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Nostos and Metanostos : The Itineraries of Paris, Menelaus, and Cretan Odysseus

Kevin Solez

MacEwan University

A similar geographic pattern, or itinerary, is shared by some early epic nostoi involving ports of call in Egypt, Phoenicia, and a Greek state. The term metanostos suggests that some nostoi may have had an analogical structuring influence on others, and that a fairly specific itinerary was expected of many nostoi. The examples under consideration are the nostos of Menelaus in the Odyssey and Nostoi, the lying tales of Cretan Odysseus, and the Trojan nostos of Paris returning from Sparta in the Iliad and Cypria. This paper adds detail to current interpretations of the parallels between the early epic nostoi, and introduces the idea of a Trojan nostos of Paris, which, while belonging to the first stages of the Trojan cycle, is very likely structured by the nostos of Menelaus.

The observation of shared itineraries is relevant to historicizing and neoanalytical readings of Homer. From a historicizing perspective, the itineraries of these three nostoi follow the general pattern of counter-clockwise Mediterranean seafaring known from geological estimates of sea currents and shipwrecks (Barako, 155-6). This geographic orientation also relates to certain terms of elite competition that would have been familiar to some Greek audiences in the eighth and seventh centuries, i.e., familiarity through xenia with the prestigious civilizations of Egypt and Phoenicia, and possession of their luxury goods. 

Metanostos relationships add to our understanding of early epic nostoi from a neoanalytic perspective. Certain folkloristic and narrative details characterize the nostoi both of Menelaus and Odysseus in the Odyssey, as has been recognized for some time (Danek, 357). Most would agree that it is not possible to determine whether the nostos of Menelaus had an analogical influence structuring the nostos of Odysseus, or vice versa. This argument can be extended to the lying tales. The journeys of Cretan Odysseus have been recognized as potential references to versions of Odysseus’ nostos in preHomeric epic that the Homeric poems revise (Burgess, 29; Danek, 360; West, 248-9). They bear witness to a centrifugal Odysseus, always setting out again but never reaching unknown lands, while the Odysseus of the Apologos continuously seeks home and regularly encounters the undiscovered. Menelaus’ nostos in the Odyssey combines these elements; the itinerary of Cretan Odysseus, involving Egypt and Phoenicia (Od. 14.235-359), is closely matched by part of Menelaus’ journey (Od. 4.454-6; 4.615-9). Another part, mentioned at Od. 4.81-91, combines this known geography with a more fantastical one involving the Aethiopians and Eremboi. We can now recognize in Menelaus’ nostos elements that match the nostoi both of the centripetal Odysseus of the Odyssey and the centrifugal Odysseus of preHomeric tradition.

Every version of Menelaus’ nostos, Cyclic and Homeric, contains a visit to Egypt (West, 253). The same is not true for Paris’ Trojan nostos, which is preserved in the Iliad and in Proclus’ summary of the Cypria as involving an itinerary from Sparta to Sidon to Troy (Il. 6.289-92, with Currie, 287; Burgess, 16-17). Stesichorus (Palinode) and Herodotus (2.113) record a version of the story where the storm sent by Hera against Paris forces them to land in Egypt, and a phantom of Helen went to Troy with Paris, while Helen remained in Egypt. An Egyptian port of call in Paris’ nostos brings it very closely into line with the nostoi of Menelaus and Cretan Odysseus, but unlike the case of those nostoi, a clear precedent can be established for the metanostos itinerary of Paris and Menelaus. The parallel position of the men as husbands of Helen and sons-in-law to Zeus exerted a pressure on the tradition to harmonize their journeys in Helen’s company. I argue that it is the persistent detail of Menelaus’ adventure in Egypt that caused this part of the itinerary to be added to Paris’ nostos in some versions, providing an opportunity for the elaboration of the alternative journey of Helen, no further than Egypt, to be retrieved by Menelaus on his return home.

Session/Panel Title

Nostoi/Odyssey/Telegony: New Perspectives on the End of the Epic Cycle

Session/Paper Number

51.7

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