Helen's hands: weaving for kleos in the Odyssey.
In this essay, I will examine woven objects as coded acts of communication between women and as sources for the production of female kleos in the Odyssey. (3) Gifts given by women have tended to be cast as 'dangerous' or subversive in recent studies of reciprocity in Greek poetry and drama. It is impossible to deny the often destructive role of female gifts in tragedy. But Homeric epic constructs the relationship between gender, objects, and commemoration rather differently, and therefore it is worth studying women's gifts in Homer on their own terms. (4) Moreover, the recent scholarly interest in how objects shape both the historical record and individual memories has for the most part ignored the specifically gendered element of those memories, upon which I will focus here. (5) In what follows, I first review scenes of weaving and women's participation in xenia relations in the Odyssey, highlighting their semi-autonomous status within the Homeric gift-exchange economy. I then consider the technologies of commemoration available to Homeric heroes and, in light of these, Helen's appropriation of the female sphere of textile production to immortalize her own skill through a woven mnema.
I. Women, Weaving, and Xenia in the Odyssey
Travelers in the Odyssey depend on the hospitality (xenia) of the hosts they visit. Such hospitality consists of a range of services, including the offer of food, drink, bath, clothing, and shelter for the duration of the guest's visit, as well as guest-gifts and transportation at the time of departure. But the gift of a cloak and a tunic becomes a convenient shorthand for the whole range of xenia transactions. In Odyssey 14, for instance, Eumaeus reacts skeptically to his visitor's optimistic prediction that Odysseus will soon return: "And I'm sure you yourself, old man, would be quick to fashion a story, if someone might give you a cloak and tunic and clothing" (131-2). The disguised Odysseus does in fact give a detailed summary of the travels that have brought him to Ithaca, punctuating his narrative with references to where he has won, and in turn lost, his precious clothes. (6) He even tells a tale about getting a cloak in order to solicit one from his host (14.460ff.). (7) Eumaeus promises his guest a cloak, tunic, clothing, and conveyance upon Odysseus's return (14.516-7). While the offer of "cloak and tunic" satisfies a basic need on the part of the guest, it also implies a broader range of social obligations. Clothing functions as a metonym--and physical embodiment--of the relationship of hospitality between the host and his guest, and symbolizes their commitment to house and protect one another. (8)
Given that weaving is a female occupation in the Homeric poems, (9) it is not surprising to find women also offering clothing as a parting gift (xeineion). (10) Weaving and textiles comprise a sphere of xenia in which women interact with guests, as well as with one another, semi-autonomously. Whereas male heroes typically had their glorious deeds circulated through song, as in the famous case of Achilles singing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the Iliad (9.189), female characters in Homer immortalize their names through more diverse media. Weaving, while analogous to poetic song, was a realm in which women did not compete directly with men. (11) Women could win fame from the work of their hands without compromising male kleos. (12) To the male imagination, nevertheless, skill at weaving suggested a talent for deception, as the famous example of Penelope weaving and un-weaving her great shroud for Laertes illustrated all too well.
Both metis and dolos are found in the Odyssey as grammatical objects of the verb 'to weave' (huphaino). Examples are the metis that the suitors "weave" against Telemachus (4.678); the dolos that Odysseus fears Ino may be "weaving" against him (5.356); the dolos and metis that Odysseus "weaves" against Polyphemus (9.422); the metis that Athena "weaves" with Odysseus (13.303) and that Odysseus "weaves" against the suitors (13.386). (13) In Xenophon's Oeconomicus (7.34), Ischomachus encourages his young wife to emulate the queen bee, "who also presides over the weaving of the honey-combs inside, so that they are woven well and quickly. ... " (14) The placement of looms by the hearth of the Homeric megaron likewise suggests that weaving in the Odyssey is figured as central to the palace's survival. (15) "The semiotic activity peculiar to women throughout Greek tradition," as Ann Bergren (2008, 15) has described it, weaving allows the women of Homeric epic to create a presence abroad, through networks of xenia, while at the same time maintaining a certain measure of control over the domestic economy. (16)
Domestic Webs: Penelope and Arete
It has been said of Odysseus that only in disguise does he show himself, revealing a self that is constituted fundamentally by metis and the manipulation of identities. (17) A similar paradox lies at the heart of Penelope's character. Penelope, whose fidelity to her husband remains fundamentally anchored in the roots of her olive-tree marriage bed, nevertheless flirts with remarriage and traffics in deception: through her deceptive weaving, where desire and mourning coalesce, Penelope has found the best means of remaining faithful to Odysseus. (18) For Penelope, weaving is a means of translating her desires into another medium. Every day, she tells her unrecognized husband, she wove Laertes' shroud at the great loom and every night she would unravel ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) the work she had done (19.149-50). The verb she uses to describe the effect of her longing--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (136)--suggests a physical melting or wasting of the body, which is a symptom both of desire and of mourning. (19) There is even an analogy between the dissolution Penelope experiences in her own body and that which she enacts on her loom. Without a male kurios to defend her (and a son too young to assume this role), Penelope cannot control events in the political sphere, but she exploits the medium of textile production to delay her inevitable remarriage, and perhaps even to modulate her desire. (20)
Penelope appeals to the social dictates of female gossip in convincing the suitors to allow her to finish her work, "lest any one of the Achaean women find fault" with her (2.101). The opinion of one woman is irrelevant, but as a collective voice, women's gossip wields political influence, and so the suitors yield. (21) But how is it that not one of the suitors grew suspicious as time passed--three full years--and still the shroud was not finished? (22) The gender of Penelope's eventual betrayer, as Jenkins (1985, 114) observes, is suggestive of men's fundamental ignorance about women's work. (23) It requires a treacherous female slave (or slaves) to alert the community of male suitors to Penelope's deception (2.108-9). (24) This is just one example of the way in which the language of weaving operates as a realm of communication between, and about, women.
