Odysseus Polutropos

Odysseus Polutropos: Intertextual Readings in the "Odyssey" and the "Iliad"

Volume: 46
Copyright Date: 1987
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 262
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  • Book Info
    Odysseus Polutropos
    Book Description:

    Pietro Pucci here reads Homer's epics, the Odyssey and the Iliad, intertextually, using each to cast light on the other. Drawing on traditional philology and contemporary critical theory, he demonstrates that although the same diction and some of the same narrative principles are to be found in both poems, the two works belong to very different poetic traditions. In addition, he addresses the concepts of orality and writing, which in his view are not antithetical.

    Pucci begins by analyzing the literary references and allusions that the Odyssey makes to the Iliad and to other Greek heroic poems. He asserts that, in its relationship to the heroic genre, the Odyssey is an antagonistic poem, one that celebrates the pleasures of life rather than heroic ideals. Regarded from this perspective, the Odyssey unfolds as a "reading" of famous heroic texts-a recreation of their diction, formulas, scenes, themes, and characters. Although this exercise is enjoyable and exciting for the poet, it is also dangerous, for in the act of recreating other texts, he both finds and loses the specific inflections of his own voice. In addition, the text, ever expanding through its sophisticated readings of other epics, must simultaneously struggle with limits imposed by the passive and arbitrary nature of traditional fables and language. Odysseus Polutropos is a major contribution to our understanding of the poetics and hermeneutics of archaic Greek poetry.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6686-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
    (pp. 7-8)
    Pietro Pucci
    (pp. 9-12)
  5. Introduction: Variations on Odyssean Themes
    (pp. 13-30)

    Critics have traditionally been fascinated by the representation of Odysseus at the beginning of the Odyssey and by the development of that initial image. But which is the initial image of Odysseus and how does it evolve in the course of the poem? To answer this question is to interpret Odysseus’ traveling as the locus of experience through which he reaches his telos. Two major interpretations emerge from the critical literature: either Odysseus’ traveling and return are viewed as the painful experience through which the hero transforms himself and reaches the full measure of his humanness, or these adventures are...


    • 1 Sexual and Textual Jealousy
      (pp. 33-43)

      Odysseus and Calypso enjoy food and drink with each other in what is their last described meal together.¹ After the enjoyment (tarpēsan) of the meal, Calypso turns to Odysseus with this expansive epithetic address (5.203):

      Diogenes, Laertiadē, polumēkhan’ Odusseu

      This is the first time we hear the formula in the Odyssey, since the vocative form of address can obviously be used only in the hero’s presence. The use of this dignified expression of praise is not a matter of chance. In both the Iliad and the Odyssey this verse with its variant (found in Od. 24.192)² and the independent polumēkhanos³...

    • 2 The Birth of a New Hero
      (pp. 44-49)

      Let us now return to our passage in Od. 5.203 ff. In the structure outlined above, Odysseus’ rejection of Calypso (= the Concealer) intimates his return to his paternal house, to the world, and to the epic song (aoidē). The return home could signify all the meanings that “return,” as a privileged metaphor, may hint at: return to oneself, to that which is “proper” to the self, and to death.¹ The return to the epic song means a new poem for Odysseus, and a new “heroic” substance, in accord with his new “pragma.” All this is suggested through Odysseus’ reply...

    • 3 Allusion and Misreading
      (pp. 50-55)

      The indetermination of the Iliadic tlēmōn and the defined meaning of the Odyssean tlēnai can be endlessly construed to give an orientation, a pre-text, and a meaning to the repetition of their analogous signifier. Whatever construction one erects, however, must always crumble under the test of the indetermination of tlēmon, for the Iliadic tlēmon hides the difference, since it can mean exactly the same as the Odyssean tlēnai, “patient,” “to be patient”; and it simultaneously enhances the difference, since it can, and possibly does, mean “daring,” a meaning that tlēnai in Od. 5.222 cannot have. The Odyssey’s expression can be...

