Warrior Women. Amazons. Spartans.

Identifications
— Amazons
— antianeirai
— Spartan women

1. Herodotus, Histories (5th c. BCE) 4.113-114:

[4.113] At midday the Amazons would scatter and go apart from each other singly or in pairs, roaming apart for greater comfort. The Scythians noticed this and did likewise; and as the women wandered alone, a young man laid hold of one of them, and the woman did not resist but let him do his will; [2] and since they did not understand each other’s speech and she could not speak to him, she signed with her hand that he should come the next day to the same place and bring another youth with him (showing by signs that there should be two), and she would bring another woman with her. The youth went away and told his comrades; and the next day he came himself with another to the place, where he found the Amazon and another with her awaiting them. When the rest of the young men learned of this, they had intercourse with the rest of the Amazons.

[4.114] Presently they joined their camps and lived together, each man having for his wife the woman with whom he had had intercourse at first. Now the men could not learn the women’s language, but the women mastered the speech of the men;  and when they understood each other, the men said to the Amazons, “We have parents and possessions; therefore, let us no longer live as we do, but return to our people and be with them; and we will still have you, and no others, for our wives.” To this the women replied: “We could not live with your women; for we and they do not have the same customs. We shoot the bow and throw the javelin and ride, but have never learned women’s work; and your women do none of the things of which we speak, but stay in their wagons and do women’s work, and do not go out hunting or anywhere else. So we could never agree with them. If you want to keep us for wives and to have the name of fair men, go to your parents and let them give you the allotted share of their possessions, and after that let us go and live by ourselves.” The young men agreed and did this.

2. Attic black-figure vase (amphora) by Exekias, c. 530 BCE. Achilles (left) kills the Amazonian queen, Penthesilea (right). Image: British Museum.

BM Penthesilea

3. Attic red-figure vase (calyx krater), c. 450 BCE. Battle between Greeks and Amazons. Image: Met Museum.

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4. Strabo, Geography (1st c. BCE) 11.5.3:

A peculiar thing has happened in the case of the account we have of the Amazons; for our accounts of other peoples keep a distinction between the mythical and the historical elements; for the things that are ancient and false and monstrous are called myths, but history wishes for the truth, whether ancient or recent, and contains no monstrous element, or else only rarely. But as regards the Amazons, the same stories are told now as in earlytimes, though they are marvellous and beyond belief. For instance, who could believe that an army of women, or a city, or a tribe, could ever be organised without men, and not only be organised, but even make inroads upon the territory of other people, and not only overpower the peoples near them to the extent of advancing as far as what is now Ionia, but even send an expedition across the sea as far as Attica? For this is the same as saying that the men of those times were women and that the women were men. Nevertheless, even at the present time these very stories are told about the Amazons, and they intensify the peculiarity above-mentioned and our belief in the ancient accounts rather than those of the present time.

5. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 19):

“Their [=the Amazons] heroic exploits were imaginary, but their characters and actions arose from a common historical source: warrior cultures of the steppes where nomad horsemen and -women could experience parity at a level almost unimaginable for ancient Hellenes. Myth and reality commingled in the Greek imagination, and as more and more details come to light about Scythian culture, the women of Scythia were explicitly identified as ‘Amazons.’ Today’s archaeological and linguistic discoveries point to the core of reality that lay behind Greek amazon myths.”

6. Mary Beard, Women and Power (2017: 60-62):

“There’s a similar logic in the stories of that mythical race of Amazon women, said by Greek writers to exist somewhere on the northern borders of their world. A more violent and more militaristic lot than the peaceful denizens of Herland [=pp49-51], this monstrous regiment always threatened to overrun the civilised world of Greece and Greek men. An enormous amount of energy has been wasted on trying to prove that these Amazons did once exist, with all the seductive possibilities of a historical society that was really ruled by and for women. Dream on. The hard truth is that the Amazons were a Greek male myth. The basic message was that the only good Amazon was a dead one, or…one that had been mastered in the bedroom. The underlying point was that it was the duty of men to save civilisation from the rule of women.”

7. The Black Sea, Caucasus, and Caspian Sea region. Map by Michele Angel. Map 2.4 in A. Mayor (2016: 42). Image: @amayor 3rd Jan. 2017.

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8. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 20):

“The Scythians themselves left no written records. Much of our knowledge about them comes from the art and literature of Greece and Rome. But the Scythians did leave spectacular physical evidence of their way of life for archaeologists to uncover…Archaeology shows that Amazons were not simply symbolic figments of the Greek imagination, as many scholars claim. Nor are Amazons unique to Greek culture, another common claim. In fact, Greeks were not the only people to spin tales about Amazon-like figures and warrior women ranging over the vast regions east of the Mediterranean. Other literate cultures, such as Persia, Egypt, India, and China, encountered warlike nomads in antiquity, and their narratives drew on their own knowledge of steppe nomads through alliances, exploration, trade, and warfare.”

9. “Amazon” understood as Greek a + mazos = “without breast” 
9a. Strabo, Geography (1st c. BCE) 11.5.1:

…the Amazons spend the rest of their time off to themselves, performing their several individual tasks, such as ploughing, planting, pasturing cattle, and particularly in training horses, though the bravest engage mostly in hunting on horseback and practise warlike exercises; that the right breasts of all are seared when they are infants, so that they can easily use their right arm for every needed purpose, and especially that of throwing the javelin

9b. “Apollodorus”Library (1st/2nd c. CE) 2.98:

For the Amazons cultivated a manly spirit; whenever they had sex and gave birth, they raised the female children. They would constrict their right breasts so that these would not interfere with throwing a javelin, but allowed their left breasts to grow so they could breastfeed.

10a. Homer, Iliad, 3.188-190. Priam speaking to Helen (see wk 2). 

“For I, too, being their ally, was numbered among them on the day when the Amazons came, the peers of men (Amazones antianeirai). But not even they were as many as are the bright-eyed Achaeans.”

10b. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 22):

“There is something remarkable about Homer’s earliest use of Amazones in the Iliad. The form of the name falls into the linguistic category of ethnic designations in epic poetry (another Homeric example is Myrmidones, the warriors led by Achilles at Troy). This important clue tells us that Amazones was originally a Hellenized name for ‘a plurality, a people,’ as in Hellenes for Greeks and Trooes for the Trojans. The Greeks used distinctive feminine endings (typically –ai) for associations made up exclusively of women, such as Nymphai (Nymphs) or Trooiai for Trojan women. But Amazones does not have the feminine ending that one would expect if the group consisted only of women. Therefore, the name Amazones would originally have been ‘understood as… a people consisting of men and women.’ As classicist Josine Blok points out in her discussion of this puzzle, without the addition of the feminine epithet antianeirai ‘there is no way of telling that this was a people of female warriors.'”

