Sunday, December 4, 2011

Homeric Epithets

Athena was constantly referred to as
"Gray-eyed Athena" in the Odyssey.
The Odyssey is full of epithets. Homer was so well known for his use of epithets that a whole new category of these was made under his name. Familiar Homeric epithets you may recognize would be "Rosy-fingered Dawn," "Menelaus, lord of the warcry," or "Gray-eyed Athena." At first glance, the purpose of adding these descriptive words to one's name seems to simply be for extra detail. But why would this extra detail need to be repeated the exact same way throughout an entire epic? Homeric epithets serve as much more than descriptive words. One reason Homer used epithets was to help the Odyssey and his other works  fit the meter that poets use when writing poetry. Epithets could be added to names to fill out the meter when necessary. However, their most important job was as a mnemonic device. Mnemonic devices are things we use to help memorize pieces of information. We must remember that the Odyssey was originally told through oral tradition.  As a listener, hearing epithets while being told an epic like the Odyssey would aid you in remembering that character. From book to book of the epic, hearing "Gray-eyed Athena" every time she was mentioned would bring back information you heard about her earlier. Now if Homer had already decided that he would be using these epithets over and over again, which ones would he want to use for each character? The epithets he used could tell you about the individual's appearance, their character, their role, or even their heritage (i.e. "Odysseus, son of Laertes"). 

In a comment, come up with an epithet for your own name and elaborate on how it relates to you and why you chose it. Then describe the experience you had with Homeric epithets while reading the Odyssey. Did they help you remember certain characters/certain things about characters? Why or why not? 


  1. My epithet would be Walky Talky. It is a handheld communication device for most people, but for me it is a succinct description of my entire personality. My grandpa gave me the name as a little girl when I never seemed to stop talking. On many occasions I have walked into poles and columns, because I was talking to the person next to me and could not see where I was going. My dad has even admitted to me that sometimes he tunes me out, because he's so exhausted from my unrelenting stream of nonsense. It's a genetic trait I inherited from my grandfather who is a law professor and has mastered the task of making people wish they were anywhere but listening to a thirty minute explanation of something quite simple. For example, when you ask him for direction he will give you the history of every building, lamp post, and street in between you and your destination. I'm not that bad, but I am aware of the fact that I learn completely useless facts without effort that I can babble on demand, but I can't remember what this blog response was supposed to be about... Oh yeah! Epithets! Well, I thought that the epithets were like friendly little reminders about what was going on and how to tie the story together. Whenever I saw one I remembered everywhere else I had seen them, and it helped keep the story straight in my head. I remember Athena the Grey-Eyed Goddess the most, because I really like that amid all the Greek patriarchy that the men still feared some goddesses. It made me laugh when they were so afraid.

  2. If I were to come up with an epithet for me, I guess I'd be Arcane Gina. For those of you who don't know, the word 'arcane' means 'understood by very few; obscure; mysterious'. In light of this, I believe that this adjective is very fitting for the person that I am. After all, anyone who has ever met me will openly tell you that I am an obscure person, and very few (if any) of the people that know me really... 'know me' you know? As in, they know me, they talk to me, they joke with me, they know my political views on everything, but they still don't really know who I am, who I've been. Maybe I don't know that either. As for the Homeric Epithets in the Odyssey, I don't feel as though they helped me because I was already so familiar with the characters that I already knew what their epithet's told the readers. However, I feel as though if this were the first time hearing the story and knew little to nothing about Greek mythology, all the epithets would have helped me greatly in remembering characters and their characteristics. However, previous studying of Greek mythology and the Odyssey made me recognize the fact that Athena had grey eyes, that Dawn's fingers were rosy etc. It was rather fun though, I'll give Homer that. It was entertaining to remember all the epithets, and nice to know what the characters are remembered for.

  3. Mine would probably something like Tareck the Observer. I was never a talkative person and I chose to watch from the sidelines and see how people would react to certain provocations, how people would act when they are nervous, and so on. I would always observe others because I wouldn't know what to say so I chose to just watch them. The Observer is also, what a character in my favorite show, Fringe, is called. They do the same thing as me; they sit at the sidelines, waiting until they need to do a certain action to make things end up with the result they want. My experience was that I gained the ability to recognize who they were and make connections to what else they have done, or whom they are faster. They do help me remember certain things about these people. For example, whenever they say the sun rose in the Odyssey, they say Rosy fingered Dawn caused it, which helped me to remember, who Dawn was after enough times. It even became second nature when reading the Odyssey to think of the next day whenever Dawn is mentioned