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Blood for the Dead: Homeric Ghosts Speak Up

Author(s): John Heath


Source: Hermes, 133. Jahrg., H. 4 (2005), pp. 389-400
Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4477671
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BLOODFORTHE DEAD:
HOMERICGHOSTSSPEAK UP
When Odysseus asks Tiresias in the underworldhow he can induce his mother's
ghost to speak to him, the prophetic shade gives explicit directions:
pOi6t&v

Kcai ciy

TOt EIrO; ipEo

4pCoi

0riOo.

OV tIVU 1EV KEVEaq VEKX)OV


1CaCtotev-coT(0v

CijaTo; ioa(sovlj?V, 6
(J)6

K ?t4OoVEq;,

6 6

5E TOt VTJtEpTEq ?VIYE

t tlV6Xv
TOI

ytv ouioywo. (Od.

11.146-49)

It's an easy word I will say to you and put into your mind:
whichever of the departed dead you allow to approach the blood, that one will speak
truthfully to you; but anyone you refuse will go back again.

But merely 'approaching'the blood is not enough. After Tiresias departs, Odysseus waits until his mother 'came forward and drank the dark blood' (152-3).
Only upon imbibing does Anticleia recognize and speak to her son. So what,
exactly, is the function of the sacrificial blood? Does the ghostly imbibing enable
the Homeric dead to regain some form of consciousness, or does it allow the
shades to speak intelligibly with the living? Or both? Does this "rule" always
apply, or only in certain circumstancesor with specific individuals?
The Homeric picture of the dead is notoriously complex, ambiguous, and
even contradictory.Indeed, the fate itself of the dead is variously depicted in the
epics with several alternatives to the predominantshadowy world of the dead of
Odyssey 11. In addition to the uncomfortable double post-mortem life of Heracles at Od. 11.601-626, one learns of alternative afterlives provided or offered to
Ganymede (II. 20.231-5), Menelaus (Od. 4.561-9; cf. Calypso's offer of immortality to Odysseus, 5.206-10, 23.336), Leucothea (Od. 5.333-5), Castor and
Polydeuces (Od. 11.299-304), and Cleitus (Od. 15.250-1). Things are even
more manifold once one considers other early Greek epics (see below on
Achilles).
A familiar critical approachto such contradictions surroundingthe Homeric
dead has been to try to separateout the various strandsof thought into chronological layers, to attemptto tease out the development of Greek beliefs about death
and dying from the Mycenaean through the Archaic Age.' Take the notorious
issue of "witless shades,"for example. Circe tells Odysseus thatTiresias is the one
I The most thorough
example of this approach is that of SOURVINOU-INWOOD
(1995), with an
excellent discussion of previous scholarship. The methodology of her earlier efforts (1981; 1983)
was challenged by MORRIS (1989), to which SOURVINOUJ-INWOOD (1995) replied in a lengthy
Appendix.

