Summary 1. Two Summaries Read “Medon Meets a Cyclops” and “Epic Ways of Killing a Woman,” then write a summary of that article, no more than ½ page in len

Summary 1. Two Summaries

Read “Medon Meets a Cyclops” and “Epic Ways of Killing a Woman,” then write a summary of that article, no more than ½ page in length, which explains the article’s main claim and the arguments it uses to support that claim. 

2. One poem

Write 20-40 lines of epic poetry about your life.  How you make it poetry is up to you; you may want to use rhyme, meter or other formal devices.  How you make it “epic” is also up to you, but you can apply some of the things you’ve learned in lecture and section to make what you write more like the Odyssey.  Like Odysseus, you should not feel bound by a strict respect for the truth. Epic Ways of Killing a Woman: Gender and Transgression in “Odyssey” 22.465-72
Author(s): Laurel Fulkerson
Source: The Classical Journal, Vol. 97, No. 4 (Apr. – May, 2002), pp. 335-350
Published by: The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, Inc. (CAMWS)
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EPIC WAYS OF KILLING A WOMAN: GENDER AND
TRANSGRESSION IN ODYSSEY 22.465-721

twelve unfaithful serving maids in Book 22 (465-72) other than
to discuss the mechanics of the death,2 which, although

problematic, are far from the strangest aspect of the passage. In
contrast to the numerous detailed studies of the morality of the
suitors’ deaths,3 those who mention the hanging of the serving maids
usually justify or condemn the murder.4 In addition, those who do
comment on the scene frequently find it indicative of Telemachus’
moral character, concluding that it is a sign of Telemachus’
immaturity and/or brutalitys or, on the other hand, that it “shows
Telemachus’ worthiness” to succeed his father.6 In fact, as I will
suggest, the passage may engage with the question of Telemachus’
moral maturity, but also shares important thematic connections with
significant concerns of the Odyssey, and thus deserves careful
examination in its own right. Telemachus’ method of killing the
serving women is not only more appropriate than Odysseus’ order,
but has larger implications for the issue of women’s fidelity
(particularly Penelope’s) in the poem.

i Thanks to Debbie Steiner, who first offered encouragement, to the audience at
the 1999 APA session on Homer, particularly Mark Toher and Erwin Cook, to the
various anonymous readers for this journal, and, as always, to John Marincola.

2 E.g. Stanford 388-9. Typical of the treatment they receive is Davies 535, who
notes that the servants are “(on Odysseus’ explicit orders) awarded a humiliating
mode of death by Telemachus.”

3 Useful treatments of the suitors’ death are Allen (who sees them as wicked
types of the Aristotelean hero) especially 107ff., Jones 198-201, and Said, whose classic
article focuses on their violations of the laws of hospitality.

4 Cf., e.g., Dimock 313-4; Nagler 247.
5 Russo et al. ad 441-73; Felson-Rubin 86-7; Rose 120. Fajardo-Acosta 136 claims

that the deaths of the maids and suitors are “seen by the poet as acts of mindless
cruelty.” Clarke 40 suggests that Telemachus’ “savagery toward the servant girls, like
his occasional harshness with his mother, is part of a deep-seated reaction against an
adolescence spent among women.” I do not intend to address the morality of
Telemachus’ (or Odysseus’) choices about the maids. When I argue below that
Telemachus’ decision is “more appropriate” I merely mean that it better obeys the
gendered constraints the poem seems to impose on means of death.

6Dimock 314.

THE CLASSICAL JOURNAL 97.4 (2002) 335-350

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336 LAUREL FULKERSON

First, the physical aspects of the slaughter of the maids require a
brief look. Odysseus’ plan involves forcing the twelve disloyal
maids to clean up the remnants of the slaughter of the suitors and
then leading them into the courtyard to be executed by the sword
(Od. 22.440-45):

“aUT&rp i Tr’v 6 T”nd’vTa 86pov KaTaKOOaIfoIPlOE,
cphcS igayay6VTES i UaTa0o OPEy6poto,
pEaaoyiY TE O6XOU Kal pipOVOP 5pKEOS aOXh~i,
OEIVIpEVlivat iq)EaIv TaVTVKEOtV, EiG 6 KE TOraycOV
yuXiS i?aq)~XIr OE, Kal KXEX6O6COVT’ ‘Appo8TnqS.

