Douglas Frame, The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic: 3. The Return of Odysseus

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  • Douglas Frame, The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic, 3: The Return of Odysseus, Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC. September, 2005

3. The Return of Odysseus

1. Introduction

In the last chapter two Homeric verses, each with a form from the root nes-, were seen to have a common origin in the early history of Greek epic. It was argued that these forms from nes– originally had to do with “returning to life and light” and that this meaning can best be understood in the context of solar symbolism. The first purpose of this chapter will be to amplify and support the two parts of this argument, in regard both to the proposed meaning and to its interpretation, by considering various episodes in the first half of the Odyssey. The second purpose will be to show how nóos, “mind,” is involved in the same episodes.

When attempting to carry out these two purposes it is best to recognize certain limitations from the outset. The first has to do with the nature of the material to be considered. It is well known that the adventures of Odysseus reflect diverse folktale motifs; [1]   hence it would be a mistake to try and reduce these adventures to a single formula. My object is, therefore, not to show that the “return to life and light” is the only strand in the tradition behind the Odyssey, but rather that this is one important strand, which may be only latently present in diverse contexts. The second limitation, which has already been discussed, is that Homer no longer understood the connection between nóos and néomai. It is therefore to be expected that traditional material which preserved the etymological connection has been altered and obscured in Homer’s own creation.

Before entering the main body of this chapter it will be useful to comment upon an episode that illustrates the latent form in which our traditional material may appear. In Book 9 Odysseus encounters the Lotus-eaters, whose food causes anyone who eats it to lose his desire to return home. This loss of desire is a kind of “forgetfulness,” as is revealed by two closely related collocations, both in verse-final position: nóstou te lathésthai, “to forget their homecoming,” in line 97 and nóstoio láth?tai, “that he might forget his homecoming,” in line 102. What is suggested by the forms of lanthánomai, “to forget,” in these collocations is that the loss of a “return” is at the same time a loss of “mind.”

The objection to this theory is that the lotus blossom, an integral feature of the episode, is a drug, and this fact sufficiently explains the use of the verb lanthánomai. One could compare the phrase lathoíato patrídos aí?s, “that they might forget their fatherland,” in x 236, which describes the effect Circe intends her drugs to have on the companions of Odysseus. But the situation is more complex than this. Another factor to be considered is the existence of another set of collocations complementing those already given. Balancing lathoíato patrídos aí?s in x 236 is the phrase mimn?skeo patrídos aí?s, “remember your fatherland,” in x 472, and balancing nóstou te lathésthai and nóstoio láth?tai is the phrase nóstou te méd?ai, “(if) you are mindful of your homecoming,” in xi 110 and xii 137. The verbs mimn?skomai, “remember,” and médomai, “be mindful of,” have as much significance for the connection of nóos with néomai as does the verb lanthánomai. It should be stressed that the former verbs are associated with the noun nóstos more than once in Homer; the remaining examples are the phrases nóstoio medoíato in IX 622, nóstou d? mnÊsai in X 509, nóstou hupomn?sousa in xv 3, and nóstou mimn?skesthai in iii 142.

The above evidence suggests that Greek epic diction contained a regular opposition between “remembering” and “forgetting” one’s “return,” and that the phrases nóstou te láthesthai and nóstoio láth?tai are to be seen in terms of this opposition. Their significance, in other words, transcends the context in which they occur.

The argument may now be carried a step farther. Just as the connection between nóos and néomai is only latent in the encounter with the Lotus-eaters, so is the idea that a nóstos was originally a “return from death.” But this idea, however latent, is still suggested by the verb lanthánomai. The noun associated with this verb is l?th?, “forgetfulness,” and this noun, in post-Homeric Greek, designates a place of oblivion in the lower world. The land of the Lotus-eaters, since it is also a place of oblivion, likewise suggests a kind of death.

A passage in Theognis offers a striking illustration of what is only remotely implied in Homer. This passage (Theognis 702 ff.) describes how Sisyphus alone among mortals achieved a “return from death” by means of his “intelligence.” Particular attention is drawn to line 705, in which l?th? is associated with a loss of nóos in the context of “death”; attention is also drawn to the several words designating the “intelligence” which enabled Sisyphus to “return from death”:

. . . Σισ?φου Α?ολ?δεω,
?ς τε κα? ?ξ ??δεω πολυ?δρε??σιν ?ν?λθεν
     πε?σας Περσεφ?νην α?μυλ?οισι λ?γοις,
? τε βροτο?ς παρ?χει λ?θην βλ?πτουσα ν?οιο
     ?λλος δ’ ο?πω τις το?τ? γ’ ?πεφρ?σατο,
?ντινα δ? θαν?τοιο μ?λαν ν?φος ?μφικαλ?ψ?
     ?λθ? δ’ ?ς σκιερ?ν χ?ρον ?ποφθιμ?νων
κυαν?ας τε π?λας παραμε?ψεται, α? τε θαν?ντων
     ψ?χας ε?ργουσιν κα?περ ?ναινομ?νας·
?λλ’ ?ρα κα? κε?θεν π?λιν ?λυθε Σ?συφος ?ρως
     ?ς φ?ος ?ελ?ου σφ?σι πολυφροσ?ναις.

. . . Sisyphus the son of Aeolus, who came up from the house of Hades by means of his great intelligence, persuading Persephone with wily words, she who gives forgetfulness to mortals, unhinging their minds – no other man had ever devised this thing once the black cloud of death covered him over and he had come into the shadowy region of the deceased, passing by the dark gates which restrain the unwilling spirits of the dead. But even from that place Sisyphus came back into the light of the sun by means of his great shrewdness.

The connection between nóos and “returning from death” could not be more strongly suggested than it is by this passage. This in itself is important, and helps to bring out what is latent in Homer. But the passage also suggests another preliminary point. It is very significant that nóos is associated with a “return from death” in a myth concerning a figure other than Odysseus. [2]   This reveals that the association transcends the characterization of a particular figure, Odysseus, just as the significance of the collocations nóstou te lathésthai and nóstoio láth?tai transcends the contexts in which they occur. What makes Odysseus our principal object of study is the fact that an entire epic is extant of which he happens to be the hero.

The possibility that this epic may contain material borrowed from other epic traditions also becomes irrelevant in light of the above remarks. It has been suggested that two of our key episodes, those involving Helios and Circe, have been based on a lost Argonautica; in these episodes Helios becomes the divine adversary, whereas in the more “genuine” parts of the Odyssey Poseidon plays this role. [3]   Considerations such as this, however, pertain to a late stage in the formulation of the great Greek epics. It is a particular tradition that could have been the common patrimony of many such epics in which I am interested.

The remainder of this chapter will be divided into three parts. Section 2 will deal with those episodes in the Odyssey which involve the line beginning opsè kakÔs ne?ai, namely Circe, the Nekyia, and the cattle of Helios. Section 3 will deal with the episodes which involve the line beginning ásmenoi ek thanátoio, namely the Ciconians, the Cyclops, and the Laestrygonians. Section 4 will deal with the final home-coming of Odysseus, his journey from Ogygia to Ithaca via Phaeacia.

2. Circe, the Nekyia, and Helios

The episodes to be considered here are closely connected in the narrative. It is Circe who both sends Odysseus to the underworld and receives him back again, and it is in the underworld that Odysseus is warned about the cattle of Helios. [4]   In this group of episodes events occur in a literal way and, on some points, do not require much comment. There could be no more emphatic evidence for a “return from death” than the Nekyia. The meaning of this event is clear from Circe’s words to the returning hero and his companions in xii 21-22:

σχ?τλιοι, ο? ζ?οντες ?π?λθετε δ?μ’ ??δαο,
δισθαν?ες, ?τε τ’ ?λλοι ?παξ θν?σκουσ’ ?νθρωποι.

Rash men, you who while still alive have gone down into the house of Hades, thus having two deaths while other men die once.

In the Helios episode the hero again seems to pass through death unharmed, although in a less literal fashion: so I would interpret the “sleep” which the gods cast over Odysseus while his companions slaughter the Sun’s cattle. [5]   It is unconsciousness such as this, from which nóos is the “return.”


The actual role of nóos in the episodes as they stand is less obvious, but there are traces. The first of these are negative. As was suggested earlier, only the privileged can pass through death unharmed; thus is the hero increasingly separated from his companions. In the Circe episode and the Nekyia only one companion is lost, and this is the foolish Elpenor, described in x 553 as oúte phresìn hÊsin ar?r?s, “not sound in his wits.” Elpenor, who met his fate by falling from the roof of Circe’s palace in a drunken stupor, has seemed to some to be a curious element in the Odyssey. [6]   From the point of view of tradition, however, his presence can easily be explained as a survival of the idea that a lack of nóos meant a loss of nóstos; only the foolish Elpenor cannot “return from death.”

As mentioned earlier, the rest of the companions are also characterized by their lack of nóos when they slaughter the cattle of Helios. The opening of the Odyssey calls them “foolish” (n?pioi) in connection with this deed.

The case with Odysseus is just the reverse. The purpose of his trip to the underworld is to hear the prophecy of Teiresias. There is every reason to believe that this “oracle from the dead” was a deeply traditional part of the Nekyia; the future reference of the verse:

opsè kakÔs ne?ai, olésas ápo pántas hetaírous

You will return late and in evil condition, having lost all your companions,

is consistent with little but a prophetic context, and it has been shown that this verse is very old. Whether the prophecy always contained a description of the way home cannot be known for sure, but this seems doubtful. The emphasis in the first instance would have been on the “way back to life” [7]   The acquiring of prophetic knowledge such as this would at the same time have been the acquiring of nóos. [8]   This explains, at least in terms of tradition, the motivation for the Nekyia. Originally, the return from death was tightly bound up with nóos, and nóos was tightly bound up with a prophecy from the dead. In the Odyssey as it stands, the connecting link (nóos) has dropped out, and only a vague sense remains that the “return home” is dependent upon a prophecy from the dead. In fact, the main prophetic duties are taken over by Circe, who belongs to the upper world. There is, however, an indication of the importance of nóos, the connecting link, in the role Teiresias plays. In x 494-95, Homer reveals that what distinguishes Teiresias from the rest of the dead is precisely his retention of nóos:

τ? κα? τεθνη?τι ν?ον π?ρε Περσεφ?νεια
ο?? πεπν?σθαι· το? δ? σκια? ??σσουσιν.

To him even when dead Persephone granted mind, to him alone, so that he might have sound wits; but the others flit about as shadows.


The next question concerns the role of the sun. Like the return from death, this is for the most part quite plain. Helios causes the ultimate destruction of the “amorphous mass” of companions. What is most apparent is thus the negative side of the sun’s ambivalent powers. The companions are to be equated with sunset, the passing of the sun into the infernal regions. A reminiscence of this equation may well be contained in xii 382-83, where Helios threatens to descend into Hades if the offending companions do not die for him:

ε? δ? μοι ο? τ?σουσι βο?ν ?πιεικ?’ ?μοιβ?ν,
δ?σομαι ε?ς ??δαο κα? ?ν νεκ?εσσι φαε?νω.

