Orphic resonances in the Homeric Odyssey (Rhapsody xi) and the academic legacy of Douglas Frame

This essay about the Homeric Odyssey, or, more specifically, about Rhapsody xi of the Odyssey, is a tribute to Douglas Frame, especially with reference to Chapter 7 of his book Hippota Nestor (2009). My aim is to show at least a glimpse of the overall academic legacy of a classicist and linguist whom I consider to be one of the greatest thinkers I have ever known.
I start with three questions about the title of my essay:

Q. Why the wording “Orphic resonances”?
A. My wording “resonances” has to do with an “evolutionary” or “diachronic” view of Homeric poetry (on the term diachronic as distinct from synchronic, the most accurate working definition remains that of Ferdinand de Saussure, 1916:117). As for “Orphic,” I use this term here as a “placeholder” for a more general idea, which I define for the moment simply as “earlier than Homeric.” More about this term later.
Q. What is “Homeric”?
A. In Frame’s hermeneutics (2009), “Homeric” is the same thing as “pan-Ionic,” to be spelled from here on simply as “Panionic”; Frame applies this term in the historical context of the festival of the Panionia at a notional centerpoint of Asia Minor known as the Panionion, as it took shape in the late eighth and early seventh century BCE.
Q. What is Frame’s academic legacy?
A. To answer the third question, I start with a formulation for what I will call Doug’s intellectual lineage:
Frame Lord Parry Meillet Saussure
Most noteworthy in this lineage is the sequence Parry Meillet. The two names Parry and Meillet are representative of two fields of study that primarily shaped Frame’s academic formation. The works of Antoine Meillet (especially 1913 and 1925) represent the field of Indo-European linguistics, while the works of Milman Parry (especially 1928a and 1928b) are foundational for the empirical study of oral traditions.
The influence of Antoine Meillet on Milman Parry was denied by the son of Parry, Adam Parry (1971), who appropriated his father’s intellectual legacy for the “Anglo-Saxon” academic establishment when he published his father’s collected papers via Oxford University Press (1971), translating Milman Parry’s 1928 French thèse and thèse complémentaire (1928a and 1928b) into English and writing an over-50-page introduction where he made explicit his denial of the intellectual lineage Parry Meillet. This lineage Parry Meillet was then re-established decisively in a paper by Charles de Lamberterie (1997; trans. by A. Goldhammer in Loraux, Nagy, and Slatkin 2001:409–421). Most relevant here is another paper by de Lamberterie (2016), on the Greek word ἄσμενος, where Douglas Frame’s vital contribution to Indo-European linguistics by way of applying the methodology of Milman Parry is duly recognized. There is an online English-language version of this article by de Lamberterie, translated by Ioanna Papadopoulou, which appeared in Classical Inquiries, de Lamberterie 2017.11.17 [https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/the-greek-adjective-ἄσμενος-its-etymology-and-history/]. I wrote a brief foreword to that essay in Classical Inquiries, Nagy 2017.11.17 [https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/draft-of-a-foreword-to-an-essay-by-charles-de-lamberterie/].
Another aspect, a lateral one, of Douglas Frame’s intellectual lineage was the so-called “Thursday Group”, established informally in the early 1970s. The three founders of the Thursday Group were Doug himself, also myself (Gregory Nagy), and Leonard Muellner—I list the three of us here in order of age, who survive to this day as “the Three Amigos.” The three of us earned our doctorates at Harvard in the field of Classics, but all of us had also studied Indo-European linguistics in the 1960s with Calvert Watkins. In those years, Watkins was still primarily interested in Indo-European morphology and only secondarily in poetics; a few years later, however, and then throughout the rest of his life (he died in 2013), Watkins became primarily interested in Indo-European poetics (see especially Watkins 1995).
