24 Oct 2016

Homer Effaced Palamedes To Heroize Word-Twisting Odysseus

: In the ancient Greek epic cycle, Palamedes was a culture hero. He invented writing and counting, systems of signalling across land and sea, important aspects of military organization, and leisure-time board games. A scholar observed:

The tradition of his {Palamedes’s} innocence and high-mindedness, combined with his inventive cleverness, made him a favourite character with {ancient Athenian} dramatists and rhetoricians of democratic or progressive sympathies [1]
Homer, however, excluded Palamedes from the Iliad and heroized the word-twisting Odysseus in the Odyssey. In literary history, the most vigorous response to Homer’s treatment of Palamedes came from the marginalized, twelfth-century Byzantine scholar John Tzetzes. Tzetzes work is vital for recovering the figure of Palamedes and broadening critical understanding of Homer and social justice.
Palamedes attempted to live as a man of integrity within dominant gynocentric ideology. When Helen and Paris illicitly fled from her husband to Troy, Palamedes supported the oath of Helen’s suitors to defend her husband’s marital rights.[2] Odysseus took a more critical position. He refused to engage in violence against men over issues centering on women. To avoid being impressed into the Trojan War, Odysseus pretended to be mentally deranged. He plowed his fields with an ox and a horse yoked together (symbolizing the folly of marriage) and sterilized his fields with salt (symbolizing social oppression of men’s sexuality). Palamedes, however, pretended to prepare to kill Odysseus’s son. Odysseus then intervened, revealing that he was actually mentally healthy and possessed a father’s deep love for his children. Palamedes thus foiled Odysseus’s attempt to avoid life-threatening military service.[3] In short, Palamedes acted against Odysseus in support of an oath made under gynocentrism.
Palamedes in many ways provided better leadership and counsel for the Greeks than Odysseus did. Interpreting a wolf attack more wisely than Odysseus did, Palamedes saved the Greek army from a devastating plague. Palamedes effectively managed the distribution of food when the Greek army was in short supply and beginning to quarrel among themselves about provisions. While Odysseus failed to procure additional corn for the army, Palamedes secured an abundant supply. Palamedes also invented the games of dice and checkers to avoid problems arising from soldiers’ idleness and to distract them from their hunger.[4]
Paralleling the tragedy of the Trojan War, a dispute over a woman helped Odysseus to have Palamedes killed. Achilles and Palamedes co-commanded a Greek army that sacked twenty-three cities allied with the Trojans. In ancient warfare, men tended to be killed, while women, who have long been considered more valuable than men, were taken captive. The Greeks had agreed to place captured women into a common pool of plundered wealth to be divided equitably among the Greek warriors. However, after sacking Briseis’s city of Lyrnissos and killing her husband, Achilles became impassioned for her. In violation of the Greek warriors’ sworn operational protocol, Achilles took Briseis for himself. That action generated outrage among the army. Exploiting that outrage, Odysseus falsely claimed that Palamedes was supporting Achilles’s bid for the rights of a king.[5]
Accounts of how Odysseus contrived to have Palamedes killed vary. The most plausible account involves socially constructed treason. Odysseus forced a Trojan prisoner to forge a letter from the Trojan king to Palamedes. The Trojan king described in the forged letter a large payment in gold to Palamedes for betraying the Greeks to the Trojans. Odysseus planted that forged letter and the gold reward in Palamedes’s tent. Odysseus also forged a conspiratorial reply letter from Palamedes. Odysseus then contrived to have the Trojan prisoner killed after being ordered to return to Troy. The forged letter from Palamedes to the Trojan king was discovered on the Trojan prisoner’s body. The Greek leaders believed Odysseus’s social construction of a capital crime. They ordered Palamedes to be executed for treason.
Palamedes as well as Achilles understood too late the underlying problem. Palamedes recognized that embracing the social construction of reality is a horrific substitute for seeking truth. Before being killed, Palamedes spoke only a single, telling sentence:

Farewell, glorious truth, for you have perished before me. [6]
When Achilles learned that Palamedes had been executed on a fabricated charge of treason, he grieved deeply. The grave injustice against Palamedes was commonly recognized to have resulted from Achilles’s betrayal of his fellow Greek men in favor of the woman Briseis. Regretting his action, Achilles gave up Briseis to the Greek commanders. He also angrily stopped fighting alongside of the Greeks. But Achilles’s rage didn’t stop the brutal violence against men of the Trojan War.
Palamedes probably recognized the folly of the Trojan War shortly before he was killed. In the Aeneid, the pretend Greek traitor Sinon in his cunning speech to the Trojans declared:

perhaps you’ve caught some rumor of Palamedes,
Belus’s son, and his shining fame that rings in song.
The Greeks charged him with treason, a trumped-up charge,
an innocent man, and just because he opposed the war
they put him to death, but once he’s robbed of the light
they mourn him sorely.

{fando aliquod si forte tuas pervenit ad auris
Belidae nomen Palamedis et incluta fama
gloria, quem falsa sub proditione Pelasgi
insontem infando indicio, quia bella vetabat,
demisere neci, nunc cassum lumine lugent} [7]
Popular belief that Palamedes eventually opposed the Trojan War would enhance Sinon’s credibility. Virgil, with his profound insight into men’s social position and behavior, probably didn’t fabricate the claim that Palamedes opposed the Trojan War.
Homer’s silence about Palamedes speaks eloquently about false accusations against men and the devaluation of men’s lives. In the ancient Greek epic cycle, Achilles raged about the death of Palamedes. Palamedes death resulted from a false accusation that the word-twisting Odysseus contrived. Homer, writing under gynocentrism, highlighted these issues through silence. The Iliad’s horrendous violence against men moves forward from both Agamemnon and Achilles valuing a woman above the lives of thousands of men. No heroic twisting of words is necessary to recognize that gross injustice. Yet few throughout history have been willing to speak of it.
Drawing upon his own personal experience, the marginalized, twelfth-century Byzantine scholar John Tzetzes directly addressed gynocentrically driven injustice against men. Tzetzes as a young man had been in the employment of Isaac Komnenos, governor (eparch) of Berroia. Isaac’s wife sexually harassed Tzetzes. When he rebuffed her advances, she apparently accused him of attempting to rape her.[8] Tzetzes inserted into his recounting of the Trojan epic an angry condemnation of Isaac, his wife, and men who willfully embrace being cuckolded:

the wretched one had welcomed me before hiring me, the murderous Isaac along with his greedy, petty wife, who feared my display of eloquent words. Foolishly indeed they honored all those who were bodily deformed, lepers, bald men, idiots, men deep in the muck, men who furtively obeyed Isaac’s wife in their marriage beds. But others refused, paying no heed to the cost of refusing. Although they were righteous, virtue didn’t pay. But justice will ultimately aid them. The adulterers in many beds will be destroyed, and so too the husbands with golden horns, who don’t see what they should do and have obeyed their deceitful, snake-like wives and who have been proud of their wives’ secret lovers. They are lepers, idiots, men deep in the muck. [9]
As a result of Isaac’s wife’s false accusation, Tzetzes was fired from his job, had his horse confiscated, and was forced to serve in the army as a foot-soldier. Tzetzes lamented:

the deceitful wife of Isaac caused me great hardship, but provided great favors to the lepers, who did everything that she desired. But I did not obey her. I was not seduced, even if it would have been to my own great profit. … my tongue, from the will of the deceitful wife of Isaac, lacks bread and is not singing [10]
Drawing upon biblical precedents, Tzetzes used lepers as an allegory for sinners. Like Palamedes, Tzetzes suffered great hardships from a false accusation and men’s favoritism toward women.[11]
Tzetzes vigorously praised Palamedes and identified with him. Tzetzes referred to the “wise Palamedes,” “intelligent and most inventive,” “that most wise Euboian most versed in generalship.” Tzetzes stressed Palamedes’s civic spirit and his proto-Christianity:

Palamedes himself, the most wise heart,
being gentle and sociable, and humble before everyone,
loving everyone like himself, was loved by all;
he was honored by everyone in many ways:
as a nobleman, a general, a doctor, a seer,
a builder of siege machines,
for having invented letters, tallying with pebbles, backgammon,
marshaling the army in the crush of war;
in short, he was an inventor of all sorts of useful things. [12]
Tzetzes described Palamedes as being too busy with public affairs to take time to wash his hair. Tzetzes poignantly claimed for himself a similar appearance to Palamedes, including dirty hair.
Relative to Palamedes, Tzetzes regarded Odysseus as a word-twister who scarcely made useful contributions to public life. Tzetzes described Odysseus as “pale and pot-bellied, with plain hair, a twister of meanings, bitter and long-nosed.” Odysseus was jealous of Palamedes’s wisdom. In “anger and wickedness” Odysseus hated Palamedes as his rival and an enemy. The “treacherous Odysseus” continually plotted death for Palamedes “in every way.” Alluding to his own costly virtue in resisting Isaac’s wife, Tzetzes suggested that Odysseus may have slept with the Trojan Queen Hecuba in order to escape from Troy after spying there. According to Tzetzes, Odysseus compared to Palamedes was:

like darkness against light, sickness against health,
a most foul-smelling excrement compared with an Indian perfume. [13]
Odysseus today is widely known as the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Most persons today have never heard of Palamedes.[14]
Homer’s epics don’t merely celebrate gynocentrically driven heroes of violence against men. Ancient auditors and readers of Homer’s epics knew of Palamedes. They would have questioned the wisdom of Agamemnon and Achilles in devaluing men’s lives so much relative to the lives of a few women. They would have associated Odysseus’s guile with his false accusation of Palamedes and the unjust execution of Palamedes.[15] They would have considered embracing truth and rejecting gynocentrism. Humane civilization depends on sustaining that range of critical thinking.

*  *  *  *  *

[1] Phillips (1957) p. 271. Clua (1985) provides a more recent review of Palamedes. Aitken & Maclean (not dated) noted the under-appreciated importance of Palamedes as a hero:

Of particular interest and worthy of further investigation is Protesilaos’s emphasis on the tales of Palamedes (Her. 21.2–8; 33.1–34.7; 43.11–16) and Philoktêtês (Her. 28.1–14), both of whom figure prominently in the Cypria and the Little Iliad.
[2] The oath is known as the oath of Tyndareus. Tyndareus was Helen’s step-father. Helen’s suitors, who included Odysseus, took the oath. Tyndareus administered it. On the oath of Tynareus, see e.g. Hesiod, Catalogue of Women, Berlin Papyri, No. 10560, ll. 89-100.
[3] For ancient sources for this story, Phillips (1957) p. 268, n. 8. This story is cited to the ancient Greek epic Cypria.
[4] Phillips (1957) pp. 269-71 reviews these and subsequent stories involving Palamedes and provides citations to ancient sources. Philostratus, Heroicus 33 covers many of them, as does Tzetzes, Allegories of the Iliad, Prologomena, ll. 977-1053, in Goldwyn & Kokkini (2015) pp. 74-9. All references to Allegories of the Iliad are cited by line and page in id., which provides the Greek text on facing pages. Tzetzes wrote Allegories of the Iliad in Constantinople, probably in the 1140s.
[5] See, e.g. Tzetzes, Allegories of the Iliad, Prologemena ll. 914-32, pp. 68-71. Briseis, daughter of Queen Briseus, is also called Hippodameia. On killing all the men and keeping women and children alive as captives as the gender structure of ancient war, see e.g. Iliad 4.237-40.
[6] Tzetzes, Allegories of the Iliad, Prolegomena l. 1112, and Philostratus, Heroicus 33.37.
[7] Virgil, Aeneid 2.81-85, from Latin trans. Fagles (2006) p. 77. The word vetabat is a form of the Latin verb vetō. Tribunes in the Roman Senate used the verb vetō to oppose objectionable measures. The English word veto is derived from it. Use of that word emphasizes that Palamedes’s opposition to the Trojan War was civic-minded, not narrowly personal.
[8] Magdalino (1993) pp. 348-9. The sources don’t make clear the specific charge of Isaac’s wife against Tzetzes. The context is sexual. Given the extremely broad meaning of rape today, I’ve called Tzetzes’s alleged offense rape for simplicity.
[9] John Tzetzes, Carmina Iliaca, Homerica ll. 142-56, from Greek my translation, drawing on Jacobs (1793) (Greek text), Braccini (2010) pp. 90-1 (Italian translation) and Untila (2014) (English translation). Other quotes from the Carmina Iliaca are done similarly. Untila (2014) is a rather rough English translation, but still a generous contribution to world culture.
[10] Tzetzes, Carmina Iliaca, Posthomerica 620-2, 754-5. On Tzetzes’s being deprived of his horse and forced to become a foot-soldier, id. ll. 284-8. Braccini (2010) p. 101 sees in Tzetzes’s scholia to Antehomerica l. 284 an allusion to his loss of his horse. Tzetzes, who grew up in a wealthy family, was thrown into impoverished circumstances:

In one letter, Tzetzes describes the three-storey tenement in which he lives, sandwiched between the children and pigs of the priest upstairs and the hay stored by a farmer on the ground floor.
Magdalino (1993) p. 121, citing Tzetzes, Epistles, ed. P.A.M. Leone (Leipzig, 1972) pp. 31-4.
[11] Braccini (2010) trivializes the sexual harassment of Tzetzes and obtusely deploys the gynocentric social construction of misogyny. Such an approach reflects dominant ideology. Nilsson (2004) and De Jesus (2016) point to greater appreciation for Tzetzes’s literary sophistication.
In addition to associating his appearance with that of Cato the Elder (Allegories, Prologomena l. 724, p. 55), Tzetzes displayed some of Cato’s silly traditionalism. Tzetzes declared that in the distant past wives didn’t sexually betray their husbands. Carmina Iliaca, Antehomerica 243-4. More importantly, Tzetzes, like Cato, appreciated men’s subordinate social position.
[12] Tzetzes, Allegories of the Iliad, Prolegomena ll. 968-76, p. 73. The previous short quotes are from id. l. 403, p. 31 (wise Palamedes); l. 872, p. 67 (intelligent and most inventive); l. 900, p. 69 (that most wise…). On the appearance and dirty hair of Palamedes and Tzetzes, ll. 724-30, p. 55.
[13] Tzetzes, Allegories of the Iliad, Prolegomena ll. 966-7, p. 73. The earlier short quotes in the above paragraph are from ll. 704-5, p. 53 (pale…); ll. 1054-5, p. 79 (anger and wickedness, plotting his death in every way); l. 1062, p. 81 (treacherous Odysseus). Tzetzes’s suggestion that Odysseus slept with Hecuba is in Carmina Iliaca, Posthomerica ll. 617-28.
Tzetzes’s view of Palamedes and Odysseus isn’t unprecedented. Philostratus in the third century provided in his Heroicus the account of a vinedresser:

in Ilion a farmer, such as I, who had been moved by Palamedes’ fate, and used to go to the beach on which the Achaeans are said to have thrown his body, and used to mourn him and offer the customary tomb offerings to his dust; he even chose the sweetest grapes and mixed him a bowl of wine, saying that he was having a drinking party with Palamedes when he rested from work. He also had a dog who was clever at fawning, and also at sneaking up on people; him he called Odysseus, and this {dog} Odysseus used to be beaten and reviled constantly for what had been done to Palamedes.
The spirit of Palamedes visited that farmer:

The farmer realized it was Palamedes — its appearance suggested a hero of great size, beauty and courage, not yet thirty years old — and embraced him with a smile, “I admire you, Palamedes, because I think you were the most sensible of men, and the most just competitor in the contest of wisdom, and because you suffered a pitiable death at the Achaeans’ hands because of Odysseus’ plots against you—if his tomb were here, I would have dug it up long ago, for he was foul and more evil than this dog, whom I keep under his name.”
Philostratus, Heroicus 21.3,6, from Greek trans. Rusten & König (2014) p. 167.
[14] Scholars today tend to support the verbal guile of Odysseus, the man of twists and turns. One result is to ignore fundamental aspects of reality such as men’s deaths. Consider this review of literature on the Trojan War:

authors used the epics in a paradigmatic way to support their own preconceived political ideology. … we hope to prove that there is no Trojan War, only Trojan Wars, and that this eternal renewability, enriched by the symbolic weight of past tradition, will no doubt result in its continued use as a source of inspiration for aesthetic innovation and celebration and critique of contemporary individuals and society at large for millennia to come.
Goldwyn (2015a) p. 12. Similarly, Goldwyn (2015b). Reducing public life to nothing but preconceived political ideology signals today’s dark age of ignorance, bigotry, and superstition.
[15] In his Apollonius of Tyna, Philostratus addressed this issue with a question to Achilles:

How is it that Homer does not know about Palamedes, or if he does excises him from his account of you all?’ ‘If Palamedes did not come to Troy,’ he replied, ‘Troy did not exist either. But since that wisest and most warlike of heroes was killed by a ruse of Odysseus, Homer does not bring him into his poem to avoid celebrating Odysseus’s crimes.’ Achilles then lamented Palamedes as the greatest, handsomest, noblest, and bravest man, who surpassed all in chastity and made many contributions to the Muses.
Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyna 4.16, from Greek trans. Jones (2005) p. 355. The translation of F.C. Conybeare (1912) for the Loeb Classical Library is available online.
[image] Palamedes before Agamemnon; a history painting by Rembrandt, 1626. Item B 564 in the Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, Netherlands. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons. The scene appears to be based on Joost van den Vondel’s 1625 play, Palamedes, or Innocence Murdered. Gershman (2014) pp. 95-6.
Aitken, Ellen Bradshaw and Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean, ed. and trans. Not dated. Flavius Philostratus, On Heroes. Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University.
Clua, Josep Antoni. 1985. “El mite de Palamedes a la Grècia antiga: aspectes canviants d´un interrogant cultural i històric.” Faventia 7-2: 69-93.
Braccini, Tommaso. 2010. “Mitografia e miturgia femminile a Bisanzio: il caso di Giovanni Tzetze.” I Quaderni del Ramo d’Oro 3: 88-105.
De Jesus, Carlos A. Martins. 2016. “John Tzetzes and the pseudo-Aristotelian Peplos in middle-Byzantium. The testimony of the Matritenses 4562 and 4621.” Cuadernos De Filologia Clasica. 26: 263-283.
Fagles, Robert, trans. 2006. Virgil. The Aeneid. New York: Viking.
Gershman, Zhenya. 2014. “Rembrandt: Turn of the Key.” Arion – Journal of Humanities and the Classics. 21 (3): 79-108.
Goldwyn, Adam. 2015a. “‘That Men to Come Shall Know of It’: Theorizing Aesthetic Innovation, Heroic Ideology, and Political Legitimacy in Trojan War Reception.” Introduction (pp. 1-15) to Goldwyn, Adam J., ed. The Trojan Wars and the making of the modern world. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Studia Graeca Upsaliensia: 22. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet.
Goldwyn, Adam J. 2015b. “John Malalas and the Origins of the Allegorical and Novelistic Traditions of the Trojan War in Byzantium.” Troianalexandrina. 15: 23-49.
Goldwyn, Adam J. and Dimitra Kokkini, trans. 2015. John Tzetzes. Allegories of the Iliad. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 37. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Jacobs, Friedrich, trans. 1793. Ioannis Tzetzae (John Tzetzes). Antehomerica, Homerica et posthomerica (Carmina Iliaca). Lipsiae: In Libraria Weidmannia.
Jones, Christopher P., trans. 2005. Philostratus. Apollonius of Tyana. Loeb Classical Library 16. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Magdalino, Paul. 1993. The empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143-1180. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nilsson, Ingela. 2004. “From Homer to Hermoniakos: Some Considerations of Troy Matter in Byzantine Literature.” Troianalexandrina. 4: 8-34.
Phillips, E. D. 1957. “A Suggestion about Palamedes.” The American Journal of Philology. 78 (3): 267-278.
Rusten, Jeffrey S. and Jason König, trans. 2014. Philostratus. Heroicus; Gymnasticus ; Discourses 1 and 2. Loeb Classical Library 521. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Untila, Ana, trans. 2014. John Tzetzes. Carmina Iliaca: Antehomerica, Homerica, and Posthomerica. Sponsored by Mitologia em Português.


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