Homer's Odyssey: Penelope and the case for early recognition.
May the gods grant all your heart desires: a home, a husband and mutual harmoy. Nothing is nobler than a strong home in which both man and wife agree. Grief to their enemies and joy to their friends, and for them the best reputation. (Od. 6.180-85) True revolutions are ignited by consenting minds erupting spontaneously whenever eye meets eye as when Penelope before the beggar caught Odysseus's eye. "Stranger," she said "I shall decree a contest on this day. "One arrow must each suitor whip through the twelve ax heads; something only my lord can do." The beggar relaxed his eyes "Let there be no postponement of this trial. Death to the suitors, lady, not one will escape his doom." Their gazes touched once again and both Odysseus and Penelope knew. (Kostas Myrsiades, 1993)
The Eustathian Error
For over a thousand years, beginning with renewed interest in Homeric studies in ninth-century Constantinople, Homer's readers have been taught what has become the "standard interpretation," that Penelope does not recognize the beggar to be her husband until the so called "test of the bed" in book 23. This interpretation was accepted without question in the West for centuries until challenged for the first time, as far as we know, near the mid-twentieth century by A.M. Harmon of Yale University, who in 1939 presented a case for early recognition in an unpublished address delivered before the American Philological Association at Ann Arbor, Michigan (Post, 275, note 18). (1) Subsequently, Philip Whaley Harsh, in a revolutionary article published in the American Journal of Philology in 1950, suggested that Penelope suspects in book 19 that the beggar in her hall is in fact her husband, Odysseus, in disguise. Recognition prior to book 23, such as suggested by Harmon and Harsh, is commonly referred to as "early recognition." As Robert Fitzgerald points out in the postscript to his translation of the Odyssey, the standard interpretation of the role Penelope and Odysseus play in book 19 is that of lady and beggar, nothing more (1963, 503). I will attempt to show, however, that the standard interpretation is not necessarily what Homer intended; it diminishes the poet's genius and renders Penelope's failure of recognition inconsistent with the cunning and circumspection she displays throughout the poem.
No Exegesis on the Issue of Recognition Has Survived From Antiquity
Although there is a good deal of grammatical discussion of individual words and phrases, little exegesis of Homer's poems and none on recognition survives from antiquity. Robert Lamberton, in Homer's Ancient Readers, observes that,"(t)here are surprisingly few readings of Homer preserved from antiquity ... [n]or, despite all the comment on Homer from Roman poets and critics, do we find in that area any serious assault on the problem of interpreting the poems" (1992, ix, xxi). As a result, except for a brief comment from Seneca, we do not know how the ancients interpreted the recognition scenes in the Odyssey. In determining the source of the standard interpretation, the search process has to be reversed, going from the present back through the centuries to discover the origins of this interpretation. (2) Searching back through the centuries to determine the history of the standard interpretation reveals the chaotic nature of Homeric scholarship from the Renaissance up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. (3) Kirsti Simonsuuri tells us that during the Renaissance copies of the Homeric text were generally not reliable and that most scholars had to rely on Latin translations. Simonsuuri tells us, however, that none of the translations were much good in Latin; they did not give the true sense of the Greek. Moreover, improvements, she says, were slow in coming (1979, 10-11).
Scholars in the West for centuries relied on a single commentator to assist them in interpreting Homer's poems. It was Eustathius of Thessalonica, a twelfth-century Homeric scholar, who in his two-volume commentaries, Parekbolai, (4) on the Odyssey, gave us the standard interpretation for the time of recognition. In reading Eustathius's commentaries it becomes apparent that he, together with many of his predecessors and contemporaries in twelfth-century Constantinople, had difficulty in fully comprehending the subtlety and sophistication of the Homeric texts. I will attempt to show below that Eustathius made a critical error, what I call for convenience, the "Eustathian Error," in overlooking the recognition scenes in books 17, 18 and 19, and setting the place of recognition in book 23. Over the centuries various aspects of Eustathius's commentaries, such as the time of recognition, have become idees fixes with scholars. Even though the majority have never read his commentaries (one notable exception is Joseph Russo, e.g., see Russo et al., 435), Eustathius's interpretations have filtered down by transmission through generations of scholars picking up from their predecessors ideas derived originally, and often unwittingly, from Eustathius.
Even though scholars today have a better understanding of Homer's grammar and text than at any other time in the last fifteen hundred years, there has been little advancement in interpretation. In reading Eustathius's commentaries and comparing them to those of modern scholars it is apparent that scholars today continue to rely on Eustathian-based interpretations, emphasizing what he emphasizes, ignoring what he ignores and--I suggest--often making the same errors he makes. Reliance on his commentaries, even by those who have never read them--and they are undoubtedly in the vast majority--has created a mental anchor that holds back efforts to seek a fuller understanding of the plot in the Odyssey. Examples will be shown where time after time modern scholars change the meaning of Homer's text in translation to support Eustathius's interpretation, even when it clashes with the explicit meaning of Homer's text.
Eustathius (born ca. 1115, died 1195/6), was educated in Constantinople, served as a scribe, teacher, classical scholar, historian, deacon, bishop of Myra (in Asia Minor), and eventually Archbishop of Thessalonica. He led a celibate life and later became a minor saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. A mural of him in his vestments can be found on the north wall of the monastery church at Gracanica, and another in the Royal Church at Studenica, both in what is now Kosovo (Browning 1995, 23). He wrote a four-volume commentary on the Iliad and two volumes on the Odyssey. Copies of his commentaries were brought to Western Europe in the fourteenth century, contemporaneous with copies of the Greek text of Homer's poems. Prior to this time, so far as we have evidence, the Greek texts of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey were totally unknown in Western Europe; Homer and the Trojan War were familiar to Westerners only through secondary sources (Steiner 2004, 364). Eustathius's six volumes of commentaries were printed in Rome from 1542 to 1550, and disseminated throughout Europe. U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff tells us, "[t]he amount of material on Homer amassed by Eustathius is astounding, and his commentary, one of the first printed books, dominated Homeric studies for years." (1982, 8-9). From the mid-sixteenth century until the end of the eighteenth, at which time F. A. Wolf castigated him in his Prolegomena (1795), Eustathius was the principal source for interpreting Homer. To a great extent he still is because he is the progenitor of modern Homeric studies.
Eustathius's interpretative comments on the Odyssey from book 17 through 23 are often flawed, in part due to his belief that recognition occurs in book 23, and not before. I suggest that he (and possibly his contemporaries in Byzantium) missed the indications of early recognition in books 17, 18, and 19, and this oversight, the Eustathian Error, causes major problems for him and for the myriad of scholars who rely on him. Early recognition with all its implications make a profound difference in how we interpret books 17 through 19, and the activities thereafter; it adds subtlety, sophistication and consistency to Homer's text, and portrays Penelope as being more wily and astute than the standard interpretation allows. As will be shown below, early recognition also offers answers to major questions that have plagued scholars for centuries.
Pausing for a brief historical background would be helpful in understanding the problems Eustathius and the Greek-speaking inhabitants of medieval Constantinople had in interpreting Homer. By the middle of the sixth century, classical studies had lost favor in the eastern Mediterranean as Christian leaders (both within the ecclesiastical hierarchy and also secular rulers) grew increasingly intolerant of pagan authors and their works (in Western Europe Homer's text totally disappears). In the sixth century the Academy at Athens was closed by imperial decree, statues were smashed (or their noses broken off), temples were converted to churches, (or simply abandoned, their columns looted), and classical learning, regarded as pagan, was all but prohibited. During the iconoclast period, late-seventh through mid-ninth centuries, in addition to the destruction of images--Christian as well as pagan--classical learning almost came to a halt due to Christian fanaticism and imperial decree. Libraries were closed and the populace was prohibited from entering them. For example, in a tenth-century copy of an earlier manuscript of the Fihrist, a bibliophile Arab, al-Nadin, writes of a book merchant who describes his experiences in his travels to Constantinople looking to buy ancient manuscripts. Al Nadin states:
I heard Abu Ishaq ibn Shahram tell in a general gathering that there is in the Byzantine country a temple [library] of ancient construction. He [ibn Shahram] said, "I asked the emperor of the Byzantines to open it for me, but this was impossible, as it had been locked since the time that the Byzantines had become Christians. I continued, however, to be courteous to him, to correspond with him, and also to entreat him in conversation during my stay at his court. ... He agreed to open it and, behold, this building was made of marble and great colored stones, upon which there were many inscriptions and sculptures. ... In this temple there were numerous camel loads of ancient books. ... Some of these [books] were worn and some in normal condition. Others were eaten by insects." He went on to say, "After my exit the door was locked."... He believed that the building was a three-day journey from Constantinople. (al-Nadin, 585- 86)
The book merchant may be describing the famous Celsus library at Ephesus, built in the 2nd century C.E. Unfortunately, al-Nadin does not give a date for this journey nor the location of the library. At the end of the iconoclast period, sometime near the middle of the ninth century, restrictions on possessing and studying ancient manuscripts were lifted and there was a resurgence of interest in classical learning (Brubaker and Haldon 2001, xxvi-vii). The scholar Photius (c. 810-C.893), who later became Patriarch of Constantinople, writes in a letter to his brother of having found and read over 278 manuscripts previously unknown to them (Wilson 2002, 1). It was at this time that a lone volume (one out of a set of possibly eight) containing ten of Euripides's superb plays was found, after hundreds of years, in a monastic collection, having survived the ravages of time and iconoclasm purely by chance. Although interest in Homer's poems survived through these so-called dark ages, the tradition of Homeric scholarship had faded and become superficial--much was forgotten. In as much as no comprehensive exegesis survived from antiquity (Eustathius mentions none in his commentaries), interpretation had to begin anew, and the Byzantines found Homeric Greek difficult to comprehend. It was in the latter half of the ninth century that scholars were able to compile bits of information from various ancient sources and make notes, referred to as scholia, on the margins of books and manuscripts, as aids to understanding the text. These scholia, some of questionable reliability, were available to scholars such as Eustathius and others in Byzantium, and he refers to them often in his commentaries on the Iliad, less often on the Odyssey. The scholia, however, do not contain an exegesis; they emphasize grammar and definitions, and there were far fewer scholia for the Odyssey than the Iliad (Browning, 1992, 139-40). The scholia were not printed and broadly disseminated in the West until 1788 for the Iliad, and later for the Odyssey. It could be argued that Eustathius, in compiling his commentaries, had additional sources available to him that have not survived and therefore we should not be quick to question his interpretation. This idea, however, we can dismiss because Eustathius takes pride in quoting and citing ancient sources in support of his commentaries. Robert Browning, in his article, Homer in Byzantium, refers to him as a "compulsive name dropper" (1977b, 26). Nowhere in his commentaries on the Odyssey does Eustathius cite an ancient source that justifies the standard interpretation. (5) Eustathius's brief introductory caption to book 23 is entitled, Anagnorismos Odysseos pros ten gynaika (recognition of Odysseus by his wife [1825-26, II.292]). This became the standard interpretation for the time of recognition in the West and went unquestioned by scholars until Philip Whaley Harsh (1950).
In his article Harsh suggests that Penelope suspects in book 19 that the beggar is her husband as the result of his answering, in great detail, her questions regarding the clothes and jewelry Odysseus wore when he left Ithaca twenty years earlier. Harsh goes on to suggest that, though she is not sure, based on her suspicion, she announces the contest with the bow. He believes that she later uses the so called "test of the bed" in book 23 to be absolutely sure of the stranger's identity.
It is interesting to note that a terse comment on this two-step process, early suspicion and later recognition, is the only explanation that survives from antiquity. Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE), in one of his letters asks, "[w]hy inquire whether Penelope ... suspected the man she saw was Ulysses before she was sure of it?" (Seneca 1988, 73-75) (6) Seneca's letter makes it implicit that in antiquity there was an issue of early and later recognition, a two-step process. Unfortunately, Seneca does not tell us either the time of suspicion or of recognition. Perhaps as a result, Seneca's remark has not been thoroughly considered. For example, Filippomaria Pontani in his Sguardi su Ulisse (a comprehensive survey of ancient scholarship on the Odyssey [2005, 59]). merely refers to the "vivace polemica di Seneca in epist. 88, 5-7 e 108, 35," without commenting specifically on Seneca's reference to early recognition on Penelope's part. Sheila Murnaghan also mentions Seneca's letter, stating that the issue of early recognition was already being debated in antiquity (1987, 137, n. 24). She goes on to state that, however logical, Harsh's interpretation is almost universally rejected.
To this date only a few scholars have accepted Harsh's interpretation. One of the most important in my estimation is Robert Fitzgerald who, in a later-added postscript to his translation of the Odyssey, in 1963, agrees with Harsh. Fitzgerald argues that as a result of information Penelope is given in book 17 she is mentally prepared in book 19 for the scene where the stranger answers her questions in such great detail that she suspects that he is her husband and thereafter announces the contest with the bow to get it into his hands (1963, 497-503). Fitzgerald's carefully presented analysis, as far as it goes, is in my opinion still one of the best introductions to the issue of early recognition. On the other hand, many of Harsh's other supporters have given it a psychological twist that alters its impact.
In further developing information gained from Harsh, Fitzgerald and others and relying entirely on Homer's text, I suggest the following ten points: 1) the issue of recognition initially arises in book 13 as a result of Odysseus being disguised as an old beggar by Athena (13.429-38); 2) Odysseus is told by Athena in book 13 (13.337-38, 379-81, 406), and Eumaeus in books 14 and 16 (14.128-30, 171-73, 16.37-39), that Penelope is still loyal to her husband; 3) in book 17 Penelope is told by Telemachus that Odysseus is still alive (17.142-44), and this news, Homer tells us, makes a profound impression on her (17.150); also, Theoclymenus confirms (17.157-59) what Telemachus has said about Odysseus being alive, in fact, he says that Odysseus has actually returned to Ithaca; 4) Penelope first suspects that her husband is back in the latter part of book 17 when the beggar refuses, through an intermediary, to appear before her as commanded and instead tells her that he will meet her when the sun goes down (17.580-84); 5) in book 18 Penelope finds an excuse to go before the suitors to see the beggar to satisfy her curiosity (18.164-68); 6) as a result of what she sees she proceeds to wheedle gifts from the suitors with false promises before they realize that her husband is back; 7) seeking certainty she carefully questions him in book 19 and his responses convince her that he is Odysseus (19.220-49); 8) later in book 19 she asks him, cryptically through a supposed dream, if he plans to confront the suitors, and he responds affirmatively (19.535-58); 9) they then agree on Penelope's plan for Odysseus to confront the suitors with his bow that she will make available by means of a contest, (19.582-87); and 10) in book 23 Penelope tests her husband's love and affection, not his identity, before they are reunited (23.165-206). In all of the above we will rely strictly on Homer's text, which is often contradicted by opinions stated in Eustathius's commentaries.
Recent Advances in Interpretation
The manner in which we read and analyze Homer's poems is decisive in how we interpret the time of recognition. We may either assume that the Odyssey lacks subtlety, refinement and sophistication, as Eustathius and his followers do, or we may look to expand the meaning of the text by reading between the lines and observing the subtlety and sophistication the poet portrayes in the characters' actions and reactions. Most scholars take the former approach, but, I suggest, in their underestimation of his subtlety and sophistication miss many of Homer's brilliant nuances and hidden cleverness. For example, W.B. Stanford, in pointing out R. Merkelbach's opposition to early recognition, states, "[b]ut R. Merkelbach, Untersuchungen zur Odyssey, argues that if Homer had intended this subtlety [early recognition] he would have said so explicitly, e.g. 'But she knew in her heart that it was Odysseus.'" (1954, 253, n. 25). Merkelbach apparently demands that recognition be specifically stated by Homer in order to be considered in interpreting the poem. Frederick M. Combellack, in his opposition to Harsh and early recognition, in "Wise Penelope and the Contest of the Bow," agrees with Merkelbach. He considers Homer to be a simple, straightforward poet, with a limited sense of refinement and complexity. He states:
We have recently been asked [by Harsh] to believe that in our Odyssey Penelope really penetrates Odysseus's disguise before she decides on the contest with the bow ... the theory requires us to assume that Homer, regularly the most straightforward and lucid of poets, has chosen to wrap an important feature of his story in a mystery which we can penetrate only by reading between his lines and assuming that he meant things which he did not say. I should think that nearly everyone would agree that Homer is not that kind of poet. (Combellack 1983, 108)
Bernard Knox, on the other hand, suggests a broader, more flexible approach to understanding Homer, one that has been taken to heart and followed extensively in preparing this paper. In his introduction to Fagles' translation of the Iliad, Knox states:
It may be, however, that the critics have underestimated the elegance and sophistication of Homer's narrative technique (a constant danger for those who persist in thinking of him purely in terms of oral composition). In his creation of character Homer spares us the rich, sometimes superfluous, detail we have come to associate with that word in modern fiction; he gives us only what is necessary to his purpose. Similarly, in his presentation of motive, he is economical in the extreme. In those sections of the poem where personal relationships and motives are important ... Homer's method is dramatic rather than epic. The proportion of direct speech to narrative is such that these scenes ... could be performed by actors, and as is clear from Plato's Ion, the later rhapsodes who gave Homeric recitations exploited the dramatic potential of Homer's text to the full. Like a dramatist, Homer shows us character and motivation not by explanation, but through speech and action. And he also invokes the response of an audience familiar with heroic poetry and formulaic diction, counting on their capacity to recognize significant omissions, contrasts, variations and juxtapositions. We are not told what is going on in the mind of his characters; we are shown. Homer, like the god Apollo at Delphi in Heraclitus' famous phrase, does not say, nor does he conceal--he indicates. (Knox, 1998, 47; my italics)
The above comments by Knox reflect a new approach to understanding Homer's poems. His observation that Homer does not tell what is in the minds of his characters--he indicates--is profound and will be applied often herein. Paying attention to a character's actions and the resulting implications is foreign to Eustathius and his followers, and as a result they miss a level of sophistication that Homer portrays throughout the poems. Donald Lateiner advocates an approach similar to Knox's. In Sardonic Smile: Nonverbal Behaviors in Homeric Epic, Lateiner states: "Homer's poetic economy describes persons, actions, and objects by their effects--human reactions--rather than by detailed psychological analysis, narrator's licensed intrusions" (1995, 293). Lateiner's observation neatly complements an observation by John J. Winkler, who in "Penelope's Cunning and Homer's," points out that Homer, like his characters, can himself be devious. He tells us:
As the characters he describes are normally devious and cautious about their words, so we should not deny Homer too the possibility that he will avail himself of a certain cunning in setting out the cross-purposes of his plot. The relation of the bard to the audience has at times a teasing, quasi-competitive aspect. He ... does not tell us everything that is going on, the effect of which ... is to surprise us with a revelation of hidden cleverness, the poet's own metis. (Winkler 1990, 143)
James V. Morrison, in Homeric Misdirection, False Predictions in the Iliad, has worthwhile suggestions which I believe apply equally well to the Odyssey. He stresses the interpretive value of rereading the poem, stating,
In describing the joys of rereading Nabokov argues that a single exposure to a great work of art does not bring true artistic appreciation. For the Iliad, only the rereading audience (or a devoted follower of Homer) is in a position to observe the narrator's techniques for manipulating the audience. ... The rereading audience realizes that its presumption of complete knowledge is misguided. (Morrison 1995,10)
Homer's audience, as described in the Odyssey itself, was of the leisure class, with time to spare for enjoying the entertainment of bards and rhapsodes. Individuals would have heard Homer's poems on numerous occasions in their lifetimes, possibly five to ten times per year, each adding to the familiarity with the poem, thus satisfying the prerequisite Morrison advocates for fuller understanding of the plot. This possibility has not always been appreciated by scholars. Ruth Scodel for example, in "The story-teller and his audience," emphasizes that the earlier performances were oral therefore, "(h)earers could not go back and check a detail, or skip ahead to see what happened." (2004, 45). Bruce Louden, on the other hand, has what I consider to be a more realistic understanding of Homer's audience on the issue. He asks: "But would not some listeners have heard versions of the poem performed at different stages throughout their lives, and thus themselves be sophisticated listeners, capable of perceiving intricacies not perceived by most other audience members?" (1999, xiv). Having heard the poems on other occasions, Homer's audience would know what had occurred and what was going to occur and bridge the two together. They would be familiar with the intricacies of the plot, savor its refinement, and enjoy Homer's hidden cleverness.
Eustathius fails to apply any of the above observations in his commentaries. As a result he is unable to focus properly on the plot and fails to observe the hidden cleverness in Homer's text; in particular he fails to notice the subtle dialogue between Odysseus and Penelope beginning in book 17 and continuing through book 23. Eustathius, remains out of focus on the issue of recognition from book 13 through book 23.
