lecture

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).

Standard
lecture

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). 

Standard