We find another poignant example of 'woven communication' in the royal Phaeacian palace in Odyssey 7. (25) Arete's first questions to Odysseus refer to his clothing. (26) She recognizes them as garments she herself has made ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 7.234) and wants to know who gave them to him (7.238). It was Nausicaa, of course, who both gave Odysseus these garments and told him explicitly to supplicate her mother upon first entering the great hall (6.310-1). Odysseus, Nausicaa explained, could expect to find Arete by the hearth spinning purple-dyed wool from a distaff ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 6.306). Nausicaa's precise description implies familiarity with her mother's habits and the details of her textile production. One might even infer that Nausicaa has instructed Odysseus to seek out Arete because she anticipates that her mother will recognize the clothes that she herself made. The garments themselves are a sign to Arete that the stranger who appears at her hearth has already been received by her daughter. Interestingly, Alcinous is the last member of his household to recognize the clothes, and to see in the stranger a potential son-in-law. First his daughter and then his wife receive Odysseus as a potential suitor, the one by giving him clothes, the other by recognizing this gift. Alcinous's offer of marriage (7.311-5) completes this series of recognitions and is a validation, in the language of marriage spoken only between men, of the acts of courtship already extended to Odysseus by the female members of his oikos.
Reflecting, perhaps, the immersion of their real-world counterparts in the mechanics of textile production, the women of Greek literature appear closely attuned to the semiotics of bodily adornment. In Aeschylus's Choephori, Electra suspects a trick when the unrecognized Orestes presents himself as her brother: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; (Oh, stranger, is it some ruse you're plaiting against me?, 220). However, he soon convinces her of his identity by presenting three irrefutable pieces of evidence: a lock of hair, his footprints, and a piece of weaving, containing an animal pattern that she herself has woven: "Look at this textile, the work of your own hand ..." ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 231). In her own weaving, Electra recognizes the stranger as her brother. Textiles function as a sign also in Odyssey 19, where Penelope tests the disguised Odysseus by asking him to describe the clothes her husband was wearing (and which she herself had made). (27) Penelope reacts with strong emotion to his detailed description, recognizing the "signs" at 19.250: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Once she has regained her voice, she recalls how she gave her husband the very clothes and pin just described:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (19.255-7) For I myself gave these clothes to him, of the kind that you mention, after taking them out of the storeroom and folding them; and I also put the shining pin on that man, to be an agalma.
Clothes and pin act as Penelope's signature on Odysseus. For both Penelope and Electra, textiles are a foolproof test of authenticity, a way around the wiles and dolos of strangers. (28) Penelope's metis makes use of a variety of stratagems related to the world of cloth. She herself wove and unwove one garment for three years in an effort to delay remarriage; she solicits gifts (clothes and jewelry) which will enrich her husband's household at the suitors' expense (18.276-80). And finally, she tests her own (unrecognized) husband's memory of how she clothed him. In these various ways, Penelope's weaving leads Odysseus back to his former self, while also preserving her own identity as his wife.
Although they hardly qualify as dutiful wives, Circe and Calypso also weave. Both are represented moving back and forth before the loom, singing with a beautiful voice as they work: Calypso weaves with a golden shuttle (kerkis, 5.62) and Circe, whose very name resonates with "shuttle" (kerkis), at an "immortal loom" (10.222). (29) From their different positions outside the abodes of each nymph, Eurylochus's companions and Hermes infer that there must be "someone inside singing beautifully before a great loom" (cf. 10.221-3 and 5.61-2). How could this be known without visual confirmation? Not all women sing while they weave: Penelope, Helen, and Arete do not. Perhaps, then, there was a particular kind of singing that accompanied weaving. (30) Jane Snyder (1981) argues that the "mechanical parallels" between the loom and the lyre "lay the foundation for the lyric poets' descriptions of their own webs of song" (194). While the analogy between song and textile never becomes explicit in Homer, there is significant overlap in the use of the verb huphaino to refer to both literal and metaphorical weaving. (31) It is a small step of the imagination to infer that the kleos that is constituted, literally, from the song that one hears (kluein) might exist also, in slightly modified form, in the material medium of women's weaving. After all, what the tongue cannot sing, the "voice of the shuttle" will--but I will return to Philomela's plight in due course.
