On the Odyssey, Book I

  • In reading his rendition of the Iliad, having enjoyed hearing Chapman speak out loud and bold;

  • having enjoyed writing here about each book, particularly the last ten books in ten days on an Aegean beach in September of this year (2019);

  • having taken the name of this blog from the first line of the Odyssey;

  • having obtained, from Homer Books here in Istanbul, Emily Wilson’s recent translation (New York: Norton, 2018);

  • Book on table, Wilson's Odyssey

  • having been left with an odd feeling after a first reading;

  • thinking how the scene of the Odyssey is not just a battlefield, but much of the known world, while the characters are fewer than in the Iliad;

  • looking for understanding, or at least peace, in a world gone mad,

    • politically, in various countries,

    • economically, in the increasing use of fossil fuels, as per the Guardian Weekly:

      The world’s 50 biggest oil companies are poised to flood markets with an additional 7m barrels per day over the next decade. New research commissioned by the Guardian forecasts Shell and ExxonMobil will be among the leaders with a projected production increase of more than 35% between 2018 and 2030. The acceleration is almost the opposite of the 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 that scientists say is necessary to have any chance of holding global heating at a relatively safe level of 1.5C. The projections are by Rystad Energy, a Norwegian consultancy regarded as the gold standard for data in the industry

      (18 October 2019, Vol. 201, No. 19, page 14, adapted from an online article);

  • having written here what I can about Collingwood’s New Leviathan (Oxford, 1942), though continuing to promote it as the example (I should be glad to know another) of how to respond thoughtfully to such madness as just described;

for such reasons and more, I turn to reading and writing about the Odyssey, now Book I, mainly in Wilson’s translation, but sometimes in other translations and the original.


“The Odyssey is a poem,” says Wilson, “and it needs to have a predictable and distinctive rhythm.” This is in her “Translator’s Note.” She means a translation should have a rhythm, as Homer’s original does.

It depends on who the translation is for, I would say. If for students in an English class, a poetic English translation is good.

On the subject of poetry as such, in my own recent post “On Translation,” I quoted

  • Collingwood, on how “poetry is in a special sense the spiritual kingdom of the child”;

  • Julian Jaynes, on how “The function of meter in poetry is to drive the electrical activity of the brain, and most certainly to relax the normal emotional inhibitions of both chanter and listener.”

The rhythm with which Wilson relaxes these inhibitions is iambic pentameter, “because it is the conventional meter for regular English narrative verse.” Moreover, she explains,

My version is the same length as the original with exactly the same number of lines. I chose to write within this difficult constraint because any translation without such limitations will tend to be longer than the original, and I wanted a narrative pace that could match its stride to Homer’s nimble gallop … I wanted my translation to mark its own nature as a web of poetic language, with a sentence structure that is, like that of Homer, audibly built up out of smaller units of sense.

In the last sentence, how has Wilson not described all articulate verbal language? Though giving no specific example of what she has in mind, in her next paragraph she mentions how Homer’s clauses are coordinated, not subordinated. We shall come back to this.


Under her constraints, while she keeps pace with Homer, Wilson cannot translate exactly line by line. Her rendition of the tenth Greek line of the Odyssey begins on her ninth, ends on her eleventh:

Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.
Find the beginning.

This renders Homer’s

τῶν ἁμόθεν γε, θεά, θύγατερ Διός, εἰπὲ καὶ ἡμῖν

—literally, something like,

Of these from somewhere at least, goddess, daughter of Zeus, tell also us.

The goddess here was addressed as muse (μοῦσα) on the first line. Instead of “also,” we might use “again” to translate the conjunction and adverb καί.

There is also an ambiguity in the Greek, so that “from somewhere” could be replaced with “from us”:

  • Though Greek as we know it has lost an ablative case as such, we can understand ἁμόθεν as being originally an ablative of ἁμός, formed from the stem ἁμό- and the ending -θεν.

  • In that ending, replacing the dental consonant θ with another, we get -den or -ten, the Turkish ablative ending (also spelled -dan and -tan, depending on the preceding consonant and vowel); however, I know of no reason why this resemblance across language families should be any more than coincidence.