11a. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: colour plate 3). Warrior woman’s skeleton, with a large iron dagger in her right hand and two iron arrowheads between her legs, 4th-3rd centuries BCE, necropolis 8, Kurgan 1, burial 6. Photos by James Vedder, Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads, 1992. Image.

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11b. Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons (2016: 64-65):

“Now that modern bioarchaeological methods can determine the sex of skeletons, we know that in some cemetery populations on the steppes armed females represent as many as 37% of the burials…[p64] In the not-too-distant past, archaeologists routinely identified Scythian burials as “male” or “female” based on preconceived notions about the types of grave goods expected for each gender. Weapons and tools were assumed to belong to men, while spindles, jewelry and mirrors were [p65] supposed to be feminine.”

12. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Sayings of Spartan Women 241

When a woman from Ionia showed vast pride in a bit of her own weaving, which was very valuable, a Spartan woman pointed to her four sons, who were most well-behaved, and said, “Such should be the employments of the good and honourable woman, and it is over these that she should be elated and boastful.

Another, as she handed her son his shield, exhorted him, saying, “Either this or upon this.”

13. Xenophon (4th c. BCE), Constitution of the Spartans 3-4

[3] In other states the girls who are destined to become mothers and are brought up in the approved fashion, live on the very plainest fare, with a most meagre allowance of delicacies. Wine is either withheld altogether, or, if allowed them, is diluted with water. The rest of the Greeks expect their girls to imitate the sedentary life that is typical of handicraftsmen—to keep quiet and do wool-work. How, then, is it to be expected that women so brought up will bear fine children? [4] But Lycurgus thought the labour of slave women sufficient to supply clothing. He believed motherhood to be the most important function of freeborn woman. Therefore, in the first place, he insisted on physical training for the female no less than for the male sex: moreover, he instituted races and trials of strength for women competitors as for men, believing that if both parents are strong they produce more vigorous offspring.

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Mothers and daughters. Persephone and Demeter.

Identifications
— korē
Persephone
— Demeter

1a. Nikandre Korē, 7th c. BCE. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

1b. Inscription on the Nikandre Korē. Image: beazley.ox.ac.uk. The inscription is written in boustrophedon, meaning ‘ox-turning’, like a plough in a field (left to right, then right to left etc.).

Inscription on Nikandre kore oxford

Nikandre dedicated me to the far-shooter of arrows,
the excellent daughter of Deinodikes of Naxos,
sister of Deinomenes, wife of Phraxos

2. Women in the Classical World p29:

“It has been suggested that the statues represent these young women in a specific situation known to us from Archaic literary sources, their appearance in religious sanctuaries on the occasion of public festivals…These were virtually the only times when a girl of marriageable age might appear in public, and the most behavior expected of her is echoed in the demure downward gaze of many korai. Yet at the same time, paradoxically, she might call attention to herself with her elegant clothes, elaborately styled hair, expensive jewelry, makeup, and even a gesture of pulling her garment tight, emphasizing breasts, legs, and buttocks. Her beauty makes her an adornment to her family, to be appraised by prospective husbands; yet she should not call attention to herself, lest she invite unwanted admirers.”

3. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 1-46

I begin to sing of Demeter, the holy goddess with the beautiful hair. And her daughter [Persephone] too. The one with the delicate ankles, whom Hades seized. She was given away by Zeus, the loud-thunderer, the one who sees far and wide. Demeter did not take part in this, she of the golden double-axe, she who glories in the harvest. [5] She [Persephone] was having a good time, along with the daughters of Okeanos, who wear their girdles slung low. She was picking flowers: roses, crocus, and beautiful violets. Up and down the soft meadow. Iris blossoms too she picked, and hyacinth. And the narcissus, which was grown as a lure for the flower-faced girl by Gaia [Earth]. All according to the plans of Zeus. She [= Gaia] was doing a favor for the one who receives many guests [= Hades]. [10] It [the narcissus] was a wondrous thing in its splendor. To look at it gives a sense of holy awe to the immortal gods as well as mortal humans. It has a hundred heads growing from the root up. Its sweet fragrance spread over the wide skies up above. And the earth below smiled back in all its radiance. So too the churning mass of the salty sea.

[15] She [Persephone] was filled with a sense of wonder, and she reached out with both hands to take hold of the pretty plaything. And the earth, full of roads leading every which way, opened up under her. It happened on the Plain of Nysa. There it was that the Lord who receives many guests[= Hades] made his lunge. He was riding on a chariot drawn by immortal horses. The son of Kronos. The one known by many names. He seized her against her will, put her on his golden chariot, [20] And drove away as she wept. She cried with a piercing voice, calling upon her father [Zeus], the son of Kronos, the highest and the best. But not one of the immortal ones, or of human mortals, heard her voice. Not even the olive trees which bear their splendid harvest. Except for the daughter of Persaios, the one who keeps in mind the vigor of nature. [25] She heard it from her cave. She is Hekate, with the splendid headband. And the Lord Helios [Sun] heard it too, the magnificent son of Hyperion. They heard the daughter calling upon her father [Zeus], the son of Kronos. But he, all by himself, was seated far apart from the gods, inside a temple, the precinct of many prayers. He was receiving beautiful sacrificial rites from mortal humans.

[30] She was being taken, against her will, at the behest of Zeus, by her father’s brother, the one who makes many signs, the one who receives many guests, the son of Kronos, the one with many names. On the chariot drawn by immortal horses. So long as the earth and the star-filled sky were still within the goddess’s [Persephone’s] view, as also the fish-swarming sea, with its strong currents, [35] as also the rays of the sun, she still had hope that she would yet see her dear mother and that special group, the immortal gods. For that long a time her great mind was soothed by hope, distressed as she was. The peaks of mountains resounded, as did the depths of the sea, with her immortal voice. And the Lady Mother [Demeter] heard her.[40] And a sharp pain seized her heart. The headband on her hair she tore off with her own immortal hands and threw a dark cloak over her shoulders. She sped off like a bird, soaring over land and sea, looking and looking. But no one was willing to tell her the truth [45], not one of the gods, not one of the mortal humans, not one of the birds, messengers of the truth.

4. Hades abducts Persephone. Fresco from royal tomb at Vergina (ancient Aigai), Macedonia, c. 336 BCE. Vergina Archaeological Museum, in situ. Image: Wikimedia.