    • 4 Suffering and Trickery
      (pp. 56-62)

      Odysseus will tactfully agree that though Calypso has superior beauty, he wishes and longs “all the time” for his home—he comprehends Penelope in the notion of home (Od. 5.215 ff.). Unmistakably, the text already had the opportunity to portray Odysseus’ desire for Penelope and for his home in most pathetic terms. Beginning with Athena’s earlier depiction of Odysseus’ plight (Od. 1.55–59)¹ and continuing until the narrative of Od. 5.151 ff., the tone is consonant with Zeus’ definition of Odysseus as “the most lamenting man.” Odysseus’ posture on the seashore is a case in point:

      [Calypso] found him sitting...

    • 5 Textual Disingenuousness in Portraying Odysseus’ Suffering
      (pp. 63-75)

      After a favorable sailing toward the Phaeacian land, Odysseus is suddenly threatened by a storm that the angry Poseidon raises against him. The hero recognizes the accuracy of Calypso’s words (Od. 5.300), yet he unexpectedly—for the nymph had also assured him of his return home—fears for his life.¹ As he is stricken by this fear, he utters a pathetic lament (5.306 ff.) expressing the wish that he might have died

      the day the Trojans in great numbers hurled at me brazen spears over the body of the son of Peleus. Then I would have had burial and the...

    • 6 Disguise
      (pp. 76-82)

      The most intriguing formal novelty in the four passages discussed above is that the poet’s narrative describing the character’s alternative courses of action is replaced by Odysseus’ direct speech, thus allowing Odysseus to pursue his inner debate in his own voice.¹ In this way a repeated trait of Odysseus’ behavior is connected to his own voice, whereby the text builds and exhibits the notion of Odysseus’ innermost self. That the hero is shown to weigh alternatives within himself four times—once, very graphically, within an innermost self that the speaking “I” of Odysseus can address (Od. 20.10 ff.)—and that...

    • 7 Disguise and Recognition
      (pp. 83-97)

      Disguise is of such an uncanny nature that it is perceived as “disguise” only when it is detected and exposed—that is, precisely when it no longer functions successfully as a disguise. When it does appear as what it is (a disguise), it no longer obtains the effects for which it was adopted. In the Odyssey, Odysseus’ disguises are always known to the readers, but they remain undetected by the characters who interact with him until the recognition scenes.

      Sometimes the text allows us to perceive this double status of the disguise as it is subjectively experienced by Odysseus himself....

    • 8 Disguising Truth: Fiction
      (pp. 98-109)

      No passage can better illustrate the nature of Odyssean fiction as a “disguise of truth” than the line the poet uses to comment on Odysseus’ lies as he narrates to Penelope an apocryphal story about himself (Od. 19.165–203). At the end of this story, the narrative voice intrudes and pointedly comments: Iske pseudea polla legōn etumoisin homoia, “While telling many lies he was making them similar to real events” (Od. 19.203).¹

      In the preceding chapters I have pointed out that one of the effects of “disguise” is to suggest that there are “natural,” “real,” “inherent” signs of truth as...

    • 9 More Light in the Epiphany, Less Light in the Text
      (pp. 110-124)

      In her next epiphany (Od. 16.155 ff.) Athena reappears in the same figure as in book 13, and she is described with the same simile and same lines (16.157b–58 = 13.288b–89). This time, however, the text defines her appearance as a phainesthai enargēs (16.161).

      A study of the expression phainesthai enargēs¹ shows that the etymological meaning of enargēs—“in full light” and thus “manifestly,” “without any disguise,” “truly”—pertains only in Od. 7.201² and is probably what is meant in Il. 20.131;³ while other meanings such as “visible” and “in the physical form” are suggested or made necessary...


    • 10 Return: No Return
      (pp. 127-138)

      The theme of “re-cognition” leads easily to that of re-turn. In both themes/words the troubling “re-” activity manifests the connection with the process of re-petition in the modes of continuity and difference, sameness and otherness, reading and writing. Recognition (anagignōskein) presumes to establish the integrity and selfsameness of an object or entity while in fact, by trying to circumvent the displacing movement of the sign, it merely postulates that integrity and self-sameness. Analogously, “a return to the same” postulates a return to the source or origin, while in fact—as the text shows—it can be no more than a...