The Odyssey shows skillful composition, a well integrated plot, careful interplay between the actors (especially Odysseus and Penelope), all enhanced, I suggest, by subtlety and complexity that reward careful reading. For that reason it pays to read the poet's text with confidence that he means what he says, and says what he means. Homer often raises questions early in the poem and provides answers later; at other times he reverses the process by giving us answers early to questions that will come up later.
Foreshadowing is also an important part of his style and for that reason his audience must be alert and remember details. By reading (or hearing) the entire poem, thinking about what transpired, and then rereading (or rehearing) it we can better comprehend the plot of this wonderfully complex and sophisticated work. A kind of reversal of dramatic irony, as ordinarily understood, whereby the actors have knowledge unknown to the audience, plays an important part in the Odyssey. For example, it is not until book 23 that we learn that Odysseus and Penelope, during his absence, harbor secret symbols of their love, hidden from others (23.109-10). These symbols are the so-called bridal chamber and the bed therein, with one leg rooted in the ground (183-204). For the twenty years that Odysseus is away, Penelope does not sleep in the bridal chambers, she sleeps in another room, upstairs (17.101-04). As we shall see below, these symbols keep alive the embers of their love during the long years of separation. In addition, the characters' actions must be carefully examined to determine their motives, what they are thinking, and what they know. Homer often cloaks important information with apparent triviality in order to divert the attention of the unobservant reader/listener. Important bits of information that he gives us are usually brief and concise-almost laconic. At the same time the reader has to keep the big picture in mind, and that is not always easy for those struggling with Homer's text. When Homer has Odysseus say to the Phaeacians, "It is an irksome thing, meseems, to tell again a plain-told tale" (12.452-53), the poet is reminding his audience to pay close attention to the information he gives because it will not be repeated.
The most important source for explaining Homer is Homer himself, Homeron ex Homerou saphenizein, (Homer from Homer elucidate [Porter 1992, 74]). This motto from Aristarchus means simply that it is better to solve a problem in Homer using evidence from within his poems rather than external evidence. For the non-Greek reading audience this requires an accurate translation (of which, unfortunately, there are few). For those who have difficulty reading Homeric Greek, one of the most accurate of the English renditions, in my opinion, is A.T. Murray's stylistically somewhat antiquated 1919 translation, the original Loeb Classical Library edition (personally, I prefer it to G.E. Dimock's updated second edition, published in 1995, for reasons that will soon be shown). Another accurate translation is that of Albert Cook (1967). Ironically, Fitzgerald's lively translation (1961) does not support early recognition inasmuch as at critical junctures it often does not follow Homer's text (e.g., 19.45, 23.93-95, 23.177). Fitzgerald's postscript, which argues in favor of Harsh and early recognition, was written in 1962 and added to his book in 1963, two years after his translation was first published, and may represent an afterthought or perhaps a change of heart.
A final thought on interpretation: Homer gives the impression that he is challenging his audience's powers of observation and interpretation by creating, as Winkler characterizes it, a "teasing, quasi-competitive" relationship between the author and his audience. If some in his audience fail to comprehend the plot, the poet is not concerned; that is their problem. Homer built his own ladder to achieve great poetic heights, and then pulled it up behind him. Those who wish to reach these heights must build their own ladders through careful reading and insightful observation.
A Well-Matched Pair
To understand how the plot unfolds, it is helpful to observe that Odysseus and Penelope are portrayed as two-of-a-kind, a well-matched pair. In the first line of the Odyssey Homer describes Odysseus as polytropos, a "man of many devices." Later Athena tells him, "Cunning must he be and knavish, who would go beyond thee in all manner of guile ... bold man, crafty in counsel, insatiate in deceit (13.291-93). (7) Penelope is cut from a similar mold. Homer repeatedly (49 times) refers to her as periphron, (watchful and discreet, observing all around, cautious, well considered). In book 2 Antinous, one of the leaders of the suitors, in comparing Penelope to other famous women of antiquity, tells the assembly in Ithaca that Athena has, "endowed her above other women with knowledge of fair handiwork and an understanding heart, and wiles, such as we have never yet heard that any even of the women of old knew ... of whom not one was like Penelope in shrewd device" (2.116-23).
That Homer intended them to be two-of-a-kind should not be surprising. In book 6 Odysseus describes the ideal couple as having, "oneness of heart, a godly gift. For nothing is greater or better than this, when a man and wife dwell in a home in one accord, a great grief to their foes and a joy to their friends" (6.181-85). This special understanding, being of "one accord," one mind, is referred to by Homer as homophrosyne, like-mindedness. Not only does Homer portray both Odysseus and Penelope as cunning, wily and resourceful, but in the poem they are often shown to think alike, act in concert, and to have an uncanny understanding of one another. These qualities render them uniquely suited to deal with the respective challenges they must face during the course of the story, particularly the situation regarding the suitors camped in the palace.
That Odysseus has great affection for Penelope is manifested in his rejection of the overtures of the nymph Calypso who, as the poem begins, is holding him as a prisoner of love on the island of Ogygia. The goddess wants to make him her permanent mate, offering him immortality and eternal youth, while inviting him to live with her on her paradise-like island to enjoy her pleasures and favors (5.135-36). Odysseus has no illusions about life after death when he rejects immortality with Calypso in favor of life as a mortal with Penelope. Before rejecting her offer he had visited the underworld (described later in a flashback in book 11) and observed its dreariness.
Calypso is puzzled; she cannot understand why he prefers his wife to her. When, upon the insistence of Zeus, she finally gives in to his tears of wanting to go home, she tells him,
Howbeit if in thy heart thou knewest all the measure of woe it is thy fate to fulfill before thou comest to thy native land thou wouldest abide here and keep this house with me, and wouldest be immortal, for all thy desire to see thy wife for whom thou longest day by day. Surely not inferior to her do I declare myself to be either in form or stature, for in no wise is it seemly that mortal women should vie with immortals in form or comeliness. (Od. 5. 206-13)
This astute observation by the goddess of Odysseus's longing to be with his wife is generally overlooked by most scholars. Because Odysseus does not want to antagonize the goddess by admitting that he favors his wife, he responds, "Penelope is meaner to look upon than thou in comeliness and stature. ... But even so I wish and long day by day to reach my home, and to see the day of my return" (5. 214-20). (8) But Calypso, being a goddess, can read his mind; she knows what he truly misses is his wife for whom, as she says, he "longest [for] day by day" (209-10).
Penelope is no less loyal. For the twenty years that Odysseus is away she does not sleep without him on their bed in the bridal chamber, the symbol of their love. Instead, she sleeps alone in another bed, upstairs (17.101-04). When she is besieged by the suitors and told that she must choose one for her husband, she reluctantly agrees to select only after she has finished a shroud for Laertes, her aging father-in-law. Antinous, one of the suitors, later tells the assembly in Ithaca,
Then day by day she would weave at the great web, but by night she would unravel it, when she had let torches placed beside her. Thus for three years she by her craft kept the Achaeans from knowing, and beguiled them; but when the fourth year came as the seasons rolled on, even then one of her women who knew all told us, and we caught her unraveling the splendid web. So she finished it against her will, perforce. (Od. 2.104-10)
The respect and confidence that Odysseus had in his young wife and in her ability to meet the challenges that would manifest themselves in his absence are revealed in what he told Penelope on the day he left for Troy. She tells the suitors of the instructions Odysseus gave her in the event he does not return:
Therefore I know not whether the god will bring me back, or whether I shall be cut off there in the land of Troy; so have thou charge of all things here. Be mindful of my father and my mother in the halls even as thou art now, or yet more, while I am away. But when thou shalt see my son a bearded man, wed whom thou wilt, and leave thy house. (Od. 18.265-70)
Penelope was still nursing their son Telemachus when Odysseus left for Troy; Homer does not tell us her age, but she was probably not more than seventeen or eighteen at the time. Agamemnon describes her as, "a bride newly wed when we went to war, and a boy was at her breast, a babe" (11.447-49). When Odysseus comes back twenty years later he accuses one of the suitors of wanting to have children with her (22.324). The full extent of her responsibility can be appreciated by noting the size of the estate as described by Eumaeus (14.96-104). For the twenty years that Odysseus was away Penelope was able to keep together these extensive holdings to the envy and consternation of the eligible bachelors from Ithaca and the surrounding islands.
Books 17 and 18
As the story begins Penelope has been besieged by suitors in the palace for over three years (13.377). They are eating up the estate and threatening the life of her son, while demanding that she choose one of them to marry. With her father-in-law Laertes's shroud completed, she is being pressured to honor her promise to choose a husband from amongst the hated suitors. To make matters worse, she is aware that the suitors want her son, Telemachus, dead so they can divide his lands and property amongst themselves (2.246-51, 16.409-12). Though she is often referred to as queen (of sorts), she has no army to defend her and her son, and no one to police the suitors' actions (2.188-204). All she has are her charms and sharp wits with which to fend them off (13.379-81). Knowing that they can take what they want, she has to use her wiles to delay them until Odysseus comes back, or until her son matures and can take care of the estate and himself. Although she does not specifically state it, her actions imply that she believes that the suitors cannot conspire to steal her son's legacy so long as they are sufficient in number to make division of the property impractical. As long as the number of suitors is large, she feels safe. For that reason, ironically, she finds it necessary to use her charms and false promises to keep some of the hated suitors from leaving (see 2.96-110, 13.379-81, 24.131-37). In addition--and this is often overlooked--she has to be wary of a disloyal servant in her palace, the one who betrayed to the suitors the secret of her unwinding the shroud (2.108). If at some point she suspects that her husband is back in disguise, she will have to keep this knowledge strictly to herself to protect his life. She maintains hope for Odysseus's return because she has heard no news of his demise. She endures tearful, sleepless nights and stressful days, knowing that if Odysseus does not return soon, she may have to make a decision about marriage if she is to save her son.
The strain on Penelope is beginning to tell when she hears that the suitors are plotting to kill Telemachus on his return voyage from Pylos (16.411-12). At Penelope's most desperate hour, the story takes a dramatic twist. Telemachus returns safely from Pylos, having narrowly avoided the suitors' ambush. She asks him to tell her, before the suitors return to the house (17.105), what news he has of his father (the suitors are outside at 65 and will not come in until later, at 174-75, to prepare a feast). Although Telemachus knows his father is on Ithaca, he does not tell her. Instead, he tells her what Menelaus told him, news from "the unerring old man of the sea" (geron hallos nemertes ) that Odysseus is alive, a prisoner of the nymph Calypso, with no means to return (140-46). It is significant that Telemachus emphasizes that the source of the news is "unerring," because earlier Eumaeus tells Odysseus that Penelope has heard many lying stories told by travelers:
Old man, no wanderer that came and brought tidings of him could persuade his wife and his dear son [that Odysseus is alive]; nay, at random, when they have need of entertainment, do vagabonds lie, and they are not minded to speak the truth. Whosoever in his wanderings comes to the land of Ithaca, goes to my mistress and tells a deceitful tale. (Od. 14.122-27)
But, unlike other instances, here, Homer tells us, the news that her husband is alive makes a profound impression on Penelope, tei d'ara thytnon eni stethessin orine, (it stirred the heart in her breast [17.150]). For some unknown reason, Eustathius in his commentary overlooks the enormous significance of this news. Eustathius comments, "And thus to her [Penelope] he said nothing clearly good about [his] father, but only that he was alive, powerless to return" (1825-26, II. 136-37). (9) Unfortunately, Eustathius misses the point. The fact that Penelope knows that Odysseus is alive means to her that she cannot remarry. The suitors do not know this, and she will soon have good reason for not telling them. In addition, Penelope is not a fool; she is aware of what Helen precipitated when she ran off with another man (23.218-24). With knowledge that her husband is alive, any subsequent suggestion of re-marriage by her will have ulterior motives. For centuries scholars, in following Eustathius's example, have underestimated the effect of this news and this throws their understanding of the plot out of focus. Russo for example, like Eustathius, makes no mention of the fact that the source of the news is "unerring" that the suitors do not hear it, that it makes a profound impression on Penelope, and that she cannot remarry knowing her husband is alive (see Russo et al. 2000, 26). More importantly, scholars fail to observe that, if Penelope knows that her husband is alive at this point, she is not going to forget it; and as we shall see, any denial she later makes will also have ulterior motives.
Immediately after Telemachus tells Penelope his news, Theoclymenos, the seer, then adds, "Honored wife of Odysseus ... do hearken to my words ... that verily Odysseus is even now on his native land ... learning of these evil deeds, and he is sowing the seeds of evil for all the wooers" (17.152-59).
Penelope is subsequently told by Eumaeus that a stranger has arrived on Ithaca, stayed with him three days, entertained him with his wonderful story telling, and claims to have news that Odysseus is alive in the land of the Thesprotians and will soon be home with much treasure (525-27). Penelope eagerly instructs Eumaeus to bring the stranger before her, to tell her to her face, adding, "But if Odysseus should come and return to his native land, straightway would he with his son take vengeance on these men for their violent deeds" (539-40). Telemachus then sneezes, the poet tells us "loudly," and Penelope laughs and again instructs Eumeaus to fetch the stranger, "Go, pray, call the stranger here before me. Dost thou not note that my son has sneezed at all my words. Therefore shall utter death fall upon the wooers one and all, nor shall one of them escape death and the fates" (544-47). In this, Penelope makes it clear, in case anyone has doubts, that she wants all the suitors dead; any subsequent statement by her to the contrary will be disingenuous. She sees Telemachus's sneeze as an omen that her wish will be granted. Eumaeus then goes to fetch the stranger and returns without him, saying that the stranger, in refusing to come, "speaks rightly, even as any other man would deem, in seeking to shun the insolence of overweening men. But he bids thee to wait till the set of the sun" (580-82). We must recall the beggar's rag-tag appearance to fully appreciate both the audacity of the stranger's refusal to come and the significance of Penelope's subsequent acquiescence to his postponement of the interview. Homer in describing Odysseus's disguise, tells us:
Athena touched him with her wand. She withered the fair flesh on his supple limbs, and destroyed the flaxen hair from off his head, and about all his limbs she put the skin of an aged old man. And she dimmed his two eyes that were before so beautiful, and clothed him in other raiment, a vile ragged cloak and a tunic, tattered garments and foul, begrimed with smoke. And about him she cast the great skin of a swift hind, stripped of the hair, and she gave him a staff and a miserable wallet, full of holes, slung by a twisted cord. (Od, 13.429-38)
No such lowly beggar would have the audacity to refuse the request of his host, (referred to at 583 as "queen"), to appear and be questioned, and then set his own time for meeting.
This is the moment Penelope suspects that her husband is back and that the sneeze-omen will be fulfilled. By his response Odysseus is sending a message to his wife that he is home, counting on their like-mindedness, homophrosyne, to cryptically convey his meaning. The significance of the above seems to have eluded Eustathius, who makes no comment on this scene in the twelfth century, and subsequent scholars follow his example for over eight hundred years. Russo, for example, makes no comment on its possible implications (Russo et al. 2000, 45).
Homer's audience can visualize Penelope's momentary stunned silence as she contemplates the significance of the stranger's audacious message. Her response is carefully worded: "Not without wisdom is the stranger; he divines how it may be. There are no mortal men, methinks, who in wantonness devise such wicked folly as these" (17.586-88). Her response denotes two distinct thoughts. First, in stating,"[n]ot without wisdom is the stranger" (ouk aphron ho xeinos), she is describing in Odysseus the characteristic that exemplifies his heroic status, with the implication that she understands his message. Second, she then makes an excuse for the stranger's impertinence, to avoid arousing the suspicion of the others present, by pointing out the dangerous proclivity of the suitors towards strangers. But, this must be an excuse because she knows it is not true. Eumaeus revealed earlier that the suitors also participate in interrogating any stranger that claims to have news of Odysseus (14.376-77). The suitors' concern for news is also emphasized in book 1 when one of them, Eurymachus, makes a point of inquiring of Telemachus if Mentes, a newcomer to the island, has news of Odysseus (1.413).The suitors would not harm the bearer of news; they would question him. Why then would Penelope make an excuse for the stranger's impertinence? Does Penelope suspect, as suggested above, that her husband is back, disguised as a beggar? Homer gives his audience the answer in the next book, beginning at 18.158. The answer is not immediately apparent because the poet, as is his wont, after raising the question in the minds of his audience creates a brief digression in the action away from Penelope to build suspense. Ruth Scodel, in describing Homer's treatment of his audience in crucial situations, observes that in antiquity, "[e]veryone knew that a digression marks the significance of the main action. ... The narrator moves away from the main action precisely at momentous points in that action" (2004, 50). By shifting the scene away from Penelope at this significant moment and making his audience wait, Homer creates anticipation and dramatic effect. The structure of the plot indicates that her reaction will be noteworthy. When, after a brief interlude, Penelope returns to the center of the stage (Od. 18), the drama continues where it left off. She will laugh a strange, uncharacteristic, achreon, but meaningful laugh (163), and express a desire to go before the hated suitors (164-68), by implication, to satisfy her curiosity about the stranger.
Homer Tells Us that Odysseus Communicates With His Wife
Before we move to book 18 we must digress to see how it came about that the beggar was able to postpone the interview. It did not happen by accident. I suggest that the above scene, Odysscus's refusal to come when commanded and his postponement of the meeting were premeditated, intended to tell his wife, indirectly so that others would not suspect, that he was home and to provoke her curiosity. It is the only communication from Odysseus to his wife until they meet face to face in book 19, and it is indirect because it was transmitted by a third party, Eumaeus. The fact that this was an intentional communication is brought to our attention by Homer later, in case we missed it, at 19.45, when, after Odysseus and Telemachus have taken down the weapons and locked them away, Odysseus tells his son to go to bed, that he was going to stay in the hall to further provoke the serving women and his mother. This comment has bothered scholars and translators for centuries. I suggest that it implies a communication from Odysseus to his wife that they failed to observe and do not believe exists. The communication with the serving maids occurred at 18.313-42. Line 19.45 raises two questions that Eustathius and subsequent scholars either ignore or misinterpret: when did Odysseus first provoke Penelope, and when does he further provoke her? Here, the Greek text is important. Odysseus tells Telemachus that he is going to remain behind in order to, "k' eti dmoas kai metera sen erethizo" (19.45). A clear, direct translation, literally word-for-word, is, "even more the maids and your mother I provoke." When erethizo is preceded by k' eti, which means "even more," or "even further," combined they mean "even more I provoke." Implicit in this line is an indication of a deliberate, prior communication from Odysseus to Penelope and his anticipation of a further communication. This may be the reason that the literal translation has confounded scholars for centuries and many look to find ways to evade it. The implied previous communication that Odysseus refers to can only be the one described above at 17.580-82, where Eumaeus transmits Odysseus's response to Penelope; there is no other communication. The key words here, at 19.45, are k'eti ... erethizo, (even more ... provoke). Liddell-Scott-Jones, citing this line of the Odyssey, translates "erethizo" as "provoke to curiosity," which fits perfectly here (as will be discussed below, Joseph Russo challenges the LSJ translation). It can also mean, "stir the minds," as reflected in the translation of Murray, above.
In order to understand how scholars through the centuries have misinterpreted this passage it is helpful to digress for a moment to observe how some of the most famous scholars deal with it. The earliest comment on 19.45, that I was able to find, is that of Eustathius in the twelfth century. I laving missed the earlier communication, Eustathius tries his best to explain a passage that otherwise befuddles him by stating: "The goal of Odysseus, as he himself says, being left behind there after the departure of the suitors is to provoke the slave women and Penelope, in order to know more clearly their situation, and at the same time, in order to devise things against the suitors, as was said shortly before" (1825-26, 11.190). In Eustathius's comment, erethizo means that Odysseus intends to test their behavior, or perhaps their loyalty, and devise a plan of action. This is not the meaning found in the Greek text, implicitly or explicitly. In addition, Eustathius makes no mention of a prior provocation; he ignores k'eti. This failure may be due to the fact that it did not fit into his interpretation, or perhaps he simply overlooked it. Eustathius's comment is looking only prospectively, not retrospectively, whereas Homer's text indicates that both are indicated, past and future provocative acts. The confusion and inconsistency that Eustathius's comment created for scholars through the centuries--his commentaries were all they had to rely on--can be seen in the examples of English translations of line 19.45.
