The Bow of Odysseus, Heracles’ Crime, and the Gigantomachy in the Odyssey

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Marek Wȩcowski



This paper focuses on a mysterious reference in the depiction of the provenance of the fateful bow of Odysseus in Od. 21.26, which is usually translated as ‘[the man called] Herakles, guilty of monstruous actions’ or else as ‘... Heracles aware of great deeds’. Instead of traditionally linking this allusion to Heracles’ killing of Iphitos or the story of Heracles’ involvement in the theft of the mares of Iphitos’ father by Autolykos, Odysseus’ grandfather, it is argued that the reference here is to the participation of Heracles in the cosmic battle of the Olympian gods against the Gigantes. Accordingly, the line should be translated as follows: ‘Heracles, witness to great deeds’. As such, Od. 21.26 would provide us with the earliest attested mention of the Gigantomachy in Greek literature. If so, alongside other passages in the Odys- sey such as 12.69–70 (mentioning ‘Argo, who is in all men’s minds’), this reference might have been triggered by the poet’s eagerness to include an allusion to a freshly pre-Homeric poem widely circulating among his envisaged audience.


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