Trojan War by Homer: Retaliation, Narrative Order, and Cretan Focus

Citation with persistent identifier:

Zecchin de Fasano, Graciela. “Trojan War by Homer: Retaliation, Narrative Order, and Cretan Focus.” CHS Research Bulletin 2, no. 2 (2014).


1§1 The retaliation war (Trojan War), the internal war of a genos for power and heritage (Theban War), the war for identity (Persian Wars), and finally, the war for the hegemony of one city (Peloponnesian War) were all painful, usual phenomena in the life of Ancient Greece. My project aims at studying how the Greeks told their particularly bellicose history and how it is represented in their epic, tragic, and historical works.

1§2 Especially, the Trojan War passes through all the Classical Greek Literature in a unique transversality. Each author has established a personal relationship with this subject and each text has been produced in terms of a factual, counterfactual, ironical, or mocking relationship, that is, in the multiple “textualization” ways the modern literary theory usually analyzes.

1§3 Homer’s coined version encompasses a group of narratives which form a varied mosaic. I will not deal with the multiple historical and archeological issues widely debated by experts, but with the narrative complexities derived from the unstable border between myth and history in Homeric Epic. My aim is to tackle the three different aspects in which the Trojan War is presented. The first aspect describes the war as the corresponding retaliation against the breaking of a heroic hospitality. Yet, a restrictive objection to the excessive desire to battle is immediately expressed, turning warriors into antisocial figures. Secondly, I will approach the way in which characters develop a narrative conscience which debates the link between episodes and the possible design of such a link; for instance, when Odysseus confronts the narration of his own life. I will not consider the troubles produced by the orality of the Homeric text. Thirdly, I will try to show how this consciously-organized material brings about the possibility of building new versions of the same life experiences; I mean, how from the same fact, many possibilities of “textualization” can be produced. I refer to the Cretan versions.

An Aesthetic Retaliation

2§1 In Iliad, the war is transformed into an aesthetic object. A sound proof is found in the discussion about what is “the most beautiful” (emmenai kalliston) in fragment 16 LP by Sappho. The poem discards an equestrian squadron as the highest element in a scale of beautiful objects. The mere existence of a discussion indicates that a bellicose object such as the equestrian squadron was already considered “beautiful” ab initio by Homer and before Sappho’s poetry. In her poetry, the images of the equestrian squadron, the navy, and Helen—the most beautiful woman who caused a war—are individual proofs for the utterly subjective definition of beauty. The affirmation of Anactoria’s beauty at the end of the poem responds to a previous social criterion about beauty, probably a purely male or bellicose one.

2§2 Independent from the erotic roots which may be seen in Achilles’ menis, the most profound inquiry about the sense of war comes from the same character: do we not battle for a woman? (τί δὲ δεῖ πολεμιζέμεναι Τρώεσσιν/ Ἀργείους; τί δὲ λαὸν ἀνήγαγεν ἐνθάδ᾽ ἀγείρας/ Ἀτρεΐδης; ἦ οὐχ Ἑλένης ἕνεκ᾽ ἠϋκόμοιο; IX 337–338). In this way, the retaliation war carried out in Iliad is primarily and apparently the result of a courtship and of Paris’ judgment about beauty. Of course, it is about Helen’s recovery. In this process, a group of social conventions is discussed in relation to the ultimate bellicose objective: the fall of Troy. Moreover, the punishment for breaking the hospitality is enriched by the confusing circumstances around Helen’s abduction; and the way the community works shows negotiations (Nestor’s warnings, I), breach of contracts (Pandaros’ arrow, V), and mediations (the embassy to Achilles, IX). Many circumstances turn the Trojan War complex, mainly from the narrative point of view, in the sense that a way to discuss the organization of facts is by using para-narratives which produce a deixis of a remote time.[1]

2§3 In these narratives the analeptic effect can be seen in the four paradigmatic tales told by Nestor in which a warning is addressed to Achaeans such as the battle between Centaurs and Lapiths (Iliad I 262–273), the reaction before Eurethalion’s challenge (Iliad VII 132–156), Nestor’s participation in the war between Pylians and Epeians (Iliad XI 605–803), and his participation in funeral games in Bouprasion (Iliad XXIII 630–642)[2]. The fact that Nestor’s existence covers three generations places the Trojan War in a comparison with another paradigm. Thus, as a consequence, the narration of the Trojan War is magnified. This means that the Trojan War is placed in an integrative discourse in which this war is not considered an atomistic event but a prestigious one due to the holistic timeline that is generated. The most remote analeptic effect is produced when mentioning references about Heracles’ pillaging of Troy, before the current generation of warriors, making the timeline of war a permanent phenomenon.[3]

2§4 Although we know from different historical sources that many armed conflicts took place in Troy, Homer stands out the event as a work of art, not only for the extraordinary “artifact” represented by Achilles’ shield but also because the images presented on it freeze a permanent conflict. Of course, in the text proposed on the shield, the narrative of a city at war (XVIII 509–540) offers a worth-noticing political effect.

