ElAnt v2n1 - Incorporating the Other: The Catalogue of Women in Odyssey 11

Volume 2, Number 1
June 1994


James Houlihan,
3822 N. Braeswood 164, 
Texas 77025,
e-mail: c/o: jhouliha@kinkaid.org


We know that Penelope reads the Odyssey differently from Telemachus. When Phemius performs an Odyssey where Odysseus is unlikely ever to return home safely -- 'the bitter homecoming of the Achaeans,' nostos lugros (1.326-27) -- , Penelope angrily requests that Phemius perform something less biting, for instance, 'the erga of gods and heroes' (1.338). In one performative speech-act, Telemachus enters manhood by a publicly cancelling his mother's request, sending her off to woman's business (weaving), and declaring that muthos is man's (i.e., his) business and the kratos in his home is, after all, his (1.356-59). (1)

'Homer' does not report the actual words of the alternative Odyssey , the nostos lugros, which Phemius presents. The other alternative that Phemius might have performed, to satisfy Penelope's reading, also remains in silence. Both alternative Odyssey s wait for a Borges to develop them. Or, I should say, wait for the performance moment to evoke them. For obvious reasons, the oral tradition loves false endings, insertion points where stories can be added, alluded to, or passed by. Another, and stranger, alternative Odyssey is at the center of the catalogue of heroines (11.225–332).


Genres in the hexameter tradition are social, first, and linguistic, second: the social status of speakers determines if, and what kind of, commands they each may give. This helps explain why Odysseus among the Phaeacians does not reveal his name for so long: in the contestation of power in which social hierarchies are arranged according to performed speech-acts ( muthoi ), Odysseus wishes to remain purely and solely a xeinos whom Zeus protects. As such, no muthos that might deny his request can be addressed to him, and, in fact, the text describes his interchanges with Alcinous as agoreuein. Only when Odysseus has secured his pompe home, having repeatedly proved his worth and trustworthiness in words and deeds, and only when Alcinous finally asks what land he wishes to be sent back to -- then finally Odysseus reveals his name. Until then, he is 'no one.' (2)

What Odysseus finally gives Alcinous is a muthos (9.16), an authoritative speech-act performance of an extended feat of memory (books 9 through 12) that doubles as a command ('send me home as promised'). It has a false closure of its own when Odysseus breaks off with the catalogue of heroines, often thought of as an appeal to Arete, leaving his audience 'bewitched' (11.333- 34). Yet in a moment of encoded audience participation, Alcinous requests that Odysseus extend his performance and 'tell of the pyschai of his dead companions . . . even if it takes all night' (11.370-76).

Closure is silence, and perhaps a loss of self. The closure Odysseus wanted to give to his night of storytelling -- the catalogue of heroines -- has a lot to tell us about his process of self- presentation that causes the Phaeacians to find him worthy to be sent home out of Scheria. (3)


The Nekuia is, in at least one way, Dantesque: death provides an Archimedean point from which to reflect back on life seen as a completed narrative, capable of sustaining aesthetic and moral meanings. This is true even of the catalogue of heroines where the stories are sometimes abruptly shortened. Yet what do narratives mean in this oral culture?

Unlike the dead heroes who talk directly with Odysseus, the shades of the women are spoken for, silent. Yet because of this restraint and detachment, these stories also draw us into them without the interference of the psychological tension that scintillates in the dialogues between Odysseus and his dead comrades (or whenever men talk, jockeying for status -- not that women don't also jockey for status). The dead women appear as already completed narratives: some punished for being inconveniently pregnant, some deceived by lovers and/or gods, some killed for infidelities, some the mothers of monsters, one the mother of a wonder. But they are always sexual beings.

Directly projected on the screen of memory, these women come from the other side of the ultimate threshold to hover above the sacrificial trough: pale, lovely bodies revived, for a moment, by dark blood, charged with the pathos of loving and dying. A funereal beauty subverts any easy reading-off of the catalogue as simply patriarchal -- or as a later addition. (4)

We have become accustomed to seeing a complementarity between 'Homeric' male and female (at least ideally and in the major characters) in the 'reverse similes' of Foley and the 'coming into phase' of Austin. (5) In these brilliant critical works, there is often an assumed totality which gender roles, taken together, constitute. Yet what strikes me most about the catalogue of heroines is that the experience of these women -- put in relief by their being dead -- is other to the Odyssey as we have it, even if the Odyssey momentarily incorporates this otherness.