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390

JOHN HEATH

ghost to retain 'firmphrenes'.2 According to the enchantress,Persephonegranted


the Theban seer a voo5 so that he alone (oiw) among the dead has control of his
senses (nrElvboOat);all the rest of the dead 'flit about as shadows' (Od. 10.49395). And such appears to be the nature of Anticleia's ghost, who does not
recognize her son, causing a forlorn Odysseus to ask Tiresias 'how she might
recognize (dvayvoil) that I am he' (her son, 11.142-4). Once she drinks the
sacrificial blood, she 'immediately recognizes' (auTiKa cyvw) Odysseus and
addresses him (153-4).
But as is well known, most of the souls in Homer's Hades in fact possess some
innate consciousness. The dead are not consistently witless: they must be able to
sense and react to the rites of blood from which they drink;they are apparently
sensitive to the actions of the living; they can be punished by the Erinyes; they
have various degrees of power and authority;they fear Odysseus' sword; some
even sit in judgment of others.
The "historical"school explains these contradictionsprimarilyas competing
layers of the epic traditionand religious developmentat odds in Homericeschatolfor example, argues that we have here two
SOURVINOU-INWOOD,
Ogy. CHRISTIANE
different visions of the dead from two different periods: 1) witless shades, which
may be an inheritedbelief from the Mycenaeanperiod;2) a belief contemporaneous with Homer and his immediate predecessors that the shades are not without
some consciousness.3This may well be the case, but I would cautionthatone must
also remainextremely sensitive to the poetic purposesbehind the depiction of any
particular aspect of the Homeric underworld. The epics are poems first, and
Homer draws on various strandsof moral, political, mythological, and religious
traditionas they suit his thematicpurposes.4 Moreover,one must take into account
the epic narrativeconventions, which may also shape the depiction of any specific
culturalartifact.
One fruitful place to examine the importanceof the poetic manipulationof
ritual is the connection between 'blood-drinking' by Homeric ghosts and the
has arguedthat
ability of the dead to converse with the living. SOURVINOU-INWOOD
She
out
that the heroes
points
the dead do not need to drink the blood to speak.
Odysseus reviews after a brief interlude amidst his Phaeacian audience are not
claims that
said to have quaffed any blood (Od. 11.385-626). SOURVINOU-INWOOD
epic conventions would require the audience to rely completely upon explicit

The most complete summary of meanings of opEv?5 in Homer is SULLIVAN (1988): (f the
difficult remarks of Achilles after Patroclus disappears, 11.23.1 03- 104 with the note of RICHARDSON (1993).
( 1995) 77-94; see also TSAGARAKIS (2000) 105-119.
- SOURVINOU-1NWOOD
4 See HEATH (2005) 156-66 with bibliography. True, as SOURVINOU-INWOOD
(1995) 82 n. 202
insists, one still needs to explain why the discrepancies would be acceptable to the audience. But
MORRIS (1989) 309-10 also reminds us that we 'do not have to explain every difference between
poems as an evolution through time'; see also BREMMER (1994) 101 and TSAGARAKIS (2000).
2

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Blood for the Dead: Homeric Ghosts Speak Up

391

cues: the audience 'would have taken the absence of repetition to entail that the
action did not take place'.5
But I believe that the Homeric singer could expect his audience to understand
'typical' actions without explicitly repeating each detail. Moreover, the poet
carefully manipulatesthe drinkingand speaking motif for full thematic affect. A
close examination of Odyssey 11 reveals that the blood is probablynecessary for
ritually interredghosts to speak coherently with living - there is every reason to
believe that all of those who talk to Odysseus took a sip - but Homer is not
requiredto remindus each time of a recurringaction. Indeed, Homer is often only
as consistent as his themes require:the epic poet really can 'dance in chains' when
he wishes.6
It is worth noting first that language is an importantcriterionof differentiation
between groups in Homer. The effective control of language distinguishes between young and old, divine and mortal,humanand animals, Greeks and Trojans,
heroic and middling, and, yes, even the living and the dead: speech makes us
human.7Nevertheless, the poet is certain (if not perfectly consistent) about one
point: the fully dead do not usually speak like the living.
The most common metaphorsfor dying in Homer involve the loss of sight, as
darknesscovers the eyes and one 'leaves the light of the sun' to 'go into the dark'.8
The world of the dead is not primarily dim, however, but unintelligible to the
living. Once dead, Homeric souls have no troublebeing seen by the living should
the opportunityarise, but they do have a great deal of difficulty speaking to them.
And the living have just as much troublehearingthe deceased as making physical
contact. As Hermes leads the butcheredsuitors down to the underworldin the last
book of the Odyssey, these new shades can only squeak like bats (Od. 24.5-9).