Warriors: should they not be lovers of war?

2§5 Although Iliad does not tackle the subject of war but Achilles’ menis, the poem surprises us with non-bellicose statements by its own characters. Nestor, the oldest and wisest counselor expresses this position in book IX when he says before the board appointed to solve the bellicose failure that a lover (ἔραται) of war (πολέμου) is, in the first place, an individual distant from the speaker (ἐκεῖνος) according to the deictic power of the pronoun. In the second place, a lover of war is someone who has three fundamental characteristics (shown by the triple prefix alpha). He is a clanless (ἀφρήτωρ), outlaw (ἀθέμιστος), hearthless man (ἀνέστιός):

‘ἀλλ᾽ ἄγ᾽ ἐγών, ὃς σεῖο γεραίτερος εὔχομαι εἶναι,
ἐξείπω καὶ πάντα διίξομαι: οὐδέ κέ τίς μοι
μῦθον ἀτιμήσει᾽, οὐδὲ κρείων Ἀγαμέμνων.
ἀφρήτωρ ἀθέμιστος ἀνέστιός ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος
ὃς πολέμου ἔραται ἐπιδημίου ὀκρυόεντος.

Iliad IX 60–64

[60] Nevertheless I am older than you and I will tell you everything; therefore let no man, not even King Agamemnon, disregard my saying, for he that foments civil discord[4] is a clanless, hearthless outlaw. [5]

2§6 The lines show an evident incoherence. In the middle of a conflict among heroes, the text directly refers to Agamemnon,[6] but this is a universal statement which strategically proposes to bring the discussion from a massive environment (agora) to the private board of chiefs (boulê). In spite of this, we can still wonder: how can the warriors who have been to Troy to battle in the coalition consider the lover of war so despicable?  Although the triple qualification emphasizes the uncivilized features which connect Agamemnon with those of the Cyclops, the gnomic value of lines 63–64 provides the most evident excuse for a retaliation war. Achaeans do not hanker for the internal war, they should not do it. They have been forced to do the war and curiously, this kind of bellicose internal conflict is not defined by the flaming terms related to fire and body temperature typical of a battle but by the freezing effect (ὀκρυόεντος) upon the community (ἐπιδημίου).

2§7 Finally, the gnomic value of the expression allows us to answer the following question: if Homeric warriors participate in a battle they do not hanker for, how can the narrator accomplish the narration of a war that the protagonists do not want? My answer is that this presentation of events defines the narrator’s position.

2§8 On the one hand, the poem presents groups of individuals who prefer conflicts both on the human and divine levels of the actions narrated. Agamemnon’s utterance against Achilles in I 178–179 acts as evidence for this:

ἔχθιστος δέ μοί ἐσσι διοτρεφέων βασιλήων
αἰεὶ γάρ τοι ἔρις τε φίλη πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε
εἰ μάλα καρτερός ἐσσι, θεός που σοὶ τό γ᾽ ἔδωκεν

…here is no king here so hateful to me as you are, for you are ever quarrelsome and ill affected. So what if you are strong? Was it not a god that made you so?

2§9 In a significant repetition, even Zeus makes use of this expression in some lines addressed to Ares in V 890–891 when the latter arrives at Olympus hurt by Diomedes. As a consequence, the gnome in book IX 63–64 takes the extended presence of this kind of conflictive war-drawn character to a more general level and, likewise, the gnome establishes the social hatred such characters produce. This resource could be considered a synecdoche, but for the assertion that leading that compulsion or bellicose pleasure against their own community is the worst action to be taken.

2§10 The characters are compelled to battle due to the circumstances, but they also have an internal like for polemos or eris: this defines the hero’s uncomfortable tragedy.