In 1616, George Chapman published the first full translation of the Odyssey into English. Scholars have questioned his knowledge of Greek (he has been accused of using contemporary Latin and French translations as his basis).10 Whatever his source, his interpretation is somewhat off the mark; it is closer to Eustathius than Homer in that he leaves out k' eti and translates erethizo as "wake" (watch over), i.e., observe, test. He writes, "leave me here to wake / The women and the Queene, whose heart doth ake / To make inquiry for my selfe of me" (2000, 329). In 1726, the famous translation of Alexander Pope and his associates is more clearly wrong. They wrote, "whilst here I sole remain,/To explore the conduct of the female train" (Pope 1942, 277). Pope's comment, "to explore the conduct of the female train," is another way of saying "to test." Like Eustathius and Chapman, Pope makes no mention of prior conduct. In 1788 the scholia on Homer's poems were published; first the Iliad and a few years later the Odyssey. No comments were found in the scholia regarding line 19.45. In 1795 F.A. Wolf published his Prolegomena to Homer, which revolutionized Homeric philology. Wolf castigates Eustathius repeatedly. This may explain why some scholars thereafter began to pay more attention to the Greek text and less to Eustathius. In 1844, for example, John J. Owen accurately translates 19.45, "that I may further excite [i.e., awaken an interest and curiosity in] the handmaidens and your mother" (1888, 522; parenthesis by Owen). In 1878,W.W. Merry's comment is right on the mark. He states: "[line] 45. erethizo, 'may provoke the curiosity of.' Generally the word means 'irritate;" excite.' Perhaps Homer uses it here in a playful way. It can hardly mean, as some commentators render, 'test;"put to proof" (1958, unpaginated note). In 1879, S.H. Butcher and A. Lang did not do as well. Their use of "answer," in their translation is ambiguous and may indicate a return to "testing," "that I may yet provoke the maids and thy mother to answer" (1912, 311). In 1891, G. H. Palmer shows the strong pull of Eustathius's interpretation, "I will continue here to try these damsels and your mother more" (1891, 297). In 1919 A.T. Murray's translation is accurate, "that I may stir more the minds of the maids and your mother" (1919, 231). In 1945, E.V. Rieu is clever in his translation, but he makes two errors. First, he interprets erethizo to mean "draw out," i.e., to question; second he separates the maids from Penelope by implying that the maids have previously been "drawn out," but the mother has not. His translation reads, "leave me here to draw out the maids a little more, and your mother, also"(1946,246). In 1961, Robert Fitzgerald translates erethizo as "test." "Here I stay to test your mother and her maids again" (1993, 354). In 1965, Richmond Lattimore, like many other translators, leaves out the k'eti, "still more," thus precluding the possibility of a previous communication, "I shall remain behind here, so that I can to stir up the maids, your mother too" (1991, 283). In 1967, even though Albert Cook gets the characters out of order, his translation is basically accurate, "So I may stir up still more your mother and the serving maids." In 1996, Robert Fagles reverts to testing; he too leaves out "k eti," (old habits die hard), "I'll stay behind to test the women, test your mother too" (2004, 275).There are innumerable translations in the same vein, but the above examples indicate confusion through the centuries based, I suggest, on many scholars who--some unwittingly--prefer Eustathius's interpretation to the literal meaning of Homer's text. Perhaps the most blatant example is that of Richard John Cunliffe who, in A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect, gives as one of several possible translations of erethizo:" [t]o provoke or rouse into making disclosures," citing line 19.45. There is no textual basis for this interpretation. Cunliffe has taken Eustathius's questionable interpretation and given it a semblance of truth.
Joseph Russo in his lengthy analysis of 19.4511 also takes his cue from Eustathius. Russo, having missed the significance of the communication from Odysseus to Penelope, ignores the reference to a previous communication. He makes reference to, and specifically rejects, the above Liddell-Scott-Jones translation of erethizo as meaning "to provoke to curiosity," reasoning,
because amongst other things, it assumes that in the two ensuing interviews Odysseus is trying to arouse her curiosity about his identity, which is not evident in the text (although argued ingeniously by P.W. Harsh, AJP 71 (1950): 9-17). It is better to take erethizo as close to peiraomai in meaning. (Russo et al. 2000, 77; parenthesis by Russo)
Peiraomai means "to test." Russo is saying that erethizo in this context should mean to test, not provoke. And, like Eustathius, Russo ignores k' eti. Subsequently, in a different context, in discussing Od. 19.75-79, Russo again refers to erethizo, stating: "The mixture of truth with falsehood is an important feature of the process Odysseus called erethizo (45, above): the verisimilitude of his self-portrait prods both maids and Penelope to reveal their degree of loyalty to Odysseus and to the beggar who claims his xenia (Russo et al. 2000, 79). Russo persists in suggesting that erethizo means to test the women. Here again he follows Eustathius's lead by suggesting an alternate meaning. But in the Odyssey where Homer uses the word "test" he uses only forms of the verb peiraomai; he never uses the verb erethizo. For example, at 13.336, Athena tells Odysseus to test his wife peireseai; at 14.459, Odysseus tests the swineherd's hospitality peiretizon; at 19.215 Penelope feels she must test the stranger, peiresesthai; at 21.394 Odysseus tests the bow, peiromenos; and at 23.183 Penelope is making trial of her husband, peiromene. On the other hand, at 9.494, where Odysseus's men question his actions before the one-eyed Polyphemus, they ask, "Schetlie, tipt' etheleis erethizemen agrion andra?" (Why wilt thou provoke to wrath a savage man?). Here, the poet uses erethizemen, provoke; he does not use the verb peiraomai. In the following we will see how it happens that Odysseus provokes his wife in books 17 and 19. It does not happen by accident.
The Causal Chain on the Issue of Recognition Begins with Odysseus in Book 13 and Continues Through Book 19
If we follow the action from Odysseus's perspective we will see how and why it happens that he postpones the questioning in book 17. As we analyze what is transpiring, we should keep in mind Knox's insightful comment, "he [Homer] spares us the rich, sometimes superfluous, detail we have come to associate with modern fiction; he gives us only what is necessary to his purpose" (1998, 47). As we shall see, beginning in book 13 the causal chain toward recognition progresses slowly and subtly; not all the connecting links necessary to the continuity are specifically expressed in the poem--and this is important--some will be implied. Elizabeth Minchin points out the process in Homer and the Resources of Memory,
Homer gives us sufficient clues in the text to allow us to identify and follow, explicitly and implicitly, the important links: for example, there should be sufficient information to allow us to recognize the mental or emotional state of an actor, which leads him or her to take a certain action, and to connect that action with a resultant state. (Minchin, 2001,16)
The causal chain on the issue of recognition begins in book 13 when Athena warns Odysseus of the dangers from the suitors in the palace. She advises him that while on the island, "tell no man of them all nor any woman that thou hast come back from thy wanderings but in silence endure thy many griefs" (13.308-10). Athena, being all-knowing, reveals that he already plans to test (peireseai) his wife, noting that, "thou art not yet minded [inclined] to know or learn of aught, till thou hast furthermore proved your wife, who abides as of old in her halls, and ever sorrowful for her the nights and days wane, as she weeps" (334-38). Athena's locution, "ever sorrowful for her nights and days wane, as she weeps," is a strong indication that Penelope is still loyal as she weeps for her husband.
Odysseus's testing of his wife begins here, in book 13, as he hears favorable comments from Athena, and will continue in books 14 and 16 where he hears favorable comments from Eumaeus and Telemachus, respectively. Scholars overlook the fact that as a result of what he hears, he will have no need to test Penelope face to face. Athena then advises him,
take thought on how thou mayest put forth thy hands on the shameless wooers, who now for three years have been lording it in thy halls, wooing thy godlike wife, and offering wooers' gifts. And she, as she mournfully looks for thy coming, offers hopes to all, and has promises for each man, but her mind is set on other things. (Od. 13.376-81)
The implication that can be drawn from Athena's statement is, again, that Penelope longs for her husband, even as she offers hope to all. The term, "but her mind is set on other things," indicates that when she "offers hope to all," she is being disingenuous. At 13.406 Athena refers to Penelope as echephrona, constant, steadfast. By book 17 Odysseus will have heard enough about his wife's loyalty to feel secure in cryptically communicating to her that he has returned. Odysseus then thanks Athena for warning him of the danger from the suitors (13.375-77), saying, "Lo now, of a surety I was like to have perished in my halls by the evil fate of Agamemnon, son of Atreus, hadst not thou, goddess, duly told me all" (383-85). Unlike Agamemnon, the danger Odysseus perceives is not from his wife, nor a lover, but from the suitors. Athena does not make reference to Penelope as being a danger, and this is often overlooked by scholars. A careful reading of the text from book 13 through 19 indicates that at no time in the Odyssey is there any indication that Odysseus feels he has reason to fear his wife. Athena then disguises him as an old, rag-tag beggar, as previously described, and tells him to locate the loyal swineherd, Eumaeus, and, "there do thou stay, and sitting by his side question him of all things" (410-11).
The swineherd is warm and hospitable to Odysseus and makes it abundantly clear that he misses his long-gone master. (12) Just as Athena suggested, through probing and questioning Eumaeus, whom he finds eager to talk and share information, Odysseus learns of the situation on Ithaca. He is told, amongst other things, that; "Whosoever in his wanderings comes to the land of Ithaca, goes to my mistress and tells a deceitful tale. And she, receiving him kindly, gives him entertainment, and questions him of all things, and the tears fall from her eyelids, while she weeps, as is the way of a woman, when her husband dies afar" (Od. 14.126-30). Odysseus gleans two important bits of information from the above statement. First, that Penelope will question every stranger who claims to have information regarding her husband. So, if she hears that the beggar claims to have such knowledge, he can expect to be called upon to be questioned. Second, he is given further proof that she still cares for her husband. Odysseus then tells Eumaeus, "Friend ... I tell thee, not at random but with an oath that Odysseus shall return. ... He shall return, and take vengeance on all those who here dishonor his wife and his glorious son." (14.151-64). In his response Eumaeus says that he does not believe him, adding," yet I would that Odysseus might come, even as I desire, I and Penelope and the old man Laertes, and godlike lelemachus" (171-73).
Eumaeus tells Odysseus that not only is Penelope loyal, but so too are his father, Laertes, and his son, Telemachos. The final bit of information that Odysseus wheedles from him is of critical importance. Eumaeus, later in book 14, says,
nor do I go to the city, unless haply wise Penelope bids me thither, when tidings come to her from anywhere. Then men sit around him that comes, and question him closely, both those that grieve for their lord, that has long been gone, and those who rejoice, as they devour his substance without atonement. (Od. 14.372-77)
This crucial information is under-appreciated by scholars. It indicates to Odysseus the problem he will have to face if and when he is called upon by Penelope to be questioned. The suitors, "those who devour his substance without remorse," if they are present, will also question him. As we will see, Odysseus will devise a means to meet Penelope out of the presence of the suitors.
In book 16 Telemachus joins Eumaeus and Odysseus at the hog shed and immediately asks news of his mother; has she wed or is she still in the halls. Eumaeus responds: "Aye, verily, she abides with steadfast heart in thy halls, and ever sorrowfully for her the nights and the days wane as she weeps" (16.37-39).Telemachus then tells Eumaeus, "do thou go with speed, and tell constant [ekhefroni] Penelope that she has me safe, and I am come from Pylos" (130-31).To this command Eumaeus asks, "but come now, tell me this ... whether I shall go on the self-same way with tidings to Laertes also" (137-38).
By this question Homer gives his audience a subtle clue as to Eumaeus's character: he enjoys being the bearer of good news. This assures Odysseus that Eumaeus will find a way to inform Penelope that there is a stranger on the island who claims to have news of her husband; Odysseus is assured, with reasonable certainty, that he will be questioned at the palace by his loyal wife. When Eumaeus leaves, Odysseus makes himself known to his son, and they tearfully embrace. Odysseus subsequently asks, "come now, count me the wooers ... that I may ponder in my noble heart and decide whether we two shall be able to maintain our cause against them alone without others, or whether we shall seek out es" (16.235-39).
Telemachus finds it incredible that his father thinks that two men should attempt to fight against so many. He enumerates the number and origins of the various suitors, one hundred eight in all, and suggests that for the two of them to confront the suitors alone would not end well, that they will need help (16.241-57). Odysseus, for the moment, ignores this advice. He instructs his son when he returns to the palace to take down all the weapons from the walls in the hall and lock them away, saying, "but for us two alone do thou leave behind two swords and two spears, and two ox-hide shields for us to grasp" (295-97). Telemachos's response indicates his misgivings, "but I think not that this plan will be a gain to us both, and I bid thee take thought" (311-12).
Skipping ahead for the moment, in book 19 Odysseus takes his son's advice. Evidently, after giving it more thought he has all the weapons removed, leaving none behind. Telemachus is relieved, and too tactful to remind his father that he heeded his advice. This scene, the removal of weapons in book 19, has confounded scholars. Some believe that this shows inconsistencies on Homer's part. For example, Arie Hoekstra shows in his analysis his confusion, and what I believe may be a lack of understanding of Homer's ways. Hoekstra suspects that Homer's leaving lines 16.295-98 in the poem was an oversight. (13) I disagree. By the time we reach book 19 Odysseus has decided to heed his son's advice and not attempt to confront the suitors with just the two of them. Without admitting that he was wrong, and thus losing face, Odysseus simply has all the weapons locked away.
An Excuse for Postponing the Questioning
Homer portrays Odysseus as having a hidden agenda in books 17, 18 and 19 discoverable only by observing his actions and asking, "why did he do that?" In so asking and observing, we discover that, not surprisingly, Homer portrays Odysseus as an opportunist and a master of deception; and at the same time, he portrays like-minded Penelope as being, in her own way, his equal in improvisation and cleverness in books 18 and 19. Homer does not narrate the above in so many words; instead he shows us this through the actions and reactions of his characters (this can be better observed, I believe, in an oral presentation). In book 16 Odysseus instructs his son, "let no one hear that Odysseus is at home; neither let Laertes know it, nor the swineherd, nor any of the household, nor Penelope herself "(16.301-03). As we shall see, in addition to wanting to maintain his disguise, when the time is right Odysseus wants to tell his wife himself, in his own manner, that he is back without filial interference. For this reason, I suggest, he will send his son away to bed at 19.44, just prior to the interview. Otherwise, there is no reason for not allowing Telemachus to stay.
As Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, journeys to his palace with Eumaeus, at the beginning of book 17, he is aware that, 1) his wife is still loyal and pines for him, 2) any stranger who claims to have knowledge of Odysseus's whereabouts will be interrogated by members of the household and by the suitors (14.375-77); 3) if he is to let his wife know he has returned, he must do so cryptically, surreptitiously, and 4) inasmuch as the suitors spend their days in the palace, if he is to communicate with her, he must devise a means to disperse them in order to be questioned out of their presence. He will do this by first creating an excuse for postponing the anticipated questioning, and then making a pest of himself while consorting with the suitors that evening, causing them to leave early.
On the road to the palace, Odysseus and Eumaeus meet the goat herder, Melantheus, who ridicules Odysseus and threatens him, telling Eumaeus, "if he comes to the palace of divine Odysseus, many a footstool, hurled about his head by the hands of those that are men, shall be broken on his ribs as he is pelted through the house" (17.230-32). Having been forewarned, Odysseus will soon put this information to use. He proceeds to the palace and once there, with the blessings of Telemachus, begs food from the suitors. Most give willingly, but one suitor, Antinous, is particularly nasty. He threatens to drive the suppliant away while holding up a footstool in a threatening manner (405-10). Odysseus, having been warned by Melantheus of the suitors' propensity for throwing footstools, deliberately angers Antinous further with a strong rebuke for his refusal to share food, taunting him, "Lo, now, it seems that thou at least hast not wits to match thy beauty thou who now, when sitting at another's table hadst not the heart to take of the bread and give me aught. Yet here lies plenty at thy hand" (454-57). The rebuke has the desired effect. Antinous is furious. He hurls the footstool at Odysseus, striking him on the base of the right shoulder (462-63). Odysseus must have expected this reaction in response to his insult; the advantage he gains is that he now has an excuse for postponing the interview when the anticipated call comes from Penelope.
Book 18, Penelope's Curiosity is Provoked
We take up the story again from Penelope's perspective, in more detail. As referred to above, she asks Eumaeus to bring the stranger before her to be questioned. Eumaeus returns without him and tells Penelope that the beggar refuses to come, giving the fear of harm from the suitors as an excuse. Here the Greek text is important, "alla se meinai anogen es eelion katadunta" (but he bids thee to wait till set of sun [17.582]). Homer's word anogen (582) is translated by Murray as "bid." But according to LSJ, anogen can mean command, order, urge or bid. However you translate it, it's a forceful word, far too force-ful to be used by a rag-tag beggar. The beggar does not ask permission to have the questioning postponed; he in effect orders it postponed. By his demeanor he expects no objection, and gets none. No ordinary beggar would have the audacity to refuse the queen's request and then set his own time to meet. Homer maintains the suspense and does not immediately let us in on Penelope's reaction in book 17; his audience has the pleasurable frustration of waiting until book 18 to learn if she suspects that her husband is home. Joseph Russo quotes Alfred Heubeck as judging the upcoming sequence, from 18.158 to 303, as one of Homer's masterpieces (Russo et al. 2000, 58). I agree, but as will be explained, for different reasons.
To understand what happens next we must again pay close attention to detail and at the same time stand back and observe the larger picture. If as a result of Odysseus's communication Penelope suspects that the beggar is her husband, she cannot give the slightest hint to others because of a disloyal servant in her midst, the one who informed the suitors of her unraveling of the shroud. Up to this point she has not seen the beggar. If she suspects and her curiosity is piqued, and she wants to see for herself, she will need an excuse to go before the suitors. Here Homer challenges his audience's power of observation by narrating that Athena puts into Penelope's head a thought that, I suggest, she, Penelope, devises on her own. Homer narrates:
Then the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, put it in the heart of the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, to show herself to the wooers, that she might set their hearts a-flutter and win greater honour from her husband and her son than heretofore. Then she laughed a meaningless, [achreion], laugh. (Od. 18.158-63)
This passage has bothered scholars and has generated various interpretations. R.B. Rutherford, for example, would have us believe that Athena is manipulating Penelope in this scene. He states:
It is important to be clear that at the beginning of this episode, the motives that are stated in lines 160-2 are those of Athena, not Penelope. The goddess inspires the queen to descend (previously her appearance had been voluntary and spontaneous), and to show herself to the suitors. ... This is not what Penelope herself proposes to do; there is a gap, a discrepancy, between the divine will and the human instrument. (Rutherford 1992, 30)
Rutherford, like many others, believes that Penelope, in deciding to go before the suitors, has no will of her own; she is totally motivated by Athena. But Donald Lateiner sees it differently, and I believe, correctly. He states in regard to 18.158-63: "As so often [happens], the goddess Athena seconds preexisting and already percolating human plans and intentions" (2005, 95).
What Lateiner is referring to, I believe, is the fact that Homer often gives credit to the gods for motivating humans to do what they were already planning to do. For example, Penelope in book 19 decides, of her own accord, to hold a contest with the bow (19.576-80). However, when in book 21 she goes to the storage room to procure the bow, Homer narrates: "But the goddess, flashing eyed Athena, put into the heart of the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, to set before the wooers in the halls of Odysseus the bow and the gray iron, to be a contest and the beginning of death" (21.1-4).
Just as in this instance Homer gives Athena credit for initiating the contest with the bow, an idea that Penelope developed herself, so at 18.158-63, Homer gives Athena credit for Penelope's desire to go before the suitors, even though she, Penelope, has her own reason for doing so. The above scenes describe a phenomenon, common throughout Homer's poems, where a god supposedly intervenes to motivate a character's actions. However, in closely observing Homer's poems, we find that the actor in heeding the god's advice, in practically every situation, including 18.158-63, does what he or she would naturally do, even without divine guidance; i.e., their actions are "in character." In other words, motivation in scenes in which significant ideas, emotions and events that are in some way affected by the intervention of a god, can be the result of both divine and human inspiration. Emily Kearns may have had this in mind when she states,
It is one of the most conspicuous, and most discussed, features of the interaction between humans and the gods that the same event has frequently both a divine and human cause: so-called "double motivation" or "over determination. If we were thus to reduce the story lines of the Iliad and the Odyssey to the bare essentials, the Gods would not have to feature at all. (Kearns 2004, 59, n2; 59)
Kearns is saying that the gods are not necessary to an understanding of the plot. What I am suggesting is that in the above scene where Penelope is motivated to go before the suitors to satisfy her curiosity, she is reacting in a manner natural for a woman who has not seen her husband for twenty years and who now suspects that he may be home in disguise. Odysseus has provoked her curiosity; she wants to see for herself, and she dare not share this thought with anyone. (14)
The above episode, 18.158-63, has two additional elements that require analyzing. First, Homer says at 161-62, timeessa genoito mallon pros posios te, which Murray translates as, "and win greater honour from her husband." If Penelope is trying to excite the hearts of the suitors in order to win greater honor from her husband, as Homer suggests, then she must know or suspect that he is in the hall amongst the suitors. Otherwise, how can she strive to gain honor from him if he is not present? Rutherford comments on this as a possible interpretation and specifically rejects this analysis (1992, 30-31). Harsh, on the other hand, refers to this scene as a possible presentiment by Penelope of the identity of the stranger, based on what he calls feminine intuition (1950, 7). Joseph Russo, in his comments on this passage, also sees it as a possible indication of recognition. However, having missed the cryptic communication from Odysseus to his wife, Russo then rejects it, describing the passage as, "160-62. An ambiguous sequence, which ... would seem to attribute to Penelope the highly implausible intention of wishing to excite the suitors and impress her husband (of whose presence she is unaware) and son. (Russo et al. 2000, 58.)