Female Networks of Xenia
When a guest is ready to depart, the standard protocol in the Odyssey is for female hosts to offer gifts that represent their own role within the domestic sphere. On Scheria, Alcinous issues a general invitation to add a tripod or a cauldron to the other gifts (clothing and gold) that are already stored up for Odysseus. Gender dictates who is to carry which gifts to Odysseus. Alcinous makes it clear that he is speaking to the men, especially in the adverb andrakas: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (13.13-4). They return "man by man," each to his own house, to bring the bronze vessels (13.19) that their king requested. Arete, on the other hand, summons her female servants to bring clothing, a well-made chest, and food provisions (13.66-9). (32)
Ino's gift to Odysseus in book 5 performs an interesting variation on the practice of sending guests off with suitable wear. (33) Caught up in Poseidon's storm, Odysseus has waterlogged clothes and briny mouth when the sea nymph Ino approaches him. She takes pity on Odysseus and tells him to replace the clothes that Calypso gave him with her "immortal veil" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 346-7). He is to wear this veil for as long as he is at sea, but as soon as he gets to shore he must take it off and throw it back into the water, far away from land (5.339-50). Ino's gift extends hospitality to Odysseus for as long as he remains in her dominion. (34) Once on land, he must seek another host's protection (and clothing).
The value of a Homeric gift, however, exceeds its use value. Through the acts of remembering that they inspire, gift-objects produce xenia networks that enable their donors to extend their kleos farther afield. That Iphitus's name appears in the Odyssey uniquely in connection with the bow he gave Odysseus is an excellent example of how guest-gifts fuel the kleos economy among men. The bow, a "reminder of a dear guest-friend" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 21.40), has been kept safely in storage. But the bow's biography is narrated once Penelope retrieves the object itself from storage, intending to use it to stage a contest for the suitors. The bow becomes the narrative platform for the poet to recite Iphitus's name and to recall how he and Odysseus came to be xeinoi. As part of the same narrative digression, we are also told of Iphitus's demise at the hands of Heracles before he and Odysseus could "know one another at table" (21.35-6), an untimely death that justifies the bow's place in Odysseus's storeroom among other precious objects.
While they play less of a central role in the Odyssey's plot than Iphitus's bow, Helen's gifts from Egypt nevertheless point to the existence of similar commemorative strategies among female guest-friends. The drug with which Helen immunizes her guests to suffering on Sparta is the most famous Egyptian gift and was given to her by Polydamna, the wife of Thon (4.228-32). But from Alcandre, another Egyptian friend, Helen has received a luxuriously crafted silver basket and weaving implements (4.125-32). Alcandre's gift introduces us to the xenia networks through which aristocratic women in the Odyssey forged social alliances that were separate yet complementary to those of their husbands. Alcandre's husband, Polybus, one of the wealthiest men in Egypt, had given Menelaus two silver bathtubs, two tripods, and ten talents of gold (4.128-9). Independently of her husband, Alcandre offered Helen gifts of her own (4.130-2):
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. But separately, in turn, to Helen his wife offered beautiful gifts: a golden distaff and basket on wheels, made of silver, but with its rim finished in gold.
Alcandre's distaff and basket are distinctly feminine gifts, evocative of the weaving activities that gave women an active role in Homeric hospitality as well as of the woven communication that is attested between women in other ancient sources. While the Odyssey does not reveal how Helen reciprocated her friend's generosity, two words from Aristotle's Poetics--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--do confirm that weaving, at least in myth, could enable communication at a distance between women. (35) The "voice of the shuttle" is Aristotle's oblique reference to the recognition device in Sophocles' Tereus by which Philomela reported to her sister how she had been raped and mutilated by Tereus, Procne's husband. Having taken the precaution of cutting out his victim's tongue, Tereus nevertheless failed to anticipate her use of the other female weapon: the loom. One may wonder why Philomela goes to the trouble of weaving her story. (36) Surely, a graphic representation, or simply a letter, might have served Philomela equally well as a 'messenger'? The question is hard to avoid in light of Aristotle's pairing of the "voice of the shuttle" from Tereus and the letter from Euripides' Iphigeneia, both of which devices he considers to belong to an inferior type of recognition scene. But to treat a letter as interchangeable with the loom would be to miss the point of the shuttle's symbolic power, as it has been incisively described by Anne Pippin Burnett (1998, 185): "As a man had a sword as well as penis, so a woman had shuttle as well as tongue, and this implement--the gift of Athena Ergane (Hes. Op. 63-64)--allowed her to work, to make, and so to communicate," The shuttle was the woman's (re)productive implement par excellence, as powerfully demonstrated by the fact that even when her tongue had been cut away, Philomela's hands could still produce a graphic song about her violation. The shuttle becomes her second tongue.
