Douglas Frame, The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic: Notes

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


Note 1

As argued in chapter 2, section 1, the context of the form ne?ai in xi 114 – a prophecy among the dead – indicates that this form originally meant “you will return from death.” If the form’s original meaning is in fact dependent upon the context, then the context itself must be highly traditional. Since the Nekyia as a whole has often been judged to be a late addition to the Odyssey, further comment is required.

Denys Page, The Homeric Odyssey (Oxford, 1955), pp. 21 ff., follows the analyst tradition in arguing that the Nekyia was once a separate poem which was later inserted into the Odyssey. I do not wish to go into the merits of this argument, but only to point out that Page considers the role of Teiresias to have been an essential part of an original Nekyia (pp. 24 ff., 40). With this I would agree, but the important question then becomes what the original role of Teiresias was. Page’s argument seems to me to be weak at this point. He refers to the “dismal science of necromancy” (p. 24) as practiced by the Greeks, especially in Teiresias’s native Boeotia, but his explanation of Teiresias’s original role has little to do with this “dismal science,” at least in any real sense. He thinks that Teiresias merely served as a link between Odysseus and his dead acquaintances, whom he had come to the underworld to visit: “For if he [Teiresias] is summoned in the customary manner by blood-sacrifice, will not the feeble ghosts of the Homeric Underworld come to drink the blood, and then will they not also revive and speak?”

This explanation seems very dubious to me. Surely the only role for a prophet is to prophesy, and this must be what Teiresias always did in the Nekyia. But the substance of his prophecy need not have remained unchanged. Here another of Page’s arguments, that many details in the Nekyia have secondarily been made to fit the context of the Odyssey, is to the point. The prophecy of Teiresias may well have been adapted to take account of what occurs after Odyssey 11 – namely, the slaughter of the cattle of Helios. My only claim is that the line with ne?ai formed part of an original Nekuomanteía (“Oracle from the Dead”), and that the original context of the line would have made it clear that ne?ai referred to “returning from death.” Homer, in adapting the prophecy, has made ne?ai mean “you will return home”; but by leaving the word in the mouth of Teiresias, in the underworld, he has still allowed us to see its original meaning.

This discussion should also make it clear why Homer has Circe repeat and expand the prophecy of Teiresias (including the line with ne?ai, xii 141); Circle has more to do with the events to follow than Teiresias does, at least as far as the cattle of Helios are concerned, for she is herself the daughter of Helios.

Note 2

One is tempted to speculate about the peculiar word boul?tónde which occurs twice in Homer, in the same formulaic line (ix 58 = XVI 779: see Chapter 3, n. 38): ?mos d’ ?élios metensís(s)eto boul?tónde, “but when the sun began to go boul?tónde.” The line refers to the sun’s setting, and the word boul?tónde has traditionally been taken to mean “to [the time for] the unyoking of oxen,” with a verbal adjective from lú?, “loosen,” forming the second part of the compound. But the long vowel quantity is surprising; elsewhere in Greek only l?tós, with the expected short vowel, is found. The comparison with Latin soluo, sol?tus does not avail, since the latter is the result of vowel lengthening before an accented secondary suffix, as discussed by J. Kury?owicz, L’apophonie en indo-européen (1956), pp. 125-26. It is also odd that the particle –de should have to express “to the time of.” Finally, if the word is old, as the compound formation with verbal adjective suggests, then it is odd that it does not allow the normal dactylic rhythm in the fifth foot of the hexameter.

These peculiarities are removed by supposing a different underlying form, with a verbal adjective from loú?, “bathe,” as the second element. One might reconstruct either *boulowetónde or *boulewotónde (the latter in accord with the vocalism of Mycenean lewotreios, “for bathing”). Both forms would have contracted to give long close o, which one must then suppose was changed to long u as the result of reinterpretation.

What would the meaning be? I suggest that the word once referred to the cattle of the sun, whose coming and going accompanied sunrise and sunset. The sun is often said to return to the streams of Oceanus, and the stars are specifically said to set in the loetrà ?keano?o, “baths of Oceanus” (cf. v 275); in V 6 the expression lelouménos ?keano?o, “bathed in Oceanus,” is used of the autumn star to which Diomedes is compared for his brilliance. Admittedly, however, the idea of a “cattle-bathing” is odd, and one would like to see other examples. There is an overt example in Euripides’ Iphigenia among the Taurians, where cowherds are bathing cattle in the sea when they capture Orestes and Pylades; cf. line 255, where the episode is reported:

βο?ς ?λθομεν ν?ψοντες ?ναλ?? δρ?σ?.

We had come to bathe our cattle in the water of the sea.