Russo's comment is an example of a scholar questioning the validity of a narration in Homer's text because he disagrees with its implications. No one, in my research, claims that the term "win honor from her husband," (pros posios), as used by Homer, is a typographical error; Homer means what he says. Russo attempts to justify his objection to the clear meaning of Homer's text by stating: "It is also possible to imagine these verses to be the vestige of an earlier version of the poem in which Penelope has already recognized Odysseus and they are acting in concert against the suitors" (Russo et al. 2000, 58). But if Odysseus has cryptically told Penelope that he is home by his audacious refusal to appear when ordered, and Penelope understands his message, then Homer's text serves its purpose as written and is not the residue or vestige of an earlier version (assuming there was such a version).
Second, the nature of Penelope's achreion laugh has also caused consternation amongst scholars. Russo believes that achreion means, literally, "useless," "inappropriate," "pointless," perhaps an embarrassed laugh. He believes that its exact meaning must remain elusive (Russo et al. 2000, 59). On the other hand, Jenny Strauss Clay, argues, I believe persuasively, that achreion can be taken to mean "inappropriate to one's character," "uncharacteristic" (1984, 75). Whatever the meaning, in order to understand the motive for her unusual laugh we must look back to book 17. Her laugh and urge to appear before the suitors occur in the chain of causation after the beggar's postponing the interview. They can be understood by continuing the action involving Penelope, which left off at 17.588, skipping past the diversion Homer creates with the fight scene involving Odysseus and Irus, and picking up the scene with Penelope at 18.158. What the chain of causation shows us is that she wants to go before the suitors to see and be seen by the only man who would dare to refuse to come at her bidding and then set his own time to meet, her husband.
It is instructive to note scholars' gradual progression to a better understanding of this scene. Cedric H.Whitman mentions Harsh favorably, but he does not develop the possibility that Penelope may be laughing at the irony in the fact that, if this is Odysseus, he has returned at her most critical hour, yet he shows perception when he argues: "It is unthinkable that Penelope should deliberately fascinate a hall full of men whom she despises and wishes in their graves. She has adorned herself for Odysseus, and speaks to him, though the foolish, empty laugh shows that she does not really know it herself yet" (1958, 303).
On the other hand, Daniel Levine contends, with insight, that Penelope's laugh is not necessarily an expression of embarrassment or confusion, but rather a mark of confidence when she sees that she will be able to fool the suitors (1983, 172). However, Levine gives no indication that he has considered the possibility that she suspects that the beggar could be her husband in disguise. In 1998 Donald Lateiner asserted that, "The laugh is neither inane giddiness nor helpless impulse, but affect leakage that signals another scheme--something up her capacious sleeve" (1998, 260). Penelope's uncharacteristic laugh may reflect her thinking that, if this beggar is her husband, as she suspects, then her troubles are about to end and those of the suitors are about to begin.
We have been told that the suitors offered Penelope gifts in the past (13.378), but there is no indication that she had accepted them. Now, with a good chance that Odysseus is back, her laugh may also indicate that she sees an opportunity to recover some of her lost wealth by wheedling gifts from the suitors before they realize what is happening. It may be these thoughts that inspire her laugh. Homer tells us that the stranger is present in the megaron--the main hall--amongst the suitors (18.223). She needs an excuse to go before the hated suitors to see and be seen by him.
As Heubeck claimed above, this scene is one of Homer's masterpieces; I believe it is one of the most subtle and poignant indications of Homer's masterful understanding of the feminine psyche. Immediately after her strange laugh, Penelope tells her maid, "Eurynome, my heart longs, though it has never longed before, to show myself to the wooers, hateful though they are. Also, I would say a word to my son that will be for his profit, namely, that he should not consort ever with the overweening wooers, who speak to him fair but have evil plans thereafter" (18.164-68). What her heart longs for, I suggest, is to see her husband, but she cannot give the slightest hint of what she is thinking. Lateiner puts it succinctly:
Without arguing through the matter here, I believe that she wants to observe for herself the well-referenced, recent arrival. Further, she already suspects (and is encouraged so to do; 17.539-40) that he may be the husband that Telemakhos, Theoklymenos, and the stranger himself (via Eumaios) report as alive and now near (17.141-3.18.155-9 [sic, should be 17.155-9], 17.525-7). (Lateiner, 2005, 102, n. 17)
Lateiner's observation chips away at the Eustathian Error. It further indicates a trend towards clearing away the misconception of the time of recognition. As we shall see, once Penelope enters the megaron, she makes no mention of Telemachos's association with the suitors; that was just an excuse. Her entire attention will be focused on her husband, initially, and then on wheedling gifts from the suitors after lulling them with false hopes. Eurynome tells her mistress, prior to going before the suitors, "first wash thy body and anoint thy face, and go not as thou art with both cheeks stained with tears" (18.172-74). Penelope responds:
Eurynome, beguile me not thus in thy love to wash my body and anoint me with oil. All beauty of mine the gods, that hold Olympus, destroyed since the day when my lord departed in the hollow ships. But bid Autonoe and Hippodameia to come to me, that they may stand by my side in the hall. Alone I will not go among men, for I am ashamed. (Od. 18.178-84)
Homer then describes how, while Penelope takes a nervous catnap as she awaits her female escort, Athena supposedly lavishes immortal gifts on her to impress the men, "With balm she first made fair her beautiful face, with balm ambrosial ... and she made her taller too, and statelier to behold, and made her whiter than new sawn ivory" (192-96).
As a result, Penelope descends into the hall glowing, in effect, like a bride. What Homer has cleverly done is to show his audience how Penelope's beauty, which she claims left with her husband's departure, returns and is enhanced at the same time she suspects that her husband has returned. In other words, her beauty left with her husband and now returns with him. Her anxiety-induced cat-nap (18.188), together with her bride-like glow, could well have occurred naturally, without divine help, as a result of Penelope's hope and belief that the beggar is her husband in disguise, and her nervous anticipation of seeing him after a twenty years absence. Upon waking from her brief nap, Penelope says that she longs for soft death at the hands of Artemis (201-05). This, too, could reflect a wife's nervous uncertainty at seeing her beloved husband after many years absence.
As Penelope enters the hall where the suitors and the stranger are gathered what does she see? Whom does the stranger resemble? Having previously read the poem (just as Homer's audience would have previously heard it), we know that in two subsequent scenes Homer gives us an idea of the beggar's appearance. As Eurycleia prepares to wash the beggar's feet in book 19 (just a few hours later), she observes him from up close and comments, "Many sore-tried strangers have come hither, but I declare that never yet have I seen any man so like another as thou in form, and in voice, and in feet art like Odysseus" (19.379-81).The next day, in book 20, Philoetius, the loyal cowherd from the mainland also notices the similarity. When he sees the beggar from a distance, he states, "The sweat broke out on me when I marked the man [i.e., when I noticed you], and my eyes are full of tears as I think of Odysseus, for he too is clothed is such rags and is a wanderer among men, if indeed he still lives and beholds the light of the sun" (20.204-05).
Russo, in commenting on recognition by Eurycleia and Philoetius, states:
It is noteworthy that characters who are strongly attached to Odysseus are reminded of him when they see the beggar, and draw parallels between the begger's poor condition and that of Odysseus. ... We must remember that Odysseus retains some of his natural looks: Athena has aged him magically, but not transformed him into a completely different person. (Russo et al. 2000, 118)
Evidently Odysseus has used the "old beggar" disguise on other occasions. When in book 4 Helen tells Telemachos about an encounter she had with Odysseus in Troy, she says,
Marring his own body with cruel blows, and flinging a wretched garment about his shoulders, in the fashion of a slave he entered the broad-walled city of the foe, and he hid himself under the likeness of another, a beggar, he who was in no wise such an one at the ships of the Achaeans. In this likeness he entered the city of the Trojans, and all of them were as babes. I alone recognized him, and questioned him, but he in his cunning sought to avoid me. (Od. 4.244-50)
R. B. Rutherford, in his commentary on books 19 and 20, notices the resemblance and discusses Homer's various descriptions of the beggar's disguise, stating, "The beggar's resemblance to Odysseus raises the question whether we are to suppose that he has been magically transformed or only changed by time and disguised. The poet is not entirely consistent: the two conceptions coexist over most of the poem" (Rutherford 1992, 180).
With regard to Eurycleia, Rutherford asks:
Is Odysseus recognizable or not? The story is more exciting if there is at least the possibility of a friend or servant identifying the disguised king, as here, and we may suspect that the poet wanted to have it both ways; magical concealment is a common device in the Odyssey ... but in the more human and psychological drama of the later books supernatural metamorphosis would be out of place. (Rutherford 1992, 181)
From what Homer tells us then, even in disguise, the beggar resembles Odysseus. One must assume that Penelope knows her husband as well as or better than anyone. Given that Helen sees through a similar disguise on a prior occasion, and that Eurycleia and Philoetius see a strong resemblance in Ithaca, certainly Penelope must notice the resemblance. As the scene before the suitors proceeds, her actions support this analysis. Whereas before this scene Penelope was alone and virtually helpless against the multitude of suitors, now, with the strong probability that her husband has returned she displays the confidence needed to go on the offensive. Lateiner notes Penelope's profound transformation in this scene by stating, "Penelope moves--as already Odysseus has by his pugilism--from disadvantaged, trapped victim to a wily, trapping victimizer" (2005, 97).
Penelope's stated purpose for visiting the hall is to advise Telemachus to avoid mingling with the suitors (18.166-68).Yet, when she arrives in the hall she shows no concern for Telemachus. Instead, her interest is focused entirely on the welfare of the rag-tag stranger. She berates Telemachus for allowing his guest to be involved in an altercation, but fails to admonish him for consorting with the suitors (215-25). Penelope then rejects compliments from one of the suitors (250-56) and unexpectedly tells them the parting words, referred to above, given to her by Odysseus twenty years earlier, on the day he was leaving to go to war (259-70). Penelope, in order to wheedle gifts from the hated suitors, continues, disingenuously,
So he spoke, and now all this is being brought to pass. The night shall come when a hateful marriage shall fall to the lot of me accursed, whose happiness Zeus has taken away. But herein has bitter grief come upon my heart and soul, for such as yours was never the way of wooers heretofore. They ... bring of themselves cattle and goodly flocks, a banquet for the friends of the bride, and give to her glorious gifts; but they do not devour the livelihood of another without atonement. (Od. 18.274-80)
Eustathius, oblivious of her true motives in this scene, comments, "In these [lines] it appears that the main point [is] that Penelope at this point is thinking seriously about marriage, since Telemachus has grown a beard" (1825-26, II.178).
How can Penelope seriously consider, marriage when, 1) she has been told that her husband is still alive, and 2) she is anticipating questioning a stranger about her husband? Eustathius's failure to closely read Homer's text in book 17, where Penelope is told that her husband is alive, results in his misinterpreting the scene. His misinterpretation has been followed by scholars for centuries. In addition, Penelope, at 18.265-70, may also be informing her husband of her current status. Homer may have her cryptically implying that she has followed his instructions, and she has reached the point of having to decide what to do about Telemachus and a possible marriage. Only Odysseus would understand the message; if this is not Odysseus, it can do no harm.
Penelope's ploy results in her receiving rich gifts, just as like-minded Odysseus did when he wheedled gifts from the Phaeacians. But the scene indicates much more. In the above statement to the suitors, she shows a complete reversal of her attitude from just a few hours earlier when she uttered words of sheer hatred; she was not talking of marriage, she wanted to see them all dead (17.539-47). She still does. The turnabout in attitude is more apparent than real and comes as a result of her belief that her husband has returned and she has to wheedle gifts from them before they realize that Odysseus is back. The suitors scramble to procure gifts, and her maids carry them upstairs for safekeeping. Homer narrates, "So she spoke, and the much-enduring, goodly Odysseus was glad, because she drew from them gifts, and beguiled their souls with gentle words, but her mind was set on other things" (18.281-83). Like-minded Odysseus rejoices because he understands exactly what she is doing and why. Though she believes that the beggar is her husband, being by nature cautious (Eurycleia accuses her of always being unbelieving [23.72]), she will question him carefully in book 19 to remove any doubt.
The Significance of Homophrosyne
In books 17 and 18 Homer portrays a like-mindedness, homophrosyne, in Odysseus and Penelope that has eluded scholars until recently. The failure for centuries on the part of scholars to understand the significance of homophrosyne, can be traced, I suggest, back to Eustathius and the Byzantines. Eustathius's interpretation is as follows: "Homophrosyne is to want the same things, which rarely happens in human marriages. Most married couples quarrel throughout their lives" (1825-26, I.247).
This deficiency in insight by Eustathius indicates a cynical attitude towards marriage and may reflect the fact that he was celibate and lacked experience in the give and take of married life. Perhaps for that reason he fails to appreciate the full significance of homophrosyne and to apply it to Odysseus and Penelope. This oversight may be one of the many reasons generations of scholars, in dutifully following Eustathius's interpretation, missed early recognition. For example, as late as 1954, W.B. Stanford in his carefully considered analysis of the Odyssey in The Ulysses Theme, does not discuss homophrosyne; in fact, I cannot find where he mentions the word. Yet, it was in the second half of the twentieth century that scholars began to overcome Eustathius's oversight and realize that Odysseus's and Penelope's like-mindedness is an important factor in Homer's plot. Norman Austin is one of the first, as far as I can tell, to discuss homophrosyne in detail and apply it to many couples (perhaps too many). In his book, Archery at the Dark of the Moon (1975), he states, "The ideal of harmony between two persons is the keystone of the poem, the telos to which it moves. The main action is the process by which Odysseus and Penelope recover their spiritual and psychological harmony" (1982, 181)."
In Disguise and Recognition in the Odyssey (1987), Sheila Murnaghan writes,
Odysseus and Penelope's "like-mindedness," their shared values and qualities, is what ultimately brings about the destruction of the suitors and the restoration of their marriage and household. For Penelope is not the immobile, helpless woman, passively waiting for her husband to take care of business. It is she who makes possible the destruction of the suitors who have intruded into her domain. (Murnaghan 1987, 186-87)
On the other hand, in 1988, J.B. Hainsworth, like innumerable others before him, fails to associate homophrosyne with Penelope and Odysseus. Instead, Hainsworth shows the all too common contempt that he, like Eustathius and others, had for 6.180-84: "These moralistic lines, with their almost untranslatable conclusion, have been widely condemned ... as a superfluous expansion, cumbrously expressed. (1990, 305). Like Eustathius, Hainsworth shows what I believe is a lack of insight, possibly bordering on disrespect for Homer's text. The extent of Hainsworth's lack of appreciation for Homer's subtlety and sophistication (which he shares with Erich Auerbach), and his influence on scholars was noted by Adolf Kohnken, who states (originally in 1976),
Auerbach's theses [the retarding element in epics] seem sometimes to have achieved an almost canonical status. J. B. Hainsworth, for example, writes in his overview of Homer research that, "in an excellent essay," Auerbach ... showed that "ambiguity, suspense, multilayered meaning are not present in Homer to tempt the interpreter." (Kohnken 2009, 45)
According to Kohnken, Auerbach and Hainsworth are advising scholars not to look for subtlety and sophistication in Homer's works.
In 1992, four years after Hainsworth, Russo partially corrects the oversight by his co-author, by extolling the virtues of homophrosyne. Russo does not believe that Penelope consciously suspects that the stranger is Odysseus when she goes before the suitors in book 18; he believes her actions in that scene represent what he calls "instinctive homophrosyne between husband and wife."Yet he is acutely perceptive in his comments on this scene:
A brilliant narrative sequence: Penelope appears for the first time in the main hall since the beggar's arrival, and her disguised husband's first view of her shows her engaged in clever manipulations of the suitors, which has characterized her handling of them all along, from the ruse of the web to her recent speech at 259-70. This cleverness confirms for us that she is the perfect wife for Odysseus. And because they are so alike she is transparent to him. He immediately grasps what she is doing and rejoices in it because this masking of inner motives is exactly the kind of stratagem Odysseus himself likes to use, and in fact will soon use at 344-5, where he too will be intending things quite "other"--alla--from the appearance he gives outwardly. The suitors, by a pointed and obvious contrast, have no idea that they are being played with. It is unfortunate that several scholars of note have complained that Odysseus' rejoicing at his wife's cleverness (281-3) is out of place because he would have no way of knowing that she is not acting in earnest. Such a view fails to appreciate the instinctive homophrosyne between husband and wife (see vi.180-85, which shows that such mental harmony is an important part of Odysseus' conception of the ideal marriage; and such a couple is a "grief to their enemies," which the present passage illustrates perfectly!). (Russo et al. 2000, 66-67)
Russo's application of homophrosyne to Odysseus and Penelope, in volume III of the Commentaries is a relatively new phenomenon, and its significance is slowly gathering momentum amongst scholars.
Irene J. F. de Jong recently alludes to homophrosyne as it applies to unspoken thought in the Odyssey, observing that: "In addition to characterizing Odysseus and Penelope individually, the analysis of their unspoken thought has also brought to the fore their 'like-mindedness' (homophrosyne)" (2009, 86).
In 2004 Nancy Felson and Laura Slatkin speak of Penelope and Odysseus as being in the complementary sphere of the oikos with an idealized marital bond embodied in the notion of homophrosyne.
The Odyssey ... puts marriage at the centre [of social relations] for its human characters at least-and idealizes it. ... Such a marriage based on sweet agreement--homophrosune (like-mindedness)--and on keeping a harmonious household homophroneonte (both being like minded) is tested and amplified in the course of the Odyssey before it is ultimately secured in Book XXIII. (Felson 2004, 104)
As will be shown below, the testing and amplification of homophrosyne will occur, I suggest, in book 19 when Odysseus further provokes Penelope to convince her that he is home and they subsequently agree, cryptically, on her plan to confront the suitors.
Odysseus in Book 18, Spoiling the Feast of Apollo
Odysseus has remained in the megaron with the suitors. By postponing the interview till nightfall he has achieved half of his goal. But if he is to further communicate with his wife, cryptically or otherwise, he must find a way to get rid of the suitors for the evening, otherwise, they too will be involved in the questioning, something Odysseus wants to avoid. The suitors, in the meantime, in preparing for a festive evening on the feast day of Apollo (20.256, 278), which begins with the setting of the sun, "turned to dance and gladsome song, and made them merry, and waited for evening to come on. ... [T]hey set up three braziers in the hall to give them light ... and in turn the handmaids of Odysseus, of the steadfast heart, kindled the flame (Od. 18.304-11).
Odysseus needs to somehow disrupt their festivities and motivate them to leave. The first thing he does is to drive away the maids to deprive the suitors of female companionship (otherwise, why does he drive them away?). "Then Zeus-born Odysseus, of many wiles, himself spoke among the maids, and said: 'Maidens of Odysseus, that has long been gone, go to the chambers where your honored queen abides. ... I will give light to all these men'" (18.313-17). The maids laugh at him. Melantho verbally abuses him and threatens to have him beaten and thrown out of the house (327-36). Odysseus's response, threatening to tell Telemachos of their consorting with the suitors, "that he may cut thee limb from limb," (338-39) scatters the women and they leave the hall in terror (340-42). Odysseus then takes their place by the braziers (343-44). He now needs to find an opportunity to further disrupt their festivities to cause the suitors to leave. His chance comes after they have eaten when Eurymachus ridicules him, accusing him of being lazy. Odysseus responds with words that are sure to ignite a furious reaction. He ends with,
But right insolent art thou, and thy heart is cruel, and forsooth thou think-est thyself to be some great man and mighty, because thou consortest with few men and weak. If but Odysseus might return, and come to his native land, soon would yonder doors, right wide though they are, prove all too narrow for thee in thy flight out through the doorway. (Od. 18.381-86)
The reproach has the desired effect. Eurymachus is livid; he throws a footstool at Odysseus, missing him and, instead, striking a cup-bearer, and the wine jug falls to the ground with a clang (18.394-97). We can visualize wine splattering all about and the suitors highly agitated. Homer tells us,
Then the wooers broke into uproar throughout the shadowy halls, and thus would one man speak with a glance at his neighbor: "Would that yon stranger perished elsewhere on his wanderings or ever he came hither; then should he never have brought about us all this tumult. But we are now brawling about beggars, nor shall there be any joy in our rich feast, since worse things prevail." (Od. 18.398-404)
Telemachus, finding the moment appropriate, suggests that they have had their feast and that they should go home to rest (18.405-08). The idea is seconded by Amphinomus, one of the suitors (410-21), and the rest grudgingly agree (422). They make libations to the gods, drink their honey sweet-wine, and go their way, each man to his house (423-28). Odysseus can now look forward to being questioned by his wife in the suitors' absence. The maids, however, will be present; Penelope in her station as queen would never interview a stranger in private, "she would be ashamed" (184).