T1V ap’ 01Tr6 o PVIOTrlpoIv Xov PIcYyovT6 TE AX6Opf.”

“Then, after you have got all the house back in good order, lead all
these maidservants out of the well-built palace between the round-
house and the unfaulted wall of the courtyard, and hew them with
the thin edge of the sword, until you have taken the lives from all,
and they forget Aphrodite, the goddess they had with them when
they lay secretly with the suitors.” 7

Telemachus, however, deliberately disobeys his father and
engineers some kind of mass hanging instead of the prescribed death
by sword. The hanging involves a ship’s cable (Tr~iopa), a pillar
(KLcOV), and a round-house (O60Xo); Telemachus describes his
decision as follows (Od. 22.462-73):

“Prl Pv 8 Ka6apcp 6avr6Tcp daTr6 Oubv hXo(l.rPv T6CrA, a’t 11 pi KE(paiXi KT’ 6VEi(Ea XE:av
l.*Irpt 6′ II.ETip Tlrapd6 TE pVfOTlIpoIV Tauov.”
“(.S ap’ Eq), Kati TrETIOFt( VEi6 KUavoTpcPpolo
K1QOVOS E~pclZ CiEy6XS”n Trrpi3aXXE 86Xoio,
V0O6a’ ETrEVTavOOas, Pll1 TI TrOO’v oii0aI5 KOITO.
bS 6″‘ ” Tav il KiXXAa TavUOaTrTEpotI l Tr~XEIa

9pKEI iVITrV1-O)I, T6 0 oT iVi K aK1 ~ pVCp, aiAlv icyOIEVaI, aTUyEp6S ‘ TrE?maTO KT0TOS,
&s a’ y’ EEITIS KEqcpXaS EXOV, 6p1pi t Trncats

Et~pfot p3p6Xoi aotcav, aS”rr Cs oKTIOTCa 06VO0EV.
fioaraipov 6U Tr68Eaao CviPveUVO rrEp, o0 TI pXa ilv.

“I would not take away the lives of these creatures by any clean
death, for they have showered abuse on the head of my mother,
and on my own head too, and they have slept with the suitors.” So
he spoke, and taking the cable of a dark-prowed ship, fastened it to
the tall pillar, and fetched it about the round-house, binding it up
high so that none of them could reach the earth. Like thrushes,
who spread their wings, or wood-pigeons, who have flown into a
snare set up for them in a thicket, trying to find a resting place, but

7 All translations of the Odyssey are modified from Lattimore. Other translations
are mine.

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EPIC WAYS OF KILLING A WOMAN 337

the sleep given them was hateful, so were their heads in a line, and
each had her neck caught fast in a noose so that their death would
be most pitiful. They struggled with their feet a little, not for very
long.

The Oxford commentators (ad 441-73) understandably find this
description “imprecise and probably fanciful,” and note a variety of
insurmountable difficulties, most of which center around the
impossibility of hanging twelve women from a single rope.8 While
this is undeniably true, I suggest that the physical description of the
hanging contains a nexus of imagery that significantly contributes to
the meaning of the scene even as it renders physical reconstruction
of it problematic.

The hanging involves a TrEiOpa, a Kiov, and a 86’Xo.9 The
TrETOpa is a ship’s cable, generally the one that anchors a boat to
land.1- Odysseus is of course a sailor and is linked to the sea in
several passages, most notably at Odyssey 8.202ff. wherein he refuses
to compete in a Phaeacian footrace because he has spent so much
time at sea and his legs are infirm.1″ The fixity of the o1KOS
(symbolized by the Kikov) contrasts to the wanderings of Odysseus
depicted throughout the poem (alluded to by the TrE’apa). We can
discern in the particular materials used to hang the maids a symbolic
resonance for Odysseus and his family–in effect, Odysseus’ return
to (and consequent reestablishment of order in) his house is
paralleled in miniature by the combination of ship and pillar which
are employed to dispose of the final remnants of chaos in the house.