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5. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 93-117.

She went away, visiting the cities of humans, with all their fertile landholdings, shading over her appearance, for a long time. And not one of men, [95] looking at her, could recognize her. Not one of women, either, who are accustomed to wear their girdles low-slung. Until, one day, she came to the house of bright-minded Keleos, who was at that time ruler of Eleusis, fragrant with incense. She sat down near the road, sad in her dear heart, at the well called Parthenion [= the Virgin’s Place], where the people of the polis used to draw water. [100] She sat in the shade, under the thick growth of an olive tree, looking like an old woman who had lived through many years and who is deprived of giving childbirth and of the gifts of Aphrodite, lover of garlands in the hair. She was like those nursemaids who belong to kings, administrators of divine ordinances, and who are guardians of children in echoing palaces.

[105] She was seen by the daughters of Keleos, son of Eleusinos, who were coming to get water, easy to draw [from the well], in order to carry it in bronze water-jars to the dear home of their father. There were four of them, looking like goddesses with their bloom of adolescence: Kallidike, Kleisidike, and lovely Demo. [110] And then there was Kallithoe, who was the eldest of them all. They did not recognize her [= Demeter]. Gods are hard for mortals to see. They [= the daughters] stood near her and spoke these winged words: “Who are you, and where are you from, old woman, old among old humans? Why has your path taken you far away from the city? Why have you not drawn near to the palace? [115] There, throughout the shaded chambers, are women who are as old as you are, and younger ones too, who would welcome you in word and in deed.”

6. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 184-204.

Straightaway they came to the palace of sky-nurtured Keleos. [185]. They went through the hall, heading for the place where their mistress, their mother, was sitting near the threshold of a well-built chamber, holding in her lap her son, a young seedling. And they ran over to her side. She [= Demeter] in the meantime went over to the threshold and stood on it, with feet firmly planted, and her head reached all the way to the ceiling. And she filled the whole indoors with a divine light. [190] She [= Metaneira] was seized by a sense of respect, by a holy wonder, by a blanching fear. She [= Metaneira] yielded to her [= Demeter] the chair on which she was sitting, and she told her to sit down. But Demeter, the bringer of seasons [horai], the giver of splendid gifts, refused to sit down on the splendid chair, but she stood there silent, with her beautiful eyes downcast, [195] until Iambe, the one who knows what is worth caring about  and what is not, set down for her a well-built stool, on top of which she threw a splendid fleece.

On this she [= Demeter] sat down, holding with her hands a veil before her face. For a long time she sat on the stool, without uttering a sound, in her sadness. And she made no approach, either by word or by gesture, to anyone. [200] Unsmiling, not partaking of food or drink, she sat there, wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle, until Iambe, the one who knows what is dear and what is not, started making fun. Making many jokes, she turned the Holy Lady’s disposition in another direction, making her smile and laugh and have a merry heart.

7. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 302-315.

But blond-haired Demeter sat down and stayed there [= in the temple], shunning the company of all the blessed ones [= the gods]. She was wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle. [305] She made that year the most terrible one for mortals, all over the Earth, the nurturer of many. It was so terrible, it makes you think of the Hound of Hades. The Earth did not send up any seed. Demeter, she with the beautiful garlands in her hair, kept them [= the seeds] covered underground. Many a curved plough was dragged along the fields by many an ox – all in vain. Many a bright grain of wheat fell into the earth – all for naught.

[310] At this moment, she [= Demeter] could have destroyed the entire race of mortal humans with harsh hunger, thus depriving of their time the dwellers of the Olympian abodes – [the time of] sacrificial portions of meat for eating or for burning, if Zeus had not noticed with his mind, taking note in his heart. First, he sent Iris, with the golden wings, to summon [315] Demeter with the splendid hair, with a beauty that is much loved.

8. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 334-345.

But when the loud-thunderer, the one who sees far and wide, heard this, [335] he sent to Erebos [= Hades] the one with the golden wand, the Argos-killer [= Hermes], so that he may persuade Hades, with gentle words, that he allow holy Persephone to leave the misty realms of darkness and be brought up to the light in order to join the daimones [here = the gods in Olympus], so that her mother may see her with her own eyes and then let go of her anger. [340] Hermes did not disobey, but straightaway he headed down beneath the depths of the earth, rushing full speed, leaving behind the abode of Olympus. And he found the Lord inside his palace, seated on a funeral couch, along with his duly acquired bedmate, the one who was much under duress, yearning for her mother, and suffering from the unbearable things [345] inflicted on her by the will of the blessed ones [= the gods].

9a. Attic red-figure vase (kylix), c. 430 BCE. Interior of cup) shows Persephone, holding something small (pomegranate seed?), sitting and Hades, holding a cornucopia (right) and a phialē (centre), reclining on a couch. Image: British Museum.

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9b. 

10. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 370-384.

[370] And high-minded Persephone rejoiced. Swiftly she set out, with joy. But he [= Hades] gave her, stealthily, the honey-sweet berry of the pomegranate to eat, peering around him. He did not want her to stay for all time over there, at the side of her honorable mother, the one with the dark robe [375] The immortal horses were harnessed to the golden chariot by Hades, the one who makes many signs. She got up on the chariot, and next to her was the powerful Argos-killer, who took reins and whip into his dear hands and shot out of the palace [of Hades]. And the horses sped away eagerly. [380] Swiftly they made their way along the long journey. Neither the sea nor the water of the rivers nor the grassy valleys nor the mountain peaks could hold up the onrush of the immortal horses.

11. Apulian (South Italian) red-figure vase (volute krater), c. 370-350 BCE. Hermes left, accompanies Hades and Persephone in a chariot, with Hekate right. Image: British Museum.

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Penelope II.

Identifications
— female sociality
— lies
— Eurycleia
— status (free, enslaved)
— Homeric women

1. Dora Wheeler, “Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night” (1886). Silk embroidered with silk thread. Image: Metropolitan Museum.

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2Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 2.93-112: Antinous speaking:

We suitors have not done you wrong.
Go blame your precious mother! She is cunning.
It is the third year, soon it will be four,
that she has cheated us of what we want.
She offers hope to all, sends notes to each,
but all the while her mind moves somewhere else.
She came up with a special trick: she fixed
a mighty loom inside the palace hall.
Weaving her fine long cloth, she said to us,
‘Young men, you are my suitors. Since my husband,
the brave Odysseus, is dead, I know
you want to marry me. You must be patient;
I have worked hard to weave this winding-sheet
to bury good Laertes when he dies.
He gained such wealth, the women would reproach me
if he were buried with no shroud. Please let me
finish it!’ And her words made sense to us.
So every day she wove the mighty cloth,
and then at night by torchlight, she unwove it.
For three long years her trick beguiled the Greeks.
But when the fourth year’s seasons rolled around,
a woman slave who knew the truth told us.
We caught her there, unraveling the cloth,
and made her finish it.