2§11 The historical fact of the Trojan War shows in Homer a double presentation. On the one hand, the war fought by the Achaeans against the Trojans, on the other hand, the narration of other wars produces a mimetic mechanism indicating “this is that” (οἷον ὅτι οὗτος ἐκεῖνος) as Aristotle expresses in Poetics 1448b15–17. Both ways of presentation bring about a special effect: the war fought by the characters is universalized. Iliad transforms a historic event into a poetic one and removes all historical contents from it when such an event is universalized. Some evidence of this is observed in the term polemos in line 63 instead of neîkos or lochos.[7]

2§12 Every time Homeric characters resort to narratives to explain their situations and to interpret them, they undergo the double process described by White in reference to the historic tale.[8] When the characters select their past, they are, at the same time, selecting a personal present in the narrated time. In this way, when Nestor proposes a neîkos narrative in book XI,[9] he chooses a bellicose conflict between Pylians and Epeians in the past, based upon the robbery of oxes, that is, in retaliation for the recovery of property and upon the exhibition of heroic values. His narration is framed by the unattainable desire to recover the bellicose energy from his youth to be able to fight (εἴθ’ ὣς ἡβώοιμι βίη δέ μοι ἔμπεδος εἴη: I wish that I were still young and strong, XI 670). This narrative is immediately applied to Patroclus, who is hearing the speech, and has disastrous consequences for him. But in lines 60–63 of book IX, Nestor does not use the neîkos narration as a piece of advice but as an assertive statement which depends on the implicit generalization of the term polemos.[10]

2§13 There is an explicit contradiction: an individual attracted by the war rooted in the eros lacks the qualities which make him part of a group; he loses his tribal community; he does not have habitual norms which regulate his behavior or a sense of home. The image of the cold epidemic which the excessive desire for polemos brings upon the people contrasts with the igneous images about heroic menos or the risk of ships being burnt by the enemy shown in Iliad. It is clear that an individual lacking the three substantial characteristics mentioned above does not fight dragged by a personal reason; ἐπιδημίου ὀκρυόεντος offers a good explanation for this type of bellicose desire.

Arranging Materials: Order of Events

3§1 In many aspects, Homeric Epic is still an enigma or a controversial area for critics. Especially, in reference to how the object called epos by Aristotle relates to the narrative currently considered “historical.”[11] In addition, Odysseus makes an apparently-innocent emotional confession which encompasses a basic point related to the plot taxonomy. In Odyssey, book ix 14, he deliberates before the Phaeacians what he will tell first and what later (τί πρῶτόν τοι ἔπειτα, τί δ᾽ ὑστάτιον καταλέξω;). This deliberation is a way of addressing the problem of the disposal of events which leads to a semantic transmutation and that immediately appeals to the historians’ problem. As we know, the historical account has a claim to be a true tale that largely comes from the epos, in which the disposition designated by katalegein is considered to compose a true sense of time. The poetics of time is built through the narrative synthesis that configures it.[12]

3§2 A narrative synthesis constitutes a hermeneutic of the text, as it was already stated by Aristotle who provides us with a first synthesis of the logos of the Odyssey, in Poetics 1455b16–24. In this Aristotelic synthesis, Troy is not mentioned and the plot of the poem is narrowed down to the long absence of the protagonist persecuted by Poseidon. When Odysseus returns home, he finds serious conflicts: his wealth is being wasted by the suitors and his son is also being persecuted by them.

3§3 With this pragmaton systasis, Aristotle seems to start from a type of folk narrative containing the dangerous return of an outsider, whose true identity places him as the owner of the house. The dissonance with the synthesis that the Homeric Narrator puts in the proem of Odyssey is evident, especially in reference to Troy, which is offered as an inevitable point of departure. However, many other types of synthesis can be made, for example, the logos of Odyssey offered by Louden,[13] for whom it is the result of a prophecy. By offering these two examples, I am trying to show that the same plot may be described in quite a different events-linking order.

3§4 Although for Aristotle there is the basic requirement of a link of events based on probability and need (Poetics 1451a36–38), the resulting difference clearly exposes that each narrator and every critic proceed as a historian: by summarizing, he gives an interpretation and organizes a logical sequence of events.

3§5 I mean, the intimate Odysseus debates about how to tell a story, not only focuses on the process in which an oral narrative becomes a literary text, but also on the selection of the order: how the Greeks narrated their history in the narratives they possessed. Finally, the conflict between historical narratives and epic not only lies on the mythical axis, but also on the order of memories. Also in this regard, Aristotle (Poetics 1451b1–4) noted that the telos of each type of narrative constitutes the dividing line, while formal reasons such as the meter or the particular/universal dichotomy are of minor relevance.[14]

3§6 The sharp difference between the plausible and predictive telling of the epos and the telling of past facts as in a historic tale is faced with the biographical account of Odysseus, who narrates his individual past as the doer in a comprehensible and orderly but false plot.

