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The View from Hades: Tyro’s Story in Odyssey 11

George Gazis

The Catalogue of Heroines in Odyssey 11 is one of the most fascinating and complex texts of early hexameter poetry. 19th- and 20th- century scholars often dismissed it as a later addition (Wilamowitz 1884, 147-51, Focke 1943, 217-22), as irrelevant to the rest of the Nekyia (Bowra 1962, 45-46) or as a ‘mere’ imitation of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women (Page 1955, 35-39, Kirk 1962, 237). However, more recent scholars recognize that it has an important function within the wider narrative of Odysseus’ homecoming. Thus, Lillian Doherty argues (Doherty 1991 and 1995, 94ff.) that the catalogue is crucial to Odysseus’ plan of pleasing Arete, the character singled out in the text (Od. 6.303-15 / 7.74-6) as crucial to the success of the hero’s supplication.

In this paper I contribute to the recent interest in the Catalogue of Heroines by asking what it can tell us about Homeric poetics. I wish to make two points in particular: first, I argue that through the constant use of the verb idein in the introduction of each heroine, Homer transforms a traditional poetic form into a sustained reflection on the limitations of Muse narrative. Hades, the realm of darkness and invisibility (note the puns on A-ides = ‘the invisible one’, at Il. 5.845, 6.284 and 24.244-6), is evoked with a vividness which has all the characteristics of traditional Muse narrative (e.g. Strauss Clay 2011) but, I argue, differs from it in fundamental ways: what we see in Odyssey 11 are the eidola of women, mere images of the heroines and as distant from their former selves as Hades is from the light of the sun. Yet, these eidola have a story of their own and my second point focuses precisely on the implications of that story being heard in the epic tradition. Taking as my example the first and most detailed entry in the catalogue, that of Tyro, I explore how epic narrative is transformed in the context of an underworld setting, to conform to what I call the ‘poetics of Hades’. A close reading of Tyro’s account shows that epic values associated with gender roles and even divine law are in important ways suspended in Hades, allowing for a more immediate and personally inflected approach to the epic past. Thus, the Odyssey can articulate Tyro’s own feelings (ἠράσατ(ο) at Od. 11.238) in a way in which the Catalogue of Women cannot (fr. 30-1 MW). More radically, Poseidon’s warning not to divulge the affair (Od. 11.251) makes Odysseus’ account of it appear as a self-conscious departure from the ‘official’ story of Tyro’s marriage with Cretheus (Od. 11.237). Such layering, I suggest, is typical of the Odyssey’s poetics of Hades and can also be seen in Odysseus’ more famous encounters with Agamemnon and Achilles later in Book 11.

By presenting us with vivid images of past heroes and heroines in the underworld, Homer allows their stories to be told like they have never been told before: unmediated, fiercely personal, and without the strictures of traditional Muse narrative. Homer’s ‘poetics of Hades’, I suggest, provides an alternative perspective on the epic tradition which bears crucial affinities with the voice and outlook of Greek lyric. 

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Homer, Odyssey: Speech and Ritual

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