+Compare Penelope’s version: Odyssey 19.137-163 (p429).

3. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 9.312-314: Achilles speaking to Odysseus:

I hate that man like the very Gates of Death
who says one thing but hides another in his heart.

4. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.50-72; 89-97:

Then the queen,
her wits about her, came down from her room,
like Artemis or golden Aphrodite.
Slaves pulled her usual chair beside the fire;
it was inlaid with whorls of ivory
and silver, crafted by Icmalius,
who had attached a footstool, all in one.
A great big fleece was laid across the chair,
and pensively Penelope sat down.
The white-armed slave girls came and cleared away
the piles of bread, the tables, and the cups,
from which the arrogant suitors had been drinking.
They threw the embers from the braziers
onto the floor, and heaped fresh wood inside them
for light and warmth. And then Melantho scolded
Odysseus again. “Hey! Stranger! Will you
keep causing trouble, roaming round our house
at night and spying on us women here?
Get out, you tramp! Be happy with your meal!
Or you will soon get pelted with a torch!
Be off!” Odysseus began to scowl,
and make a calculated speech. “Insane!
You silly girl, why are you mad at me?”

Penelope
had listened warily, and now she spoke
to scold the slave. “You brazen, shameless dog!
What impudence! I see what you are doing!
Wipe that impertinent expression off!
You knew quite well — I told you so myself —
that I might meet the stranger in the hall
to question him about my missing husband.
I am weighed down by grief.”

5. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.370-381: Eurycleia speaking:

And when that poor Odysseus
stays at the palaces of foreign kings,
I think the women slaves are mocking him
as these bad girls are hounding you. You have
refused to let them wash you, to avoid
abuse. But wise Penelope has told me
to wash you, and reluctantly I will,
for her sake and for yours — you move my heart.
Now listen. Many strangers have come here
in trouble and distress. But I have never
seen any man whose body, voice, and feet
are so much like my master’s.

6. The other side of the Penelope loom vase (see wk 2). Attic red-figure vase (skyphos), 450-400 BCE in Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Odysseus (inscribed) wearing a hat (pilos) with staff and vessel; his leg is washed by the old slave woman, named Eurycleia in the Odyssey but here called “Antiphata” (in the inscription). Eumaeus (inscribed), the swineherd, stands behind. Image: perseus.tufts.edu.

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7. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 19.483-503:

“Nanny! Why are you trying to destroy me?
You fed me at your breast! Now after all
my twenty years of pain, I have arrived
back to my home. You have found out; a god
has put the knowledge in your mind. Be silent;
no one must know, or else I promise you,
if some god helps me bring the suitors down,
I will not spare you when I kill the rest,
the other slave women, although you were
my nurse.” With calculation, Eurycleia
answered, “My child! What have you said! You know
my mind is firm, unshakable; I will
remain as strong as stone or iron. Let me
promise you this: if you defeat the suitors,
I will tell you which women in the palace
dishonor you, and which are free from guilt.”
Odysseus already had a plan.
“Nanny, why do you mention them? No need.
I will make my own observations
of each of them. Be quiet now; entrust
the future to the gods.”

8. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 22.419-432:

“… But tell me now about the household women.
Which ones dishonor me? And which are pure?”
The slave who loved her master answered, “Child,
I will tell you exactly how things stand.
In this house we have fifty female slaves
whom we have trained to work, to card the wool,
and taught to tolerate their life as slaves.
Twelve stepped away from honor: those twelve girls
ignore me, and Penelope our mistress.
She would not let Telemachus instruct them,
since he is young and only just grown-up.
Let me go upstairs to the women’s rooms,
to tell your wife — some god has sent her sleep.”
The master strategist Odysseus
said, “Not yet; do not wake her. Call the women
who made those treasonous plots while I was gone.”

9. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 22.461-480:

Showing initiative, Telemachus
insisted, “I refuse to grant these girls
a clean death, since they poured down shame on me
and Mother, when they lay besides the suitors.”
At that, he would a piece of sailor’s rope
round the rotunda and round the mighty pillar,
stretched up so high no foot could touch the ground.
As doves or thrushes spread their wings to fly
home to their nests, but someone sets a trap —
they crash into a net, a bitter bedtime;
just so the girls, their heads all in a row,
were strung up with the noose around their necks
to make their death an agony. They gasped,
feet twitching for a while, but not for long.
Then the men took Melanthius outside
and with curved bronze cut off his nose and ears
and ripped away his genitals, to feed
raw to the dogs. Still full of rage, they chopped
his hands and feet off. Then they washed their own,
and they went back inside.

10. bell hooksAll About Love (2001: 37):

“Males learn to lie as a way of obtaining power, and females not only do the same but they also lie to pretend powerlessness. In her work Harriet Lerner talks about the ways in which patriarchy upholds deception, encouraing women to present a false self to men and vice versa. In Dory Hollander’s 101 Lies Men Tell Women, she confirms that while both women and men lie, her data and the findings of other researchers indicate that “men tend to lie more and with more devastating consequences.” For many young males the earliest experience of power over others comes from the thrill of lying to more powerful adults and getting away with it. Lots of men shared with me that it was difficult for them to tell the truth if they saw it would hurt a loved one. Significantly, the lying many boys learn to do to avoid hurting Mom or whomever becomes so habitual that it becomes hard for them to distinguish a lie from the truth. This behavior carries over into adulthood.”

11. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 23.178-184:

“…Now, Eurycleia, make the bed for him
outside the room he built himself. Pull out
the bedstead, and spread quilts and blankets on it.”
So she spoke to test him, and Odysseus
was furious, and told his loyal wife.
“Woman! Your words have cut my heart! Who moved
my bed?”

English translations: Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018); Homer’s Iliad, Robert Fagles (1990).

Standard

A different kind of translation.

Identifications
— women who translate
— classicists vs. writers (novelists/poets)
— dmōē

1. A page from a notebook Emily Wilson kept while translating the Odyssey (Geordie Wood for The New York Times Nov. 2. 2017).