The Kicav most often denotes a roof pillar in the Odyssey;
Demodocus’ chair leans against one, and Odysseus and Telemachus
use one on various occasions.12 More significantly, Penelope’s
chastity is identified with the pillar in Book 23, when we learn that

8 Merry and Stanford ad loc. posit twelve additional nooses, and Merry seems to
envision a pulley system that would lift the maids simultaneously off the ground.
Robert 503 ingeniously but implausibly suggests that the maids are hung “autour de
la tholos, aux chapiteaux de laquelle le cable prenait appui.” Combellack, on the other
hand, suggests that this hanging is portrayed with great verisimilitude.

‘ As one of the reviewers for this journal notes, the word KOLTOS in the passage
quoted above is not without sexual overtones: while it refers to sleep, it of course also
hints at the other activities of the maids during the night.

10 LSJ s.v; cf. Od. 9.136, 10.127, 13.77.
” Cf. too the simile that marks the recognition between Odysseus and Penelope,

in which a sailor finally reaches his home shore (23.231ff.)
12 8.66 and 8.473 (Demodocus); 1.127 and 17.29 (Telemachus); 23.90 (Odysseus).

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338 LAUREL FULKERSON

her bed is fixed (Ep0Eo0S) in part because of a KiCv (191).13 It is likely
although not certain that at Odyssey 22.466 the word refers to a
column located on the outside of the house. Thus although the
maids are hung outside, they are still connected to the house, the
very structure they have threatened by their traitorous actions.’4 A
KiCov also features in the description of the torture of Melanthius at
Od. 22.176 and 193. Melanthius, the brother of one of the maids
(Melantho), is their male counterpart, betraying the household even
after he knows that the beggar is really Odysseus. During the
slaughter of the suitors, he is captured, trussed, and hung from a
K(Kv (22.182-200).15 The pillars, then, connect the disloyal servants,
male and female, to the very structure that guarantees the continued
existence of the house of Odysseus, reinforcing the impression the
poem often gives that faithlessness (in companions, servants and
suitors) deserves punishment.

e6Aot are mentioned only in connection with the maids in the
Odyssey,16 and appear only rarely in literature before the fourth
century. The word seems to refer to any round building with a
round roof, whatever its function. As it happens, O6Xot have not
been discovered on Ithaka, but they were used in Minoan and
Mycenean times as burial chambers and it is quite possible that their
use on Ithaka as burial chambers is assumed by the Odyssey. At any
rate, the discovery of the 66Xos-tombs at Mycenae suggests that it
may not have been so strange as first appears to find a 66Xo5 in
Odysseus’ backyard; this may be a place in the poem where the
“remembered” Mycenean dramatic setting of the Homeric epics is

13 Arete also leans against a pillar (6.307). Nagler 256 finds the pillar used in the
hanging “a terrible inversion of the well-built pillars indoors that are Penelope’s
symbol.” I see it rather as two sides of the same coin: those women who do not spend
their lives near the pillar will inevitably die by it.

14 See below on the significance of the maids’ outdoor death. Cf. too Loraux 24
and 75 note 50 on tragic women’s tendency to hang themselves from the roof-beam
(pACa6pov) of the house.

15 Other mentions of K(OVES in the Odyssey are at 19.38, wherein they glow
because Athene inspires them, and at 1.53, where Atlas holds the pillars that support

the world. The presence of the K(V in the Melanthius scene suggests that a
comparison between Melanthius’ death and the death of the maids might prove
fruitful. It seems to parallel the death of the maids, but is different in key ways. First,
Odysseus’ orders to truss and hoist him are obeyed by Eumaeus and Philoetius (who
are, significantly, servants) (22.171-77; 186-93). Second, although he is hung from a
pillar, he is not killed in that way, but is hacked to pieces, a death which, although
cruel, is nevertheless masculine (22.474-77). As a (male) traitor, he apparently is
considered worthy of being treated as a prisoner of war. (Eumaeus’ words to him at
22.195-6, however, may raise the question of his masculinity: NOv gv y pydrha

-TwrYXu, MEXXVIE, VUKTa (pUVX6EEIS, EOVfI EVL I’avtXaK1 KaTaXEyjYEVOS, COj GE EOUKEV:
Now indeed, Melanthius, will you guard through the night, lying on a soft bed, as is

fittin)At 22.442, 459, and 466. At 22.442, 459, and 466.