The “Amigos” were trained in Indo-European linguistics, concentrating especially on the comparative evidence of Sanskrit. Like their former teacher Watkins, they followed closely the work of Antoine Meillet (again, 1913 and 1925); also the work of another Indo-Europeanist, Émile Benveniste (1969), who had taught Watkins in Paris. Unlike Watkins, the “Amigos” also followed closely the work of yet another Indo-Europeanist, Georges Dumézil (especially 1969 and 1971; more about Dumézil in Nagy 2020.02.14). Whereas Watkins was primarily a linguist, the “Three Amigos” were and still are primarily classicists—though they have never lost their strong commitment to Indo-European linguistics.
An online project that exemplifies the methodology of the “Amigos” as both classicists and linguists is A concise inventory of Greek etymologies [http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.jissue:ClassicsAt.Issue15.A_Concise_Inventory_of_Greek_Etymology.2017], hereafter abbreviated as CIGE, which is edited by Olga Levaniouk (2017–). The research of this editor, both as a classicist and as a linguist (especially Levaniouk 2012), represents the “next generation” in terms of the intergenerational work-ethic promoted by the “Amigos,” who serve as associate editors of CIGE. Working closely with Olga Levaniouk is the assistant editor of CIGE, Laura Massetti (an example of her research is Massetti 2018.11.15), who in turn works closely with other colleagues belonging to her “next-next generation,” as represented, for example, by the research of Riccardo Ginevra (2019) and Domenico Muscianisi (2020).
Next, I turn to an even more noteworthy link to be found in Douglas Frame’s intellectual lineage. It is the sequence Frame Lord Parry—the ultimate phase in the overall sequence Frame Lord Parry Meillet Saussure. I write about this sequence Frame Lord Parry in my foreword, Nagy 2017.11.17, to the essay published in Classical Inquiries by de Lamberterie 2017.11.17, and I signal in the next paragraph two central points I make in that foreword.
The first of these two points has to do with the academic legacy of Albert B. Lord, who was a student of Milman Parry and who continued the work of his teacher after Parry’s violent death in 1935 at the age of 33. The second has to do with a project, initiated by the “Three Amigos,” that derives directly from the academic legacy of Parry and Lord combined.
Epitomizing what I said in my foreword, Nagy 2017.11.1, I now proceed to tell about the project, which is the best way to tell also about the academic legacy of Albert B. Lord. The name for this project is A Homer commentary in progress [http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.eresource:Frame_Muellner_Nagy.A_Homer_Commentary_in_Progress.2017] (in the bibliography, it is listed as Frame, Muellner, and Nagy, 2017–), hereafter abbreviated as AHCIP. It can be said that AHCIP is the first and only Homer commentary that is based squarely on the cumulative research of Milman Parry and Albert Lord, who together created a new way of thinking about Homeric poetry. The lifelong research of Parry and Lord, as summarized in Lord’s magisterial synthesis, The Singer of Tales (1960/2000/2019), proved that Homeric poetry is a system generated from oral traditions, and that the building blocks of this system are formulas on the level of form and themes on the level of meaning (Lord p. 4). The comments in AHCIP are designed to analyze and explain this system of formulas and themes—this formulaic system.
For an introduction to the very idea of a formulaic system, I cite Parry 1930 and 1932; I cite also the second edition of Singer of Tales, edited by Stephen Mitchell and myself, Gregory Nagy, 2000, with a new Introduction by the two editors. I am happy to add, in the spirit of the intergenerational ethic promoted by the “Three Amigos,” that a third edition has now been published in 2019, and the new editor is David F. Elmer.
