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Looking to the feet: the riddles of the Scylla.

  KP. 'H [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

  CR. The riddling Sphinx encouraged us to look to what is at our feet,
  Paying no attention to the invisible ...
  SOPHOCLES, Oedipus the King


The story of Oedipus is explicitly acknowledged only once in the Odyssey, when Odysseus sees Oedipus's wife in the Underworld. The underlying dynamics of the "specimen story of psychoanalysis," however--killing the father, sleeping with the mother--lurk threateningly in the background. Consider the moment when Telemachus is about to string the bow in Book 21 and thus about to win the prize of the contest--the hand in marriage of his mother, Penelope--until a timely look from Odysseus stops him. Or consider Odysseus's delayed entrance to Eumaeus's hut in Book 14. In order for Odysseus to be allowed access to the hut of Eumaeus, the swineherd first must prevent the household dogs from mauling, and nearly killing, Odysseus. This event, important enough in itself, becomes retroactively even more significant when the same dogs fawn over the returning Telemachus as he approaches Eumaeus's hut, as he himself is fresh back from his own mini-odyssey to the homes of Menelaus and Nestor. "At this time / the clamorous dogs came fawning around Telemachus, nor did they bark at him as he came, / and great Odysseus noticed that the dogs were fawning ..." (Od. 16.4-6). (1) Here, the Odyssey offers a preemptive clue to the solution of the greatest Sherlock Holmes mystery, "The Hound of the Baskervilles." In that story Holmes solves the case at the moment that he realizes that an absence matters, for the lack of a bark when the criminal entered the house signified that a man known to the dogs--that is, the master of the house--had entered. The silence itself, rather than any idiotic fascination with material evidence, is the key to the solution of the crime. Odysseus, too, is careful to notice what the dogs do (fawn), but more importantly what they do not do (they do not bark or maul Telemachus, as they tried to do to him). Thus, Odysseus retroactively discovers that the dogs he encounters in Eumaeus's hut are, in some sense, Telemachus's dogs, while we see that the Odyssey has, quite fortuitously, escaped an unwitting patricide by way of these dogs.

The Oedipus story, though formally excluded, defines the Odyssey through this exclusion: if the Odyssey does not explicitly remember the Oedipus story, the Oedipus story remembers it, functioning as a kind of abyss that the narrative hovers around without quite falling into. We thus preserve the (fragile) possibility of a return to a "normal" oikos or household. If it is true that the characters of the Odyssey will not do that, nevertheless at key moments the Odyssey--quite behind the back of its characters--seems to blunder toward this prohibited narrative. The Odyssey necessarily cannot be the story of Oedipus, and yet, at crucial moments, we see that it could be. On this reading, the integrity of the story certainly would not depend on any presumed conscious will of its characters (say, Odysseus's desire to return home, or Telemachus's desire to recognize his father and displace the suitors), still less on any conscious control of those characters set in place by the decisions of a poet. We might be closer if we see this failed deadly encounter between Odysseus and his son, via the marauding dogs, as one way in which the logic of the narrative signals its own inherent lack of logic, its basic insufficiency; the dogs do not kill Odysseus, but for no good reason--at least, no other reason than the thoroughly tautological reason that the Odyssey cannot be the story of Oedipus. The story itself is turned over, for a moment, to the arbitrary will of these dogs that will kill, or not kill, the father. Here we might risk a comparison to the actions of the poet of the Iliad, who dramatically parades his own inability to tell the events of epic ("Tell me now, you Muses who have your homes on Olympos. / For you, who are goddesses, are there, and you know all things, / and we have heard only the rumor of it, and know nothing ..." [Il. 2.484-86]), and instead turns his story over to the agency of an imagined big Other (the Muses, the representatives of poetic tradition, the guarantors of the medium of poetry itself). The dogs are correlative, in the Odyssey's narrative, to this failure of the poet, and the entire existence of the story is handed over to the agency of the dogs. As we might be tempted to compose a Book 16 proem, "Tell me, dogs who guard the household, who protect its boundaries while we humans are too weak, and are far too impotent to do so, the story of whether the house deserves to be saved; we humans, who know nothing, have heard that you have this knowledge ...." (2)

But we should go a step further here and show how what is apparently contingent--the acts of the dogs--reveals a hitherto concealed desire. That is, is not the murderous activity of the dogs evidence for Telemachus that he is receiving from the Other (here, represented by the dogs) his own true message in inverted form? The aggressive action of the dogs allows us to reconsider the effect of his lifelong efforts to tame them, efforts that coincide with Odysseus's physical absence. Telemachus makes the household dogs his, and therefore no longer his father's. The elaborate care of the dogs was never innocent, for lurking beneath Telemachus's efforts to construct the safe space of an oikos for himself, in Eumaeus's hut and via his dogs, is the symbolic destruction of the oikos that went before, the oikos of his father. The mauling dogs clarify, had we but cared to notice, that aggressive impulses had been present all along, killing Odysseus softly, lurking not so much behind Telemachus's acts as in the form of his opposite intentions, the loving care of the animals who protect the threshold of the oikos. (3) This gives added point to the first moment of the father-son reunion. Prior to any attempt by Odysseus to prove that he is Telemachus's father, he is forced to confront a scene that Laius never had to witness. If, at least in Sophocles' version, the Oedipus narrative centers on the son's belated discovery of the patricidal act, in the Odyssey we see these events from the perspective of the father, Odysseus, and via the symbolic mediation of the dogs, not the ciphered messages of the oracles. As Odysseus might have said in response to the dogs' lack of bark, "Oh my god, the patricidal dogs were his dogs, and he did not even know about his own patricidal desire...."

The point of this lengthy preamble is not to reduce the Odyssey story to the well-worn dynamics of the tale of Oedipus, but rather to beg for some license to read the two stories against each other in an effort to open up the significance of both. More specifically, I wish to examine a single part of the Oedipus myth--Oedipus's solution of the riddle of the Sphinx--and use my reading of that riddle as a kind of makeshift interpretative key to puzzle through the significance of Odysseus's encounters with the monsters of Book 12, in particular the journey between Scylla and Charybdis. (4) The riddle focuses on a problem that is showcased throughout both stories: the relationship of body parts--hands and feet and voice--to the human creature as a whole. There are, then, two parts to what follows, as I trace the links between Oedipus and Odysseus, these two exemplary mythic men who define themselves through their encounters with monsters: first, a brief attempt to complicate the riddle of the Sphinx, and then an attempt to put this reading to work in creating (because the riddling status of these encounters is less well known) some monster riddles in the Odyssey.