Let me offer a contrast. Eros in Archaic lyric poetry resolves the problem of the other by discovering the boundaries of a self in the very act of discovering those boundaries invaded by eros. Ann Carson, relying on Snell, relates the invention of Greek writing, based on articulating edges, to the establishment of psychic boundaries in the lyric poets. (6) But in hexameter poetry, this is not the case. In the way of oral cultures, Odysseus is more permeable to experience, not having been trained to see and write but rather to hear and remember. Not the spatial qualities of the eye, but the temporal continuities of the ear -- and memory -- are what matter.

Anthropologists have taught us that every culture creates identity 'locally,' in ways peculiar to time, place, and beliefs. (7) I want to suggest that the self in the Odyssey is not identified by boundary anxieties of the later literary world. Yet it is very much subjected to agonistic pressures of contested authority. Odysseus is permeable and inclusive, glorifiable by making himself remembered as one who has incorporated great stories, links to the ancestors, traces of eschatology. Odysseus wins from the Phaeacians the authority he needs by becoming the neiges d'antan he recalls.


The catalogue is structured in a ring, ABA', around the problem of eros -- always a problem of self and other. The A sections are about disintegrative eros, the vulnerability of women to violence, divine punishment and madness (with Furies), and post-golden- age disharmony between mortals and gods. The central B section is about the eros of Pero, successfully integrated into society -- as that of Odysseus and Penelope ultimately is. (8)

Even digitally this chart may still convey a visual sense to my reading/hearing of the catalogue. (Roman numerals indicate the groupings in pairs as the text delineates them. Note the catalogue ends with a pair of trios. Parentheses indicate gods who do not couple with heroines but intervene dramatically in their lives or a character not expressed by name but clearly implied.) gunaikes + Aristoi / THEOI > paides



Tyro + POSEIDON > twin sons

Antiope + ZEUS > twin sons


Alcmene + (ZEUS) > Herakles

Megara + Herakles


Epicaste + Oedipus ('GODS') > Oedipus Chloris + Neleus > three sons




A' I Leda + ZEUS > twin sons Iphimedia + POSEIDON > twin sons


Phaedra Procris Ariadne + Theseus (ARTEMIS & DIONYSUS)


Maera Clymene Eriphyle

My first assumption, which I hope the reading below confirms, is that the oral poet, from the beginning of the catalogue, is looking to its center, the narrative impulse around which all the funeral beauty crystallizes in performance. My second assumption, given that 'Homer' is for us a written text, is that literary analysis can neither be privileged nor jettisoned.


Tyro is raped by Poseidon impersonating Enipeus whom Tyro actually desires. Her love incites in her an idyllic wandering with a touch of the obsessive: 'she kept going up and down along the attractive streams of Enipeus' ( polesketo kala reethra 11.240). Yet as she loves the fluid and ungraspable -- 'she loves a river, godly Enipeus.' 11.238) -- it might be possible to detect in her passion a culpable love for whatever is exotic, a 'love of the distant,' as Pindar puts it at Pythian 3.20: (Coronis) Erato ton apeonton . In love with a shapechanger, Tyro is easily deceived by a master of transformations, the cunning seagod. (9)

Their union forms 'one wave-vault,' suggesting an eros fusing (some might say transgressing) all boundaries between natural, divine, and human:

porphureon d' ara kuma peristathe, ourei ison kurtothen, krupsen de theon thneten te gunaika.

(A dark, surging wave rose up over them, like a mountain, forming a vault, hiding god and woman, 11.243–4.)

The sensuous beauty of the text becomes poignant: we can't forget that Tyro is making love with an illusion and we may recall the punishment of Ixion who also mates with an illusion, a Zeus- formed cloud in Pindar's Pythian 2.36–37. In any case, the moment is painterly.

