. Each of these exploits the essential form of mêtis, the τρόπος “turning” that binds opposites, manifest in the reversal and the circle, [7] in weaving, twisting, and knotting, and in every joint. The mistress or master of mêtis knows how to manipulate “the circular reciprocity between what is bound and what is binding.” [8] Etymologically, mêtis is derived from a verbal root meaning “to measure” with its implication of calculation and exact knowledge, preserved also in μέτρον “measurement”. [9] A traditional connection between mêtis and the builder’s skills is seen in the figure of Athena, daughter of the goddess Metis, who teaches τέκτονας ἄνδρας “builder men” to make (ποιῆσαι) elaborate war chariots and παρθενικάς “maidens” to weave (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 12–15), [10] and in the mythological architect, Trophonius. [11] The noun mêtis is the object of the verb of building itself in the phrase μῆτιν τεκτήναιτο “build a mêtis” (Iliad X 19).

In the (re)marriage of Penelope and Odysseus, the Odyssey tells a myth of architectural origins that prefigures and exceeds Vitruvius’ aboriginal architects who build shelters by imitating the weaving and daubing of swallows’ nests. [17] At a schematic level, the weaving of Penelope and the (re)marriage bed of Odysseus are emblems of the two basic elements of building: vertical space-enclosure and columns supporting a horizontal load. [18] Their collaboration constructs an ideal of architecture, gender, and philosophy in and as immovable (re)marriage. The partners in this collaboration, while mutually dependent, are not equal. Penelope is in charge of the (re)union. It is by virtue of her mêtis—her κέρδος “profit-gaining scheme” of secret, false speech, her δόλος “trick, trap” of weaving, and her trick to test for their secret σήματα “signs”—that Odysseus’ mêtis of the bed can function as architect of his identity and hers. But Penelope’s design serves a “program”—a system of social requirements and the power to enforce them—that she did not write. Itself an architecture, the program of Odyssean “father-rule” attempts ever to reconstruct its model of the female gender through the philosophic force of the Odyssey itself. The Odyssey divides the ambiguity (it posits as) essential to the female into an almost complete dichotomy of praise and blame. [19] It eulogizes the mind of the blameless wife, the best “Pandora” you can get.

In Praise of the Mind of Penelope

“O blessed child of Laertes, Odysseus of many devices,
surely you possessed a wife with great excellence (μεγάλῃ ἀρετῇ).
How good were the wits (φρένες) in blameless Penelope,
daughter of Icarius. How well she remembered Odysseus, her wedded husband.
Therefore his/her (οἱ) fame (κλέος) for her/his (ἧς) excellence (ἀρετῆς) {217|218}
will never perish, and the immortals will fashion for those upon the earth
a song full of grace (ἀοιδὴν χαρίεσσαν) for prudent Penelope,
not as the daughter of Tyndareus devised (μήσατο) evil works,
when she murdered her wedded husband, and a hateful song forever
will exist among men, and will forever bestow a harsh word
upon female women, even if there be one who does good.”

Odyssey xxiv 192–202

The mêtis of the Web

Praise, Blame, and the Ambiguity of a “Woman’s Place”

“High-speaking Telemachus, unrestrained in might, what sort of thing
have you said to shame us! You would like to fasten blame.
But the suitors are not the cause or worthy of your blame (αἴτιοι),
but your dear mother, who beyond all others knows profit-gaining schemes (κέρδεα).”

Odyssey ii 85–88

Casting the situation in the terms of praise and blame, the suitor Antinous defends himself to Telemachus. Penelope has superior knowledge of κέρδεα “profit-gaining schemes.” She can make the other person look blameworthy, when it is actually she who is the αἴτιον “cause” and thus deserves the blame. The charge introduces the ambiguity of her situation.

Architecturally, Penelope’s place as an αἴτιον “cause,” locus of blame, is co-occupied by opposite but interdependent forces. For she does not change her position either in action, by returning to her father, or in word, by choosing one of the suitors or refusing to do so. In the terms of philosophical logic, A (force toward marriage as change of place) and not-A (force against marriage as change of place) occupy the same place at the same time. Here, as in buildings, the opposition of interdependent forces produces stability, but one that would arrest the Odyssean social system.

But for now, Penelope maintains her position unmoved. By imitating the desires of her suitors in the twin strategies of secret, false messages and the treacherous (un)weaving of Laertes’ shroud, she turns her adversaries into co-constructors of her ambiguous place.

The κέρδος “profit-making scheme” of Secret, False Speech

“For it is now the third year, and quickly will be the fourth,
that she has cheated the heart in the breasts of the Achaeans.
To all she gives hope and promises each man,
sending forth messages (ἀγγελίας). But her mind (νόος) designs other things.”

Odyssey ii 89–92

Penelope’s κέρδος “profit-making scheme” works only so long as the suitors do not speak the secret, false signs to one another. This collective silence depends upon moving each individual suitor to adopt an image of himself that matches the structure of the scheme. This is the mêtis of the κέρδος—to make each suitor act out his enemy’s construction of him unawares. Each suitor must construe himself as a module divided between inside knowledge (what he knows from Penelope’s message to him) and outside speech (what he says to the others). Penelope’s mêtis of “unmoved movement” plays upon the pride of each man, upon the desire of each for unique identity as the only “chosen one”—and upon the force of that desire to displace and defer his even conceiving the possibility of another treated like himself.