Within the framework of AHCIP, the three founding editors apply to the formulaic system of Homeric poetry a special methodology of linguistics that stems at least in part from the research of Antoine Meillet. An application of this methodology, as exemplified by Meillet 1925, had been pioneered by Parry himself, who was a student of Meillet during his years as a doctoral student at the Sorbonne. I have already spoken of an intellectual lineage at work here, in terms of my formulation Parry Meillet. The intellectual legacy of Meillet is continued to this day at the Sorbonne by researchers like Charles de Lamberterie, who has been a steadfast supporter of AHCIP. I have already noted the influential article by de Lamberterie 1997 on the influence of Meillet on Parry.
Albert Lord, who followed closely the methods of Milman Parry in his analysis of formulaic systems, makes a most revealing observation on the basis of his own systematic analysis of a sample poem stemming from the South Slavic oral traditions. “There is nothing in the poem,” Lord says about this poem (1960:47), “that is not formulaic.” Lord’s teacher Parry made a comparable observation (1928a:10–11=1971:8–9), referring to a still earlier observation by Meillet (1923:61) concerning the all-pervasive formulaic system of Homeric poetry. This idea, that everything in an oral composition is formulaic, applies to our own project, AHCIP. In our commentary, we aim to deliver a “proof of concept” by analyzing both synchronically and diachronically the evidence of all the Homeric poems—the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Homeric Hymns. The comments in AHCIP on these texts of Homeric poetry are meant to prove that they all derive from a formulaic system of oral poetry.
The linguistic approach of AHCIP in analyzing the formulaic system of Homeric poetry provides an empirical foundation for the discoveries and discovery procedures that are assembled and organized in AHCIP. Such an approach does not ignore, however, the beauty of the verbal art that went into the making of Homeric poetry. The three founding editors of this Homer commentary follow the example of Roman Jakobson (in the 1960s, all three attended his classes as well as Lord’s), whose research in both linguistics and literature showed that there is another side to the grammar of poetry: it is the poetry of grammar, as reflected in the title of one of his books, Jakobson 1980. The formulaic system of Homeric poetry is not a machine but a special language for expressing the sublime beauty and pleasure of hearing the ‘glories’ or klea of heroes and gods. For an introduction to the kinds of comments that appear in AHCIP, I refer here to the sampling assembled in Nagy 2017, the URN for which is indicated in the Bibliography below.
The three founding editors of AHCIP, as indicated in the Bibliography below—Frame Muellner, and Nagy 2017—have recruited, as of this writing, nine other editors: Casey Dué, Mary Ebbott, David Elmer, Olga Levaniouk, Richard Martin, Corinne Pache, John B. Petropoulos, Laura Slatkin, and Thomas Walsh. The associate editors are Anita Nikkanen and Keith DeStone. The assistant editors are Daniel Cline and Angelia Hanhardt.
I conclude here my remarks on the intellectual legacy of Douglas Frame, as shared also by the two other Amigos. Now let us proceed to Odyssey xi.
As Frame shows in Chapter 7 of his book Hippota Nestor (2009), the Catalogue of Women in Odyssey xi is dyadic. The two parts of the dyad are symmetrical, and the first part is “Homeric”—in Frame’s sense of the term—while the second part is “non-Homeric”.
I prefer to call the first part of the dyad “Panionic” and the second part “Orphic”. From the standpoint of Athens in the sixth century BCE, which was the era of the Peisistratidai, epic poetry attributed to Orpheus was considered to be older than epic poetry attributed to Homer. The canonical chronology of proto-poets, from the standpoint of this era in Athens, was