  • The pronoun ἁμός is one of two with the same spelling.

    1. One of these, equivalent to the indefinite pronoun τις, comes from the Indo-European root *sem- meaning “one.” As Chantraine points out,

      L’expression de l’indéfini peut être issue de la notion de l’unité, cf. fr. un, grec m. ἕνας, etc.

      English words featuring the same root *sem- include “anacoluthon” (in the second alpha of ἀνακόλουθον), along with “assemble, hamadryad, haploid, hendiadys, hetero-, homo-, same, samovar, samsara, seem, sempiternal, similar, simple, simultaneous, single, some,” and “soviet.” (Not on the list, our “one” is from *oino-, whence also “eleven” [one left] and words derived from the Latin unus such as “inch, onion,” and “ounce.”)

    2. ἁμός can also be used as ἡμέτερος, “our.”


My sources here are:

  • Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Leiden: Brill, 2010;

  • Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque. Histoire des mots, Paris: Éditions Klincksieck, 1968–80;

  • Cunliffe, A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect, new edition, Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1963;

  • Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, With a Revised Supplement, Oxford, 1996;

  • Morris, The Grolier International Dictionary, Danbury, Connecticut, 1981;

  • Smyth, Greek Grammar, revised by Gordon M. Messing, Harvard, 1956.

The Grolier dictionary is probably the American Heritage Dictionary for sale abroad (as I noted in “Boolean Arithmetic”).

I am pleased to have these works (all except Brill and Chantraine) at my fingertips in the traditional sense, as bound printed books with paper pages. I could use Chantraine more conveniently on paper, since, even when they are separated into volumes I, II, III, IV-1, and IV-2, it is slow to work with the pdf files. (I probably took these as a single file from the Web Archive, linked to from Wikipedia.)

One of my set-theory students recently showed me the theorem she was consulting on her electronic tablet. After she had passed to the beginning of the text to see the table of contents, how could she return to page 59? Her finger could not hold the place. She stroked her screen till she found the page. We have rejected the codex, with our technology, and returned to the scroll.

As for Chantraine, I had heard of him from my Greek tutor Chaninah Maschler. More recently I was told by somebody (perhaps the person who gave a fascinating lecture on the Indo-European languages of Anatolia at a linguistics camp in the Nesin Mathematics Village) that Chantraine had been somehow updated or superseded; so I have now found Beekes, sold by the publisher for $125, though a search with Duck Duck Go came up with a pdf at Docdroid.

Beekes does not address the form ἁμόθεν specifically, but the entry ἁμό- considers only the meaning “some, someone, somebody”; for the meaning “our,” you have to know to look under ἡμεῖς.

Beekes notes in his Preface, “The main focus of the present dictionary is also etymology, rather than philology”: thus Beekes is like Frisk, Griechisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, but not Chantraine, who “is more oriented towards the philological study of Greek (as follows from the subtitle Histoire des mots).” I’m not sure of the distinction here: does the etymologist study where words come from; the philologist, what they mean?

More Invocations

Like this blog, the Odyssey will jump around in time and place; where indeed should the tale start? Of the line,

τῶν ἁμόθεν γε, θεά, θύγατερ Διός, εἰπὲ καὶ ἡμῖν,

Of these from somewhere at least, goddess, daughter of Zeus, tell also us,

that we were looking at, here are some other renditions:

  • Chapman (1615?):

    These acts in some part left,
    Tell vs, as others, deified seed of Ioue.
  • Hobbes (1675) has only, “Begin, O Muse divine,” at the end of his second quatrain:

    They lost themselves by their own insolence,
    Feeding, like fools, on the Suns sacred Kine.
    Which did the splendid Deity incense
    To their dire fate. Begin, O Muse divine.
  • Butler:

    Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.

  • Murray (1919):

    Of these things, goddess, daughter of Zeus, beginning where thou wilt, tell thou even unto us.

  • Fitzgerald (1961):

    Of these adventures, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
    tell us in our time, lift the great song again.
  • Lattimore (1967):

    From some point
    here, goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak, and begin our story.

Wilson seems to follow only Fitzgerald in reading ἁμό- as “our.”