In the Odyssey, the gifts that Alcandre gives to Helen within the context of an all-female exchange network secure her kleos just as Iphitus's bow immortalizes his name. In each case, the object(s) itself attests to a particular skill at which its new owner is expected to excel. More importantly, both bow and basket preserve the memory of their donors. Al-candre's gifts poignantly evoke the world of cloth in its capacity to create kleos. Women weave to be remembered. The finished products of their weaving, such as the peplos Helen gives to Telemachus, serve as agents of that memory--mnemata. Particularly in the case of Homeric women, remembering produces kleos. (37) Like the bard's lyre, the weaver's distaff and loom are instruments of her immortality.
II. A Monument to Helen's Hands
In its self-conception, epic claims pride of place among other commemorative media for preserving the kleos of heroes against the never-ending assault of time. Sheila Murnaghan (1987, 151) expresses the analogy between epos and sema well: "In most cases heroic song is like the glorious tomb that may also commemorate a hero's achievement, a mark of honor that he cannot himself enjoy because he is dead, whose very existence signifies his death." But unlike the material sema, poetry is not subject to the natural processes of erosion; it has the power to preserve kleos from the mortality of khronos, removing it from the cycle of generation and decay such that it becomes aphthiton (unwilting). (38) Within the Homeric epics, heroes consciously deploy technologies of commemoration other than song; material objects, insofar as they are pointedly assigned the function of preserving memory of the dead, are called mnemata (reminders). (39) Unlike the tombstones (semata) whose function is also to remind future generations of the names of the dead, Homeric mnemata circulate through networks of guest-friendship. The objects that earn the designation of mnemata are given to male heroes in commemoration of other male heroes, with the exception of Helen's mnema. Achilles gives an amphora to Nestor "in memory of Patroclus's burial" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Il. 23.619); and as already mentioned, Odysseus keeps at home on Ithaca the bow given to him by his dead friend Iphitus ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Od. 2 1.40-1).
Helen's mnema stands apart, both for its commemoration of a woman rather than a man, and because she is both its donor and its artisan. In this respect, Helen's peplos straddles two different categories of biographical objects: guest-gifts and exemplary works of craftsmanship. Craft-objects memorialize the names of the particular artisans to which they are attributed, while guest-gifts create genealogies of friendship. Apart from the marriage bed of Odysseus and Penelope, whose intricate craftsmanship is meticulously described by the tekton himself, objects attributed to (mortal) craftsmen are mentioned only in passing: in the Iliad, we are told that Phereclus, son of the craftsman Harmon, made the ships--the beginning of all evil ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])--which brought Helen to Troy (5.59-64); (40) Tuchius, the best of shield makers, is most likely named after his art, and specifically after the shield that he "crafted" for Ajax ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 7.220). (41) A similar type of wordplay stands behind Epeius's name in the Odyssey. Epeius is the carpenter of the Trojan Horse, "which he made with Athena's help" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 8.493).
Two other crafted objects in the Odyssey are attributed to artisans whose names are less punningly chalked on their professional skills. Poly-bus, we are told, made the ball with which Nausicaa and her companions played by the shore, eventually waking Odysseus (8.373), and the chair on which Penelope sits during her conversation with the beggar in book 19 is credited to the workmanship of Icmalius (19.57). Since artisans are mentioned by name so rarely, commentators have suggested that naming their craftsmen endows these works of art with special prestige. Its sophisticated design, with elaborate, inlays of silver and ivory, accounts for the chair's being attributed to a particular artisan. (42) But Icmalius's name itself has intrigued scholars, leading some to speculate that it holds the key to the chair's manufacture. Leon Lacroix, for example, suggests that [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (humidity or liquid) lies at the root of the craftsman's name and indicates the action of gluing ivory and gold onto furniture, a technique that Icmalius may have invented. (43) Is Helen, then, also laying claim to a special weaving technique by suggesting that a particular woven textile will be recognized as of her manufacture? Or is she relying here simply on the institutional memory of xenia, whereby a gift's donor is recalled every time the object itself is brought back into circulation? We may also wonder whether Helen might have included her name as letters woven into the people Temple records from the cult of Artemis at Brauron record the dedication of garments with inwoven inscriptions. (44) Based on the frequent designation of textiles without inscriptions as agraphos or anepigrnphos, David Elmer (2005, 35) suggests that "it was not the exception but the norm for garments to have some kind of label," with either the donor's name included on a separate tag or embroidered directly into the fabric. But unless they are explicitly part of its verbal ecphrasis, such details cannot be ascribed to a fictional object. It may be more profitable, therefore, to pursue the echo of another robe whose literary history appears to be embedded in the formulaic lines describing Helen's selection of a. peoples for Telemaehus.
Helen and Menelaus each give gifts to Telemaehus and Peisistratus upon their departure from Sparta. Menelaus chooses a goblet and a mixing bowl and instructs his son, Megapenthes, to bring the silver mixing bowl rimmed with gold, which is the work of Hephaestus. The bowl was a gift from his Sidonian guest-friend, Phaedimus, and is the most beautiful and precious possession in his house ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 15.1 14). Striking though Menelaus's gift is, he is outdone by his wife Helen, who offers Telemaehus a robe that she has made with her own hands:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]... (15.125-8) And I too, dear child, have this gift to give to you, a monument to the hands of Helen, for your wife to wear, on the day of her very lovely wedding; but until then, it must lie by your mother's side, in her chamber ...