'

SOURVINOLJ-INWOOD
(1995) 81-3. JOHNSTON (1999) 7-8, in a more recent examination of
much of the same material, is apparently unconvinced by SOURVINOU-INWOOD's
argument, stating
simply that the ghosts are unable to converse in any 'meaningful way' until they drink blood.
6 Cf. OGDEN (2001) 247 n. 46, who suggests the discrepancies in the depiction of blooddrinking may be derive from Homer's "elliptical treatment." CLARKE (1999) 189 and n.67, who
rejects the more traditional interpretations of the role of drinking blood and cremation, nevertheless concludes as well that the conceptiton of the dead's 'ability to think and speak like living men
appears and disappears in different contexts'. My examination here of the role of the blooddrinking in the epics focuses on its immediate literary functions and leaves aside the relationship
between Homer's account and the actual Greek practice of necromancy and connections with
either the Acheron nekuomanteion or later literary sources.
7 HEATH(2005)

x On metaphors of light and vision in Hades, the 'sightless' place, see VERMEULE
(1979) 247; GRIFFIN(1980) 90 with n.25; GARLAND(1981) 46; and most recently MORRISON(1999) and
CLARKF
(1999) 241-3. For the etymology of Hades as 'invisible' or 'sightless', see RUIJGH
(1991)
575-6:

BEEKES(1998)

17-28: BREMMER
(2002) 4. SCHOFIELD
(1991) 24-5 suggests that Heraclit-

us' expression 'souls sniff in Hades' (Fr. 98) is designed to mock Homer's conception of a
sightless underworld. But in the Homeric texts the shades usually see just fine.

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392

JOHN HEAFH

Homer insists that their voices are inarticulate,repeating the verb Tpi4w three
times in five verses. Only a sharp,high-pitchedsqueal is emitted. Is the squeaking
merely animalisticgibberish,or is it a languageof the dead, comprehensibleto the
deceased, but sounding inhumanto the living'?HEUBECK'S argument9that the poet
is referringto the fluttering of wings ratherthan the cries of birds is untenable.
Tpi4w in the epics always refers to a sharp sound - the backs of Odysseus and
Ajax as they wrestle (ll. 23.714) or the shrieks (not fluttering) made by eight
sparrows who can'tfly as they are attacked and eaten by a snake (II. 2.314). In
post-HomericGreekthe word refersparticularlyto animal sounds:birds,partridges, locusts, swallows, elephants, mice, as well as the noise from a string, axle
wheel, shoe, even the (familiar?)hissing of a personburntin the fire. The root can
be used to describe the "babble"of the barbarianas well, as when the Ethiopian
cave-dwellers in Herodotus squeak like bats (4.183). This is an interestingconnection, since a common conception of ghosts was as winged creatures,especially
bats. The dead can understandeach other, as the slain suitors' subsequentconversations with the Iliadic dead reveal, but the sounds of the suitors are as incomprehensible to the living as an exotic foreign languageor the shrill notes from winged
creatures.I
Anticleia, as we have seen, is specifically depicted as coming forth to drink
before she can speak. Ratherthan repeating this quaffing-scene for every subsequent heroine, Homer tells us just once the procedure adopted by his hero to
question the women who come flocking to the blood: Odysseus does not allow
6
them all to drink at once (ol5K ?o'viLVniV?ltV %p cdcaq
nipa KcXamv6v), but
instead has them drink one at a time as he interrogatesthem, using his sword to
keep them in line (I 1.228-34).
There is an importantlesson here in Homeric composition and poetic art that
will be helpful in the discussion below. Homer does not need to remind us each
time thatblood was imbibed. We have been shown Anticleia's drinking,and have
now been plainly told thatall the subsequentspeakerswere in line to drinkas well.
There is no repetition of the 'drinking' motif, and none is necessary. Anticleia's
drinking is not just paradigmatic,however, but has thematic significance that is

HEUJBECK(1989) ad Od. 11.605, 11.633; and (1992) ad Od. 24.5.


