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Revisiting Athena’s Rage: Kassandra and the Homeric Appropriation of Nostos Narratives

Joel Christensen

University of Texas at San Antonio

This paper approaches the relationship between the Odyssey’s nostos and other ‘Nostoi’ from two perspectives. First, rather than privileging either the ‘lost’ poems or our extant epic as primary in a ‘vertical’ relationship (with one influencing the other(s) exclusively), I assume a horizontal dynamic wherein the reconstructed poems and the Odyssey influenced the character, structure and composition of each other while developing in an oral tradition (cf. Nagy 1999 [1979]; Burgess 2003; Graziosi and Haubold 2005). Second, this paper assumes that since little can be said with certainty about the poetic traditions referred to as the Nostoi and their influence on the Homeric Odyssey, evidence of this horizontal relationship—i.e. moments where our epic seems to deal with material from these other traditions—communicates more about the compositional methods and the poetics of our extant poem (cf. Barker and Christensen 2015).

As a test case in exploring this approach, this paper looks at the rage of Athena (revisiting Clay 1983; Allan 2006) and the Homeric avoidance of the rape of Kassandra, a significant topic in the reconstructions of the Cyclic Ilias Parva, Iliou Persis and the Nostoi. The use of Kassandra well illustrates the extent to which the Odyssey selects and modifies other mythical traditions to fit its concerns. First, I will draw on mythographic traditions (e.g. Apollodorus Epit. 5.22–23; Proclus 261–265) to provide a basic fabula (cf. Burgess 2009) for Kassandra in early Greek myth and ritual (especially in Lakonia). In Homer Kassandra is a potential bride (Il. 13.361–369; cf. Pausanias 10.27.1–2; Benarbé Il. Parvae 15; Alcimadas, fr. 16.72–77) and Clytemnestra’s victim (Od. 11.421–422). She is known for her beauty; her prophetic power and its origins are suppressed. After outlining Kassandra’s contrasting portrayal in our extant epics and our evidence from the Nostoi, I will explore multiple explanations for her treatment in Homer, including cultural perspectives on sexual violence, gendered authors and audiences (cf. Felson-Rubin 1994; Doherty 1995) and the compositional concerns of the Odyssey.

It is not the case that Homer does not know about the rape of Kassandra as implied by Strabo (13.140); instead, the suppression of the rape and Kassandra’s limited characterization are features of the Odyssey’s selective depiction of female characters. Kassandra’s external associations as a victim of sacrilege, a serial resister of marriage (cf. the Byzantine etymology of her Spartan name Alexandra as “one who avoids men”), and a captive bride of a returning hero make her a poor fit for the positive and negative patterning of females in the Odyssey. The epic’s focus on Ajax’s hubris in angering Poseidon with a boast (Od. 4.499–511) aligns his narrative to its characterization of Odysseus (especially in book 9), and the suppression of Ajax’s sacrilege and its generalization to the other Achaeans similarly establishes a parallel between Athena’s rage at the homecoming Achaeans and the punishment of Odysseus’ companions and the suitors for their atasthalia (Cf. Eusth. ad Od 1.117.19; Cook 1995; Bakker 2013).

Session/Panel Title

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

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