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 6.55.35 AM.png

2. Emily Wilson, (2018) introduction to Homer’s Odyssey, p88-89:

“To translate a domestic female slave, called in the original a dmōē [δμωή] (“female-house-slave”), as a “maid” or “domestic servant” would imply that she was free. I have often used “slave,” although it is less specific than many of the many terms for types of slaves in the original. The need to acknowledge the fact and the horror of slavery, and to mark the fact that the idealized society depicted in the poem is one of slavery is shockingly taken for granted, seems to me [p89] to outweigh the need to specify, in every instance, the type of slave. I have also used the terms “house girl” and “house boy.” The analogy with a slave-owning plantation in the antebellum American South is certainly not exact, but it is at least a little closer than the alternative analogies — of a Victorian stately home or a modern nightclub. I try to avoid importing contemporary types of sexism into this ancient poem, instead shining a clear light on the particular forms of sexism and patriarchy that do exist in the text, which are partly familiar from our world. For instance, in the scene where Telemachus oversees the hanging of the slaves who have been sleeping with the suitors, most translations introduce derogatory language (“sluts” or “whores”), suggesting that these women are being punished for a genuinely objectionable pattern of behavior, as if their sexual history actually justified their deaths. The original Greek does not label these slaves with any derogatory language.”

3. Yung In Chae, “Women Who Weave.” Eidolon. Nov. 16 2017.

“Much fuss has also been made about Wilson’s translation of κυνώπις [kynōpis], which means ‘dog-faced’ but in a fairly capacious way. Helen uses it in reference to herself in Book 4 [Ody. 4.145], when Telemachus stops by Sparta while searching for news of his father. Robert Fagles makes Helen call herself a ‘shameless whore.’ Richard Lattimore and Walter Shewring both opt for ‘shameless me.’ Martin Hammond goes simple with just ‘whore’ and Anthony Verity settles on the more colorful ‘shameless bitch.’ This is Wilson’s version of the passage:

I never saw two people so alike
as this boy and Telemachus, the son
of spirited Odysseus, the child
he left behind, a little newborn baby,
the day the Greeks marched off to Troy, their minds
fixated on the war and violence.
They made my face the cause that hounded them.

By choosing ‘hounded’  — an English idiom — Wilson is essentially claiming that the ‘dog’ aspect is more important than the precise pitch of the Greek, and, in the introduction, she draws a connection between the ‘dog’ aspect and the ‘woman’ aspect. ‘The idea that women or goddesses, especially desirable ones who sleep with men outside marriage, are like dogs, or have doglike faces, recurs at several moments in the poem: Hephaestus uses the same term of his unfaithful, divinely beautiful wife, Aphrodite; the dead Agamemnon calls his murderous wife a ‘she-dog’; and the pretty slave girl Melantho is called a ‘dog’ by both Penelope and Odysseus,’ she points out [2018: 43].

Granted — as Wilson herself acknowledges — κυνώπις is not exclusively reserved for women; in that sense, it is not the exact equivalent of “bitch,” which she says “would be a misleading translation.” But the association nevertheless persists: “Women, more than men, are like dogs, because they are put low on the social hierarchy, and because they might be scarily capable of seeing through social conventions, and might refuse to stay in their place,” Wilson argues. “But the idea that it is not the woman or goddess herself, but her face, that is like a dog suggests that it might be male perceptions of women, rather than female desires themselves, that threaten the social fabric.” [2018: 44] (For those interested, Cristiana Franco has a book on this subject [available online via Mugar].)”

4. Yung In Chae, “Women Who Weave.” Eidolon. Nov. 16 2017.

“Wilson’s choice of ‘girls’ is glass but not mirror: it shows us the sexism of the times without implicating us too. Could a man have written The Penelopiad? Or have done what Wilson did in her translation? Maybe. But men had a monopoly on Homer translations for a long time, so they’ve had plenty of chances. And it hasn’t happened so far…As Wilson says in her New York Times profile, “all translations are interpretations.” To translate is not to dig for the One Rendering buried under the crusty layers of the original language. It is to peer at a cloth made during the day, unravel the fabric, then discover a way to weave it back together under a different light.

5. Emily Wilson, interviewed (with Sarah Ruden) by David Kern in Forma Journal. March 3 2018.

“We also need to factor in all the other social factors that often make it hard to be successful and productive while being female. It’s still the case that women, including highly educated and successful women, and even those with partners or husbands, tend to spend a lot more hours per week on childcare, eldercare, and housework than their male peers. I’m the single mother of three wonderful and time-consuming daughters; unlike many of the successful male classical translators, I have never had a wife who could pick up the kids and make dinner.”

6. Emily Wilson, interviewed (with Sarah Ruden) by David Kern in Forma Journal. March 3 2018.

“The task of translation has now become its own kind of obsession—the question of how exactly to create a coherent, readable English text/poem/play that has its own kind of magic, and that responds responsibly to the original, without trying to inhabit an intermediate ground between Greek or Latin and English, but makes sense in its own terms. It’s a very difficult and very interesting kind of work, and I learn a great deal not only about the originals I translate, but also about the English language.”

7. Emily Wilson, interviewed (with Sarah Ruden) by David Kern in Forma Journal. March 3 2018.

“You create a binary between love and fear, which doesn’t entirely make sense to me. There’s a great essay by Stanley Cavell on the avoidance of love in King Lear. Cavell argues that in that play, and also in life, love itself is very often what we’re most afraid of. Instead of love, which involves being able to meet the eyes of another person, and recognize and be recognized by them, we hide behind false love or false words or shame or narcissism. Cordelia’s sisters express false love with their rhetorical excesses, and Lear chooses that false love, because he is scared of the intimacy of telling the truth.

For me, translation is definitely an act of love, both for the English language and for the original language and original text. Part of what that love means is being willing to be unashamed about what I can’t say or do in English.”

8. Dan Chiasson, “The Classics Scholar Redefining What Twitter Can Do.” The New Yorker. March 19 2018.

“On March 8th, International Women’s Day, when McDonald’s flipped its arches and Vladimir Putin expressed “our enchantment” with women’s “beauty and tenderness,” Emily Wilson, the classics scholar and translator of Homer, spent part of the day on Twitter. In sentences whose measured clauses stood out in the cascade of blurted takes, she wrote:

In the ensuing tweetstorm, Wilson discussed one of the most casually brutal passages in Homer, when Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, acting at his father’s command, executes twelve slave women who slept with the suitors vying to marry Penelope, the queen, during Odysseus’ long absence. Wilson has not been shy about calling out prior translators of the poem, dead and alive.”