I. Membra Disjecta: The Riddle of the Sphinx

Let me begin with the riddle of the Sphinx. If there is one moral we might draw from the Oedipus tale, it is "beware of solving riddles," or, at least, beware of any overly easy solution to riddles. Thus, we should hesitate before presuming that Oedipus correctly solves the Sphinx's riddle; at the very least, we can look back to the riddle for a clue to the disasters that follow its solution, retroactively seeing how the solution implicates the solver. A doubt concerning Oedipus's solution has already been suggested, in Lacanian circles, by Stuart Schneiderman, for whom Oedipus makes a significant error. (5) For Schneiderman, Oedipus is beguiled by a humanist jubilation in man, and his exultation causes him to forget not so much his individual self as his name--swollen-footed Oedipus--a name that itself defines him in terms of feet. Oedipus misses that he is not simply a single example of the genus man who grows up and grows old, but is rather a decentered being, a subject-of-the-signifier thrust into the world of language. This is nicely highlighted by the tension between his ability to provide a linear solution of progress to the riddle and his marked lack of ability to understand himself as a being that has a name, Oedipus. Indeed, the generic answer "man" blinds him to his status as a named, nongeneric being, "Oedipus." (6)

With this as a promising beginning, let us push the problem of the riddle further. Here is the best-known, and most provocative, version of it, as recounted in Athenaeus's Deipnosophists:
    [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

    There is on the earth a two-footed and four-footed--who has one
      voice--
    And three-footed thing, and it alone changes its nature, of all the
      things
    That come into being on earth and in the air and on the sea.
    But whenever it goes forth leaning on the most feet,
    Then is the swiftness in its limbs the weakest.


Oedipus, of course, provides a unifying solution. But let us linger over the questioning structure that frames the riddle, and its mode of division of this strange multiped being who is soon to become, via Oedipus's nomination, the human. One way of doing this is to focus on the two moments of transition in human nature: first, the moment when two legs become three (at old age), and earlier, when four legs become two in the transition to adulthood. Oedipus's solution heals these moments of rupture by drawing them together via a linear narrative of human progress. But rather than identifying with this narrative solution, itself dependent on the word man that stitches it together, we might instead focus on the strange, fragmentary creature that is defined only in relationship to the appearances and disappearances of his limbs. At the moment of old age, from Oedipus's solution, we know that the third leg is the walking stick. With this solution in place, we can retroactively see that the three legs are made up of our two natural legs, and the third is a manufactured one, the walking stick we use in old age. But what if we take the riddle at face value? After the addition of the third leg, we do not have, in principle, two natural legs supplanted by a third conventional one, but simply three legs, quite indistinguishable from each other. Humans become, in age, the kind of species that manufacture their own body parts, parts that completely replace these "natural" parts; a symptom of that manufacture is the separation of ourselves from all those body parts, the natural and crafted parts alike. Does not the addition of the walking stick turn our own supposedly "natural" legs themselves into a kind of walking stick? Can we unproblematically talk about "our" legs any more after the addition of the third leg, which has the function of making of our own legs a kind of makeshift prosthetic object? The anatomy of man, as Marx once put it in one of his riddles, is the key to the anatomy of the ape. In this riddle, rather than seeing the moment of old age as a decline from the moment of adulthood, can we not, if we follow the temporal logic of the rise and fall of man through the generations highlighted in the riddle, also say that the anatomy of the old is the key to the anatomy of the adult? The truth of old age--the creation of the first prosthetic limb--helps us understand that we have always had a problematical relationship to the body, even if it is easier, when we are in (what we think of as) health, to ignore this. Indeed, it clarifies how the time of the adult human, rather than being the controlling apex of the creature's existence, is instead the moment when the human is the greatest victim of a set of illusions about his body (its unity, its ability to function automatically). In age, by way of contrast, we become aware of the way our limbs have always been an embarrassing addition to ourselves, things that we can do things with and do things to, even as they do things back to us quite behind our backs. To borrow a phrase from Philip Larkin, "our flesh surrounds us with its own decisions." What the riddle does--using the body/limbs to provide a message--might then be more significant than what the spoken solution seems to offer us, for the riddle is an attempt to show us that our flesh/limbs can signify something to us--that is, the way our body parts can be the location of symptoms--but only if, following Freud, we try to read them. (7)

If the riddle's solution suggests that it is about the unity of the human species--and Adorno saw, in Oedipus's solution, the birth of a dangerously exultant humanism--rereading it after Oedipus's solution allows us to pick apart this unity, to dismember the body. And of course the two are correlative: until the riddle's answer, there was no "human," just the kind of chaos associated by Lacan with the corps morcele prior to the jubilant exultation of the self in its image at the mirror stage. Oedipus's failure was a failure to remember the question, to lose himself in his unifying solution. But what was lost--the dismembered, fragmented self--will return in the peculiar perversion of the self that becomes Oedipus, the swollen-footed incestuous monster who undermines any hierarchical, ordered pattern of generational continuity.

The importance of the third foot can perhaps also help us see what is at stake during the second moment of the riddle, the move from childhood to adulthood. This additional prosthetic limb--an artificial, cultural addition--is in no way innocent. Rather, the riddle clarifies the way in which by adding something it clarifies that something was always missing from us, an unproblematic relationship to our bodies that are cut off from us by the workings of language itself. Thus, if we add something at the moment when an adult ages and loses his ability to stand on his own two feet, the earlier transitional moment of the riddle puts on display a disappearing trick, giving us a glimpse of what has been lost. From four legged-creatures we become two-legged creatures; we make two of our limbs disappear, insofar as they are legs. We change our limbs, their use and purpose, in accordance with our changing desires, and, of course, the normative story of progression from childhood is itself symptomatic of one such frozen desire, a desire for order, for a hierarchy organizing the human species. But if we take the disappearance of the legs seriously, we also destroy two of our body parts in that moment of change into adulthood. This confusion of hands/feet, and the truth about our relationship to the body that it reveals, stand in tension with any normative story of any ordered progress of the human creature through its life. Thus, what seems interesting about the riddle is the way in which a story of natural progress--four feet, two feet/two hands, three feet, all linked to the birth and decay of the human organism--is linked to an imaginative (from the perspective of the Sphinx's riddle itself) dismemberment of a bodily unity normally taken for granted in our post-Oedipal worlds.