If they do not pay me a fitting recompense for the cattle, I will sink into the house of Hades and shine among the dead.

What is presented in these lines as a threat was perhaps once, when the sun’s negative aspect was still a powerful force on the imagination, more the means by which Helios put the companions to death. [9]  


The positive side of the sun’s twofold nature is not emphasized in the Helios episode. Odysseus escapes death because he has had no part in the offense of his companions. In this limited sense, Helios may be said to “save” the hero. But there is, I think, another indication of the sun’s saving aspect, an indication which is only latent and which is unfortunately ambiguous. In xii 131 ff. the divine guardians of the Sun’s cattle are mentioned; they are daughters of Helios himself and are named Phaéthousa and Lampetí?. In the same passage their mother is mentioned, whose name is Néaira:

                              θεα? δ’ ?πιποιμ?νες ε?σ?,
ν?μφαι ?üπλ?καμοι, Φα?θουσ? τε Λαμπετ?η τε,
?ς τ?κεν ?ελ?? ?περ?ονι δ?α Ν?αιρα.

Their herdsmen are goddesses, the fair-tressed nymphs Phaethousa and Lampetia, whom shining Neaira bore to Helios.

Phaéthousa and Lampetí? are plainly “significant names” having to do with the brightness of Helios, their father. Hence it is natural to assume that the name Néaira also has to do with some characteristic of the sun. This assumption has been made by others, who explain the name as a derivative of néos, “new,” and as referring to the “new” light of day. [10]   I suggest, however, that the name may be related to the verb néomai, just as the hieratic epithet iokhéaira, “pouring arrows,” is related to the verb khé?, “to pour.” [11]   Thus explained, the name Néaira would still refer to the returning light of day, but more pointedly so. It would refer to this light in the context of “salvation.” This would suit Neaira’s role as the provider of guardians for the cattle of Helios. [12]  


The cattle of Helios are themselves worth considering more closely, as they are an apparently old feature of Greek sun mythology, and will be encountered again in this study. In the Odyssey Helios has not only cattle but sheep as well; when Circe first describes Thrinacia to Odysseus, she says that there is an equal number of the two species (xii 127 ff.):

Θρινακ?ην δ’ ?ς ν?σον ?φ?ξεαι ?νθα δ? πολλα?
β?σκοντ’ ?ελ?οιο β?ες κα? ?φια μ?λα,
?πτ? βο?ν ?γ?λαι, τ?σα δ’ ο??ν π?εα καλ?,
πεντ?κοντα δ’ ?καστα.

You will come to the island of Thrinacia; many cattle and sturdy sheep of Helios graze there, seven herds of cattle and as many beautiful flocks of sheep, with fifty head in each.

Outside the Odyssey as well, Helios has both sacred cattle and sacred sheep, and these appear in contexts that serve to broaden our perspective on the Homeric episode. Perhaps the most important source for our purposes is Herodotus 9.92.2-95. This passage tells the story of Euenius, a prophet from the Corinthian colony of Apollonia who lived in the generation before the Persian wars. According to this story, Euenius acquired the gift of prophecy as a direct consequence of his role as the guardian of sheep that were sacred to Helios. Euenius’s story has the qualities of a legend about it, and would seem to contain traditional elements of sun mythology as preserved in an actual cult to Helios. The account in Herodotus is as follows (de Sélincourt translation):

Euenius’ story was an odd one and I will here relate it. In Apollonia there is a flock of sheep sacred to the sun; during the daytime these sheep graze along the banks of the river which rises on Mt. Lacmon, and, after running through Apollonian territory, joins the sea by the harbor of Oricus; at night however, they are looked after by men specially chosen from the wealthiest and most distinguished families – each man having one year’s spell of duty. The people of Apollonia value these sheep very highly because of an oracle they once received concerning them. The place where they are penned for the night is a cave, a long way from the town, and here it was that Euenius, who had been chosen for the task, was keeping watch. One night he fell asleep on duty, and some wolves got in and killed about sixty of the sheep. When, on waking, he saw what had happened, Euenius kept silent and told nobody about it, intending to buy some more sheep to make good the losses; but the people of the town got to know of the disaster, and at once brought the culprit to trial and condemned him to have his eyes put out for sleeping at his post. The sentence was carried out and immediately afterwards the sacred ewes had no more lambs, and the land ceased to produce the normal harvests. The oracles both at Dodona and Delphi were consulted upon the reason for this calamity and the answer in each case was that it was due to the fact that Euenius, the guardian of the sacred sheep, had been unjustly deprived of his sight; it was the gods themselves who had set the wolves on the sheep, and they would continue to punish the people of Apollonia for the wrong they had done Euenius, until they made him such amends as he himself might choose; and when this was done they, too, would give him something, for the possession of which many men would call him blessed.

The gift Euenius received from the gods was that of prophecy, and this gift, as the oracles had foretold, made him famous. [13]  


Like Odysseus, Euenius was asleep when the beasts of Helios were destroyed, and –again like Odysseus – Euenius was not blamed by the gods for what happened. The parallels between the two stories are strong enough to suggest that Euenius’s gift of prophecy, which has to do with “intelligence,” is also important for the traditions which lie behind Odyssey 12. [14]  

That “intelligence” was a highly traditional element in myths of the Sun’s cattle is supported by a comparison with Vedic Sanskrit. In Vedic mythology cattle are closely associated with the phenomenon of sunrise; [15]   in particular, the “winning of cattle” and the “winning of light” are closely related mythical deeds. [16]   Both of these deeds, furthermore, depend on “intelligence” rather than “strength”; this is clear from the myth of the Pa?is, which I shall consider briefly. [17]  

The Pa?is are a band of demons who live at the ends of the earth, beyond the world-encircling river Ras?, where they keep rich herds of cattle hidden in a cave. The guardian for these cattle is a demon named Vala (the “encloser”) who was originally, perhaps, the cave itself. [18]   Although it is Indra who wins back the cattle of the Pa?is, the deed really belongs to various mythical priests who accompany him – the Angirases and the seven ??is, representing the original divine and human priesthoods, and B?haspati, who is also a divine priest. [19]   These figures use their priestly knowledge as if for a sacrifice in order to free the imprisoned cattle. RV 2.24.3 says that B?haspati “drove the cows out, rent Vala asunder with his magic word, removed the darkness, and allowed the sun to shine.” RV 6.65.5 attributes similar means to the Angirases: “at this hour, O Dawn, who dwell on the mountain heights, the Angirases praise your herds of cattle. They rent (the cave) with their song and with the power of their prayer.” RV 6.13.3, which says that “the prince slays his enemy with might, the priest carries off the wealth of the Pa?i,” shows clearly that the Pa?i myth had to do with priestly “intelligence” rather than warrior “strength.”

Although the Pa?i myth bears a peculiarly Indic stamp, [20]   the association between “intelligence,” the “winning of light,” and the “winning of cattle” is probably old. [21]   Another feature of the myth that is probably old is the cave in which the Pa?is hide their cattle. This cave, which is located at the ends of the earth, suggests the “darkness” and “death” characteristic of primitive sun mythology. Greek tradition also associates a cave with the sheep of Helios in the story of Euenius. The location of this cave, far from the town of Apollonia, may well be significant; [22]   in any case, the cave is explicitly a place of death for the sacred sheep under Euenius’s care.

The cattle of Geryon, which Heracles drives off from the island of Erytheia in the far west, resemble the cattle of the Pa?is. Further, they seem to be connected with the cattle of Helios, [23]   and to have to do with darkness and death. Hesiod refers to Geryon’s “gloomy stable,” [24]   and Geryon himself has been interpreted as a transposed god of the underworld. [25]   Thus, when Heracles drives off Geryon’s cattle, it is a virtual “return from darkness and death.”

Our final source is the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, which locates sacred sheep of Helios on Cape Taenarum in the southern Peloponnesus (411 ff.):

?ξον κα? χ?ρον τερψιμβρ?του ?ελ?οιο
Τα?ναρον, ?νθα τε μ?λα βαθ?τριχα β?σκεται α?ε?
?ελ?οιο ?νακτος.

They came also to the land of man-delighting Helios, Taenarum, where the deep-fleeced sheep of lord Helios graze forever.

Taenarum was not only the location of these sacred sheep but was also supposed to contain a cave that led to the underworld. [26]   Whether this cave was associated with the sheep of Helios is unknown, but it is an attractive hypothesis.


The evidence we have surveyed suggests that two traditional elements in myths of Helios’s cattle and sheep were the role of the hero’s “intelligence” and a cave representing darkness and death. Neither of these elements is overtly present in Odyssey 12, [27]   and this fact calls for an explanation. The explanation probably has to do with the Cyclops episode, which fully exploits both mythic elements in question. The Cyclops episode also has to do with solar mythology, as will be discussed in the next section, and it should be viewed as a complement to Odysseus’s adventure with the cattle of Helios in Odyssey 12.

It remains to say something more about Circe. Homer says in x 138 that she was the daughter of Helios. Thus her episode in the Odyssey also has to do with symbolism of the sun. As has been seen, this symbolism has an eastern and a western aspect. One wonders whether this is not the reason that her home, the land of Aeaea, is variously located in both east and west. It is remarkable that when Odysseus lands in Circe’s domain he can no longer tell where the sun sets and where it rises (x 190 ff.):

? φ?λοι, ο? γ?ρ ?δμεν ?π? ζ?φος ο?δ’ ?π? ??ς,
ο?δ’ ?π? ??λιος φαεσ?μβροτος ε?σ’ ?π? γα?αν
ο?δ’ ?π? ?ννε?ται.

O friends, we do not know where the darkness is and where the dawn, we do not know where the sun that shines on men goes beneath the earth and where it returns.

According to Hesiod (Theogony 1011 ff.), Circe lived in the west among the Etruscans, a tradition which Latin authors followed. But when Odysseus returns from the underworld, her land is placed at the “rising of the sun” (xii 1 ff.):

α?τ?ρ ?πε? ποταμο?ο λ?πεν ??ον ?κεανο?ο
νη?ς, ?π? δ’ ?κετο κ?μα θαλ?σσης ε?ρυπ?ροιο
ν?σ?ν τ’ Α?α?ην, ?θι τ’ ?ο?ς ?ριγενε?ης
ο?κ?α κα? χορο? ε?σι κα? ?ντολα? ?ελ?οιο

But when our ship left the stream of the river Oceanus, and returned to the waves of the wide-pathed sea and to the island of Aeaea, where the Dawn has her house and dancing places and where Helios has his risings . . .

This discrepancy is easily explained. Circe’s role in the Odyssey is both to usher the hero into the underworld and to receive him back again from it. When Odysseus and his men “return to life and light,” she is naturally equated with the dawn. The complement to this would be that she is equated with sunset when Odysseus and his companions venture into “death and darkness.”