The δόλος “trick, trap” of the Shroud

“And this is another trick (δόλον) she devised in her mind.
She set up a great loom in the halls and was weaving
a web both delicate and symmetrical. And then she said to us:
‘Young men, my suitors, since shining Odysseus has died, {221|222}
wait, even though you are eager for my marriage, until I complete this mantle,
lest my spinning be wasted and in vain,
a shroud for the hero Laertes, for whenever
the common doom of painful death brings him down,
lest someone of the Achaean women in the community 
blame me,
if he were to lie without a sheet to wind him, he who 
acquired much.’
So she spoke, and the proud heart in us was persuaded.”

Odyssey ii 93–103

Men depend on women for this covering. For in the Greek world only women weave shrouds. Penelope’s δόλος “trick, trap”-speech persuades the suitors by promising to deploy this definitive mark of the female gender on behalf of the male over and against his mortality.

Weaving enters the human world with the woman and her mêtis, each as the αἴτιον “cause” of the other. It is Athena, daughter of the goddess Metis, who teaches weaving to Pandora, the first woman and model of all females, including the goddesses (like Athena and Metis) who preceded her. [34] Weaving and mêtis, too, are mutually originating. As the daughter of Metis teaches weaving, so one is said to “weave a mêtis.” [35] In the logic of aetiological myth, such reciprocal origins represent the working of a system of jointly reinforcing constructions. Weaving, mêtis, and Pandora: each is a tricky covering, an attractive outside that belies what is inside. Pandora is a work of plastic art, the ceramic likeness of a modest maiden, moulded by Hephaestus, the artisanal god. [36] Her modesty is a jar, an external verisimilitude. She is, like Penelope’s web, a δόλος “trick, trap” against which men have no μηχανή “means of resistance,” [37] and, like the κέρδος of secret falsehoods, a partition of outside from inside. For, as Athena teaches her weaving, Aphrodite and Hermes constitute Pandora as a treacherous division between external, sexual power—“graceful beauty” that causes “painful yearning” and “limb-devouring sorrows”—and internal, mental power—the “mind of a bitch,” the “character of a thief,” “falsehoods,” and that tool of mêtis wielded by Zeus against the goddess Metis, “wily words” (Works and Days 65–68, 78). [38] Pandora is an ornamental screen. Her entire skin is covered by the κόσμος “order, ornament” that Athena as goddess of craft has “fastened together upon” (ἐφήρμοσε: ἐπί “upon” + ἁρμόζω “join, fit”) it (Works and Days 76). In weaving, Pandora makes what she is, a covering of her (mêtis) inside. [39]

But why women alone are assigned the particular form of mêtis that is weaving, the myth of Pandora does not directly state. Its silence is understandable psychoanalytically. For, lacking the inhibitions of Hesiodic theology, but ultimately derivative from its formulation of the female, it is a Freudian text that locates the reason this tradition sees weaving as women’s invention—and in an area of maximum male anxiety:

Women invented weaving to conceal their genitals, the locus of their lack and envy of the male’s (pro-)creative capacity and the place—indeed the aition—of castration, the “female” condition he fears for himself. From the Greek perspective, the covering of this place is praiseworthy, for all genitals are τὰ αἰδοῖα “the shameful parts.” Veiling them, like wrapping a corpse, displays αἰδώς “shame” that “feminine characteristic par excellence.”

The same arrested relay of emulative mêtis underlies Odyssean architectural theory. For in the female invention “of making the threads adhere to one {224|225} another” is also the beginning of architecture. The Vitruvian myth of aboriginal architects “imitating” the weaving and daubing of birds’ nests continues a widespread aetiology. The tradition reaches to the etymology of τεῖχος/τοῖχος “wall” derived from a root with cognates in several Indo-European languages meaning “to mould a wall of mud” [43] and to the woven constructions that comparative architectural historian and theoretician, Gottfried Semper, adduces as the origin of vertical division between inner and outer space:

. . . the beginning of building coincides with the beginning of 

The wall is that architectural element that formally represents and makes visible the enclosed space as such, absolutely, as it were, without reference to secondary concepts.

We might recognize the pen, bound together from sticks and branches, and the interwoven fence as the earliest vertical spatial enclosure that man invented. . . .

Whether these inventions gradually developed in this order or another matters little to us here, for it remains certain that the use of the crude weaving that started with the pen – as a means to make the “home,” the inner life separated from the outer life, and as the formal creation of the idea of space—undoubtedly preceded the wall, even the most primitive one constructed out of stone or any other material.

The structure that served to support, to secure, to carry this spatial enclosure was a requirement that had nothing directly to do with space and the division of space. . . .

In this connection, it is of the greatest importance to note that wherever these secondary motives are not present, woven fabrics almost everywhere and especially in the southern and warm countries carry out their ancient, original function as conspicuous spatial dividers; even where solid walls become necessary they remain only the inner and unseen structure for the true and legitimate representatives of the spatial idea: namely, the more or less artificially woven and seamed-together, textile walls. . . .

Given Semper’s account of the “beginning of building,” by marking weaving as exclusively female, early Greek thought attributes to women the founding form of architectural art. But the Odyssean system of praise and blame confines the woman’s architectural power to weaving its “walls.” A praiseworthy “Pandora” weaves to cover (herself as) shame – and blames women who do not.