Helen's not only is the last gift to be bestowed, it is also, as she herself says, a "monument" to her hands. The peplos is a material piece of Helen's kleos that Telemachus will take back to Ithaca for his future wife. She specifies that the robe be kept in Penelope's room until the wedding, thus prescribing a circuit of exchange between women, similar to the one we examined between Helen and Alcandre. Helen's gift turns Telemachus into the medium of exchange between her and another woman, thus placing him in a role more commonly occupied by the female sign-carrier, the bride who facilitates communication between men. Claude Levi-Strauss has likened marriage to a union between two men, enacted though the exchange of a woman who is herself a sign. (45) But as he himself (1963, 61) recognized in words that were to be often quoted, "as producers of signs, women can never be reduced to the status of symbols or tokens." Thanks to Helen's woven intervention, the traditional gender roles of Levi-Strauss's marriage triangle are subtly subverted: Telemachus operates as a medium of exchange between two women. Moreover, by specifying her gift as a wedding peplos, Helen has effectively inserted her name into the royal lineage of Ithaca: she has positioned herself as chief designer, or architect, of Telemachus's future marriage--never mind that she herself slips in and out of the bonds of marriage more nimbly than any other woman in the epic tradition. That the gift seems not at all to be tainted by her own adulterous proclivities attests to Helen's bewitching rhetorical style, as Nancy Worman (1999, 35) has observed: "While the object, in its connection to marriage and gift-giving, may still resonate with negative connotations for the external audience, Helen exercises impressive control over its signification for the internal audience, transforming it from a would-be ruinous object into one with happy associations." Whether or not Helen has literally 'signed' her gift, the robe performs effectively as her mnema, reminding future generations of Helen's skill at the loom. It is for her excellence in weaving, after all, that the maidens of Theocritus's eighteenth Idyll celebrate Helen. (46)
After the parting gifts have been given in Sparta, an eagle carrying a goose in its talons passes on the right side of Telemachus's chariot (15.160-5). Telemachus asks Menelaus for confirmation that this is a good onion, but before Menelaus can speak, Helen preempts him, trying on the role of prophet herself ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 15.1 72). Helen's peplos materializes this uniquely 'appropriative' quality of her character. For in its precise, formulaic description, the peplos evokes the robe dedicated to Athena by Hecabe and the women of Troy in Iliad 6.293-5 (Il. 6.294-5 = Od. 15.107-8):
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Lifting out one of them, Hecabe bore it as a gift to Athena, the most beautiful robe, intricately patterned, and largest. It glistened like a star and it lay at the very bottom beneath the other robes.
With Helen occupying the subject position this time ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 15.106), her selection of a robe resonates verbatim with that of Hecabe's action in the Iliad. Each robe is the most precious of its kind--it glistens like a star and is kept at the very bottom of the chest. That the language used to describe the robe placed on the knees of the goddess Athena on behalf of Troy should turn up again here, in Helen's private collection of weavings, is surely significant. (47) The two peploi have very different origins: one has been made by Helen herself, whereas the other was woven by the women of Sidon whom Paris brought to Troy along with Helen (Il. 6.290-2). Its Sidonian manufacture, Andromache Karanika (2001, 285) suggests, may even account for Athena's rejection of this dedication--the goddess would have expected the Trojan women to honor her with the work of their own hands. While Helen had no direct role in the weaving of the Iliadic robe, its history nonetheless gets interwoven with that of her own robe in the Odyssey through this repetition of formulaic language.
As a monument to the hands of Helen, the robe provokes reflection on other objects that Helen has made. (48) We might think, for example, of Helen's weaving of "the contests of the horse-conquering Trojans and bronze-clad Achaeans," or more specifically, "what they suffered at Ares' hands on her account" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Il. 3.128). The version of the Trojan War that Helen is represented as weaving is entirely a product of her agency, in both its substance and form. "Helen's hands" becomes a shorthand for the Trojan War itself, insofar as she has both occasioned the military conflict and intervened, with her weaving, in its poetic preservation for posterity. To echo the scholiast's insight, Helen's hands have left their narratological imprint on Homer's song.
When not weaving, the hands of Helen are elsewhere shown to be undermining the efforts of the Achaeans to capture Troy. As Menelaus reveals to his visitors on Sparta, when the Greeks lay in ambush inside the huge wooden horse, Helen seductively called out their names individually, mimicking in turn the voice of each hero's wife. She did this all the while "feeling the hollow ambush with her hands" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Od. 4.277). The doubleness of Helen's hands--possessed of the skill to commemorate and to destroy--is reminiscent of the inherent ambiguity of weaving itself in the Homeric poems. Weaving is a practice that constitutes culture but also at times threatens its unmaking, just as woven textiles can be gifts of marriage and of mourning. For example, in her lament for her dead husband in Iliad 22, Andromache promises to burn for Hector the clothes that lie stored up in his house, so that he will have kleos from the men and women of Troy ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 22.514). The clothes that she intends to burn have been "crafted by the hands of women" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 22.511) who, though unnamed, contribute in this way to the making of 1 lector's kleos.