For Homer, however, to whom realism was a concern, this ambivalence would have been difficult to manage. The Homeric version, in fact, seems to represent a compromise. Odysseus and his men do venture into darkness, but the text suggests a northerly direction. Their ship takes them to the land of the Cimmerians, upon whom the sun never shines (xi 13 ff.):

? δ’ ?ς πε?ραθ’ ?κανε βαθυρρ?ου ?κεανο?ο.
?νθα δ? Κιμμερ?ων ?νδρ?ν δ?μ?ς τε π?λις τε,
??ρι κα? νεφ?λ? κεκαλυμμ?νοι· ο?δ? ποτ’ α?το?ς
??λιος φα?θων καταδ?ρκεται ?κτ?νεσσιν,
ο?θ’ ?π?τ’ ?ν στε?χ?σι πρ?ς ο?ραν?ν ?στερ?εντα,
ο?θ’ ?τ’ ?ν ?ψ ?π? γα?αν ?π’ ο?ραν?θεν προτρ?πηται,
?λλ’ ?π? ν?ξ ?λο? τ?ταται δειλο?σι βροτο?σι.

Our ship came to the boundary of deep-flowing Oceanus. There lie the land and city of the Cimmerian men, who are covered in mist and clouds; neither does shining Helios ever look down on them with his rays, either when he climbs into the starry sky, or when he turns back from the sky toward earth, but baneful night lies stretched over these wretched mortals.

The Cimmerians were a historical people who moved from the north into Asia Minor in the eighth and seventh centuries and who therefore must be a late feature in Greek epic. It is also worth noting that the reading Kimmerí?n in line 14 was much disputed in antiquity. [28]   On the basis of these observations, it is plausible to think that the Cimmerians in Homer have replaced something older and more clearly symbolic of sunset.


The same conclusion is strongly suggested by a very revealing passage in Hesiod’s Theogony, which should be compared carefully with the passage in Homer. Hesiod first mentions the “house of Night” (744), in front of which Atlas stands supporting the heavens (746 ff.); this is the point at which Night and Day pass each other, one entering the “house,” the other leaving it (748 ff.). [29]   Hesiod continues his description of this twilight region as follows (758 ff.):

?νθα δ? Νυκτ?ς πα?δες ?ρεμν?ς ο?κ?’ ?χουσιν,
?πνος κα? Θ?νατος, δεινο? θεο?· ο?δ? ποτ’ α?το?ς
??λιος φα?θων ?πιδ?ρκεται ?κτ?νεσσιν
ο?ραν?ν ε?σανι?ν ο?δ’ ο?ραν?θεν καταβα?νων.

There the children of dark Night have their house, the dread gods Sleep and Death; neither does shining Helios ever look upon them with his rays, either ascending into the sky or descending from the sky.

The similarity of the emphasized phrase to xi 15-16 is unmistakable; at the same time, the variation epidérketai, “looks upon,” for katadérketai, “looks down upon,” and the difference in the line that follows do not make it seem that Hesiod has imitated Homer. On the contrary, Hesiod has preserved the original context of the underlined phrase (sleep, death, the region beyond sunset), whereas Homer has sacrificed part of this context (the extreme west) for the sake of realism.


If it is true that the fluctuation from east to west is an essential part of Circe’s nature, it is tempting to see this action reflected in her name. The Greek word for “ring” is kríkos, which is also attested as kírkos. The name Kírk? could be simply the feminized form of the latter, and refer to the circular path of the sun from east to west.

Circe’s twofold nature is apparent in matters other than geography. Initially she is a very hostile figure to Odysseus and his companions. This is her chthonic aspect, which is explained by her close relationship to Helios – so Eliade explains it. In describing the place of the sun in Greek mythology and religion, he comments that “Helios is not only pythios, chthonios, titan, and so on; over and above all this, he is in communication with the chosen world of darkness: sorcery and hell. He is the father of the sorceress Circe, and the grandfather of Medea, both illustrious specialists in nightplant philtres.” [30]   It is by means of such philtres that Circe turns the companions into swine, and when in x 283 the “swine” are said to be pent up in hidden places:

?ρχαται, ?ς τε σ?ες, πυκινο?ς κευθμ?νας ?χοντες

there would seem to be a connection with the imprisoned beasts of the Sun. If this is so, the symbolism of the imprisoned beasts has become very literal in the land of magic potions and incantations. [31]  


Circe’s positive aspect is equally plain. After “imprisoning” the companions, she also sets them free by returning them to human form. She becomes the lover of Odysseus, moreover, and helps him with his journey home by describing the dangers he will encounter. Like Teiresias, she gives Odysseus a necessary foreknowledge, which can be interpreted as a kind of nóos.

The role of nóos is perceptible throughout the Circe episode. In the case of the companions this role is predictably negative. When in x 231 they first follow Circe into her palace, they do so out of “witlessness”:

ο? δ’ ?μα π?ντες ?ïδρε??σιν ?ποντο.

More telling is the fact that Circe uses her drugs to make the companions “forget” their fatherland (x 236):

?να π?γχυ λαθο?ατο πατρ?δος α?ης

The collocation lathoíato patrídos aí?s, “that they might forget their fatherland,” is balanced by the collocation mimn?skeo patrídos aí?s, “remember your fatherland,” in x 472, where the companions bid their leader to leave Circe’s island; the significance of these collocations was discussed at the beginning of this chapter.


Odysseus, on the other hand, is saved from Circe by receiving the necessary occult knowledge before he enters her palace from Hermes, who serves as his guide in this dangerous encounter. [32]   At first Odysseus too is ignorant. Hermes asks him in x 282 where he is going kh?rou áïdris e?n, “being ignorant of the land,” and warns him that in such ignorance not even he will “return” (x 284-85):

                                                            ο?δ? σ? φημι
α?τ?ν νοστ?σειν, μεν?εις δ? σ? γ’ ?νθα περ ?λλοι.

I say that not even you will return (nost?sein), but you will remain where the others are.

[33]   Hermes enables Odysseus to “return” by explaining beforehand Circe’s wiles and the antidote to them. In both cases he “tells” the hero what he must know (x 289, 291-92):

π?ντα δ? τοι ?ρ?ω ?λοφ?ïα δ?νεα Κ?ρκης. . . .
?λλ’ ο?δ’ ?ς θ?λξαι σε δυν?σεται· ο? γ?ρ ??σει
φ?ρμακον ?σθλ?ν, ? τοι δ?σω, ?ρ?ω δ? ?καστα.

I will tell you about all the cunning wiles of Circe. . . . She will not be able to charm you, for the good drug, which I will give to you and tell you all about, will not allow it.

In lines 302-03, the hero says that Hermes gave him a phármakon and “explained its nature” (kaí moi phúsin auto? édeixe). Its nature is very interesting. The phármakon is a plant with a black root and a white blossom, a color-contrast entirely appropriate to the underlying meaning of the Circe episode; [34]   one also notes that the use of the magic plant seems to be restricted to the chosen few (304 ff.):

??ξ? μ?ν μ?λαν ?σκε, γ?λακτι δ? ε?κελον ?νθος·
μ?λυ δ? μιν καλ?ουσι θεο?· χαλεπ?ν δ? τ’ ?ρ?σσειν
?νδρ?σι γε θνητο?σι· θεο? δ? τε π?ντα δ?νανται.

On the root it was black, but its flower was like milk: moly is the name the gods give to it, and it is difficult for mortal men to dig up; the gods, on the other hand, are able to do everything.

It seems clear that Hermes gives Odysseus exclusive knowledge with which to pass through darkness to light, or through death to life. In an underlying sense, therefore, nóos is the nóstos in the Circe episode. [35]  


3. The Ciconians, the Cyclops, and the Laestrygonians

The episodes just considered provide explicit evidence for the “return from death” and for the role of sun symbolism in the nóstos of Odysseus; in the next group of episodes these features are less explicit. What binds these episodes together for us is the fact that they all end with the refrain containing the line:

ásmenoi ek thanátoio, phílous olésantes hetaírous.


On the basis of this refrain, one might expect the “return from death” to be a particularly marked feature in each episode. That it is not is explained by the fact that Homer no longer understood the original meaning of the word ásmenos. Much of the content in these episodes, especially the two minor ones, must have been fashioned after the refrain had lost its original meaning. Such material would be too late, not only to be concerned with a return from death, but also to grant much scope to the role of the sun. Nevertheless, the episodes in question, particularly that of the Cyclops, do contain significant traces of what we are looking for.

The Ciconians come first; they provide Odysseus with his first adventure after his departure from Troy. It is this fact, moreover, which chiefly determines the character of the episode. Since the Ciconians stand closest to Troy and the world of the Iliad, Homer has made them reflect the character of that world. [36]   They are described as conventional warriors (ix 49-50):

                    ?πιστ?μενοι μ?ν ?φ’ ?ππων
?νδρ?σι μ?ρνασθαι κα? ?θι χρ? πεζ?ν ??ντα

Knowing how to fight against men both from chariots and, where need be, on foot,

and Odysseus sacks their city in the conventional way (ix 40 ff.):

?νθα δ’ ?γ? π?λιν ?πραθον, ?λεσα δ’ α?το?ς·
?κ π?λιος δ’ ?λ?χους κα? κτ?ματα πολλ? λαβ?ντες
δασσ?μεθ’, ?ς μ? τ?ς μοι ?τεμβ?μενος κ?οι ?σης.

Then I sacked the city and killed the men; we carried off their wives and all their possessions from the city and we divided them up so that no one would be deprived of an equal share.

The scene of this sack could be any of the towns near Troy.


The departure from this scene could hardly be called a “return from death” in any full sense. The refrain expressing this idea in latent form is merely tacked on at the end, after its substance, significantly, has been reinterpreted in the lines immediately preceding. In ix 60-61 it is said that six companions were “lost” from each ship, while the rest “escaped death”:

?ξ δ’ ?φ’ ?κ?στης νη?ς ?üκν?μιδες ?τα?ροι
?λονθ’· ο? δ’ ?λλοι φ?γομεν θ?νατ?ν τε μ?ρον τε.

Six well-greaved companions from each ship were lost, but the rest of us escaped death and doom.

The form ?lonth’, “were lost,” corresponds to the form olésantes, “having lost,” in the refrain, while the phrase phúgomen thánaton, “we escaped death,” corresponds to and reinterprets the meaning of the phrase ásmenoi ek thanátoio, “having returned from death.” The significance of the verb pheúgein, “to escape,” in this context was commented upon earlier: to “escape death” is clearly not the same as to “return from death.” [37]  


In spite of these remarks, however, the refrain is not wholly inappropriate to its present context. For the Ciconians do not belong completely to the world of the Iliad, but are, rather, a bridge from this world to the fabulous world of the Odyssey. In fact, an element from the latter world – the slaughter of the Sun’s cattle – seems to have been adapted to the Ciconian episode. All would have escaped unharmed following the sack had the companions not stopped to slaughter and eat their booty; Odysseus bids them to flee, but they, in their witlessness, do not obey (ix 44 ff.):

                     το? δ? μ?γα ν?πιοι ο?κ ?π?θοντο.
?νθα δ? πολλ?ν μ?ν μ?θυ π?νετο, πολλ? δ? μ?λα
?σφαζον παρ? θ?να κα? ε?λ?ποδας ?λικας βο?ς.

But they, the great fools, did not obey. Much wine was then drunk, and along the shore they slaughtered many sheep and shambling cattle with curved horns.

