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Od 4.95-96

Posted: Mon Mar 25, 2013 7:43 pm
by Paul Derouda
[...]μάλα πολλὰ πάθον καὶ ἀπώλεσα οἶκον
εὖ μάλα ναιετάοντα, κεχανδότα πολλὰ καὶ ἐσθλά.

Menelaos is speaking to Telemachus. I always thought οἶκον refers to his own home, i.e. that when he came back from Troy his own house was ruined, although the whole speech is a bit incongruous. All the translations I've seen as well as the Oxford commentary and Ameis-Hentze-Cauer's commentary agree.

But now I find that Oliver Taplin in Homeric Soundings, p. 117 footnote, translates this "I have suffered much and have destroyed a fine dwelling full of good things", that is he thinks οἶκον refers to the sack Troy. No explanation given.

Any thoughts about this interpretation? Can οἶκον mean Troy?

Re: Od 4.95-96

Posted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 3:18 am
by Qimmik
ἀπώλεσα can also mean "lost." See LSJ A.II. That seems a more likely interpretation here. Stephanie West interprets it as "lost" in the Oxford Commentary on this passage, citing i 354, ii 46, iv 724, 814, a "lament for by-gone prosperity" in her words. She adds "etc." to her cites, but I didn't find any more examples in Dunbar's Concordance. I can't see Menelaus filled with remorse about Troy.

Re: Od 4.95-96

Posted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:22 am
by Paul Derouda
Certainly the interpretation ἀπώλεσα "lost" has been much more popular than the other one. I'd never even thought about the other, until I run into this. But I must confess that it seduces me at least a bit. Here's why:

1) We're in the middle of a text that's basically telling us how wealthy Menelaus is, and suddenly we're told that he'd had his home destroyed with his property.
2) I don't think is completely out of Menelaus' character to pity the Trojans; his conflict was foremost with Paris. There's a scene in the Iliad where two Trojans are supplicating to Menelaus, and he's about to spare their lives; then Agamemnon comes and tells him no Trojan should be spared and kills them. (I don't remember where this was). Also, think about how Menelaus took pity of Helen. I'd even think this is psychologically attractive, because in the Iliad Homer really shows us how of all Homer's characters Menelaus is really the "nice guy". I also find this interpretation somehow fits melancholic atmosphere of the whole scene.

Because of reason 1 this passage has also been criticized by analysts. Well, if you call this passage an interpolation, it sort of explains it away.

I'm not settled in any explanation, I'm just wondering...

Re: Od 4.95-96

Posted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 12:54 pm
by Qimmik
He seems to be talking about his own losses here. I think that οἶκον refers not so much to the physical dwelling as to material wealth or his entire establishment and estate, as it does in ii 64 and iv 318, cf. vii 314. I think this is a theme running throughout the Odyssey: the focus on the wasting of Odysseus' property or estate during his absence. Here we see how other heroes of the Trojan war have had their fortunes and estates diminished in the aftermath of the war (perhaps a faint echo of the collapse of the Mycenaean palace economies?). Later, against this backdrop of decline elsewhere, and in contrast to the other heroes of the war, Odysseus makes his triumphant return to restore his own οἶκος. And he finds his wife, unlike Agamemnon's (whose fate has just been mentioned in the passage under consideration), and, maybe more to the point, unlike Helen, has been faithful.

I see this entire episode as setting up a contrast between Menelaus' fate and that of his brother and other heroes with the happy outcome of the Odyssey. In that context, I see the words of regret at 95-6 as referring to Menelaus' own situation, not that of Priam or the Trojans. (But, to your point, Menelaus isn't exactly destitute in Sparte when Telemachus comes to visit--he's still phenomenally wealthy--although his wealth doesn't bring him much happiness.)

I think that if this passage were a reference to Priam's οἶκος, it would have been more explicit, and a regret for the destruction at the conclusion of the war would probably have not been framed in terms of a "house" but of the city itself. And, his sympathetic portrayal notwithstanding, in the Iliad at least, Menelaus is quite bitter about his treatment at the hands of the Trojans. XIII 620 ff. The violation of his hospitality was a grievous offense, and after that it's hard to see him regretting what happened to Troy.

But you're right that Menelaus is one of the most sympathetically portrayed characters in the Homeric poems, and it might not be wholly out of character for him to express some measure of sympathy for the other side.

Re: Od 4.95-96

Posted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 1:25 pm
by Scribo
Yes I agree.