That was line 10. Odysseus himself is not named before line 21. Till then, he is just the “polytropic” or versatile man, who cannot bring his men home from the Trojan War, because they die after eating the cattle of the Sun God (not Apollo, but Ὑπερίων Ἠέλιος, Hyperion Helios); and the man himself is kept in a cave by the goddess whose name Καλυψώ, Calypso, suggests καλύπτω, covering and thus concealing.

I see no suggestion that this covering can be what a stallion or bull does to a mare or cow. However, Calypso does want Odysseus for a husband, and presumably she uses him as such, and he is more or less willing to be used, perhaps like some men in a mid-life crisis, if not young Rod Stewart in “Maggie May.”

All of the gods pity Odysseus though: all but Poseidon. When that god is away feasting among the Ethiopians (Αἰθίοψ “burnt face,” though Κύκλωψ “round eye”), the other gods meet on Olympus. Zeus thinks of how Aegisthus, having already taken Agamemnon’s wife, killed her husband when he came home from Troy; and then Orestes, son of Agamemnon, killed Aegisthus.


The god seems to be thinking of something else too, but Homer does not exactly tell us. He just gives us Zeus’s complaint, starting on Wilson’s line 31:

This is absurd,
that mortals blame the gods! They say we cause
their suffering; but they themselves increase it
by folly.

This is Homer’s lines 32–4:

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται:
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ᾽ ἔμμεναι, οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε᾽ ἔχουσιν.

In Murray’s more literal Loeb translation of 1919 (available on Project Perseus),

Look you now, how ready mortals are to blame the gods. It is from us, they say, that evils come, but they even of themselves, through their own blind folly, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained.

Even more literally, in a way to show the grammar more precisely, I propose:

Holy shit, that the mortals accuse the gods! For they say evils to be from us, but they themselves have pains beyond fate through their recklessness.

The point is not to find English words for the Greek, but to understand what the Greek words mean. The first five of those, ὢ πόποι οἷον δή νυ, may not be so important, but I have the following observations.

  • The word οἷον is in origin a case of the relative pronoun οἷος, “of which sort”; it would seem to be similar to the “that” of ours that makes a clause into a noun:

    • “The mortals accuse the gods” into

    • the subject of “That the mortals accuse the gods is ridiculous.”

  • I don’t know what in particular to do with the particles δή νυ; the latter is “now,” and the former apparently adds definiteness.

  • The interjection ὢ πόποι expresses some kind of surprise. Chantraine describes πόποι as “Onomatopée comme παπαῖ, βαβαί” (expressing suffering and amazement, respectively). Beekes also mentions these words and says πόποι is Pre-Greek (thus apparently not Indo-European).

    • The childish Turkish word popo refers to the buttocks. In his Turkish etymological dictionary (2018 edition), Sevan Nişanyan derives the word from a French word with the same spelling and meaning; however, the 2949-page Petit Robert de la langue française (2006), though it boasts “60 000 mots, 300 000 sens,” does not have this word; neither does the Larousse Dictionnaire d’Étymologie (2001).

    • The English “poop” may be onomatopoetic, at least in the meanings that the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995) groups together: a toot on a hollow tube, breaking wind, and defecating.

    • All of this (not to mention its being uttered by a god) makes my proposed translation of ὢ πόποι as “holy shit” seem fitting, although if one is really going to push the aural connection to excretion, one should explain words like “papa” (in Turkish, baba) for father.

The main point, it seems to me, is to understand the flavor of the verbs, adjectives, and nouns, especially

  1. αἰτιάομαι, middle-passive in form, from αἰτέω, “ask”;

  2. κάκος, “bad”;

  3. ἀτασθαλίαι (always thus plural in Homer), “recklessness”—for Chantraine, the word is “Origine inconnue”; for Beekes, “Unexplained”;

  4. μόρος, “fate,” from μείρομαι, “receive one’s share”;

  5. ἄλγος, “pain.”

We know most of these words through examples like “aetiology, cacophony, polymer, neuralgia.” I think the key question is whether any kind of badness in Homer is pain of conscience.