The wave breaks. Poseidon 'consummates his passion' (11.246). The tide recedes. Then speaking the only dialogue in the catalogue, the god commands Tyro to remain silent about how she became pregnant. It is almost as if this command echoes throughout the catalogue to enforce silence on all the women, the more to heighten, again, the painterly silence of the illusion Odysseus is projecting onto his listeners' imagination, through hearing and memory.

'And with these words, Poseidon sank beneath the swelling sea' ( hupo ponton ... kumainonta, 11.253). The swelling here points to the ominous situation that we the audience are left in: the position of an inexplicably pregnant woman. We have incorporated her fear. In the tradition, Tyro is victimized for this pregnancy by an archetypally cruel stepmother, Sidero (cf. Apollodorus, 1.9.7, the two lost tragedies of Sophocles; Jebb-Pearson 270 f., and Strabo 8.3.32). And Tyro's twin sons, Pelias and Neleus, are famous for their political struggles, the one with Jason the other with Herakles -- not to mention Pelias' murder of Sidero in the temple of Hera, and the struggles evoked by juxtaposing the twins with their three legitimate stepbrothers: Aeson, Pheres, Amythaon (11.258–59). In any case, we are far from integrative sexuality, and the more so, the more we recall the stories of Tyro and her twins, Pelias and Neleus. (10)

Things seem better with Antiope (the heroine paired with Tyro) who also bears twins, sired by Poseidon's brother, Zeus. Antiope even 'boasts of spending a night in the arms of Zeus' (11.261). Yet her ghost remains silent in the dark, and she is defined by her twin sons and her city.

In the tradition, Amphion and Zethus are -- like Pelias and Neleus and so many other heroes -- exposed at birth and then rescued; their identities are discovered and they avenge their mother, Antiope, who had been enchained by her cruel foster-mother Dirce (cf. Apollodorus 3.5.5, Pausanias 2.6.2, 9.17.4, 10.3610, Euripides' lost Antiope (Nauk 401 f.), and Ovid's Metamorphoses 6.111). If oral listening is more associative than demarcative, the stories of Tyro's and Antiope's twins could well form a supplement to each other. And in both cases women suffer dramatically: not only Tyro and Antiope but the deaths of their maternal tormenters are terrible and punished by the gods. Dionysus, angered over Dirce's dismemberment by the twins, drives Antiope (!) mad. (Dionysus, as avenger, makes a rare Homeric appearance immediately below in the story of Ariadne, 11.321–25). There is yet another vulnerable female in this story:

Amphion and Zethus were the first to lay the foundations of seven-gated Thebes and raise its walls and towers ( purgosan ), for although they were strong, they could not live in an unwalled ( apurgoton ) Thebes, the city with the broad plains ( euruchoron ). (11.262–65) At once the city and the eponymous nymph, Thebes needs to be protected behind a veil of seven gates. The hapax apurgoton ('untowered,' 'unwalled,' 'unfortified') shows that the broad expanses (and/or dancing floors) suggested in the epithet euruchoros are so vulnerable as to be merely tantalizing. There is a lost harmony between city and field, as in Iliad 22.145–56. (11)

If we look ahead to the A' sections of the ring, the two sets of twins (Tyro's and Antiope's) rhyme with two more sets of twins: those famous for causing the destruction of Troy (Leda's twin girls are surely implied, though the twin boys are explicitly named) and those who disturbed the order of world (Iphimedia's twins, 11.298–320). The presence of so many twins is probably a reflex of what Dumezil calls the Indo-European tripartite ideology: the struggle between twins, at least diachronically, is often a story of a struggle to found a social order out of chaos. (12)

A II Thebes connects the next pair of heroines in the catalogue: Alcmene, queen of Thebes, and Megara, a princess of Thebes (11.266–70). As their stories are elliptical, in contrast to the fuller treatment of Tyro and Antiope, the catalogue retains variety and acquires shape. Also, the supplement here works subversively. By naming Megara, and not some other wife of Herakles, we should recall his murder of her and/or her children when he was in a state of madness (as in the Euripidean/Senecan tradition). So the oral aura of Megara supplements with madness and punishment the praise of Alcmene -- another woman impregnated by way of a delusion.

