THE SILENCE OF ODYSSEUS
FORGETTING THE NOSTOS
ὥς τοι ἐγὼν ἐρέω͵ μνήσει δέ σε καὶ θεὸς αὐτός.
So all that has been duly done. Listen now, I will tell you
All, but the very god himself will make you remember.
Line xii 38 does not easily lend itself to an interpretation that refers to the adventures. Which theos would remind Odysseus of Circe’s words in the course of his sea travels? On what occasion would it do so? Unlike the Ithacan part of the nostos, the wanderings include few instances of communication between Odysseus and his divine protector Athena. It thus seems easier to understand the line as a reference to Odysseus’ future narrative enactment of the adventures. Several elements support this reading. First, all other Homeric instances of the verb μιμνήσκω in the active voice occur in contexts where one character reminds another not of a specific thing, but of a sequence of actions that is also a traditional story.  In addition, the evocation of a god as source of memory parallels the model of poetic inspiration exemplified at the beginning of the catalogue of ships in the Iliad (II 484–492) or the proem of the Theogony (1–115). Under this reading, if Odysseus listens to Circe, then a god associated with poetry, perhaps Apollo, will give him the power to re-enact her advice in a speech or a song, which is indeed what the narrator Odysseus is presently doing. The line therefore self-referentially comments on Odysseus’ narrative performance to the Phaeacians, and by extension on the performance of the bard impersonating Odysseus.
οὐ μὲν δὴ τόδε μεῖζον ἔπι κακόν͵ ἢ ὅτε Κύκλωψ
εἴλει ἐνὶ σπῆϊ γλαφυρῷ κρατερῆφι βίηφιν·
ἀλλὰ καὶ ἔνθεν ἐμῇ ἀρετῇ βουλῇ τε νόῳ τε
ἐκφύγομεν͵ καί που τῶνδε μνήσεσθαι ὀΐω.
Dear friends, surely we are not unlearned in evils.
This is no greater evil now than it was when the Cyclops
had us cooped in his hollow cave by force and violence,
but even there, by my courage and counsel and my intelligence,
we escaped away. I think that I will remember these
some day too.
Line 212 is difficult. As L. J. D. Richardson has pointed out, many contemporary interpreters have been influenced by Virgil’s rendering of it as forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit, (‘perhaps one day it will give you pleasure to remember even this’, Aeneid 1.203), a (mis-)translation that adds an element of pleasure absent from Homer.  Richardson himself has proposed to take τῶνδε as a reference either to the two facts regarding the Cyclops adventure that Odysseus has just mentioned, or to the qualities listed in line 211, but this interpretation requires understanding the καί of line 212 as copulative and does not do justice to the comparison between past and present implied by the καί ἔνθεν … καί τῶνδε structure. In addition, both Richardson’s and the Virgilian reading require changing the subject of the infinitive verb μνήσεσθαι from first-person singular to second-person plural. Grammatically, it is easier to take τῶνδε as a deictic pointer contrasting with ἔνθεν and to understand that Odysseus is the subject of the infinitive μνήσεσθαι: ‘I think that I will μνήσεσθαι these [present circumstances] too’. While the consolation may seem meager if μνήσεσθαι is simply understood as ‘remembering’, it makes good sense if the verb is taken in the technical sense of ‘performing’: Odysseus would be promising poetic immortality to his crew. Two semantic points further support that reading. First, the line is juxtaposed with a reference to the Cyclops paradigm, which itself has already become a narrative recently told by Odysseus. Second, the only other Homeric instance of the phrase μνήσεσθαι ὀΐω refers to the subject matter of the Iliad—the quarrel of Achilles and Agamemnon that is consubstantial with the poem (Iliad XIX 64). In addition to survival, Odysseus may be promising his crew that they will become the subject matter of a song.
ἐξονομακλήδην͵ τότε γ΄ ὕστατον͵ ἀχνύμενοι κῆρ.
… And they cried out to me and called me
by name, the last time they ever did, in heart’s sorrow.
The name that used to convey so much meaning—a powerful signifier uttered in curses or praises by Polyphemus (ix 528–535), Circe (x 325–335), and Odysseus himself (ix 19–21)—has now become an empty sound.  Since the Odyssey often presents itself as an extension of Odysseus’ name, the empty cry of Scylla’s victims challenges the possibility and legitimacy of Odysseus’ long tale. The word order of the proem casts the entire performance of the poem as a long development of the word ‘man’ (ἄνδρα, i 1). Similarly, the apologoi of books ix–xii are an extended answer to Alkinoos’ plea that his guest finally reveal his name (viii 550). In earlier scenes, in other words, Odysseus’ name provides the starting point and justification for the story. Conversely, at xii 250, Odysseus’ name is uttered in vain. Its futile and grotesque utterance by the monster’s victims shakes the very foundation of the Odyssean narrative.