The cause of destruction here, just as in the slaughter of the Sun’s cattle, is the mindlessness of the companions. The word n?pioi, “fools,” in line 44 echoes i 8-9:

ν?πιοι, ο? κατ? βο?ς ?περ?ονος ?ελ?οιο

The fools (n?pioi), who ate the cattle of Helios.

The suggestion of drunkenness in line 45 provides another indication of “mindlessness.”


It is also possible that the poet who constructed this episode still had some sense of the role of the sun. One should note that the stages of the Ciconian battle follow the course of the sun, with disaster coming at nightfall (ix 56 ff.):

?φρα μ?ν ??ς ?ν κα? ??ξετο ?ερ?ν ?μαρ,
τ?φρα δ’ ?λεξ?μενοι μ?νομεν πλ?ον?ς περ ??ντας·
?μος δ’ ??λιος μετεν?σσετο βουλυτ?νδε,
κα? τ?τε δ? Κ?κονες κλ?ναν δαμ?σαντες ?χαιο?ς.

While it was dawn and the sacred daylight was increasing, we held our ground and kept them off, even though there were more of them; but when the sun began to set, the Ciconians put us Achaeans to flight and overcame us.

It is peculiar that the poet says “dawn” in line 56, since much has happened on this day before the battle begins; it appears that a formulaic passage has been used somewhat inappropriately. Perhaps this can be explained as a license which a deeper appropriateness, based on tradition, would have justified. [38]  


Before discussing the Cyclops episode, which is the most important in this group, we will first consider that of the Laestrygonians; it occurs last and, like the Ciconian episode, is relatively minor. It does, however, parallel the adventure with the Cyclops in several details, both latent and explicit, and thus serves as a good introduction to that adventure.

Certain general similarities between the Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes are obvious. Both of these fabulous peoples are of giant stature, herd sheep rather than farm, hurl rocks as weapons, and eat human flesh. [39]   Even the cave of the Cyclops is to a degree paralleled by the Laestrygonian harbor, which is given a very cavelike description in x 87 ff.:

?νθ’ ?πε? ?ς λιμ?να κλυτ?ν ?λθομεν, ?ν π?ρι π?τρη
?λ?βατος τετ?χηκε διαμπερ?ς ?μφοτ?ρωθεν,
?κτα? δ? προβλ?τες ?ναντ?αι ?λλ?λ?σιν
?ν στ?ματι προ?χουσιν, ?ραι? δ’ ε?σοδ?ς ?στιν

When we had entered the famed harbor, around which a towering cliff is placed on either side without a break, and two jutting promontories, face to face, extend to form the mouth, and the entrance is a slender opening. . . .

It is in this harbor that Odysseus loses all the ships except his own.


I shall presently argue that the Cyclops’ cave was originally a place of death – an “underworld” – form which the hero “returned.” One is thus tempted to see the Laestrygonian harbor in the same terms. At the same time, one of course realizes that this would no longer have been Homer’s own conception. The reinterpretation of the formulaic refrain with which the Laestrygonian episode ends was considered fully in chapter 2 and need not be reconsidered here. What emerged was simply that what was once a “return from death” had become a matter of “escape” in Homer’s understanding.

In light of this it is not surprising that Odysseus himself never enters the Laestrygonian harbor, the place of death; he alone keeps his ship outside (x 95):

α?ταρ ?γ?ν ο?ος σχ?θον ?ξω ν?α μ?λαιναν.

This detail makes his ultimate “escape” still less a “return from death.”


Concerning the role of nóos in the Laestrygonian episode there is little to say. The most that can be said is that Odysseus, in mooring his ship outside the harbor, displays his usual prudence.

Thus far the Laestrygonian episode seems to have little to offer. But by looking more closely at certain details in the narrative, one can discover traces of this episode’s original nature. A minor detail which suggests an “underworld” context appears in the companions’ encounter with the Laestrygonian queen (x 112-13):

ο? δ’ ?πε? ε?σ?λθον κλυτ? δ?ματα, τ?ν δ? γυνα?κα
ε?ρον ?σην τ’ ?ρεος κορυφ?ν, κατ? δ’ ?στυγον α?τ?ν.

When they entered the famed halls they found the (king’s) wife, large as a mountain peak, and they shrank from her in fear.

The verb stugé?, “shrink in fear,” has unmistakable connotations; [40]   the reaction of the companions strongly suggests that they have come face to face with the queen of the underworld.


Much more important, however, are the obscure lines at the beginning of the episode that describe the Laestrygonian kingdom (x 81 ff.):

?βδομ?τ? δ’ ?κ?μεσθα Λ?μου α?π? πτολ?εθρον,
Τηλ?πυλον Λαιστρυγον?ην, ?θι ποιμ?να ποιμ?ν
?π?ει ε?σελ?ων, ? δ? τ’ ?ξελ?ων ?πακο?ει.
?νθα κ’ ?üπνος ?ν?ρ δοιο?ς ?ξ?ρατο μισθο?ς,
τ?ν μ?ν βουκολ?ων, τ?ν δ’ ?ργυφα μ?λα νομε?ων·
?γγ?ς γ?ρ νυκτ?ς τε κα? ?ματ?ς ε?σι κ?λευθοι.

On the seventh day we came to the steep citadel of Lamus, Laestrygonian Telepylos, where shepherd calls out to shepherd as he drives his flocks in, and the other, driving his flocks out, hears him. There a sleepless man would earn two wages, one by herding cattle, and the other by pasturing silvery sheep, for the paths of night and day are close together.

Particularly obscure is the poet’s precise meaning in line 86, when he says that “the paths of day and night are close together.” W.B. Stanford takes this to be a “muddled reference” to the short nights of northern latitudes. [41]   This interpretation would seem to be right in view of the preceding lines, which state that “in this place a sleepless man might earn a double wage.” By working all the daylight hours of summer in the extreme north, one would in fact earn a “double wage.”


But if Homer is suggesting a northern location, this conflicts with what is otherwise known about the Laestrygonians. Thucydides 6.2.1 attests the apparently orthodox tradition, according to which the Laestrygonians (together with the Cyclopes!) dwelt in Sicily – that is, in the West:

παλα?τατοι μ?ν λ?γονται ?ν μ?ρει τιν? τ?ς χ?ρας Κ?κλωπες
κα? Λαιστρυγ?νες ο?κ?σαι, ?ν ?γ? ο?τε γ?νος ?χω ε?πε?ν
ο?τε ?π?θεν ?σ?λθον ? ?ποι ?πεχ?ρησαν· ?ρκε?τω δ? ?ς
ποιητα?ς τε ε?ρηται κα? ?ς ?καστ?ς π? γιγν?σκει περ? α?τ?ν.

It is said that the earliest inhabitants of any part of the country were the Cyclopes and Laestrygonians. I cannot say what kind of people these were or where they came from or where they went in the end. On these points we must be content with what the poets have said and what anyone else may happen to know.

The discrepancy between Homer’s apparent view and other traditions concerning the Laestrygonians invites us to return to the “muddled” opening passage in search of something latent. Line 82 reveals that the name of the Laestrygonian city was T?lépulos, “far gate.” [42]   One may reasonably ask to what “gate” or “gates” this name refers. The “gates,” I suggest, are those “of the paths of day and night.” In chapter 7 I shall examine the very significant “proem” of Parmenides, which describes the philosopher’s own mythical “return to light.” This journey begins at a set of gates, which are described as follows, in line 11:

?νθα π?λαι Νυκτ?ς τε κα? ?ματ?ς ε?σι κελε?θων.

There are the gates of the paths of Night and Day.

This line is the same as x 86, with only a case variation in the final word and with éntha púlai for engùs gàr at the beginning. Parmenides, I suggest, has preserved the older form of a traditional line; more than this, he has preserved this line’s original context, a “return to light,” which has become “muddled” in Homer.


This argument can be carried a step further. The gates described by Parmenides stand at the entrance to the “house of Night” (d?mata Nuktós, in 1.9). Hesiod, in the Theogony, also speaks of the “house of Night,” which he designates with the words Nuktòs d’ erebennÊs oikía deiná, in line 744; following this the poet gives a very explicit description of how day and night pass as they enter and leave this house. This description implies the “gates of the paths of day and night,” although Hesiod himself refers to the meeting-point as a “threshold.” [43]   I shall quote the entire passage here, since it conveys so eloquently the mythic background that is latent in Homer; one detail, however, is particularly important, and will be emphasized:

Νυκτ?ς δ’ ?ρεβενν?ς ο?κ?α δειν?
?στηκεν νεφ?λ?ς κεκαλυμμ?να κυαν??σιν.
τ?ν πρ?σθ’ ?απετο?ο π?ις ?χει ο?ραν?ν ε?ρ?ν
?στη?ς κεφαλ? τε κα? ?καμ?τ?σι χ?ρεσσιν
?στεμφ?ως, ?θι Ν?ξ τε κα? ?μ?ρη ?σσον ?ο?σαι
?λλ?λας προσ?ειπον, ?μειβ?μεναι μ?γαν ο?δ?ν
χ?λκεον· ? μ?ν ?σω καταβ?σεται, ? δ? θ?ραζε
?ρχεται, ο?δ? ποτ’ ?μφοτ?ρας δ?μος ?ντ?ς ??ργει,
?λλ’ α?ε? ?τ?ρη γε δ?μων ?κτοσθεν ?ο?σα
γα?αν ?πιστρ?φεται, ? δ’ α? δ?μου ?ντ?ς ?ο?σα
μ?μνει τ?ν α?τ?ς ?ρην ?δο?, ?ς τ’ ?ν ?κηται,
? μ?ν ?πιχθον?οισι φ?ος πολυδερκ?ς ?χουσα,
? δ’ ?πνον μετ? χερσ?, κασ?γνητον Θαν?τοιο
Ν?ξ ?λο?, νεφ?λ? κεκαλυμμ?νη ?εροειδε?.

Here stands the dread house of dark Night covered with black clouds. Before the house stands the son of Iapetus, holding fast the wide heaven on his head and untiring arms, at the place where Night and Day address each other as they pass, crossing over the great bronze threshold: one of them goes down within while the other comes out, so that the house never contains both of them, but one is always outside the house traveling over the earth, while the other is inside the house waiting for the time of her journey to come; one of them brings the far-seeing light to those on earth, while the other, baneful Night covered with murky clouds, carries Sleep, the brother of Death, in her hands.

When “Night and Day address each other as they pass, crossing over the great bronze threshold,” we cannot help but be reminded of T?lépulos, “where shepherd, driving in his flocks, cries out to shepherd, and the other, driving his flocks out, hears the call.” The Homeric and Hesiodic passages cannot be separated.