A III By now the anaphorae of 'and then I saw X and Y' begins to sound like a sighing refrain of lament, especially when we meet the third pair, Epicaste and Chloris. The kind of erotic delusion experienced by Tyro -- suffused with sensuous beauty -- now gives way to the fully tragic (in the later dramatic sense), signalled by the appearance of the Erinyes who visit Epicaste. Her story begins with a significant variation in the anaphora: 'the mother of Oedipus I saw, beautiful Epicaste' (11.271). Every other heroine is introduced by her name, Epicaste only by the biological relationship that she violated: 'she who committed a monstrosity ( mega ergon ) through the unseeing blindness of her mind' ( aidreisesi nooio) (11.272). The Furies cap the suicide:

And Epicaste, carried away by her own pain, fastened a high noose from the steep ceiling and went down to Hades, the strong gatekeeper. And she left behind ( opisso ), for future generations, everything that maternal furies fulfill ( hossa te metros erinues ekteleousi ). (11.277–280)

The word opisso works two ways here: Epicaste not only leaves 'behind' the Furies who killed her but also leaves them to be fulfilled 'in the future' life of Oedipus which must include the civil wars of his sons and the Seven -- hence the reason for the 'walled towers' mentioned above:

But through the malignant plans of the gods, Oedipus, though suffering torments, continued to rule the Cadmeans in much-desired ( polueratos -- or 'land of many desires') Thebes. (11.275–76)

The story of Chloris (11.281–87) provides closure to section A, since Neleus, a son of the first-mentioned heroine, Tyro, now appears as husband of Chloris -- a ring within the ring:

And I saw the pale beauty of Chloris: Neleus wooed her with countless gifts and wed her, the youngest daughter of Amphion Iasion who was once the strong king at Minyan Orchomenus. And she was queen of Pylos and had shining children: Nestor, Chromius, and lord Periclymenus, and then, wonder to all who live and die, regal Pero ... (11.281-87)

Chloris narrowly escaped the punishment visited on her siblings for the mad boast of their mother, Niobe. And though Niobe does not appear, the mention of Chloris in the context of avenging gods probably creates the groundwork for an allusion to that fundamental Greek parable. (13)

Chloris also serves as geographical shifter away from Thebes: she seems to share or even usurp patriarchal power in Pylos (he de Pulou basileue, 11.285). (14)

That this refers to the tradition of Neleus as a weak leader is hinted at by the presence of his son Periclymenus, the only son called 'lordly' and in the tradition the only one able to keep Pylos safe. (15)

Neleus also plays the role of an obstructing father, hoarding his daughter, in the next, exceptional story of Pero. (Even if Neleus is justified in terms of the ethics of magnifying one's bios, what we have is a conflict between the imperative to hoard and the imperative of fertility.)


And Chloris bore, wonder to all who live and die, regal Pero: all the young men wanted to woo her, but Neleus would only yield if some hero dared to steal the spiral-horned, big- faced cows of Iphiclus––not an easy thing. Only a handsome prophet (Melampus) swore to drive them home. Bitter chance trapped him and the painful chains of wild savages. But moons passed by, and days turned to months and months to a year, and finally Iphiclus released the man to tell all things fated, and the will of Zeus was done. (11.287-97)

Everything about Pero stands in opposition to the dead women we have met and will meet. Every other heroine is clearly delineated by an anaphora of a sighing refrain. Only Pero's story emerges from within another story, a narrative swerve, but then marked by a new kind of anaphora. The surprise is indicated in many ways. For instance, up to this point the women have been partially defined in terms of their sons. Pero is the first and only daughter of a heroine -- this will remain true throughout the catalogue. (16)

Some unusual phrasing helps shift the register. Pero's name is augmented by a phrase in anaphora, thauma brotoisi, 'a wonder to mortals' (11.286). This is immediately followed by the next line beginning: ten pantes mnoonto, 'that women whom everyone was desiring.' This anaphora, in contrast to all the other anaphorae, is threefold and wondrous: Pero / wonder / object of all desire. 'Wonder,' is a word that can represent divine intervention, as at 19.36: the thauma of Athena's miraculous illumination in the storeroom, which is immediately glossed by Odysseus as the 'way of the gods,' dike theon (19.43).

