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A Question of Memory: Who and Whose are You?

Justin Arft

University of Tennessee

The conventional interrogation τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; (who, and from where, are you among men?) is best known for its use in the Odyssey to ask an unknown stranger their identity. It is so enmeshed in the hospitality scene that it is easy to assume it represents a conventional manner for interrogating a stranger in Greek literature. Closer attention to its patterned use in the Odyssey, however, reveals not only that this interrogation connotes more than it denotes (Arft, Webber), but also that it bears an Indo-European heritage (Schmitt, Floyd), the root formation of which is simply “who and whose?” Within Greek sources τίς πόθεν and τίς τίνος become equivalent variations on an essential idea, and together they recur most often not in epic hospitality scenes but in funerary contexts, on a range of epitaphs and especially on the Orphic lamellae. Given this wider context, this paper argues that the Iliad, Odyssey, and Orphic tradition each receive a traditional connotation from the “who and whose” interrogation and employ it as a basis for asserting kleos, meaning more essentially “on what basis should you be remembered?”

Muellner has noted that the Iliad and Odyssey’s use of this type of interrogation represents a “piece of Indo-European poetic conversation, a question and its answer,” citing the encounter between Glaucus and Diomedes as paradigmatic of both the question (Il. 6.123, τίς δὲ σύ ἐσσι φέριστε,…; “who are you, bravest one…?”) and its answer that stresses genetic lineage as a basis for one’s heroic kleos. Moreover, τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; occurs only once in the Iliad when Achilles confronts Asteropaeus (21.150), and its presentation as a challenge question is similar to Arete’s interrogation of Odysseus in Odyssey 7 (Minchin). In each of these cases, the context of challenge or testing by an agent in power is present, and Tzifopoulos has suggested a connection to the Orphic lamellae’s interrogation on this thematic basis.

The question τίς δ’ ἐσσί; πῶ δ’ ἐσσί; (who are you? whose are you?) appears with minimal variation on eight of the Cretan (B group) Orphic lamellae (4th-1st c. BCE) and represents the question issued by the guardians of the underworld to the newly deceased soul. When asked, the soul is to assert a cosmic rather than genetic lineage, claiming they are “a child of earth and starry heaven,” thus establishing their basis for permanent memory. Janko, following Zuntz, has suggested that this Doric, unmetrical interrogation is a corruption of a hexametrical original. However, its non-Homeric aspects can easily be explained by the lamellae’s use of “rhythmical prose,” a style consistent with its ritual poetic context and a possible sign of its generic fit with an older, Indo-European style of strophic poetry (Tzifopoulos, Watkins). It can thus be further suggested that the formulation “who and whose?” is received in both Orphic and Homeric tradition alike, with its differences in use being a result of generic, thematic, and performance contexts.

The Odyssey’s use of τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; typically and counterintuitively yields a lying tale from Odysseus, but it also more exclusively corresponds to critical allies and recognizers of Odysseus, thereby signaling the process by which Odysseus achieves kleos via nostos in the face of several tests and challenges (Arft). So, the question signals the idea of “basis for kleos” across the complex system of recognition in the epic, and the answer is realized as the epic performed. The interrogation’s association with underworld or supplication traditions tradition may also in part explain problematic elements of Arete’s initial interrogation of Odysseus as well, bringing her into the orbit of an underworld figure (Herrero, Edmonds).

Overall, these correspondences raise important questions about the directionality of influences among the Iliad, Odyssey, and Orphic lamellae and suggest that despite their relative chronology as texts, they still engage in a complex reception of inherited tradition.

Session/Panel Title

Homer and Hesiod

Session/Paper Number

92.2

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