Connecting with Oinops

Solitary figure on the shore

~ A guest post by Jenna Cole and the Oinops Study Group ~

Last week in the post Searching for Oinops, we shared some of the tools that we used to recreate the meaning of oinops.  Our approach is based on the same methods used by Nagy in H24H – selecting a focus word and then evaluating each occurrence in early Greek epic. Lenny Muellner has written a beautiful article on this type of research, “Discovery Procedures and Principles for Homeric Research,” Classics@3, which is available on the CHS website.

Our team located each instance of oinops in Homeric epic, Homeric Hymns, and Hesiod. We knew that in order to uncover the meaning of this word, we had to connect it with the broader context of the narrative.  This required close reading of the passage that contained the word of interest, as well as those that led up to and followed it. Each one of us picked a few occurrences to focus on, which allowed us to really dig into the readings.

In Google+ Hangouts each team member screen-shared and described their focus passages, and remarkable patterns regarding the context of oinops started to appear.  We had each closely read only a few dozen lines of text, but in conversation with others we made some revealing discoveries.

The first instance of oinops in the Odyssey occurs in Scroll i , when Athena, disguised as Mentes, encourages Telemakhos to journey by sea to find news of his father.

And owl-vision Athena answered, “I will tell you truly and particularly all about it.[180] I am Mentes, son of high-spirited Ankhialos, and I am King of the oar-loving Taphians. I have come here with my ship and crew, on the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos] to men of a foreign tongue being bound for Temesa with a cargo of iron, and I shall bring back copper. [185] As for my ship, it lies over yonder off the open country away from the town, in the harbor Rheithron under the wooded mountain Neriton. Our fathers were friends before us, as the old hero Laertes will tell you, if you will go and ask him. They say, however, that he never comes to town [190] now, and lives by himself in the country, faring hardly, with an old woman to look after him and get his dinner for him, when he comes in tired from pottering about his vineyard. They told me your father was at home again, and that was why I came, [195] but it seems the gods are still keeping him back, for he is not dead yet not on the mainland. It is more likely he is on some sea-girt island in mid ocean, or a prisoner among savages who are detaining him against his will.
Odyssey i, (modified from our Sourcebook[1])

At line 183, oinops describes pontos, the sea.  Note that this phrase was missing from the translation provided in our Sourcebook.  In this blog post and in the ones that follow, we will provide modified English translations, based on the Sourcebook whenever possible, that include oinops and the modified noun. Our goal throughout this word study was to uncover the meaning of oinops.  As a placeholder, we used ‘wine-faced’ for our translation of this Greek word.  We chose this rather literal translation as our jumping off point, and the research that follows in this and other posts will reveal our current understanding of the deeper meaning of oinops.

In close reading, other words and phrases popped out as potentially useful for understanding the original meaning of oinops.  For example, a different compound adjective that contains ὤψ [ōps, ‘eyes’ or ‘face’] appears at line 178 in Odyssey scroll i.  Athena is described as γλαυκῶπις [glaukōpis], which is translated as ‘gleaming-eyed’ on Perseus and as ‘owl-vision’ in our Sourcebook.  So glaukōpis hints at a different way of seeing.  And then a despondent scene, which includes a second occurrence of pontos, begins at line 194. Pontos is now modified by εὐρύς [eurus, ‘broad’] at line 197.  Odysseus is described as being thwarted of his return, constrained, and held against his will.

In Iliad XIII, oinops is used in a very different way. Starting at line 701 the two Ajaxes appear in battle, fighting side-by-side against the Trojans.  At line 703 they are compared to βόε οἴνοπε [boe oinope], which is translated as a pair of ‘wine-dark oxen’ (Murray on Perseus, Lattimore on Chicago Homer) or ‘swart oxen’ (Butler). The heroes are yoked shoulder-to-shoulder, steaming with sweat, laboring together in the field.

Swift Ajax son of Oïleus never for a moment left the side of Ajax son of Telamon, but as two wine-faced [oinops] oxen [bous] both strain their utmost at the plow which they are drawing in a fallow field, [705] and the sweat steams upwards from about the roots of their horns – nothing but the yoke divides them as they break up the ground till they reach the end of the field – even so did the two Ajaxes stand shoulder to shoulder by one another.
Iliad XIII (modified from our Sourcebook)

To return to the passage that inspired my interest in oinops, which we saw in the previous post, the Homeric Hymn (7) to Dionysus illuminates more associations common to other passages.

|1 About Dionysus son of most glorious Semele |2 my mind will connect, how it was that he made an appearance [phainesthai] by the shore of the barren sea |3 on a prominent headland, looking like a young man |4 at the beginning of adolescence. Beautiful were the locks of hair as they waved in the breeze surrounding him. |5 They were the color of deep blue. And a cloak he wore over his strong shoulders, |6 color of purple. Then, all of a sudden, men seen from a ship with fine benches |7 —men who were pirates—came into view, as they were sailing over the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos]. |8 They were Etruscans. And they were being driven along by a destiny that was bad for them. The moment they saw him [= Dionysus], |9 they gave each other a knowing nod, and the very next thing, they were ashore, jumping out of the ship. Quickly they seized him and |10 sat him down inside their ship, happy in their hearts |11 because they thought that he was the son of a line of kings nurtured by the sky god. |12 That is what they thought he was. And they wanted to tie him up in harsh bondage, |13 but the ties of the bonds could not hold him, and the cords made of willow fell off him, all over the place, |14 falling right off his hands and feet. And he just sat there, smiling, |15 looking on with his deep blue eyes. Meanwhile the steersman [kubernētēs] took note [noeîn], |16 right away, and he called out to his comrades [hetairoi] and said to them:
Homeric Hymn to Dionysus 1–16  (modified from our Sourcebook)

The hymn opens with Dionysus standing on a headland, overlooking the sea.  The word for sea in line 2 is not pontos, but instead ἅλς [hals].  The ‘wine-faced sea’ is used with pirates, men who will not fare well in this story, having “a destiny that was bad for them.” So again there is an association with struggle, but additional connections to the content of other passages can also be made, like the mention of the headland and the role of the steersman [kubernētēs] who perceives [noeîn].