“Because The Odyssey,” says Wilson,

has become such a foundational text in our educational system and in our imagination of Western history, I believe it is particularly important for the translator to think through and tease out its values …

The values that Wilson goes on to mention concern

  • “non-Western” people (such as the Cyclopes),

  • slaves (in house or field), and

  • women (such as Helen and Penelope).

I would go deeper, perhaps, and ask what it even means to have values, and whether there are different ways of having them.

Humans’ Desert

Back in the story, Zeus goes on, recalling that the gods even sent Hermes to warn Aegisthus. Nevertheless, he persisted, and as Athena tells Zeus, starting on Wilson’s line 45:

he did deserve to die. Bring death to all
who act like him! but I am agonizing
about Odysseus and his bad luck.

This is Homer’s lines 45–49:

ὦ πάτερ ἡμέτερε Κρονίδη, ὕπατε κρειόντων,
καὶ λίην κεῖνός γε ἐοικότι κεῖται ὀλέθρῳ:
ὡς ἀπόλοιτο καὶ ἄλλος, ὅτις τοιαῦτά γε ῥέζοι:
ἀλλά μοι ἀμφ᾽ Ὀδυσῆι δαΐφρονι δαίεται ἦτορ,

To the single word “Father,” Wilson reduces a whole line of Greek, six feet: a string of three nouns or noun phrases in the vocative case. We might render the whole passage line by line, even word by word in order, as follows:

O father of-us, Cronides, highest of-lords,
And surely that-man there in-what-beseems [him] lies, [namely] destruction,
as be-destroyed also another, whoever such [things] as-those should-do;
but for-me in-two for-Odysseus, learned-lunged, is-divided the-heart,
—star-crossed [is he].

That’s not really English. Lacking case-endings to show a connection between adjective and noun, English cannot rearrange and break these up, as Homer does Ὀδυσῆι δαΐφρονι δυσμόρῳ, “Odysseus, daïophrenic, dysmoric.”

Wilson leaves out the epithet δαΐφρων. She remarks generally,

In an oral or semiliterate culture repeated epithets give a listener an anchor in a quick-moving story. In a highly literate society such as our own, repetitions are likely to feel like moments to skip. They can be a mark of writerly laziness or unwillingness to acknowledge one’s own interpretative position, and can send a reader to sleep.

Wilson talks about how she will translate the same epithet in different ways; however, in the passage in question, she translates δαΐφρων into nonexistence.

I don’t know how highly literate we are, actually, if we feel the need to use emoticons and emoji. We may be more visual than aural. We watch movies rather than listen to them.

Wilson may expect her Odyssey to be assigned to students, as Fitzgerald’s was to my ninth-grade English class. Unlike Murray in the Loeb edition, but like Fitzgerald, I suppose, Wilson is not translating for those of us who may want help in understanding the Greek for ourselves.

She does help, but on a higher level. She has a few notes on the text, but none pointing out that the epithet δαΐφρων is ambiguous.

  • The second part of the word is evidently φρήν, referring originally to some organ in the chest, as I noted in “On Translation.”

  • The first part could come from δάϊς “battle” or *δάω “learn.” According to Liddell and Scott, the former possibility occurs only in the Iliad; Cunliffe does not even mention it.

The usual dictionary-form *δάω is apparently unattested, hence the asterisk. In Beekes, one must know to look up the infinitive δαῆναι. The article there refers to δαΐφρων. I quote that article, in part as a test of electronic typesetting, but also just to show how research can be endless. The article ends with a reference concerning the very passage we are looking at, though if I could find the article, “Namensdeutungen und Worterklärungen bei den ältesten griechischen Dichtern,” I couldn’t read it:

δαΐφρων [adj.] ‘artful, experienced’; ‘brave’ (Il.) by secondary connection with ‣δαΐ ‘in battle’. ⁌ie *dens- ‘high mind, power’⁍
etym Compound with ‣φρήν (s.v.; cf. ἄ-φρήν); the first member is perhaps from *δah-ι-, related to Skt. das-rá- ‘effecting miracles’, with i and ro alternating as in κυδι-άνειρα and κυδρός (Schwyzer: 447). Note that this would presuppose that *s > h in the Greek outcome of clusters *-n̥sV-. On ἀμφ᾽ Ὀδυσῆι δαΐφρονι δαίεται ἦτορ (α 48), see Risch 1947: 88.