    • 11 Return, Death, and Immortality
      (pp. 139-142)

      The pathos in the narrative of the Iliad and the sarcasm in Achilles’ comments on Lycaon’s return are what we expect from the Iliad, for Achilles knew that he could either return home to a long though inglorious life or stay in Troy and, dying young there, obtain immortal glory (aphthiton kleos).¹ The Iliad is not merely an instrument for proclaiming Achilles’ glory; it is itself the embodiment of that glory (kleos).² Accordingly, it carries its whole force in favor of kleos, that is, in favor of the young hero’s death and against the very notion of return. When Achilles...

    • 12 Polemic Gestures between the Iliad and the Odyssey: Odysseus as a Champion
      (pp. 143-147)

      When Athena in the disguise of Mentor comes to Odysseus and scolds him:

      You have no longer, Odysseus, the firm fury [menos empedon], no longer that force [oude tis alkē] that you had when you fought constantly, for nine years against the Trojans (Od. 22.226 ff.),

      those who know the Iliad may ask themselves whether it really does contain such a portrait of Odysseus and realize that it does not. Consequently, Athena’s words open up some serious questions: If the text alluded to here is that of the Iliad, the Odyssey would seem either to suggest an improbable reading of...

    • 13 Return and Cheating Death
      (pp. 148-154)

      Odysseus’ return home is no fairy-tale ending. As Charles Segal perceptively observes, in Odysseus’ and Penelope’s reunion “the joy of rediscovery is . . . mixed with the sadness of irreparable loss.”¹ The recognition scene ends when Odysseus has been bitterly tricked by Penelope (23.183), and when, to justify her caution, she evokes “the danger of committing the ergon aeikes of adultery.”² Neither the return nor the revenge unambiguously wins kleos for Odysseus.³

      Furthermore, Odysseus’ voyages are not over:

      my wife, we have not yet reached the end of all the toils, but still there is before us the immeasurable...


    • 14 The Heart (Thumos) of the Iliadic Lion and the Belly (Gastēr) of the Odyssean Lion
      (pp. 157-164)

      The undecidable line in whose wake the “writings” of the Iliad and the Odyssey emerge as simultaneously similar and opposite passes through all sorts of figures and grammatical features. The signifiers tlē-, tolma-, and so forth, with their different metaphorical meanings, and the repetition of lines, similes, topoi, and scenes with different intent and implications are some of these figures and features. The two texts seem to recall each other by some sorts of disguise, and the Odyssey in particular, which seems to exhibit its textuality more openly, plays recklessly or humorously, or both, with these intertextual features.

      We come...

    • 15 Being Mindful of Food: Being Forgetful of Griefs
      (pp. 165-172)

      The heart (thumos) and the belly (gastēr) are not synonymous, though both may be used figuratively in Homer for man’s “desire” or “impulse.” Thumos may even be the “appetite,” as in the phrases: “satisfying the thumos with food and drink” (Od. 17.603) or “when the thumos commands to drink” (Il. 4.263). But the two words cannot be literally, figuratively, and stylistically synonymous, for thumos has a more abstract meaning—“heart as vital principle”—and it habitually occurs in martial contexts, while gastēr means the “belly” and its physiological need, “hunger.” Moreover, gastēr in the sense of human “appetite” or “hunger”...

    • 16 Pirates and Beggars
      (pp. 173-180)

      There are no light or humorous touches in the words Odysseus is made to say about the violent tyranny of bodily needs. The opposition between the grieving asceticism of Achilles and the tough practicality of Odysseus is treated seriously in the Iliad, notwithstanding Odysseus’ breach of the “decorum” of high-minded heroism. As the great confrontation between Achilles and Odysseus in the nineteenth book of the Iliad announces, Odysseus in the Odyssey will meditate on, and sometimes suffer from, the implacable needs of gastēr. Again, there is no doubt of the seriousness of Odysseus’ position in the Odyssey, though there the...