Why do women enforce this confinement of their weaving? A “woman’s place” in the Odyssey is subject to male force—the ἀνάγκη “force of necessity” that ultimately compels Penelope to finish the shroud (Odyssey ii 110). In this position, women have neither security nor prestige unless they weave in the interests—weave the “protection”—of the father-rule. It is the mêtis of the Odyssean architecture of gender—mêtis as “swallowed” by the ἀνάγκη of Zeus’ regime—to elicit from women its double. Women restrict their architecture in return for protection and praise.

Penelope’s δόλος “trick, trap” of the shroud is persuasive because it promises conformation with this ideal of female architecture. It is treacherous (an exemplary mêtis) because it both keeps and contravenes—indeed it keeps by contravening—its promise. For as long as it operates, Penelope’s δόλος maintains the ambiguity of her position as αἴτιον “cause,” a movement without (re)location – toward the oἶκος “household” of her husband’s rival as she weaves by day, toward her husband’s oἶκος as she unweaves at night. This is not a static stand-off, for equal spending and saving here add up to a κέρδος “profit” of praise. This scheme of rotating reversal is Penelope’s solution to the problem posed by the program of Odyssean architecture, gender, and philosophy: how to construct a praise-winning female place, when you do not know whether your husband is alive or dead? If alive, keep his place alive (unweave his father’s shroud by night). If dead, make a new place for yourself (weave his father’s shroud by day). Thereby make your place simultaneously that of both men and no man. Her strategy tropes the riddle of her situation with another: when is the most blameworthy female action, refusing marriage exchange or marrying a husband’s rival, the most praiseworthy? Answer: when they are done at the same time, just as Penelope is said to enter the room Ἀρτέμιδι ἰκέλη ἠὲ χρυσῇ Ἀφροδίτῃ “like to Artemis or golden Aphrodite” (Odyssey xvii {226|227} 37, xix 54). Hers is a mêtis of doing both, while doing neither, a “circular reciprocity” that binds the suitors and the system they represent.

But it binds Penelope, too. Time does not stand still. With repetition, ambiguity becomes architectural. Resisting the question of whose place she is weaving allows and even courts its occupation by the suitors. Their prolonged presence attracts the allegiance of women trained to exercise their mêtis on behalf of the man who occupies their oἶκος “household.” Penelope’s dislocating architecture provokes its “dys-location” in the figure of the servant woman who betrays her.

The mêtis of the (Re)Marriage Bed

The Test for Architectural Signs

The mêtis of the (re)marriage bed begins with Penelope sleeping upon it, while Odysseus slaughters the suitors—sleeping more sweetly than ever before, since Odysseus left for Troy, so sweetly that she berates the nurse Eurycleia for awakening her with the news of his return (Odyssey xxiii 15–19). {227|228} Penelope refuses to believe the nurse. Eurycleia replies that Odysseus has returned “really” (ἔτυμον, Odyssey xxiii 26). Overjoyed, Penelope asks to hear “unerringly” (νημερτές, Odyssey xxiii 35), if he “really” (ἐτεόν, Odyssey xxiii 36) has returned, how he “although being only one,” slaughtered the many (Odyssey xxiii 38). After listening to Eurycleia’s account, she denies that it is a “true story” (μῦθος ἐτήτυμος, Odyssey xxiii 62) and initiates a test for the real identity of this “stranger” (ὁ ξεῖνος, Odyssey xxiii 28).

Earlier in the day she set up a contest to see who could string Odysseus’ bow and hit a target through a row of twelve axes, promising to marry whoever succeeded. [47] The winner had to be at least a good copy, someone εἴκελος “like” or ὁμοῖος “same as, equal to” Odysseus—not false pretenders to his place like the suitors, but not necessarily the original man. [48] Now, in order to determine Odysseus’ unique identity, Penelope designs a πεῖρα “penetration to the boundary, test” that is at once a work of architectural philosophy and of philosophic architecture. [49] Penelope’s πεῖρα will define Odysseus by penetrating the space up to the πείρατα “boundaries” that enclose an individual, an inside distinct from all that is outside. These “boundaries” of Odysseus are architectural signs: the σῆμα “sign” of the scar engraved on his body and the σήματα “signs” of the bed he built. Qualified by Penelope as σήματα “which we two only know hidden from others” (Odyssey xxiii 110), the signs of the bed circumscribe an interior location, an exclusive mental place occupied by the two alone, another κέρδος “profit-making scheme” of secret, but this time not false, signification. In defining himself, Odysseus’ architecture of the (re)marriage bed defines Penelope in and as the same place. And by the circular reciprocity of mêtis, Penelope’s πεῖρα of Odysseus will prove her own identity as well. “Penelope” is just she who moves (herself as) the target so that it becomes something immovable and “Formal”—again, an “unmoved mover”—something only Odysseus in his “Formal” uniqueness can hit.

The σῆμα “sign, tomb” of the Scar

After listening to Eurycleia’s description of her discovery of the scar, a sign Penelope will have recognized as well as anyone, she leaves the bedchamber and goes down to see “the men, suitors, dead, and him who slew them” (Odyssey xxiii 84).

