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Text of Odyssey


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NEW! Extra video lectures for those whose equipment can handle longer videos.

The following lectures were taped during Greg Nagy's "The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization" course in Fall 1998. They touch on similar points as the video clips provided for this series, but also make use of parallels in modern media, such as film clips that have been incorporated into the lectures. Each lecture is about an hour long.

Bonus Video 1

Bonus Video 2

Bonus Video 3

Bonus Video 4

Bonus Video 5


Unit 4: Odysseyscrolls xx-xiv

In Unit 4 we come full circle to the telos of our discussion series as we reexamine the image of the hero in the garden. In Unit 3 we analyzed the series of reconnections that Odysseus makes with his philoi in Ithaka as an ascending scale of affection, and noted that with each reconnection the tests of identity become more complicated. In Odyssey xx-xxiv Odysseus negotiates his most complicated reconnections - those with his wife and father. In these final four scrolls there are a number of points of closure, but the ending is in many ways not an ending. When everything comes together justice becomes a key issue for the narrative. As you read consider the Odysseus' revenge against the suitors, the subsequent battle with the kinsmen of the suitors, and the resolution by Athena in light of our discussion in previous units of heroes as agents of social justice.

1. Read Odyssey scrolls xx-xxiv .

2. View the video lectures in the Lecture Hall. Lectures VI of the series examines heroes as champions of dikê - agents of social justice in the community. Notes on these lectures are also provided in the Lecture Hall. Also in the lecture hall is a short segment from a section discussion about Odysseus' reconnection with his dog Argos in scroll xvii.

3. The discussion boards for this unit are no longer active, but you may scroll down for the discussion questions. 

Copyright 1999, President and Fellows of Harvard College

For viewing the video clips, you need the free software available from RealVideo. It's available as a download for PC, and Macintosh.

Real Videos for Unit 4: In this unit we come full circle back to the images of Penelope as a just king and Laertes in the garden. It will be helpful to review minutes 18-23 of the first lecture of the series (Lecture I is here). Lecture VI is an excerpt from Bonus Video 5. You need only watch the first 17 and a half minutes. The rest of the lecture deals with so-called Wisdom Poetry of Hesiod and Theognis (which we do not read in this series).

These lectures are exerpts from lectures in the Harvard Core course "The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization," and the many references to the "course" in them are to that course and not this on-line series.


Lecture VI: Champions of dikê (justice)



Optional additional video (recommended especially for first-time readers):

The Hero in the Garden: This segment was recorded during one of Casey's sections of the undergraduate course entitled "The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization" (Harvard University, Fall, 1999). In it the class discusses the passage where Odysseus 'reconnects' with his father in his orchard (xxiv 205-382)

The Hero in the Garden

In this discussion, the group examines the importance of father-son relationships in the Odyssey and makes several connections back to the Iliad.

When Odysseus goes to find his father he meets him tending a plant in his orchard. They proceed to test each other's identities and affection. The semata which Odysseus gives as proof of his identity all revolve around the trees in the orchard.

In connection with the image of the orchard the group discusses the meaning of the word olbios. It means happy or wealthy for the unitiated but blessed (with religious connotations) for the initiated. It is also the word used of a flourishing and well cultivated garden. The community that properly cultivates the hero is by metonomy olbios.

The section then proceeds to consider the series of reconnections that Odysseus makes as an ascending scale of affection. We examine why Laertes might be at the top of Odysseus' ascending scale by discussing the importance of father-son relationships in the Odyssey. Several passages are brought up including the Telemakhy (Odyssey i-iv), Athena's remark that sons are seldom as good as their fathers (ii 262 ff.), and Odysseus' and Agamemnon's remarks about their sons in the underworld (xi). Two key passages from the Iliad are also mentioned: the story of Meleager in Iliad IX and the ransom of Hektor in Iliad XXIV in which Achilles and Priam lament together in connection with fathers and sons. The important connection between lament and kleos is important here.

