Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.12.04

Douglas Frame, Hippota Nestor. Hellenic Studies 37.   Washington, DC:  Center for Hellenic Studies, Trustees for Harvard University, 2009.  Pp. x, 912.  ISBN 9780674032903.  $34.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Andrew E. Porter, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (

[Table of Contents listed at the end of the review.]

There is something humorous about the garrulous Nestor of Homeric epic as the subject of a 900-page book. In the traditional view, Nestor represents the exemplary wise elder, a foil for youthful impetuousness.1 Nestor’s history and role receive a new and radical twist in Douglas Frame’s reading, however. In Hippota Nestor, Frame makes his case that Nestor’s significance in the epics must be interpreted against the backdrop of the Vedic twins Nasatya and Asvina of the Indic epic tradition. One of the twins, Nasatya, is immortal, and brings Asvina back to life, afterward agreeing to share in his brother’s mortality and to give him part of his own immortality.2 In Frame’s view, Nestor is also a twin, playing the role of Nasatya, the hero who keeps others from dying. Frame is not simply suggesting that Nestor has a possible Indo-European prototype. Rather, Frame maintains that the Homeric poets themselves were conscious of a traditional conception of Nestor as a savior-twin, when they composed the epics.

Frame contends, moreover, that Nestor failed to live up to this role, having failed to save his own twin brother Periklymenos and to bring Odysseus home following their disagreement at Tenedos. Nestor thereby failed to live up to his name, which Frame conjectures to be derived from a now lost form of a verb meaning “he who brings home”. He believes that some parts of the Iliad and the whole of the Odyssey were constructed around Nestor’s failures, because the poets were vitally aware of them. Frame contends, for example, that the Odyssey poet created the Phaeacians and introduced Athena as surrogate saviors of Odysseus in the recalcitrant Nestor’s stead.

The book is divided into five parts and fourteen chapters. Part 1 outlines the Vedic parallels. Frame derives Nestor’s name and the name of Nestor’s alleged Indic counterpart, Nasatya, from a common root meaning “to save”. He suggests that “Nestor” comes not from intransitive νέομαι, “return”, but from transitive [so causative] νέω, “bring back” (evolved, so he contends, from an earlier meaning, “he who brings back to life”).3

Part 2 outlines Nestor’s Homeric role. Nestor, in Frame’s reconstruction, is a “cattleman twin” taking the place of his brother Periklymenos, a “horseman twin”, who died (the poet does not say how). Initially, after his brother’s death, the youthful Nestor lost a chariot race against another set of twins, the Aktione at Bouprasion (see Nestor’s vignette, Il. 23.638-42). Frame claims that he lost because he was solitary and had not yet “learned to replace” his twin. Only later, in his battle with the Epeians (Il. 11.747-52), would he learn restraint and thus gain his twin brother’s epithet, “hippota” (“horseman”). As “cattleman” and “horseman”, Nestor wore two hats (or better yet, two Stetsons).

Frame further argues in part 2 that, just as Nestor, “he who brings home”, ironically did not actually save his own brother, even so he did not save Odysseus by bringing him home. By contrast, the good rapport between Telemachos and Peisistratos “heals the earlier breach” of their fathers. Although Nestor is nowhere to be seen in Od. 11, Frame posits that in fact Odysseus’ trip to the underworld brings him “face to face with Nestor’s myth”, since “Nestor did not bring Odysseus home” in the first place. The Phaeacians, by contrast, did bring Odysseus home. Frame thus sees Alcinous as a “counter-Nestor”, and contends that the Phaeacians “had no independent existence of their own”, but “were created by the Odyssey [sic]” to establish a parallel for Nestor. Frame sees an initial “tension” and “anger” in the Phaeacian episode between Odysseus and Alcinous and believes that the poet has constructed the whole episode to allude to the earlier disagreement between Odysseus and Nestor at Tenedos.