The σήματα “signs” of the Bed

He first stresses the unique resistance of the bed to the instability of both the oἶκος “household” and the female, lateral displacement. He demands to know who put his bed “in another place” (ἄλλοσε, Odyssey xxiii 184). Not a god himself could easily put it “in another place” (ἄλλῃ ἐνὶ χώρῃ, Odyssey xxiii 186). No mortal could “move it to the other side” (μετοχλίσσειεν, Odyssey xxiii 188), “since a great sign (μέγα σῆμα) has been built into the skillfully-wrought bed” (τέτυκται ἐν λέχει ἀσκητῷ, Odyssey xxiii 188–189). Metonymic of such fixity, Odysseus emphasizes his unique architectural authorship, “I myself wrought it with toil and no one else” (τὸ δ’ ἐγὼ κάμον οὐδέ τις ἄλλος, Odyssey xxiii 189). Finally, he declares the details of his building, first of the bedchamber and its entrance, and then of the bed inside:

This architecture is the secret σῆμα “sign” that Odysseus and Penelope know apart from others.

By its fixity, the bedpost signifies the ideal immovability of (re)marriage and, a fortiori, of the woman, once she is moved to weave the place of the bed. It is the σῆμα “sign” of female mobility limited to the movement of (re), of “again” within parentheses, of “again” within the walls of the οἶκος “household.” Built by and for the man himself, the stationary bed betokens (re)marriage as his “swallowing” of the female’s pharmacological movement, that movement whose logos shares the structure of the φάρμακον “cure, poison.” A woman must be movable, so that men can communicate. She must enclose, so that he can support. But if the female can move, then her placement is unreliable. If she can weave, she can unweave space and place. What makes marriage possible makes its stability uncertain. So this constraint of the female architectural capacity—the containment of her movement and her weaving—is both health and harm, requiring its own architectural antidote, the immovable (re)marriage bed.

But the bed has not been moved. And Odysseus has spoken its “hidden signs.” The text reiterates their architectural function:

So he spoke, and right there her knees and her own heart were released as she
recognized (ἀναγνούσῃ) the fixed signs (σήματ’ . . . ἔμπεδα) that Odysseus spoke to her.

Odyssey xxiii 205–206

The σήματα “signs” of the bed are ἔμπεδα “footed in” the ground, firmly standing, exclusively separating inside from out, the τέλος “completion” of Penelope’s architectural and philosophic quest. Recognizing them brings ecstasy.

The mêtis of the Odyssean Architectural Ideal

In acknowledging her recognition, within the security of her immovable (re)marriage, Penelope inserts a parenthesis:

But now, since you have now spoken signs easy to recognize (σήματ’ ἀριφραδέα)
of our bed, that no other mortal man has seen,
but only you and I—and only one handmaiden,
Actoris, whom my father gave to me when I came here,
who guarded the door of our firm chamber—
you indeed persuade my spirit, though it is very unfeeling.

Odyssey xxiii 225–230

Here—in the “parenthetical” person of the maid Actoris—is a potential gap in the σήματα ἀριφραδέα “signs easy to recognize” of Odyssean architecture, gender, and philosophy. Stationed in the liminal position of the female, mistress of passages, Actoris, “she who leads,” could have told what she knew {232|233} about the bed to others, just as Penelope’s disloyal handmaids earlier revealed the mêtis of the web.


[ back ] 1. An earlier version of this essay appeared in The Ages of Homer, edited by J. Carter and S. Morris, Austin, 1995:205–320. It is a pleasure to thank Jane Carter, Sarah Morris, and Laura Slatkin for helpful reading of that text. A modified version appeared in Assemblage: A Critical Journal of Architecture and Design Culture 21 (1993) 6–23.

[ back ] 2. The term “(re)marriage” is used to designate the renewal of an existing relationship, rather than a “remarriage” proper following either divorce or death.

[ back ] 3. For the foundation of history and philosophy via the “invention” of mythology as their differentiating “other,” see Detienne 1986. For a psychoanalytic and an anthropological account of the relation between gender and what is understood as biological sex, see Mitchell and Rose 1982, and MacCormack and Strathern 1980. For a review of research on gender, see Laqueur 1990:1–24.

[ back ] 4. For νόος “mind” as the mental faculty of recognition and knowledge of the σῆμα “sign, tomb,” see Nagy 1983.

[ back ] 5. For the essential work on mêtis, see Detienne and Vernant 1978. For the work and the intelligence of the artisan as mêtis, see Vidal-Naquet, “A Study in Ambiguity: Artisans in the Platonic City,” in Vidal-Naquet 1986:224–245.

[ back ] 6. For classic examples, see Detienne and Vernant 1978:34, 37. The hunted fox reverses its direction and plays dead, lying in wait as a trap for the hunter. When caught, the fox-fish turns its body inside out, so that its interior becomes its exterior and the hook falls out.

[ back ] 7. See Detienne and Vernant 1978:46, “The ultimate expression of these qualities is the circle, the bond that is perfect because it completely turns back on itself, is closed in on itself, with neither beginning nor end, front nor rear, and which in rotation becomes both mobile and immobile, moving in both directions at once. . . . The circle unites within it several opposites, each one giving birth to its opposite; it appears as the strangest, most baffling thing in the world, thaumasiotaton, possessing a power which is beyond ordinary logic.”

[ back ] 8. See Detienne and Vernant 1978:305.