Book 19, Part One: Questions and Answers Confirm the Beggar's Identity
That evening, after all the suitors have left for home, and while Penelope and her maids are still upstairs, Odysseus and Telemachus remove to a storage room, out of immediate reach, all the weapons and armor that have been hanging on the wall in the megaron since Odysseus left for Troy. (19.4-33) None are left behind, an unspoken indication that Odysseus has heeded his son's advice about the futility of the two of them confronting the suitors alone. This removal of all the weapons temporarily leaves Odysseus without a plan of attack.
Before leaving for Troy Odysseus tells his wife, "so have thou charge of all things here," (18.266) making it Penelope's responsibility to administer and supervise the palace in his absence. Yet, no one bothers to ask or inform her of the weapon removal. When she enters the hall that evening with her maids (19.59-60), circumspect Penelope must have noticed that the weapons, which have hung on the walls for the past twenty years, are gone. Though it would be natural for her to ask who removed the weapons, she says nothing. Why? Since at this point Penelope has a strong suspicion that the beggar/stranger is Odysseus in disguise, and since she harbors a disloyal servant in her household, she has to be aware of the need for secrecy (otherwise, why is he in disguise?). The suitors at the assembly meeting in book 2 threatened to kill Odysseus if he returned (2.246-51). If she makes an issue of the bare walls she will be alerting the serving maids to the fact that on the same day the beggar appears, the weapons are removed without her knowledge and permission. Her silence assures the maids that, although the walls are bare, all is well. Any inquiry by her would raise the issue of who removed the weapons and why, thereby endangering Odysseus. For that reason, she says nothing. The implications that she can draw from the sudden, unexplained removal of the weapons are threefold: first, that the weapons were removed on the same day the beggar appeared in the palace; second, that the person or persons who removed them may have wanted them out of the reach of the suitors; and third, that an armed confrontation may be imminent. The significance of silence at critical moments in Homer's poems has not been lost on scholars. Alexander Pope is reputed to have said, "Homer is frequently eloquent in his very silence." Harsh tells us "the poet of the Odyssey leans heavily on the implicit and the subtle." Donald Lateiner repeatedly emphasizes the importance of Homer's nonverbal communications. Penelope's failure to comment on the blank walls could be one of Homer's "significant omissions" referred to by Knox. Confirming the fact that the beggar is Odysseus now becomes Penelope's prime objective.
Upon removal of the weapons, Odysseus sends his son to bed, thus avoiding a familial complication when he meets with his wife (which complication will, in fact, occur at 23.97-103), telling Telemachus that he will stay behind to further provoke (k'eti .. erethizo [19.45]), the maids and his mother. Having disposed of the weapons and sent Telemachus to bed, Odysseus proceeds to the main hall where he encounters for the second time Melantho, a young serving maid who has been sleeping with one of the suitors. She lashes out at him, saying, "Stranger wilt thou even now still be a plague to us through the night, roaming through the house, and wilt thou spy upon the women? Nay, get thee forth, thou wretch, and be content with thy supper, or straightway shalt thou even be smitten with a torch, and so go forth" (19.66-69).
Homer is subtle in this scene. Melantho is strongly admonished for her efforts, first by Odysseus (as a rag-tag beggar) then by Penelope who comes and scolds her in turn (19.91-95). The flow of the scene is like an old married couple, acting in harmony. More importantly, in Penelope's rebuke Homer gives his audience two important bits of information helpful in understanding the plot. First, Penelope tells Melantho (as translated by Murray), "Be sure, thou bold shameless thing, [kuon, bitch], (15) that thy outrageous deed [mega ergon] is in no wise hid from me, and with thine own head shalt thou wipe out its stain" (19.91-92).
This comment has befuddled scholars for centuries. I agree with Winkler, who suggests that here Penelope is accusing Melantho of having betrayed the secret of her unwinding Laertes's shroud to the suitors (1990, 149). The "outrageous deed" is the act of telling the suitors of the unwinding. Eustathius discusses the above lines in great, but inconsequential, detail. He misses the point that the outrageous deed refers to the unwinding of the shroud, and as a result, scholars for centuries, following his example, miss it. In Murray's translation, "outrageous deed," is an accurate translation of mega ergon. Unfortunately, George E. Dimock, in revising Murray's translation in Volume II of the Loeb Series, in 1995, creates an ambiguity by changing Murray's translation to "outrageous conduct" (1995, 241). Dimock's term, "conduct," is ambiguous; it implies a continuous series of acts and is less accurate than Murray's translation. Dimock may be following a developing pattern. Fitzgerald, for example, in his translation of 19.91-2, seems to miss the point entirely,
"Oh, shameless, through and through! And do you think me blind, blind to your conquest? It will cost you your life. (Fitzgerald 1963, 356) Fagles's translation comes closer to the Greek text, "Make no mistake, you shameless brazen bitch, none of your ugly work escapes me either- you will pay for it with your life, you will!" (Fagles 1997, 393)
Fagles's term, "none of your ugly work," like Dimock's "outrageous conduct," both collective phrases, seems to be referring to a series of deeds. However, the Greek text uses the singular, mega ergon, (major deed, or perhaps monstrous deed), just one deed. I suggest that part of the problem that plagues scholars in understanding Homer's intent herein lies in their combining the above lines with what immediately follows. Penelope proceeds to state, "Full well didst thou know, for thou hast heard it from my own lips, that I was minded to question the stranger in my halls concerning my husband; for I am sore distressed" (19.93-95).
In this second bit of information Homer tells us that Melantho was aware of the upcoming interview. Penelope is accusing Melantho of deliberately trying to drive the beggar away to prevent him from telling what he knows of Odysseus's whereabouts. Homer thus gives us further proof that the serving maid is in league with the suitors and identifies her as one of the spying maids. In reading Fagles's translation, and that of many others, one does not get the impression that there are two separate accusations. It has been fairly well argued lately that the Odyssey was composed to be performed orally (this does not necessarily mean that it was composed orally.) The problem scholars have in translating the above lines, 19.91-92 and Od. 93-95, may result from the fact that they are reading, not listening, to the two statements. Robert J. Rabel emphasizes the importance of listening carefully to the poem, because, "within the Odyssey audiences seem to bear responsibility for the understanding and active interpretation of what they hear. Good audiences within the poem do not, like the suitors of Penelope, sit dumbly by, entranced by what they hear (1.3325-327)" (Rabel 2005, 173).
The same responsibility for active interpretation applies to audiences outside the poem. In an oral presentation Penelope's two thoughts shown above can be separated by a slight pause in presentation, indicating a change of subject matter, whereas in a written text the eye tends to run the two ideas together. In the first Penelope is accusing Melantho of disclosing the unwinding of the shroud, the outrageous deed; in the second she is accusing her of attempting to drive off the stranger. Two different matters.
The interview in book 19 begins with the women, Eurynome, Eurycleia and the serving maids, cleaning up the main hall after the suitors leave for the evening (19.53-64). At this point confirming that the stranger is Odysseus is Penelope's primary objective, and she has to make it clear to him, without alerting the others, that she wants him to prove his identity. Since the others can overhear the interview it is vital that the dialogue, questions and answers, be discreet. Penelope and Odysseus, being like-minded, will have a different understanding of their conversation than will the less observant maids. The questioning here, and the discussion throughout the rest of book 19, will have two layers of understanding running concurrently: in the first level the servants present will assume that Penelope is asking general questions of a stranger about his background; in the second level Odysseus understands that Penelope is cryptically asking him to prove to her that he is her husband. Right from the start she makes her concerns clear to him. She begins the questioning, "Stranger, this question I will myself ask thee first. Who art thou amongst men, and from whence? Where is thy city, and where thy parents?" (19.104-05).
We have been told by Eumaeus that others, the servants and suitors, usually question strangers regarding Odysseus's whereabouts (14.372-77). But here Penelope makes it clear when she says, "this question I will myself ask thee first," that she alone will do the questioning. This does not surprise Odysseus; he knows his wife well and he expects to be carefully questioned by her. At 19.46 he tells his son, "he de m' oduromene eiresetai amphis hekasta" (she with weeping will ask me of each thing separately). In as much as he cannot speak openly, he responds by using flattery to compliment her as a stranger would. His initial response, the first words he has spoken to her directly in twenty years, is to tell her by means of flattery what a fine job she has done in managing the estate during his absence (it is thriving) (19.107-14). He then shifts his emphasis by stating, "ask not concerning my race and my native land, lest thou fill my heart the more with pains, as I think thereon; for I am a man of many sorrows" (19.116-17).
I suggest that here Odysseus is answering her question by cryptically telling her his name. The key passage is "me moi mallon thumon enipleseis odunaon" (19.117), which Murray translates as, "lest thou fill my heart the more with pains" The word odunaon, a reference to pains, is also a reference to the name Odysseus, Odusseus, giver of pain, or causer of sorrows (see 405-09 where Homer tells how Odysseus's grandfather, Autolycus, selected the name, odussamenos, giver of pain). Eustathius fails to notice this play on words, as does Russo 800 hundred years later; neither even mentions it. Odysseus continues: "Moreover it is not fitting that I should sit weeping and wailing in another's house, for it is ill to grieve ever without ceasing. I would not that one of thy maidens or thine own self be vexed with me, and say that I swim in tears because my mind is heavy with wine" (118-22). What Odysseus is reminding her is that others, "thy maidens," are listening, (they have to be; otherwise how could they be vexed with him?) and he is therefore not free to speak. It seems, for a moment, that his reference to his name has the effect he desires; he has convinced her that he is Odysseus, because, briefly, she mellows her resolve. In responding, she shifts her comments back and forth between speaking to him and to the others present. For his benefit she tells of her efforts to stall the suitors by unwinding the shroud she was making for Laertes and the treachery of her serving maids, (141-56); for the benefit of spying ears, she adds that she seemingly cannot avoid a distasteful marriage; and then, for the benefit of both, that she has run out of excuses (157-58).
That said, Penelope's resolve then stiffens. Evidently, she realizes that the beggar's cryptic comment that he is Odysseus is not solid proof. Rather than take him at his word, she needs something more in order to be certain, some factual knowledge that only Odysseus would have. Once again, taking a hard position, Penelope demands, for the second time, "yet even so, tell me of thy stock from whence thou art; for thou art not sprung from an oak ... or from a rock." (19.162-63) The beggar then tells Penelope that his name is Aethon and that he is from Crete. He proceeds to spin a tale of how he met Odysseus twenty years earlier in Knossos, how he entertained him and his crew for twelve days and how they exchanged gifts of friendship (183-202). Homer tells us, "so he spoke and made the many falsehoods of his tale seem like the truth" (203).
Eustathius's comment on this passage gives us an indication of what I consider to be his lack of insight in interpreting Homer. He states:
One should note also that in this [passage],"he knew how to speak many false things," the poet properly ceases [i.e., brings an end to] the telling of lies [by Odysseus], as is proper for the most part, keeping on the one hand from dwelling on deception [or lying],but revealing the deception only in the form of silence, and [portraying] Odysseus saying other things [besides lies] as is natural to his wife as it pleases him on account of his wife sweetly listening. Which [lying] in general a Homeric listener would not tolerate for he would be desiring a true teaching [from Homer]. (Eustathius 1825-26,11.198)
Eustathius considered Homer to be the great teacher of high moral values. For that reason he does not want to create the impression that Homer approves of lies and deceits. However, Scott Richardson points out that,
The great majority of conversation in the Odyssey ... feature one or more of these techniques: indirect address, implication, hidden or coded meaning, lying, feigned ignorance, injunction to secrecy, concealment of facts, expression of disbelief, evasion, disguised sentiments, testing, indirect steering or goading, presentation of false reasons, or performance in character. (Richardson 2009, 119).
Eustathius shows his reluctance to accept the fact that lies and other deceptions, such as those described by Richardson, play an important role in the Odyssey. This may be the reason Eustathius misinterprets Penelope's motives when she speaks of re-marriage at 18.271-73, and subsequently at 19.524-29; 576-81 and 21.68-79. When Penelope speaks of re-marriage he, Eustathius, believes her, and this, I suggest, contributes to his misinterpreting the plot.
When Odysseus tells Penelope of his supposed trip to Crete, he gives her the opening she needs to ask pointed questions, to which only Odysseus would know answers. Cautious Penelope, seeking absolute certainty, tearfully, but firmly asks, "Now verily, stranger, am I minded to put thee to the test. ... Tell me what manner of raiment he wore about his body, and what manner of man he was himself; and tell me of the comrades who followed him" (19.218-19). The beggar reminds her that it is difficult to remember such details after twenty years. He then proceeds to describe, truthfully and in great detail, exactly what clothing and jewelry Odysseus wore (225-34), including the very provocative statement, "and I noted the tunic [chiton] about his body, all shining as is the sheen upon the skin of a dried onion, so soft it was; and it glistened like the sun. Verily, many women gazed at him in wonder" (232-35). In line 235, e men pollai g' auton etheesanto gunaikes, (truly, many women gazed at him in wonder) the g' after e men is emphatic: there really were lots of women who admired him.
The beggar's description of the clothing and jewelry is accurate; Penelope tells us so (19.255-57). But lots of women admiring him is a lie and a provocative tease; it could not have occurred because it refers to an event that supposedly happened in Crete, and Homer tells us that the story about his trip to Crete is a fabrication--it did not occur (203). It is also a tease by one who feels that he has finally proven his identity to his wife. Whether the beggar says that the women admired Odysseus's person (auton), or admired his chiton (also auton in Greek), either way, if it is not a tease, it is very offensive to a grieving wife whose husband has been gone for twenty years. This statement is highly offensive since a chiton is an undergarment, worn close to the body (although it is not underwear, it would be sufficiently provocative to her). Murray, and almost all others, mistakenly translate chiton as "tunic," a gown-like outer garment worn by the ancient Greeks and Romans. A reference to an outer garment would tend to minimize the effect that the provocation would have on Penelope. Although scholars rarely mention this scene, one translator, R.D. Dawe, finds the reference to other women admiring Odysseus so offensive to Penelope that he believes it was not a part of Homer's original composition, stating, "The context is suspicious enough to absolve Homer of the charge of cruelly exiting Penelope's jealousy in 235 (there were a lot of women who looked admiringly at him)" (1993, 700).
Eustathius fails to notice the cruelty in line 235. Instead he makes extensive, irrelevant comments on the nature of green onions and of dried onion skin. Russo, like Eustathius, discusses onion skin and overlooks the lie/tease (Russo et al. 2000, 89). The beggar then accurately describes Odysseus's herald, Eurybates, "round shouldered, dark of skin, curly-haired" (19.244-45). Penelope recognizes the description as being accurate, (249-50). It is at this point in the poem that Harsh believes Penelope suspects that the beggar may be her husband and will act hereafter on her suspicion. He states: "Either Penelope is stupid or by this time she suspects this man's identity (unless of course, the poet is manipulating his characters as puppets). Her subsequent speech and actions prove that she is not stupid, and she is never called such" (1950, 11).
Harsh still believes that it is not until the so-called "test of the bed," in book 23, that she will know for sure (1950, 3-4). I disagree with Harsh on this point. As a result of the detailed information about his clothing and jewelry, together with the lie/tease, discussed above, I suggest that this is the point in the poem at which Penelope is convinced that the beggar is Odysseus, home at last. The first and most obvious clue is, as Harsh suggests, that his knowledge of Odysseus's clothing and jewelry is much too detailed to have been remembered twenty years later by anyone other than Odysseus himself (11). Harsh misses the second clue described above, which is equally important but less obvious. It has to do with the beggar's disregard for her position as queen of Ithaca and head of the household. She is a grieving wife, anxious about her husband. When this rag-tag stranger, a beggar, comments on "lots of women" admiring Odysseus's chiton, his undergarment, smooth as onion skin, clinging close to his body, he risks incurring the wrath of his hostess. No ordinary beggar would take this chance. Earlier, Homer made clear the importance of a stranger maintaining the good will of his host. In book 8 Odysseus challenges all the Phaeacians except his host, Laodamas, saying, "For he is my host, who would quarrel with one that entertains him?" (298). Here the beggar deliberately teases Penelope at the risk of incurring her wrath. The fact that she does not express outrage at his statement (together with her subsequent conduct) indicates that she recognizes it for what it is, a "tease" from her husband. This is the final proof she needs. (Being by nature feisty, she will shortly retaliate in kind, with a tease of her own, when she asks him to interpret a dream she supposedly had). Ironically, Odysseus cannot be absolutely sure that she is aware of his identity. She cannot tell him directly with others present. Although he may suspect, he will not know for sure until she tells Eurycleia to wash his feet at 19.357-60).
At this point Penelope's knowledge of the beggar's identity can be discerned by observing the questions she asks the beggar and those she does not ask. Penelope's stated purpose for the interview is to seek from the beggar information on Odysseus's whereabouts (17.508-11, 19.93-95). However, as a result of her confirming Odysseus's identity, Penelope decides that, with spying maids present, it is neither necessary nor prudent to ask further questions. Up to this point her inquiries have been directed toward determining the beggar's identity. She asks him only three questions: 1) who are you and where are you from (19.105); 2) tell me who you are (162-63); and 3) describe Odysseus's clothes and associates (218-19). She then abruptly ends the questioning. Significantly, she does not question him about Odysseus's whereabouts. Scholars seem to miss this point.
Eustathius ignores it and Russo, like many others, makes no mention of it. Peter Jones, for example, writes; "It is indicative of Penelope's single-minded obsession with one question (have you news of my husband?) that she never bothers to ask the beggar ... how he came about his lowly state" (1988, 178). Jones, like other scholars, fails to notice that she does not ask the beggar anything about her husband's whereabouts. Instead, after the beggar responds to the third question with the detailed description and the lie/tease, she unexpectedly offers, eagerly, to make him an honored friend and guest (19.253). Penelope is neither foolish nor forgetful. Convinced that her husband has returned, she attempts to end the interview. For the benefit of others listening, she now states, "But my husband I shall never welcome back, returning home to his dear native land" (257-58). There is no factual basis for her to make this statement other than the fact that she is now certain that the beggar is her husband and aware of the need to keep the others from suspecting. Evidently, this unexpected remark catches Odysseus by surprise. Either he is not yet sure that she recognizes him, or he realizes the need to maintain the pretense and proceed with the questioning. He finds it necessary to voluntarily give information about Odysseus's whereabouts. In front of the serving women he contradicts her, saying,
Yet do thou cease from weeping, and hearken to my words. ... [L]ately I heard of the return of Odysseus, that he is near at hand. ... [H]e lost his trusty comrades and his hollow ship on the wine-dark sea. ... [H]e had gone to Dodona to hear the will of Zeus. ... how he might return to his dear native land after so long an absence, whether openly or in secret. (Od. 19.262-99)
Penelope does not want the disloyal servants to relay any of the beggar's pronouncements of Odysseus's possible return to the suitors. It is critical to any hope the couple has of destroying the suitors that they maintain the element of surprise. She responds emphatically to the beggar's news by repeating, "neither shall Odysseus any more come home, nor shall you obtain a convoy hence"(313). Homer does not specifically tell his audience that Penelope knows the beggar is Odysseus. Rather, he shows us by her demeanor; recognition brings an abrupt end to the questioning. This was overlooked by Eustathius, and as far as I can tell, by just about every scholar since the twelfth century.
Notice the change in Penelope's demeanor. Whereas in books 17, 18, and at the beginning of 19 Penelope consistently voices hope for her husband's return (particularly at 17.44-5, 510, 529, 539-40, 18.254 and 19.127), from the moment Penelope is certain that the beggar is in fact Odysseus, she emphatically denies that Odysseus is going to return, in order to protect his disguise (19.257-58, 313, 524-29, 568, 579-80, and 23.62-68). From this point on, until the reunion in book 23, Penelope is careful to avoid any suggestion that Odysseus may return. This, too, was overlooked by Eustathius.
Somehow, without alerting the serving maids, Penelope has to make it clear to Odysseus that she recognizes him to remove any doubt. Once the interview is concluded, almost too eagerly, Penelope offers the beggar a bath and a comfortable bed. The beggar wisely refuses the comfortable accommodations and asks to be allowed to sleep on the floor. He refuses to allow any of the young serving maids present in the hall to wash his feet (19.344-48). Penelope then instructs Eurycleia, Odysseus's old nurse, to wash them, saying: "Come now, wise Eurycleia, arise and wash the feet of one of like age with thy master. Even as such as his are now haply the feet of Odysseus, and such as his hands, for quickly do men grow old in evil fortune" (357-60). In book 4, when Telemachus appears before Menelaus at his palace, Menelaus, comments on how much Telemachus's hands and feet resemble those of Odysseus (4.147-50). Evidently, this is a means of identification. Pointing out the similarity of the beggar's age, hands and feet to Eurycleia is Penelope's cautious way of telling Odysseus not to fret: she sees the resemblance, in case he has any doubt.