Typographically speaking,

  • I have taken the four kinds of bullets from the Unicode chart of General Punctuation. In the delimiting of the Indo-European (ie) root, the Black Leftwards Bullet (⁌) should be a Three-D Bottom-Lighted Leftwards Arrowhead, but apparently it does not exist in Unicode. The Three-D Top-Lighted Rightwards Arrowhead (➢) is among the Dingbats, but for symmetry I have used the Black Rightwards Bullet (⁍).

  • In *-n̥sV-, the Combining Ring Below is supposed to show up right below the n. I take the ring from the Unicode chart of Combining Diacritical Marks; apparently it designates a vocalic Indic letter.

Etymologically speaking, Beekes seems to assume that δαΐφρων obviously has a primary connection to δαῆναι. Look that up, and you see the same Indo-European root *dens-, now defined as “learn.” This comes to English via Greek in “didactic.” Though our native “teach” also starts with a dental consonant, it has a different root, deik-, shared with words like “dictate” and “paradigm.”

The noun δάϊς occurs in Homer only in the dative form δαΐ, which is the headword that Beekes uses, though not Liddell and Scott, who label δαΐ as “apoc. dat.” of δάϊς. Though “apoc.” is not on the list of abbreviations where “dat.” is, presumably δαΐ is an apocopate dative, with terminal letter removed, because otherwise the form would be δαί-ι or δαεί (though I do not know why the accent moves forward). Liddell and Scott connect the word to δαίω “kindle,” but according to Beekes, there is no such connection, although δαίω (Indo-European root *deh₂u- “burn”) does yield δαΐς “torch.” There is also a one-syllable word δαίς “portion, meal,” from the verb δαίομαι “divide, feast,” whose active form is also spelled δαίω, but which is given the Indo-European root *deh₂- or *deh₂-i- “cut, divide.” For δαΐ, between the arrowheads where an origin could be given, Beekes puts only a question mark.

Etymology and Mathematics

As I said, etymological research is endless. One may pursue it for its own sake, but it would seem to have little practical bearing on Homer.

I am fascinated by the web of words across space and time, and awed by the work of building up the knowledge and compiling a dictionary such as Beekes’s. I remember a tale told to me by George Constantinople, my teacher of ancient Greek history and of Latin in high school: a learned scholar had been getting ready to put his knowledge into a dictionary, but then was found dead.

As Beekes acknowledges,

A new etymological dictionary of a language like Greek cannot be written in a few years by just one person, without the help of others. Many people helped me on various stages of the project.

First of all, I am greatly indebted to Lucien van Beek for editing, correcting and proofreading the whole volume containing about 7500 entries over the course of more than two years. Several others assisted him in this work, sacrificing many weeks of their spare time …

What does one get for all that work?

In an address to my senior class, Mr Constantinople recalled the scene in Herodotus where Xerxes reviews his troops as they are about to cross the Hellespont into Europe. He weeps, telling his uncle Artabanus (in the translation of Andrea L. Purvis in Robert B. Strassler [editor], The Landmark Herodotus, New York: Anchor Books, 2009),

I was suddenly overcome by pity as I considered the brevity of human life, since not one of all these people here will be alive one hundred years from now.

Artabanus continues the thought:

But even more pitiable than that are the experiences we suffer as we pass through life. For even in such a short span of life, no human being is born so fortunate—neither these men nor any others—that the wish to be dead rather than alive will not occur to him, and not just once, but often …

I turn in thought to the immortality of mathematics: from the web of words to the order of the ordinal numbers. Like that of the real numbers, this order is complete: every nonempty set of the numbers with an upper bound has a least upper bound. The ordinals are special in being also well-ordered: every non-empty set of them has a least element. Also every set of ordinals has an upper bound, though there is no greatest ordinal, and the class of ordinals less than a given one is indeed a set. This yields the Burali-Forti Paradox, that the class of ordinals is not a set. A page of this blog has notes in progress on the mathematics, in Turkish for my course.