In terms of the riddle of the Sphinx, the encounter between these two views of the progress of man--natural progression, and fragmentation of body clarified by the addition of the extra limb representing culture--is not equal. The story of progress can be subsumed under the aegis of this prosthetic cultural limb (it is just a story, among other stories about human progression), but not vice versa. Any attempt to replace the lost limbs can only ever be a cultural, prosthetic one. It is not just that the cure forever doubles the wound, but that it creates the wound, gouges out a hole even as it covers it up in the same gesture. (We will see below how the Odyssey seems to examine this.) In terms of the encounter with the Sphinx, Oedipus is surely not the philosopher, but rather the antiphilosopher: his solution returns us to the prephilosophical "natural" status of the being man, the single body that moves through life, destroying man as a question, whereas the riddle of the Sphinx is bound up in dismembering this unity through thought. We might see, then, the suicide of the Sphinx as the suicide of a frustrated philosophy teacher, irritated at the utter stupidity of her latest student who produces the naive answer "man" to her provocations, and as she jumps off her rock, she leaves him to his fate of a violent imposition of unity onto himself and his family relationships. A doubly naive student, because he not only answers "man" but is unaware that the unity he imposes is his unity, he is held together by his additional act of interpretative violence. Thus, as we might put it, "the unity that Oedipus as subject endeavors to impose on the sensuous multitude via his synthetic activity is always erratic, eccentric, unbalanced, 'unsound,' something that is externally and violently imposed on to the multitude, never a simple impassive act of discerning the inherent subterranean connections between the membra disjecta." (8) To remain unaware of this is Oedipus's error.

All this will be crucial below to the story of the Scylla, where the status of her hands and feet, as we will see, are a significant problem. But this moment of disappearance of limbs, as the body--momentarily, at least within the logic of the riddle--becomes a kind of limbless torso, might make us think more readily of an earlier Odyssean monster-tale in Book 12, his encounter with the Sirens. In this tale, does not Odysseus also get rid of his limbs, at least temporarily? The crew binds him hand and foot, turning him into an immobile human torso that does nothing but listen:
    One after another, I stopped the ears of all my companions
    And they then bound me hand and foot in the fast ship, standing
    Upright against the mast with the ropes' end lashed around it ..
    (12.177-79)


The sailors are all but ears, while he is simply all ears. (9) He has no use of his hands and feet, while they are entirely hands and feet. They do not listen, for wax is in their ears. They do not think: they obey the orders of Odysseus, which preprogram them to ignore the evidence of their eyes, and Odysseus's visual requests to untie him. Instead, they get rerouted from what they see back to the earlier order, which demands that they tie him all the more securely the more he talks. So, if it is true that Odysseus, in addition to his ears, still has the use of his voice, it is a paradoxical voice that is no longer really his, neutralized in advance by his earlier order. His order, in other words, deprives him not only of his limbs, but of the ability of his own voice to function as a provider of sensible discourse. From the moment he gives it, he can try to replace the effect of his earlier order with new forms of signs, but only on the condition that no one hears them.

And what do we see as Odysseus's orders take hold? A kind of composite, identikit human-machine, with a whole bunch of arms and legs (the crew) and a brain function that is externally drafted onto it via the voice of Odysseus. This monstrous creature has a voice that is not its own, but is an active, commanding foreign presence that causes its activities but is grafted onto it from without. We should also note the time gap: the crew's limbs are worked upon by a prior message of Odysseus, which makes them oblivious to all further messages. The companions, at the moment they carry out the orders, are deprived of any possible further words that might help explain them. It is a senseless message. In short, does not the crew become "agents of the letter"? It is usual to think of this episode as a defeat, by Odyssean cunning, of a certain kind of monstrous Siren song. But there is a second Siren song, the words of command that Odysseus gives to his troops, words that turn them into the kind of entranced automatons that is the usual fate of the prey of the Sirens. We are, I think, too often beguiled by the monsters of the Odyssey, as we focus on their strangeness. What we miss, in so doing, is the way that Odysseus solves the problems they present only by constructing--though it is far from clear he knows what he is doing--a machinelike human monster to replace them: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], as Sophocles once put it. As we might translate, "there are many monstrous things, but nothing more of a monster than man." In Odyssey 12, the "monstrous" power of the Sirens does not disappear, but rather is transferred into the voice of the man who unwittingly changes human nature, turning himself and his men into a monsterrowing machine.

II. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] If I Had an Unbreakable Voice

Back to the riddle of the Sphinx for one last look. In the encounter with the Sirens, Odysseus, a speaking being who is not heard, seems to lose his voice at the moment it becomes split off from him and reflected back to him in the rowing of the troops. He confronts his own voice, but deprived of the sense that normally veils its truth, for the commands issued from that voice--the orders to the troops--are deprived of the structural context that would give them sense. The monster, then, has limbs (oars), a torso, even a single voice; though it is not its own, it is that of Odysseus, but in its disavowed truth, in the form of the enjoyment lurking behind his commands. (10) In the Sphinx's riddle, the creature that changes its nature also seems to have a single voice. But where does this voice come from? In order for Oedipus's solution to work, we need to view the human species as the simple object referred to by the riddle: "human" is the creature with one voice and changing limbs. But until the solution, we just have a set of changing body parts, even though the voice itself remains the one thing that stays the same. A prehuman existence, and certainly one where the voice itself is part of the object referred to in the riddle, is on show in the fragmentary object soon to be named humanity. But, on the other hand, it is a voice that necessarily remains silent, deliberately unwilling to help the efforts of the solvers who die because of their own failures of speech. It takes Oedipus's voice to make the riddle speak, to actualize this voice of the riddling creature that had remained silent until his solution; that is, with the hindsight of Oedipus's solution we can read the riddle proleptically, for it anticipates the "one voice" that will solve it. The one voice will be the additional voice of Oedipus who says the one thing that will solve the riddle or, at least, destroy the riddler: the one creature is the generic single blueprint of a single representative human.

But this proleptic reading complicates its solution, for if the riddle spoke of one voice, we add a second voice to the voice of the human object in order to make the riddle work out. The only thing that gives unity to these body parts is indeed a "single voice," but it becomes the voice of the person who solves the riddle by saying "man." The answer to the riddle, given by a Euripidean scholiast, seems to show some sort of awareness of this problem by emphasizing Oedipus's voice:
  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

  Hearken, even if you don't want to, evil-winged Muse of the dead,
  To our voice, your end of erring.
  You have spoken of man, who, when he comes upon the earth
  First is four-footed by nature, speechless from the womb,
  And being old he leans on a staff, a third foot,
  Burdening his neck, bent over with age.