Outside of Homeric epic, hands are also commemorated for (and by) their skillful woven creations. Athenaeus (48B) records an epigram celebrating Helicon, son of Arcesas, for making a particular textile that was dedicated at Delphi:(49)
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] The Salaminian Helicon, son of Acesas, made it, into whose hands the mistress Pallas Athena breathed divine kharis.
Like the Muse-inspired singer, the weaver is also motivated by divine kharis, but he has his name recorded for posterity alongside that of the enabling god.
While I have just concluded my overview of the 'handiwork' of weaving with a male craftsman, it is worth underlining once more that the network of guest-friendship into which Helen inserts her mnema is comprised of women: she specifies that the peplos is to be given to Telemachus's future wife, but before then, entrusted to Penelope's care. In this regard, Helen exploits the all-female channels of communication we have been examining. The woven medium of her mnema makes it entirely appropriate that Helen's object bypass the normal route of male-to-male gift exchange, while her dedicatory words explicitly draw our attention to the existence of such all-female networks (15.125-9). It is in Penelope's megaron that the robe will be kept until Telemachus's wedding day ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 127-8), a spatial schematization of the invisible bond of loyalty that also compels Penelope to come to Helen's defense later in the poem. "Some god goaded her into shameless action," Penelope contends (23.222), for "if she had known that the sons of the Achaeans would die in bringing her back to her dear fatherland," she would never have mingled in love with Paris. Gender loyalty here trumps the opportunity Penelope might have exploited to increase her own kleos at Helen's expense.(50) The poetics of commemoration is not a zero-sum game, not at least in the manner in which the I lomeric heroines conduct it. It is true that Helen seeks to perpetuate her own name, but let us also remember that in her own house she is shown weaving with the silver basket and golden spindle given to her by Alcandre, the wife of King Polybus of Egypt (4.130-2), and entertaining her guests with conversation enabled by Polydamna's pharma-ka. In Helen's weaving, as in her storytelling, the lives of these other women are also commemorated.
I have explored here how female characters in Homeric epic acquire kleos through their production and circulation of guest-gifts, and how textiles and weaving are an important site for female agency in both poems. Penelope uses the loom to resist the pressure to remarry, thus reshaping social pressures to her own ends by weaving a dolos,(51) whereas Helen crafts from her loom a peplos to serve as a permanent monument to the skill of her own hands. Moreover, when textiles are worn as clothing, they operate as a source of authentication--a token of identity--that clearly marks, and makes, the difference between stranger and friend. When Arete recognizes that Odysseus is wearing clothes woven by her, she knows that he has already met her daughter. Penelope trusts the beggar's account of her husband based on his accurate recollection of Odysseus's clothes. Objects function as both material tokens of identity and as the source of memories that can confirm, even when the objects themselves are no long present, the validity and vitality of ancient friendships.(52)
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(1.) On Odyssean versus Hiadic kleos, see, e.g., Nagy 1979, 35-41; Segal 1983; Pucci 1987: 216-9; Goldhill 1991, 93-108; on kleos specifically in relation with weaving, Pantelia 1993. 495-7 and Clayton 2004. 24-5.
(2.) See Erbse 1969, 381 for Il. 3.126-7.
(3.) On female kleos in epic more generally, see Pedrick 1988; Katz 1991, 3-29; Papadopoulou-Belmchdi 1994, 73-6 and 167-75; Mueller 2007.
(4.) On women's deadly gifts in tragedy Rabinowitz 1993, 143-5; Wohl 1998, 23-9; and Lyons 2003, who cautions that the Odyssey "allows women entry into the network of exchange relations, but not without expressing a certain anxiety about their role" (101): Pedrick ( 1988) also argues that "the noble woman's ideas in the Odyssey is intimately bound up with how she treats her guests" (85), although she gives limited consideration to the material media through which female kleos may he circulated.
(5.) E.g., Crielaard 2003, Bassi 2005, and Grelhlein 2008; see Dewald 1993 on the semantically charged interactions between human actors and objects in Herodotus.
(6.) At 14.154, the disguised Odysseus says that he will not accept [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] unless Odysseus returns to Ithaca as he has predicted; at 14.320, he relates that the Thesprotian king, Pheidon, clothed him in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] when he arrived; at 14.341, the wicked Thesprotian crew strip Odysseus of his [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] while transporting him to Doulichion; they replace the good clothing given to him by Pheidon with rags (14.342); at 14.396, the disguised Odysseus reiterates his promise to Eumaeus that he will lake from him [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (as well as transport to Doulichion) if his prediction about Odysseus's nostos comes true.
(7.) Odysseus-in-disguise tells how Odysseus got a cloak for him in Troy by reporting a fictional dream (14.495-502).