10OGDEN (2001) 221-9; HEATH (2005) 200. Interestingly, Eustathius (ad Od. 24.1 3f; c' ad 11.
2.314) says the tplt-root is associated with childish weeping (KXU1j0Pfjp1Pl6;). He thus connects
the sounds of the dead with those of children, another group of the Other; see BOLOGNA ( 1978)
312. Sophocles (Fr-.879) says that a 'swarm' (acrpvo;) of the dead comes up 'buzzing' (roplIei);
see COOK(1 895) for the link between bees and soul. On the inability of the dead to speak properly.
(1995) 94-106 has made the
see BREMMER (1983) 84-5 and JAHN (1987) 36. SouRVINOU-INWOOD
latest case for taking the Deuteronekuia of Od. 24.1-204 as post-Homeric, arguing that it
incorporates eschatological ideas (e.g. Hermes as yi)Xonoput6;, the dead entering Hades before
burial) of a later period. Still, the terminology and beliefs about the speech of the dead remain
remarkably consistent throughout the epics.

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Blood for the Dead: Homeric Ghosts Speak Up

393

not attachedto the other dead. Her shade appears right after that of the unburied
Elpenor. This is the first time Odysseus leams of her death, and though he weeps
and 'grieves deeply', he must demonstratehis characteristic(and at this point in
the epic, still developing) self-control and keep her from the blood until Tiresias
appears(I 1.84-9). Withouta sip from the pool Anticleia apparentlydoes not even
recognize Odysseus (11.142-4, 152-4), an additional source of pain to the bereaved son and strugglinghero. Once the pathos of this scene is no longer needed,
the poet can sustainthe dignity of heroines and heroes by limiting the referencesto
the relatively humbling act of imbibing blood with the permission - and at the
feet - of Odysseus. It is no longer dramatically important- in fact, it would be
artisticallyclumsy - to conjure up the ritualact of each ghost.
The omission of repeatedreferencesto the blood-drinkingis similar to the way
Homer deals with women's tales themselves. Odysseus says, quite explicitly, that
he 'questioned them all' (eyi 6' cp&tvov &L6ccI) and that each (bCa'zYtri)of
them spoke to him (I 1.233-4)."l But when we examine the details of Odysseus'
account we find that the poet prefersvariety to mind-dulling repetition.Odysseus
immediately says that he 'saw' ('i6ov, 235) Tyro, who 'told' (236) him her story,
which is in fact introduced in indirect statement (236-7) but quickly becomes
embedded in Odysseus' own voice (238 f.). Odysseus sees the next heroine,
Antiope, as well ('i6ov, 260), but alters the verb (she 'boasted', 261) and he then
reportsher words. But of the next four heroines- Alcmene, Epicaste, Chloris, and
Lede - Odysseus reportsonly that he 'saw' them, and then goes on to repeat the
story of each in his own words.
We are meant to understandthat Odysseus questioned them all (he has told us
that he did) and that they all drank from the blood before they gave him the
informationhe is relaying (he has told us this too). Homer feels no need to remind
us of this process in each case.'2 Odysseus claims he saw lphimedeia as well, and
this time he tells us directly that she spoke (306), although with the next six
heroines there is a referenceonly to seeing, not speaking. He even skips the stories
of four of these women (Phaedra,Procris, Maera, Clymene) in order to focus on
the tales of Ariadne and Eriphyle. Again, what we see here is the variety of
Homeric composition. Ratherthantediously informingus each time that a woman
drankthe blood and told the following story, Homer has provided Odysseus with
several ways of introducingtheir stories in his catalogue. The poet is not overly
concerned with clarifying on each occasion just how the dead came to have the
powers of speech.
Nevertheless, a close examination of Odysseus' encounter with dead Greek
heroes suggests that it is really only in the cases of Achilles and Heracles that
Odysseus skips the blood-drinkingmotif, and the same selective process we just

So alSo DE JONG
12 TSAGARAKIS

(2001) ad Od. 1 1.225-30.


(2000) 80-1 with n. 315.