Listen to our voice, he says--your end; he thus banishes the voice of the Sphinx, but also duplicates the voice of the object he tries to define. But the important point here is that Oedipus can only believe he has solved the riddle--the creature with a distinct, single voice--if he fails to notice his own voice, for it becomes an embarrassing addition as soon as we stop thinking of it as a sign of subjectivity and see it instead as an additional object. He speaks, but he cannot hear himself speak without confusing the number of voices in the riddle. So the riddle of the Sphinx works perfectly as a riddle, but only as long as a voice does not solve it. The split here is between the inert, harmless vision of the fragmented human in the riddle, and the voice that brings it to life as the "human" in the person of Oedipus, who begins to pull its strings. He puts an end to one voice, but the problem of monstrosity simply metamorphosizes into the solver, the aspects of himself he needs to remain blind to as a condition of the riddle's solution.

To transfer into Lacanian terms, Oedipus's answer to the riddle chooses sense over enjoyment, an enjoyment that is not alien to him but rather a disavowed part of himself lurking in what Barthes calls the grain of his own voice, which he cannot hear. So too with Odysseus, who is confronted, as he sees the senseless rowing of the men, with the enjoyment bound up in his own command that they obey. This reading might also make us pause as we think of what games are being played with the notion of bodily unity in the riddle. Unity, if we take this riddle at face value, is not intrinsic to our conceptions of our own body, but grafted on from outside by an external voice that disturbs the unity in the very gesture of creating it. Humans are not intrinsically whole, but only insofar as they are constructed as whole through an alien voice that is added to, and duplicates, the supposedly singular voice of the object defined. For when does this creature become a single unified "man," and not a series of body parts? Only as long as there is someone around to say "man" and does not hear himself say it.

III. The Anatomy of a Monster-Murder

Let us now turn to examine in detail the encounter between Odysseus and the Scylla, and try to create some riddles from the puzzling things that Circe says to Odysseus in Book 12 in preparation for his meeting with the mythical monsters to come. The encounter between Circe and Odysseus has all the ingredients of a competitive encounter, as she spells out not only the monsters he will meet on his journey home, but also what he must do to avoid them. She thus deprives him in advance of any chance he has to use his crucial attribute--his cunning--to avoid them. Alive to this problem, Odysseus tries to seek ways of avoiding the outcomes she claims are necessary. This is most obvious when he asks if there is any way to avoid the loss of men when he travels between Scylla and Charybdis. But he also tries, as we will see, to make sense of the riddling things she does say. In short, Circe's words do more than merely help us anticipate the acts to come, and they do so in coded, enigmatic ways. First, Circe's description of the Scylla:
  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

  In that cavern Scylla lives, whose howling is terror.
  Her voice indeed is only as loud as a new-born puppy
  Could make, but she herself is an evil monster. No one,
  Not even a god encountering her, could be glad at that sight.
  She has twelve feet, and all of them wave in the air. She has six
  Necks upon her, grown to great length, and upon each neck
  There is a horrible head, with teeth in it, set in three rows
  Close together and stiff, full of black death. Her body
  From the waist down is holed up inside the hollow cavern,
  But she holds her heads poked out and away from the terrible hollow,
  And there she fishes, peering all over the cliffside, looking
  For dolphins or dogfish to catch or anything bigger,
  Some sea monster, of whom Amphtrite keeps so many....


The first problem to which the riddle of the Sphinx might alert us is a problem of the relationship of the Scylla to her body, in particular to her feet. The Scylla is clearly described as having twelve feet. But how can we ever know this, if she is buried in her cave up to the middle? We might presume that the narrative takes for granted her accepted mythic status as a twelve-footed, six-headed being, and that accordingly we can safely believe that twelve of her feet lie behind her in the cave. But this already takes too much for granted, not least the presumptuous notion of what the bodies of monsters are supposed to look like. We assume too readily that monsters are creatures with legs below their middle, as with humans or other animals, even though the very notion of the monstrous should make us willing to suspend such judgments, leaving room for at least momentary wonder. It is also true that the description is specifically intended as a preview of a coming attraction for Odysseus. How could he recognize these feet? Thus, rather than filling in any narrative blanks with mythical/mythic background information, let us resist the temptation to identify with an all-knowing Other (the realm of some assumed communal knowledge of myth on the part of the listener). Instead, let us consider the image the text provides from the perspective of a thoroughly unknowing audience. This can comprise the Homeric audience--Odysseus and us, stripped of our mythic scholarly pretensions. Odysseus is to see a thing with twelve feet and six heads, and there are three rows of teeth embedded in those heads, but one half of this being's defining features, her feet, are actually invisible, hidden by the cave. Another problem: how can you recognize something that may (or may not) even be there for you to see? There is a further puzzle: the Scylla has a strange voice, which is characterized by her bizarre screaming: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Yet despite her status as a monster, her metaphorical "bark" is a puppy dog bark. Note also the etymologizing play on her name here: the Scylla's very identity ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is linked to her puppy voice ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). But how can a big monster have such a strange, puppy dog voice? (11) We might also note the general relevance of these problems to the issues explored in the riddle of the Sphinx. We have the problem of the number of limbs of the Scylla, and also the strangeness of her voice.

Let us look at these problems in sequence, beginning with the riddle of her feet. The strangeness of the incongruity between the number of the feet and the way she is buried up to her waist is accentuated by the difficulty in finding a meaning for the only word used to describe these feet, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Unlike contemporary commentators, who for the most part despair of finding a meaning for the word, the scholiasts were their usual loquacious selves, offering two major strands of thought: either the word is related to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (raise up), or it should be read as some version of the alpha privative plus [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The meanings could then verge from "dangling" if read from "raise" (hence, Lattimore's translation), or "out of season, bizarre, untimely." Now, rather than making the philological presumption that there is a single clear meaning to the word--the kind of presumption that is too often a kind of foundation myth for positivist philological inquiry--we might do better to take the word as self-consciously strange. Indeed, it might be intended to evoke exactly the kind of scholarly exegesis that it has provoked. So let us keep the status of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as signifier in mind, allowing open at least both sets of meanings put in motion by the scholiasts. In fact, both possibilities can be read as providing keys to the entire episode, for time and again body parts in Odyssey 12 will not remain in their customary place, challenging our commonsense (imaginary) worldviews. Further, their failure to stay in place means that they dangle between earth and sky, disrupting any easy associations we have between animal life and locale: birds in the sky, fish in the sea, four-footed animals on land. At any rate, after hearing this bizarre description from Circe, and the strange word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Odysseus certainly is on the lookout for the Scylla, peering about himself in all directions, consciously hoping to maximize the time available to him to do battle with her before she eats his men. Then he finally sees her. Of course he sees her too late, that is, at the moment she begins to eat up his men--as he puts it, the most piteous sight he has ever seen:
  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

