restricted access Zeus in the Odyssey (review)
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Reviewed by
J. Marks. Zeus in the Odyssey. Washington, D.C.: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2008. Dist. by Harvard University Press. vii + 175 pp. Paper, $16.95.

J. Marks sheds much needed light on the neglected subject of Zeus in the Odyssey. In the first three chapters, Marks shows how Zeus does the poet's work of direction and exclusion. To begin with, Marks argues for Zeus' centrality to the epic's plot. At key junctures the chief god delineates the poem's story. In reminiscing on Aigisthos' fate, that is, in presenting his own Oresteia (Od. 1.32–43), Zeus "foreshadows the relationships among the Odyssey's characters and the path the narrative will take" (34). In a speech in Book 5 (Od. 5.29–42), he outlines the course of the narrative from Books 5 to 13. Fittingly, only Zeus can bring the poem to a close as he declares the need for a truce between Odysseus and his fellow Ithakans that short-circuits the possibility of an endless cycle of retributive violence. Moreover, throughout the Odyssey, Zeus not only sees to it that Athena and Poseidon serve his aims unwittingly but also weaves together the different narratives urged by these competing gods to create a coherent story. Marks' discussion can be paired with Bruce Heiden's recent analysis of Zeus' control over the plot of the Iliad (Homer's Cosmic Fabrication: Choice and Design in the Iliad [Oxford 2008]).

Marks has a second goal in chapters 1 through 3. He finds that the Odyssey uses Zeus' scenes to confront other stories about its protagonists and to declare thereby its Panhellenic orientation. For example, "the Odyssey targets stories about an unfaithful Penelope for 'de-authorization'," and Zeus' erasure of Klytemnestra in his Oresteia "signposts this program" (27). When Zeus brings the Odyssey to a close, he "de-authorizes a family of traditions . . . in which the suitors' families seek vengeance and drive Odysseus into exile" (63). Analogously, it is in a speech by Zeus that a poet can move between two different versions of Skheria's fate. Depending on the politics of his audience, a poet could choose in verse 13.158 to have Zeus either allow Poseidon to cover Skheria with a mountain by using meta or mega or stop Poseidon from doing so by using .

In the second half of the book, Marks continues to explore Zeus' will as representative of the poem's Panhellenism. The chapters of this portion are best considered individually. Chapter 4 explores the Odyssey's confrontation with epichoric traditions related to Odysseus' return and the events that follow his killing of the suitors. Marks explores sites in West Greece (namely, Ithaka, Thesprotia, Aitolia, and Elis) that may have developed "particularly vigorous epichoric Odysseus-traditions" (96). Because these local stories were so drastically different from the Homeric story and yet so "influential" (110), the Odyssey [End Page 155] either chooses to position them as "paths not taken" (106) or pursues a strategy of "de-authorization through recontextualization," that is, of "framing them as lies" (110). From these perspectives, Marks examines, for instance, Teiresias' ambiguous statement that death will come to Odysseus ex halos (Od. 11.134) and the disguised Odysseus' references to Thesprotia and Elis in his lying tales. In the chapter's conclusion, Marks returns to Zeus. Zeus, he speculates, was absent from the non-Homeric narratives because they "were not compelled [to] make the kind of narrative decisions" that are the province of Zeus (110). Marks thus reaffirms and clarifies his proposition that the chief god is a mechanism through which the Odyssey responds to other stories about its characters as it fashions a Panhellenic identity for itself.

In Chapter 5, Marks turns to Nestor in Odyssey 3. Nestor thinks like a poet in so far as he divvies up the Trojan War saga into discrete segments akin to the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the poems of the Epic Cycle. Furthermore, like a poet, Nestor can speak with confidence about the actions of the gods. Once we observe Nestor's affinities with poets, we can look at how Nestor handles Zeus in his account of the Achaians...