Odysseus’s Merit

Murray’s literal translation of the beginning of Athena’s address to Zeus is:

Father of us all, thou son of Cronos, high above all lords, aye, verily that man lies low in a destruction that is his due; so, too, may any other also be destroyed who does such deeds. But my heart is torn for wise Odysseus, hapless man.

Zeus acknowledges the merit of Odysseus:

He is more sensible than other humans,
And makes more sacrifices to the gods.

Those are Wilson’s lines 66–7; here are Homer’s:

ὃς περὶ μὲν νόον ἐστὶ βροτῶν, περὶ δ᾽ ἱρὰ θεοῖσιν
ἀθανάτοισιν ἔδωκε, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσιν;

Using bullets for the coordinating μέν … δέ, we may write that the lines tell of Odysseus, who

  • in wisdom is beyond mortals,

  • in sacrifices was [always] giving to the immortal gods, who hold broad heaven.

The Greek pronouns here, ὅς and τοί, can be relative or demonstrative.

  • ὅς, ἥ, ὅ is normally relative, but according to Cunliffe can be demonstrative in Homer.

  • As for τοί, according to Smyth (338 D),

    Homer uses the demonstrative forms ὁ, ἡ, τό (332) as relatives (1105). In this case the nom. pl. has τοί, ταί (332 D.).

    At ¶ 1105, Smyth says Homer uses the demonstrative pronouns as relatives “only when the antecedent is definite (cp. that).” His example is “He stripped off the arms that brazen Ares had given him.” We could render this as, “He stripped off the arms; brazen Ares had given them to him.”

In our passage then, are the pronouns demonstrative or relative, or is there a difference anyway? In her own translation, Wilson avoids answering the question for τοί, but asserts generally,

The Odyssey relies on coordinated, not subordinated syntax (“and then this, and then this, and then this,” rather than “although this, because of that, when this, which was this, on account of that”).

Key words in the Homeric passage are:

  • the noun νόος, wisdom, mind, and so on; but what exactly is this?

  • the adjective ἱερός (as in “hierarchy”), here shortened to ἱρός and made neuter plural: “holy things”; but what exactly is holiness? Here perhaps the concrete meaning of slaughtering animals in the name of the gods is all that need be meant.

Athena’s Sandals

We already know that Poseidon is angry with Odysseus. Now Zeus tells us why: Odysseus blinded Polyphemus the Cyclops, son of Poseidon and Thoösa. What can be done?

Athena’s plan has three parts:

  1. Send Hermes to the island of Ogygia to tell Calypso to let Odysseus go;

  2. go to Ithaca herself to have Odysseus’s son call a meeting with the suitors for his mother’s hand;

  3. send the boy off to Pylos and Sparta.

This seems to be the first mention of the problems back in Odysseus’s house; and Telemachus is not yet named.

Athena straps on her καλὰ πέδιλα, “beautiful sandals”; and Collingwood comments on what that means in The Principles of Art (1938):

To call a thing beautiful in Greek, whether ordinary or philosophical Greek, is simply to call it admirable or excellent or desirable. A poem or painting may certainly receive the epithet, but only by the same kind of right as a boot or any other simple artifact. The sandals of Hermes, for example, are regularly called beautiful by Homer, not because they are conceived as elegantly designed or decorated, but because they are conceived as jolly good sandals which enable him to fly as well as walk.

As Wilson puts it (lines 97–9),

With that, she tied her sandals on her feet,
the marvelous golden sandals that she wears
to travel sea and land, as fast as wind.

Collingwood continues:

In modern times there has been a determined attempt on the part of aesthetic theorists to monopolize the word [“beauty”] and make it stand for that quality in things in virtue of which when we contemplate them we enjoy what we recognize as an aesthetic experience. There is no such quality …

Of course. You can send a probe to another planet to detect oxygen, water, or amino acids; but it cannot detect beauty.

Athena As Mentes

Athena comes to the house of Odysseus in guise of Mentes the Taphian. First to see him, Telemachus welcomes him and invites him to dinner. Afterwards, the suitors are interested in singing and dancing; they make Phemius sing to a lyre brought by a slave.

