|A word to the wise: no, this isn’t real, it’s a parody. I have to make that clear, because it’s esoteric enough that I bet many people wouldn’t spot how ridiculous it is. This essay tries to capture how it genuinely feels, to me, when I read stuff written by Analysts. I wrote it about a decade ago, and found it while sorting through some old files.
|Helen tells Telemachus the story of Odysseus as a beggar (A. Boizot and A. Clément, ‘Telemachus at the court of Menelaus’, 18th cent.)
In more recent years it has become progressively and continually more obvious that not only individual lines, but whole scenes, physical settings, and even the very characters of the poems, become suspect under this light, the most obvious instance being perhaps the farm of Laertes in ω, which is a naïf repetition of that of Eumaios in ξ, modified only to the extent of making it a farm for fruit rather than animals. But also in the Odyssey we find the oxherd Philoitios, who is nothing more than a reflection of the swineherd Eumaios, the two not even being clearly separated in the scene where Odysseus reveals himself to them in φ; similarly the nursemaid Eurynome is a poorly motivated duplicate of Eurykleia, and Kalypso a copy of Kirke. (This last duplication was so self-evident even to the ancients that the negligible Diktys actually made them sisters ruling over neighbouring islands.) In all such cases we see the signs of late interpolations, which postdate the original Odyssey, that is to say, the elder compilation of three lays by a relatively talented Ionian poet in whose hands the epic attained its peak of quality, such that we all now rightly regard this phase of the poem’s development, the work of the so-called redactor, as the genuine Odyssey, as has been shown in many places.
One duplication, however, poses problems. It has always been difficult to determine what exactly has happened in the case of Helen and Penelope. The two show very strong parallels: Helen’s marriage to Menelaos was preceded by being courted by an army of suitors; so Penelope too has to be courted by an enormous group of suitors. Uniquely for a woman, Helen possesses κλέος and ἀρετή; therefore so too must Penelope, so that these two women alone in Homer possess those qualities. Helen is stolen away by an intruder and has to be won back by her proper husband; only a modest change has been made in the case of Penelope, namely that Odysseus’ return anticipates the stealing away. But Penelope was such a prominent character in one of the lays that predate the Ionian phase of the Odyssey that it has so far been difficult to imagine what the return of Odysseus looked like before her character was added.
Some passages demonstrate such strong similarities that no reservations can rationally be sustained. The most astounding such passage is δ 244-59, where Helen recalls the incident of Odysseus stealing into Troy, how she recognised him immediately but chose not to betray him. In this passage we find explicitly stated that Odysseus entered the city disguised as a beggar; that Helen alone saw through his disguise; that he cleverly evaded her questions; that she made arrangements for a bath for her disguised guest; that she swore not to reveal him to his enemies; and that afterwards there was lamentation among the other women at what had happened. When we consider that these events are all too clearly identical to those in τ, the late-night conversation between Penelope and Odysseus -- remembering that in the pre-Ionian phase of the Odyssey, Penelope likewise was the first to recognise Odysseus, as evidence internal to τ shows, and that a later hand disguised this fact, ineptly, to make way for a second recognition in ψ -- no doubt can remain that one of these two is an inferior copy of the other.
The passage spoken by Helen cannot be an interpolation. Aristarchos could find no fault with it, and indeed corrected Zenodotos’ incompetence in misinterpretating δέκτῃ as a name in 248. The only clear interpolation in the passage is 249, shown by the neologism ἀβάκησαν. But the passage as a whole is most ancient: the most important proof of this is the variants in 252. There we find λόεον corrected to Ionic ἐλόευν, and ἔχρισ’ ἐλαίῳ (which must originally have been ἔχρισε ϝ’ ἐλαίῳ) corrected to Ionic χρῖον ἐλαίῳ. Only the Ionian redactor could be responsible for these adaptations into the Ionic dialect. Therefore, the line predates the Ionian compilation.
Thus it is not a matter of deciding whether this passage is copied from the lay of the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope. Rather, the antiquity of this passage means that it is a matter of whether the entire character of Helen is copied from Penelope, or vice versa.
Faced with such a choice, no doubt can be entertained: Helen is the original, and Penelope the copy. Without Helen, the entire basis for the Trojan War -- and the reason for Odysseus being absent in the first place -- would be gone. The figure of Penelope, then, postdates Helen: she is nothing more than a meaningless redundancy, with no true role in the story of Odysseus’ return.