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EPIC WAYS OF KILLING A WOMAN 339

influential.” It is far from clear how to understand the 60Xos, but if
it is a burial chamber, its mention may allude to the impending
death of the maids.

The bird imagery proves to be even more significant in
understanding the nuances of the hanging passage.’8 The main
characters of the Odyssey are at times compared to birds, generally at
critical junctures in the plot.”9 So too in their death scene, Odysseus’
faithless servants are compared to birds: they hang “like thrushes20
(KiXXat) with broad wingspans, or wood-pigeons21 (rrTAEtal) who
have flown into a net set up in a thicket, seeking a resting place”
(22.468-70). K(XXaa appear only here in Homer. We learn from
Aristophanes and Aristotle that KiXXat build clay nests in tall trees,
that there are three main types of KiXAat, and that, although
carnivorous, they do not eat the hearts of the animals they kill.
Another Aristotlean tidbit is that thrushes line their nests with

myrtle, which, as is well known, was sacred to Aphrodite and was
often associated with female genitalia.” There is a proverb

KC.qP6TEpOS KfXTIS, “lighter than a thrush,” and the verb KIXAIfco means “to titter or giggle.” Clement of Alexandria found the song of
the thrush, the KiXAtao[p6s, similar to the giggle of a prostitute.
Thrushes, then, may feature in this simile because they are
associated with excessive female sexuality in several ways.23

HEEXtat, doves or wood-pigeons, the other birds to which the
maids are likened, appear in several places in the Iliad, most often
with hawks, to typify timidity as opposed to boldness.24 They were
believed to reproduce in an odd manner, and Aristotle devotes much
attention to their erotic lives.25 Further, Hyginus tells us that

17 Most Mycenean tombs, however, seem to have been built into a hillside, i.e.
outside of a city. Robert, who suggests that Sophocles’ Antigone hangs herself in a
Mycenean tholos-tomb, connects her death with the hanging of the maids of Odysseus
(501-2 with references).

18 Studies on birds in Homer include Losada and Borthwick (on the swallow) and
Boraston (on birds in general). As Loraux notes, birds in tragedy often represent
women who die by hanging (18-19 with citations).

19 Borthwick 16 with citations. Nagler 256 suggests that these birds find their
counterpart in Penelope’s pet geese, who represent the suitors.

20 See Dunbar ad Av. 591, Thompson 148-50 and Pollard 34-5.
21 On peleia as a general designation for pigeon as well as the particular name of

both the rock (columbia livia) and stock dove (columbia oenas), see Pollard 56, Arist. HA
5.544b1 and Dunbar ad 303.

22 Dierbach 61ff. See also Henderson, 1975:134-5 and 1987: ad 838.
23 KXXAat are discussed at Aristotle, HA 6.559a5 and 9.617a18-32; Aelian 1.35; Fab.

Aes. 194; Geopon. 15.1.19; Eubul. 3.220 (5) (Kcp)6TEpoS KLXAriq); Clement Alex. Paed.
2.196. Roisman and Ahl 256 notices the sexual imagery of the birds, but does not give
any specifics.