Part 3 concerns Athens and the changes that Frame reconstructs to support his thesis that Nestor is replaced in the Odyssey in his role as homebringer, by Alcinous and Athena, in whom Frame sees correspondances with Athenian cultic representations and functions. Thus, Arete (but also Nausicaa) and Alcinous parallel Athena and Erechtheus. From the point of view of the Odyssey’s plot, Frame argues that, just as Alcinous is a “second Nestor”, Arete, but also Nausicaa, are actually parallels for Athena, the divine agent assisting Odysseus in his nostos. Arete and Athena can never appear together, because Arete is, Frame believes, Athena Polias of Athens’ historical cult. Thus when Odysseus grasped Arete’s knees, he was really grasping Athena’s. Frame supports his hypothesis by suggesting that in early Athenian cult, Athena was connected to Erechtheus in marriage, before Erechtheus was made into “a solitary hero”. The original statue of Athena, so Frame speculates, was a sitting, spinning, married goddess. On the other hand, Nausicaa corresponds to the later Athena, the panhellenic virgin warrior goddess, who exchanged the distaff for the spear. In this way Frame posits two Athenas in the Odyssey, one from earlier and one from later Athenian cult.

A problem for Frame’s whole argument is the fact that the Homeric poets do not anywhere say that Nestor is a twin. In part 4, suitably entitled “Ionia”, Frame attempts to address this dilemma by providing an early Ionian historical reason for the extra siblings the poets do mention (Il. 11.692, Od. 11.285-86). Frame argues that the extra eleven siblings in the Iliad originated with an oral poet at the festival of the Panionia under the direct influence of the Ionian dodecapolis (the extra sibling in the Odyssey was an off the cuff addition by the poet). The Phaeacians, moreover, are “the Ionians of the dodecapolis”. Somehow a “great poet” in the vicinity of Miletus, working with other late eighth century aoidoi, crafted and molded the poems orally, influencing and controlling their form. The poems were then carried abroad by rhapsodes in the seventh century, who “simply heard them…and remembered what they heard”. The poems’ memorialization in writing (not needed, Frame argues, for molding and controlling the text) did not occur until the next century in Athens, at the Panathenaia.

Part 5 concerns Pylos and presents the author’s arguments for later Athenian redaction of the epics. Following Cantieni’s critique of Il. 7.222-36,4 Frame relocates Homer’s Pylos by removing references to the Alpheios river.5 The H. H. to Pyth. Apollo supports a different (Eleian) location for Pylos. This, Frame argues, would not be possible if Il. 7 had existed and, so had already settled the question. Frame concludes that Il. 11 was expanded during the Peloponnesian War, after 420 BC, by the enigmatic Alcibiades. Frame pictures him as a capable poet (although we only have one possibly authentic couplet), who expanded Nestor’s story using a borrowed text of Homer from a school teacher in Elis, as he awaited safe conduct. Alcibiades is even said to have embedded an ingratiating reference to his potential benefactor Endios as a pun in Il. 11.726.

The remaining space allows me to critique only the leading premises. If Frame’s etymology for Nestor’s name is correct (and I am not convinced that it is) and there was in fact an active, transitive [and causative] form νέω, it remains difficult to believe that the Homeric poets knew this, since the philological evidence is thin. It would perhaps have been more convincing if Frame had demonstrated multiple instances where Nestor undeniably lived up to this etymology for his name to contrast with when he did not. Effective irony needs normative contrasting examples.6

Consideration of the Vedic comparanda reveals an essential weakness. Frame never actually claims that Nestor brings anyone back to life as does the Vedic counterpart. For Frame it is sufficient that Nestor keeps people from death in some way, even metaphorically. For instance, he argues (p.106) that “When Nestor carries out his cattle raid, he brings his people back from virtual extinction” (italics mine). Frame reasons that in this raid Nestor somehow performs the role of “cattleman twin”. But why then does Nestor’s own story of the raid include not just cattle, but also sheep, pigs, goats, and horses, the last of which receive the most space (Il. 11.677-81).

The idea that Nestor is a twin raises difficulties with the text prima facie. Furthermore, while Frame links the twelve sons of Neleus with the Ionian dodecapolis, we must keep in mind that Homer has seventeen references to the number twelve, encompassing people, ships, days, youths, etc., scattered throughout the Iliad and Odyssey. Twelve may simply reflect a proclivity of his tradition.

