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THE WRATH OF POSEIDON

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2015

P. Murgatroyd
Affiliation:
McMaster University
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Extract

There is a major problem in connection with the wrath of Poseidon in Homer's Odyssey. We are told by Homer and Zeus (Od. 1.20-1, 1.68-75) that Poseidon raged continually against the hero from the time that the Cyclops was blinded until Odysseus reached Ithaca; and, when back on Ithaca the man complains to Athena about her absence and lack of help during the whole period of his wanderings after the fall of Troy, she says at 13.341-3 that she was avoiding confrontation with her angry uncle during all that time. But the only specified manifestation of that anger is the storm roused by the sea-god after Odysseus leaves Calypso in Book 5, in the tenth year after Polyphemus’ prayer to his father for revenge. It seems extraordinary that Poseidon should have waited so long before acting against him, and then have attacked him only once, merely causing him difficulty before he reached Scheria, and not (since it was fated for him to get home, and troubles there are already assured thanks to the suitors) ensuring his late return in a miserable plight on another's ship after losing all his companions, as his blinded son had requested (at 9.532-5).

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Classical Association 2015 

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References

1 On the absence of Poseidon's rage in Books 9-12 cf. A. Heubeck and A. Hoekstra, A Commentary on Homer's Odyssey Volume II Books IX-XVI (Oxford, 1989), 40.

2 Many critics have automatically accepted Odysseus’ words at face value as the truth (e.g. G.E. Dimock, The Unity of the Odyssey [Amherst, MA, 1989], 120). Others point out correctly that we should not take on trust the reliability of such a blinkered narrator: see esp. Rutherford, R.B., ‘The philosophy of the Odyssey ’, JHS 106 (1986), 153 CrossRefGoogle Scholar n. 43; Friedrich, R., ‘Thrinakia and Zeus’ ways to men in the Odyssey ’, GRBS 28 (1987), 387–9Google Scholar and C. Segal, Singers, Heroes and Gods in the Odyssey (Ithaca and London, 1994), 212–13.

3 B. Fenik, Studies in the Odyssey (Wiesbaden, 1974), 229–30 argues briefly but well for the operation of Poseidon in connection with Aeolia, and there are also vague glimmerings of this idea in E. Brann, Homeric Moments (Philadelphia, 2002), 191 and in J.V. Morrison, A Companion to Homer's Odyssey (Westport, CT, 2003), 98. P. Toohey, Reading Epic (London, 1992), 54 almost gets the point in Laestrygonia, when he says that the havoc that the Laestrygonians wreak on Odysseus’ men enacts Polyphemus’ revenge by proxy.

4 For gods causing sleep cf. e.g. 21.357-8.

5 For a god putting a notion into a human's mind cf. e.g. 21.1-4.

6 See 10.2, 10.21.

7 For this within a god's power see 9.142-3 and 10.141, and for Poseidon in particular driving ships ashore cf. 4.500 and 9.283-4.

8 But this may just be due to the sailors’ insubordination (so S.D. Olson, Blood and Iron [Leiden, 1995], 55).

9 The point is noted by e.g. P.V. Jones, Homer's Odyssey. A Companion to the Translation of Richmond Lattimore (Bristol, 1988), 90 and I. de Jong, A Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey (Cambridge, 2001), 254, but without further probing.

10 For themes see my main text and also S. Said, Homer & the Odyssey, trans. R. Webb (Oxford, 2011), 168-9. On diction see Heubeck-Hoekstra (n. 1), 49-50 (for 113 cf. 9.191-2; 115-6 = 9.289-91, 9.311 and 9.344; 118-19 = 9.401; 128-9 = 9.488-9; 133-4 = 9.565-6).

11 It may be significant that the Laestrygonian spring Artacia (10.108) has the same name as a spring visited by the Argonauts (Ap. Rhod. 1.957) on an island that had associations with Poseidon (the local Doliones were descended from and protected by Him: see Ap. Rhod. 1.951-2).

12 The link with Aeolia has been noted by scholars (e.g. de Jong [n. 9], 308 and B.B. Powell, Homer [Oxford, 2007], 177), but they have made nothing of it.

13 There may also be allusion to θρῖναξ (Poseidon's implement) in the name Thrinacia (so Jones [n. 9], 117 and Brann [n. 3], 211; contrast Heubeck-Hoekstra [n. 1], 133).

14 This theory also makes Poseidon's wrath significantly outweigh that of Helios, which should assuage the concerns of those critics who are uncomfortable with apparent parity in the importance of the ire of the two divinities (cf. e.g. W.J. Woodhouse, The Composition of Homer's Odyssey [Oxford, 1930], 29-40; Fenik [n. 3], 208-30; and D. Frame, The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic [New Haven, CT, and London, 1978], 37). It also adds thought-provoking complexity to the issue of whether Odysseus’ men here are just victims of malevolent deities or are rightly punished by gods in their role as guardians of justice (on which see Fenik [n. 3], 208-30; Friedrich [n. 2], 375-400; and Olson [n. 8], 205-23).

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