Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pigs and Ships in the Odyssey (Updated)

(I use Lattimore's translation in what follows.)

As Odysseus approaches the home of the swineherd Eumaios in Book 14 of the Odyssey, we get a description of the property. One of the things we learn is the following:

Inside the enclosure he made twelve pig pens
next to each other, for his sows to sleep in, and in each of them
fifty pigs who sleep on the ground were confined. (14.13-15)

Interestingly, the number of pig pens kept by Eumaios, who functions as a loyal representative and relic of the old Odyssean order (cf. 14.3-4: '...who beyond others/cared for the house properties acquired by noble Odysseus'), is the same as the number of Odysseus' ships (9.159: 'Now there were twelve ships that went with me...'). The number of pigs in each of Eumaios' pens even seems to be close to the Odyssean norm for the number of men per ship if the ship of the Phaiakians is any indication, for Alkinoos, when promising that he will give Odysseus conveyance to Ithaka, says:
Come then, let us drag a black ship down to the bright sea,
one sailing now for the first time, and have for it a selection
from the district, fifty-two young men, who have been the finest
before. (8.34-7)

The Phaiakians, however, perhaps do not provide an ideal indication, since Odysseus' own ships seem to have had slightly more men. When Odysseus and his companions come to Aiaia, they split up into two groups led by Odysseus and Eurylochos, each with 22 men under their command (10.203-8), making for a total of 46 (at this point, only Odysseus' ship is left after the Laistrygonian debacle earlier in Book 10). His ship, along with every other ship, had lost 6 men to the Kikonians in Book 9, along with 6 men to Polyphemus, bringing the total to 58. In addition, one of Odysseus' men from his own ship (cf. 10.95-102 and 116-17) was killed by the Laistrygonian Antiphates, giving us a total of 59.

Update: P.V. Jones, in his companion to Lattimore's translation ad 9.60, makes it clear that a ship in the Odyssey could get by with a much smaller crew, noting that Homer states in 2.212 that Telemachos needed only 20 companions for his journey.

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