There may also be a latent example in the following lines from the Hymn to Hermes (115-16):

?φρα δ? π?ρ ?ν?καιε β?η κλυτο? ?φα?στοιο,
τ?φρα δ’ ?ποβρ?χιας ?λικας βο?ς ?λκε θ?ραζε.

While the force of famed Hephaestus was kindling the fire (Hermes) dragged the curve-horned hupobrúkhias cattle outside.

Elsewhere in Greek (Herodotus, Plato, etc.), the adjective hupobrúkhios always means “underwater.” Particular attention is drawn to the following lines from Homeric Hymn 33, to the Dioscuri, in which distressed sailors call on the two sÊt?ras . . . anthr?p?n . . . neÔn te, “saviors of men and ships” (ll. 6-7). The sailors are represented as sacrificing white sheep on the ship’s stern, which the wind and waves have meanwhile “submerged” (11-12): t?n d’ ánemós te mégas kaì kÚma thaláss?s / thÊkan hupobrukhí?n. At this point the Dioscuri come to the rescue.


Two things are important in this passage. First, the context is a “rescue,” and secondly, the word hupobrukhí?n in line 12 occupies the same metrical slot as hupobrukhías in the Hymn to Hermes. One also notices the context and the metrical position of the adverbial form hupóbrukha in v 319, which describes Odysseus as he struggles to “return” (cf. nóstou in v 344) to Phaeacia:

τ?ν δ’ ?ρ’ ?π?βρυχα θ?κε πολ?ν χρ?νον, ο?δ’ ?δυν?σθη
α?ψα μ?λ’ ?νσχεθ?ειν μεγ?λου ?π? κ?ματος ?ρμ?ς.

It submerged him for a long time, and he was unable to reach the surface quickly because of the rush of the great wave.

The word hupobr?khías, as applied to the cattle of Hermes, has been connected with the verb br?kháomai, “bellow,” but the vowel quantity is wrong for this, unless the reading is emended to yield an unattested hupobrÚkhous, “softly bellowing.”

But the text may be defended by making certain assumptions about the underlying myth. Since the stolen cattle belong to Apollo, they may once have been related to the cattle of Helios. The fact that Hermes drives the cattle westward to a hiding place near Pylos points to such a relation. Hence one wonders whether in an older version of the myth Hermes did not drive the cattle boul?tónde in the sense suggested above. Since Hermes not only conceals the cattle but also brings them back, perhaps the latter action was originally described by the words hupobrukhías . . . bo?s hélke thúraze, “he dragged the submerged cows outside.” In the present version of the story the discovery of fire accompanies the action described by these words; the discovery of fire fits well with a latent “sunrise” motif.

Note 3

It is striking in how many points Homer’s description of Calypso resembles Hesiod’s description of Styx (Theogony 775 ff.). Both goddesses live apart from the other gods; compare the reference to Calypso in v 80: apóprothi d?mata naíei, “she inhabits a dwelling far away,” with the reference to Styx in Theogony 777: nósphin dè the?n klutà d?mata naíei, “she inhabits her famed dwelling apart from the gods.” Both goddesses are visited only rarely by the messengers of the gods. In the case of Styx, it is Iris who seldom comes (Theogony 780-81):

πα?ρα δ? Θα?μαντος θυγ?τηρ π?δας ?κ?α ?ρις
?γγελ?ην πωλε?ται ?π’ ε?ρ?α ν?τα θαλ?σσης.

Swift-footed Iris, the daughter of Thaumas, seldom comes with a message over the wide back of the sea.

In the case of Calypso, Hermes is the infrequent visitor, as her own greeting to him makes clear (v 87-88):

τ?πτε μοι, ?ρμε?α χρυσ?ρραπι, ε?λ?λουθας
α?δο??ς τε φ?λος τε; π?ρος γε μ?ν ο? τι θαμ?ζεις.

Hermes of the golden staff, honored and dear that you are, why have you come? Before now you have not been a frequent visitor.

Both goddesses are reached by crossing the sea; compare Theogony 781, with reference to the rare visits of Iris, with v 50 ff., where Hermes flies across the sea as if he were a bird. Both goddesses live in caves; this is well known in the case of Calypso, and seems to be true of Styx as well – her house is described in Theogony 778 as makr?isin pétr?isi kat?rephé’, “covered over by great rocks.” There is a further, more indirect comparison in the fact that the house of Styx is surrounded by columns which stretch to the sky (Theogony 778-79):

?μφ? δ? π?ντη
κ?σσιν ?ργυρ?οισι πρ?ς ο?ραν?ν ?στ?ρικται.

All the way round it is supported by silver columns reaching to the sky.