Ἀργὼ πᾶσι μέλουσα͵ παρ΄ Αἰήταο πλέουσα·
καί νύ κε τὴν ἔνθ΄ ὦκα βάλεν μεγάλας ποτὶ πέτρας͵
ἀλλ΄ ῞Ηρη παρέπεμψεν͵ ἐπεὶ φίλος ἦεν Ἰήσων.
That way the only seagoing ship to get through was Argo,
Who is in all men’s minds, on her way home from Aietes;
And even she would have been driven on the great rocks that time,
But Hera saw her through, out of her great love for Jason.
The diction constructs the Planctae and the straits of Charybdis and Scylla as parallel dangers. Both involve a narrow path located between cliffs made of smooth stone (πέτραι, xii 59, λὶς πέτρη, xii 64 [Planctae]; πέτρη γὰρ λίς, xii 79 [Scylla]). Amphitrite, who otherwise appears only twice in the Odyssey (iii 91 and v 422), is mentioned in relation to both the Planctae (xii 60) and Scylla (xii 97). In Circe’s version, furthermore, Jason went through the Planctae on his return from the land of Aietes (παρ΄ Αἰήταο πλέουσα, xii 70), just as Odysseus goes through the straits of Charybdis and Scylla on his return from the island of Aietes’ sister, Circe (x 137).
λανθανόμην͵ ἐπεὶ οὔ τί μ΄ ἀνώγει θωρήσσεσθαι·
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ καταδὺς κλυτὰ τεύχεα καὶ δύο δοῦρε
μάκρ΄ ἐν χερσὶν ἑλὼν εἰς ἴκρια νηὸς ἔβαινον
πρῴρης· ἔνθεν γάρ μιν ἐδέγμην πρῶτα φανεῖσθαι
Σκύλλην πετραίην͵ ἥ μοι φέρε πῆμ΄ ἑτάροισιν.
οὐδέ πῃ ἀθρῆσαι δυνάμην· ἔκαμον δέ μοι ὄσσε
πάντῃ παπταίνοντι πρὸς ἠεροειδέα πέτρην.
… For my part,
I let go from my mind the difficult instruction that Circe
had given me, for she told me not to be armed for combat;
but I put on my glorious armor and, taking up two long
spears in my hands, I stood bestriding the vessel’s foredeck
at the prow, for I expected Scylla of the rocks to appear first
from that direction, she who brought pain to my companions.
I could not make her out anywhere, and my eyes grew weary
from looking everywhere on the misty face of the sea rock.
Several phrases give the passage a distinctively Iliadic ring. The verb θωρήσσω (xii 227) occurs forty-two times in the Iliad but only three times in the Odyssey. The phrase κλυτὰ τεύχεα (xii 228) and its variant τεύχεα καλά occur twenty-seven times in the Iliad, but only five times in the Odyssey. κλυτὰ τεύχεα is constructed four times with the verb καταδύω or δύω in the Iliad (V 435, VI 504, XVI 64, and XVIII 192), but only once in the Odyssey. More specifically, the passage offers a compressed version of a fundamental component of the Iliad: the arming scene whereby a hero dons his armor before going to fight.  The verb θωρήσσω and the noun τεύχεα occur in collocation when Menelaus arms himself to defy Hector (Iliad VII 101–103, a passage that also includes the verb καταδύω), and when Achilles arrays the Myrmidons to follow Patroclus (XVI 155). In other words, Odysseus dons his armor in the same manner as Greek chieftains do at Troy. Yet by the end of the episode, the victory belongs to Scylla rather than to Odysseus. The monster catching the six men is compared to an angler hauling fish (Odyssey xii 251–256), a simile that describes Patroclus performing his aristeia in Iliad XVI 406–408. Not only does Odysseus fail to fight with Scylla, but the simile constructs her rather than him as a warrior performing his aristeia. Odysseus’ eagerness to fight ends up in a parodic duel where the monster, rather than the hero, assumes the triumphant position.
ἀνθρώποισι μέλω͵ καί μευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.
I am Odysseus son of Laertes, known before all men
For the study of crafty designs, and my fame goes up to the heavens.
At the beginning of the apologoi, the fact that Odysseus is an ‘object of interest’ (μέλω) to ‘all men’ (πᾶσι ἀνθρώποισι) makes him a suitable topic for epic (κλέος) and legitimates the bard-like performance of the apologoi that occupies the next four books.  The fact that Argo is πᾶσι μέλουσα in Odyssey xii puts it on par with Odysseus and suggests that the epic tradition of the Argonautica has a legitimate claim to be performed as well.  The diction implies that instead of completing her prophecy about Odysseus’ adventures, Circe may well launch into a song about the Argonauts and thus endanger both Odysseus’ homecoming and the song that celebrates it. With the competition between the heroes Jason and Odysseus extending to the epic performances celebrating them, the Scylla episode represents a moment when the Odyssean performance contemplates the possibility of its own dissolution.