(8.) On the hospitality type-scene. Edwards 1975, Pedrick 1988, and Recce 1993.
(9.) Weaving is an an practiced (often exclusively) by women in many cultures (Pantelia 1993 and Barber 1994). The Knossos and Pylos tablets always speak of spinners, carders, and weavers as female workers (Chadwick 1976, 15 1-2, cited in Snyder 1981, 193 note 3), although, as Nagy (2002, 71 note 6) observes: "Already in the Linear B documents, the verb rhapto applies to the work of men: see Chadwick and Baumbach 1963, 242-243 on the masculine agent-noun ra-pte/ra-pte-re=[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] / rhapteres, vs. the feminine ra-pi-li-ra = rhaptriai." There were, in fact, professional male weavers in ancient Greece (see Burford 1972, 87), such as those employed to weave Athena's peplos for the Greater Panathenaia every four years (Barber 1992, 113-4, citing Mansfield 1985). On the characterization of male weavers as slavish and effeminate, see Jenkins 1985, 114 (with references to Aeschines 1.97 and Aristophanes, Av. 831).
(10.) Pedrick 1988, 90-1.
(11.) On specific analogies between weaving and song-making, see Durante 1968, 274-82 and Snyder 1981, who notes technical and verbal similarities between 'striking' the strings of the lyre, and the warp of the loom; [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is used of both activities (194).
(12.) That women were actually commemorated for their achievements in wool working is attested by. e.g., an inscription on a black-figure vase of the fifth century B.C.E. that, according to Fantham et al. (1994, 81) "celebrates the victory of a girl named Melosa in a girl's carding (wool-working) contest (Attic, 5th c. B.C.E. Friedlander/Holleil 1948, p. 167)."
(13.) On metis as required by both weaving and metal work, see Jenkins 1985, 121 (with reference to Detienne and Vernant 1978. 279ff.); for female speech as a form of metis, Bergren 2008, 13-40.
(14.) Cf. Jenkins 1985, 110 for the walls and roof of the house of Antisthenes (in Xenophon's Symposium 4.38) being compared to cloaks and mantles. Translation adapted from the Loch Classical Library volume of Xenophon's Oeconomicus by E. Marchant (1953).
(15.) Penelope stood up her loom in the hall ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) at 2.94 (= 19.139); Helen takes out her distaff in the megaron as well (4.134-7); Nausicaa tells Odysseus that he will find Arete spinning her distaff by the hearth (6.305-6); and both Calypso and Circe are weaving inside (5.61-2 and 10.221-2).
(16.) Cf. Bergren 1983, 71.
(17.) Block 1985 and Murnaghan 1987, 3-19 on disguise as central to Odysseus's identity.
(18.) On Penelope's fidelity as figured through the marriage bed, see Zeitlin 1996, 27-32.
(19.) Cf. Theocritus 2.28-9. See Onians 1951, 202: "Sexual love is repeatedly described as a process of 'liquefying, melting' ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and is characterized as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'liquid, wet'."
(20.) Cf. Kennedy 1986, 10 on Helen's suppression of her desire for Menelaus in Iliad 3: "The intrusion of desire (at 3.140) suggests that it had not consciously existed. It has heretofore been suppressed either by the reality of Paris' presence or by Helen's preoccupation with her weaving." For desire getting in the way of weaving, see Sappho, LGS 221 [ = 102 L.P.] (discussed in Snyder 1981): [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
(21.) Winkler 1990, 149 on Penelope's appeal to gossip as a delay lactic.
(22.) Cf. Barber 1991, 359-63 who speculates (hat if Penelope were weaving a tapestry on her own, it could realistically lake her this long to complete her work.
(23.) Marquardt (1993) ponders the role of Penelope's "messages" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], e.g., 2.92) in keeping the suitors hopeful, suggesting that they may even have taken written form; see also Marquardt 1985 on Penelope's resourcefulness.
(24.) Lowenstam (2000, 337) suggests that because she does not know who betrayed her, Penelope "ascribes her exposure to a number of maids, an imprecise and incorrect conclusion."
(25.) Louden (1999, 13) comments that with Penelope "as with Arete, Odysseus is able to reach an understanding on the basis of his account about clothes of central interest to his female interlocutor." Doherty (2009, 260) reads Arete as "a kind of 'double' of Penelope."
(26.) Arete's first words come after a long silence (of about 80 lines) which has long puzzled commentators; Schadewaldt (1959, 16-8) argues that the intervening lines between Odysseus's supplication and Arete's response are a later insertion and would be belter restored to their original position after Arete's response; Holscher (1960) argues for preserving Arete's silence. See Fenik 1974, 1-130 for the history of the problem. More recently Pedrick (1988, 87) and Wohl (1993, 30) read Arete's silence as her effacement from a discourse conducted primarily between men.
(27.) On this conversation see Kardulias 2001, 36-9 and Winkler 1990, 152.