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JOHN HEATH

reviewed in the case of the heroines is at work with their male counterparts.
Agamemnon, the first of the heroes to arrive after the ghosts of the women are
scattered, appears with the rest of his slain household. He recognizes Odysseus
immediatelyupon drinking(cint niriVactcaKeXatvOv, 390) and quickly replies to
Odysseus' questions (405 f.). Some editors have rejectedthe last half of this verse
with its referenceto blood-drinking.'3Even its (unnecessary)exclusion, however,
would not change the basic Homeric patternestablished with Tiresias and the
heroines: Agamemnon appears with a number of other ghosts (388) as had the
previous speakers, and we are to imagine (if we care enough to ponderthe issue,
which I doubt Homer's audience would have) Agamemnon's characteristicswagger, struttingat the front of his entourageto drink from the blood.
After this conversation, Achilles arrives (467), also surrounded by other
ghosts (of Patroclus, Antilochus, and Ajax). This time we are told that Achilles
simply recognized Odysseus and addressedhim (471). Again, do we need Homer
to inform us thatOdysseus held off the others while Achilles drank?Would any of
his companion ghosts have competed with him in getting to the blood first? For
that matter, can we imagine Homer wishing to depict the ever-proud Achilles
kneeling before Odysseus to taste the blood? Do we really even notice the absence
of the blood at this point?
After Achilles departs,'4 Odysseus tells us that the other dead stood about
sorrowing, and 'each asked about those dear to him' (542). There is no reason to
assume that Patroclusand Antilochus were not held to the same rules as others in
the underworld.But clearly their thematic function has nothing to do with what
they say - Homer skips all that- much less with how they came to have the ability
to speak, but with the mere fact thatthey conversed with Odysseus at all. Everyone

13 See the discussion of HEUBECK (1989) ad Od. 11.390.


14 At the risk of offering up unfounded speculation, I would suggest that Achilles, like
Heracles, is somewhat uncomfortable in the Homeric underworld. EDWARDS (1985) has shown
that in other early epics, especially the Aethiopis, as well as in the post-Homeric poetic tradition,
Achilles does not go to the underworld upon his death but is translated to the White Island, an
equivalent of the Isles of the Blessed. The Iliad and the Odyssev, in other words, are the eccentric
texts in their presentation of Achilles' gloomy afterlife. Additionally, the OdYsseYclearly knows
a number of episodes that appeared in the Aethiopis, including the death and funeral rites of
Achilles (24.36-92), so Homer's Achilles is quite intentionally removed from his accustomed
eternal bliss; see EDWARDS' detailed and convincing discussion, and now BURGESS (2001) 160-4.
In other words, since the Iliad does not present us with Achilles' death, it is here in Odyssev 11
that Achilles finds himself for the first time, as far as we can tell, in the underworld. If the narrator
and his audience were aware that Achilles' appearance in Hades is a novelty, his slightly different
treatment from the dead who have been described before might be more readily explained ((]'
Heracles' anomalous position). And perhaps we can detect an added source of Achilles' bitterness about life in the underworld in his famous sharp reply to Odysseus about the rottenness of
death (488-91) - he's found himself in the wrong epic, reduced for the first time to just another of

the lowly dead!

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Blood for the Dead: Homeric Ghosts Speak Up