3§7 The issue of narrative order indirectly places Odysseus as a reader of his own life, since he must organize it to let others know about it, and we can ask ourselves whether Odyssey begins with the question for a life story or the subject of a story. The proem seems to opt for the subject of the story. However, the problem of the order of events is exposed by Odysseus before the Phaeacians, whose historical existence is dubious and in terms of the narrative material, this is considered to be more problematic and less epic.[15]

A Cretan Focus

4§1 Although Odyssey has an explicit aesthetic decision to sing or tell a “newest song” (I 351–352),[16] a group of narratives of the past so similar to the typical tales of Iliad remains in the poem, for example the song of the neîkos between Odysseus and Achilles and the one about the fall of Troy by the stratagem of the horse. [17] In my opinion, it is a strategy of closing a theme and with the funeral of Achilles the Trojan theme is definitely closed. However, Odyssey presents an alternative version of the Trojan War across all the apocryphal biographies of the hero, with which we are placed in the center of Epimenides’ paradox.[18]

4§2 The Cretan tales by Odysseus (Odyssey xiii 253–286; xiv 192–359; xix 165–299) are found between the most interesting tales in Homeric Poetry. These tales constitute a micro-narrative including a different voice and a very contrasting vision about war. As apocryphal biographies of Odysseus, these tales present a progressive linear story; they start from the beginning, ab ovo, and in this way they are separated from the compositional form of both the nostic discourse and the epos narrative,[19] since they do not begin in medias res, expression usually applied to any definition of epic. Why does Odysseus need to tell the history of the Trojan War from a biographical Cretan perspective? Can we associate this type of narrative with other perspectives of the same war?

4§3 I will attempt a response that takes into account the space and narrative composition.

4§4 Among the multiple approaches applied to the apocryphal biographies of Odysseus, if we call them the Cretan Tales or the Cretan Lies, these designations imply a specific critical focus on the geographical region used for location and a judgment on the fact of telling the truth or lies. I prefer to call them biographies because they are stories of a life, and apocryphal because, rather than mere “lies”, they are full of encrypted information.

4§5 In narratological studies, biographies have been described as a model of embedded homodiegetic narratives, but of course they could be considered as a group of short Ithacan stories in which Odysseus is presented as an actor of narrated events before his own community.[20]

4§6 That is to say that from the point of view of space, inside Odyssey, is the Trojan War built through a partial or a local version? And it is rescued according to the narrating subject. For example, in Pylos only the version of the Achaeans’ nostos circulates. In Sparta, we find two opposite versions by Menelaus and by Helen. These stories involve a male or female point of view. But a royal point of view and the stories told by royals represent the risk of being enchanted by Helen’s beauty. In Scheria, the Trojan subject is found in Demodochus’ songs and, once in Ithaca, Odysseus composes the Cretan version of Trojan War. Not all of these tales are songs sung by aoidoi, but the variation of narratives shows how local versions work and how, as a foreigner, Odysseus delivers a Cretan version in Ithaca.[21]

4§7 Repetition and Ring-composition are used by the apocryphal biographies, especially when the myth about the Cretan Idomeneus appears, which is scattered in Odyssey. He is presented as a son of Decaulion,[22] King of Crete in book iii 191–192, and Nestor qualifies him as “the hero of the most successful return.” Thereby, the character refers to Troy and to the narrative that is being built with the return of Odysseus.

4§8 His presentation in the catalogue of the second book of Iliad shows Idomeneus leading the Cretan contingent with eighty ships and representing seven cities: Cnosus, Gortys, Lyctus, Miletus, Lycastus, Phaestus, and Rythium. Although Odysseus is mentioned in the same catalog as the leader of the Cephalonians, there is no doubt about the larger size of Crete and its relevance in comparison with Ithaca.

4§9 I summarize briefly the mythical sequences about Idomeneus which may serve to clarify the value and functionality of the biographies. Idomeneus is found among Helen’s Suitors and his participation in the Trojan War was due to a collective oath. Also he was among the nine leaders who volunteered to confront Hector in single combat, when it seemed that the conflict between Achaeans and Trojans could be solved in that way. His main opponent was Deiphobus, but when he fought for the body of Patroclus, he also tried to attack Hector and he fled when Ceranos, Meriones’ charioteer, was killed by Hector.