  I could not make her out anywhere, and my eyes grew weary
  From looking everywhere on the misty face of the sea rock.
  So we sailed up the narrow strait lamenting. On one side
  Was Scylla, and on the other side was shining Charybdis,
  Who made her terrible ebb and flow of the sea's water.
  When she vomited it up, like a caldron over a strong fire,
  The whole sea would boil up in turbulence, and the foam flying
  Spattered the pinnacles of the rocks in either direction;
  But when in turn again she sucked down the sea's salt water,
  The turbulence showed all the inner sea, and the rock around it
  Groaned terribly, and the ground showed at the sea's bottom,
  Black with sand; and green fear seized upon my companions.
  We in fear of destruction kept our eyes on Charybdis,
  But meanwhile Scylla out of the hollow vessels snatched six
  Of my companions, the best of them for strength and hands' work,
  And when I turned to look at the ship, with my other companions,
  I saw their feet and hands from below, already lifted
  High above me, and they cried out to me and called me
  By name, the last time they ever did it, in heart's sorrow.
  And as a fisherman with a very long rod, on a jutting
  Rock, will cast his treacherous bait for the little fishes,
  And sinks the horn of a field-ranging ox into the water,
  Then hauls them up and throws them on the dry land, gasping
  And struggling, so they gasped and struggled as they were hoisted
  Up the cliff. Right in her doorway she ate them up. They were
    screaming
  And reaching out their hands to me in this horrid encounter.
  That was the most pitiful scene that these eyes have looked on
  In my sufferings as I explored the routes over the water.


Odysseus's reaction is, I think, another puzzle. Why on earth is this the most piteous sight he has ever seen? He has certainly seen more of his men die in his previous encounters, and he has also seen his men eaten before in the cave of the Cyclops. Why, in short, is Odysseus so upset?

In solving this problem, let us take the advice of the Sphinx to heart--at least the advice as reported to us by the Thebans in Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus--that they should "look to what is at their feet, and pay no attention to what is invisible." This should force us to pay attention to the way Odysseus looks for feet, those invisible objects that are emphasized and yet seem to be buried in the cave. He peers around, looking for a being with a waist in a cave and with twelve feet. At the moment his men get captured, distracted by the horror of the voided Charybdis, empty of water, he looks up, and sees what? At this moment, do not twelve feet come out of the Scylla's mouth? And is not this the moment that he understands Circe's riddle? The twelve feet of the Scylla are not her own feet. They are not permanently attached to her body. Rather, "her" feet are those of her spoil (this is one possible translation of Scylla's Greek name, "the despoiler"). If the sight is piteous for Odysseus, it is because he realizes, retroactively, his own failure to understand Circe's riddle. The Scylla's feet were never her own, but always the feet of her victims. The irony, then, is that Odysseus misses what is immediately in front of him ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [at his feet]), by looking for twelve feet that, he presumes, are not afoot, but rather buried in the cave. We can also now understand another of Circe's ominous remarks. It turns out to be true that "no one, not even a god encountering her, could be glad at that sight," but not because of any innate ugliness. It is because what she is--in Aristotelian terms, her material cause--is the severed body parts of those who drive by her and who must thus witness their own dismemberment at the very time they see her.

This motif of recognizing a riddle or a prophecy but only when it is too late is quite common in the Odyssey; normally, however, it happens to the victims of Odysseus, not to Odysseus himself. Consider the case of the Cyclops. After Odysseus has blinded him and is about to make his escape, he tells the Cyclops his name. Only then does the Cyclops remember the prophecy of Telemus:
  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

  "Ah now, a prophecy spoken of old is come to completion.
  There used to be a man here, great and strong, and a prophet,
  Telemos, Eurymos' son, who for prophecy was pre-eminent
  And grew old as a prophet among the Cyclopes. This man told me
  How all this that has happened now must someday be accomplished,
  And how I must lose the sight of my eye at the hands of Odysseus.
  But always I was on the look-out for a man handsome
  And tall, with great endowment of strength on him, to come here;
  But now the end of it is that a little man, niddering, feeble,
  Has taken away the sight of my eye, first making me helpless with
    wine."


The Cyclops had misrecognized the prophecy of Telemus, who foretold his blinding, because he expected a big guy, not a pathetic nobody. One could use this episode to point out the obvious: what one sees is never neutral, but always framed by one's expectations about it. These are expectations that one can never be fully aware of, a dilemma clearly on show in Lacan's analysis of the "The Purloined Letter," where the idiotic police force look in the depths of an apartment for a letter, but they miss that it is left lying on the surface. The police miss the surface, because they construe a "search" as the search for something hidden in the depths. The Cyclops falsely universalizes his own worldview of "bigness" and so misses the "nobody" Odysseus. But what is at stake in Odysseus's misrecognition of the body of the Scylla? In addition to the problem of transference (his belief in a secret of the Scylla, itself a function of his belief in some hidden meaning to Circe's words), his error also has something to tell us about his prejudices about the body: Odysseus gets the riddle wrong because he looks for a unified body, where feet are naturally attached to the body, and forgets that bodies can be split apart, rearranged, just as the riddle of the Sphinx emphasized. Ultimately, is not part of the lesson that we learn from the Scylla the extent to which we cling to certain fantasies of what a body consists of, and is not part of the horror the way we are forced to witness this elementary deconstruction of those fantasies?

Let me take a moment here for a brief foray into the world of Homeric scholarship. It was once fashionable to think that there was no concept of the "entire body" or "person" in Homer, that there was only the conception of the self as fragmented, a collection of body parts. This led Bruno Snell to believe that the ancients had a defective concept of agency and the self, as they patiently waited for the day when Kantian conceptions of the self could emerge to show them what they lacked. Bernard Williams recently has forcibly argued against this view, suggesting instead that there was a simple, but coherent, theory of agency already present in Homer. (12) But is not this tale a kind of preemptive commentary on the debate? Homer, at least as we look through the eyes of Odysseus, certainly had a belief in a unified body. But what the tale of the Scylla does is to show that this is precisely a prejudice, and a dangerous one at that, which can be preyed upon like any other prejudice. In Lacanian terms, we can also see that Odysseus's prejudices can be linked to the exultation of the image of the body at the mirror stage (insofar as Odysseus can imagine no other kind of body), a more vulnerable or fragmentary body, for example. If Odysseus had a theory of the body that was less beset by specific assumptions of what a body looks like, he could have understood the riddle and not have been tricked by Circe. If Oedipus puts together a whole from riddling parts, Odysseus sees only a whole where he needs to see--and eventually does see, but too late--parts. In short, we have another classic Oedipal error.

