Odysseus' two speeches

2.188 ὅν τινα μὲν βασιλῆα καὶ ἔξοχον ἄνδρα κιχείη
τὸν δ᾽ ἀγανοῖς ἐπέεσσιν ἐρητύσασκε παραστάς:
δαιμόνι᾽ οὔ σε ἔοικε κακὸν ὣς δειδίσσεσθαι,
ἀλλ᾽ αὐτός τε κάθησο καὶ ἄλλους ἵδρυε λαούς:
οὐ γάρ πω σάφα οἶσθ᾽ οἷος νόος Ἀτρεΐωνος:
νῦν μὲν πειρᾶται, τάχα δ᾽ ἴψεται υἷας Ἀχαιῶν.
ἐν βουλῇ δ᾽ οὐ πάντες ἀκούσαμεν οἷον ἔειπε.
μή τι χολωσάμενος ῥέξῃ κακὸν υἷας Ἀχαιῶν:
θυμὸς δὲ μέγας ἐστὶ διοτρεφέων βασιλήων,
τιμὴ δ᾽ ἐκ Διός ἐστι, φιλεῖ δέ ἑ μητίετα Ζεύς.

2.198 ὃν δ᾽ αὖ δήμου τ᾽ ἄνδρα ἴδοι βοόωντά τ᾽ ἐφεύροι,
τὸν σκήπτρῳ ἐλάσασκεν ὁμοκλήσασκέ τε μύθῳ:
δαιμόνι᾽ ἀτρέμας ἧσο καὶ ἄλλων μῦθον ἄκουε,
οἳ σέο φέρτεροί εἰσι, σὺ δ᾽ ἀπτόλεμος καὶ ἄναλκις
οὔτέ ποτ᾽ ἐν πολέμῳ ἐναρίθμιος οὔτ᾽ ἐνὶ βουλῇ:
οὐ μέν πως πάντες βασιλεύσομεν ἐνθάδ᾽ Ἀχαιοί:
οὐκ ἀγαθὸν πολυκοιρανίη: εἷς κοίρανος ἔστω,
εἷς βασιλεύς, ᾧ δῶκε Κρόνου πάϊς ἀγκυλομήτεω
σκῆπτρόν τ᾽ ἠδὲ θέμιστας, ἵνά σφισι βουλεύῃσι.
ὣς ὅ γε κοιρανέων δίεπε στρατόν...

2.188 When he came upon a king or a prominent man, he would stand next to him and say:
'My Lord! It does not suit you to be scared like a common coward! But sit down yourself and settle down the others. You do not know what Atreides has in mind: now he is testing, soon he will punish the Achaeans. Not all of us heard what he said in the council. Do not let him get angry and do us harm! A great pride he has, a heaven-fed king, his honor is from Zeus and Zeus the all-wise loves him.'

2.198 But when he met with a commoner who was shouting, he struck him with the sceptre and commanded:
'Good sir! Sit still and listen to others, who are better men than you! You know nothing of war and courage and count for nothing in battle or council. We cannot all be kings of the Achaeans here - let there be one king to whom the son of Kronos of the Wicked Tricks gave sceptre and law to rule.
Thus he showed leadership among the host...

Note how he reasons with the leaders and scares the commoners. It should be noted that not fighting/going home is basically the Achilles position. For a view of these classes, see here.
In the first speech, Odysseus appeals to their pride (do not give in to fear), their leadership (sit down and make others sit down), the proper hierarchy (you do not know what Agamemnon has in mind, he is the king). This comes down to:

  1. Everybody must fight, there are no excuses
  2. A leader must give the right example
  3. The king must be obeyed, it is better for all of us
  4. Zeus gave him his share of honour

In the second speech, he scares them into submission (strike with the sceptre), reminds them of their place (you know nothing, you are no king), there can be only one (the son of Kronos made it so)

  1. the king has the power to hurt you
  2. you are only a soldier
  3. so you will submit to the king and the law, like it or not

After this, we know there comes Thersites, who is asking "why should I"? This is the basic question. The answer makes possible the polis. To give this answer, the poet takes a two-pronged approach where the first speech corresponds to the argument in "semi-hidden" language (these speeches by Odysseus are an example of that), the second one to Achilles' learning-by-pathos. To us moderns, it does not seem a very pleasant answer: Achilles gets to submit, in return for that he gets the honour of giving his life. He gets to choose beauty, which is not the same as happiness. But the honour is real and he gives his life not for the king but for his friends and comrades, he receives his honour from them. The answer has the power to turn the ugliest man in town into the most beautiful.

Where exactly the boundary lies between the classes is unclear and probably not the same in all places. I suppose the top group are the people who take part in symposia and who understand the kind of allusive language that is an integral part of that elite culture. I am thinking here of Alkinoös and his circle, listening to 'Odysseus the bard' in a private session. Those would be the addressees of the first speech. The scaring tactics of the second speech would be aimed at those who are not familiar with this use of language, the commoners. For them is the learning-by-pathos approach as exemplified by Achilles' learning curve.

The Identifier


  1. Patroclus: Il 16.787; Menelaos: Il 4.127, 4.146, 4.189, 13.603,, 17.679, 17.702, 23.600. In the Odyssey, Eumaios 15x in the formula “τὴν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφης, Εὔμαιε συβῶτα”.
  2. For later Greeks, those of classical times, they are distant events of course.
  3. I have also an author-model (1 and 1a), which is less important an no doubt more controversial. It is developed here.