At this point let us consider where Parmenides and Hesiod imagine the “gates” (or the “threshold”) of day and night to be. Since Parmenides is “returning to light,” his gates are presumably on the eastern shore of the world. Hesiod, on the other hand, mentions Atlas (Iapeto?o páis in l. 746), whom he has previously (l. 518) placed “at the ends of the earth, in front of the Hesperides,” in other words, on the western shore of the world. This discrepancy arises from the very concept of a single point at which day and night pass, for, in reality, there are two such borders between darkness and light – one in the east, the other in the west. Thus the very concept of “gates of day and night” is anything but realistic. [44]  

The unrealistic quality of the Hesiodic passage provides the key to understanding what Homer has done. It was seen earlier in this study that Circe belongs to both east and west at the same time, and that Homer, seeking a rational solution to this incongruity, has Odysseus enter the underworld from her domain by sailing northward past the Cimmerians. There is now every reason to believe that the same thing has happened in Homer’s handling of the Laestrygonian episode. The tradition behind this episode represented T?lépulos Laistrugoní? as that nonexistent point where the sun both rises and sets. Homer’s only rational recourse was to picture the Laestrygonians as dwelling in the extreme north.

Before we move onto the Cyclops episode, one final point deserves notice. In the Hesiodic passage, Day and Night call out to each other, whereas in Homer “shepherds” do this. If “shepherds” are traditional in this context, do they not recall the cattle and sheep of Helios investigated earlier? Of course Homer, in the lines concerning the possibility of a “double wage,” takes a rational and realistic view toward these shepherds. But what if the same shepherds were once represented as passing each other on their way into and out of the “house of night”? This house can have been nothing other than the cave at the ends of the earth which enclosed the herds and flocks of the sun. [45]   On this note we may move on to the Cyclops episode, where there is no doubt about the importance of “shepherds” and a “cave” to the underlying myth.

From the time Odysseus leaves Troy until he reaches the land of Circe, he has five encounters. The first and the last are with the Ciconians and the Laestrygonians, and in both cases Odysseus loses some of his companions. The second and the fourth are with the Lotus-eaters and the winds of Aeolus, but in these no companions are lost. Occupying a monumental place in the center is his encounter with the Cyclops, in which the hero again loses companions. [46]   More than its central position, the length and elaboration of this episode show that Homer intended it to be monumental. It is on this adventure that our main attention should focus.

Part of the elaboration of the Cyclops episode is that it has a separate point of entry and exit. Serving as a threshold to the encounter is an offshore island where Odysseus and his men spend a day both before and after they meet the Cyclops (ix 116 ff. and ix 543 ff.). Significantly, the traditional refrain occurs at the final departure of Odysseus from this island (ix 565-66). Homer has again simply tacked the refrain on at the end of his own (in this case elaborate) creation.

But Homer also repeats his practice of reinterpreting and incorporating the refrain into his story. Unlike in the minor episodes, however, the reinterpretation and the refrain no longer occur side by side. In this case the familiar substitute appears immediately after the “escape” from the Cyclops’ cave. Odysseus says that he loosened himself and his companions from beneath the sheep, which they then drove off to his ship where other companions were waiting; and then, in ix 466-67, come the words:

?σπ?σιοι δ? φ?λοις ?τ?ροισι φ?νημεν,
ο? φ?γομεν θ?νατον· το?ς δ? στεν?χοντο γο?ντες.

We were a welcome sight to our dear companions, those of us who had escaped death; for the others they mourned and wept.

Again there is the contrast between those who survived and those who perished, and again the words ásmenoi ek thanátoio, “having returned from death,” have been recast as (aspásioi) . . . phúgomen thánaton “(a welcome sight)…we escaped death.” [47]  


The preceding observations imply two things: first, that the “return from death,” however traditional in the Cyclops episode, has become as latent here as in the minor episodes; and second, that this latent feature is to be connected closely with the Cyclops’ cave.

A number of traces still remain which suggest that this cave was once a realm of the dead. One of these is the name O?tis, “no one,” by which Odysseus calls himself in the cave. Besides providing the means for a clever stratagem, this name suggests that its bearer really is “no one.” [48]   The name is really no name at all, and Odysseus, in the cave, is “anonymous.” He loses his anonymity only when he emerges and shouts to the Cyclops that he is (ix 504-05):

                 ?δυσσ?α πτολιπ?ρθιον . . . ,
υ??ν Λα?ρτεω, ?θ?κ? ?νι ο?κ?’ ?χοντα

Odysseus, sacker of cities . . . the son of Laertes, having a home in Ithaca.

This regaining of his name is a kind of rebirth for Odysseus; one might recall the words of King Alcinoos on another occasion (viii 552-53):

ο? μ?ν γ?ρ τις π?μπαν ?ν?νυμ?ς ?στ’ ?νθρ?πων,
ο? κακ?ς ο?δ? μ?ν ?σθλ?ς, ?π?ν τ? πρ?τα γ?νηται.

No man, either base or noble, is entirely nameless once he has been born.

Another indicative trace appears in line 421, where Odysseus says that he took counsel with himself in the cave in order to find a thanátou lúsin, a “loosening of death,” for himself and his companions; and he goes on to say that he wove all manner of tricks and devices h?s te perì psukhÊs, “as if for my psukh?.” These expressions could scarcely come much closer to equating the Cyclops’ cave with death without explicitly doing so. [49]   Homer has created a kind of suggestive ambiguity in which there is still a glimmer of the tradition that preceded him.


These indications will suffice for the “return from death.” [50]   The next question concerns the role of the sun. That this is important in understanding the Cyclops there is every reason to believe, but how it is important is a disputed point. The question centers on the etymology of the name Kúkl?ps. Three derivations of this name have been proposed, and each of these, in one way or another, involves the sun.

According to the oldest view, going back to the Greeks themselves, the name means “circle-eyed.” [51]   Adalbert Kuhn proposed to take the first element of the name, kúklos, in connection with the “wheel of the sun,” an Indo-European designation for the sun itself, to judge by the cognate phrases cakrám sÚryasya in Vedic Sanskrit, sunnan hwéol in Old English, and kúklos h?líou in Greek tragedy. [52]   The connection with the sun would explain why the Cyclops has only one eye – namely, because he stands for the sun itself; this feature is otherwise left unexplained since all eyes are “circular,” and the description “circle-eyed” does not imply one eye as opposed to two. [53]  

Kuhn’s argument has been attacked because it seems to have little to do with the Cyclops as depicted by Homer. [54]   But such attacks are unjustified. The fact that the Cyclops is a murderous monster accords well with the sunset aspect of solar mythology. Presumably, it is this fact that has eluded scholars, [55]   for otherwise the Cyclops, entering his cave by night and leaving it by day, is an apt symbol for the sun. Kuhn’s explanation is probably the correct one.

Another derivation has recently been suggested by Rüdiger Schmitt, who proposes that Kúkl?ps was reduced by haplology from *kukló-kl?ps, “robber of the (sun’s) wheel.” [56]   Schmitt adduces Vedic parallels in which the wheel of the sun is stolen, and he draws attention to the character of the Cyclopes as storm-demons. The oldest evidence for this is in the names Brónt?s, Steróp?s, and Árg?s, which Hesiod, Theogony 140, gives to three of the Cyclopes. [57]   It is clear why storm-demons might be called “robbers of the (sun’s) wheel.” It is less clear, however, how Schmitt’s derivation fits the story in the Odyssey. Do storm-demons also murder men? This is the dominant feature of the Cyclops in the oldest Greek evidence, and it is better explained by Kuhn’s derivation than by Schmitt’s.

Paul Thieme has proposed a third derivation. [58]   He posits an original form *Pku-kl?ps, meaning “cattle-thief.” In this case, the first element of the compound would descend from Indo-European *pku-, a zero-grade of *peku, “cattle.” [59]   Thieme argues the existence of the Indo-European zero-grade on the basis of Vedic and Avestan compounds, in which the meaning “cattle” had been forgotten, but for which Thieme’s reconstruction is convincing. [60]  

On the basis of his derivation Thieme argues that the Cyclops is the Greek equivalent of the Vedic Pa?is, discussed earlier in this study. This argument fits exceedingly well with the nature of the Homeric episode. As in the Pa?i myth, there is a demon dwelling in a cave; this demon, moreover, has flocks which he encloses in his cave by night and releases by day. [61]   A further correspondence is that these flocks are ultimately driven off by a hero who relies on his intelligence rather than his might. [62]  

From the point of view of content and meaning Thieme’s derivation has much to recommend it. But the important question remains whether the derivation is at all likely from a formal standpoint. There are two serious difficulties. The first is that no other form from Indo-European *peku is attested in Greek; the second is that the type of zero-grade represented by *pku– is rare in Greek. [63]   While neither of these difficulties is insurmountable, [64]   they do render Thieme’s derivation very uncertain.

For this reason Kuhn’s explanation of the name Kúkl?ps remains the simplest and the best. The Cyclops, as “circle-eyed,” would originally have symbolized the sun itself; this connection accounts for the similarity between the Cyclops and the Pa?is sufficiently well, for the Pa?is, like the Cyclops, apparently have to do with an archaic myth of the sun and the sun’s cattle.

Two points have now been considered in connection with the Cyclops: a latent “return from death” and the latent role of the sun. The remaining point is the role of nóos. That this is very important in the Cyclops episode requires no lengthy proof, for the famous intelligence of Odysseus is nowhere more prominent than in the escape from the Cyclops’s cave. One first notices how tightly the latent “return from death” is connected with words denoting intelligence in the following lines (ix 420 ff.):

α?τ?ρ ?γ? βο?λευον, ?πως ?χ’ ?ριστα γ?νοιτο,
ε? τιν’ ?τα?ροισιν θαν?του λ?σιν ?δ’ ?μο? α?τ?
ε?ρο?μην· π?ντας δ? δ?λους κα? μ?τιν ?φαινον,
?ς τε περ? ψυχ?ς· μ?γα γ?ρ κακ?ν ?γγ?θεν ?εν.

But I took counsel so that what was best might come about, to see if I could find some release from death for my companions and myself; I wove all sorts of plots and schemes, as if for my life, for a great evil was near at hand.

Other examples of “intelligence” may also be cited. Odysseus says that the Cyclops tried to trick him into revealing where his ship was, but did not succeed because he (Odysseus) was too wise (ix 281):

?ς φ?το πειρ?ζων, ?μ? δ’ ο? λ?θεν ε?δ?τα πολλ?.

So he spoke, testing me, but he did not escape my notice since I knew many things.

When Odysseus forms his plan to blind the Cyclops, and again when he devises an escape by clinging beneath the Cyclops’s sheep, there is an emphasis on his mental deliberation in the following repeated line (ix 318, 424):

?δε δ? μοι κατ? θυμ?ν ?ρ?στη φα?νετο βουλ?.

This counsel seemed best to me in my heart.

Between these two instances of “best counsel,” the O?tis stratagem works, and the Cyclops is abandoned by his neighbors. Odysseus comments on this as follows (ix 414):

?ς ?νομ’ ?ξαπ?τησεν ?μ?ν κα? μ?τις ?μ?μων.

Thus my name and faultless plan deceived him.

In this line one should note what seems to be an intentional pun between mÊtis, “plan,” and the name O?tis. The pun is set up four lines earlier when the other Cyclopes say:

ε? μ?ν δ? μ? τ?ς σε βι?ζεται ο?ον ??ντα

If no one (m? tis) is doing violence to you and you are alone,

and proceed to bid their neighbor farewell. Paralleling the equation between oú tis, “no one” and m? tis, “no one,” an equation is established between O?tis, “No one,” and mÊtis, “shrewd plan.” The suggestion of “death” in O?tis thus quickly changes to the notion of “mind.” It would seem from this that Homer, in his own way, has preserved the relation between death and nóos, the “return from death.”