As M. L. West, Hesiod: Theogony (Oxford, 1966), p. 372, has pointed out, Hesiod probably imagines these columns to be at the edge of the world, where the river Styx is said to be connected with the river Oceanus (Theogony 789); West goes on to conjecture that the columns may have something to do with the common notion of pillars which support the sky, and this, I believe, is the case. If so, the columns associated with Styx bring to mind the titan Atlas, who also is located at the edge of the world, where he supports the sky (Theogony 517 ff.). This apparent relationship between Styx and Atlas in Hesiod is paralleled by an explicit relationship between Calypso and Atlas in Homer – she is his daughter. One wonders whether it is coincidence that Homer, when he calls Calypso the daughter of Atlas, also mentions the columns of the latter (i 52 ff.):

?τλαντος θυγ?τηρ ?λο?φρονος, ?ς τε θαλ?σσης
π?σης β?νθεα ο?δεν, ?χει δ? τε κ?ονας α?τ?ς
μακρ?ς, α? γα??ν τε κα? ο?ραν?ν ?μφ?ς ?χουσι.

The daughter of malevolent Atlas, who knows the depths of the entire sea, and himself holds the great columns which keep heaven and earth apart.


To return to more overt parallels, both goddesses detain exiled beings in their domains; Styx detains gods who have forsworn their oaths (Theogony 793 ff.) and Calypso detains Odysseus. When Hermes comes to set Odysseus free, he brings his staff with which he “awakens the sleeping” (cf. chap. 3, sect. 4, for discussion); with this should be compared the “evil sleep” which, according to Theogony 798, “covers” a god who has forsworn himself: kakòn dé he kÔma kalúptei. The verb kalúptei, “covers,” in this context suggests a very real connection with Kalups? and the virtual sleep from which Odysseus must be awakened. Still more suggestive is the epithet ?gúgion, “primeval,” which Hesiod uses of the water of the Styx in Theogony 805-06: to?on ár’ hórkon éthento theoì Stugòs áphthiton húd?r / ?gúgion, “such an oath did the gods make of the undying, primeval water of the Styx.” For ?gugí? is the name (or, more probably, epithet) which Homer gives to Calypso’s island.

Calypso offers to make Odysseus immortal (cf. v 135-36); in connection with this it is worth noting that the water of the Styx was thought to be an elixir of life, as in the story of the immersion of Achilles (cf. West, Hesiod, p. 378, for references to this story).

On the basis of these correspondences it may be suggested that the figure of Calypso, who exists solely for the story of the Odyssey, was created by epic tradition on the model of the goddess Styx. The fact that Hesiod makes both of them Oceanids, and therefore sisters (cf. Theogony 359 and 361), indicates that he saw a certain kinship between the two. Calypso is, of course, no carbon copy of Styx (note, for example, that a god would “delight” in Calypso’s pleasant surroundings, according to v 73-74, and contrast this with the gods’ experience in Styx’s domain according to Hesiod). Calypso is at most a rather free imitation of Styx; it is somehow agreeable, even though highly speculative, to imagine that Homer still knew of Calypso’s Stygian origins when he had her swear by the water of the Styx not to harm Odysseus (v 185 ff.).

Note 4

Chapter 6, section 4, above, presents the Indic evidence which establishes a correlation between the two Vedic names, NÁsaty? and A?vín?, and the two epic twins Sahadeva and Nakula, respectively; the same section criticizes Wikander’s arguments in favor of a partially different conclusion, namely, that the name NÁsaty?, as well as A?vín?, is to be correlated with the “horseman” Nakula. Still to be discussed is Wikander’s use of Iranian evidence, having to do with the demon NÅ?haiθya (cf. Chapter 6, n. 22), to support his conclusion.

Wikander contends that NÅ?haiθya (whom he considers the descendant of the Indo-Iranian “horseman” twin) was demonized precisely because of his association with the horse (“Nakula et Sahadeva,” pp. 81 and 85); he argues further that the “cattleman” twin has also survived in Iranian in the form of ?tar, the fire god and son of Ahura Mazd?h (pp. 85-96). This second argument is judged by Ward, “The Separate Functions of the Indo-European Divine Twins” (Chapter 6, n. 50), p. 195, to be “not as convincing” as the remainder of Wikander’s study. I would now add that Wikander’s interpretation of NÅ?haiθya is also to be rejected.