4§10 There are several highly significant episodes that have not been taken in the Homeric version, but which seem to have been built specularly.[23]

4§11 The myth of Idomeneus presents him as a more important captain than Odysseus, linked to a courtship, associated with a war of retaliation, successful but a liar. His companion of weapons, Meriones, presented sometimes as his nephew and others as his patrilineal cousin, has another Cretan feature: he is an excellent archer.[24]

4§12 In cases in which the reference to Crete or Idomeneus appears, it is clear that this story provides a heterodiscursive way of organizing the material by avoiding the material of Troy as the kleos of Achilles,[25] because of the ironic assertion that Odyssey is composing another type of kleos.

4§13 Before the Phaeacians, Odysseus composes an analeptic, linear tale in which Troy is absolutely discarded. Yet, as a consequence of his inner debate about what he should tell in the first place, the first hero’s tales in Ithaca repeatedly offer a Cretan perspective about the Trojan War. This means that the Trojan War belongs to him in such a way that he will narrate an allomorphic tale in relation to Iliad.

4§14 The first biography presents Odysseus as the murderer of Orsilochus, Idomeneus’s son, in order to protect his spoils of war. This biography recovers the ambush as a bellicose strategy.[26] It is related to Doloneian’s episode in Iliad and, moreover, it diminishes Idomeneus’ success, presenting him as somebody who has lost a son. This tale can be understood as a counterfactual narration in reference to Nestor’s assertion in book iii. In this case, also, Odysseus uses these narrations as a historian who is provided with a narrative form by the myth in order to compose the events he mentions.[27]

4§15 Idomeneus’ myth offers multiple interpretations, such as presenting Odysseus and Atridas as family-related. But I am interested in emphasizing how the insular landscape of Odyssey is extended with the mythical map of Crete. On the other hand, the biography works as a rhetorical tool establishing another version of a successful insular leader on Ithaca. Two confronting islands, in a mythical or literary geographical relationship, Ithaca and Crete, express the North/South link and the meaning of distance between them.

4§16 The three biographies highlight the difference between the vast Crete and the small Ithaca, which has already been presented by Telemachus as a place without plains for horses (iv 607–607). The effect is to demonstrate precisely that the little island of Ithaca is famous and well-known in the Greek Southern end (πυνθανόμην Ἰθάκης γε καὶ ἐν Κρήτῃ εὐρείῃ,/τηλοῦ ὑπὲρ πόντου xiii 256–257), by a larger island. On the other hand, the ambush significantly diminishes Idomeneus’ success, but increases the expectations in relation to Ithaca. The beginning of the second biography in xiv 199–200 mentions the same quality of Crete, (ἐκ μὲν Κρητάων γένος εὔχομαι εὐρειάων,/ἀνέρος ἀφνειοῖο πάϊς), although the detailed description of Crete is located at the beginning of the third biography in xix 172–184:[28]

Κρήτη τις γαῖ᾽ ἔστι, μέσῳ ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ,
καλὴ καὶ πίειρα, περίρρυτος: ἐν δ᾽ ἄνθρωποι
πολλοί, ἀπειρέσιοι, καὶ ἐννήκοντα πόληες.
ἄλλη δ᾽ ἄλλων γλῶσσα μεμιγμένη: ἐν μὲν Ἀχαιοί
ἐν δ᾽ Ἐτεόκρητες μεγαλήτορες, ἐν δὲ Κύδωνες,
Δωριέες τε τριχάϊκες δῖοί τε Πελασγοί.
τῇσι δ᾽ ἐνὶ Κνωσός, μεγάλη πόλις, ἔνθα τε Μίνως
ἐννέωρος βασίλευε Διὸς μεγάλου ὀαριστής,
πατρὸς ἐμοῖο πατήρ, μεγαθύμου Δευκαλίωνος
Δευκαλίων δ᾽ ἐμὲ τίκτε καὶ Ἰδομενῆα ἄνακτα:
ἀλλ᾽ ὁ μὲν ἐν νήεσσι κορωνίσιν Ἴλιον ἴσω
ᾤχεθ᾽ ἅμ᾽ Ἀτρείδῃσιν, ἐμοὶ δ᾽ ὄνομα κλυτὸν Αἴθων,
ὁπλότερος γενεῇ: ὁ δ᾽ ἄρα πρότερος καὶ ἀρείων.