One wonders too about the initial “tension” and “anger” that Frame detects between Odysseus and Alcinous and employs as support for his principal thesis of Nestor as the (non-)home-bringer of Odysseus. The tensions in the Phaeacian episode, as far as I can tell, appear less directly related to Alcinous, less residue from the mythic past; rather, those who insult Odysseus seem cast in the familiar role of impetuous youth (contrasting the wise and experienced elder). The Odyssey poet, moreover, appears more interested in emphasizing the harmony that existed between Nestor and Odysseus during the Trojan War (Od. 3.126-29), rather than their subsequent dispute.

The author’s insistence that writing was not needed for molding and controlling the oral “text” in its Ionian setting is problematic, in view of the current consensus of how the aoidic tradition worked. How could an oral “text” be “controlled” in so teleological a manner, especially since Parry and Lord’s fieldwork showed that no two singers (or even the same singer) ever sang the “same” song in the same way twice.7

In Hippota Nestor, readers will find a valuable contribution regarding the prominent part other twins play in Homer’s epics.8 A significant Ionian setting for Homeric performance is explored, and Frame includes a detailed consideration of the important Panionic festival. What is not clear, however, is that the Homeric poets knew of or constructed their stories about Nestor with knowledge of the twin myth or a desire to emphasize Nestor’s failure to live up to his name.

I detected few editorial errors, and, while the footnotes and endnotes are somewhat prolix, they are interesting. The translations of Homeric lines are excellent, while the index offers a model that other works would do well to emulate, so also the supplementary maps and indices.


Acknowledgements, ix
Introduction, 1
Part 1: Nestor’s Indo-European Background
Chapter 1: The Problem, 9
Chapter 2: Greek, 23
Chapter 3: Vedic, 59
Endnotes, Part 1, 95
Part 2: Nestor’s Homeric Role
Chapter 4: Iliad 11, 105
Chapter 5: Iliad 23, 131
Chapter 6: Odyssey 3 and Iliad 8, 173
Chapter 7: Odyssey 11 and the Phaeacians, 227
Endnotes, Part 2, 331
Part 3: Athens
Chapter 8: Arete and Nausicaa, 341
Chapter 9: The City Goddess of Athens, 393
Endnotes, Part 3, 487
Part 4: Ionia
Chapter 10: The Panionic League, 515
Chapter 11: The Festival of the Panionia and the Homeric Poems, 551
Endnotes, Part 4, 621
Part 5: Pylos
Chapter 12: Iliad 11 and the Location of Homeric Pylos, 651
Chapter 13: The Homeric Hymn to Apollo and the Text of Iliad 11, 673
Chapter 14: The Text of Iliad 11 in the Fifth Century BC, 719
Endnotes, Part 5, 747
Conclusion, 781
Bibliography, 783
Plates, 828
Image Credits. 841
Maps, 842
Index of Sources, 849
Index of Subjects, 877


1.   For Nestor as a contrast to his own impetuous son’s recklessness, see Ahuvia Kahane (2005) Diachronic Dialogues: Authority and Continuity in Homer and the Homeric Tradition, Lanham, p.114. On Nestor’s wisdom opposed to rash action, see Il. 1.254-84; as a contrast to panic, see Od. 24.54.
2.   It would have been helpful for Frame to have included a clearer summary of his own views of the Vedic myths themselves, without immediate comparison with Greek examples, for those of us less knowledgeable of these central Indic stories (which are themselves subjects of academic controversy, as Frame’s own discussion illustrates).
3.   Chantraine (1974) Dictionnaire Étymologique de la Langue Grecque, pp. 744-45, affirms the probable common origins of neomai, nostos, and Nestor, meaning “return home”, but a causative sense is only firmly attested in certain cognate languages.
4.   Cantieni (1942) Die Nestorerzählung im XI. Gesang der Ilias, V.670-762, Zurich.
5.   Frame asserts the Homeric poets’ concern with geographical accuracy and uses this as a basis for part of what he argues. This assumption is problematic for Homer generally, but also for Pylos’ location. Cf. the comments of Stephanie West in Heubeck, West, and Hainsworth (1998) A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey, I., p. 159.
6.   Frame seems to limit this possibility somewhat on p. 189, suggesting that only in bringing home Diomedes did he “truly act out his name”.
7.   The final chapters are rather speculative in nature.
8.  Alternatively, some of Frame’s twins could be seen as doublets. Cf. Fenik (1974) Studies in the Odyssey, Wiesbaden.

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