While it is true that the Zoroastrian pandaemonium absorbed mainly old “second function” gods (cognate with the war god Indra is the Avestan demon Indara), another explanation must be sought for the demonization of NÅ?haiθya. I suggest that the key to the status of this figure is the fact that he has become separated from his twin brother. When twins remain together, they often become proverbial for undying friendship; this is the case for the Greek Dioscuri, as is suggested, for example, by Theognis 1087 ff.:

Κ?στορ κα? Πολ?δευκες, ο? ?ν Λακεδα?μονι δ??
          να?ετ’ ?π’ Ε?ρ?τ? καλλιρ?? ποταμ?,
ε? ποτε βουλε?σαιμι φ?λ? κακ?ν, α?τ?ς ?χοιμι·
          ε? δ? τι κε?νος ?μο?, δ?ς τ?σον α?τ?ς ?χοι.

O Castor and Polydeuces, who dwell in shining Lacedaemon
     by the beautifully flowing Eurotas river,
if ever I should devise evil against a friend, may I get that evil myself;
     if my friend, on the other hand, should devise some evil against me, may he get twice as much himself.

When twins abandon one another, on the other hand, they do so out of hostility; see Ward, The Divine Twins (Chapter 6, n. 36), pp. 6-7, who cites the examples of the biblical Jacob and Esau, the Greek Acrisius and Proetus, and the Roman Romulus and Remus. Now the little that is known about NÅ?haiθya characterizes him precisely as a cause of hostility between superiors and inferiors. According to the Persian source which is translated by E. E. K. Antia, Cama Memorial Volume (Bombay, 1900), p. 163, and is also quoted by G. Dumézil, Naissance d’archanges (Paris, 1945), p. 167, NÅ?haiθya creates discord between men and God, parents and children, teachers and pupils, husbands and wives, masters and servants. This demonic function may well derive from a tradition that NÅ?haiθya quarreled with and abandoned his twin brother.


Note 5

Eric Havelock, “Parmenides and Odysseus” (Chapter 7. n. 5), pp. 138-40, has pointed out several striking parallels between Parmenides and the Odyssey. Parmenides’ frequent use of the noun díz?sis and of the verb díz?mai in relation to his philosophic “quest,” for example, is illuminated by the line in which Teiresias correctly identifies Odysseus’s reason for coming to the underworld (xi 100):

ν?στον δ?ζηαι μελιηδ?α, φα?διμ’ ?δυσσε?

You are striving for (díz?ai) a honey-sweet homecoming, shining Odysseus,

and by a similar line in the account of himself which Odysseus gives to Penelope (xxiii 253):

ν?στον ?τα?ροισιν διζ?μενος ?δ’ ?μο? α?τ?

Striving for (diz?menos) a homecoming for my companions and myself.

A fascinating parallel is that between Odysseus’s command to his steersman to “ward off the ship” from both Scylla and Charybdis (éerge nÊa in xii 219-20) and Parmenides’ admonition in Frag. 6.3-4:

πρ?της γ?ρ σ’ ?φ’ ?δο? τα?της διζ?σιος <ε?ργω>,
α?τ?ρ ?πειτ’ ?π? τ?ς . . .

First I ward you off (eírg?) from this road of enquiry, but then also from this one . . .

and his command in Frag. 7.2-3:

?λλ? σ? τ?σδ’ ?φ’ ?δο? διζ?σιος ε?ργε ν?ημα
μηδ? σ’ ?θος πολ?πειρον ?δ?ν κατ? τ?νδε βι?σθω . . .

But ward off (e?rge) your mind (nó?ma) from this road of enquiry,
and do not let custom, born of much experience, force you along this road. . . .

Havelock nicely comments (p. 138) that “the object to be controlled is no longer a ship but a mental process,” and draws attention to Frag. 6.5-6, where there is a more concrete instance of the ship metaphor:

πλ?ττονται δ?κρανοι· ?μηχαν?η γ?ρ ?ν α?τ?ν
στ?θεσιν ?θ?νει πλακτ?ν ν?ον· ο? δ? φορο?νται . . .

They wander about two-headed; for helplessness steers the wandering mind (nóos) in their breast; they are carried along. . . .


Where I would like to modify Havelock’s argument is in the explanation for the parallels he has discovered. The author (p. 139) notes that Odysseus, in voyaging to Laestrygonia, Aeaea, and Thrinacia, has gone “beyond normal human latitudes,” and concludes that in the imagination of Parmenides, whose “own journey is also an excursion beyond the bounds of accepted experience,” these adventures “are all correctly remembered as allegories of the world’s end, a mysterious bourne far off the beaten track, a region of mystery and peril but also of revelation.” The author, in other words, regards his discoveries as purely a matter of literary reminiscence; I find this too narrow. My point is illustrated by a lapse on Havelock’s part, who, in mentioning the Laestrygonians, renders x 86:

?γγ?ς γ?ρ νυκτ?ς τε κα? ?ματ?ς ε?σι κ?λευθοι

as “the gates of the paths of day and night.” The author has inadvertently translated Parmenides, Frag. 1.11:

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

and has thus overlooked the crucial difference between the two lines in question. I have argued earlier that Parmenides, far from being the imitator in this case, has preserved the genuine form of a line which Homer has modified (see Chapter 3, §3 above). I have further tried to show that Hesiod, in the Theogony, was dealing independently with the same mythic material as Homer and Parmenides (see Chapter 3, §3 above); this at once suggest that more is involved in Parmenides than particular literary reminiscences.