In another significant variation from the other heroines, Pero is not the mother of demigods; nor is she deceived and impregnated by a god; she is not killed by the gods as Ariadne will be (nor by a god's son, as Megara was). In the rest of the catalogue, relations between gods and women end in disaster, as befits the epic's sense of the passing of the golden age. (17)

Pero's story, by contrast, is nearly comic or carnivalesque, as I will argue more fully below. Her father, Neleus, obstructs the sexuality of a younger generation. Pero is released from this abnormal situation by 'a seer' who, in attempting to win her, nearly passes into oblivion in a foreign jail.

Since Pero's story also shows an antidote to disintegrative eros in the A sections of the catalogue, Melampus is referred to only as a 'blameless prophet' ( mantis amumon, 11.291) in order to emphasize his social role -- later the Odyssey will retell their story, using his name (cf. Appendix 2). His inborn nature as prophet is what finally matters. And his descendants include the Odyssean Theoclymenus (a more successful prophet than many have recognized, since it is largely the suitors' disdain that proves the prophet's worth). He is also unnamed so as to function more readily as a double for Odysseus, longing to return.


Only a handsome prophet (Melampus) swore to drive them home. Bitter chance trapped him and the painful chains of wild savages. But moons passed by, and days turned to months and months to a year, and finally Iphiclus released the man to tell all things fated, and the will of Zeus was done. (11.291-97)

Pero's story ends with the tag, Dios d'eteleieto boule : 'and the will of Zeus was done,' stamping the events as epic. (18) Epic also is the cattle-rustling which Melampus performs to win Pero -- as does Odysseus to restore his oikos at 23.356–8. Yet this brief episode relating a hero's successful return to domestic life, after being mysteriously released by his captor and speaking mysterious thesphata, is the strangest alternative Odyssey in the poem. Once again, the scene is painterly. The actual dialogue of the prophet is alluded to, but left in silence. It is almost as if to make us see, to please the peculiarities of the eye, Odysseus, as narrator, downplays the pleasures of the ear, and moves to the edge of silence. Yet in the figure of Melampus, Odysseus creates a double of himself, a hero who wins a famous heroine, returning to domestic life from a long confinement in uncivilized (cf. agroiotai, 11.293) places. But to see just how bizarre all this is, two aspects of Melampus' mythological dossier are helpful. First, Melampus wins both the cows and Pero by curing Iphiclus of impotence: as we know from the scholia on Apollonius which paraphrases the Hesiodic Megalai Eoiai (fr. 261, Merkelbach-West), Melampus acquires from snakes the ability to understand the language of animals. When imprisoned in Phylace, he is able to predict the collapse of a house -- in the scholia, it is the house of Iphiclus, but in other traditions, it is the collapse of the prison where Melampus is jailed. He can make this prediction because he has overheard worms saying that the wood in the ceiling of his cell is rotten (Apollodorus 1.9.11.). Then, according to Apollodorus, Melampus performs a sacrifice which attracts vultures that he can talk with. They tell him that once when Phylacus was castrating lambs, his son, Iphiclus, stole the knife and thrust it into a sacred oaktree whose bark miraculously (and sexually) closed around the blade. (19) His prescription for renewed vigor is to find the knife and make a tea from the rust on this blade. And so the prophet restores fertility.

Secondly, Melampus is a Dionysian trickster: he introduces the god's name, his rituals, and his phallic procession into Greece (Herodotus 2.49). Like the god, he both brings and cures madness: Apollodorus 2.2.2 tells how he cures the Proetides of a madness resulting from repressing Dionysus -- something the Homeric epics famously do. (20) In this episode, Melampus cunningly withholds the cure to win a third of Argos for himself and a third for his brother, a successful trickster.

Returning to our text, we can now ask why Iphiclus releases ( luse, 11.296) Melampus and allows the prophet to take away his cattle -- for surely heroes don't give away their livelihood gratis, especially in a poem like the Odyssey. What Melampus has to offer is the production of marked words: kai tote de min luse bie Iphikleie thesphata pant' eiponta; Dios d'eteleieto boule.

(the force of Iphiclus released the man who told all things fated, and the will of Zeus was done, 296–97).

