Sounds of Sirens: Od. XII. 184-191

Pauline Nugent

Southwest Missouri State University

Throughout his epics, Homer is extremely prolific in his use of adjectives and epithets to describe or identify his characters.  Thus, we find dios Orestes, phaidimos Hector, podarkês Achilles, multiple patronymics, and the famous four-word-liner: Diogenes Laertidê, polumêchan' Odusseu'.  However, Homer is also very discriminating in his use of descriptive elements.  For instance, the word polutlas describes only two Homeric characters: Nestor in view of his abnormal longevity, and Odysseus for his enterprising nature.  But there is one adjective that Homer reserves exclusively for Odysseus: poluainos (much-praised), and it occurs only here in the first line of the Sirens' Song.  What is so special, indeed, unique, about this passage that it requires a singular use of language?  These eight lines focus with laser precision on the hero's insatiable thirst for new knowledge, a trait common to all Greeks, of whom Odysseus is foremost.  However, as Stanford remarks, Odysseus' intellectual curiosity is highlighted in his sojourn with the Cyclops but in a "purer light in his encounter with the Sirens" (The Ulysses Theme, 76-77).

This paper offers a close reading of this passage and examines the role of the Sirens (and others), as conduits of information that satisfies Odysseus' inquiring spirit, even when, as often happens in Homer, their song remains unsung.

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