I need not belabor my major argument: that Parmenides has preserved in his proem another, more important, element which is likewise older than Homer – namely, the connection between nóos and néomai. Havelock is on the right track when he explains “the central affinity which Parmenides feels for his prototype” (p. 139) in terms of Odysseus’s motivation for going to the underworld, namely, “to gain knowledge from Teiresias” (the phrase prìn Teiresíao puthésthai is formulaic, occurring in x 537, and xi 50 and 89). But Parmenides has done more than recognize and remember “ a slight overtone of allegory” in the Odyssey. For what appears as such in Homer actually reflects a deep and important etymological connection, and when Parmenides recaptures this connection so fully, we cannot believe that he has been entirely dependent on Homer.

My adjustment of other points in Havelock’s study follows the same lines. There is certainly a parallel between Parmenides’ view of the mental helplessness of the “tribes uncounted and uncritical” (Frag. 6.7):

κωφο? ?μ?ς τυφλο? τε τεθηπ?τες ?κριτα φ?λα

Dead and blind at once, dazed, uncounted [uncritical] tribes,

and the foolish companions of Odysseus, as well as the ghosts in Hades whom these companions soon join. But the notion of an “amorphous mass of common men” from whom an “elite” is distinguished is basic both to the Odyssey and to the development of a philosophic tradition; and in both cases, as I have argued earlier, sun mythology seems largely responsible for this notion (see chap. 2, sect. 1 on the Odyssey and chap. 2, sect. 3 on the Greek philosophic tradition). Given this, I cannot believe with Havelock (p. 140) that Parmenides, in conceiving of his H?liádes, has seized upon the daughters of Helios who guard their father’s cattle in the Odyssey, and “converted (them) from herdsmen into outriders.” The entire situation in Parmenides’ proem speaks too strongly for the independent influence of sun mythology.


Havelock draws particular attention to the cattle of Helios, which are not born and do not die (xii 130-131):

γ?νος δ’ ο? γ?γνεται α?τ?ν
ο?δ? ποτε φθιν?θουσι

They do not have any birthgiving, and they never die,

and suggests that this detail, more than anything else, led Parmenides to “link the daughters of the sun with the marvels of a mental journey which had taken the traveler into an absolute, where there is no coming to be and no passing away”; the author here refers to the cornerstone of Paremenides’ thought, which is articulated in Frag. 8.21 by the words:

τ?ς γ?νεσις μ?ν ?π?σβεσται κα? ?πυστος ?λεθρος

So coming into being is extinguished and perishing is unimaginable.

Once again Havelock’s observation seems to me to be full of insight, but once again I prefer to reverse the argument. Is it because Parmenides’ thought excludes “coming to be” and “passing away” that he introduces, by way of literary reminiscence, the daughters of the sun? Or is it, rather, that the tradition of sun mythology has influenced his thought? In Parmenides’ realm of Truth, there is only Being; Non-Being is impossible, and “perishing is unimaginable” (ápustos ólethros). Only in the realm of Opinion does there seem to be such a thing as Non-Being. I suggest that these distinctions are very similar to those with which the primitive root nes– is involved. In the line: ásmenoi ek thanátoio, phílous olésantes hetaírous
Having returned from death, having lost our dear companions, common men are lost (compare olésantes with ólethros in Parmenides), but the elite “return from death;” in other words, are immortal. Does the root nes– (“return from death”) not erase the distinction between Being and Non-Being, and in so doing stand in opposition to “destruction”? The history of this root, it seems to me, should be taken into account in attempting to understand the thought of a philosopher who, by his possession of nóos and his awareness that Non-Being does not exist, considers himself to be elite, and who relegates the idea of “destruction” to the “tribes uncounted and uncritical.”


In a profound sense, therefore, the “journey” of Parmenides is the same as that of Odysseus. I do not doubt that Parmenides himself was aware of the similarity, and that he was influenced by Homer’s account. I only suggest that the parallels between Homer and Parmenides should be viewed in a larger context, which to a great extent (and this cannot be determined precisely) included both authors.

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