Actually I've never really thought of /oikon/ here referring to Ilion. Technically it could. Certainly people have argued that the Iliadic poet is rather nice to the Trojans (e.g novelty of formulaic system) and we might think that the Odyssey poet was influenced in that manner.

I definitely take the oikos here to be Menelaus' situation. Not in the physical sense, of course, since he is rich but in the wider semantic sense of /woikos/ being cognate with Latin /vicus/, Sanskrit /vish/ etc, e.g his "house" being his family line and clan. His wife as the cause of war which lost so many Achaeans that they all end up crying. This sort of seems to be a theme...remember Helene's "bitch that I am" line?

Anyway his clan is very much diminished. Agamemnon is dead at the hands of a relative, who is in turn killed by a relative. We've no idea to what extent the audience was aware of the "later" geneaology where the son of Orestes and Hermione, Tisamenos, would be killed by the Herakleidai, but from the pov of an early audience this could have a lot of pathos.

I don't know, I haven't looked at this book for a while so the wider context may refute that since I have very little of the Odyssey memorised.

Re: Od 4.95-96

Posted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 3:09 pm
by Paul Derouda
Well, I think I agree with both of you, the usual interpretation is probably the correct one. Taplin's idea that oikos means Troy surprised me, although I couldn't complete dismiss it; I guess I was looking for additional arguments to refute it, which you have given. I think the idea that oikos should be taken here in a very wide sense ("clan", "house") is attractive, and I think the point that it encompasses the Agamemnon and his fate is especially good; Agamemnon and his fate are central in this book.

Re: Od 4.95-96

Posted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 3:53 pm
by Qimmik
the idea that oikos should be taken here in a very wide sense ("clan", "house") is attractive,
A note of caution: there don't seem to be any citations to this sense of oikos before Herodotus in LSJ.

Re: Od 4.95-96

Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2013 8:19 pm
by Paul Derouda
A good word of caution. Anyway, even if we didn't take oikos with the meaning house/clan, it could still mean Agamemnon in my opinion in this context. Agamemnon was supposed to rule in Mycenae and Menelaos in Sparta, but at least in this book Homer is pretty vague about this. In Menelaus' account of his wanderings, Proteus tells him that in his native land he "might find Aegisthos alive, or Orestes may have already killed him" (4.546-547). But why would either find either Aegisthos or Orestes at Sparta? Seems to me that Homer almost equates Menelaos' and Agamemnon's kingdom here.

Anyway, the whole book is incongrous in many places, and I might accept some kind of analytic or "Westian" scenario here. (For example, the wedding of Menelaos' daughter and son in the beginning of the book is forgotten almost once. And why would Menelaos ever want to go round cap Malea to go from Troy to Sparta?)

Re: Od 4.95-96

Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2013 10:14 pm
by Qimmik
why would Menelaos ever want to go round cap Malea to go from Troy to Sparta?)

He would have travelled by sea to Gytheion (modern Gytheio) and then up along the Eurotas River to Sparte. There's an island in the harbor of Gytheio where Paris and Helen are said to have spent their first night together as they fled in the other direction from Sparte. ... nessus.gif

If he had tried to make the journey by land from, say, the Argolid, he would have had to cross some steep mountains. Imagine what roads over the mountains would have been like in the Mycenaean age (if there was anything other than goat trails), or even in the Archaic period when the Homeric poems were likely put in something like the shape we have them. (I recently took this trip in the other direction, from Sparte to Nafplio (Nauplion), and the roads still leave something to be desired.) People travelled by sea as much as possible back then, just like Telemachus coming from the north-west coast of Greece. He didn't come to Sparte by land.

One more point: while the Homeric poems, particularly the Iliad, seem to reflect quite specific knowledge of the geography of Asia Minor, they aren't as clear about the geography of the southern and western parts of Greece.

Re: Od 4.95-96

Posted: Thu Mar 28, 2013 8:26 am
by Paul Derouda
Oops, I got mixed up. Should always check your sources... I'm not too strong with the topography of the Peloponnese either... The problem is rather what Agamemnon was doing around Malea (4.512-). S. West mentions as one possibility that the author might have thought of him ruling jointly with Menelaos at Sparta; that would be sort of relevant to the present discussion, but it doesn't seem to be in line at least with the picture given in the Iliad.

Anyway, it's an important point that the author of the Odyssey isn't very knowledgeable about the Peloponnese. The clearest example is Telemachos' and Peisistratos' journey from Pylos to Sparta, which seems to ignore the fact that Mt Taygetos was on the way.