    • 17 Gastēr: Eros and Thanatos
      (pp. 181-188)

      The moralistic stance is also responsible for the fact that the Odyssey uses other, more decorous terms than gastēr to describe the urge to action—terms like thumos, which in the epic tradition mean the same urge. Consequently, gastēr appears as a negative, evil thumos. And yet it is gastēr that strikes as the new, provocative term. Despite, or perhaps because of, its negative connotations, the Odyssey chooses it to name man’s instincts and presents it with enormous emphasis in the remaking of Il. 1.1, as the instinctual source of all that happens in its narrative. It is therefore a...


    • 18 Gastēr and Thelgein
      (pp. 191-208)

      According to epic tradition, the inspiration provided by gastēr does not lead straight to truth but, rather, follows the meandering, labyrinthine ways of gain-seeking discourse, “sweetened” talk, and adulatory and ingratiating speech. This relation between gastēr and epic is illuminated by the attitude kleos (praise) poetry takes toward gastēr: that it is a master of deviousness, ingenuity, wiles, and lies.¹ The most elaborate examples of this attitude appear in Hesiod, where the woman Pandora is both emblematic of gastēr and representative of a devious mind. In Works and Days 77–78 Hermes bestows on Pandora “lies, crafty talk, and a...

    • 19 The Song of the Sirens
      (pp. 209-213)

      Another song, another reading scene in which we find one of the characters in the Odyssey miming, or acting out, our own role as readers of the Odyssey. The song here is that of the Sirens, the paradigmatic reader Odysseus, who in listening to the Sirens’ invitation becomes mesmerized, ready to fling himself recklessly into their arms. For three thousand years readers of the Odyssey have, with Odysseus, yearned for and dreamed of this song.

      Actually, the first reader of the Sirens’ song might have been Circe, herself a mistress of erotic thelgein and a magician adept in administering intoxicating...

    • 20 Odysseus, Reader of the Iliad
      (pp. 214-227)

      The Odyssean poetics of pleasure constantly confronts the risks emblematized by the Sirens’ and Phemius’ songs: those of frustrating men’s will in a total paralysis of pleasure and even of making the false death of a father a pleasurable theme for the son. At the same time, however, it celebrates the hypnotizing, seducing poet who receives fame and gifts.

      The Odyssey’s answer to these opposite urges is not consistent and one dimensional. Even when it censures the deadly thelgein of the Sirens, the Odyssey leaves some indeterminacy. For the Odyssey recognizes the difficulty of containing within precise borders enchantment and...

    • 21 Phemius and the Beginning of the Odyssey
      (pp. 228-235)

      I am approaching the last stage of this long and polytropic journey through the Odyssean poetics; but the reader and I know that this journey could continue further and we would simply recross what are by now familiar borders. In this last stage we see how some of the traits of Odyssean poetics—truth, pleasure, and compulsion—conflict in a dramatic way when the text presents Phemius’ statement and recantation at the end of the poem (Od. 22.344–53).

      After the massacre of the suitors, Phemius throws himself as a suppliant at Odysseus’ knees. It is at this momentous point...

    • 22 Arte Allusiva
      (pp. 236-246)

      The function and the status of the allusion¹ have only recently been studied by semiologists. Oswald Ducrot has analyzed the allusion as a specific form of “enunciation,” that is, as a speech act that does something as it communicates.² The sense the allusion creates intertwines with, or is superimposed upon, the “literal” meaning. The allusive sense is somehow enigmatic, says Ducrot, or implicit—what we have sometimes termed a “disguise” in accordance with the main thematic points made by the Odyssey: it is, in fact, proposed by the allusive sense; it is suggested and can never be fully proved to...

    (pp. 247-258)

    Since the appearance of Odysseus Polutropos in 1987, some new directions in Homeric criticism have emerged, especially in the realm of formulaic diction and repetition. Critics espousing these new approaches have assailed the citadel of rigid mechanic Parryanism, especially its most forbidding tower, the notion of the formula’s strict economy, and have postulated and described ways that the Singer would enjoy greater control and choice in making his own lines. In particular, E. Visser (1987) has attempted to reconstruct the technique that allows Homer to compose verses on the spot during oral performance. In the words of two proponents of...

    (pp. 259-266)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 267-274)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-276)