(28.) Recall that Sophocles' Electra is incensed that Aegisthus sits on her father's throne, wearing his clothes (El. 266-9). And in the same play, Electra laments her own shameful clothing as a mark of her fallen status (190-2).
(29.) In Plato's Cratylus 388-9, kerkis is discussed as the main instrument of weaving, the tool with which the weaver "separates" his web. Barber (1991, 273-4) defines kerkis as a "pin-beater" on analogs' with the verb krekein, which is the action of beating the weft into place. She adds, however, that "among the Creeks the kerkis seems at least sometimes to have carried the weft on it ... thus functioning in the place of our shuttle, while the sharp lip was used to slip in between the warp threads and beat the weft into place, in this way functioning like our reed."
(30.) In tragic contexts, women are represented as singing and/or weaving stories at the loom (e.g., Ion 196-200. 507-9; IA 788-90; Hec. 466ff.), on which see Fletcher 2009 and Tuck 2009. The loom itself is sometimes described as having a lovely voice, as at Euripides' IT 222-4 ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), on which Barber (1991, 362) comments: "Warp-weighted looms do not 'whisper' or 'whir,' as (he translators would have it. They clank. ... On the other hand, in moderation the sound of the clay weights is rather pleasant, in the manner of wind chimes."
(31.) Papadopoulou-Belmehdi (1994, 82-3) remarks that Penelope is the only female in epic of whom the verb 'to weave' is used metaphorically: "En dehors de Penelope. Homere n'associe jamais les metaphores textiles aux femmes." On weaving as a metaphor for plot-making, see further Felson-Rubin 1994, 27-42.
(32.) This is probably the same clothing that already is stored in the chest at 13.10-1, having been put there by the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and it is therefore significant that Arete gives separate orders to her female servants to bring the cloth and food provisions.
(33.) Kardulias (2001, 39) observes that both Ino and Helen (in book 15) offer gifts of female clothing thereby linking father and son (Odysseus and Telemaehus) in a kind of ritual transition marked by transvestism.
(34.) Block 1985, 10.
(35.) Fragment 595 of Sophocles' Tereus comes from Poetics 1454b36-7. For a plausible reconstruction of the lost tragedy, see Fitzpatrick 2001.
(36.) For the debate on whether Philomela's text was iconographic or alphabetic, sec Fitzpalrick 2001, 97-8, with additional bibliography.
(37.) See further Mueller 2007.
(38.) See Nagy 1979, 177-81 on the "latent vegetal imagery" present in the eptithet aphthito-, and Bakker 2002 on epic kleos and khronos.
(39.) See further Crielaard 2003, 53-7 and Grethlein 2008, 35-45.
(40.) This genealogy is divulged at the moment of Phereclus's death at the hands of Meriones.
(41.) Lacroix (1957) discusses such etymologies in the light of his more extensive investigation of the name Icmalius.
(42.) E.g., Russo et al., 1992 ad loc: " The artisan Ikmalios is known only from this passage, and his name is probably the poet's ad hoc creation to help explain the marvelous chair."
(43.) Other etymologies derive Icmalius from the Cypriol ikmao (to hammer), on which see Stanford 1996, 318.
(44.) Linders 1972, 13, cited in Elmer 2005, 35.
(45.) E.g., Levi-Strauss 1966, 60-8; for applications of Levi-Strauss's insights to Greek literature, see Bergren 2008, 20-3; on the exchange of women in Greek tragedy, Rabinowitz 1993, 15-20 and Wohl 1998, xiii-xx.
(46.) Theocritus. Buc. 18.32-4. Helen's gift is comparable to that of Zas, who gives a wedding cloak that he has woven to his wife, Chthonie, in Phercydes' fragmentary cosmogonic poem; this gift not only secures Zeus's possession of "earth" but also signifies his position as "weaver" of the entire cosmos (Scheid and Svenbro 1996, 65-6).
(47.) The presence of 'intertextuality' within the oral medium of Homeric composition is something of a paradox that has been fruitfully explored by, e.g., Pucci 1987; so too Tsagalis 2008, who analyzes female characters in Homeric epic as participating in "elaborate cross-textual games" and Helen in particular as one who "regularly calls on the intertextual reservoir of the audience" (xix). In attributing significance to the lines cited above, I agree with Patzer (1999, 156-7) that "we should see every repealed use of a given formula not as a mechanical act of adoption, but as a creative act."
(48.) Karanika (2002) discusses Helen's weaving and related examples of textile production in epic against the background of women's work (songs) in ancient Greece.
(49.) Cited and discussed in Elmer 2005, 36.
(50.) Felson-Rubin (1994, 39-40), however, argues that Penelope "exonerates Helen to exonerate herself," that is, by making her own potential infidelity (via remarriage) seem trivial in comparison to Helen's bigamy.
(51.) Antinous even accuses Penelope of having increased her kleos through this unconventional use of the loom (Od. 2.125-6).
(52.) I thank Egbert Bakker, Mark Griffith, and Deborah Lyons for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper; I would also like to thank Andromache Karanika for making her unpublished work available to me and for many fruitful conversations on women's work and related themes.
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