24Cf. Sauvage 171 and 255-6.
25 They “kiss one another just when the male is about to mount, or the male

would not copulate. An older male would not do so without kissing, at first, but later

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340 LAUREL FULKERSON

Aphrodite was hatched from a pigeon egg near the Euphrates (Fab.
197). Pigeons are sacred to Venus according to Thompson, who
explains this by noting that the Pleiades rise in the House of Venus.26
Sauvage believes that columba is the generic term for a group of
birds, among which is the palumbes, the Latin equivalent for Trria
(243 and 245 and OLD). Palumbes are featured as love-presents in
Latin poetry27 and columbae are proverbially known for their sexual
voracity.28

Finally, the fact that the birds are caught in a EpKoS deserves
brief explication.29 “EpKoS in Homer most often refers to the “barrier
of the teeth,” but is also used of barriers in general and even of a
courtyard.” We shall examine below the connections between
Aphrodite (caught by Hephaistos in a net) and the fate of the maids.
Here it will be sufficient to note that, although this is the only
instance of EpKoS as a net in Homer,31 tragic poets connect net

he will mount without it. Younger males, however, always kiss before copulation […
F]emale pigeons mount one another if no male is present after they kiss as the males
do, and although nothing passes between them, they lay more eggs than if they had
been impregnated, but these eggs of course produce no chicks and are wind-eggs”
(HA 560b 26). Pseudo-Oppian confirms this, adding that breeders place purple cloths
near the birds, which causes them to bear purple chicks (Cyn. 1.353ff.). Thompson
believes that TrrhEat are wild; if in fact they are, this might further suggest an affinity
with the maids.

26 229. Several sources discuss the sacred TrEXELe1Es (apparently identical to
7T6Etat) who gave oracles at Dodona and were later catasterized (Hdt. 2.55; Hes. frr.
240, 319 M-W); the three priestesses who served there were also called “Doves”
(Pausanias 10.12.10, Strabo 7.329, Hdt. 2.55). Cf. Alcman 23.69 and Eur. Orest. 1005 for
the spelling TTEXELd6ES to refer to the constellation (LSJ 2).

” Sauvage 252 with references.
28 Pliny, N.H. X.110: amore insaniunt. Cf. Otto 88 and Sauvage 252-3 on af-

fectionate columbae. Sauvage discusses the association between columbae and
Aphrodite (251 with citations), and suggests connections between women and
columbae (255).

29 The following passages refer to trapping birds in nets: S. Fr. 431, Ar. Av. 528,
Pherecr. 209, Arist. HA 617b24, Plato Soph. 220c2, Quint. Smyrn. 6.125. Nagler notes
that the simile of nets is also used of the suitors, who are “netted fish” (Od. 22.386;
256). Other animals are of course hunted in nets as well (cf. Oppian Hal. 1.33). The
Homeric scholia seem to find the word unfamiliar, since they define it as vOv TCJ
8tKTOc (ad 469).

30 EpKO5 686VTcOV: 11. 4.350, 9.409, et al.; EpKoS as a barrier in general: II. 3.137, 5.90,
et al. and of a soldier: 11. 1.284, 3.229, et al.; ‘pKoS of the courtyard: 11. 16.231, 24.306, et
al.; EpKO5 for “walls” by metonymy: Od. 21.23 = 21.384. It is possibly coincidental that
the maids are led into the courtyard (9pKoS), boundary of the house, before they are
compared to birds in a net (‘pKos), but it is nevertheless a neat parallel. The location
of the olive tree from which Odysseus has made his bed in an 9pKoS may again draw
an implicit contrast between the maids, now trapped in snares, and Penelope, who,
like the olive tree, is still nPTrEoS.

3 Other words for net are also rare: rrEpt3oXh, . 6pKUS, a 6px(PirlX Tpov. and

&ypEvpa do not appear, and 81KTuov appears only in reference to the simile of suitors
and fish (see note 29). Hephaistos uses bEOao( to entrap Ares and Aphrodite in Book
8.