What, then, prompted the poet who created the lay of the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope (which, in the hands of the redactor, became ρστ) to copy and adapt the figure of Helen in this way, and at such an early date? It can only be that Penelope was a figure already established in myth in a different context. The missing datum is that Penelope is borrowed from Arcadian cult. For this our earliest source is Apollodoros. She was worshipped in Mantineia as the mother of the god Pan; in later times, after the rise in importance of Homeric epic, Arcadian legend was rewritten to accommodate the Odyssey. In the wake of Homer, the devout worshippers refashioned their own Penelope, as though she had originally been Odysseus’ wife and became the object of worship only later, after Odysseus found that she had committed adultery and expelled her from his house, after which she came to Arcadia and there gave birth to Pan.
This conclusion has an impact beyond just ρστ. The story of Odysseus’ return originally featured no Penelope, as we have seen; but from other considerations, as is well known, Telemachos is also a late addition (the Telemachy was added after the redactor’s compilation), and Laertes even later (ω is of course the latest part of the Odyssey). The only remaining member of Odysseus’ household is the slave Eumaios; but even he should be rejected, as his status indicates an ethos of slavery that obviously belongs to the period of Greek colonisation.
In short Odysseus’ household, as originally conceived, contained no one for Odysseus to return to. The original story, therefore, was not about Odysseus’ return but rather about an invasion -- about a foreigner arriving and attacking the local inhabitants, killing them, and claiming the throne. This explains certain problems in the conflict between the Odysseus and the ‘suitors’. In the Odyssey as we have it, the suitors are guests under the protection of Zeus, and Odysseus’ slaughter of them should be viewed as a monstrous crime; but in the Ur-form of the tale they enjoyed no such protection, and so Odysseus could attack and kill them without any impropriety, and no violation of Greek morals.
Given the strong ties that Odysseus has with northwestern Greece -- Lykophron records that there were oracles of Odysseus among the Eurytanians and Trampyans, Bouneima near Trampya was founded by Odysseus, and the epithet ‘Alkomenean Odysseus’ surely refers to the Alkomenai in Illyria rather than the Ithacan town --, the Ur-form of the ‘return’ story must have been about an invasion from the northwest. This can be none other than the Dorian invasion, whose historicity is undoubted.
The Ur-Odyssey thus stands as our earliest source of information for a violent Dorian incursion. It seems that an echo of this may survive in some of the later interpolated parts of the epic. Notably, we are now in a position to explain Telemachos’ journey to Sparta as being, in its origin, an account of a contingent sent to invade the southern Peloponnesos. This contingent had aid from Pylos, so that we now see Pylos was evidently the first city in the Peloponnesos to accept and support their new Dorian masters. Historians of the Dark Age will want to take note of this discovery, as will students of the role and status of Pylos in early Greece, and adjust the historical record accordingly.
NotesI won’t labour all the in-jokes in this essay, but it may be worth mentioning that some of its claims are perfectly true.
- ‘[T]he elder compilation of three lays by a relatively talented Ionian poet’: this is essentially how Wilamowitz argued the Odyssey was put together.
- The parallels between Helen and Penelope are all real.
- ‘Penelope … the first to recognise Odysseus’: the idea that Penelope supposedly secretly recognises Odysseus in Odyssey book 19 has a long tradition behind it, and it has had a long-lasting impact even on people who don’t believe it. Many modern interpretations -- even those adamantly opposed to the Analyst school -- still contain echoes of the idea.
- The variation δέκτῃ/Δέκτῃ in Od. 4.248, and the manuscript variants of λόεον and χρῖον ἐλαίῳ in Od. 4.252, are real. That episode has often been of keen interest to Analysts because of a supposed relation to Cyclic epic material.
- Penelope genuinely was honoured in Mantineia as the mother of Pan. A form of the story existed at least as early as Herodotus 2.145; cf. ps.-Apollodoros epit. 7.38, Pausanias 8.12.6.
- The Telemachy and Odyssey book 24 are indeed normally regarded by Analysts as later than the rest of the epic (though the idea is very doubtful, and there’s zero support from properly sampled statistical analysis of the language in those episodes).
- The name ‘Odysseus’ is not Illyrian in origin. However, the northwestern cult-sites at Trampya (Thesprotia) and Bouneima (Thesprotia/Aitolia) seem to have been real. The Alkomenai in Illyria is real, as is the town on Ithaca, and the epithet ‘Alkomenean Odysseus’. It isn’t impossible that the name ‘Alkomenai’ has Odyssean connections, but it’s more likely that it alludes to Athena, who had a cult-site at Alalkomenai in Boiotia.
- The Dorian invasion is still sometimes treated by ancient historians as though it were real. There is no direct archaeological evidence for it, and the indirect evidence is very contestable. Perhaps the worst thing about the Dorian migration hypothesis is that there’s no falsehood condition: no kind of evidence could ever disprove it.