4 Feb 2019
Odysseus’ wanderings through the landscape of ancient Greek myth are more than just a rehashing of the tale of Jason and the Argonauts. Homer uses themes from The Argonautica to anchor Odysseus’ tale within the cannon of Greek myth. Repeating themes from the stories that people are already familiar with signals to his audience that the story that he is telling is of just much importance as the story from which he is borrowing. Therefore, borrowing themes from The Argonautica signals the audience to pay attention as the story they are about to hear is loaded with important lessons that will help them to become better citizens.
Homer’s allusion to the clashing rocks from The Argonautica comes shortly on the heels of Odysseus’ trip to Hades where he performs ritual sacrifice to Persephone and the ghosts of the underworld in order to speak to Tiresias (Homer 11.30-41 and 12.69-72.) This ritual is described by Circe in chapter 10 and then repeated by Odysseus in chapter 11 (Homer 10.569-576 and 11.30-41.) According to Jennifer Clavore’s “Poetry and Repetition,” Odysseus’ instruction of how to do the ritual and then his following through with the ritual in strict obedience to the instruction signals the cultural importance of the ritual (Clavore 31.) Therefore, the circumstances of The Argonautica being repeated within the text of The Odyssey signals with their repetition that the themes are of great cultural importance. The long list of ghosts that Odysseus spoke with also helped to anchor the tale of The Odyssey into the myths of the ancient Greeks as Odysseus spoke with many of the notables of Greek myth such as Heracles’ mother (Homer 11.302-303,) Oedipus’ mother (Homer 11.307,) and Ariadne, the daughter of Minos (Homer 11.364-365.)
According to M. L. West, the most apparent borrowing that Homer takes from The Argonautica comes from the section of The Odyssey that deals with the clashing rocks (West 39.) While the clashing rocks are mentioned, Odysseus is instructed to take a different rout avoiding the dangers as he does not have the magical ship the Argo or the protection of Hera (Homer 12.73, 76-80.) Therefore, Odysseus does exist within the same mythic construction of the ancient world but he is only following the same rout taken by a predecessor and not claiming Jason’s exploits as his own. In fact, Circe even says, “One ship alone, one deep-sea craft sailed clear, the Argo, sung by the world, when heading home from Aeetes” (Homer 12.73-75.) Circe even admits that the story of the Argo had been “sung by the world.” Therefore, she is stating that the exploits of Jason and his crew are general knowledge of everyone who is hearing Odysseus, and she is inviting Odysseus to learn the lessons taught in myth the way that the audience of The Odyssey is expected to learn from it. So if The Argonautica is actually known by the world, the way that Circe claims it is, Jason’s exploits are in the public domain and the typical rules of copyright and attribution of the intellectual property of others do not apply.
Somewhat off topic, Odysseus’s descent into the underworld reminded me quite a bit of Aragorn’s time with the ghosts in Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s ghosts could not rest until they had redeemed themselves for the pact that they had broken with their king and they obey Aragorn because he is of the royal line, and Homer’s ghosts come at the behest of Odysseus both because he had made a sacrifice to them and because he had the favor of Circe and Athena.
Clarvoe, Jennifer. “Poetry and Repetition.” Antioch Review, vol. 67, no. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 30–41. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=36066764&login.asp?custid=magn1307&site=lrc-live&scope=site&custid=magn1307.
Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.
West, M.L. “‘Odyssey’ and ‘Argonautica.'” The Classical Quarterly 55.1 (May 2005): 39-64.