That the verb here is from epos (not muthos ) emphasizes the product of speech. (21) This 'curing by words' is a kind of conflict resolution that Homeric and Hesiodic speakers are generally engaged in, agonistically, even as they are working towards capturing power.

The curing words are further marked as 'prophecy' ( thesphata ). Ancient prophecies, like dreams in the temple of Asclepius or in the Odyssey , are not interior phenomena as they are for us, but signs of future events. A 'natural' order is precisely what is lacking both in Pylos where king Neleus obstructs fertility and in uncivilized Phylace where Iphiclus is impotent. A true prophecy will restore the natural order, bringing rebirth: it will be a medical prescription for renewed potency -- this is a poem, after all, that lauds the powers of drugs. In its world, medicine and religion and rulership are not yet separate entities. What Odysseus incorporates into his self (his self-presentation for power), is not only the aura and pathos of the catalogue (which cap the 1,472 lines he has already spoken), but also the carnivalesque spirit of Melampus, the healing prophet and Dionysian trickster. The alternative Odyssey that flashes for a moment amid the funereal and terrible beauty of the ghosts would draw from the genres the ancients called Menippean and we carnivalesque (those that Petronius elaborated); that Melampus' words are said to concern everything (panta) I take to be a generic marker of the inclusive nature of the carnivalesque. (22)

Melampus' authoritative speech-act that frees him from confinement embodies the carnivalesque: a narrow escape from death (through the interpretation of insect language), cures for impotence, a bride won, fertility saved, and the whole thing 'the will of Zeus.' If we smile here, it is the laughter of bodily and sexual triumph over death. Our poem ends with lovemaking in a palace which is serving as a morgue while passersby make sexual jokes -- all leading finally to the rejuvenation of Laertes, a rebirth among the elders.


In section A' (11.298–332), 'Homer' completes the pattern which begins the catalogue by giving us two more pairs of wives who have borne twins by Poseidon and Zeus. The divine partners appear in typical ring symmetry:

POSEIDON + Tyro (11.241–57: 14 lines)

ZEUS + Antiope (11.261–62: 2 lines)

ZEUS + Leda (11.299–304: 5 lines)

POSEIDON + Iphimedia (11.306–320: 15 lines)

A' I

Leda reproduces the pattern by recalling Tyro and Antiope and their god-produced twins, but she also introduces a variation. The resumed anaphora of 'and I saw Leda' (11.298), takes us back, in a single stroke, not only to the basic catalogue structure but also to its tragic register: in this case, the Iliadic world. Leda immediately takes us away from Pero's very human marriage. Confirming the pattern that only male sons are mentioned in the A sections of the catalogue (to maintain the contrast with Pero), only the male twins, Castor and Polydeuces are mentioned here.

In section A' , the theme of disintegration is taken to its limits: the twins of Iphimedia, the Aloadae, are recalled in their attempt to gain the power and immortality of Olympus. This Hesiodic moment no doubt moralizes in ways that the suspicious Phaeacians can appreciate; they too have experienced a gigantic violence ( bie ) in the form of their brutish cousins, the cyclopes (6.4-10).


Two trios end the catalogue. In the first (11.321–25), the mention of Phaedra and Procris suggests erotic madness, but it is the story of Ariadne that cruelly reinforces the theme of erotic delusion:

with the indictment of Dionysus, Artemis killed (Ariadne) in sea-girt Dia before Theseus could bring her home to the hill of sacred Athens and get any profit ( aponeto ) from her. (11.322–25)

A' III The second trio (11.326–32) closes the catalogue by recalling the whole: Amphiaraus is descended from Tyro; Maera is one of the Proetides cured of madness by Melampus; Clymene is the wife of Phylacus, mother of Iphiclus who is cured of impotence by Melampus. The last-mentioned heroine is another Theban, Eriphyle. She betrays her husband, the prophet Amphiaraus who is the great- grandson of the prophet, Melampus. In other words, all the heroines in this trio recall Melampus, but, suffering in their sexuality, they stand in sharp contrast with him.