[ back ] 9. See Chantraine 1999 s.v. μῆτις. Chantraine cites the cognate verbs μέδομαι and μήδομαι “devise, contrive” and the nouns, Sanskrit mâti “measure, exact knowledge” and Anglo-Saxon mœd “measure.” See below on Clytemnestra’s use of mêtis to “devise” (μήσατο) evil for her husband.

[ back ] 10. For the building of war machines as a part of the ancient architectural repertoire, see Vitruvius De Architectura 10.10–16. For the connection between weaving and architecture, see also Callimachus Hymn to Apollo 55–57: “Men follow Phoebus when they measure out cities. For Phoebus always delights in founding cities, and he himself weaves (ὑφαίνει) their foundations (θεμείλια).”

[ back ] 11. 1See Petrie 1979. For the ancient sources of the myth of Trophonius and its many variants in other cultures, see Frazer’s note on Pausanias 9.37 (Frazer 1913:176–179). The activities of Trophonius and his brother Agamedes exemplify architectural mêtis. After building many monuments, including the temple of Apollo at Delphi, the pair design the treasury of a king who, like his divine counterpart, requires the products of mêtis to preserve his political “property.” But rather than securing the king’s gold, the architects build a secret passage through which to steal it gradually. Thus reversing the “proper” architectural function, the architects construct a means for exposure instead of enclosure and dispossess their client of the economic talisman of his political identity. Once he discovers their δόλος “trick,” the king sets a trap of his own in which Agamedes is caught. The contest then continues as the brothers imitate the enemy to beat him at his own game. In an ironic assimilation of the king’s loss of recognition, the two prevent the king from recognizing them by depriving themselves of identifiable form: Agamedes asks Trophonius to cut off his head, and after obliging his brother, Trophonius is swallowed up by the earth and becomes an oracular hero.

[ back ] 12. The trick of the stone is termed a mêtis at Theogony 471, when Rhea begs Gaia and Uranus to “devise together with her (συμφράσσασθαι) a mêtis by which she could make him forget that she bore her dear child.” It is Gaia who takes the newborn Zeus to be raised secretly in the Cretan cave (Theogony 479–484) and she could be the subject of the phrase “having swaddled a great stone, she handed it to the son of Uranus” (Theogony 485), unless a change of subject back to Rhea is to be understood.

[ back ] 13. With the substitution of the swaddled stone for the real child, compare the Muses’ capacity to substitute ψεύδεα ὁμοῖα ἐτύμοισιν “false things like to real things” and ἀληθέα “true things” εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν “whenever we wish” (Theogony 27–28) in “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought” in this collection. For the architectural significance of such swaddling, compare the Bekleidung “dressing, cladding” of a building in the theory of 19th century comparative architectural historian and theoretician Gottfried Semper (1989:24, 34, 36–40, 103–110, 240–243). On the relations between Semper’s work and Karl Botticher’s Die Tektonik der Hellenen, see Chapter 3, “Semper and the Archeologist Botticher,” in Herrmann 1984.

[ back ] 14. This monolith would count among the examples of what Hegel calls “symbolic” architecture, the first stage in the progressive development toward the Classical and finally the Romantic/Gothic types. In contrast to the Classical, in which the elements must “display” (zeigen) their definitively architectural function, as a column, to take Hegel’s prime example, demonstrates its load-bearing, the purpose of symbolic architecture is “the erection of something which is a unifying point for a nation.” Its elements are often imitative of natural, organic forms and emphasize the unroofed enclosure of space rather than load-bearing support. See Hegel 1975:II.630–700. See also Payot 1982:29–50.

[ back ] 15. Aristotle’s Generation of Animals presents a similar “battle of the sexes” as the sperm, a dynamic τέκτων “builder,” attempts to master (κρατεῖν) the passive material of the menstrual fluid with the instrument of his “informing” soul (Generation of Animals 730b, 766b, 767b).

[ back ] 16. Apollodorus Bibliotheca 1.3.6. See also Theogony 886–900.

[ back ] 17. See Vitruvius De Architectura 2.1.2: “Therefore, since because of the invention of fire there was born at the beginning, a coming together among men and reasoning together and living together, and many came together into one place, by having from nature an advantage over other animals, so that they walked not with their head down but upright and gazed upon the magnificence of the world and the stars, and likewise with their hands and fingers they handled easily whatever they wished, they began in that joining together, some to make shelters (tecta) from a branch, others to dig caves under mountains, several by imitating (imitantes) the nests of swallows and their modes of constructing (aedificationes) to make places (loca) from mud and wattles which they might go under.” For the view of Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti that it was “roof and walls” that first brought humans together in community, see Alberti 1988:3. On the Western tradition of myths of original architecture deriving from both Vitruvian and Biblical exemplars, see Rykwert 1972.

[ back ] 18. 17. See Semper, “Structural Elements of Assyrian-Chaldean Architecture,” Chapter 10 of “Comparative Building Theory” (Vergleichende Baulehre 1850) in Herrmann (1984:204) for these “two basic elements of building—the roof with the supporting columns, and the vertical enclosure later to become the wall of the living room.” For these two elements as exemplary functions of the “Classical” and “Symbolic” stages respectively in Hegel’s philosophy of architecture, see Hegel 1975:630–676.