9. Dan Chiasson, “The Classics Scholar Redefining What Twitter Can Do.” The New Yorker. March 19 2018.

“Regardless, Wilson’s presence on Twitter is quietly revolutionary, a new kind of experience for readers, poets, translators, and really anyone who likes to watch knowledge take shape in an open format, its seams exposed. Like-minded people sharing their obsessions were the soil in which the larger Internet once grew; those transactions, commercialized and monetized, remade the world, with infinite ramifications downstream, some miraculous, some horrible.”

10. Dan Chiasson, “The Classics Scholar Redefining What Twitter Can Do.” The New Yorker. March 19 2018.

“Translation is a little different: the range of choices is narrowed, the criteria for choice more transparent. Any time we see a phrase next to the alternatives that it beat out, we learn something, not merely about literature but about the normally veiled process of selection by which literature, word for word, is constituted. This makes the art especially suited to having its mechanism unmasked. Wilson is the most prominent translator I know of to have exposed her choices to something like public scrutiny: her prominence, in this instance, really matters, since in Twitter terms it gives her more followers, more potential interlocutors.”

11. Emily Wilson on being the “first woman”: 

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The women of epic. Nausicaa. Circe.

Identifications
— female space vs. male space
— sexual fidelity
— Nausicaa
— Arete

1. Emily Wilson, (2018) introduction to Homer’s Odyssey, p38:

The Odyssey allows us to imagine a far more varied array of possible female lives. Its various settings — in multiple different islands, homes, and palaces, in peacetime rather than war — are mostly places where women or goddesses have a defined position and a voice. Some scholars have tried to find buried memories in The Odyssey of an ancient, pre-Greek matriarchal society — for example, in the peculiarly high status of Queen Arete in Phaeacia, who sometimes, confusingly, seems more important than her husband, or in Penelope’s power in Ithaca over even the male members of her household, most prominently Telemachus. But these elements in the poem probably tell us more about male fears and fantasies, both ancient and modern, than about the historical realities of archaic or pre-archaic women’s lives.

Samuel Butler [1835-1902] famously suggested in the nineteenth century that the Odyssey must have been written by a woman, because it has so many interesting and sympathetically portrayed female characters: ‘People always write by preference what they know best, and they know best what they most are, and have most to do with.'”

2. Emily Wilson, (2018) introduction to Homer’s Odyssey, p40:

“The poem circles around the question of whether an elite woman’s worth depends entirely on sexual fidelity. Odysseus has affairs with Calypso and Circe in the course of his wanderings, as well as a carefully calibrated flirtation with young Nausicaa. These episodes are not presented as a sign of disloyalty to his wife or a blot on his character…”

3. Attic red-figure small box (pyxis), c. 420 BCE in the Boston MFA. The pyxis was used for storing trinkets, ointments, cosmetics, and is therefore generally associated with women. This “vase” shape was regularly decorated with scenes of female activity. This pyxis shows a naked Odysseus encountering Nausicaa, a scene from the Odyssey Book 6.

Odyssey pyxis 1.jpg

odyssey pyxis 2 .jpg

4Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 6.119-146:

“What is this country I have come to now?
Are all the people wild and violent,
or good, hospitable, and god-fearing?
I heard the sound of female voices. Is it
nymphs, who frequent the craggy mountaintops,
and river streams and meadows lush with grass?
Or could this noise I hear be human voices?
I have to try to find out who they are.”

Odysseus jumped up from our the bushes.
Grasping a leafy branch he broke it off
to cover up his manly private parts.
Just as a mountain lion trusts its strength,
and beaten by the rain and wind, its eyes
burn bright as it attacks the cows or sheep,
or wild deer, and hunger drives it on
to try the sturdy pens of sheep — so need
impelled Odysseus to come upon
the girls with pretty hair, though he was naked.
All caked with salt, he looked a dreadful sight.
They ran along the shore quite terrified,
some here, some there. But Nausicaa stayed still.
Athena made her legs stop trembling
and gave her courage in her heart. She stood there.
He wondered, should he touch her knees, or keep
some distance and use charming words, to beg
the pretty girl to show him to the town,
and give him clothes. At last he thought it best
to keep some distance and use words to beg her.

5. Sarah PomeroyGoddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (1975: 18): 

“Heroic Greek society demanded that all mature women be married, and destined all young women for that end. In the Odyssey, upon meeting the princess Nausicaa, who is of marriageable age, Odysseus almost immediately [6.180-185] expresses the polite wish that she find a husband and enjoy a harmonious marriage.”

6a. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 6.302-308:

Go through the courtyard, in the house and on
straight to the Great Hall. You will find my mother
sitting beside the hearth by firelight,
and spinning her amazing purple wool.
She leans against a pillar, slaves behind her.
My father has a throne right next to hers;
he sits and sips his wine, just like a god.

6b. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 7.104-112:

The King had fifty slave girls in his house;
some ground the yellow grain upon the millstone,
others wove cloth and sat there spinning yarn,
with fingers quick as rustling poplar leaves,
and oil was dripping from the woven fabric.
Just as Phaeacian men have special talent
for launching ships to sea, the women there
are expert weavers, since Athena gave them
find minds and skill to make most lovely things.

6c. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 7.232-239:

The dishes from the feast
were cleaned up by the slaves. White-armed Arete
had noticed his fine clothes, the cloak and shirt
she wove herself, with help from her slave girls.
Her words flew out to him as if on wings.
“Stranger, let me be first to speak to you.
Where are you from? And who gave you those clothes?
I thought you said you drifted here by sea?”

7. Attic black-figure drinking cup (kylix), c. 560-525 BCE in the Boston MFA. Circe (?) stands in the centre of this scene, stirring and offering a cup to one of Odysseus’ (?) companions, in the middle of transforming: his head is a boar, his hands are still human. Seems to depict Odyssey 10.228-251, with some differences.

odyseey bk 1o.jpg

odyseey bk 10.jpg

8. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 10.229-244:

They shouted to her. She came at once,
opened the shining doors, and asked them in.
So thinking nothing of it, in they went.
Eurylochus alone remained outside,
suspecting trickery. She led them in,
sat them on chairs, and blended them a potion
of barley, cheese, and golden honey, mixed
with Pramnian wine. She added potent drugs
to make them totally forget their home.
They took and drank the mixture. Then she struck them,
using her magic wand, and penned them in
the pigsty. They were turned to pigs in body
and voice and hair; their minds remained the same.
They squealed at their imprisonment, and Circe
thew them some mast and cornel cherries — food
that pigs like rooting for in muddy ground.

9. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 10.301-309:

The bright mercurial god
pulled from the ground a plant and showed me how
its root is black, its flower white as milk.
The gods call this plant Moly [=μῶλυ]. It is hard
for mortal men to dig it up, but gods
are able to do everything. Then Hermes
flew through the wooded island, back towards
high Mount Olympus. I went in the house
of Circe. My heart pounded as I walked.

English translations: Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018).

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Epic Heroines or Antagonists? Penelope.

Identifications
— 
Penelope
— women and speech
— masculinity

1a. [Drawing of] Attic red-figure vase (skyphos), 450-400 BCE in Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Penelope, seated on a stool. Telemachus with spears. Loom. Cloth with pegasus and griffin pattern. Image: perseus.tufts.edu.

penelope loom vase.jpg

1b. a modern retelling…

2. Penelope’s name derived from pēnē (πήνη) = “the threads of a spool.” Or…?:

3a. Tatiana Blass (2011), “PENÉLOPE.” Chapel of Morumbi (São Paulo, Brazil). Photography: Everton Ballardin.

Tatiana-Blass-Penelope-12.jpg

Tatiana-Blass-Penelope-1.jpg

3b. weaving as a literary metaphor; from antiquity to modernity:

4. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 6.429-444. Andromache and Hector. 

[Andromache speaking] “Nay, Hector, thou art to me father and queenly mother, [430] thou art brother, and thou art my stalwart husband. Come now, have pity, and remain here on the wall, lest thou make thy child an orphan and thy wife a widow. And for thy host, stay it by the wild fig-tree, where the city may best be scaled, and the wall is open to assault. [435] For thrice at this point came the most valiant in company with the twain Aiantes and glorious Idomeneus and the sons of Atreus and the valiant son of Tydeus, and made essay to enter: whether it be that one well-skilled in soothsaying told them, or haply their own spirit urgeth and biddeth them thereto.” [440] Then spake to her great Hector of the flashing helm: “Woman, I too take thought of all this, but wondrously have I shame of the Trojans, and the Trojans’ wives, with trailing robes, if like a coward I skulk apart from the battle.”

5a. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 1.325-344:

They were sitting calmly,
listening to the poet, who sang how
Athena cursed the journey of the Greeks
as they were sailing home from Troy. Upstairs,
Penelope had heard the marvelous song.
She clambered down the steep steps of her house,
not by herself — two slave girls came with her.
She reached the suitors looking like a goddess,
then stopped and stood beside a sturdy pillar,
holding a gauzy veil before her face.
Her slave girls stood, one on each side of her.
In tears, she told the holy singer, “Stop,
please, Phemius! You know so many songs,
enchanting tales of things that gods and men
have done, the deeds that singers publicize.
Sing something else, and let them drink in peace.
Stop this upsetting song that always breaks
my heart, so I can hardly bear my grief.
I miss him all the time — that man, my husband,
whose story is so famous throughout Greece.”

5b. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 1.345-361:

Sullen Telemachus said, “Mother, no,
you must not criticize the loyal bard
for singing as it pleases him to sing.
Poets are not to blame for how things are;
Zeus is; he gives to each as is his will.
Do not blame Phemius because he told
about the Greek disasters. You must know
the newest song is always praised the most.
So steel your heart and listen to the song.
Odysseus was not the only one
who did not come back home again from Troy.
Many were lost. Go in and do your work.
Stick to the loom and distaff. Tell your slaves
to do their chores as well. It is for men
to talk, especially me. I am the master.”
That startled her. She went back to her room,
and took to heart her son’s deliberate scolding.
She went upstairs, along with both her slaves,
and wept there for dear Odysseus,
until Athena gave her eyes sweet sleep.

5c. Emily Wilson on Telemachus: 

6. Ira Glass, “Freedom Fries,” in This American Life 545, Jan. 23. 2015. 

7. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Advice to Bride and Groom 31 = Moralia 142d. 

Theano [=wife? of philosopher, Pythagoras], in putting her cloak about her, exposed her arm. Somebody exclaimed, “A lovely arm.” “But not for the public,” said she. Not only the arm of the virtuous woman, but her speech as well, ought to be not for the public, and she ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything  in the hearing of outsiders, since it is an exposure of herself; for in her talk can be seen her feelings, character, and disposition.

8. Dio Chrysostom (1st/2nd c. CE), Speech 33.38-39. 

Well then, supposing certain people should as a community be so afflicted that all the males got female voices and that no male, whether young or old, could say anything man-fashion, would that not seem a grievous experience and harder to bear, I’ll warrant, than any pestilence, and as a result would they not send to the sanctuary of the god and try by many gifts to propitiate the divine power? And yet to speak with female voice is to speak with human voice, and nobody would be vexed at hearing a woman speak. [39] But who are they who make that sort of sound? Are they not the creatures of mixed sex? Are they not men who have had their testicles lopped off?

English translations: Homer’s Iliad from old Loeb reproduced by Perseus. Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018). Plutarch and Dio Chrysostom from old Loebs reproduced by Lacus Curtius.

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Epic Heroines or Antagonists? Helen.

Identifications
— 
weaving
— matrilocality vs. patrilocality
— Helen
— witchiness

1. Attic red-figure vase (skyphos), c. 490 BCE in the Boston MFA. Side A: Paris leading Helen away. Aphrodite and Eros flank Helen. The personification of persuasion (Peitho) follows behind. Side B: Helen fleeing to Apollo sanctuary during sack of Troy. Menelaus draws his sword to kill her. Aphrodite behind Helen. Priest of Apollo (Chryses) and his daughter (Chryseis) behind Aphrodite. Images: MFA.

mfa helen cup 2 copy

mfa helen cup 1 copy

2. Sarah PomeroyGoddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (1975: 25): 

“In an atmosphere of fierce competition among men, women were viewed symbolically and literally as properties — the prizes of contests and the spoils of conquest — and domination over them increased the male’s prestige.”

3. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 3.121-190:

(3.121-138) But Iris went as a messenger to white-armed Helen in the likeness of her husband’s sister, the wife of Antenor’s son, her that lord Helicaon, Antenor’s son, had to wife, Laodice, the fairest of the daughters of Priam. She found Helen in the hall, where she was weaving a great purple web of double fold on which she was embroidering many battles of the horse-taming Trojans and the bronze-clad Achaeans, which for her sake they had endured at the hands of Ares. And swift-footed Iris came up to her, and spoke to her, saying: “Come here, dear sister, so that you may see the wondrous doings of the horse-taming Trojans and the bronze-clad Achaeans. They who formerly were waging tearful war against one another on the plain, their hearts set on deadly battle, they now sit in silence, and the battle has ceased, and they lean on their shields, and beside them their long spears are fixed. But Alexander [=Paris] and Menelaus, dear to Ares, will fight with their long spears for you; and the one who wins, his dear wife will you be called.”