There is a fair and fruitful island in mid-ocean called Crete; it is thickly peopled and there are ninety cities in it:[175] the people speak many different languages which overlap one another, for there are Achaeans, brave Eteocretans, Dorians of three-fold lineage, and noble Pelasgoi. There is a great town there, Knossos, where Minos reigned who every nine years had a conference with great Zeus himself.[180] Minos was father to great-hearted Deucalion, whose son I am, for Deucalion had two sons Idomeneus and myself. Idomeneus sailed for Troy, and I, who am the younger, am called Aithon; my brother, however, was at once the older and the more valiant of the two;… [29]

4§17 The discussed ethnographic information of this fragment is in relation to the focalization and to the narratee. We can notice the usual resources in Homer such as the triple qualification of the island (καλὴ καὶ πίειρα, περίρρυτος), the men, and the cities located in Crete (ἐν δ᾽ ἄνθρωποι/πολλοί, ἀπειρέσιοι, καὶ ἐννήκοντα πόληες)[30] or the insistence on linguistic coexistence where there is no conflict (ἄλλη δ᾽ ἄλλων γλῶσσα μεμιγμένη), probably because Minos, the judge, is their remote ancestor.

4§18 The sequence of narratees —Athena, Eumaeus, Penelope— shows an adaptation of the content of the speech to the hearer. Economic issues of conservation of the spoils of war are exaggerated before the shepherd-Athena. Odysseus seeks a social level equivalent to that of Eumaeus’, since, as a Cretan, Odysseus has been similar to Eumaeus, from noble origin but limited for his status as illegitimate son. Before Penelope, the speech of the youngest son of the Royal House is developed. The exhibition of fortune is consistent with the features of the character chosen as narratee.

4§19 The Cretan focus chosen by Odysseus allows him to develop the dichotomy with Achilles in which both of them confront each other, I mean, between polutropia and haplotes, precisely in book ix 312–313 of Iliad. In this book, three speeches constitute a masterpiece of rhetoric, but fruitless to persuade Achilles and to despise the silence of Odysseus regarding Agamemnon’s real orders, Achilles says:

ἐχθρὸς γάρ μοι κεῖνος ὁμῶς Ἀΐδαο πύλῃσιν
ὅς χ᾽ ἕτερον μὲν κεύθῃ ἐνὶ φρεσίν, ἄλλο δὲ εἴπῃ.

As hateful to me as the gates of Hadēs is one who says one thing while he hides another in his heart.

4§20 In Odyssey xiv 156–157, the beggar who still has not declared to be Cretan says:

ἐχθρὸς γάρ μοι κεῖνος ὁμῶς Ἀΐδαο πύλῃσι
γίγνεται, ὃς πενίῃ εἴκων ἀπατήλια βάζει.

for hateful as Hadēs to me is a man who lets his poverty tempt him into lying.

4§21 The text repeatedly leads us to paradox and irony, the character hates the liar, but he will lie and as we know this text was taken by Plato in his much-discussed dialogue Lesser Hippias.

4§22 We could take the first biography addressed by Odysseus to Eumaeus in xiv 192–359[31] to show why Odysseus needs a Cretan focus, because it is the most extended tale among the three biographies. By composing real facts and fiction, this text presents an allomorphic variation to Odysseus’ adventures.[32] I will leave aside the second story addressed to Eumaeus and considered an aînos, because it exceeds the limits of this presentation.

4§23 The story (xiv 192–359) classified as a story of kedea—a story of sorrow—(xiv 192–198) presents a summary of episodes coincident with the experiences contained in the apologoi. After the introductory verses we can recognize five basic discursive nuclei: the first, related to their identity (xiv 199–215); the second recounts a war episode (xiv 216–245); the third develops an adventure with multiple geography (xiv 246–315); the fourth provides news about Odysseus (xiv 316–334); and the fifth and last narrates slavery and arrival in Ithaca (xiv 336–359).

4§24 The Cretan focus allows Odysseus to develop this biography with sequences quite similar to those of his own life which constitute the plot of the Odyssey. In those sequences, the hero’s initiation and maturation in terms of war are things that Odysseus shares with Idomeneus, and of course when he is an expert in ambushes, coinciding with what he tells Athena, the connection with Iliad is explicit. Finally, King Pheidon of Thesprotia is presented as an eyewitness to the riches accumulated by Odysseus and as a listener of his last news, that Odysseus is in Dodona as Zeus’ suppliant consulting the Oracle.