But before we get too enthused by this reading, it is worth hesitating. When, if we take Circe's description literally, does the Scylla become the Scylla? If she is the monster with twelve feet, it is only momentarily that she achieves her identity as a twelve-footed monster, and never for herself but only ever for us. We see her with her twelve feet; she never sees herself, too intent, at least as the narrative describes her, in looking out for possible sources of prey:
  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

  And there she fishes, peering all over the cliffside, looking
  For dolphins or dogfish to catch or anything bigger,
  Some sea monster, of whom Amphtrite keeps so many....


Scylla is a being who becomes herself for us, as riddle seekers, only as she fills out the symbolic role she places in the narrative of the Odyssey; in fact, her body, uniting to herself the limbs of those she eats, corresponds to the little we know about her from the building blocks of the story. The Scylla is indeed the creature who is on the lookout for prey and who "has" limbs, even if the limbs of the men are not what she seeks. Rather, she desires to see dolphins, sea-dogs, or a "greater monster." The men, then, are simply collateral damage, and the logic of the Scylla's desire seems quite alien to that of Odysseus. But we can now at least diagnose Odysseus's error even more accurately. He falsely sees a gap between the mythic description of the Scylla given by Circe, and the being of the Scylla--because of certain normative presumptions, Odysseus sees Circe's words as a riddle, as signaling the presence of something more than what she says--where no such gap exists. The Scylla is nothing more than Circe's words, a perpetual seeker of prey, who happens to gobble up the feet of his men as they go by; that is, Odysseus projects into the void of the cave (under the Scylla's body) a second set of feet, where only one such set of feet exists. It is only from the perspective of such presumptions about her feet that the riddle exists as a riddle at all. The riddle is nothing more than Odysseus's desire for a riddle, a desire that we appropriate if we identify with Odysseus. From the perspective of Circe, is she not simply telling the story "straight," as it is? The Scylla just is the utterly nonsensical creature, made up out of the limbs she gobbles up, hanging over a cliff, looking for prey, forever mythically tied to the limbs of a certain crew she preys upon. It is when Odysseus starts trying to make sense of her that disaster ensues. Just as Oedipus's flight was necessary to bring about the prophecy of Apollo, so too the puzzlement of Odysseus at the Scylla creates the monster we know as the Scylla.

Thus far the identity of the Scylla has been what we have made of it, as we linked the problems of her description and her name to the sights that we saw through the eyes of Odysseus. Given that our numbering skills are in the spotlight here, let us pause for a recount: if it is true that the troops show twelve feet, it is just as true that they show 24 dangling limbs, for we can add the twelve hands of the crew. But at this point in their existence, can we really be so sure of our designation of the crew's legs as legs, and hands as hands? As Odysseus sees them, they are dangling, removed from the earth. If we stop to think about what this might look like, are they not more like little quadrupeds rather than bipeds, babies rather than adult humans? When both their hands and legs are removed from the ground, they lose their link to the adult, human functions that define them as hands and legs. The legs prop up nothing, they have no anchoring point in the ground. The episode stages--to return once more to the riddle of the Sphinx--a kind of generational regression of the companions. They become four-footed, childlike beings. And what does all this mean for our efforts at conceptualizing the identity of the Scylla, this Scylla-for-us? As the Scylla eats the men, and half their legs disappear into the cave, is she then the Scylla? It is worth remarking that in order for this reading of the riddle to work correctly, it is only because we cling to a certain normative notion of what the human adult is. We rule out the "four-footed" crawling being from childhood, and the three-footed, canecarrying being from late in life, and focus instead on the adult being who walks upright. In short, we add the very thing--the "answer" from the riddle of the Sphinx, the normative concept of man progressing through the years--that the riddle puts into question. Here, the Scylla, just at the moment her riddle is solved, seems to fight back, suggesting that no reading of it can be neutral. Instead, whatever amount of limbs we count will always be already determined by whatever conception of the human we bring to the table in an attempt to solve it, as the riddle returns us to our own subjective impasses, our own status as subjects of the signifier. And any such conception will have to deal with our quite unnatural and problematic relationship with our limbs.

IV. The Silence of the Scylla

Let us now turn to the problem of the Scylla's voice. Rather than take our cue from the Sphinx's riddle, we can perhaps return to the beginning of the Iliad, where it is the impossible fantasy of an unbroken voice that leads the poet to seek the help of the Muses: "Not if I had a voice never to be broken ..." (2.490). Here, too, we have a broken voice, for the monster is split from the voice we would expect, and instead barks strangely with the voice of a puppy. (13) But why a puppy? Puppies had made an appearance, in a brief simile, three books earlier in the Odyssey, in Book 9, in the tale that functions as a cannibalizing doublet of the Scylla episode: the man-eating exploits of the Cyclops. The Cyclops picks up three of Odysseus's companions and slaps them to the ground "as if they were puppies" before eating them (9.289). (14) If we push the identification between these two sets of eaten men and read both sets of men as puppylike--or, in terms of the narrative, if we read the puppy simile as an important piece of narrative information for the later story of men-eating--we get an answer to the our second riddle. The weird "voice" of the "barking" Scylla is, quite simply, the piteous crying of Odysseus's puppylike men as they cry out to him and name him just before they disappear into the Scylla forever. Within the narrative, this makes perfect sense: the only time a sound comes from the Scylla during the episode is when the companions speak. Otherwise, she is silent, she never screams. In short, Circe's riddling description of the Scylla's voice looks back (to the simile of puppies in Book 9) and forward (to the eating of the men by the Scylla, and their voice). We might also notice the significance of what the men say. As the men linger in the six mouths of the Scylla, they name Odysseus and thus belatedly do what was prohibited by the logic of the narrative in Odyssey 9; then, as they were eaten, they were already part of the trick of Odysseus's trick of "no one," and if they had called out his name the "no one" trick would have failed, blowing Odysseus's cover as "no one." The two episodes read each other, as the piteous plight of the second group of men, who call out Odysseus's name, allows us to see the depths of the first set of men's (self-destructive) fidelity to Odysseus. (15) As for the second set, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that Odysseus never told his men about the encounter with the Scylla: he was afraid, so he claimed, that this fore-knowledge would hinder their ability to row, that is, to be good machines, caught up in his cunning. Can we not read their plaintive name-calling as suggesting some sort of awareness of betrayal? We also have a neat reversal of the arrogant self-naming Odysseus performed at the end of the encounter with the Cyclops: there, he boasted of his trick in blinding the Cyclops through the "no one" trick by telling the Cyclops his actual name. Here, at a moment of utter impotence, he is forced to listen to his own name called out through the mouth of the Scylla, via his companions' mouths. We might also see the picture of these four-footed beings as a reworking of Oedipus's solution to the Sphinx riddle, which depended on the assumption that the four-footed human child was wordless ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), not a creature of the word (epos). Here, the puppy dog companions atter the signifier that is the cause of their destruction. At the very least, we can agree with Circe that this sound is a strange kind of barking indeed. (16)

