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  • ‘I will send him to Crete, and sandy Pylos.’ A Fragment of the Cypria in the Homeric Scholia?
  • Benjamin Sammons

At Odyssey 3.313–28, Nestor warns Telemachus not to prolong his absence from home, lest the suitors completely destroy his property, and advises the young man only to travel to Sparta in case Menelaus, who has arrived home quite recently, may have news of Odysseus. Nestor’s admonition: ‘tarry not, but travel to Sparta and then return home,’ may have struck some ancient readers as needless, since this was Telemachus’ plan all along. Or was it? One scholion claims that the passage ‘convinced Zenodotus to substitute “Crete” for “Sparta” in all passages about Telemachus’s journey’1 and goes on to cite alternative lines for 1.93 and 1.285 with just this change. Line 1.93: πέμψω δ’ ἐς Σπάρτην τε καὶ ἐς Πύλον ἠμαθόεντα (‘I will send him to Sparta and sandy Pylos’), becomes πέμψω δ’ ἐς Κρήτην τε καὶ ἐς Πύλον ἠμαθόεντα (‘I will send him to Crete and sandy Pylos’). Line 1.285: κεῖθεν δὲ Σπάρτηνδε παρὰ ξανθὸν Μενέλαον (‘then to Sparta and blond Menelaus’), becomes κεῖθεν δ’ ἐς Κρήτην τε παρ’ Ἰδομενῆα ἄνακτα (‘then to Crete and lord Idomeneus’).2 I quote lines 1.284–86 below for the full context.

πρῶτα μὲν ἐς Πύλον ἐλθὲ καὶ εἴρεο Νέστορα δῖον,κεῖθεν δὲ Σπάρτηνδε παρὰ ξανθὸν Μενέλαον· [End Page 201] ὃς γὰρ δεύτατος ἦλθεν Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων.


First go to Pylos and question godlike Nestor,then to Sparta and blond Menelaus.For he [Menelaus] was the last of the bronze-clad Achaeans to comehome.

According to the view ascribed to Zenodotus, Athena intended Telemachus to travel from Pylos to Crete in order to inquire about his father from Idomeneus. This was the plan she proposed to Zeus (1.93), this her command to the young hero (1.284–85). Nestor, having heard about this itinerary ‘offstage’, dissuades Telemachus from the lengthy journey to Crete and successfully redirects him to Sparta and Menelaus.3 The proposed journey to Crete then never takes place.

As Stephanie West notes (2003:304), the detailed explication of Zenodotus’ reasoning is mere guesswork, since Zenodotus left no commentary. In fact, it seems as though a minor difficulty concerning 3.313 (that is, why Nestor should advise a course of action already resolved upon) is exploited to craft an explanation for some very strange variants for 1.93 and 1.285, in what ancient scholars took to be the edition of Zenodotus. Yet it is fanciful to suppose that Zenodotus introduced such problematic variants to deal with such an easy problem,4 and there is no evidence that Zenodotus or anyone else tried to change the text systematically, as the scholion alleges.5 Moreover, the whole explanation reflects a misunderstanding of exactly what Zenodotus bequeathed to his successors; for while ancient scholars seem to have imagined that Zenodotus created something like a critical edition of his own, the many eccentricities attributed to this ‘edition’ suggest that it was merely a personal copy whose variants were wrongly interpreted as Zenodotus’ own conjectures.6 The question that should be asked, then, is [End Page 202] not why Zenodotus ‘wrote’ these lines in his edition of the Odyssey, but why these lines should have appeared in the copy that he happened to use, and exactly how they appeared there. And this is an important question, because the variant readings are perhaps the strangest in the whole textual tradition of Homer, since they involve a major narrative signpost but completely contradict the course of the action.7

Indeed, the variants are so inappropriate to the context of our Odyssey that it seems almost impossible that they reflect an alteration by Zenodotus or anyone else, and it has been argued paradoxically that they must therefore represent ‘the genuine original text’ of the Odyssey.8 Yet this could only mean an Odyssey in which Telemachus did visit Crete on Athena’s advice.9 This is not so outlandish as it may, at first, seem. It has long been noticed that Crete is very frequently mentioned in the Odyssey, not so much in the direct narrative as in the lying tales of Odysseus, who repeatedly claims to be a native of Crete or to have visited there. These lying tales reveal a surprisingly accurate topographical and ethnographic knowledge of Crete.10 Stranger still, even Eumaeus has heard a story, from a source other than Odysseus, locating Odysseus in Crete...


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