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Reassessing the Evidence for Zenodotus’ “Cretan Odyssey”

Bill Beck

University of Pennsylvania

Once the subject of tentative speculation, the notion that a Cretan Odyssey—a version of the Odyssey in which Odysseus and Telemachus venture to Crete—was in circulation at least as early as the Hellenistic period has gained increasingly wide acceptance (S. West, Reece, Danek, M.L. West, Burkert, Griffin, Nagy, Martin, Tsagalis, Levaniouk, Arft). This paper aims to challenge the argument for a Cretan Odyssey by demonstrating that the only concrete evidence cited in support of its existence (Σ Od. MaO 1.93a and Σ HMa Od. 3.313a) has consistently been misinterpreted, primarily because its context has been ignored. By restoring the textual variants to their contexts and adducing the evidence of scholia (e.g., Σ HMa Od. 2.359b and Σ HP1 Od. 4.702c) and other testimonia, I offer a new interpretation of these “strangest and most significant of all Zenodotean variants” (West).

When Stephanie West speculated, on the basis of two variant readings preserved by two mutually-reinforcing scholia, that an earlier design of the Odyssey narrated Telemachus’ visit to Idomeneus in Crete rather than to Menelaus in Sparta, she noted that no one since Römer (1886) had attempted to account for Zenodotus’ extraordinary readings. Unpersuaded by his improbable explanation and unable to offer a better solution, she concluded that these variants cannot have been Zenodotean conjectures; rather, they must have been “reasonably well attested, either by several MSS. or by one to which he [Zenodotus] attached considerable authority.” For West, these readings are simply too “strange” and too “obviously in contradiction with the main narrative” to be explained in any other way (173). Though many scholars have accepted and expanded upon West’s speculation, none has reconsidered the evidence on which it is based. Indeed, no one since West (1981) has even quoted in full the scholia which preserve these variants; only the variants themselves have been considered, devoid of their original contexts. As a result, the observation which West made thirty-seven years ago still holds true today: no one since Römer (1886) has attempted to account for Zenodotus’ extraordinary readings.

In this paper, I reassess the evidence, and offer a new explanation for Zenodotus’ conjectures. I argue that there is no external evidence for a Cretan Odyssey, which ought to cast serious doubt on the widespread belief that such a version of the Odyssey ever existed. In particular, I attempt to elucidate Σ HMa Od. 3.313a and its connection with the Homeric passage in question. First, I demonstrate the crucial but overlooked fact that these Zenodotean variants do not imply that Telemachus actually ever went to Crete. Rather, they suggest that Athena had advised him to go to Crete in Book 1 (1.93, 1.285), but that Nestor later dissuaded him from doing so, directing him to Menelaus in Sparta instead (3.313ff.). Eustathius, drawing on a common source of our scholia, makes this explicit: “Nestor dissuades him [Telemachus] from making that voyage [to Crete], but he particularly encourages him to visit Menelaus” (Eustath. Od. p.1470.7-14).

Second, I argue that there is no compelling reason to believe that Zenodotus had manuscript evidence for these variants. To the contrary, there is no reason to doubt Aristonicus’ report that Zenodotus changed the received text (ἀνέπεισε Ζηνόδοτον…ποεῖν) in order to resolve an apparent contradiction with another Homeric passage (οὗτος ὁ τόπος), and that he did so not on the grounds of MSS. evidence (West), but on the basis of speculation (οἴεται) drawn from inference (κατὰ τὸ σιωπώμενον) and internal evidence (ἐκ τούτων τῶν λόγων). The corroborating evidence of other scholia and Eustathius makes this interpretation inescapable. And while it is wise to be cautious of the explanations which scholia and Eustathius offer for Zenodotus’ readings, they cannot be disregarded before being considered. I close with a consideration of possible motivations Zenodotus may have had for choosing Crete, in particular.

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Homer and Hesiod

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