V. A Thing of Nothing

With these riddles in mind, we should perhaps return to the Scylla and her material causes. For what is left of her? Even though the narrative seems to have spirited away her limbs and her voice, there is at least the frame for her body parts--the long necks and head that do hang out over the cliff face, and the strange triple rows of deadly teeth as context for the voice:
  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

  She has six
  Necks upon her, grown to great length, and upon each neck
  There is a horrible head, with teeth in it, set in three rows
  Close together and stiff, full of black death. Her body
  From the waist down is holed up inside the hollow cavern,
  But she holds her heads poked out and away from the terrible hollow,
  And there she fishes, peering all over the cliffside, looking
  For dolphins or dogfish to catch or anything bigger,
  Some sea monster, of whom Amphtrite keeps so many ...


The problem here is that even this framework is described in such a way as to allow us to continue to chip away at the Scylla. The long necks and the three rows of teeth might be the physical attributes of a monster, but they also seem close to the kind of implement, a trident ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which is most often used for killing a sea-monster. (17) The long necks of the Scylla, the head with its three rows, are easily assimilated to the neck of a trident, with its three prongs "full of black death." The correspondence is strengthened if we pay attention to the details of the later simile, as Odysseus's men get eaten:
  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

  And as a fisherman with a very long rod, on a jutting
  Rock, will cast his treacherous bait for the little fishes,
  And sinks the horn of a field-ranging ox into the water ...


The "very long rod" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) corresponds to the "very long necks" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of the Scylla. One might also note that a further piece of mythic monstrosity lurks in the everyday actions of this fisherman, for the tiny fish victims (correlative within the simile to the men of Odysseus who die) are lured to their death by the top part of an ox, his "horns," which are severed from the rest of the ox's body. But it is not simply that beneath the Homeric description of the Scylla, a "rationalizing" nonmonstrous alternative lurks, say, real fishermen who stuck tridents out to spear whatever sailed through the straits. Rather, we are forced to confront what is monstrous in the everyday, the way that the seemingly miraculous aspects of nature are at work in the details of human attempts to fulfill their desires.

If, however, at the level of the material the Scylla seems to consist of nothing, there remains something that we cannot wish away, and this is the "wish" of the Scylla herself, for she "fishes, peering all over the cliff, looking for dolphins or dogfish to catch or anything bigger, some sea monster." Thus, the Scylla, if not herself a monster, is at least made up of a desire for a monster. It might seem as if this desire is left unsatisfied. After all, we normally think of Odysseus and his crew as her human victims. But because of the difficulties we have experienced in locating the monstrous, it is worth turning to the last time we meet the Scylla. After Odysseus's men have all died, Odysseus makes the return trip between Scylla and Charybdis, alone, and he haphazardly seems to do the impossible: he succeeds in navigating between the Scylla and Charybdis without loss, an impossible task, at least according to Circe:
  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

  All that night I was carried along, and with the sun rising
  I came to the sea rock of Skylla, and dreaded Charybdis.
  At this time Charybdis sucked down the sea's salt water,
  But I reached high in the air above me, to where the tall fig tree
  Grew, and caught hold of it and clung like a bat; there was no
  Place where I could firmly brace my feet, or climb up it,
  For the roots of it were far from me, and the branches hung out
  Far, big and long branches that overshadowed Charybdis.
  Inexorably I hung on, waiting for her to vomit
  The keel and mast back up again. I longed for them, and they came
  Late; at the time when a man leaves the law court, for dinner,
  After judging the many disputes brought him by litigious young men;
  That was the time it took the timbers to appear from Charybdis.
  Then I let go my hold with hands and feet, and dropped off,
  And came crashing down between and missing the two long timbers,
  But I mounted these, and with both hands I paddled my way out.
  But the father of gods and men did not let Skylla see me
  Again, or I could not have escaped from sheer destruction.


We could see this ending as quietly pointing toward the symbolic demise of the mythic problem of the Scylla and Charybdis. Odysseus has managed to escape their clutches without loss. He has, therefore, solved them as a riddle, and the Scylla withdraws, just as the Sphinx jumps off her rock in response to Odysseus's answer. But there is more to it than this, for her disappearance coincides with an order from the "father of gods and men," an order that functions as a kind of non-dupere that prohibits her from seeking out what she desires. But as he turns the Scylla's gaze away from Odysseus, this also suggests that, up until that moment, she had been looking at him, frozen stonelike to the sight before her eyes. So what, exactly, had she seen? The Scylla, let us remember, though she looked out for dolphins and dogs, also hoped to catch a monster: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Here, within the context of the riddles of the Sphinx and the Scylla, it is striking that Odysseus's escape is dependent on the use and abuse of his limbs. Thus, the Scylla first sees Odysseus clinging to the tree by his limbs, rendering his legs useless. The simile used to describe Odysseus, "like a bat," also seems to open up our usual questions. If he looks as if he is upside down, what function is being played by his hands, what function by his feet? In this topsy-turvy world, at least in the eyes of the Scylla, Odysseus seems to turn the human species upside down, switching the use of hands and feet. Afterwards, he hurls himself into the water up to his waist, causing his legs to disappear entirely as he paddles away; as he does this, he makes his arms into tools, turning them into oars. We might also note that the planks of the boat ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) recall the Scylla's necks ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). It is not merely that she sees a monstrous creature, for this monster renders its own legs redundant, severing them from any natural use, causing them first to dangle, then to disappear underneath the water. Does not Odysseus, in these moments of metamorphosis, provide a picture of a monster to the Scylla? "She looked for dolphins, sea-dogs, or a monster" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) But perhaps this description of her strange desire suggests an escalation of strangeness. If dolphins have the appearance of fish, they spend much of their time in the air, and look as if they fly. The "dogs" that are in the sea are already a conflation of sea and land, where the function of hands and feet are radically different. But it is only with this strange monster, Odysseus-man, that she finally sees a creature who slides from one world to the other, having his home nowhere. (18)

Indeed, this monster-Odysseus is of a similar kind to the monster that Odysseus and his men had fantasized about from the description of Circe, and so if the episode seems to end with a benevolent act from Zeus--protecting Odysseus from the monstrous Scylla--it is perhaps because we have once again looked for the monster in the wrong place. What if it is the Scylla who is being protected from this terrifying, resourceful creature, "man"? But Zeus is also shielding her from something even more frightening. Her desire for a monster is, as we have seen, the only thing that constitutes her. By shielding this picture of Odysseus from her, therefore, Zeus, and the narrative, might be keeping the Scylla's desire alive by refusing to let her get what she wants, and thus extinguishing her desire. The "no" of this father keeps this mythic being alive. (19)

Notes

(1) For the Odyssey, I use Monro-Allen's OCT text (Oxford 1963), and the translation of Richard Lattimore (New York 1967).