4§25 The most extensive composition of spaces—Crete, Troy, Egypt, Phoenicia, Lybia, Thesprotia, Dulichion—expands the map, which results closest to the reality of Ithaca. Apart from that, the double reference to what “someone saw” or “heard” about Odysseus does not allow us to cast any doubt about the veracity of the news. As a brilliant example of Odysseus’ ability to deceive, the biography proposes stories related to the character of the most successful nostos to demonstrate that Odysseus surpasses all other versions.

4§26 As a conclusion we can say: We do not have the historical tale of the Trojan War, instead, a poet as Homer has left us a mythical version, consisting of an aesthetic retaliation that takes the forms of neîkos, lochos, polemos, and dolos, etc. The dilemma of the Narrator, how to organize the material, has been transferred to a warrior hero, Odysseus, who chooses with iterated recurrence to narrate the Trojan War from the foreign perspective of a Cretan, and Crete is presented as a Paradise of linguistic confluence. I mean, instead of the narrative of a painful war caused by the bellicose tendencies of warriors, Homer in Odyssey prefers a diverse tale or a para-narrative, that is an aesthetic version which could show a more human and richer side.


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Dué, C., and M. Ebbott. 2010. Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush. Hellenic Studies 39. Washington.

Frame, D. 2009. Hippota Nestor. Hellenic Studies 37. Washington.

Griffin, J., ed. 1995. Homer. Book IX. Oxford.

Haft, A. J. 1981. The myth the Crete became: the thematic significance of Crete and Cretan topoi in Homer’s Odyssey and Vergil’s Aeneid. Princeton.

Heubeck, A., and A. Hoekstra. 1990. A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey II. Oxford.

Heubeck, A., M. Fernández-Galiano, and J. Russo. 1992. A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey III. Oxford.

Heubeck, A., S. West, and J.B. Hainsworth. 1991. A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey I. Oxford.

Levanoiuk, O. 2011. Eve of the Festival: Making Myth in Odyssey 19. Hellenic Studies 46. Washington.

Lohmann, D. 1970. Die Komposition der Reden in der Ilias. Berlin.

Louden, B. 1999. The Odyssey. Structure, Narration and Meaning. Baltimore.

Martin, R. P. 1989. The Language of Heroes, Ithaca.

Nagy, G. 19913. The Best of Achaeans. Baltimore.

———. 1996. Homeric Questions, Texas.

———. 1996a. Poetry as performance: Homer and beyond. Cambridge.

Reece, S. 1994. “The Cretan Odyssey: A Lie Truer Than Truth.” AJPh115:157–173.

White, H. 2011. La Ficción de la Narrativa. Buenos Aires.

Zecchin de Fasano, G. 2004. Odisea: Discurso y Narrativa. La Plata

*My deepest gratitude to Greg Nagy, to the Senior Fellows and the Staff of the Center for Hellenic Studies, especially to Lanah Koelle. Sincere thanks to Lilian Doherty, Luca Giuliani, Richard Martin, Leonard Muellner and Laura Slatkin for their valuable suggestions. I am also grateful to my fellow Fellows at the CHS for their friendship and support.

[1] Cf. Alden 2000:13: “we still need the new term, para-narrative… to cover stories told by the poet inside the time of poem…”

[2] Frame 2009: 48–49 and 391–393.

[3] Cf. Iliad V 638–643 and XX 148.

[4] As in Autenrieth’s Dictionary (1991:122) the word refers to an internal conflict between Achaeans, but warriors are overcame by their bellicose tendencies and they project these tendencies to both of them, enemies or allies.

[5] Translation is from Butler 1898 with modifications.

[6] Cf. Griffin 1995:82 about the line 63.

[7] About the relation and relevance of lochos, see Dué and Ebbot 2010:49.

[8] White 2011:485.

[9] Bölte considers it as “a piece of Late Helladic Epic” in Frame 2009:653–654.

[10] Lohmann 1970:224 following Zenodotos, thinks that 63-64 is a “Gnome zu athetieren” but in footnote 17 on the same page he considers this gnome essential to clearing the sense of expression.

[11] See the discussion about muthosepos  in Nagy 1996:119 and Martin 1989:12–42.

[12] Cf. Zecchin 2004:109.