The importance of “mind” in the Cyclops episode can also be judged from references occurring elsewhere in the Odyssey. On the night before Odysseus kills the suitors, he steels himself by recalling how he took courage even in the Cyclops’s cave (xx 20-21):

               σ? δ’ ?τ?λμας, ?φρα σε μ?τις
?ξ?γαγ’ ?ξ ?ντροιο ?ï?μενον θαν?εσθαι.

But you took courage until intelligence led you out of the cave, although you thought you would die.

The word mÊtis is again used, and Homer could not have done more to connect “mind” with “return” than he does by using the words se mÊtis exágag’, “intelligence led you out.” Again, when Odysseus approaches Scylla and Charybdis, he encourages his companions with the thought that nothing could be worse than the Cyclops; he then adds (xii 211-12):

?λλ? κα? ?νθεν ?μ? ?ρετ? βουλ? τε ν?? τε

But we escaped from that place by means of my valor, my plan, and my intelligence.


These passages reveal that Homer was still dimly aware of the relation between “mind” and the “return from death.” Significantly, however, the word nó?i in the last passage represents the only time that nóos is used in relation to the escape from the cave. The word nóos has largely been replaced by a new vocabulary, by words such as boul? and, in particular, mÊtis. [65]  

The reason for the change in vocabulary is easy to see. In the first instance, nóos was the “return from death,” but Homer was at most only dimly aware of this. One detail alone in his story suggests the original relation between “mind” and “return.” This, significantly, appears at the very moment when Odysseus emerges from the cave. At this point (ix 444-45) the text reads:

?στατος ?ρνει?ς μ?λων ?στειχε θ?ραζε,
λ?χν? στειν?μενος κα? ?μο? πυκιν? φρον?οντι.

Last among the sheep the ram went out of the doorway, loaded with his own fleece, and with me, and my close counsels.

With the words pukinà phronéonti, “having close counsels,” which refer to no definite “thought” or “plan,” Homer comes closest to realizing the originally neutral sense of nóos.


Otherwise, however, Homer had lost this sense. From the substitution of the phrase phúgomen thánaton, “we escaped death,” for the traditional phrase ásmenoi ek thanátoio, “having returned from death,” it is clear that Homer no longer thought in terms of an actual “return from death.” Once the notion of “death” had become latent, the relation between “returning” and nóos was bound to change. We see the result of this change in Homer, where “mind” no longer is the “escape” but is, rather, the means of “escape.” This was a natural development, and, given this development, it was also natural that the word nóos should have been replaced by a more descriptive vocabulary. Words like “counsel,” “plot,” and “device” were far more suited to describing the means of escape than was the neutral word nóos. [66]   The change from nóos to mÊtis should be seen in connection with the change from ásmenoi ek thanátoio to phúgomen thánaton; the root nes– in both of the traditional expressions had lost its original meaning, and this necessitated the substitution of a new vocabulary.

4. The Return to Ithaca

Until now I have been concerned only with the adventures Odysseus relates to the Phaeacian court in Books 9-12 of the Odyssey. [67]   These adventures have provided the basic evidence for the “return from death,” the role of the sun, and the role of nóos as related features in the nóstos of Odysseus. I shall now consider the final stage of this nóstos, which begins in Ogygia, includes Phaeacia, and ends in Ithaca. Here too there is evidence of the features mentioned above. It is fitting that such remaining evidence be surveyed in the final section of this chapter.

That the return from Ogygia has been poetically conceived as a return from death is very clear. The goddess who dwells on this island is a solitary figure who lives far from men and the other gods; she inhabits a cave, and her name, Kalups?, suggests the darkness of death. [68]   As long as Calypso keeps Odysseus with her, he is like the shades of the underworld in his listlessness and sorrow. Hence it is significant that when Hermes is sent to free him, the god takes with him his “ambivalent” staff (v 47-48):

ε?λετο δ? ??βδον, τ? τ’ ?νδρ?ν ?μματα θ?λγει
?ν ?θ?λει, το?ς δ’ α?τε κα? ?πν?οντας ?γε?ρει.

He took the staff with which he charms the eyes of those whom he wishes, and wakens others from their sleep.

In this case, of course, Hermes does not use his staff to “awaken” Odysseus in a literal fashion. But by mentioning the staff, Homer still suggests that the return of Odysseus is a return to consciousness and to life. [69]  


During the final voyage from Phaeacia to Ithaca, on the other hand, sleep and the return to consciousness become literal motifs. When this voyage begins Odysseus falls into a deep sleep, and remains there until he reaches home. Homer prepares for this feature of the story well in advance. At an early point King Alcinoos takes measures to ensure that the gifts given to Odysseus will not be harmed when he “sleeps” on his return (viii 444-45):

                                                  ?ππ?τ’ ?ν α?τε
ε?δ?σθα γλυκ?ν ?πνον ??ν ?ν νη? μελα?ν?

. . . whenever you fall into a sweet sleep going on the black ship.

The Phaeacians, moreover, carefully prepare a bed for Odysseus before the voyage begins. These details show that “sleep” was to be a basic part of the “return.”


More significant is the fact that the sleep which falls upon Odysseus is all but equated with death in the following lines (xiii 79-80):

κα? τ? ν?δυμος ?πνος ?π? βλεφ?ροισιν ?πιπτε
ν?γρετος ?διστος, θαν?τ? ?γχιστα ?οικ?ς.

And upon his eyes there fell a gentle sleep, the sweetest sort of sleep with no awakening, which was most like death.

The sleep of Odysseus also contains a suggestion of l?th?, the “forgetfulness of death,” in the following description of the sleeping hero (xiii 90 ff.):

?ς πρ?ν μ?ν μ?λα πολλ? παθ’ ?λγεα ?ν κατ? θυμ?ν
?νδρ?ν τε πτολ?μους ?λεγειν? τε κ?ματα πε?ρων,
δ? τ?τε γ’ ?τρ?μας ε?δε, λελασμ?νος ?σσ’ ?πεπ?νθει.

He who before this had suffered many woes in his heart, the battles of men and crossing the hard seas, now slept still, forgetting all that he had suffered.


The virtual equation between sleep and death is very revealing. It was suggested earlier in this chapter that when Odysseus falls asleep in Thrinacia he is experiencing a kind of passage through death. The description of the hero’s final voyage supports this suggestion.

The equation is also highly relevant to the original meaning of the word nóos. In chapter 2 it was suggested that the word originally designated something close to “consciousness.” The role of sleep during the final voyage supports this suggestion as well.

One may now observe more closely how the final voyage preserves the connection between nóos and the “return to consciousness.” The last passage quoted above suggests that when the hero falls asleep, his nóos is removed by l?th?. He forgets his past sufferings, whether in Troy or on the way home. But Odysseus is now on his final “return to life,” and his nóos should therefore be ready to reemerge. This is in fact suggested in the lines immediately preceding the last passage quoted above; the lines refer to the speeding Phaeacian ship which carries Odysseus (xiii 88-89):

?ς ? ??μφα θ?ουσα θαλ?σσης κ?ματ’ ?ταμνεν,
?νδρα φ?ρουσα θεο?ς ?ναλ?γκια μ?δε’ ?χοντα.

Thus the quick-running ship cut across the waves of the sea, carrying a man whose counsels were like the gods’.

One is strongly reminded of the return from the Cyclops’s cave (ix 444-45):

?στατος ?ρνει?ς μ?λων ?στειχε θ?ραζε,
λ?χν? στειν?μενος κα? ?μο? πυκιν? φρον?οντι.

Last among the sheep the ram went out of the doorway, loaded with his own fleece, and with me, and my close counsels.


But this is only an intermediate stage. The nóos of Odysseus should properly reappear only when he reawakens in his homeland. And so it seems to happen in the Homeric poem. Waiting to give Odysseus advice when he returns is the goddess Athena. The striking feature of the encounter that follows is the attention given to “intelligence,” particularly through the words nóos and nó?ma. Before Odysseus recognizes Athena, he tries to deceive her with one of his Cretan tales. Homer comments on this as follows (xiii 254-55):

ο?δ’ ? γ’ ?ληθ?α ε?πε, π?λιν δ’ ? γε λ?ζετο μ?θον,
α?ε? ?ν? στ?θεσσι ν?ον πολυκερδ?α νωμ?ν.

He did not tell the truth, but held back his speech, always plying his clever mind within his breast.

When Athena reveals herself and puts the lie to this tale, she continues (xiii 296 ff.):

?λλ’ ?γε, μηκ?τι τα?τα λεγ?μεθα, ε?δ?τες ?μφω
κ?ρδε’, ?πε? σ? μ?ν ?σσι βροτ?ν ?χ’ ?ριστος ?π?ντων
βουλ? κα? μ?θοισιν, ?γ? δ’ ?ν π?σι θεο?σι
μ?τι τε κλ?ομαι κα? κ?ρδεσιν.

But come, let us no longer say these things when both of us know cunning ways, since you among all mortals are by far the best in counsel and speech, and I among gods am famed for my intelligence and craft.

And when Odysseus demands assurance that he himself has not been deceived about his finally being home in Ithaca, Athena gently rebukes him as follows (xiii 330 ff.):

α?ε? τοι τοιο?τον ?ν? στ?θεσσι ν?ημα·
τ? σε κα? ο? δ?ναμαι προλιπε?ν δ?στηνον ??ντα,
ο?νεκ’ ?πητ?ς ?σσι κα? ?γχ?νοος κα? ?χ?φρων.

The intention in your breast is always such, and thus I cannot abandon you in your plight, for you are reserved, close-witted, and shrewd.


It should be noted that Athena and Odysseus are closely identified with each other in this scene. The second passage quoted above shows this clearly. The main advice Athena has come to give to Odysseus is to conceal his identity until the suitors have been killed. Remarkably, Odysseus has just tried to conceal his identity from Athena. [70]   Thus, as frequently in Homer, the divinty in this scene seems to represent a specific aspect of the hero. Athena, who has come to advise Odysseus, represents intelligence – the intelligence of Odysseus. Thus explained, her presence is a sign that the nóos of Odysseus was indeed a basic feature of his return to Ithaca. Homer uses this feature as an opportunity to have Odysseus devise his “plot” against the suitors. But the feature itself was undoubtedly older than this adaptation of it. The emphasis placed on nóos in the initial sparring between Odysseus and Athena indicates this.

There is less to say about the role of the sun in the final voyage of Odysseus. This voyage takes place by night, and the Phaeacian ship approaches Ithaca just as the daystar appears in the east (xiii 93 ff.):

ε?τ’ ?στ?ρ ?περ?σχε φα?ντατος, ?ς τε μ?λιστα
?ρχεται ?γγ?λλων φ?ος ?ο?ς ?ριγενε?ης,
τ?μος δ? ν?σ? προσεπ?λνατο ποντοπ?ρος νη?ς.