(2) If this seems an absurdity, it might be worth remembering that this magical ability of dogs as subjects-supposed-to-know is the foundation of another political absurdity--the fantasy world of Plato's Republic, for the search for a Republic begins with a recognition of the need to protect it by use of guardians, and the very possibility of guardians is premised on the nature of dogs: "You have surely observed in noble dogs that their natural disposition is to be most gentle to their friends and those whom they recognize, but the opposite to those whom they do not know ..." (Rep. 375e).

(3) On paternity and its problems in the poem, see Henderson, passim.

(4) The earliest extant evidence for the riddle can be dated to the mid-sixth century, though there is reason to think it is older. See Segal 32ff. for a useful discussion.

(5) Scheiderman 82ff. Scheiderman's analysis looks back to Lacan's reading of monster-riddles in Seminar XVII. See also the remarks of Zupancic 200ff.

(6) This lesson is quite different from Jonathan Lear's reading of the play (chap. 3), despite superficial similarities. For Lear, Oedipus exhibits an inability to talk about his self, and is thus guilty of a "reflexive breakdown"--as if Oedipus could talk about himself and maintain some kind of formal coherence. Accordingly, for Lear, the problem of the play is that Oedipus does not understand the meaning of his name--as if reading Oedipus as "swollen-foot" would have solved all his problems. For Scheiderman. Oedipus fails to confront the alienness of his very self, caught up/constituted by the workings of the signifier. This is superior for the simple reason that it understands "Oedipus" as a signifier, rather than a signified, for to reduce Oedipus to one signified (in Lear's case, swollen foot) is to run into the problem of the notorious polysemy of his name.

(7) That is, is the word "man" enough to close the problem of the questions our bodies pose? In Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus, it is as if the hasty foreclosure of this problem of limb-counting returns in the opening scenes of the play, where a parade of diseased, disjointed human body parts, in the form of the plague victims of Thebes, begs him to explain the logic of their dissolution.

(8) Here I rework the words of Zizek 33.

(9) This episode, if any in the poem, surely activates one of the possible puns lurking in Odysseus's adoption of the name "no one," or ou-tis, which can also mean "big ears." Odysseus as all ears becomes a body part elevated fetishistically to the status of whole. On this pun, and its history, see Goldhill 32 n. 61.

(10) If the encounter with the Sirens is Odysseus's encounter with feminine enjoyment (see Salecl, chap. 3), is not his encounter with the endless rowing of his troops an encounter with his own disavowed masculine enjoyment, organized around the signifier?

(11) If [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is most often translated/understood as "bark"--and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] can be used of dogs, though it is also used of screaming humans--it is because of the way the simile, "as if of a puppy dog," imposes its meaning on the narrative. I take the details of the simile and presume that the monster herself is a kind of dog. Already, then, commentators indulge in the process of reducing the monster's real monstrosity to something knowable, recognizable, and as they do so, they metaphorize the monster into a new monster. It is worth emphasizing that there is nothing explicit in the narrative that justifies this equation of the Scylla with a dog other than the play of language itself as noted by the commentators--from the overriding of the separation between monster and dog in the simile (like a puppy) to the metonymic connection at the level of the signifier between Scylla and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(12) Snell, chap. 1; Williams, esp. chap. 1.

(13) Again, our "surprise" at a monster having a puppy dog voice would be because we make the same error as Polyphemus did regarding Telemus. We expect a monster to have a loud voice, just as he expected a giant to defeat him.

(14) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(15) Although, as Helen C. King has pointed out to me in personal communication, the narrative of Odyssey 9 does not give them even the opportunity to signal any awareness of betrayal, since the Cyclops dashes their heads to the ground before they have the chance to speak. That is, the naming of Odysseus in Odyssey 12 lets us see what cannot be allowed to happen in Odyssey 9--as if the Cyclops, as he smashes the men immediately to the ground, might be an unwitting accomplice in his own destruction, silencing the men.

(16) Note also that the companions presume that the voice of the Scylla belongs to her alone. But her voice is terrifying because it is their voice too. We have returned to the problem of the voice in the riddle of the Sphinx, and the problem of failing to take one's own voice into account.

(17) Cf. Plato, Soph. 220c, and the division of categories of hunting there.

(18) Thanks to Emily Gowers for pointing much of this out.

(19) This paper originated in a laser-sharp question from an undergraduate in a mythology class at the University of Washington: "How many legs does the Scylla have?" It turned out to require a rather long answer, and this paper is perhaps at least a start. Accordingly, I dedicate this to that student, Leila Barr. Thanks also go to audiences at the University of Washington, University of California at Los Angeles, Northwestern University, and Princeton University for assorted acute observations and criticisms, and to Jim Porter and Ellen O'Gorman for their response to an earlier written version.

Works Cited

Goldhill, Simon. 1991. The Poet's Voice: Essays on Poetics and Greek Literature, Cambridge.

Henderson, J. 1997. "The Name of the Tree: Recounting Odyssey 24 340-2." JHS 92: 87-116.

Lear, Jonathan. 1998. Open-Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul. Cambridge, MA.

Salecl, Renata. 2000. (Per)versions of Love and Hate, London.

Scheiderman, Stuart. 1983. Jacques Lacan: The Death of an Intellectual Hero. Cambridge, MA.

Segal, Charles. 2001. Oedipus Tyrannus: Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge. New York.

Snell, Bruno. 1953. The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought. Oxford. (Originally published as Die Entdeckung des Geistes; Studien zur Entstehung des europaischen Denkens bei den Griechen [Hamburg 1946])

Williams, Bernard. 1993. Shame and Necessity. Berkeley.

Zizek, Slavoj. 1999. The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London and New York.

Zupancic, Alenka. 2000. Ethics of the Real: Kant, Lacan. London and New York.
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Publication:Helios
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Date:Mar 22, 2004
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