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EPIC WAYS OF KILLING A WOMAN 341

imagery to women with some frequency (Medea’s trap for Creousa
which also literally ensnares her, the EpKOS with which Clytemnestra
traps and slays Agamemnon, and, perhaps most significantly,
Pentheus’ surmise that the Bacchae are iv A6Xapats pvtOeaS cS/
XfKTpCAv EXEOat ~I PAT&TOS EiV EpKEOIV).32

We come now to Telemachus’ choice of hanging for the women
servants, in direct disobedience to Odysseus’ order of death by the
sword.33 Telemachus hangs the women “so that they might die most
pitiably” (STrc~ o’iKrtatra O6votEv, 472), and characterizes hanging
itself as “unclean” (pii … KaOapc OavC6Tc … hXoiprlv, 462).
Telemachus’ meaning is not clear: as the Oxford commentators note,
Kaeap6S does not yet have a religious sense and so Telemachus
cannot be signifying that this death is ritually polluted (nor would he
wish to). They suggest instead that Telemachus refuses to the maids
“a ‘clean,’ in the sense of ‘quick and easy,’ death.”3 Yet the poem
draws attention to the brevity of their death throes (they “struggle a
little with their feet, but not for very long,” 22.473). Nor
(presumably) would Telemachus want to make the death
unnecessarily more complicated for himself. Additionally, since no
blood is shed in a hanging (particularly as opposed to death by
sword), it is, at least physically, a very clean way to die. It is more
likely that by the phrase with KaOapC, Telemachus passes a not a
religious but a moral judgment on the maids. In his opinion, they do
not deserve to die by the sword because they are not themselves
clean.35

There is only one other hanging described in Homer, that of
Epicasta at Od. 11.271ff. She discovers that she has married her son
Oedipus, and as a result commits suicide. There is little information
available for the status of hanging in archaic times, but in Classical

32 Eur. Med. 986; Eur. Elec. 155; Eur. Bacc. 957-8. Also worthy of mention,
although not utilizing the word EpKo0, is Aesch. Ag. 1115, in which Cassandra refers to
the 8iKTUov “At8ou that will entrap Agamemnon. Clytemnestra is associated with a
net precisely in the moment of her betrayal of Agamemnon, and she is linked to the
net at Ag. 1127, Cho. 492ff., 998ff., Eum. 459ff., and 633ff. (Cf. Fraenkel ad Ag. 1127).

33 See Stanford’s note ad loc. on the strong denial of ip1 piv. Odysseus’ ignorance
is rarely emphasized by critics, but is clearly a significant element of the death of the
maids.

34 Russo et al. ad 462. The religious examples of the word cited in LSJ all date
from significantly later. The uses of the word in Homer all refer to things physically
clean (Od. 4.750=17.48, 4.749=17.58, 6.61) or to empty spaces (II. 8.491=10.199, 23.61).

35 See Loraux 14 on death by the sword as “pure” and as opposed to death by
hanging. I follow Stanford’s suggestion that this is an early moral use of Ka6ap6S.

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342 LAUREL FULKERSON

Athens and thereafter it was clearly a dishonorable means of death.36
Hanging is nevertheless (consequently?) the most common literary
method of female suicide.”37 The maids, however, do not commit
suicide: they are murdered. Comparable incidents where women
are killed by hanging occur far less frequently in myth. In fact, the
only other extant example seems to be Pausanias’ version of the fate
of Helen. He states that Helen died by hanging at the hands of her
friend Polyxo, who had handmaidens disguised as Furies kill her:
dTr6yXovo1v Tr’i &ivSpou (3.19.10).38 Helen is the faithless woman
par excellence, and if by chance this tradition of Pausanias’ dates back
to archaic times, it may suggest that murder by hanging is seen as
suitable for women who do not properly control their sexuality. If
the women who were hung (Pausanias’ Helen and the maids) had
possessed the requisite degree of aibc’S, they would have hung
themselves for their behavior.” In the case of the serving women as
with Helen, murder by hanging can be seen as a corrective to the
aberrant behavior in two ways. First, it eliminates the sexually
promiscuous women, which (at least in the Odyssey) is seen as a
necessary part of reaffirming the cultural order. Secondly, because it
is typically a feminine method of suicide, it posthumously forces the
women to atone for their own disloyal sexuality.” They must not
only die, but die in a way that exemplifies their repentance while
making clear their own inability to recognize their actions as
deserving of punishment. To put it another way, it is a worse
punishment for the maids (because it is murder and not suicide),41
but a better punishment for the Odyssean household in its struggle

36 As documented by Loraux 9 and 71 note 8 (cf. Stanford ad 462ff). See too
Griffin, who concentrates on historical Roman rather than literary Greek suicides.