Orpheus → Musaeus → Hesiod → Homer.
In the works of Plato, such a chronology is still preserved—though this is not to say that Plato really believed such a chronology. Certainly Aristotle did not believe it, since he stated explicitly that Orpheus was a fabrication. Already Herodotus, well before the era of Plato, expressed his reservations about the reliability of Orphic poetry, and he personally thought that Hesiod and Homer were the earliest poets. In my book Homer the Preclassic (Nagy 2009|2010 in the Bibliography below), I offer extensive documentation for such a canonical chronology of proto-poets in 6th-century Athens,

Orpheus → Musaeus → Hesiod → Homer.
In terms of my argumentation, this canonical chronology is diachronically valid, in the sense that “Orphic” poetry is diachronically earlier than “Homeric” poetry—if we think of Homeric poetry as “Panionic” poetry, the origins of which, as we have seen, are dated by Frame to the late eighth and early seventh century BCE.
But this is not to say that the origins of “Orphic” poetry are really earlier than the origins of “Homeric” poetry. Here it becomes essential to emphasize that we need to set up a separate chronology for the traditions of epic as performed in Athens. Suffice it to add, for now, that the text of Odyssey xi as we have it took shape in the era of the Peisistratidai in the sixth century and resulted from a merger of two different performance traditions: (1) “Homeric” or “Panionic” poetry and (2) “Orphic” poetry.
Further, this is not to say that “Homeric” or “Panionic” poetry did not exist in Athens before the era of the Peisistratidai. It is only to say that “Homeric” poetry was merged with “Orphic” poetry, which was considered to be even older, in a relatively late period, that is, in the sixth century BCE, in the historical context of competitive performances of epic at the festival of the Panathenaia at Athens in the era of the Peisistratidai. And poetry attributed to Musaeus, I should observe in addition, can be considered to be a distinctly Athenian sub-category of the poetry attributed to Orpheus. I keep this added observation in mind whenever I say “Orphic” poetry.
What I just said about the merger of “Orphic” and “Homeric” poetry in the historical context of Athens in the sixth century BCE needs to be extended further: there was also a merger of some aspects of “Hesiodic” and “Homeric” poetry, as we can see from the parallelisms between the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women and the Catalogue of Women in Odyssey xi.
In the wake of these mergers in the context of the Panathenaia, the poetry of the Odyssey—and of the Iliad—was rethought in Athens. The poetry of Homer was no longer the Panionic poetry of Homer: it now became the Panathenaic poetry of Homer. So the merged poetry of Homer was rethought as Athenian poetry. In my book Homer the Classic (Nagy 2008|2009 in the Bibliography below), I refer to this merged Athenian poetry of Homer as the Homerus Auctus. And Homer himself was rethought as an Athenian Homer, not an Ionian Homer.
In the third century BCE, as I argue in Homer the Classic, one of the main projects of Zenodotus as editor of the transmitted Homeric text was to re-establish a supposedly “pure” Panionic version that had been infiltrated by supposedly extraneous elements. The most egregious of these extraneous elements were “Orphic” traditions.
As we see from the usage of Herodotus (2.81.1-2), traditions that are Orphic are also Bacchic:

οὐ μέντοι ἔς γε τὰ ἱρὰ ἐσφέρεται εἰρίνεα οὐδὲ συγκαταθάπτεταί σφι· οὐ γὰρ ὅσιον. ὁμολογέουσι δὲ ταῦτα τοῖσι ᾿Ορφικοῖσι καλεομένοισι καὶ Βακχικοῖσι, ἐοῦσι δὲ Αἰγυπτίοισι, καὶ <τοῖσι> Πυθαγορείοισι· οὐδὲ γὰρ τούτων τῶν ὀργίων μετέχοντα ὅσιόν ἐστι ἐν εἰρινέοισι εἵμασι θαφθῆναι. Ἔστι δὲ περὶ αὐτῶν ἱρὸς λόγος λεγόμενος.
It is not customary for them [= the Egyptians], however, to wear woolen fabrics for the occasion of sacred rituals or to be buried wearing wool. For it is unholy for them. This is in accordance with rituals that are called Orphic [Orphika] and Bacchic [Bakkhika], though they are really Egyptian and, by extension, Pythagorean [Puthagoreia]. I say this because it is unholy for someone who takes part in these [Pythagorean] rituals [orgia] to be buried wearing woolen fabrics. And there is a sacred [hieros] discourse [logos] that is told [legesthai] about that.
In Homer the Preclassic, I analyze the collocation of Orphic and Bacchic elements in such a context (HPC E§105). I argue there that the collocation goes back to Athenian traditions dating from the era of the Peisistratidai.
A shining example is this passage from Odyssey xi (321-325):

Φαίδρην τε Πρόκριν τε ἴδον καλήν τ’ Ἀριάδνην,
κούρην Μίνωος ὀλοόφρονος, ἥν ποτε Θησεὺς
ἐκ Κρήτης ἐς γουνὸν Ἀθηνάων ἱεράων
ἦγε μέν, οὐδ’ ἀπόνητο· πάρος δέ μιν Ἄρτεμις ἔκτα
Δίῃ ἐν ἀμφιρύτῃ Διονύσου μαρτυρίῃσι.

I [= Odysseus] saw [in Hades] Phaedra and Procris and beautiful Ariadne,
daughter of Minos with the baneful thoughts. She was, once upon a time, being taken by Theseus
from Crete, and he was bringing her to a ridge of [the citadel of] sacred Athens.
He was trying to bring her there. But he did not have the satisfaction of succeeding. Before he could get there, Artemis killed her
when [they were] still in Dia, that land with water all around it. Witness to this all was Dionysus.