[ back ] 19. For this ambiguity of the female, see “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought” in this collection.

[ back ] 20. On this passage, see Nagy 1979:36–38, 255–256. Nagy interprets ἀρετή here as belonging to Odysseus, taking σὺν μεγάλῃ ἀρετῇ in 193 as instrumental with ἐκτήσω (“it is truly with great merit that you got a wife”) and κλέος ἧς ἀρετῆς in 196–197 as “the kleos of his aretê,” with the merit consisting in having won such a wife as Penelope. The ἀοιδὴ χαρίεσσα “song of grace” for Penelope in 197–198, clearly a gloss upon κλέος ἧς ἀρετῆς, is “part of the overall kleos of Odysseus.”

[ back ] 21. See also Odyssey xviii 251–255.

[ back ] 22. For the relationship between μέδομαι and μῆτις, see Chantraine 1999 s.v. μῆτις.

[ back ] 23. See above on Odyssey ii 125.

[ back ] 24. For the circular relation of praise and blame, compare Pindar fr. 181 SM: ὁ γὰρ ἐξ οἴκου ποτὶ μῶμον ἔπαινος κίρναται “for by virtue of common origin (literally, ‘from the household’) praise is mixed with blame.”

[ back ] 25. See Lévi-Strauss 1967:548–570 = 1969:478–497.

[ back ] 26. Compare Odysseus’ ability to work as one against the many suitors.

[ back ] 27. Compare Achilles’ condemnation of such a dichotomy at Iliad IX 312–313.

[ back ] 28. Compare Felman 1980.

[ back ] 29. Compare the case of Bellerophon, Iliad VI 155–202.

[ back ] 30. Was it the woman mentioned in Odyssey ii 108 who revealed the mêtis of the web to the suitors? It could also be a herald (Medon) or the domestic Dolion (Odyssey iv 735).

[ back ] 31. Antigone is a witness to the preeminent importance of proper death rites. For the role of women as leaders of funeral ritual, compare the mourning for Hector at the end of the Iliad and Alexiou 1974. For an analysis of the Homeric treatment of the corpse in terms of a cross-cultural account of the role of women in funerary rituals, see Bloch 1982:211–230.

[ back ] 32. Compare Priam’s contrast between the corpse of a young man which retains its “beauty” (καλά) even in death and that of an old man, when “dogs disgrace (αἰσχύνωσι) the gray head and the gray beard and the shameful parts (αἰδῶ) (Iliad XXII 71–76) and the analysis of Vernant 1991:50–74.

[ back ] 33. See Herodotus 2.35. See also Dissoi Logoi [90] 2.17 DK.

[ back ] 34. See “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought” with bibliography in this collection.

[ back ] 35. For “weave a mêtis,” see Iliad VII 324, IX 93, Odyssey iv 678, 739, Hesiod Shield 28, for “weave a δόλος ‘trick, trap,’” see Iliad VI 187, and for both as objects of “weave,” see Odyssey ix 422.

[ back ] 36. Hesiod Works and Days 70–71 and Theogony 571–572: “Immediately from earth renowned Hephaestus moulded (πλάσσε) a likeness to a modest maiden.”

[ back ] 37. Hesiod Theogony 588–589 of Pandora: “Marvel held both the immortal gods and mortal men, when they saw the sheer trap (δόλον αἰπύν), irresistible (ἀμήχανον) to men.”

[ back ] 38. For γυιοβόρους “limb-devouring” vs. γυιοκόρους at 66, see West 1978.

[ back ] 39. As a construction enclosing her mêtis, Pandora is analogous to her jar containing hope. This jar, the body of Pandora, is also described as a house: “There in the unbreakable halls (δόμοισιν) hope alone was remaining inside under the lips of the jar, and it did not fly out from the door (θύραζε)” (Hesiod Works and Days 96–97). See Vernant 1989:77. As both body and house, the jar parallels Pandora with the οἶκος “household.” The relation between the two is, however, hierarchical rather than equal. For the οἶκος is designed to work like the “swallowing” body of Zeus: to keep the female inside, able to use her mêtis for “weaving” only the walls of the οἶκος as an image and extension of the ideal wife. See “Female Fetish Urban Form” in this collection.

[ back ] 40. Freud 1933 [1932]: 132.

[ back ] 41. See Durante 1960. See also Schmitt 1967:299–301, Durante 1976:48,167–179, Snyder 1981, Scheid and Svenbro 1996, esp.111–130, Nagy 1996a:84–92, Nagy 1996b:63–74, Graziosi 2002:18–40, Nagy 2002:70–98. For the statesman’s art as “weaving,” see Plato Politicus 278e4–279c3. In the Politicus, weaving is appropriated as the paradigm of the statesman’s ἐπιστήμη “knowledge,” while the weaving τέχνη itself is degraded as a small, material, visible εἴδωλον “image” of one of τὰ ἀσώματα, κάλλιστα ὄντα καὶ μέγιστα “the immaterial things, being most beautiful and greatest” (Politicus 285d4–286b1). On the figure of weaving in Platonic thought, see Frère 1986.

[ back ] 42. For the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle as opposed to, while founded upon, metaphor, see Derrida 1972b = 1982.