395

is eager and happy to talk with Odysseus. Everyone but Ajax, of course. Achilles
and his two closest friends are set up specifically to contrast with Ajax, who,
ratherthan standing aroundor approaching,remains apart,alone, and still angry.
He is - as SouvlNou-INwooDemphasizes - hardly one of the 'witless' shades
mentioned by Odysseus, Tiresias, and Achilles (a&pa68ec;, 476). Homer needs
Ajax to recognize Odysseus without approaching him, without coming close
enough to drink the blood, and that is exactly what happens. But Ajax does not
speak to the living. The whole point of giving him consciousness is so he can quite
poignantly choose not to reply to Odysseus. When Odysseus says that he and Ajax
may yet have engaged in conversationhad he not desired to see otherghosts (5657), we could imagine that the wrathfulwraithwould have had to drink blood like
the rest of Hades' denizens. But thatis worryingaboutthings thatHomer is simply
not concerned about at this point. Ajax' appearancehas thematic significance and
any reference to blood at this point would be pedantic and disruptive.
As with all his encountersin the underworld,Odysseushas motives for mentioning this awkwardmeeting. The narratorwishes to show his audience- the Phaeacians - that it was Ajax' intransigence,his inability to control his heroic temper
(1 1.562), thatwas the sourceof the problemsbetween the two of them (andperhaps
of the nasty rumorsthatmay have reachedtheirears aboutOdysseus' complicity in
Ajax' suicide!). Odysseus simultaneouslytakes advantage of this opportunityto
remindhis listeners(whom he must impressto insurehis own survival)thathe was
awarded Achilles' arms, given victory even by his own enemies, the sons of the
Trojans,and by Athenaherself. In telling the PhaeaciansthatAjax was second only
to Achilles in beautyanddeeds (1 1.550-1; note the absenceof referenceto 'words')
among the Greeks,the guest appearsreasonable,generous,and noble. By saying in
the same breaththat he was in fact chosen as Achilles' successor he illustrateshis
own heroic statureand integrityto his wary hosts.'5
Odysseus does not seem to attemptto engage Minos, Orion, and the traditional
'sinners' in conversation (568-600). He 'sees' them but does not supply details of
what they could have said. This should not be surprising. Busy as they all are
judging, herding, rolling boulders up hills, being pinned to the ground and
plunged in a pool, they are hardly in a position to approachthe blood. Odysseus is
no Orpheus and the tortures do not come to a stop upon his arrival. More

15 MONTIGLIO
(2000) 261 puts it differently but comes to the same basic conclusions when she
suggests that Odysseus wishes to depict himself as a victim of Ajax's 'attack' of silence, thereby
revealing his compassion and understanding. DE JONG (2001) ad Od. 11.541-67 observes that
'Odysseus is already exculpating himself.. .showing regret, and lavishly praising his former
rival'. Ajax's silence, of course, makes for great poetry, as the scholiast BT on 11.563 observed;
4f Longinus' (9.2) observation that Ajax's silence is 'more sublime than any words'. MOST
(1989) shows how Odysseus' apologoi are designed for the Phaeacian audience to define the
proper duties of hospitality with negative examples. He does not analyze the Ajax episode,
however; see also BYRE (1994) 362; FORD(1999).

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396

JOHN

HEATH

importantly,by this point in Odysseus' narrativethere seems to be a thorough


blending of two different concepts of this visit to the dead, one where the dead
come up to the trenchto drinkand are able to speak and prophesy,the other where
Odysseus makes a more traditional catabasis to the underworld.It is hard to
imagine that Odysseus sees all this simply standingover the blood.'6
In Odysseus' final encounterwith the heroic dead, Heracles (or his phantom)
appears, recognizing Odysseus (615) and addressing him with no explicit reference to any blood at all. Heracles fits the general patternof ghostly visitations,
appearingamidsta numberof othershades.Only this time - I thinkwith a masterly
touch of grim humor- we are told quite explicitly why Odysseus was not aboutto
stand guard over the blood with his sword, keeping the other ghosts away. First,
Heracles himself sends the dead scattering, shrieking incoherently (how else?)
like birds flying off in terror (605-606). And Heracles is better armed than
Odysseus, his bow strungand arrowready, his terriblebelt flashing. It would be a
bold rhetorical maneuver even for Odysseus to describe himself as 'allowing'
Heracles to drinkthe blood. But there is still no reasonto thinkthat, if pressed,the
narratorwouldn't have said that he did, if in fact we are even still to imagine
Heracles at the pit of blood ratherthan Odysseus himself wanderingamong the
dead.17
The issues are complex and the picture is often a bit fuzzy, but we can
conclude that under normal circumstancesthe buried dead cannot use articulate
speech. They must be re-animatedwith blood before they can converse with the
living. The deceased retaina xiuXi and an &'icoXov, as Achilles realizes (23.104),
but no av6&, which is never used of the dead (just as it is never used of the
undisguisedgods).'8 They are only as 'witless' as the context requires,but they do
not speak with the living without special rites.
Homer does need the dead to communicate with the living on occasion,
however. But even here he is careful to distinguish the buriedfrom the unburied.
The unburied Patroclus uses his voice to remonstratecoherently with Achilles
about his lack of burial(/1. 23.65 f.)! He has not yet been admittedto the world of
the dead, so he can still articulatehis complaints- he is recognized by his stature,
16 HEUBECK ( 1989) ad Od. 1 1.568-627 suggests that the tasting of blood is omitted 'with good
reason, since Odysseus is now looking at figures deep within Erebus, rather than at those which
had drawn close to his sacrifice'.
17
One might emphasize Heracles' odd status as both shade and god, as well as his successful
catahasis in search of Cerberus, which he narratesto Odysseus - he seems to defy normal mortal/
immortal limitations. Of course, there are many intriguing questions about the entire last section
of this book and its possible interpolation. At least in terms of the speech of the dead, it follows a
well-established pattern from earlier in the book.
18For a-66l as a term referring solely to human speech, see CL.AY
( 1974).
19 After Achilles agrees to his request for burial (23.95-6), Patroclus' ghost quickly tlits
away from Achilles with an incoherent gibbering (tEtrpvyua, 23. 100-101) identical to that of the
dead suitors. Does this reflect a sudden change of narrative point-of-view, as Patroclus now is

