Discussion Series: The Homeric Odyssey and the Cultivation of Justice

Lecture Four


Champions of dikê (justice)

A) Odyssey xix: “Lady;” answered Odysseus, “who on the face of the whole   earth can dare to chide with you? Your fame [kleos] reaches the   firmament of heaven itself; you are like some blameless king, who upholds righteousness   [= good dikê], as the monarch over a great and valiant   nation: the earth yields its wheat and barley, the trees are loaded with fruit,   the ewes bring forth lambs, and the sea abounds with fish by reason of his virtues,   and his people do good deeds under him.

B) Odyssey xxiv: As he went down into the great orchard, … he found   his father alone, hoeing a vine. He had on a dirty old shirt, patched and very   shabby; his legs were bound round with thongs of oxhide to save him from the   brambles, and he also wore sleeves of leather; he had a goat skin cap on his   head, and was looking full of grief [penthos]. When Odysseus   saw him so worn, so old and full of sorrow [penthos], he stood   still under a tall pear tree and began to weep. He doubted whether to embrace   him, kiss him, and tell him all about his having come home, or whether he should   first question him and see what he would say. In the end he deemed it best to   be crafty with him, so in this mind he went up to his father, who was bending   down and digging about a plant. “I see, sir,” said Odysseus, “that you are an   excellent gardener – what pains you take with it, to be sure. There is not a   single plant, not a fig tree, vine, olive, pear, nor flower bed, but bears the   trace of your attention.”

1. dikê ‘justice’ (long-range), ‘judgment’ (short-range)

2. vs. hubris ‘outrage’ – The three categories of hubris: 1) human,   e.g. Antinoos, 2) animal, 3) plant (undergrowth or overgrowth = excessive wood   / leaf production)

3. dikê as straight line = blooming garden/orchard/grove;   hubris is opposite, crooked line = desert or overgrown jungle.

4. So: blooming garden (or field) is the opposite of desert or excessive wood/leaf   production

5. In English, if you are not crooked in speech, you are direct.

6. This word “direct” is key, because dikê means direction,   directness.

7. Generally, Homeric poetry does not address the problems of justice, that   is, right vs. wrong, which is also, truth vs. lies

8. Shield of Achilles at Iliad XVIII 508: picture of a contest over   straightest dikê in context of a neikos ‘quarrel’ 497. It   is “outsiders” who make up their mind about justice in the Iliad.

9. Odyssey xix 106-114, king in a blooming garden or field [note   the semantics of this English word: like agros, both nature and culture]:   the kleos of Penelope, says Odysseus in disguise, will reach the heavens   like that of a king who upholds good dikê (eudikiâs   acc. pl.) 111, and the earth flourishes and the people prosper.

10. Review from last lecture: In the ainos of Teiresias, Odyssey   xi 136-137, compare the symbol (sêma) of the dead sailor to the   symbol of the dead hero in a blooming garden or field (culture, agriculture):   the people around you will be olbioi; for Odysseus, to repeat, the symbol   that means “the sailor is dead” is the symbol that means “the harvest   is complete”; for others, the symbol means just one or the other thing, unless   they, too, have traveled. If the cult hero is olbios, then the people   who worship him can also be olbioi – by metonymy.

11. Heroes in cult are key to seasonality of agriculture

12. Cult heroes are the phulakes ‘guardians’ of dikê, Compare   Hesiod Works and Days 122-126, 172-173


— they are daimones, according to the plans of great Zeus;


they are noble [esthloi], earth-bound [epi-khthonioi],     guardians [phulakes] of mortal humans,


who stand guard, supervising dikai and wretched deeds;


They are invisible, roaming everywhere over the land,


givers of wealth; and all this they have as befits the honor of kings.

13. One of the most explicit references to dikê:


Odyssey iii 132-135: Zeus plots a baneful nostos, (132), because     Argives had no noos and no dikê     (133) and they were slated for doom because of the mênis     of Athena (135)

14. Odysseus as intrinsically noble, extrinsically base; suitors as the opposite,   especially Anti-noos: extrinsically noble, intrinsically base.

15. Remember, it takes noos to bring together   the 1) intellectual, 2) moral, 3) emotional