As Frame demonstrates in AHCIP, expanding on what he had already outlined in Chapter 7 of his book Hippota Nestor (2009) this passage reflects a distinctly Athenian version of the myth of Ariadne, where she is killed by Artemis on the island of Dia and where the death is witnessed by Bacchus=Dionysus himself. The Athenian provenance is ostentatiously signaled at xi 135, since Dionysus here is Διόνυσος in the Attic dialect, as opposed to Διώνυσος in the Ionic dialects. I quote here the relevant analysis of xi 321–325 by Frame in AHCIP (2016.08.22):

This passage featuring three Athenian heroines belongs to the Panathenaic version of the catalogue of heroines. It is the final such Athenian expansion of the catalogue, and functions as an “Athenian signature.” In the last line of the passage the god Dionysus is mentioned in connection with the third Athenian heroine, Ariadne. The form of his name in Greek is the Athenian form versus the usual Homeric form (Διόνυσος, with a short -o- vs. the usual Epic form Διώνυσος, with -ō-), and this is part of the “signature.” If the whole signature is deliberate—if it is asserting its Athenian origin—the phrase containing the name Dionysus may have a double meaning. On the surface of the narrative Ariadne is killed Dionusou marturiēisi ‘on the evidence of Dionysus’. In terms of an “Athenian signature” the “evidence of Dionysus” could suggest a slightly different translation, “the evidence of the word Dionysus.”
That said, I circle back to the title of my report, “Orphic resonances in Odyssey xi.”
On the basis of what I have already outlined, I can now clarify what I mean: the “Orphic resonances” can be found in the second part of the dyadic Catalogue of Women in Odyssey xi, as in the example I have just quoted. These resonances, as I have argued, result from the merger that took shape in the performance traditions prevailing at the festival of the Panathenaia in Athens during the sixth century BCE. Essentially, the Panionic performance tradition of Homeric poetry was merged in Athens during that period with the Panathenaic performance tradition of Orphic and Hesiodic poetry, resulting in a newly merged Panathenaic tradition that could now be described as a new kind of Homeric poetry. This is what I generally call the Panathenaic Homer in my own work. A reflex of this merger is the dyadic structure of the Catalogue of Women in Odyssey xi. And the “Orphic resonances” in the second part of this dyadic structure can be described as “Athenian elements” in our Odyssey, since they originate from an Athenian phase in the evolution of Homeric poetry as we know it.


Even the dyadism of the Catalogue of Women in the Odyssey—one part Panionic, one part Panathenaic—is relevant to what Frame describes generally in both of his books as “the twin myth” in Indo-European traditions (Frame 1978 and 2009). To say it another way, “the twin myth” is the “absent signifier” in Odyssey xi. The dyadism we see in the narrative structure of Odyssey xi is parallel to the dyadism of the Divine Twins in “the twin myth” as reconstructed by Frame in the general context of Indo-European mythology. And I emphasize that such a twin myth is not some quaint outlier: it is a centrally integral way of defining society itself, as we see in the roles of the following dyads:

  • the Indic twins Nāsatyā as saviors (Frame 1978:135–137, 2009:76–77, 91, 93, 164)
  • the Saxon twins Hengest and Horsa, who save their people from famine by leading them in their invasion of the British Isles (Davidson 2013a:128–129 via Davidson 1987; Joseph 1983:107, 112–113; Ward 1968:54–56)
  • the Spartan dual kingship, modeled on the dyadism of the Dioskouroi (Nagy 1990:4, 258)


AHCIP = A Homer commentary in progress. See Frame, Muellner, Nagy, and others, 2017-.
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Nagy, G. 2008|2009. Homer the Classic. Online | Printed version. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Homer_the_Classic.2008 | Hellenic Studies 36. Cambridge, MA, and Washington, DC.
Nagy, G. 2009|2010. Homer the Preclassic. Online | Printed version. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Homer_the_Preclassic.2009 | Berkeley and Los Angeles.
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Nagy, G. 2017.11.12. “Draft of a declaration by the founding authors of A Homer commentary in progress.” Classical Inquiries. Updated 2018.08.24 and 2020.01.19. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/draft-of-a-declaration-by-the-founding-authors-of-a-homer-commentary-in-progress/.
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