When the brightest star arose, the foremost messenger of the light of early-born Dawn, then did the sea-faring ship approach the island.

The arrival of Odysseus thus coincides with the rising of the sun. [71]  


It now remains only to say something more about the Phaeacians. The first point of interest is their ships, which are described in such a way as to reveal once again the close connection between nóos and néomai. They are described in viii 556 ff., where Alcinoos says that his ships do not require helmsmen or rudders but will send Odysseus on his way by “taking aim in their minds,” tituskómenai phresi; for these ships “themselves know the thoughts and minds of men,” autaì ísasi no?mata kaì phrénas andrÔn. The word nó?ma occurs again in relation to the Phaeacian ships in vii 36, in a brief simile describing their speed:

τ?ν ν?ες ?κε?αι ?ς ε? πτερ?ν ?? ν?ημα.

Their ships are as swift as a wing or a thought.

The simile “as quick as thought” is unique in Homer. [72]   That it should be used to describe the ships in which Odysseus “returns” is significant. It seems equally significant that the same ships are said to “know the thoughts and minds of men.” Possessing minds of their own and knowing the minds of others, the Phaeacian ships could not be a more apt symbol of the relation between nóos and néomai.


Homer indicates that it was the special pride of the Phaeacians to send people safely on their way. On two occasions Alcinoos refers to this function (viii 566 = xiii 174):

πομπο? ?π?μον?ς ε?μεν ?π?ντων.

We are harmless escorts for all.

The Phaeacians are thus a sea-faring people, and most of their names (Nausíthoos, Pontónoos, etc.) reflect this fact. The one major exception to the rule seemed to be King Alkínoos himself, until his name was correctly explained by Hugo Mühlestein. [73]   The second part of his name is to be connected with the verb néomai in a transitive sense, which gives to the first element its proper instrumental force. Like the name Iphínoos, the name Alkínoos must have meant “he who brings back by his might.” [74]  


So explained, the name of the Phaeacian king harmonizes excellently with the special funciton of his people, which was to “bring back” strangers like Odysseus. This correspondence lends great conviction to Mühlestein’s argument that the name Alkínoos should be dissociated from the noun nóos; the only necessary qualification is that, while the name and the noun are not immediately related, they both still contain the same root, nes-.

In conclusion, attention may be drawn to another aspect of the Phaeacians; namely, their peculiar status, which seems to be halfway between gods and men. [75]   For the most part they are as unhardened and frivolous as the Homeric gods, but they also experience suffering through their contact with Odysseus. For giving him safe conduct they are punished by Poseidon.

The ambiguous status of the Phaeacians prepares the way for my next chapter, the subject of which will be Nestor, a figure who, like the Phaeacians, often seems somewhat remote from the hard concerns of mortal life. It should emerge from the following pages that the similarity between Nestor and the Phaeacians is not accidental, but has to do with their originally common function.

 1. For a short bibliography of literature on this subject, see E.R. Dodds, “Homeric,” in M. Platnauer, ed., Fifty Years of Classical Scholarship (Oxford, 1954), pp. 7, 32 n. 19 [= Language and Background of Homer (chap. 2, n. 13), pp. 7, 18 n. 19].    back
 2. According to one tradition, Sisyphus was the father of Odysseus (cf. Sophocles Ajax 189-90). A fragment of Alcaeus (B 6A in Lobel-Page) seems to represent Sisyphus as having succumbed to death in spite of his wisdom; cf. lines 5-8:

κα? γ?ρ Σ?συφος Α?ολ?δαις βασ?λευς [
?νδρων πλε?στα νοησ?μενος [
?λλ? κα? πολ?ιδρις ?ων ?π? καρι [
δινν?εντ’ ‘Αχ?ροντ’ ?π?ραισε, μ[


 3. Cf. D. Page, The Homeric Odyssey (Oxford, 1955), p. 2.    back
 4. For the connection among these episodes, cf. end note 1.    back
 5. xii 338-39. For a sleep which is like death, cf. the final return of Odysseus to Ithaca, discussed in sect. 4 below. Húpnos “Sleep,” is called the brother of Thánatos “Death,” in Hesiod Theogony 756; both are the children of Núx, “Night,” (Theogony 758-59). Húpnos and Thánatos are also mentioned together in XVI 672, where both are charged with the duty of bearing Sarpedon back to Lycia.     back
 6. According to Page, Homeric Odyssey, pp. 44-46, Elpenor was a traditional part of the Nekyia who was used by Homer to connect the Nekyia with the rest of the Odyssey. Page, however, does not offer any explanation of Elpenor’s original role.    back
 7. Even in the poem as we have it, Teiresias has less to say about the “way home” than Circe does (cf. end note 1); another detail showing that Teiresias’s prophecy has more to do with “life and death” than with the “way home” is his mention of the thánatos . . . ex halós, “death from the sea” (xi 134) which will overcome Odysseus in his old age.    back
 8. Homer emphasizes that the journey to Hades is undertaken to “gain knowledge from Teiresias” (x 537, Teiresíao puthésthai; the formula is repeated at xi 50 and 89). For the importance of secret knowledge with respect to sun symbolism, see chap. 2, sect. 3 above.     back
 9. For this idea, cf. the paragraphs quoted from Eliade in chap. 2, sect. 1 above.    back
 10. See W.B. Stanford, The Odyssey of Homer² (London, 1959) 1: 410, where a proposed connection with neíaira in the unattested sense, “depths of the sea” (from which the sun seems to rise), is also mentioned.    back
 11. So P. Chantraine, Formation des noms en grec ancien (Paris, 1933), p. 104; for a different interpretation of the epithet, cf. R. Schmitt, Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit (chap. 2, n. 28), pp. 177-78. One may also compare the name Dáeira, related to daÊnai (Chantraine, ibid.).    back
 12. In later Greek mythology, there were ten or so figures with the name Neaira; see, W. Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie (Leipzig, 1897-1909), vol. 3, cols. 43-44.    back
 13. Herodotus tells the story of Euenius after mentioning that a prophet named Deiphonus, who claimed to be the son of Euenius, was with the Greek fleet at Samos between the battles of Salamis and Mycale. Herodotus ends his account in 9.95 by stating that he had heard that Deiphonus was not in fact the son of Euenius, but claimed to be in order to trade on the name of a famous man. Given Euenius’s fame, it is easy to understand how he became the subject for legend.    back
 14. The blinding of Euenius, which has no parallel in Odyssey 12, has a more distant parallel in the Indic myth of ?jr??va, which is referred to twice in the Rig-Veda. According to RV 1.116.16 and 1.117.17-18, ?jr??va was blinded by his father for having slaughtered one hundred and one rams to a she wolf, and the A?vins – divine twins – restored his eyes when the wolf intervened on his behalf; for the connection of the Vedic twins with sheep and cattle, sunrise, intelligence, and the root nes-, see chap. 6, sect. 4 below. For the theme of blinding as a solar motif, consider also the Cyclops in Odyssey 9, whose solar origins are discussed in section 3 below.     back
 15. The “ruddy cows” of the Dawn goddess U?as are frequently referred to in the Rig-Veda; see A.A. Macdonell, Vedic Mythology (Strassburg, 1897), pp. 46-47.    back
 16. See H. Oldenberg, Die Religion des Veda (Berlin, 1894), p. 147.    back
 17. For Vedic references, see Macdonell, Vedic Mythology, pp. 63-64, 157.    back
 18. For Vala, see ibid., pp. 159-60.    back
 19. See ibid., p. 142 for the Angirases, p. 144 for the seven ??is, and pp. 101-04 for B?haspati.    back
 20. The very name Pa?i means “niggard,” and reflects the preoccupation of the Vedic poet/priests with large rewards of cattle; see Oldenberg (n. 16), pp. 143-50.    back
 21. See Oldenberg, p. 144 for evidence that the myth of the winning of the cattle belonged to a priestly class at least as early as Common Indo-Iranian.    back
 22. The expression in Herodotus 9.93.1 is ?ν δ? ?ντρ? α?λ?ζονται ?π? τ?ς π?λιος ?κ?ς, “they are stabled in a cave far away from the city.”    back
 23. Apollodorus 1.6.1 mentions cattle of Helios on the island of Erytheia that were driven off by the giant Alcyoneus; these seem to be equivalents of the cattle of Geryon, and vice versa. Heracles himself, in order to reach Erytheia, uses the golden cup of Helios (see Apollodorus 2.5.10).    back
 24. σταθμ? ?ν ?ερ?εντι, Theogony 294.    back
 25. See U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Glaube der Hellenen (Berlin, 1931), 1: 276, and H. J. Rose, Handbook of Greek Mythology? (London, 1953), pp. 214-15.    back
 26. It was through this entrance that Heracles is said to have descended to Hades to fetch Cerberus (see Apollodorus 2.5.12).    back
 27. As Odysseus’s ship approaches Thrinacia, he hears the lowing of “stabled cattle” (βο?ν α?λιζομεν?ων, xii 265), but we hear no more about their stable.     back
 28. See W.B. Stanford, The Odyssey of Homer (n. 10), p. 382, for the five variant readings in antiquity. On an etymological connection of Κιμμ?ριοι with Hesych. κ?μμερος· ?χλ?ς, ?μ?χλη. “mist,” and Hittite kammara-, “fog, darkness,” see G. Neumann, Untersuchungen zum Weiterleben hethitischen und luvischen Sprachgutes in hellenistischer und römischer Zeit (1961), pp. 31-32; A. Heubeck, Hermes 91 (1963): 490-92; C. Nylander, Hermes 93 (1965): 131-32; M.L. Mayer, Acme 20 (1967): 289-90.    back
 29. For further discussion of this passage in Hesiod, see sect. 3 below.     back
 30. M. Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion (chap. 2, n. 22), p. 143    back
 31. Notice also that when Odysseus himself “returns” (x 419) unharmed from Circe’s palace, his remaining companions, who are said to be as happy as if they had “returned home” (x 416 ff.), are compared to heifers that have been freed from their pens (x 410 ff.)    back
 32. The presence of Hermes at this moment is significant, for he both leads to death (as psychopomp) and brings back to life; see sect. 4 below for his role in bringing Odysseus back from Ogygia, and chap. 7 for his role in guiding Priam in Iliad 24. Notice what Hermes says to Odysseus in the present episode (l. 286):

?λλ’ ?γε δ? σε κακ?ν ?κλ?σομαι ?δ? σα?σω.

But come, I will free you from evils and save you.


 33. The verb nost?sein is significant; Homer seems to realize that merely by emerging alive from Circe’s palace Odysseus accomplishes a nóstos, originally a “return to life.” In order to reconcile this with his own understanding of nóstos, Homer has the remaining companions say to Odysseus when he “returns” unharmed from the palace (x 419-20):

σο? μ?ν νοστ?σαντι, διοτρεφ?ς, ?ς ?χ?ρημεν,
?ς ε? τ ε?ς ?θ?κην ?φικο?μεθα πατρ?δα γα?αν.

We rejoiced at your return (nost?santi), O Zeus-nourished king, as if we had arrived in Ithaca our fatherland.