37 There is a clear but unexplored connection between women hanging
themselves (with a girdle or some other woven material) and the quintessentially
feminine (but also devious) attribute of weaving. Examples in the Iliad are Helen, who
also weaves in II. 3.125ff, and Aphrodite, who disguises herself as an old woman who
weaves in II. 3.385ff.

38 Musti ad loc. notes that this passage is “in singolare contrasto con il constante
carattere delle diverse versioni,” in which Helen is an adulteress “impunito,” and
suggests that “il tratto iliadico dell’odio delle altri donne per Elena” derives from the
tradition of her as a goddess (p. 250 and 252). Frazer ad loc. cites Polyaenus 1.13 and
Theoc. 18.43ff. as comparanda.

39 The appearance of Epicasta in the Odyssey supports this theory: she hangs
herself for a sexual aberration immediately upon discovering it. Cf. too II. 3.171ff., in
which Helen wishes she had killed herself before causing the Trojan War. Hers is of
course a rhetorical statement, designed to avert blame from herself (Graver 41-43), but
it is nonetheless significant as an indicator of what might be expected.

40 This is true regardless of whether the women were sexually active voluntarily
or not (discussed below).

41 See Loraux 4 on murdered women in tragedy.

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EPIC WAYS OF KILLING A WOMAN 343

to reestablish order (because it is a female death that neutralizes the
“male” way they lived).

The difference between death by sword and by rope is one of
honor, but death by the sword may also adumbrate the idea of
sexual penetration. As King notes, the hanging of young women
(even after the event) is “culturally opposed to unwanted sex” (119).
Moreover, studies of Greek gynecological texts have revealed a close
association of mouth and female genitals (each called oT6paTa).42 In
fact, the orifices of women are, in general, dangerous; women can be
sexually unchaste or merely talk too much. This occurs as well in the
Odyssey; Melantho’s scolding of Odysseus nearly upsets him into
attacking prematurely, and Telemachus specifically describes the
maids’ crimes as talking and sleeping with the suitors (22.463-4; text
above).43 Telemachus’ decision to kill the errant maids by rope
rather than by sword may reflect a desire to punish them for their
sexuality, perhaps here figured as a poor use of orT6’paTa.
Furthermore, because each of the maids’ “mouths” bring trouble
upon the household, Telemachus’ decision to close one of them by
constricting it reinforces the dangerous connection between
women’s or6TpaTa and is, in contrast to Odysseus’ order to make
another opening with a sword, far more appropriate in the
circumstances.” Death by hanging retroactively corrects the
behavior of the maids.

I now turn to some of the connections between Penelope and
other female characters in the poem. Many critics have noticed
“character doublings” in the Homeric poems.45 Throughout the
Odyssey, Penelope is compared implicitly or explicitly to Melantho,
Clytemnestra, Aphrodite and Helen,46 and the question of her
fidelity is often obliquely raised with reference to these other
women, much as the death of Odysseus’ companions is figured as
their own fault in order to prepare the audience for the death of the

42 Sissa 63; Loraux 61. Cf. Hanson on the supposed enlargement of a woman’s
neck after defloration and the lowering of her voice (328-9 with citations). See too
King 113-9 on parthenoi who hang themselves.

43 Cf. too Sissa 53ff. on the dangers to men from the mouths of women.
4 Cf. Loraux 2 and 71 note 9 on the “too open bodies of women”.
45 Fenik 172-207; Stanford passim.
‘ See Felson-Rubin 39-40 and Suzuki 60ff. on the contrasts the Odyssey estab-

lishes between Penelope and Helen. See too Roisman on Penelope’s comparison of
herself to Helen in Book 23 (62ff.). Antinoos compares Penelope to certain …

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