In book 15.222–57, Homer retells the story of 'Pero won by Melampus' in the genealogy of Theoclymenus who turns out to be a descendant of Melampus. Theoclymenus meets Telemachus just as he is about to return home -- and the suitors' ambush awaits him at sea. Among the ancestors, Polymeides, the best seer after Amphiaraus, 'was angry at his father' (15.254); this mention of a son angry at his father suggests what Telemachus, vulnerable to feeling abandoned, might naturally, though, as we would say, subconsciously, feels. He would not want to express such sentiments at the present moment of his journey.

Likewise, the inclusion of erotic madness in this later retelling of the story of Pero and Melampus may suggest the passion that Odysseus, in disguise at the palace, does not allow himself to express, warned, as he has been, to avoid the kind of homecoming Agamemnon walked into blindly. In the catalogue of heroines in book 11, Melampus is a dutiful and, therefore, successful suitor. Individual passions conform to demands of social reproduction. But in book 15, eros is darker, a grievous ate (15.233), sent by Erinys. Here Melampus seems to love Pero, and madly.(23)

The love and the quest to Phylace are both delusion, as the zeugma of 15.233 suggests. Indeed, zeugma characterizes this episode (cf. 15.238–39) where contrary passions are yoked together.

Melampus suffered terrible miseries ( krater' algea ) for the sake of Neleus' girl and the sake of a grievous madness ( heineka Neleos koures ates te bareies ) sent into his mind by the goddess, home-smiting Erinys.

The name of the imprisoning ruler varies in the two versions. In the Nekuian catalogue, it is Iphiclus; whereas at 15.231, it is Phylacus who rules. This variation in name emphasizes a difference in meaning. Iphiclus evokes the theme of impotence, germane to the comic sexuality of Pero and Melampus. Phylacus -- the name 'Keeper' being synonymous with Phylace, the place of imprisonment -- threatens a possible oblivion in a savage enclosure.

Thus Melampus is again like Odysseus: hidden, with heroic kleos at risk. Yet they both overcome death and oblivion by (re)courting and (re)marrying -- thus reestablishing the proper order of generations. In 'Homer,' however, we must resist the temptation to make two stories add up to one. As the stories that Helen and Menelaus tell in book 4.235-89 supplement each other, so the two versions of the Pero-Melampus story function like a montage, with similar but conflicting images creating an idea not evident in the parts. (24)


1. His authoritative speech-act laying claim to kratos is a muthos in Martin's sense, cf. R. P. Martin, The Language of Heroes: Speech and Performance in the Iliad (Ithaca, 1989), pp. 22 ff.

2. At 7.67, the disguised Athena directs Odysseus' attention to Arete who will champion him and says the king'honors her as ou tis is honored,' and at 8.552 Alcinous says directly to Odysseus: 'no one ( ou tis ) of mortals is nameless.

3. D. Stewart, The Disguised Guest: Rank, Role, and Identity in the Odyssey (Cranbury N.J, 1976), pp. 34-50, has argued that the disguises in which the self is lost in knowing and becoming other minds is the theme of the poem.

4. The lyric and hexameter traditions develop in a constant dialectic with each other, from common sources. Cf. G. Nagy, Pindar's Homer (Baltimore, 1990), pp. 1–3 and passim. Neoanalytical objections are still to be found in the most recent commentary: 'The lack of any direct connection between the stories related in this episode and the fate of Odysseus is a flaw in composition,' A. Heubeck, A Commentary on Homer's Odyssey vol. 2 (Oxford, 1989), p. 75. In fact, the stories related in this episode become a part of Odysseus.

5. H. Foley, 'Reverse Similes and Sex Roles in the Odyssey ,' Arethusa 11, 1,2 (1978), and N. Austin, Archery at the Dark of the Moon (Berkeley, 1975), pp. 212–24 and 250–53.

6. A. Carson, Eros the Bittersweet (Princeton, 1986), pp. 30-45 and 53-61. We might compare how writers of Oriental languages perceive space in terms of what is absent: the imaginary box around each character.

7. Cf. C. Geertz on Bali and Morocco in Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York, 1983), pp. 55-70. The agons of his Arab poets are truly Homeric.

8. A. Heubeck, A Commentary , vol. 2, p. 77 counts fourteen heroines, but wrongly; there are fifteen. That the story of Pero develops from within the story of Chloris is in fact the key to the structure and emphases of the catalogue. Though I don't wish to engage in analytical or anti-analytical criticism, I will add that if we lose the catalogue, the intermezzo will be seriously compromised, not to mention the symmetry: female shades/intermezzo/male shades.