[13] Louden 1999:2: “Odysseus, as earlier prophesied, arrives at an island, disoriented and ignorant of his location. A divine helper appears, advising him how to approach a powerful female figure who controls access to the next phase of his homecoming and pointing out potential difficulties regarding a band of young men. His identity is a secret (as approach to the female is perilous), Odysseus reaches her, finding a figure who is initially suspicious, distant, or even hostile toward him. She imposes a test on him, whereupon Odysseus, having successfully passed the test, wins her sympathy and help, obtaining access to the next phase of his homecoming. Their understanding is made manifest in her hospitable offer of a bath. Furthermore, Odysseus is now offered sexual union and/or marriage with the female. However, conflict arises between Odysseus and the band of young men. The young men abuse Odysseus in various ways and violate a divine interdiction. The leader of each band has the parallel name of Eury-, the band´s consequent death, earlier prophesied, is demanded by a wrathful god. A divine consultation limits the extent of the death and destruction.”

[14] In Butcher’ translation 1902:35 “The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be a species of history, with meter no less than without it. The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.”

[15] I do not think that Odysseus’ long telling in Scheria could only be attributed to the Phaeacians’ philomythía.

[16] The discussion between Penelope and Telemachus about the song sung by the aoidos focuses on the most recent song preferred by audiences, it means the regrettable nostos of Achaeans that results not tolerable for Penelope, but it is exactly the content of Odyssey.

[17] Or the tales by Helen (235–264) and Menelaos (265–289) in book iv.

[18] Epimenides’ paradox offers the discussion about the truth told by a liar, but we must remember that Stanford 1948:09 sustains that in Homer Cretans are presented as marvelous seafarers, but not liars. About the meaning and interpretation of Crete as the most civilized place, see Haft 1981:73. St. Paul, for instance, summed up the Cretan reputation for lying in a single phrase which he attributed to Epimenides of Crete: “Cretan are always liars” (Letters to Titus I 12). See Aristophanes Frogs 849–850, “you composer of Cretan monodies…” in reference to Euripides’ dramatization of the sexual deviation of the Cretan princesses.

[19] About “nostic discourse”, “catalogic discourse”, and “apologetic discourse” see Zecchin 2004: passim.

[20] De Jong 2001:214 distinguishes five types of Homeric narratives: 1) lying tales, 2) rumors based on hearsay, 3) myths, 4) narratives recounted by eye-witnesses, and 5) songs by professional singers.

[21] Reece 1994:158 shows a more extreme position, when he sustains the existence of a Cretan Odyssey, whose details were taken later by Dictys of Crete.

[22] About Idomeneus and Decaulion, cf. Iliad XIII 307 and 450; Odyssey xix 178; Apollodorus. Lybrary I 9.1 and III 1, 2, Hyginus. Fabulae. 81, 97,173, and 270; Lycophron. Alexandra 431; Diodorus Siculus Lybrary IV 60 and V 799; Pausanias. V 25,9.

[23] The post-Homeric sequel to the myth presents Idomeneus as a winner of a boxing match in the funeral games in Achilles’ honor. He was one of the heroes who was inside the horse in the fall of Troy and he was also one of the judges responsible for assigning Achilles’ arms. Another episode places him as a judge in a dispute of beauty between Thetis and Medea. Idomeneus chooses Thetis, and for that reason Medea accuses the Cretans as liars, curses the race, and condemns them to lie forever. A legendary detail that explains the origin of the proverb about the Cretans liars and that seems to gravitate over biographies.

[24] In reference to a parallelism between Odysseus and Meriones as archers, see Levaniouk 2011:79.

[25] Cf. Nagy 19913: part IV.

[26] Cf. Dué and Ebbot 2010: passim. They affirm that episodes of ambush, spying missions, and other forms of “irregular warfare” were frequent in the ancient Greek epic tradition.

[27] I refer to Thucydides, for example.

[28] De Jong 2001:469 remarks the combination of facts and fiction. She considers these lines and example of a motive like “there is a place X.” But I do not think that reference to the ninety cities of Crete, different languages, and Minos could be insignificant. Of course, those are details to the first narratee, in this case Penelope, and for the para-narratee, I mean, we as hearers of the poem. Nevertheless, Russo 1992:83 emphasizes the historical and geographic value of these lines about Crete.

[29] Translation is from Butler 1900 with modifications.

[30] In Iliad II 649 Crete is described as “hundred-citied.” Cf. Coutsinas 2013: passim.

[31] I have analyzed the biography narrated before Athena in book xiii and that narrated before Penelope in book xix from the point of view of the anagnorisis process in Zecchin 2004:191–202. Also see Levaniouk 2011.passim.

[32] Cf. De Jong 2001:353.