At this point the poet has created a scene of dramatic tension. Odysseus, having put away all the weapons, has apparently abandoned his plan for attacking the suitors with swords and spears, and Penelope has stated that she is out of ideas for putting them off (19.157-58). Neither has a plan for confronting the suitors. Just as the poet created a shift in the action in book 17 away from Penelope at a critical moment, so here he uses an interlude, the story of Odysseus's boar hunt, as a shift away from the action to create drama and suspense. The audience is left to wait and ponder: where do we go from here?
Book 19, Part Two: Penelope Conceives a Plan
Homer uses the foot-washing scenes (19.353-93 and 467-507) to give Penelope time to collect her thoughts, analyze the situation, and develop a plan of action. When Eurycleia recognizes Odysseus's scar (467-68), she tries to inform Penelope--there is no indication that she intended to inform the others present--but fails to get her attention, as Athena has her deep in thought (476-79). Odysseus throttles Eurycleia to keep her from speaking (479-82). Here, again, the Greek text is important. Odysseus tells Eurycleia, "Maia, tie m' etheleis olesai;" (Mother, why wilt thou destroy me?) (Od. 19.482). He then proceeds to instruct her, "siga, me tis t' alios eni megaroisi pythetai" (be silent, lest any other in the halls learn hereof" ). Note that in the Greek text Odysseus is instructing Eurycleia not to inform any other in the halls of his identity. If she tells Penelope others may hear. When he says "other" does Osysseus mean persons other than Penelope or anyone in general? Homer is not clear on this point. But it is clear that Odysseys is not specifically referring to Penelope. The danger to him lies in any other learning of his presence. Here, again, Homer is challenging his audience's power of observation, and each person must decide what Homer intends. Although Homer tells his audience that Penelope is deep in thought (478-79), he does not tell us what, specifically, she is thinking. We must look to her subsequent actions to tell us.
Up to this point in the interview, the information Penelope shares with the beggar is of general knowledge, such as her weaving and unweaving of the shroud for Laertes. From this point forward she carefully informs Odysseus of her inner fears and hopes--thoughts that circumspect Penelope would never have shared with a stranger, no matter how desperate she became. Speaking simultaneously to two audiences, Odysseus and the serving women, she is able to convey her thoughts to Odysseus without informing the spying women. This latter observation is not entirely new. Norman Austin states, "The homophrosyne between the two has reached a remarkable level of cognizance. After the footbath, in fact, Odysseus and Penelope converse as man and wife, as if recognition and reunion has already taken place. Their language is one of private cryptograms" (1982, 231.
After his feet have been washed Penelope re-opens the interview, "stranger, this little thing further will I ask thee myself" (19.509). But before she asks her question, she proceeds to warn her husband, cryptically and by analogy, of her primary concern, her fear of Telemachus being harmed (as the son of Pandareus' daughter was) if they make a careless move (518-23). Then, in order to avoid arousing the suspicion of the servants with the plan she is about to announce, she states that she is mulling over her choices: to maintain the status quo, or to marry and leave the house and all to Telemachus (524-34). However, as the scene proceeds she makes it clear she does not intend to do either.
In the guise of a dream she inquires of Odysseus if he plans to confront the suitors alone. Why would she make this inquiry? At 17.152-59, Theoclymenos told her that Odysseus is on Ithaca planning death and destruction for the suitors; Telemachus reporting on what Menelaos said Proteus had said (145-46), told her that Odysseus is without ships and companions, i.e., that he is alone, and Odysseus confirms this at 19.277, as he tells her he lost all his men at sea. If he answers that he intends to destroy the suitors she will advise him not to rely on the sword but to use instead the bow that she will make available to him by means of a contest. But before she commits herself to the contest with the bow, she must be sure he intends to be there to get his hands on it. Choosing her words carefully, she proceeds with a request that the beggar interpret a dream she supposedly had, (16)
But come now, hear this dream of mine, and interpret it for me. Twenty geese I have in the house that come forth from the water and eat wheat, and my heart warms with joy when I watch them. But forth from the mountain there came a great eagle with crooked beak and broke all their necks and killed them; and they lay strewn in a heap in the halls, while he was borne aloft to the bright sky. Now for my part I wept and wailed, in a dream though it was, and round me thronged the fairtressed Achaean women, as I grieved piteously because the eagle had slain my geese. Then back he came and perched upon a projecting roof-beam, and with the voice of a mortal man checked my weeping, and said: "Be of good cheer, daughter of far famed Icarius; this is no dream, but a true vision of good which shall verily find fulfillment. The geese are the wooers, and I, that before was the eagle, am now again come back as thy husband, who will let loose a cruel doom upon all the wooers." (Od. 19.535-50).
Like all others since Eustathius, Murray's translation of the first line above varies from the literal meaning of Homer's text. Murray has Penelope ask the beggar to listen, then interpret. However, in the Greek text Penelope tells Odysseus, "all" age moi ton oneiron hypokrinai kai akouson" (19.535), which translates literally as, "but come, this dream of mine interpret then listen." The above anomaly was first noted in the twelfth century by Eustathius, who commented, "ho de prothysteron esti. Proton gar tis hypakousas eita hypokrinetai" (which is the wrong way about, prothysteron. For first someone listens and then interprets [1825-26, II.217]). The term used by Eustathius, "prothysteron" was commonly used in antiquity, while the term, "hysteron-proteron" which means that words are out of their logical order, backwards, has become commonly used in modern times (Bassett 1920,39). Though hysteron-proteron may occasionally apply to phrases in Homer's text, I suggest it should not be applied here. The text as written fits perfectly, without alteration, if Penelope knows that she is speaking to her husband. Because Eustathius does not consider the possibility that Penelope is speaking to Odysseus, cryptically or otherwise, he finds Homer's text backwards, i.e., in need of reversal. As a result of his application of hysteron-proteron, countless translators reverse the wording of the text, as Murray does, to "listen, then interpret." They do so without informing their readers of the significant change in meaning.
I suggest that here Homer says what he means, and means what he says. When Penelope says, "interpret then listen," she intends a succession of acts involving first the supposed dream, then a cryptic message regarding the gates of ivory and horns, culminating with the announcement of the contest with the bow. The fact that the meaning of the dream, as it unfolds, is quite clear and needs no interpretation supports the belief that she is not interested in an interpretation; she wants to know, "do you plan to confront the suitors?"
But there is another possible meaning to the word hypokrinai (which generally means "interpret") that supports this hypothesis. Eustathius goes on to say, "Hypokrinasthai in the Iliad means "to simply reply," [this would be at Il.7.407, but not at Il.12.228] thus he will be free to set forth a reply to the dream" (1825-26, II.217). Eustathius unwittingly strengthens the argument that Penelope is knowingly speaking to her husband because, as the scene proceeds, Odysseus does not interpret the dream; he replies to it. However we translate hypokrinai, as "interpret," or "reply." What Penelope is asking Odysseus to do is to "answer my question in the guise of a dream, then listen to my plan."
As she continues to describe her dream, Penelope displays a bit of feistiness. Before she gets into the substance, she attends to some unfinished business; she does not let Odysseus get away with his tease at 19.232-35. In her remarks about the geese (the suitors), she is retaliating for his tease about many women admiring her husband in his travels. Her words, seemingly sympathetic to the suitors, "my heart warms with joy when I watch them," and "I wept and wailed," at the slaughter of the geese, are in fact retaliatory barbs. But she softens the impact with en per oneiroi (541), "only in a dream," i.e., "just kidding."
Penelope, at 19.548-50, then proceeds, in one sentence, to shift from the present to the past to the future in a subtle discourse that makes it clear to her husband that she knows that he is back (in case he had any doubts) and implies that he plans to destroy the suitors. When in the supposed dream she has the eagle/Odysseus say, "The geese are your suitors--I was once the eagle but now I am your husband, back again at last, about to let loose a cruel doom upon them all," Penelope, for the first time verbally assures Odysseus that she knows he is back and gives him an opportunity to reply, in the guise of an analysis, that he plans to confront the suitors. Odysseus responds most emphatically. He ignores the superfluous portions of the dream and gets to the heart of the matter. He agrees with her that his goal is to destroy all the suitors, stating in effect, "Odysseus told you so" (19.555-58). Without arousing the suspicion of the serving maids, he confirms the one bit of information she needs in order to proceed to the next phase of her plan, the part that requires Odysseus to listen. Choosing her words carefully, Penelope continues:
Stranger, dreams verily are baffling and unclear of meaning, and in no wise do they find fulfillment in all things for men. For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horn[s] and one of ivory. Those dreams that pass through the gate of sawn ivory (pristou elephantos) deceive men, bringing words that find no fulfillment. But those that come forth through the gate of polished horn[s] (xeston keraon) bring true issues to pass, when any mortal sees them. But in my case it was not from thence, methinks, that my strange dream came. Ah, truly it would have been welcome to me and to my son. (Od. 19.560-69)
When Euryalos, in book 8, wants to make amends to Odysseus he gives him a sword, pointing out that the scabbard around it is of newly-carved ivory, neopristou elephantos (8.404-05). Evidently, it was not unusual for swords to be encased in ivory scabbards. Quintus of Smyrna, in the fourth century CE, describes Penthesileia's sword as encased in a scabbard of ivory and silver (1996, 1.146). When Penelope rejects dreams that pass through carved ivory, saying that they will not lead to fulfillment of her dream (19.564-65), she is advising Odysseus that destruction of the suitors will not be accomplished by use of the sword. Why would she allude to this? As mistress of the household she was aware that there were weapons, swords and spears, on the walls of the megaron earlier in the day (16.295). Penelope must have noticed that the swords and other weapons had been removed (19.4-5, 31-33) and assumed that they would be used by Odysseus.
When Penelope asserts that dreams that pass through the gate of polished horns will "bring true issues to pass" (19.566-67), she is saying that he will fulfill her dream of destroying the suitors through use of the bow. The bow was made of polished horn (21.281 the bow is "polished" toxon euxoon, and at 395 it is made of horn, kera). In the Iliad Homer describes Pandarus' polished bow, made from a wild goat (Il.4.105-10). That the bow was made of the horns of the goat is made explicit a few lines later. Although Homer uses the word bion for bow at 19.577, the more common Greek word for bow is toxon, which Autetirieth defines as "bow ... consisting of two pieces of horn (of the wild goat, euxoon aigos agriou)" (2000, 305). In the Greek text Homer uses the plural of the word for horns, keraessi (19.563) and keraon (565) but the singular for ivory, elephanti (563) and elephantos (564). (17) The plural is emphasized because, as stated above, it takes a pair of horns to make one bow, and Odysseus will more readily associate horns with the bow.
Anne Amory, in an exhaustive article (57 pages), had the answer to the enigma of ivory and horns in her hands, but let it slip through her fingers. In her article she notes the possible connection between ivory and the sword and horn with the bow, but because she does not realize that Penelope is knowingly communicating to Odysseus, she fails to understand how they relate to the passages in Homer's text (1966, 42-49).
Significantly, the bow was stored in a locked storeroom in the palace (21.8-12), out of Odysseus's reach but where Penelope had access to it. For the benefit of the spying servants, and perhaps due to the enormity of the task, Penelope says that she doubts that her dream will come true, as much as she and her son would love to have it so (19.569). She is telling Odysseus that he can count on support from Telemachus while conceding that she has misgivings about his chances for success. Her doubts will become fears that will haunt her at the beginning of book 20 and move her to tears as she procures the bow at the beginning of book 21.
Book 19 seems to have perplexed Eustathius in particular and the Byzantine scholars in general. Eustathius's writings indicate that he was baffled by Penelope's dream and her reference to gates of ivory and horns. In his attempt to explain their meaning, he shows his frustration, and that of his contemporary scholars, as follows:
One should know that many of the wise men [polloi ton sophon], have thoroughly examined [exetripsan, literally "worn down"] these gates of dreams, some treading through them one way, others another way. And some scholars following the Poet and taking their starting point from him cautiously open such gates to those who wish to behold things about them, saying, this passage is an enigma [ainigma ton logon einai]. (Eustathius 1825-26, II.218)
Since Eustathius makes no reference to ancient sources or scholia on this issue, we can assume that the wise men that he is referring to are Byzantine scholars. For example, he twice refers to John Italus, an eleventh-century scholar in Byzantium who was unable to explain to the emperor in Constantinople the meaning of ivory and horns (1825-26, II.219). Eustathius shows his bewilderment when he goes on to say, "Then these inexplicable dreams are those for which it is impossible to devise a specific judgment, to explain or to explicate. Therefore they are also hard to interpret (II.218)." Eater, in his brief opening synopsis to book 23 of his Commentarii, Eustathius specifically states that recognition will occur in book 23. It begins, Anagnorismos Odysseos pros ten gynaika (recognition of Odysseus by the wife). Again, it is not clear whether this is Eustathius's own interpretation or if it was the standard in Byzantium.
For many centuries scholars failed to associate the bow with horns and ivory with the sword. Russo, for example, observes, "Generations of scholars have puzzled over the symbolism of this passage and the reason for associating horn with truth and ivory with deception" (Russo et al. 2000, 103). Note that Russo makes no mention of fulfillment of Penelope's dream. I suggest that there are two theories that may explain this otherwise inexplicable oversight.
First, the Byzantines missed early recognition in their renewed interest in, and reinterpretation of Homer, and passed this oversight on to us through Eustathius's commentaries. If scholars do not believe that Penelope recognizes the beggar to be her husband in book 19, then there is no reason for them to assume that she is telling her husband that her dream will be fulfilled by use of the bow. Penelope emphasizes the word "fulfillment," teleietai, at 19.561, in referring to her dream. The gate of ivory will deceive men and will not lead to fulfillment; the gate of horns will bring true things to pass, i.e., will lead to achieving her dream. Eustathius in his commentaries unwittingly misleads his readers and untold generations of scholars by ignoring the "fulfillment" aspect and instead emphasizing "truth and falsity." He also overlooked the significance of the plural in keraon, horns. He suggests several possible interpretations, the one most quoted is based on a play on words:
Therefore the poet says on the one hand gate of horn keratinen pylen, from where [come the dreams] that are true and etuma krainontes come true, somehow alliterating the verb krainein from kerasin, as from keras, keraino, and kraino. [When he says] on the other hand ivory (elephantinen), through which come those false (pseudeis) and deceiving (elephairomenoi) [dreams], [he is referring to] those [dreams which are] irrational (paralogizomenoi), tricking (apatontes), and only give people hope (elpestha). (Eustathius 1825- 26, II.218-19)
Note Eustathius's use of the singular in referring to horn, keratinen, and keras, thus weakening any possibility of associating horns with the bow. Eustathius's play on words has been repeated by scholars on innumerable occasions throughout the centuries.
The second hindrance to understanding the significance of horns and ivory may have come to us, unwittingly, from the first century B.C.E. poet, Virgil. In the AeneidVirgil borrows heavily from Homer, but without copying. Whereas Homer uses horns and ivory as nouns, Virgil uses gates of horn and ivory as adjectives, both in the singular, and for his own purpose. He says;
There are twin gates of sleep. ... One is of horn, they say, where an easy exit Is given to shades which are true; the other is white And perfect, of gleaming ivory. Through it the Ghosts Of the underworld send false dreams to the light. (Lind 1963, 128)
Note Virgil's emphasis on truth and falsity, no mention of achievement. Scholars in Western Europe were familiar with Virgil's Aeneid long before the text of Homer's poems returned to the West in the fourteenth century. When exposed to the Odyssey, scholars failed to distinguish between Homer's purpose for the use of "horns and ivory" and that of Virgil--a subtle but important distinction.
At this point, after advising Odysseus to use the bow and without waiting for a response, Penelope immediately proceeds to announce a means by which she can put the bow in his hands. Speaking as if she had finally decided to marry one of the suitors--again, so as not to arouse the suspicions of the servants--she suddenly and unexpectedly announces her intent to hold a contest involving Odysseus's bow the next day (19.570-80). She declares that the man who can string the bow and shoot an arrow through all twelve axe-heads is the man she will marry, leaving her house behind (577-80). This announcement has puzzled scholars for centuries. Joseph Russo asks,
Why does the queen decide at this point to set the contest of the bow for the very next day and stake her entire future on its outcome? This question remains one of the fundamental problems for any interpretation of [book] xix and the consistency of Homer's portrait of Penelope (Russo et al. 2000, 104).
If Penelope does not recognize the beggar to be Odysseus, then Russo's point is well taken; to hold the contest at this time is totally irrational, especially after being told that same day that Odysseus is alive. If she truly was tired of putting them off, she could have picked the most desirable man in looks, wealth, character, etc., to marry. But with the contest she will be taking a chance that an undesirable suitor will somehow string the bow, shoot an arrow through the ax-heads, and take her home as his bride. This seems quite out of character for a woman of Penelope's circumspection. The answer is that she wants to create an opportunity to get the bow into Odysseus's hands. It is interesting that Russo admits that this is a possible explanation, but finds it, "unattractive ... [it] assumes that an event of the utmost significance [recognition] has transpired in xix but has been kept out of sight by the poet, which is hardly Homer's manner" (Russo et al. 2000, 104).
Russo evidently requires direct verbal confirmation from Homer on this point. However, we have already rioted that Homer does not always narrate what is transpiring; he often shows us through the acts of the participants. His audience has to deduce and infer the actors' motives by sleuthing. Penelope's motive for announcing the contest with the bow is a good example of this literary device. As quoted above, Bernard Knox states the point succinctly, "we are not told what is going on in the mind of his characters; we are shown" (1998, 47). Robert Fitzgerald in his postscript needs no such machinations to deduce that Penelope suspects that the beggar is her husband. With regard to her announcement of the contest with the bow, he asks: "How could she come to this abrupt decision in the course of her evening scene with Odysseus unless she realized that the stranger before her was indeed her Husband?" (1963, 503).
The idea of the contest is brilliant. Odysseus is an expert with the bow (8.215-20) so Penelope is confident that, if he can get his hands on it, he will use it with deadly effect. According to Telemachus there are over one hundred suitors in the megaron eager to marry Penelope (16.245-51). With the bow Odysseus can cut them down rapidly from a safe distance. The powerful bow is extremely difficult to bend and it requires extraordinary skill to shoot an arrow through twelve axe heads. She anticipates that the suitors will fail in their efforts and that Odysseus will be there to get his hands on it. Odysseus immediately realizes the benefit of the bow, and he enthusiastically urges Penelope not to delay the contest, stating that before the suitors can "handle and hook it," Odysseus will be home with her (19.582-87). He is telling her to proceed with the contest, he will be there!
With the contest agreed upon, the queen goes up to her well-lit room. Homer tells us, "not alone, for with her went her handmaids as well" (19.601). She goes to bed believing that the beggar is Odysseus and is intent on keeping his identity a secret. She does not know that both Telemachus and Eurycleia are aware of the beggar's true identity.
Immediately after announcing the contest and just prior to retiring in book 19, Penelope makes what has to be one of the most sensual and inspirational statements in all of Homer's works. She addresses the beggar as follows: "If thou couldest but wish, stranger, to sit here in my halls and give me joy (terpein), sleep should never be shed over my eyelids. But it is in no wise possible that men should forever be sleepless, for the immortals have appointed a proper time for each thing upon the earth, the giver of grain" (19.589-93)." She is subtly telling him that she loves him and is eager to be with him but that everything has its proper time, implying that their time together will come. Virtuous Penelope cannot be saying this to a stranger. (18) Nor is this her intuition or subconscious mind speaking. Her thoughts are carefully crafted and discreetly stated. This is a promise to her husband of a warm, loving reception at the proper time and place after he has destroyed the suitors. What could be more inspiring to a man about to confront his enemies? The beauty of the pronouncement is that it is prophetic. The next night they do in fact stay up all night reveling in all the longed-for joys of love, philotetos etarpeten erateines. (23.300-01).
Books 20 and 21: Mutual Misgivings, Ctesippus, and the Bow Contest
That night, after Penelope retires, Odysseus makes his bed on the ground, on a rawhide of an ox. As he watches the faithless women rendezvous with the suitors, he checks his anger and tosses and turns as he ponders how he can destroy so many suitors. Athena comes to reassure him, and he finally falls asleep (20.1-54).