[ back ] 43. See Chantraine 1999, s.v. τεῖχος “to fashion out of earth” (façonner de la terre), “make a wall out of earth” (faire un mur de terre). Cognates include Avestan pairidaêza “enclosure, garden” and its Greek derivative paradeisos “garden, paradise.” Compare also the architectural element of the “frieze” derived via French frise “border, fringe, ornament” from Latin phrygium (compare Phrygiae vestes “embroidered garments”) and cognate with the verb “frieze” meaning “to cover with a nap” or “to embroider with gold.” It is a pleasure to thank Richard Janko and Sarah Morris for suggesting these two etymological reflections of the processes of daubing and weaving respectively.

[ back ] 44. “The Textile Art” (Semper 1989:254–255, italics original); see also “The Four Elements of Architecture” (Semper 1989:102–103). Compare “Structural Elements of Assyrian-Chaldean Architecture,” Chapter 10 of “Comparative Building Theory” (Vergleichende Baulehre 1850) in Herrmann 1984:205: [ back ] It is well known that any wild tribe is familiar with the fence or a primitive hurdle as a means of enclosing space. Weaving the fence led to weaving movable walls of bast, reed, or willow twigs and later to weaving carpets of thinner animal or vegetable fiber. . . . [ back ] Using wickerwork for setting apart one’s property and for floor mats and protection against heat and cold far preceded making even the roughest masonry. Wickerwork was the original motif of the wall. It retained this primary significance, actually or ideally, when the light hurdles and mattings were later transformed into brick or stone walls. The essence of the wall was wickerwork.

[ back ] 45. Lévi-Strauss 1967:548–570 = 1969:478–497.

[ back ] 46. See Odyssey xxiv 146–150, where the ghost of the suitor Amphimedon indicates that the finishing of the shroud directly precedes or is contemporaneous with the return of Odysseus.

[ back ] 47. Penelope uses the same instrument to construct her husband’s identity as Clytemnestra uses to murder Agamemnon, the axe. The basic architectural function of incising material can either edify or destroy. I thank Sarah Morris for pointing out this contrasting use of the axe.

[ back ] 48. For the relation between Odysseus and the suitors as simulacra or “false pretenders” to his unique identity, see Deleuze 1969: “Platonism is the philosophical Odyssey; the Platonic dialectic is neither a dialectic of contradiction nor of contrariety, but a dialectic of rivalry (amphisbetesis), a dialectic of rivals and suitors (prétendants)” (293). “Copies are secondary possessors. They are well-founded ‘suitors’ (prétendants), guaranteed by resemblance; simulacra are like false ‘suitors’ (prétendants), built upon a dissimilarity, implying an essential perversion or a deviation. It is in this sense that Plato divides in two the domain of images-idols: on one hand there are copiesicons, on the other there are simulacra-phantasms” (296).

[ back ] 49. For the root *per “go to the end point,” in πείρω “penetrate, pierce,” πεῖρα “penetration to the end, test,” and πεῖραρ “boundary line, determinant,” see Bergren 1975.

[ back ] 50. Compare the procedure of Anchises in “Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite: Tradition and Rhetoric, Praise and Blame” in this collection.

[ back ] 51. For the verbs of recognition, interpretation, and knowledge of the σῆμα – ἀναγιγνώσκω, νοέω, and γιγνώσκω – see Nagy 1983. Apropos of the σῆμα as a gravestone, see Vermeule 1979:45: “The classical sêma can be both the external sign of the invisible dead in the grave, and the substitute person, especially kept alive in memory when written upon.” On the tomb as a signal instance of “symbolic architecture” in Hegelian philosophy, see Hegel 1975, esp. 650–654 on the pyramids and the Mausoleum.

[ back ] 52. For the αἶνος, see Odyssey xiv 462–506 and Nagy 1979:234–241. Compare the use of an αἶνος-mode of eliciting information and testing knowledge in “Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite: Tradition and Rhetoric, Praise and Blame” in this collection.

[ back ] 53. After his bath, Athena pours “great beauty” (πολὺ κάλλος) upon Odysseus so that his body looks bigger and thicker and lets down his hair in curls that are “like (ὁμοίας) to hyacinths” (Odyssey xxiii 156–158), a description that recalls the girth and locks of archaic kouroi. Compare Stewart 1990:2, plates 44–54, 57, 60, 132–135. The text then practices its own capacity to “liken” by comparing Athena’s divine art to the work of a human sculptor: “And as when a man with knowledge (ἀνὴρ ἴδρις) pours gold around silver, one whom Hephaestus and Athena have taught every sort of art (τέχνην παντοίην) and he produces works of grace (χαρίεντα δὲ ἔργα τελείει), so did the goddess pour grace (χάριν) around his head and shoulders” (Odyssey xxiii 159–162). From Athena’s sculpting (as assimilated to the human art that imitates her own) Odysseus emerges “like (ὁμοῖος) to the immortals in build” (Odyssey xxiii 163). In this context of poetic and sculptural “likening,” the simile suggests a chiastic parallel between poet and sculptor made possible by (if it does not itself promote) anthropomorphic theology: as the poet fashions anthropomorphic divinities who imitate human sculptors, so the sculptor fashions humans who look like gods.

[ back ] 54. See Stanford 1973:2.378 on xxiii 178, citing van Leeuwen’s collection of examples of the imperfect ἐποίει “he made” in artists’ signatures on works of 6th century BCE art.

