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The Authoress of the Odyssey, by Samuel Butler, [1922], at

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Chapter II


It will help the reader to follow the arguments by which I shall sustain the female authorship of the "Odyssey," the fact of its being written at Trapani on the west coast of Sicily, and its development in the hands of the writer, if I lay before him an abridgement of the complete translation that I have made, but not yet published. If space permitted I should print my translation in full, but this is obviously impossible, for what I give here is only about a fourth of the whole poem. I have, therefore, selected those parts that throw most light upon the subjects above referred to, with just so much connecting matter as may serve to make the whole readable and intelligible. I am aware that the beauty of the poem is thus fatally marred, for it is often the loveliest passages that serve my purpose least. The abridgement, therefore, that I here give is not to be regarded otherwise than as the key-sketch which we so often see under an engraving of a picture that contains many portraits. It is intended not as a work of art, but as an elucidatory diagram.

As regards its closeness to the text, the references to the poem which will be found at the beginning of each paragraph will show where the abridgement has been greatest, and will also enable the reader to verify the fidelity of the rendering either with the Greek or with Messrs. Butcher and Lang's translation. I affirm with confidence that if the reader is good enough to thus verify any passages that may strike him as impossibly modern, he will find that I have adhered as severely to the intention of the original as it was possible for me to do while telling the story in my own words and abridging it.

One of my critics, a very friendly one, has hold me that I have "distorted the simplicity of the 'Odyssey' in order to put

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it in a ludicrous light." I do not think this. I have revealed, but I have not distorted. I should be shocked to believe for one moment that I had done so. True, I have nothing extenuated, but neither have I set down aught in malice. Where the writer is trying to make us believe impossibilities, I have shown that she is doing so, and have also shown why she wanted us to believe them; but until a single passage is pointed out to me in which I have altered the intention of the original, I shall continue to hold that the conception of the poem which I lay before the reader in the following pages is a juster one than any that, so far as I know, has been made public hitherto; and, moreover, that it makes both the work and the writer a hundred times more interesting than any other conception can do.

I preface my abridgement with a plan of Ulysses’ house, so far as I have been able to make it out from the poem. The reader will find that he understands the story much better if he will study the plan of the house here given with some attention.

I have read what Prof. Jebb has written on this subject, * as also Mr. Andrew Lang's Note 18 at the end of Messrs. Butcher and Lang's translation of the "Odyssey." I have also read Mr. Arthur Platt's article on the slaying of the suitors,  and find myself in far closer agreement with Mr. Lang than with either of the other writers whom I have named. The only points on which I differ from Mr. Lang are in respect of the inner court, which he sees as a roofed hall, but which I hold to have been open to the sky, except the covered cloister or μέγαρα σκιόεντα, an arrangement which is still very common in Sicilian houses, especially at Trapani and Palermo. I also differ from him in so far as I see no reason to think that the "stone pavement" was raised, and as believing the ὀρσοθύρα to have been at the top of Telemachus's tower, and called "in the wall" because the tower abutted on the wall.

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These are details: substantially my view of the action and scene during the killing of the suitors agrees with Mr. Lang's. I will not give the reasons which compel me to differ from Prof. Jebb and Mr. Platt, but will leave my plan of the house and the abridged translation to the judgement of the reader.


A was the body of the house, containing the women's apartments and other rooms. It had an upper story, in which was Penelope's room overlooking the court where the suitors passed the greater part of their time.

It also contained the store-room, which seems to have been placed at the far end of the house, perhaps in a basement. The store-room could be reached by a passage from a doorway , and also by back-passages from a side-entrance A″, which I suppose to have been the back door of the house. The women's apartments opened on to the passage leading from A´ to the store-room.