(3.139-145) So spoke the goddess, and put into her heart sweet longing for her former husband and her city and parents; and immediately she veiled herself with shining linen, and started out of her chamber, letting fall round tears, not alone, for with her followed two handmaids as well, Aethra, daughter of Pittheus, and ox-eyed Clymene; and quickly they came to the place where were the Scaean gates.

(3.146-160) And they who were about Priam and Panthous and Thymoetes and Lampus and Clytius and Hicetaon, offshoot of Ares, and Ucalegon and Antenor, men of prudence both, sat as elders of the people at the Scaean gates. Because of old age they had now ceased from battle, but they were good speakers, like cicadas that in a forest sit on a tree and pour out their lily-like voice; such were the leaders of the Trojans who were sitting on the wall. When they saw Helen coming on to the wall, softly they spoke winged words to one another: “Small blame that Trojans and well-greaved Achaeans should for such a woman long suffer woes; she is dreadfully like immortal goddesses to look on. But even so, though she is like them, let her go home on the ships, and not be left here to be a bane to us and to our children after us.”

(3.161-170) So they said, but Priam spoke, and called Helen to him: “Come here, dear child, and sit in front of me, so that you may see your former husband and your kinspeople and those dear to you—you are in no way to blame in my eyes; it is the gods, surely, who are to blame, who roused against me the tearful war of the Achaeans—and so that you may tell me who is this huge warrior, this man of Achaea so powerful and so tall. To be sure there are others who are even taller in stature, but so fair a man have my eyes never yet seen, nor one so royal: for he looks like a kingly man.”

(3.171-180) And Helen, fair among women, answered him, saying: “Respected are you in my eyes, dear father of my husband, and dread. I wish that evil death had been pleasing to me when I followed your son here, and left my bridal chamber and my kinspeople and my daughter, well-beloved, and the lovely companions of my girlhood. But that was not to be; so I pine away with weeping. But this will I tell you, about which you ask and inquire. That man is the son of Atreus, wide-ruling Agamemnon, who is both a noble king and a mighty spearman. And he was husband’s brother to shameless me, if ever there was such a one.”

(3.181-190) So she spoke, and the old man was seized with wonder, and said: “Ah, happy son of Atreus, child of fortune, blest by the gods; many youths of the Achaeans have been made subject to you I see. Before now I have journeyed to the land of Phrygia, rich in vines, and there I saw in multitudes the Phrygian warriors, masters of glancing steeds, the men of Otreus and godlike Mygdon, who were then encamped along the banks of Sangarius. For I, too, being their ally, was numbered among them on the day when the Amazons came, the peers of men. But not even they were as many as are the bright-eyed Achaeans.”

4. Homer, Iliad (8th c. BCE), 3.380-420:

(3.380-394) But him [=Paris] Aphrodite snatched up, very easily as a goddess can, and shrouded him in thick mist, and set him down in his fragrant, vaulted chamber, and then herself went to summon Helen. Her she found on the high wall, and round about her in throngs were the women of Troy. Then with her hand the goddess laid hold of her fragrant robe, and plucked it, and spoke to her in the likeness of an old woman, a wool-comber, who used to card the fair wool for her when she lived in Lacedaemon, and whom she especially loved; in her likeness fair Aphrodite spoke: “Come here; Alexander calls you to go home. There he is in his chamber and on his inlaid bed, gleaming with beauty and garments. You would not say that he had come there from fighting with a foe, but rather that he was going to the dance, or was sitting there having just recently ceased from the dance.”

(3.395-398) So she spoke, and stirred Helen’s heart in her breast; and when she caught sight of the beauteous neck of the goddess, her lovely bosom, and her flashing eyes, she was struck with wonder, and she spoke, and addressed her, saying:

(3.399-412) “Strange goddess, why is your heart set on deceiving me in this way? Will you lead me still further on to one of the well-peopled cities of Phrygia or lovely Maeonia, if there too there is some one of mortal men who is dear to you, because now Menelaus has defeated noble Alexander and is minded to lead hateful me to his home? It is for this reason that you have now come here with guileful thought. Go, sit by his side, and abandon the way of the gods, and turn not your feet back to Olympus; but ever be anxious for him, and guard him, until he makes you his wife, or maybe even his slave. There I will not go—it would be shameful—to share that man’s bed; all the women of Troy will blame me afterwards; and I have measureless griefs at heart.”

(3.413-417) Angered, fair Aphrodite spoke to her: “Provoke me not, hard woman, lest I desert you in anger, and hate you, just as now I love you exceedingly, and lest I devise grievous hatred of you from both sides, Trojans and Danaans alike; then would you perish of an evil fate.”

(3.418-420) So she spoke, and Helen, sprung from Zeus, was seized with fear; and she went, wrapping herself in her bright shining mantle, in silence; and she escaped the notice of the Trojan women; and the goddess led the way.

5. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 4.119-136: 

As he [=Menelaus] was hesitating, Helen
emerged from her high-ceilinged, fragrant bedroom,
like Artemis, who carries golden arrows.
Adraste set a special chair for her,
Alcippe spread upon it soft wool blankets,
and Phylo brought her a silver sewing basket,
given to her by Alcandre, the wife
of Polybus, who lived in Thebes, in Egypt,
where people have extraordinary wealth.
He gave two silver tubs to Menelaus,
a pair of tripods and ten pounds of gold.
His wife gave other lovely gifts for Helen:
a golden spindle and this silver basket
on wheels; the rims were finished off with gold.
Phylo, her girl, brought out that basket now,
packed full of yarn she had already spun.
A spindle wound around with purple wool
was laid across it.

6. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 4.219-234:

… Then the child of Zeus,
Helen, decided she would mix the wine
with drugs to take all pain and rage away,
to bring forgetfulness of every evil.
Whoever drinks this mixture from the bowl
will shed no tears that day, not even if
her mother or her father die, nor even
if soldiers kill her brother or her darling
son with bronze spears before her very eyes.
Helen had these powerful magic drugs
from Polydamna, wife of Thon, from Egypt,
where fertile fields produce the most narcotics:
some good, some dangerous. The people there
are skillful doctors. They are the Healer’s people.
She mixed the wine and told the slave to pour it,
and then she spoke again.

English translations: Homer’s Iliad, A. T. Murray, revised by W. F. Wyatt. Loeb Classical Library, 1924. Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018). 

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