Finally, a student notes that in the Iliad the heroes Meleager (in a story within a story) and Achilles return to battle after withdrawing because of the person at the top of their ascending scale of affection. For Meleager this person is his wife Cleopatra. For Achilles it is Patroklos. Though in neither case is the father at the top of the hero's priorities in the surface narrative, the names of the key figures have a hidden agenda.

Patroklos = Patrokleês = he who has the kleos of the fathers/ancestors

Cleopatra's name is built from these same two elements:

Cleopatra = Kleopatra

For more on the Meleager story and the significance of Cleopatra and Patroklos see dialogue 3 of last year's Berkman series "Homer's Poetic Justice."



Lecture VI

Champions of dikê (justice)


Key Passages for Lecture VI:

A) Odyssey xix: "Lady;" answered Odysseus, "who on the face of the whole earth can dare to chide with you? Your fame [kleos] reaches the firmament of heaven itself; you are like some blameless king, who upholds righteousness [= good dikê], as the monarch over a great and valiant nation: the earth yields its wheat and barley, the trees are loaded with fruit, the ewes bring forth lambs, and the sea abounds with fish by reason of his virtues, and his people do good deeds under him.

B) Odyssey xxiv: As he went down into the great orchard, ... he found his father alone, hoeing a vine. He had on a dirty old shirt, patched and very shabby; his legs were bound round with thongs of oxhide to save him from the brambles, and he also wore sleeves of leather; he had a goat skin cap on his head, and was looking full of grief [penthos]. When Odysseus saw him so worn, so old and full of sorrow [penthos], he stood still under a tall pear tree and began to weep. He doubted whether to embrace him, kiss him, and tell him all about his having come home, or whether he should first question him and see what he would say. In the end he deemed it best to be crafty with him, so in this mind he went up to his father, who was bending down and digging about a plant. "I see, sir," said Odysseus, "that you are an excellent gardener - what pains you take with it, to be sure. There is not a single plant, not a fig tree, vine, olive, pear, nor flower bed, but bears the trace of your attention."

1. dikê 'justice' (long-range), 'judgment' (short-range)

2. vs. hubris 'outrage' - The three categories of hubris: 1) human, e.g. Antinoos, 2) animal, 3) plant (undergrowth or overgrowth = excessive wood / leaf production)

3. dikê as straight line = blooming garden/orchard/grove; hubris is opposite, crooked line = desert or overgrown jungle.

4. So: blooming garden (or field) is the opposite of desert or excessive wood/leaf production

5. In English, if you are not crooked in speech, you are direct.

6. This word "direct" is key, because dikê means direction, directness.

7. Generally, Homeric poetry does not address the problems of justice, that is, right vs. wrong, which is also, truth vs. lies

8. Shield of Achilles at Iliad XVIII 508: picture of a contest over straightest dikê in context of a neikos 'quarrel' 497. It is "outsiders" who make up their mind about justice in the Iliad.

9. Odyssey xix 106-114, king in a blooming garden or field [note the semantics of this English word: like agros, both nature and culture]: the kleos of Penelope, says Odysseus in disguise, will reach the heavens like that of a king who upholds good dikê (eudikiâs acc. pl.) 111, and the earth flourishes and the people prosper.

10. Review from last lecture: In the ainos of Teiresias, Odyssey xi 136-137, compare the symbol (sêma) of the dead sailor to the symbol of the dead hero in a blooming garden or field (culture, agriculture): the people around you will be olbioi; for Odysseus, to repeat, the symbol that means "the sailor is dead" is the symbol that means "the harvest is complete"; for others, the symbol means just one or the other thing, unless they, too, have traveled. If the cult hero is olbios, then the people who worship him can also be olbioi - by metonymy.

11. Heroes in cult are key to seasonality of agriculture

12. Cult heroes are the phulakes 'guardians' of dikê, Compare Hesiod Works and Days 122-126, 172-173

&emdash;they are daimones, according to the plans of great Zeus;

they are noble [esthloi], earth-bound [epi-khthonioi], guardians [phulakes] of mortal humans,

who stand guard, supervising dikai and wretched deeds;

They are invisible, roaming everywhere over the land,

givers of wealth; and all this they have as befits the honor of kings.