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eyes, and voice (Owvi, 23.65-6).19 Elpenor,also unburiedand seeking final repose,
similarly finds no obstacles to conversing with Odysseus (Od. 11.60 f.). Both
dialogues take place beyond the normalrealmsof humancommunication,either in
a dream (Patroclus) or at the edge of the world (Elpenor). Homer is much more
interestedin dramaticimpact than eschatological consistency. Some ghosts speak
when they have to, but the poet is still careful to keep such occurrencesbeyond the
bounds of normalhumanexperience and limits them to ghosts not yet at rest. The
fully dead in the epics cannot speak to the living without drinkingblood.
Except for Tiresias. The Theban seer's position among the dead, as we have
seen, is unique, for he alone (oiw) among the dead has control of his senses
(lrniv6rOat, Od. 10.493-95). Although he can speak to Odysseus without drinking blood, he nevertheless insists on drinkingthe blood anyway (I 1.95-98). Why?
Is it so he can prophesy?The Greek says that he imbibes so that he can 'speak the
truth'( 11.96; cf. Tiresias' words about Anticleia, I 1. 148) - is the emphasis on the
verb or the object?20
Indeed, Tiresias' ghost is the only one of the Homeric dead actually to
prophesy, and this is consistent with the epic's insistence that ghosts maintain
their living personalities, appearances, and professions. Tiresias was a prophet
when alive, and thus he alone of the dead has powers to foresee the future.2 There
is no evidence in the text that 'prophecy' is directly related to the blood in any
other case, but for him the links between blood and predictionare important.After
five verses, the Theban seer quickly drinks the blood and immediately begins his

seen as isolated from the living, his final connection with the living beginning to be severed?
Perhaps the poet hints that the ghost is already more at rest, more 'dead" than before, now that
Achilles has guaranteed the burial of his body.
2(0 Perhaps the dead are not to be trusted without some sort of magical constraint (cf. the
wonderful debate about the veracity of a dead man in Apuleius' Metamorphoses 2.29-30). That
is, is speech here not merely articulation, but power or ability to 'report the verities of the mantic
world'?; so NAGLER (1996). OGDEN's examples (2001) 232 reveal that necromances are not
always truthful. For the connection between blood and prophecy, and the possibility of the origin
of this epic blood-drinking in the practice of oracular consultation of chthonic beings summonable by the offering of blood. see SOLJRVINOU-INWOOD (1995) 82-3. GRIFFITH(1997) 219-40, finds
the source of Homer's unusually loquacious dead in influences from Egypt. Perhaps the prophet's
unique ability to speak without the blood results also from his conflated role in the episode as
both ghostly prophet and pseudo-necromancer. OGDEN(2001) 139-41, 183 has noted that a major
element "missing" (when compared with later evidence) in Homer's account of the consultation
of the dead is the presence of a specialist-necromancer as guide for Odysseus. This role is
distributed between several figures, including Circe and Elpenor, but especially Tiresias. If this is
the case, then Tiresias' unique relationship with the blood makes sense. The prophet qua
necromancer would not need or be expected to drink. So he doesn't. Instead, he greets Odysseus
as if still alive. But Tiresias as ghost does need to drink - so he drinks. One could argue that his
two roles are then reflected in his odd performance of drinking the blood so he "can speak" while
he is already speaking.
21 OGDEN (2001) 239, 247.