[ back ] 55. On the significance of the use of δαιδάλλων here, see Morris 1992:29–30.

[ back ] 56. For the κίων “column” as derived from the tree, being already rectilinear in its trunk and branches, and as exemplary of the beauty of Classical architecture, that is, the pure display of architectural purpose, see Hegel 1975:665–669.

[ back ] 57. Compare the relation of truth in the Platonic system as that of the ὅμοιον, the “like, same, equal to itself.” For the Platonic idiom, “to be ὅμοιος ‘like to’ yourself,” see Symposium 173d4, Republic 549e2. For the collocation of “like” and “true” as synonymous, see Sophist 252d1 and Philebus 65d2–3, as reciprocal, Phaedrus 273d2–6. The basis of this relation is the “likeness” or “sameness” of the sensible particular and the intelligible Form or paradigm; see, for example, Timaeus 28b–29d, Republic 472c9–d1, Parmenides 132d1–4 (where the participation of the particular in the paradigm is precisely the relation of likeness), and Sophist 264c–268d. The vulnerability of this mimetic conception of truth is registered in the Muses’ speech, when they claim they can “say many false things (ψεύδεα) like (ὁμοῖα) to real things.” See “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought” in this collection.

[ back ] 58. On the early Greek sumbolon, see “Similes and Symbolization in Odyssey v” in this collection. Used as a means of identification, especially to secure contracts and treaties, the sumbolon designates an incomplete object, such as one half of a knucklebone, that must be brought together (sumballein) with the other half to prove the identity of the bearer. The term is also used of a single object related to individuals by their exclusive knowledge of it. In the case of the objects that identify Creusa and Ion as mother and son, for example, Creusa’s description of the contents of Ion’s cradle, before seeing them, works as her “half of the knucklebone” (Euripides Ion 1386–1442). In the same category belong the purple mantle and golden pin that the disguised Odysseus describes in response to Penelope’s πεῖρα “test” of his claim to have been Odysseus’ host in Crete (Odyssey xix 215–250). Penelope “recognizes” (ἀναγνούσῃ) them as “fixed signs” (σήματ’ . . . ἔμπεδα) of their speaker’s identity, when in fact they can signify either Odysseus, his host, or any other guest present at the time.

[ back ] 59. The phrase “like to himself” (εἴκελος αὐτῷ) is used at Odyssey xx 88 in a prefiguration of their recognition: Penelope awakes weeping from a dream in which Odysseus appeared “like to himself, such as he was when he went with the army. And my heart was rejoicing, since I said it was not a dream, but a waking vision,” and Odysseus, perceiving her cry, “imagined she had already recognized him” (δόκησε δέ οἱ . . . ἤδη γινώσκουσα, Odyssey xx 93–94).

[ back ] 60. See Odyssey xix 109–114, where Odysseus appropriately likens Penelope’s κλέος “fame” to that of the model male, a “blameless” king.

[ back ] 61. See Odyssey xiv 124–130 where Eumaeus, although insisting that Penelope cannot be persuaded by the report of a wanderer, describes needy vagabonds who “tell lies (ψεύδοντ’) and are unwilling to say true things (ἀληθέα)” and admits that Penelope used to receive any wanderer who came to Ithaca, entertain him, question him, and mourn, “since this is the right conduct (θέμις) of a wife, whenever her husband has perished elsewhere.”

[ back ] 62. See notes 57 and 60 above.

[ back ] 63. The argument of this paper finds a confirming supplement in the analysis offered per litteras by Deirdre von Dornum: “The story of Aphrodite and Hephaestus at Odyssey viii 266–366 is the thematic and architectural counterpart to the (re)marriage of Penelope and Odysseus.” In contrast to “restrained” Penelope (ἐχέφρων, Odyssey iv 111), Aphrodite is “unrestrained” (οὐκ ἐχέθυμος, Odyssey viii 320), unstable, does move, and so endangers her marriage, leading to blame (Odyssey viii 309, 319). As Odysseus builds his bed as a σῆμα “sign” to keep his marriage immovable, Hephaestus constructs a δόλος “trick, trap” in the form of a bed (Odyssey viii 276, compare 281–282) in order to stop Aphrodite’s shifting (at Odyssey viii 275 he makes her ἔμπεδον “fixed,” compare Odysseus’ bed as ἔμπεδον “fixed” and his σήματα ἔμπεδα “fixed signs” at Odyssey xxiii 203, 206). While Odysseus’ bed permits mutual recognition of unique identity, Hephaestus’ bed-trick forces Ares’ and Aphrodite’s recognition (γίγνωσκον) that they cannot shift (οὐκέτι φυκτὰ πέλοντο, Odyssey viii 299). By changing the symbol of his betrayal into the sign of his control, shifting the shape of the bed to keep Aphrodite from shifting (in) bed, Hephaestus “turns the μορφή ‘shape’ of defeat into victory’s tool.” His triumph is qualified, however, as Aphrodite receives mixed praise and blame (in contrast to Clytemnestra) and is able to shift again (Odyssey viii 337, 342), thanks to the mediation of Poseidon. Although a master builder, Hephaestus is outwitted by Aphrodite with the complicity of her society. Their bed scene represents the construction of failed marriage through impermanent, public architecture versus successful (re)marriage through permanent, private architecture.