This paper explores some aspects of the complex narrative strategies employed by Odysseus in his lying tale to Eumaios (Odyssey 14.192-359). Odysseus' fictional autobiography is an ethical parable, designed to commend and validate the very principles of hospitality that Eumaios most cherishes. In the tale, Zeus, god of guests, punishes those who violate hospitality and protects those who depend upon it, bringing the beggar ultimately to the worthy swineherd. In adopting the persona of the wandering immigrant or outsider (metanastês), Odysseus makes use of a conventional persona found, most significantly, in the "wisdom poetry" of Hesiod. He thereby displays mastery of a traditional mode of poetic narrative. Odysseus also makes the Cretan wanderer a hero of the Trojan War and devotes a considerable portion of his narrative to describing the beggar's "Iliadic" past. His portrait of the Cretan hero draws particularly upon the model of Achilles (and, to a lesser extent, Ajax) but is in fact a one-dimensional version of the standard Iliadic hero. Thus, in his account of the beggar's adventures, Odysseus directs a subtle critique at his Iliadic counterpart by setting up an implicit contrast between the Cretan's helplessness (amechaniê) and Odysseus' own resourcefulness. Here, too, Odysseus displays a mastery of poetic traditions, inasmuch as his narrative is informed by the traditional, epic antithesis between might (biê) and intelligence (mêtis). These conclusions help to explain two incidents in Book 14 in which Odysseus' behavior is a bit puzzling. Both Odysseus' reaction to the charge of Eumaios' guard dogs and his clumsy attempt to compose an ainos provide concrete illustrations of the "helplessness" of the Cretan beggar. Odysseus acts out the very role that he so masterfully portrays in his tale.
- Copyright 1999 The Regents of the University of California