Odysseus – not much of a looker

Despite being a hero and managing to father at least fourteen children (see http://sententiaeantiquae.com/2014/10/27/odysseus-children-fourteen-and-counting/), Odysseus does not seem to be that good looking. For a start he is quite short and to Priam he looks like a sheep (OK the comparison to a ram does not actually refer to his looks but his control over his flock).

δεύτερον αὖτ᾽ Ὀδυσῆα ἰδὼν ἐρέειν᾽ ὁ γεραιός:
‘εἴπ᾽ ἄγε μοι καὶ τόνδε φίλον τέκος ὅς τις ὅδ᾽ ἐστί:
μείων μὲν κεφαλῇ Ἀγαμέμνονος Ἀτρεΐδαο,
εὐρύτερος δ᾽ ὤμοισιν ἰδὲ στέρνοισιν ἰδέσθαι.
τεύχεα μέν οἱ κεῖται ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ,
αὐτὸς δὲ κτίλος ὣς ἐπιπωλεῖται στίχας ἀνδρῶν:
ἀρνειῷ μιν ἔγωγε ἐΐσκω πηγεσιμάλλῳ,
ὅς τ᾽ οἰῶν μέγα πῶϋ διέρχεται ἀργεννάων.

Iliad 3.191

Secondly the old man seeing Odysseus asked “Tell me, dear child (Helen), who is that man? He is shorter by a head than Agamemnon the son of Atreus but broader in his shoulders and chest to look at. His arms lie on the fertile ground but he goes up and down the ranks of men like a ram. I liken him to a fleecy sheep who goes through a great flock of white ewes”.

Worse than this he seems to have quite a large posterior as this cup in the Ashmolean museum shows. Here he is being blown by the North wind on a raft of amphorae. I am not sure where the raft of amphorae comes from. Does this relate to a lost story or is it a comic take on his misfortunes with the winds of Aeolus.


Thebes circa 400BC

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4 Responses to Odysseus – not much of a looker

  1. Odysseus, apparently, was really popular as a figure to satirize (check out Euripides satyr-play, Cyclops). I can think of a half-dozen satirical imagines off the top of my head.

    Socrates was also not good looking…


    • platosparks says:

      I read the Cyclops years ago and need to reread it. The picture on the cup shows that Odysseus had the wedding tackle to father many children.


      • palaiophron says:

        The Cyclops is one of the greatest pieces of extant Greek literature, a real “must re-read!”

        I find it hard enough to keep track of the various extant literary accounts of mythic figures; the multiplicity (and sometimes, inherent inscrutability) of ancient artistic narratives makes the task that much harder!

        Probably, the amphorae just represent the easiest-to-paint-and-recognize portion of the raft’s wreckage. I think that this represents the wreck which O. suffers by himself after leaving Kalypso’s island, and before arriving on the island of the Phaiakians. Kalypso gave him amphorae of wine as he left. After Poseidon called all of the winds to destroy Odysseus’ raft, Athena silenced the other three winds and ordered Boreas alone to blow so that Odysseus could reach the Phaiakians:

        αὐτὰρ ᾿Αθηναίη, κούρη Διός, ἄλλ’ ἐνόησεν•
        ἦ τοι τῶν ἄλλων ἀνέμων κατέδησε κελεύθους,
        παύσασθαι δ’ ἐκέλευσε καὶ εὐνηθῆναι ἅπαντας•
        ὦρσε δ’ ἐπὶ κραιπνὸν βορέην, πρὸ δὲ κύματ’ ἔαξεν,
        εἷος ὃ Φαιήκεσσι φιληρέτμοισι μιγείη
        διογενὴς ᾿Οδυσεύς, θάνατον καὶ κῆρας ἀλύξας.
        -Odyssey 5.382-7


      • platosparks says:

        You must be right – and to those who looked at the vase all those years ago, this must have been the event would have been suggested.


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