9. As with all gods, metamorphosis is a sign of divine knowledge, cf. J. S. Clay, The Wrath of Athena (Princeton: 1983), pp. 148– 69.

10. Our passage calls Pelias and Neleus 'those strong theraponte ('servants' -- really 'victims') of great Zeus (255). To be a therapon may be fatal, as Nagy has shown regarding Patroclus: G. Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans (Baltimore, 1979), p. 295. In the Megalai Eoiai, Neleus is most famous for being the victim of Herakles, son of Zeus (fr. 35, Merkelbach-West).

11. S. Scully, Homer and the Sacred City (Ithaca, 1990), p. 15, says 'the (Homeric) city aspires toward a selfhood.' It is tempting to see the 'selfhood' of the Homeric Thebes already foreshadowing its role as the Other in Athenian drama.

12. Sovereignty (Dumezil's first function) struggles with fertility and production (his second). For instance, Romulus kills Remus (originally *Yem-) whose name probably means twin and is perhaps cognate with other Indo-European words for twin, cf. J. Puhvel, 'Remus et frater,' History of Religions 15 (1975), pp. 146–57. In Vedic, Manu (man) kills Yama (twin) and establishes the known world. Cf. Avestan Yima, the Norse Ymir, and the Mannus (man) and Tuisto (twin) of Tacitus.

13. The key characters appear in the catalogue: the Theban Amphion (11.262) who marries Niobe, their surviving daughter Chloris, and their grandson Nestor (11.286) whose longevity, often reffered to by 'Homer,' is Apollo's recompense for the destruction of Niobe's children.

14. At Iliad 6.425, basileuo seems to be used of a woman ruling alone.

15. In the Eoiai (fr. 33 and 35, Merkelbach-West), Periclymenus is a powerful Proteus-like figure. In fr. 35, as long as Periclymenus lives, Pylos is safe; only after he dies can Herakles sack the city and kill Neleus and his eleven sons. The twelfth, Nestor, was away visiting the Geranians.

16. An analogy occurs, my colleague William Porter tells me, in a very different narrative style: at Genesis 22.20–24, the offspring of Abraham's brothers are listed; they are all male with one exception: Bethuel is the father of Rebekah, the only daughter mentioned. And she turns out to be the vessel of the covenant.

17. J. S. Clay, The Wrath of Athena , pp. 148–76, and her Politics of Olympus (Princeton: 1989), p. 166.

18. The capping phrase, Dios d'eteleieto boule, ('and the will of Zeus was done,' 11.297) signals traditional epic material, as in Demodocus's' song 8.82 and Iliad 1.5, cf. G. Nagy, Best of the Achaeans , pp. 43, 64–5.

19. The scholia on 11.287 and Eustathius on 11.292 say it was a peartree. (R. Barthes, whose outrageous claims about castration in narrative are so peculiar, would be amused.)

20. Cf. the Hesiodic Aeolidae , fr. 37 (Merkelbach-West): mantosuneis iesat elosunen eneeke cholosa[men (14–15). The anger in fragmentary line 15 is perhaps that of Dionysus.

21. Martin, The Language of Heroes , p. 12, argues that the word epos focuses on the message and its effects on the addressee, whereas muthos focuses on the performance.

22. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (Austin, 1981), trans. C. Emerson and M. Holquist, pp. 221-22, gives a reading of Petronius' 'Widow of Ephesus' episode that reveals how bodily humor is still connected to 'rituals of fertility'; what is peculiarly carnivalesque is the complex of food, drink, death, sex, and laughter.

23. As Melampus is not mentioned by name in book 11, so Pero is not mentioned by name in book 15 where the genealogy of sons predominates. Even the Argive wife is called simply gune (15.241).

24. A similar strategy of repetition and difference is used, in the second Nekuia (24.1–204), the dead cast into even deeper shadow by the light of Odysseus' kleos.

James Houlihan
e-mail: c/o: dcpozzi@jetson.uh.edu

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Electronic Antiquity Vol. 2 Issue 1 - June 1994
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606