B and B´ were the Megaron or Megara, that is to say inner court, of which B´ was a covered cloister with a roof supported by bearing-posts with cross-beams and rafters. The open part of the court had no flooring but the natural soil. Animals seem to have been flayed and dressed here, for Medon, who was certainly in the inner court while the suitors were being killed, concealed himself under a freshly-flayed ox (or heifer's) hide (xxii. 363).

B´ was called the μέγαρα σκιόεντα or "shaded" part of the court, to distinguish it from that which was open to the sun. The end nearest the house was paved with stone, while that nearest the outer court (and probably the other two sides) were floored with ash. The part of the cloister that was paved with stone does not appear to have been raised above the level of the rest; at one end of the stone pavement there was a door a, opening on to a narrow passage; this door, though mentioned immediately after the ὀρσοθύρα or trap door (xxii. 126), which we shall come to presently, has no connection with it. About the middle of the pavement, during the trial of the axes, there was a seat b, from which Ulysses shot through the axes, and from which he sprang when he began to shoot the suitors;

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against one of the bearing-posts that supported the roof of the cloister, there was c, a spear-stand.

All the four sides of the cloisters were filled with small tables at which the suitors dined. A man could hold one of these tables before him as a shield (xxii. 74, 75).

In the cloisters there were also

d, an open hearth or fire-place in the wall at right angles to the one which abutted on the house. So, at least, I read τοίχου τοῦ ἑτέρου (xxiii. 90).

e, the table at which the wine was mixed in the mixing-bowl—as well, of course, as the other tables above mentioned.

f, a door leading into g, the tower in which Telemachus used to sleep [translating ἄγχι παῤ ὀρσοθύρην (xxii. 333) not "near the (ὀρσοθύρα," but "near towards the ὀρσοθύρα"].

At the top of this tower there was a trap-door g´ (ὀρσοθύρα), through which it was possible to get out on to the roof of the tower and raise an alarm, but which afforded neither ingress nor egress—or the ὀρσοθύρα may have been a window.

C was the outer court or αὐλή approached by C´, the main entrance, or πρῶται θύραι, a covered gateway with a room over it. This covered gateway was the αἰθούση ἐρίδουπος, or reverberating portico which we meet with in other Odyssean houses, and are so familiar with in Italian and Sicilian houses at the present day. It was surrounded by C″, covered sheds or barns in which carts, farm implements, and probably some farm produce would be stored. It contained

h, the prodomus, or vestibule in front of the inner court, into which the visitor would pass through

i, the πρόθυρον or inner gateway (the word, πρόθυρον, however, is used also for the outer gateway), and

k, the tholus or vaulted room, above the exact position of which all we know is that it is described in xxii. 459, 460, as close up against the wall of the outer court. I suspect, but cannot prove it, that this was the room in which Ulysses built his bed (xxiii. 181-204).

D was the τυκτὸν δάπεδον or level ground in front of Ulysses’ house, on which the suitors amused themselves playing at quoits and aiming a spear at a mark (iv. 625-627).

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The only part of the foregoing plan and explanatory notes that forces the text is in respect of the main gateway, which I place too far from the mouth of the λαύρα for one man to be able to keep out all who would bring help to the suitors; but considering how much other impossibility we have to accept, I think this may be allowed to go with the rest. A young woman, such as I suppose the writer of the "Odyssey" to have been, would not stick at such a trifle as shifting the gates a little nearer the λαύρα if it suited her purpose.

In passing, I may say that Agamemnon appears to have been killed ("Od." iv. 530, 531) in much such a cloistered court as above supposed for the house of Ulysses. A banquet seems to have been prepared in the cloister on one side the court, while men were ambuscaded in the one on the opposite side.

Lastly, for what it may be worth, I would remind the reader that there is not a hint of windows in the part of Ulysses’ house frequented by the suitors.


15:* Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. VII. 170-88, and Introduction to Homer, 3rd ed. 1888, pp. 57-62, and Appendix, note 1.

15:† Journal of Philology, Vol. xxiv. p. 39, &c.

Next: Book I. The Council of the Gods