Penelope has her own doubts. Here, at 20.56-90, Homer displays his deep understanding of human nature. Earlier, when Penelope tells her husband in book 19 that dreams that pass through the gate of horns will bring true issues to pass, she adds that she doubts that her dream of destroying the suitors will be achieved, much as she desires it (19.568). She is telling Odysseus she doubts his chances for success. Failure on the part of scholars to observe the significance of this fear has contributed to their misinterpreting the scene with Penelope in 20.61-90. For example, Frederick M. Combellack, in regard to this scene, states,
She cries and wails and calls upon Artemis to kill her at once, autika nun. Better to go down under the earth than to gladden the heart of an inferior man. All this fits perfectly with the Penelope whom Homer has just described, resolved to choose a second husband tomorrow, but hating the thought of it. But Penelope's words are completely incompatible with the Harsh-Amory woman who knows that Odysseus is asleep downstairs. (Combellack 1983, 109)
Combellack's conclusion is based on the premise that Penelope cannot have recognized her husband or she would not be anticipating a second marriage. This is based on the Eustathian Error, but is not supported by the facts. Odysseus has told her he has lost all his men (19.273-79), i.e., that he has returned alone. As a result, she believes that he will confront the suitors alone (see also 23.37-8). To her this means that there is little or no chance for him to succeed. That night as she tries to sleep, Penelope has terrible doubts and misgivings about the uncertain outcome of the contest she is about to announce. She dreads facing the dawn. Just as the anticipated joy of Pandareus's three daughters was snatched away at the time of their anticipated weddings, and they were taken away to the underworld, so Penelope anticipates that her joy at her husband's return will be thwarted by his death. (20.61-78). It is the fear of the almost certain death of her husband that causes her to wish for Artemis to smite her so that she can be with him in the underworld and avoid marrying a lesser man (80-82). She wishes for death not because she believes Odysseus is dead, but in apprehension of his failing to survive against such great odds.
The next morning the wisdom in Penelope's repeatedly stating before others that Odysseus was never going to return was made apparent. When the suitors arrive to feast at the palace, one of them, Ctesippus by name, taunts the beggar and throws an ox hoof at him saying, "Nay, come, I too will give him a stranger's gift, that he in turn may give a present either to the bath-woman or to some other of the slaves who are in the house of godlike Odysseus" (20.296-98). How did Ctesippus know that one of the bath-women, Eurycleia, washed the beggar's feet? None of the suitors were there. They all left at the end of Book 18 (427-28). Only Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, Penelope, Eurycleia, and the serving-maids were present! Evidently, one of the disloyal serving-maids told. Ctesippus, and possibly others, (19) of what transpired during the interview, including the bathing of the beggar's feet. But due to Penelope's caution in repeatedly insisting that Odysseus is not coming back, the serving-maids do not suspect the beggar's true identity.
That same day Penelope announces to the suitors the contest of the bow, offering herself as the bride-prize. All they have to do is to string the bow and shoot an arrow through the holes in twelve axe-heads (21.68-79). As it turns out, none can even string the bow. When the beggar asks to try his strength to string the bow, Antinous, one of the leaders of the suitors, objects and threatens to harm him. Penelope, eager to get the bow into Odysseus's hands, tells him not to show disrespect to Telemachus's guest and, with delicious irony, reassures him that the beggar surely does not expect to marry her if he succeeds (311-19),Telemachus then takes over, sends his mother up to her room, out of harm's way (344-54), and has the bow placed into Odysseus' hands with a quiver full of arrows (378-79). Odysseus, assisted by his son and two loyal servants, is able to stand back and use the bow with deadly effect. They proceed in book 22 to slay all the suitors.
Book 23: A Feisty Reunion
It is in book 23 that Eustathius believes that Penelope finally recognizes the stranger to be her husband. His introductory caption reads, Anagnorismos Odysseos Pros Ten Gynaika, (Recognition of Odysseus by His Wife) (1825-26, II.292).
Dindorf, in 1855, begins the scholia on book 23 with the caption, Hypothesis: Aggelia Eurykleias Penelopei peri tou Odysseos kai tes ton ninesteron anaireseos, anagnorismos te antes pros Odyssea, (Issue: Announcement by Eurycleia to Penelope about Odysseus and of the taking up of the suitors' [bodies for burial], and recognition by her of Odysseus [1962, 715]). Dindorf's caption basically parallels Eustathius. Through the centuries scholars have accepted as unimpeachable truth the time of recognition as occurring in book 23. Even Harsh and Fitzgerald assume that some form of recognition occurs in book 23. However, a careful reading of Homer's text indicates that at no time does the poet state that recognition takes place in book 23. I suggest that Eustathius was oblivious to the nature of the drama enacted in the dialogue between Penelope and Eurycleia in the beginning of book 23, and subsequently misses the subtle interplay between Odysseus and his wife as they maneuver towards reunion. In addition, Eustathius ignores clear indications by Penelope (23. 83-87) that she is aware of her husband's identity prior to the so called "test of the bed." As will be discussed below, translators lately have been encouraged by scholars to change the meaning of Homer's Greek text in order to give substance to the issue of recognition in book 23 where none exists (e.g., 173-78).
Book 23 begins with Eurycleia scrambling upstairs to tell Penelope the news that Odysseus is home and that he has killed all the suitors. Penelope, ever cautious, is still intent upon keeping the beggar's identity secret until she is certain that disclosure is safe. She proceeds to probe and obtain information out of Eurycleia through the ploy of ridiculing her and accusing her of having been driven mad by the gods (23.10-14). The nurse repeats that Odysseus is home and adds that Telemachus knew it all along (25-31). In her joyous enthusiasm, Penelope leaps from her bed, and with her eyes streaming tears, hugs Eurycleia while asking her if truly he has come home and how, alone, he destroyed the suitors (35-38). Eurycleia responds that she did not see how it occurred and did not ask. She goes on to describe what she saw, after the fact, Odysseus splattered with blood and gore (48). (20) Perhaps as a result of Eurycleia's lack of first-hand knowledge of how the suitors were killed, or more likely because she wants to keep her options open, Penelope tempers her enthusiasm, and resumes the fiction that Odysseus is never coming back. She regains her composure and, ever careful, probes further: "But this is no true tale, as thou tellest it; nay, some one of the immortals has slain the lordly wooers in wrath at their insolence and their evil deeds. ... But Odysseus far away has lost his return to the land of Achaea, and is lost himself" (59-68).
Eurycleia responds by accusing her of being ever distrustful and goes on to describe the scar she saw on Odysseus's leg, proof positive that this is Odysseus (23.73-75). But Penelope shows no concern about the scar. This is significant. In matters of importance cautious Penelope always presses for more information. For example, she insists that Telemachus tell her all he heard on his travels (17.101-106). She insists that the beggar give details in describing Odysseus (19.215-19). In Book 23, above, she probes Eurycleia to get information on the slaying of the suitors. And finally, she makes Odysseus tell her about the troubles they have to face in the future (23.256-62). Her failure to inquire about the scar is further indication that, to her, identity is not an issue. Just as Odysseus is able to coax information from an unwary Eumaeus in book 14, here like-minded Penelope pries the information she needs from an unsuspecting Eurycleia while maintaining the pretense that Odysseus will never return.
Having wheedled from Eurycleia all she knows about the slaughter, Penelope invites her to go down with her to see the bodies of the slain and the one who killed them. In depicting Penelope's thoughts as she descends the stairs, Homer leaves no doubt about her knowledge of her husband's identity: "she went down from the upper chamber, and much her heart pondered whether she should stand aloof and question her dear husband, or whether she should go up to him, and clasp and kiss his head and hands" (23.85-87).
In the Greek text Homer uses the words philon posin, "dear," or "beloved" husband, in describing the object of Penelope's thoughts. This makes it clear and unambiguous that her thoughts are directed at Odysseus, not a stranger (she would not, I suggest, consider clasping and kissing a stranger). Evidently, Eustathius does not appreciate the significance of this passage. In commenting on it, he does not attempt to explain Penelope's thoughts and options. Instead, he suggests that she is simply indecisive and confused. He attempts to gloss over her thoughts, saying: "And thus on the one hand she will do neither thing immediately, for the decision is made on the spur of the moment, and the woman did not at all know what must be done. But on the other hand the poet proceeding onwards will indeed set this all in order persuasively" (1825-26, II.296). For centuries scholars have followed his advice. Eight hundred years later, for example, Alfred Heubeck, in an attempt to find an explanation to negate the apparent meaning of Homer's text, follows Eustathius's lead. He states: "The poet is concerned here not so much with the act of decision, as with the heroine's mood, her indecision and confused emotions" (Rosso, et al. 2000, 321). If, however, we examine the literal meaning of the text we will observe that Penelope is not confused or indecisive. She states two alternatives, to rush forward and embrace her dear husband, or to stand back and question him. Her thinking is clear, logical and rational.
Irene J. F. de Jong proposes a compromise of sorts on the issue. With regard to Penelope's thoughts at this juncture,
The words philon posin are intriguing: is this Penelope's focalization, or is the narrator intruding upon her focalization and substituting his--and the reader's--knowledge that the man is Odysseus. I would prefer to connect the words with Penelope, without, however, taking this to mean that she recognizes Odysseus at this very moment. The two alternate actions which she considers (questioning him or kissing him) both require her at least to accept the possibility that the stranger is her husband, (de Jong 2009, 81; italics in original)
However, if these are Penelope's thoughts and she accepts the possibility that the stranger is her husband, without recognition, as de Jong suggests, she would not be thinking of either questioning him or kissing him (in the alternative); she would by necessity be thinking of doing both in proper sequence, first questioning him and then, if she is satisfied with his responses, embracing and kissing him.
Just as Odysseus ponders in book 6 the proper manner to approach Nausicaa in order to seek her help (6.141-44), and just as in book 24 he ponders whether or not to test his father (24.235-40), so here like-minded Penelope ponders the most appropriate manner to approach and greet her beloved husband. In reading further, we find that it is only after she observes Odysseus's initial silence and aloofness (23.90-91) that Penelope decides to stand off and question him. Her subsequent actions are consistent with her prior thoughts. Most Homeric scholars such as Eustathius and Heubeck attempt to de-emphasize the importance of this passage, or like de Jong, attempt to find an alternate meaning. Lately, some translators leave out the word "dear," philon, from this scene (e.g., Fitzgerald 1963, 432, Fagles 1997, 458, and Lombardo 2000, 355), thus minimizing their readers' ability to interpret recognition in Penelope's words. To accept Homer's words at face value creates for them a dilemma. If Penelope knows that this is Odysseus and identity is not an issue, what is left to test? It is natural, I suggest, that when a husband returns after an absence of twenty years, a wife will want to know if he has changed and if he still cares for her. These are important, fundamental questions. Simply asking him will not do. She needs a sign, a symbol, perhaps a remembrance of something with special significance to them both, to show her that he still cares.
Up to the beginning of book 23 Odysseus has been careful not to show affection for his wife, obviously because of the need to protect his disguise. At the same time, he is aware that Penelope has been resisting the suitors' advances; he has observed her tears of longing (19.204-09), agreed with her plan to use the bow (583-87), heard her fond anticipation of their being together (589-90), heard her cries of grief at the beginning of book 20 when she anticipates that he will be killed, and watched as she shamed the suitors into allowing him to handle the bow (21.336-42). Through her words and deeds she has made it abundantly clear that she still cares for him. But he, on the other hand, has yet to give any indication that he still cares for her. Penelope finds herself faced with the choices that Juliet faces in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Recall that Juliet goes out on her balcony and declares her love to what she believes to be an empty garden. When she discovers that Romeo has heard her pronouncements of love, she, being young and naive, trusts him not to take advantage of her. Under similar circumstances, Penelope, being older and wiser, chooses to test Odysseus's love. She has to know, does he still care, where is his heart, is he still the same warm, loving and considerate husband who left for Troy twenty years before? These issues need to be addressed before they can resume their marriage.
Penelope comes down to the megaron and sits in the glow of the fire, opposite her husband. Odysseus is sitting by a tall pillar, waiting. He says nothing --she says nothing. He offers no explanation for his ten-year delay in returning from the war. He does not thank her for rearing such a worthy son. Nor does he thank her for putting the bow in his hands. In fact, he does not even speak to her. He sits there, the universally acclaimed hero of Troy and, now, the great avenger. In his mind his fame has reached the skies (9.19-20). He awaits her obeisance. Instinctively, she hesitates. (21) Homer tells us, "and now with her eyes she would look full upon his face, and now again she would fail to know him, for he had upon him mean raiment" (23.93-94). Homer's text here seems somewhat obscure in that it does not fully describe Odysseus's appearance. The poet implies that for the moment Penelope does not recognize her husband because of his foul clothes, but he does not tell us the particulars. To better visualize Odysseus's appearance we must go back to 22.401 where Homer describes Odysseus as Eurycleia sees him.
There she found Odysseus amid the bodies of the slain, all befouled with blood and filth, like a lion that comes from feeding on an ox of the farmstead, and all his breast and cheeks on either side are stained with blood, and he was terrible to look upon; even so was Odysseus befouled, his feet and his hands above. (Od. 22.401-06)
Homer tells us that Telemachus and his helpers washed their hands and feet after the slaughter of the suitors and after disposing of Melanthius and the disloyal maids (22.478-79); but there is no mention of Odysseus cleaning off the blood and gore. Eurykleia offers to get him fresh clothing at 486-88, but there is no indication that she did so. Shortly after the above scene with Penelope (23.93-94), Odysseus describes himself to Telemachus as being "foul and ... clad about my body in mean clothing" (115). The word foul indicates that he is still covered with the blood and gore mentioned at 22.402. These descriptions enable us to visualize what Penelope sees.
As stated above, when Penelope enters the hall neither she nor Odysseus breaks the silence. The first person to speak is Telemachus. He is oblivious to the undertones of the drama unfolding before him. Homer uses him beautifully here--his words make it possible for both parents to speak to him, not to each other, as they jockey for position in re-establishing their relationship. Telemachus may be setting the tone for Odysseus when he says: "My mother, cruel mother, that hast an unyielding heart, why dost thou thus hold aloof from my father, and dost not sit by his side and ask and question him? ... [T]hy heart is ever harder than stone" (23.97-103). Telemachus has been verbally sparring with his mother as early as book 1 as he tries to get out from under her protective domination (1.345-59). Labeling his mother as "hard hearted" may have put the thought in Odysseus's mind at this point and at 23.166-70. To Telemachus's meddling reproach she responds that she is lost in wonder and cannot speak, nor look him in the face, "But if in truth he is Odysseus, and has come home, we two shall surely know one another more certainly; for we have signs which we two alone know, signs hidden from others" (107-10). Penelope's mention of "signs hidden from others" is the first indication that there are symbols that they have cherished during the years of separation that, as we shall see, kept the embers of their love burning. The items she is referring to are the bridal chamber and the bed therein, secret symbols of their love. Odysseus understands exactly what she is seeking, but will not at this time give her the satisfaction of a response.
Heubeck, in commenting on the Greek text at 23.108-10, admits to some form of recognition by Penelope at this point. He believes that her use of "we" (noi, 23.108,110, and hemin, 109), indicates that Penelope has, as he says, "subconsciously" abandoned many of her doubts and reservations (2000,323).
Odysseus is patient with her, and a bit condescending. He seems to be aware of her strategy; he tells his son: "Telemachus, suffer now thy mother to test me in the halls; presently shall she win more certain knowledge. But now because I am foul, and am clad about my body in mean clothing, she scorns me, and will not yet admit that I am he" (23.113-16). Odysseus does not claim that his wife fails to recognize him; what he says is that she is not yet ready to acknowledge him, i.e., to greet him, a major distinction.
Without giving Penelope an opportunity to respond, Odysseus proceeds to have a long discourse with Telemachus, man to man, on how to hide the slaughter from the town folks (23.117-40). He does not include Penelope in the discussion. She managed the kingdom and their estate without him for twenty years and in his desperate hour of need provided him with the means to destroy the suitors. Now, with further business at hand, he is excluding her. A domestic stand-off is in the making. Without yet speaking to her, Odysseus leaves to bathe and wash off the blood and gore. Then, handsome and god-like, he returns to the seat that he had left and once seated speaks to Penelope directly, for the first time. He knows that she recognizes him. He makes no attempt to prove his identity. Instead, without giving her a chance to speak, he echoes--somewhat impatiently and with annoyance in his voice--what Telemachus said earlier,
Strange lady! To thee beyond all women have the dwellers on Olympus given a heart that cannot be softened. No other woman would harden her heart as thou dost, and stand aloof from her husband who after many grievous toils had come to her in the twentieth year to his native land. Nay come, nurse, strew me a couch, that all alone I may lay me down, for verily the heart in her breast is of iron. (Od. 23.166-72)
In the Greek text the word for Murray's "strange lady" is daimonie. According to Cunliffe it can mean, "under superhuman influence, possessed, [one] whose actions are unaccountable or ill-omened" (1963, 82). The word can also be affectionate or sarcastic, depending on the circumstances. Hector, for example, uses it in tenderly addressing Andromache as he hands their child back to her (II.6.486). In book 19 Odysseus uses it in showing his annoyance with Melantho (71). Here, Odysseus seems to be using it somewhat disparagingly to convey his annoyance at Penelope's failure to approach and greet him. Russo, in another context, points out, with insight, that Homer's characters often use the word in a state of heightened emotion to address someone familiar who is behaving unexpectedly, a form of rebuke (Russo et al. 2000, 78). Russo goes on to suggest that a good colloquial translation might be "what's gotten into you?" Russo proceeds to point out that the word is always used in a somewhat intimate manner. It would not be used in reference to strangers. (22) He goes on to say," the constant element of meaning is an intensity on the speaker's part meant to create an atmosphere of intimacy that might oblige the addressee to co-operate." In the above context Russo's analysis fits perfectly; Odysseus shows annoyance at his wife's inexplicable refusal to approach and greet him, and is trying to coax her into abandoning her reserve. It is noteworthy that Odysseus makes no effort to prove his identity. To him it is a non-issue. In the statement, "and stand aloof from her husband" (23.169), Odysseus implies, correctly, that she knows who he is, and that she is consciously withholding her greetings. More importantly, before she has a chance to reply to his rebuff, he tries to force her hand by ordering Eurycleia, the nurse, to prepare him a couch out in the hall (171-72). This is a power play of great significance; he threatens to sleep alone, not in their bridal chamber, their special haven to which Penelope alluded earlier. In his request, he too is alluding to the symbol of their love, in this case by feigning indifference as to where he will sleep. He is gambling that she will repent and greet him properly. Needless to say, Penelope is not intimidated by Odysseus's blustering. Rather than repent, she ups the ante. Although he threatens to sleep alone, she knows that after being away twenty years he did not come home to sleep in a separate bed.
Her terse response to his blustering is one of the most poignant moments in the Odyssey; in it she demurs to his accusations, states her concern, and calls his bluff. Her response can be broken down into two parts. First, feisty as ever, she throws back at Odysseus the word "daimonie" and states her case. As will be discussed below, these lines have created problems for scholars for centuries. A careful reading of the Greek text is important at this point, particularly at 23.175-76:
daimoni', out' ar ti megalizomai out' atherizo oute Hen agamai, mala d' eu oid' hoios eestha ex Ithakes epi neos ion dolicheretmoio. (Od. 23. 174-76) ("Strange man," wary Penelope said. "I'm not so proud, so scornful, nor am I overwhelmed by your quick change ... You look--how well I know--the way he looked, setting sail from Ithaca years ago aboard the long-oared ship" [Fagles 1997, 461; my italics])
Fagles gives us what has recently become the accepted interpretation of her response. Mis phrase in line 175, "You look--how well I know--the way he looked," is not found in the Greek text; it was added (with good but misguided intentions), to bolster the theory that the stranger/beggar's identity is still at issue. A. T. Murray, on the other hand, in the 1919 Loeb translation of the Odyssey, translates the phrase literally: "Strange sir, I am neither in any wise proud, nor do I scorn thee, nor yet am I greatly amazed, but right well do I know what manner of man thou wast, when thou wentest forth from Ithaca on thy long-oared ship" (23.174-76). Line 175, "mala d' eu oid hoios eestha," translates literally as, "moreover, I know what manner of person you were." The key word "eestha" second person, singular, past imperfect of the verb "to be," translates literally, "you were." Fagles's phrase, "the way he looked," refers to a third party and raises the issue of recognition, while the (heck text indicates that her comments are directed, not at a third party, but at Odysseus himself. This observation is not new.
In 1882 the noted British scholar, Henry Hayman, D. D., does not indicate that he supports early recognition, yet with regard to 23.175, in a note, he observes that, "she is inclining, in spite of her prudential resolve, to accept his identity. ... [T]he 2nd person slips from her in hoios eestha, which is of course a virtual acceptance" (1882, 526). Although he is reluctant to do so, Hayman tacitly admits that she recognizes her husband, prior to testing him. Even so, Hayman follows the standard interpretation by proceeding to state that Penelope's "test of the bed" is to prove her husband's identity (527).