13. One of the most explicit references to dikê:

Odyssey iii 132-135: Zeus plots a baneful nostos, (132), because Argives had no noos and no dikê (133) and they were slated for doom because of the mênis of Athena (135)

14. Odysseus as intrinsically noble, extrinsically base; suitors as the opposite, especially Anti-noos: extrinsically noble, intrinsically base.

15. Remember, it takes noos to bring together the 1) intellectual, 2) moral, 3) emotional

Discussion Questions for Unit 4

1. The suitors who have acted with hubris are killed by Odysseus, Telemakhos, Eumaios, and Philoitios, as are the female slaves who collaborated with them. How does the poetry itself talk about the justice in these killings? What can we make of the planned revenge for the suitors' death, and how this confrontation is described? Consider the arguments that the relatives of the suitors make in scroll xxiv, and how the confrontation and the epic as we have it ends, especially the imagery in this final passage (xxiv 516ff., below). Why does Athena encourage the first throw? Can we connect the thunderbolt and eagle imagery with those we have seen elsewhere in the poem?

[516] On this Athena came close up to him and said, "Son of Arceisius - best friend I have in the world - pray to the gray-eyed damsel, and to Zeus her father; then poise your spear and hurl it."

[520] As she spoke she infused fresh vigor into him, and when he had prayed to her he poised his spear and hurled it. He hit Eupeithes' helmet, and the spear went right through it, for the helmet stayed it not, and his armor rang rattling round him as he fell heavily to the ground. Meantime Odysseus and his son fell the front line of the foe and smote them with their swords and spears; indeed, they would have killed every one of them, and prevented them from ever getting home again, only Athena raised her voice aloud, and made every one pause. "Men of Ithaca," she cried, "cease this dreadful war, and settle the matter at once without further bloodshed."

[533] On this pale fear seized every one; they were so frightened that their arms dropped from their hands and fell upon the ground at the sound of the goddess' voice, and they fled back to the city for their lives. But Odysseus gave a great cry, and gathering himself together swooped down like a soaring eagle. Then the son of Kronos sent a thunderbolt of fire that fell just in front of Athena, so she said to Odysseus, "Odysseus, noble son of Laertes, stop this warful strife, or Zeus will be angry with you."

[545] Thus spoke Athena, and Odysseus obeyed her gladly. Then Athena assumed the form and voice of Mentor, and presently made a covenant of peace between the two contending parties. [548]

Discussion forum for question 1


2. In scroll xxiv, Odysseus makes his last 'reconnection' with his father Laertes. What is significant about the garden imagery (one of our central passages) and the story Odysseus tells before revealing himself? Consider also the intergenerational relationships between fathers and sons in the following passage (xxiv 502ff):

[502] Then Zeus' daughter Athena came up to them, having assumed the form and voice of Mentor. Odysseus was glad when he saw her, and said to his son Telemakhos, "Telemakhos, now that you are about to fight in an engagement, which will show every man's mettle, be sure not to disgrace your ancestors, who were eminent for their strength and courage all the world over."

[510] "You say truly, my dear father," answered Telemakhos, "and you shall see, if you will, that I am in no mind to disgrace your family."

[513] Laertes was delighted when he heard this. "Good heavens, he exclaimed, "what a day I am enjoying: I do indeed rejoice at it. My son and grandson are vying with one another in the matter of valor [aretê]."

Discussion forum for question 2


3. Speaking of endings, the Alexandrian scholars Aristarchus and Aristophanes ('of Byzantium') thought that the "end" of the Odyssey was line 296 of scroll xxiii, after Odysseus and Penelope go "joyfully to the rites of their own old bed." How would ending here change our understanding of the major issues we have been discussing? Where would you end the Odyssey if you were composing it in performance?

Discussion forum for question 3