 34. For the significance of the color white in Indo-European tradition, see L. Gerschel, “Couleur et teinture chez divers peuples indo-européens,” Annales Économies Sociétés Civilisations 21 (1966): 608-31.    back
 35. In x 240 the companions, who have been turned into swine, are described as in all respects swinelike, except that their “mind was intact as before” (no?s Ên émpedos h?s tò páros per). It is hard to tell whether no?s has any traditional significance here. The form (only here in Homer is nóos contracted) is late, but the companions do in fact “return” to human form. Probably the poet only meant to say that the companions had not irrevocably been turned into swine; it remains unclear how he related no?s to their eventual “return.”    back
 36. Cf. C.H. Whitman, Homer and the Heroic Tradition (Cambridge, 1958), p. 298.     back
 37. See chap. 2, sect. 1 above.    back
 38. The passage is similar to XVI 777 ff., describing the course of the battle in which Patroclus dies:

?φρα μ?ν ??λιος μ?σον ο?ραν?ν ?μφιβεβ?κει,
τ?φρα μ?λ’ ?μφοτ?ρων β?λε’ ?πτετο, π?πτε δ? λα?ς·
?μος δ’ ?ελιος μετεν?σετο βουλυτ?νδε,
κα? τ?τε δ? ?’ ?π?ρ α?σαν ?χαιο? φ?ρτεροι ?σαν.

While Helios was covering mid-heaven the weapons of both sides took hold and men fell; but when Helios began to set the Achaeans were stronger, beyond their destiny.

The line describing the movement of the sun as it begins to set, which is virtually the same in the two passages (ix 58 = XVI 779), contains the peculiar word boulutónde, “to the time for the unyoking of oxen;” see end note 2 for a discussion of the possibility that this word has been reinterpreted by the Homeric poets, and that the “oxen” in question were originally the cattle of Helios himself.    back

 39. Compare x 112-13 and 120; 121-22; 82 ff. and 98; 116 and 124 with ix 190 ff.; 481 ff. and 537 ff.; 108, 167, and 187-88; 291.    back
 40. Cf. the name Stúx, “Styx,” and the adjective stugerós, “dreaded,” in the expressions stugeròs d’ ára min skótos he?le, “dreaded darkness seized him” (in, e.g., V 47) and stugero? A?dao, “dreaded Hades” (VIII 368).    back
 41. W.B. Stanford, The Odyssey of Homer (n. 10), p. 368.    back
 42. I believe that, t?lépulos was originally an epithet (“far-gated”) describing Laistrugoní?, and not a proper noun; nevertheless, I have followed the usual interpretation in the text.    back
 43. Hesiod mentions “gates” (pulé?n) in l. 741, but it is not clear whether these gates are related to the “threshold” in l. 749.     back
 44. Cf. the discussion of the Hesiodic passage by Hermann Fränkel, Dichtung und Philosophie des frühen Griechentums, Philological Monograph no. 13, American Philological Association (1951), p. 147: “Es ist immer Tag oder Nacht, und die Schwelle repräsentiert das Oder, in einem mehr metaphysischen als räumlichen Sinn. Sie müsste sonst im Westen und Osten zugleich liegen. Hesiods Schilderung der Unterwelt ist nicht als Topographie gemeint.” [“It is always day or night, and the threshold represents the ‘or’ (the alternative between the two) in a more metaphysical than spatial sense. Otherwise it would have to lie in both west and east at the same time. Hesiod’s description of the underworld is not meant as topography.”    back
 45. In Theogony 740, Hesiod refers to a khásma méga, “great chasm,” which seems to be the same as the “house of night” (but cf. n. 43 above).    back
 46. Notice that whereas the full traditional refrain is given at the end of the first, third, and fifth episodes, only the first line of it is given after the second and fourth episodes (ix 105 and x 77). For a discussion of the “geometric” arrangement of all the episodes in the first half of the Odyssey, see C.H. Whitman, Homer and the Heroic Tradition (n. 36), p. 288.    back
 47. This recasting, since it stands farther from the traditional refrain than in the other two cases (see chap. 2, sect. 1 and chap. 3, sect. 3 above), is somewhat looser; there is no form of óllumi, “to lose,” and the word aspásios, “welcome,” in contrast to the Laestrygonian episode, is dissociated from the verb pheúgo, “to escape,” and is used in a different sense (“welcome” rather than “happy”).    back
 48. Cf. C.H. Whitman, Homer and the Heroic Tradition (n. 36), pp. 299-300.    back
 49. With psukhÊs in this passage, compare the expression arnúmenos h?n te psukh?n, “winning his life,” in i 5 and the discussion of this in chap. 2, n. 19. With thanátou lúsin, “release from death,” compare the same expression and its context in Theognis 1009-10:

                                        ο? γ?ρ ?νηβ?ν
δ?ς π?λεται πρ?ς θε?ν ο?δ? λ?σις θαν?του.

There is from the gods no growing young again for a second time, nor a release from death (lúsis thanátou ).

The verb an?bÂn, “grow young again,” strongly suggests “rebirth.”    back

 50. It should be emphasized that of the episodes which end with the traditional refrain only the present one contains a graphic “return”; the cave of the Cyclops, more than anything else, illustrates what the refrain originally meant.    back
 51. This interpretation begins at least with Hesiod Theogony 144.    back
 52. A. Kuhn, Die Herabkunft des Feuers und des Göttertrankes (Berlin, 1859), p. 54 [= A. Kuhn, Mythologische Studien (Gütersloh, 1886), p. 51]; cf. also R. Schmitt, Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit (chap. 2, n. 28), pp. 167-69.    back
 53. Notice that in Hesiod Theogony 144-45:

Κ?κλωπες δ’ ?νομ’ ?σαν ?π?νυμον, ο?νεκ’ ?ρα σφ?ων
κυκλοτερ?ς ?φθαλμ?ς ?εις ?ν?κειτο μετ?π?

They were called by the names Cyclopes because one circular eye had been placed in their forehead,

the fact of having one eye is expressed by the word héeis, “one,” and not by the word kukloter?s, “circular.”    back

 54. Cf. the discussion of R. Schmitt, Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit (chap. 2, n. 28), p. 167; so I also interpret the remark “sachlich unbefriedigend” of H. Frisk, Griechisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (chap. 1, n. 4), s.v.    back
 55. For the difficulties which the negative aspect of sun symbolism might create for the rational mind, cf. the following remark of M. Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion (chap. 2, n. 22), p. 144: “The hierophanies of the sun display, indeed, dimensions that the sun merely as such would lose in any purely rational or profane perspective. But those dimensions hold a definite place in any primitive system of myth and metaphysic.”    back
 56. R. Schmitt, Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit (chap. 2, n. 28), p. 168.    back
 57. The three name have to do, respectively, with “thunder,” “lightning,” and “brightness.”    back
 58. P. Thieme, “Etymologische Vexierbilder,” Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung 69 (1951): 177-78 [= Kleine Schriften (Wiesbaden, 1971), 1 : 62-63].    back
 59. The meaning in Indo-European seems in fact to have been “moveable property” rather than “cattle”; cf. n. 64 below.    back
 60. In addition to the article cited above (n. 58), see also P. Thieme, “Beiträge zur Vedaexegese, 2. ?urúdh,” Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft 95 (1941): 338 ff. [=Kleine Schriften 1:42 ff.].    back
 61. Notice the initial description of the cave (ix 182 ff.):

?νθα δ’ ?π’ ?σχατι? σπ?ος ε?δομεν, ?γχι θαλ?σσης,
?ψηλ?ν, δ?φν?σι κατηρεφ?ς· ?νθα δ? πολλ?
μ?λ’, ?ï?ς τε κα? α?γες ?α?εσκον.

There at the edge of the land we saw the cave, close to the sea, high, covered with laurels; there many small animals, sheep and goats, passed the night.

The fact that the rams are left outside the cave on the first night (ix 238) and are brought inside on the second night (ix 337) has to do mainly with a plot device.    back

 62. See sect. 2 above for the role of knowledge in the Pa?i myth, and below in text for the role of “mind” in the escape of Odysseus from the cave.    back
 63. The type does exist, however; cf. the pair méli, blítt?.    back
 64. A recent study by É. Benveniste makes it probable that a Greek form *peku once existed. In Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes, vol. 1 (chap. 1, n. 6), chap. 4, “Le bétail et l’argent; pecu et pec?nia,” Benveniste shows that Indo-European *peku did not mean “cattle,” but “moveable property” in general; in chap. 3, “Próbaton et l’économie homérique,” he shows that the Greek words próbasis and (tà) próbata likewise originally meant “moveable property.” On the basis of this, he draws the following conclusion (p. 59): “Il est intéressant de noter – les comparatistes n’y ont pas prêté assez d’attention – que *peku manque en grec. Ce n’est pas un hasard. Une notion aussi importante ne pouvait simplement disparaître. Le terme indo-européen a été, en fait, remplacé en grec par une désignation nouvelle, qui porte le même sense; c’est hom. próbasis, avec son équivalent beaucoup plus commun, próbata.”    back
 65. For another instance in which mÊtis is the significant word, see chap. 4, sect. 2, on Nestor in Iliad 23.    back
 66. Cf. the discussion of polútropos in the introduction to the book above.    back
 67. The adventures in Books 9-12 which have not been discussed in the preceding are the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, and the winds of Aeolus. The Aeolus adventure, it may be noted, provides another instance of the “mindlessness” of the companions (cf. x 27 and 46).    back
 68. The name is connected with the verb kalúptein, “to cover;” for the connotation of the latter, cf. the Homeric formulas tòn dè skótos ósse kálupse(n), “darkness covered his eyes,” and télos thanátoio kálupse(n), “the end of death covered (him).” For the relevance of the verb for nóos, cf. Aristotle, de Anima 429a7: dià tó epikalúptesthai tòn no?n eníote páthei ? nósois ? húpn?i, “on account of the mind’s being covered over at times by passion, diseases, or sleep.”    back
 69. For Hermes’ role, cf. chap. 3, sect. 2 on the Circe episode, and chap. 7 below on Priam’s ransom of Hector in Iliad 24, where the same lines describing the staff of Hermes occur.    back
 70. I am grateful to John Finley for this observation.    back
 71. Notice also that upon his arrival Odysseus is first surrounded by a mist (xiii 189), which Athena ultimately removes (xiii 352).    back
 72. Cf., however, the phrase ?ς δ’ ?τ’ ?ν ??ξ? ν?ος, “as when the mind (nóos) darts,” in a simile describing Hera’s speed as she returns to Olympus (XV 80).    back
 73. H. Mühlestein, “Namen von Neleiden auf Pylostäfelchen” (chap. 1, n. 7), p. 158; Ar?t?, the name of the Phaeacian queen, does not refer to sea-faring but is nonetheless significant — Ar?t? is “prayed to” by Odysseus (cf. the verb aráomai, “to pray”).    back
 74. Underlying the form Alkínoos, which has the usual accentuation of personal names, there may also have been an epithet *alkinoós. For more on the transitive sense of the root nes– in Greek, see chap. 4, sect. 4 below.    back
 75. In v 35 they are called ankhítheoi, “close to the gods.”    back

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