The tendency of translators to modify Homer's text at 23.175 (which my research indicates began in the second half of the twentieth century) may be the result of their following the suggestion of two noted Homeric scholars. The first, D. B. Monro, suggests with regard to Od. 23.275-76:
The connexion of the thought is somewhat obscured by Penelopes desire to try Ulysses. She means to say "I am not haughty or indifferent or offended, nor have I forgotten: but if you are Ulysses you will see the meaning of the order which I now give," viz. to put the bedstead outside the chamber that he himself made. (Monro 1901, 250; my italics)
According to Monro, Penelope meant to say one thing, but supposedly, her words are inadequate; she says something else. He is correcting Homer! Monro's suggestion did not have a noticeable effect on translators; they continued to translate 23.175 accurately for sixty years thereafter. The second scholar seems to have had more influence. W. B. Stanford, who in 1948 published his highly acclaimed two-volume text on the Odyssey with notes, suggests in a note on 23.175, that Homer's "what manner of person you were," is an abridgement that needs modification. Like Monro, he suggests changes to the Homeric text to add support to the issue of identity (1973, 397-98). The first translator who follows Monro/Stanford's suggestions, as far as I can tell, was Robert Fitzgerald in 1961: "I know so well how you--how he--appeared boarding the ship for Troy" From that time on, translators such as Lattimore, Mandelbaum, Fagles, Lombardo, Dimock (in the 1995 Second Edition of Murray's Loeb translation) and others, make changes in the text at 23,175-76 to raise the issue of identity. This then brings us to the question of what Penelope is referring to when she raises the issue of what manner of person Odysseus was when he left for Troy. I suggest that she is telling him her concern is that, though he is her husband, he does not seem to be the same person that he was when he left for Troy. She is referring to his character and apparent lack of affection.
A determination of Odysseus's character prior to his departure for Troy requires a careful reading of the poem (the lack of affection has briefly been referred to above). If we piece together various comments we can get an idea of what Penelope is referring to. Homer has him described by Mentor as a kind king, mild as a father (2.230-34); by Penelope as a just and considerate ruler (4.687-93); by Athena as a kind and righteous king (5.8-12); by Eumaeus as loyal and protective of his friends (16.428-30); and he is portrayed by Eurymachus as being kind and generous to children (442-44). In the underworld his mother tells Odysseus that she ended her life because she missed his counsel and his gentle ways (11.202-03). Most importantly, Penelope's description of his parting words as he was leaving for Troy portrays him as a thoughtful, loving and trusting husband, a father concerned about his infant son's future, and a son considerate of his aging parents' comfort and welfare (18.259-70). Scholars have noted Odysseus's humanity in the past. W. B. Stanford, for example, comments on the fact that Odysseus has two supreme qualities, intelligence and gentleness. He points out that Athena has a special liking for him because of his gentleness, courtesy and compassion (1954, 39-40). I suggest that Penelope is telling Odysseus that she is standoffish because she remembers and wants back the same considerate, gentle and loving husband who left for Troy twenty years earlier.
The above observations on early recognition are not entirely unique. Douglas J. Stewart agrees with Harsh that Penelope recognizes the beggar to be Odysseus in book 19 (though at 357-59, not at 231-35). He, too, does not believe that she is testing the beggar's identity in book 23,
This is a test of sorts, as the poet himself says, indulging in perhaps the only piece of frank literary explanation in the Homeric corpus (23.181: "She did this to test her husband"). But criticism has been a bit dull about what kind of test, I suggest. Does she need to test his identity, by having him declare a piece of evidence that only she and Odysseus knew? That seems unlikely. ... If Penelope is testing Odysseus for something here, I think that it is not for redundant evidence of his minimal and technical identity, but for plausible evidence of his humanity. ... Above all, having won through to the security of his home and his rightful place in society once again, will he relax his guard to the degree that is natural in one's familiar and proper place, or will he remain distrustful and unnaturally canny to the end? (Stewart 1976, 138-39).
Stewart tells us that, "She needs to see the spontaneous act, the unpremeditated expression or the ultimate surd [sic] of the arbitrary self before she is ready to conclude that he is, has become, one might say, himself again" (1976, 137).
After stating her concerns, Penelope gets to the second part of her response, by seeming to oblige Odysseus's wishes for separate sleeping accommodations. She instructs Euryclcia to move their bed out of the bridal chamber so he can sleep in the hall alone. (23) Here again, the Greek text is of primary importance. Penelope's words are,
all' age hoi storeson pukinon lechos Eurucleia, ektos eustatheos thalamou, ton r' autos epoiei. (Od. 23.177-78). (Yet come, Eurycleia, strew for him the stout bedstead outside the well-built bridal chamber which he made himself).
The key words, "which he made himself," ton r' autos epoiei, can only refer to Odysseus, the man standing before her, not a third party. This has bothered scholars for centuries. In 1948 Stanford suggests changing the meaning by translating the words into, "the Master himself made (1973, 398)." This refers to a third person and avoids giving the impression that Penelope recognizes the man standing before her to be her husband. Like many others in the second half of the twentieth century, Fagles translates 23.177-78, as follows:
Come, Eurycleia, Move the sturdy bedstead out of our bridal chamber--That room that the master built with his own hands (Fagles 1997, 461).
The word, "master," is not in the Greek text. Fagles's well-intended alteration reflects further attempts on the part of scholars who are not cognizant of early recognition to bring what they consider consistency to Homer's text.
As stated above, the meaning of Homer's text at 23.174-78 has puzzled scholars for centuries. This is reflected, for example, in William Henry Melmoth's 1799 translation of Homer's poems wherein his notes include comments on the Commentarii of Eustathius. Melmoth states, with obvious pride, on the title page of his book, that his translation closely follows the interpretations of Eustathius and other scholars, particularly Alexander Pope. Melmoth's note regarding 174-78 is enlightening:
It must be allowed that this is a very artful turn of thought in Penelope. Ulysses commands a bed be prepared, Penelope catches the word, and seeming to consent, orders Eurycleia to carry the bed out of the bridal apartment, and prepare it. Now this bed was of such a nature as to be inwrought into the substance of the apartment itself, and could not be removed: if therefore Ulysses had acquiesced in the injunction given by Penelope, and not discovered the impossibility of it, she might have very justly concluded him to be an impostor, being manifestly ignorant of the secret of his own marriage bed. But Eustathius states an objection against this whole process of the discovery, which he calls insolvible [sic]; the difficulty is as follows: Penelope imagines that the person who pretends to be her husband, is not really Ulysses, but a God, who not only assumes his form, but, to favour the imposture, the resemblance of the wound received from the boar: now if he be a God, how is it possible she should conceive him to be ignorant of the secret of the marriage-bed, and consequently how can she be convinced of the reality of Ulysses from his knowledge of it, when it must necessarily be known to a God, as well as to the real Ulysses? All that she ought to gather from it is, that the person with whom she speaks is Ulysses, or a God. Eustathius replies, that Penelope upon the discovery of the secret makes no scruple to yield; because whether it be Ulysses, or a God, her case is happy; if he prove to be Ulysses, she has her wishes; if a God, it is no small piece of good fortune. (Melmoth 1799, 619)
Eight hundred years after Eustathius, Stanford concedes that knowledge of the bed does not necessarily prove the stranger's identity and that the matter is insoluble. He states:
As Eustathius, Bishop of Thessalonica (to whose compilation of ancient commentaries these chapters owe much), remarks, Penelopes problem about the stranger was really insoluble: for if the stranger was (as she feared) a god in the guise of her husband, what was to prevent him in his omniscience from knowing even the Secret of the Bed? (Stanford 1954, 58-59)
Modern scholars seem to ignore this observation. Their efforts to bolster the issue of identity in book 23 by manipulating Homer's text, misdirect its interpretation and add confusion to the development of the plot. More importantly, such efforts prevent readers from deciding for themselves what Homer intends.
The bridal chamber, and the bed therein, have special significance for Odysseus and Penelope. For the twenty years that Odysseus is away Penelope does not sleep in it; she sleeps in another room, upstairs (17.101-04). In book 17 Penelope tells Telemachus, "I truly will go to my upper chamber and lay me down on my bed, which has become for me a bed of wailing, ever wet with my tears, since the day when Odysseus set forth with the sons of Atreus for Ilios" (101-04).
The bridal chamber is located on the ground floor. Odysseus states that one leg of the bed was formed from an olive tree planted in the ground and that he trimmed the trunk and fashioned it into a bedpost (23.190-98). Evidently, only Odysseus, Penelope and Aktoris, a servant woman, have ever been in the chamber (225-28). Homer does not tell us the current whereabouts of Aktoris, so that leaves only Penelope and Odysseus with knowledge of the special significance of the chamber and the bed therein. Penelope's reference to it as the "bridal" chamber (178, 229) indicates that they consummated their marriage on the bed in that room. This alone would give it special significance and may explain why she does not sleep in it in her husband's absence. It also implies that they considered it their special haven, to be occupied cither together or not at all, and as long as the bed remains immobile, anchored in the ground, so shall their love be unwavering. Thus, the immovable bed and their bridal chamber are the symbol of their steadfast love, their secret sign.
Odysseus tries to force the issue by insisting on sleeping alone on a couch outside of the bridal chamber. Penelope's response is that not only can he sleep alone, he can sleep alone in their nuptial bed, outside their special haven. Odysseus is devastated (23.181-83). For twenty years he has struggled to return to what he believed to be his loyal wife only to be told that their bed is now moveable, a possible indication that some man moved it thereby implying that her love may no longer be steadfast. In grief and anger he proceeds to recall, in exquisite, loving detail, how he built and fashioned, first the bed, and then the room around it (183-201). He then states with dismay, "Thus do I declare to thee this token: but I know not, woman, whether my bedstead is fast in its place, or whether by now some man has cut from beneath the olive stump, and set the bedstead elsewhere" (202-04; my italics).
His fervent description of their bed, the symbol of their love, his passionate concern that some man (tis ... andron), may have moved it, and, by implication, taken his place in it, loosens her knees and melts her heart (23.205-06). His fond recollection of the symbols of their love tells her that he still remembers with affection the items that are special to them; his grief shows that he is not cold and aloof, but vulnerable and human; and his fear that some man has moved their bed indicate that he still cares; together, they prove to her his love. It should be emphasized that at line 206 where Homer narrates that Odysseus "semat' anagnouse," recognized symbols, he is referring to the bridal chamber and bed, not personage.
Tearfully, Penelope rushes towards him, wraps her arms about his neck and kisses his head (23.207-8). She quickly devises an excuse to calm his anger and soothe his wounded feelings. She admits she failed to greet him (213-14), not that she failed to recognize him. She does not want to admit that in testing his love and affection she was looking out for her benefit; therefore she makes up an excuse to create the impression that she was looking out for his benefit:
But be not now wroth with me for this, nor full of indignation, because at the first, when I saw thee, I did not give thee welcome. For always the heart in my breast was full of dread, least some man should come and beguile me with his words, for there are many that plan devices of evil. (Od. 23.213-17)
Cleverly, she implies that her caution in not immediately greeting him was to his advantage. Shrewdly, by implication, she compares herself to Helen, who, as Homer's audience knew, unleashed her passions on another man while her husband was away. The implication being that Odysseus should be grateful that she, Penelope, during her husband's absence, kept her passions in check (213-24). She then tells him, "But now, since thou hast told the clear tokens of our bed ... thou dost convince my heart, unbending as it is" (225-30). Her "heart that you (Odysseus) convince" peitheis de thymon, (230), has to do with love, not recognition. Relief flows over him as he bursts into tears and holds tightly to his loving, truehearted wife (232). Athena obligingly holds back the dawn so that they will have more time to enjoy their long awaited reunion (241-46).
But Penelope is not through. On their way to bed and the joys of love-making, Odysseus casually mentions that their troubles are not over (23.248-53). She tells him, "Thy bed shall be ready for thee whenever thy heart shall desire it. ... But since thou hast bethought thee of this ... tell me of this trial, for in time to come, methinks, I shall learn of it, and to know it at once is no whit worse" (257-62). This is the statement of an intelligent, rational woman with an agenda. Earlier, when there were issues to be discussed with Telemachus, he excluded her. Here, while she still has leverage, she further establishes her status as a partner in their marriage by asserting her right to share in the knowledge of the troubles they will have to face together in the future. Only after Odysseus explains to her the trials Tiresias predicted (265-84), do they revel in the longed-for joys of love (300-01).
Early Recognition; a Summary
For over one thousand years it was erroneously believed that recognition does not occur until book 23. This belief was passed on to Western Europeans in the fourteenth century with Eustathius's commentaries. Harsh challenged this theory in 1950 with his discussion of the idea that Penelope suspects in book 19 that the beggar is her husband in disguise. What Harsh failed to discover was that she first suspects that Odysseus is back in book 17 when the beggar refuses to come at her bidding and instead sets his own time to meet. Her suspicion provokes her curiosity in book 18, and explains why she wants to go before the hated suitors, in whose company the beggar is present, to see for herself. It further explains why she chortles her strange laugh, why she exhibits renewed confidence before the suitors and then wheedles gifts from them, and why Odysseus understands exactly what she is doing.
In book 19 the need for secrecy makes it necessary for Odysseus and Penelope to communicate cryptically to avoid arousing the suspicion of the others. Penelope carefully questions the stranger and confirms that he is indeed her husband. After she confirms, through the ploy of a supposed dream, the fact that he plans to confront the suitors, she advises him not to use the sword but to use instead the bow. She announces a plan to hold a contest involving the bow with her as the prize in order to give Odysseus an opportunity to get his hands on it. He eagerly agrees, promising that he will be there.
In book 20 Penelope has serious misgivings over the unpredictable consequences of the contest that she plans to announce the next day. With the possibility that her husband will not survive the confrontation, she wishes for death at the hands of Artemis so she can join him in the underworld rather than marry a lesser man.
In book 21 she shames the reluctant suitors into allowing Odysseus to get his hands on the bow. In book 22, with the aid of his son and two trusted servants, Odysseus gets revenge on the suitors; not one survives the slaughter.
In book 23, Penelope's initial denial of Odysseus's return when she is awakened by Eurycleia is to protect his disguise, keep her options open, and probe for information. Her subsequent refusal to greet him is a ploy to buy time in order to assess the situation, be sure of his affection, insist on his respect, and strengthen her position as a partner in their marriage. By use of the so called "trick of the bed," she breaks down the emotional wall he has built around himself and determines that he still cares for her. By analogy she compares herself with Helen and emphasizes her loyalty. This is the crafty, resourceful woman Odysseus left in charge of his vast estate twenty years earlier. Calypso, with all her gifts, is no match for her.
A crucial error in interpreting the Odyssey may have arisen from the fact that Homer does not specifically state the time when Penelope recognizes the beggar to be her husband. Instead, he leaves it up to his audience to discover for themselves the time of recognition. Perpetuation of the error arises from the fact that his readers are not usually encouraged to think in this area. Eustathius and other scholars in Byzantium missed the recognition scenes in books 17, 18 and 19 and were forced by default to place recognition in book 23. They passed this oversight, the Eustathian Error, on to Western Europe in the fourteenth century in the form of Eustathius's Commentaries. As a result of the difficulties scholars had in comprehending Homer's text (they created and often relied on poor Latin translations, and subsequently French, German and English), confusion was generated that lasted for centuries. It was not until the early nineteenth century that scholars were able to translate Homer accurately. But accurate translations did not immediately generate accurate re-interpretations. We have to thank Philip Whaley Harsh for discovering the recognition scene in book 19. He opened the door to early recognition and allowed others, building on his insightful observation, to bring through his discovery a better understanding of the Odyssey.
(1) My thanks to Edwin D. Floyd for bringing this to my attention.
(2) Recently (2007) I published a short article in College Literature, "Homers Odyssey, Books 19 and 23: Early Recognition, A Solution to the Enigmas of Ivory and Horns, and the Test of the Bed." This paper is a substantial expansion of that article.
(3) An excellent synopsis of the difficulties Renaissance scholars had with the Homeric text is described by Anthony Grafton (1992) and another, by Philip H. Young "Homer, Renaissance Humanism, and the Printing Press," (2003, 77-83).
(4) The latest publication of Eustathius's two-volume Parekbolai, on the Odyssey, as far as I can tell, was in 1825-26. The full title of this publication is, Eustathii Archiepiscopi Thessalonicensis Commentarii ad Homeri Odysseam. Eustathius's four volume commentaries on the Iliad were recently edited and published by M. van der Valk (Leiden 1971-87).
(5) This needs further research, for unlike Eustathius's commentaries, other works from this period remain unpublished and inaccessible.
(6) The full text is as follows: "Why inquire whether Penelope was an unchaste hussy who deceived her contemporaries? Whether she suspected the man she saw was Ulysses before she was sure of it?"
(7) All quoted translations of Homer's text are by A.T. Murray (1972) unless otherwise indicated. Literal translations are the author's.
(8) Penelope is equally disingenuous in book 23 when, for her benefit, she tests his love and affection, and subsequently at 23.215-17 implies that it was for his benefit.
(9) All quoted translations from Eustathius's commentaries are by Amelia Robertson Brown.
(10) A discussion of Chapman's borrowing from Latin translations can be found in de F. Lord, (1972, 24-25).
(11) Russo et al. 1992, III.77.
(12) It should be noted that Frederick Ahl and Hanna Roisman (1996, 167-81), make a case for having Eumaeus recognize Odysseus without his openly acknowledging the fact.
(13) A Commentary on Homer's Odyssey, Volume II.278.
14 Athena's inspiration clouds somewhat the motivation of Penelope. How much does the goddess have to do with the laugh and subsequent actions? The divine management here has led Hoelscher to conclude recently  that Penelope herself has no intention to deceive the suitors [notes], but such an interpretation does not stand up to closer inspection. Divine "motivation" often serves to second a mortal's preconceived notion. For example, Athena inspires Penelope to set up the contest of the bow in the same lines as she had motivated her to appear before the suitors (18.158, = 21.1f), but in the homilia Penelope had already announced her intentions to do so (19.560-81). Athena twice in identical lines inspires the suitors to abuse Odysseus (18.346-48 =20.284-86). But this has been a habit of theirs since his first arrival (17.375ff., 406ff., 446ff.,458, etc.). ... Thus, it is normal Homeric technique to attribute a character's sudden impulse to divine inspiration, and Penelope's responsibility for the idea of meeting the suitors has been generally acknowledged [notes]. (Levine 1983, 175-76)
(15) Evidently, Murray's Victorian upbringing will not allow him to refer to the word "bitch," kuon in the Greek. He substitutes the word "thing" in its place.
(16) "Though Penelope does have dreams in the Odyssey, I see no reason to believe that she actually had this dream. It can be better seen in its context of covert and guarded negotiation as her attempt to convey a message to the beggar, who she now has good reason to think may very well be Odysseus himself." (Winkler, 1990, 153). Winkler goes on to state, at 160, that Penelope is 99% convinced that the beggar is Odysseus.
(17) E. L. Highbarger takes keraessi as "horns" in the plural and connects them with the Gates of Heaven in Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythology. He states,
It is highly important for the interpretation of the Vergilian passage that Homer, Plato, and other writers describe the Gate of Horn[s] in the plural, while the Gate of Ivory is presented in the singular. So far as I am aware, no writer has ever observed this distinction, because in the Roman poets the plural noun has disappeared and an adjective in the singular [cornea] is substituted. (Highbarger 1940, 2)
(18) Without fully understanding the implications of the scene, Jones points us in the right direction,
There is nothing suggestive in this. Penelope is confirming that Odysseus has been as entertaining a story-teller as Eumaeus had prophesied (Od. 17.513-21). But, it is ironical, in that Penelope is using language that would be appropriate between husband and wife-- only she does not know that the beggar is her husband. (Jones 1988, 184)
Though Jones does not believe that Penelope recognizes the beggar to be Odysseus, he perceives that the tone of Penelope's longing seems to be directed toward her spouse.
(19) In book 24 (167-68) Amphimedon states that Odysseus told Penelope to arrange the contest with the bow. Though he is mistaken (it was Penelope's idea), Amphimedon's knowledge of the fact that Penelope and Odysseus communicated must have been information given to him by one of the serving-maids who had slipped out to rendezvous with the suitors the night before (20.6-7).
(20) Murray for some unstated reason omits from the Greek text (and his translation) what he calls "the spurious line 48, haimati kai lethro pepalagmenon hos te leonta." (1972, 377, note 1); Thomas W. Allen, in Homeri Opera, Tomus IV includes the line in his text.
(21) This is in stark contrast to the reception he received from his servants; "they had no hesitancy about greeting him, they thronged about Odysseus and embraced him, and clasped and kissed his head and shoulders and his hands in loving welcome" (22.498-500).
(22) Melantho is not exactly a stranger to Odysseus's mind at the beginning of book 19. This is Odysseus's house and he considers her to be his servant. He is not aware at this time when he addresses her as daimonie that she is disloyal.
(23) The potential irony in this attains mythical proportions. After twenty years of wandering, Odysseus returns home and his wife makes him sleep in their bridal bed alone, out in the hall.
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John B. Vlahos is an independent scholar working in conjunction with Richard P. Martin and Mark W. Edwards at Stanford University.
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|Author:||Vlahos, John B.|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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