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lengthy prognostications.
At any rate, Homerhas gone out of his way to markTiresias as an exception to
whateverrules apply to the rest of the dead, and we should not be surprisedto find
the prophet acting under different constraints.The general rule is that the dead
cannot speak to the living withouta revivifying taste of blood, but Homer is bound
by it only so far as determinedby his thematic needs.
In later Greek, and often in Latin, the underworldwas known as the 'silent
regions' and the dead as the 'silent ones', or, as the Hesiodic Scutum refers to
death itself, the place 'forgetful of speech' (kaXto8opyyoto,131). This silence,
however, is the absence of articulatespeech.22To mortal ears, the voices of the
dead sound like squeals, a terrifying 'screech like birds' (Kckayy VeKcuo)VNv
oi(ovC6v65;, Od. 11.605), an awful cry (0 CriiCtVM
iaXi) that both introduces
Odysseus to the dead (11.43) and sends him scurryingaway from them in fright
G ( wxrTi 11.633). The voices of the dead are linked to the sound of the
(1O1xi
divine here, at least etymologically, since the adjective G?66t05o;means 'from
the divine' (cf. II. 2.599-600 of divine song, and Od. 12.158 of the voice of the
sirens).
Finally, it is worth noting the epic use of the word 6vacouo;, 'speechless'.
When Odysseus washes ashore, nearly drowned, on Scheria, he is the closest to
death that he will come in the epic. His flesh is bloated, and the ocean pours
throughhis mouth and nose. Here, at his physically weakest point in the narrative,
Homerdescribeshim as lying on the beach 'breathlessand speechless' (abrvEvlto;
iat avau8o;, 5.456). What betterphraseto describe the dead or near-deadin this
case, especially given the significance of speech as a defining criterion for the
living?23Hesiod uses nearly the identical phrase to characterizethe gods when
they are closest to death. If a 'deathless' god violates an oath taken by the river
Styx, he lies breathless (vi-urRo;, Theog. 795) for an entire year, deprived of
nectar and ambrosia (795-97). He remains in a heavy trance, breathless and
speechless (ava6RXv?To; Kat 6vau6o;, 797), awaking to an exile of nine years.
To be speechless is the equivalent, or at least complement, to being breathless;
that is, to be without speech is to be dead or as close to death as one can come24.

Santa Clara, CA, USA


22

JOHNHEATH

E.g. Catull. 96.1; 101.4; Tib. 2.6.34; Prop. 2.1.77; cf. AP 7.467.8; further references in

BOMER (1957) 129-30. On the contrast between the silent and noisy dead, see STRAMAGLIA (1995).
23 His re-entry into humanity is specifically marked by the longest act of speech-making in

the epics, his recounting of his exploits; see SEGAL (1994) 19. BOEDEKER (1984) 67-70 proposes
that Odysseus at this point is reduced to 'infantile status' - naked, speechless, defenseless,
completely exposed to the dangers of nature. His first steps toward recovery are to carry out
activities that represent human culture: thinking, constructing, and talking.
24 The one other Homeric use of dva-o6o; is also revealing culturally. After Odysseus tricks
Circe and subsequently has sex with her, her maids prepare an elaborate meal for him. As it is set

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Blood for the Dead: Homeric Ghosts Speak Up

399

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