Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.04.18

Response: Olson on Katz on Olson on Katz (Schluss)

Given the nature of her attack on me, I feel I must make some reply to Marilyn Katz's remarks on my review of Penelope's Renown (BMCR 3.2 [1992] 164-7).

K devotes most of the first two pages of her response to a discussion of my article, "The Stories of Agamemnon in Homer's Odyssey," TAPA 120, insisting that my criticisms had a cunning secret agenda, which was to discredit her work, since I found it threatening to my own. Despite her repeated insinuations to the contrary, my article restricts itself almost entirely to Odyssey I-IV, XI and XXIV, and has very little to say about the second half of the poem, where she concentrates her attention. I have also followed standard academic practice by footnoting the piece early on in my review. I have thus hid nothing and have nothing to hide. I turn now to K's specific comments, restricting myself, wherever possible, simply to matters of fact.

Despite K's insistence to the contrary, it is not at all apparent that in the Odyssey an unsuccessful homecoming destroys KLE/OS; cf. (e.g.,) I.281-92, where the obvious implication of Athena's advice is that the KLE/OS Telemachos gets of Odysseus may well be that he is dead. Second, if, at the time she wrote her book, K really had worked out an eccentric grammatical theory, designed to justify her peculiar willingness to take KE ... A)LU/CEI at XVII.547 as equivalent to a simple future indicative, one would have expected her to argue her case there. She does not and her response to my criticism consists solely of blustering and the citation of irrelevant references. The point remains a simple one: KE changes the meaning of a future indicative radically, so that Penelope's remarks about the return of her husband cannot possibly be taken as a confident assertion about the future.1 Finally, as for my alleged misrepresentation of her on Penelope's unwillingness to descend into the greathall before Odysseus' return, K says in her book (p. 138), in connection with the interview scene in Book XIX, that "so long as Penelope was fixed in her attitude of sorrowful longing for Odysseus' return, she remained in her room upstairs, except when situations that could be construed as emergencies called her forth."2 As I pointed out, this is contradicted by Penelope's two appearances in the lower portion of the house at the beginning of Book XVII, neither of which can be regarded as an "emergency," unless the word is expanded so far as to lose all meaning.

I now turn to the infamous "ten points."

1) At the bottom of p.23 (as opposed to the top, from which she draws the quote she offers in her response), she refers specifically to "the association between kleos and dolos that Odysseus makes in his boast to the Cyclops." Odysseus says nothing of the sort to the Cyclops (as I pointed out in my review), and K is patently referring to IX.19-20, which she quotes and discusses in the previous paragraph, but which is spoken not in the monster's cave (as she mistakenly asserts) but in the Phaeacian court.

2) Despite her insistence to the contrary, on p. 25 K first refers to the Assembly in Book II and then says "there are allusions to other public assemblies in the poem (17.52, 72; 20.146), but none is represented," thus ignoring the Assembly in Book XXIV. The "other public assemblies" in Books XVII and XX to which she refers in the sentence quoted above all involve trips Telemachos makes to the Ithacan agora, where the local male population tends to congregate; her assertion that "the context shows I was referring to assemblies of the Suitors" is thus untrue.

3 and 4) K's apparent conviction that in Books I and II Telemachos is in control of his house and that the Suitors are accordingly there at his sufferance is too misguided to require extensive refutation; I note only that both he and Penelope say they are imposed upon because there is no man in the house capable of driving their enemies out (II.59-60; XVII.537-8). K's insistence that the Suitors' initial ambush is intended only "to teach [Telemachos] a lesson" (apparently by roughing him up a bit and then letting him go) is also specifically contradicted by the text; as everyone within the Odyssey is aware, the Suitors' intention from the very first is to kill him (esp. IV.700-1; V.18-9).

5) K concedes she is wrong in saying II.313 is spoken in the Assembly.

6) In her book, K says specifically (p. 131 n. 19) that E)REQI/ZW "denotes provoking someone to a statement or to behavior that is self-revelatory," but now insists she is following Russo, who (along with me) regards the usage as odd and exceptional. She cannot have it both ways.

7) As regards the meaning of GO/OS / GOA/W and thus the significance of GOO/WSAN in XIX.210, K's argument (p. 141) requires that the words always carry the implication of mourning for the dead. If they do not (as I insisted, and she now admits), her reading of the import of the vocabulary Homer uses ("at this point, then, Penelope abandons hope of Odysseus' return") collapses.

8) On p. 151, K refers to Penelope's offer to the Stranger of a guest-gift, "which otherwise the kyrios of the household presents to his xeinos." The obvious implication is that Penelope is the only woman in the poem who gives such gifts, since "otherwise" the master does. In her response to my observation that Helen offers a very similar present to Telemachos in Book XV, however, K drops this crucial word and replaces it with "typically." To argue that Helen's gift to Telemachos is not a CEINH/ION "in the technical sense," incidentally, is to play word-games in order to eliminate recalcitrant evidence; to maintain that Penelope's gifts to the Stranger are intended to establish (or even "instantiate") "an inheritable relationship" between his house and hers, on the other hand, is to misunderstand the old man's social status and temporary position completely (esp. XXI.314-9).

9) K provides no argument for rejecting my parallel.

10) Nothing in the text of the Iliad supports K's belief that Paris constructed his bedchamber at the time of his marriage to Helen. As a consequence, it is difficult to see why comparison with Odysseus' bed(room) (never said to have been built specifically for Penelope) is either "plausible" or "suggestive."

As should by now be clear, my original criticisms of Penelope's Renown were driven by what seemed to me K's consistent willingness to misconstrue or ignore the primary text for her own ends. Similar tendencies are apparent in the arguments I have critiqued above.


  • [1] Il. IV.169-82, which K cites to defend her translation, in fact supports my interpretation rather than her own. KE ... E)RE/EI (176) is placed in precise parallel to KEN ... I(KOI/MHN (171) and KEN ... LI/POIMEN (173), and is not to be taken either as a simple future or as the sort of confident assertion of fact that Katz's (mis)reading of XVII.547 requires.
  • [2] K cites as examples of such "emergencies" Phemios' song in Book I and the Suitors' discussion of murdering Telemachos in Book XVI. The first can scarcely be classed as an "emergency" in any normal sense of the word, while Penelope's failure to descend into the greathall in Book IV, when the Suitors' plans to assassinate Telemachos are much more immediate, shows that Katz's analysis of the action in XVI is inadequate.

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