Athena as Mentes says he is passing through, looking to trade for copper. He and Telemachus “are guest-friends through our fathers,” and he is sure that Odysseus will come home soon. But is that man really Telemachus’s father? “You are so tall!” observes Mentes of Telemachus. We know from the Iliad that Odysseus is short.

“No one knows his own begetting,” says the boy; “I wish I were the son of someone lucky”—in Wilson’s words, which are close to Homer’s now, in lines 216–8:

οὐ γάρ πώ τις ἑὸν γόνον αὐτὸς ἀνέγνω.
ὡς δὴ ἐγώ γ᾽ ὄφελον μάκαρός νύ τευ ἔμμεναι υἱὸς

The adjective μάκαρ, ascribing qualities like wealth and good fortune, is applied also to the gods (Athena used it for them on line 82, not considered here); according to Beekes the word is Pre-Greek.

Odysseus once came looking for poison to put on arrows. Fearing the gods, Ilus would not give it, but Mentes’s father Anchialus did.

Telemachus must tell the suitors to go home; and can he figure out a way to kill them? Everybody praised Orestes for killing Aegisthus.


When the guest leaves, Telemachus recognizes him has having been a god. I say “him,” as I suppose Telemachus would; but Homer uses a feminine pronoun (lines 322–3), and Wilson follows him (lines 323–4):

ὁ δὲ φρεσὶν ᾗσι νοήσας
θάμβησεν κατὰ θυμόν: ὀίσατο γὰρ θεὸν εἶναι.
Watching her go, he was amazed and saw
she was a god.

I don’t know whether this provides perspective on questions of whether

  • we get to pick our own gender,

  • this is different from sex.

Actually there is no “she,” in the Greek above, and Wilson’s “her” stands for the plural feminine dative case ᾗσι of ὅς, ἥ, ὅ. “God” can be construed as feminine, as in line 420, where it is modified by a feminine adjective:

ὣς φάτο Τηλέμαχος, φρεσὶ δ᾽ ἀθανάτην θεὸν ἔγνω.

Thus spake Telemachus, and he knew in his lungs a deathless female god.

But Wilson’s translation of the departure of Athena is about as literal as English allows. She does omit the loci of Telemachus’s actions:

  • His watching is a “perceiving with the φρένες”—the lungs, I’m saying;

  • his amazement is in the θυμός—the “passionate element,” perhaps (there was some discussion of θυμός in the context of Iliad Book IX).

Instead of seeing that the guest was a god, Telemachus may have imagined it: the verb οἴομαι has meanings like suspect, expect, think, believe, deem. However, Beekes gives two Indo-European roots:

  • *h₃uis- “suppose, assume”;

  • *h₂uis- “see clearly.”

I don’t know how these are distinguished from one another and from *ueid-, the root of words like εἴδομαι “appear, seem, resemble” and our “wise” and “vision.”

The House

The suitors are listening to a song about how Athena cursed the journey of the Greeks from Troy. Hearing from upstairs, Penelope comes down to tell Phemius to sing something else.

Telemachus tells her, “Poets are not to blame for how things are.” She should go back to her work: spinning and weaving and directing the slaves. “It is for men to talk, especially me. I am the master.”

Meanwhile the suitors have been making their suits to Penelope. Telemachus tells them to knock it off and leave.

Wilson ends her own, one-paragraph, summary of Book I by saying,

Telemachus announces that he will call a meeting the next day. Antinous and Eurymachus speak to him nastily and try to find out who Athena was.

More precisely, Antinous speaks nastily, and Eurymachus tries to find out who the visitor was. Antinous prays that Telemachus may never enter his inheritance; Eurymachus, that he may.

Eurymachus may do that with irony. After all, each of the suitors wants to be king of Ithaca. Everybody, including Telemachus, does recognize that this is up to the gods.

When the evening winds down, Telemachus goes up to bed, attended by Eurycleia, whom Laertes had bought young for twenty oxen and given “status in the household, equal to his own wife, but never slept with her.”

6 Trackbacks

  1. By On the Odyssey, Book II « Polytropy on November 24, 2019 at 7:08 pm

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  3. […] (which post I was able to find by searching my site for φρήν in Greek letters; the post on Book I of the Odyssey also came […]

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