In our close readings, we identified a number of what we called ‘themes,’ patterns that stood out to us as potentially useful in our goal of connecting with the meaning of oinops.  These themes included descriptions of light and seeing, sacrifice and ritual, helmsmen and steering, and other mentions of (and even other words for) the sea, and we have applied color-coded highlighting to help these different themes stand out in this and future posts.  With themes identified, each member of the team returned to the texts, now going again through all instances of oinops. We tried to be careful not to ‘read in’ to our passages, but instead to be mindful of the words present there in the Greek text.

One theme that I became particularly interested in was references to time of day in association with instances of oinops. This reference might be the mention of rosy-fingered Dawn, an evening meal, or the sun at the midpoint of the sky.  Could this context help us understand oinops?

There are many clues that help us understand time of day in our texts.  For example, in Odyssey ii, oinopa ponton occurs at line 421, where Athena glaukōpis prepares Telemakhos and his men on their journey to Sparta and Pylos, and the passage closes with the ships sailing παννύχιος [pannukhios, ‘all night long’] in line 434.

Then owl-vision Athena turned her thoughts to another matter. She took his shape, and went round the town to each one of the crew, telling them [385] to meet at the ship by sundown. She went also to Noemon glorious son of Phronios, and asked him to let her have a ship – which he was very ready to do. When the sun had set and darkness was over all the land, she got the ship into the water, put [390] all the tackle on board her that ships generally carry, and stationed her at the end of the harbor. Presently the crew came up, and the owl-vision goddess spoke encouragingly to each of them. Furthermore she went to the house of godlike Odysseus, [395] and threw the suitors into a deep slumber. She caused their drink to fuddle them, and made them drop their cups from their hands, so that instead of sitting over their wine, they went back into the town to sleep, with their eyes heavy and full of drowsiness. [400] Then she took the form and voice of Mentor, and called Telemakhos to come outside. “Telemakhos,” said she, “the strong-greaved men are on board and at their oars, waiting for you to give your orders, so make haste and let us be off.” [405] Then she led the way, while Telemakhos followed in her steps. When they got to the ship they found the crew waiting by the water side, and the hallowed prince, Telemakhos said, [410] “Now my men, help me to get the stores on board; they are all put together in the hall, and my mother does not know anything about it, nor any of the maid servants except one.” With these words he led the way and the others followed after. [415] When they had brought the things as he told them, dear son of Odysseus, Telemakhos went on board, Athena going before him and taking her seat in the stern of the vessel, while Telemakhos sat beside her. Then the men loosed the hawsers and took their places on the benches. [420] Owl-vision Athena sent them a fair wind from the West, that whistled over the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos] whereon Telemakhos told them to catch hold of the ropes and hoist sail, and they did as he told them. They set the mast in its socket in the cross plank, raised it, [425] and made it fast with the forestays; then they hoisted their white sails aloft with ropes of twisted ox-hide. As the sail bellied out with the wind, the ship flew through the deep blue water, and the foam hissed against her bows as she sped onward. [430] Then they made all fast throughout the ship, filled the mixing-bowls to the brim, and made drink offerings to the immortal gods that are from everlasting, but more particularly to the owl-vision daughter of Zeus. Thus, then, the ship sped on her way through the watches of the night from dark till dawn.
Odyssey ii (modified from our Sourcebook)

In Odyssey xiii, we see even more references to time of day after Odysseus has told the story of his sufferings to the Phaeacians:

Then they went to the house of Alkinoos, the hallowed prince, to get dinner, and he sacrificed a bull for them [25] in honor of Zeus, the dark-clouded son of Kronos, who is the lord of all. They set the meats to grill and made an excellent dinner, after which the inspired bard, Demodokos, who was a favorite with every one, sang to them; but Odysseus kept on turning his eyes towards [30] the sun, as though to hasten his setting, for he was longing to be on his way. As one who has been all day plowing a fallow field with a pair of wine-faced [oinops] oxen [bous] keeps thinking about his supper and is glad when night comes that he may go and get it, for it is all his legs can do to carry him, [35] even so did Odysseus rejoice when the sun went down, and he at once said to the oar-loving Phaeacians, addressing himself more particularly to King Alkinoos, pre-eminent among all others…
Odyssey xiii (modified from our Sourcebook)

Here we almost can’t escape noticing time, with mentions of evening meals, looking at the sun, and desire for nightfall.  Odysseus rejoices at the sinking light of the sun, φάος ἠελίοιο [phaos hēelioio], just as the pair of ‘wine-faced oxen’ do, suggesting a strong connection between light and oinops.

There are other examples, with references not only to time of day, but also to the sun god Helios (such as Odyssey xix, lines 261–276), associated with attestations of oinops, particularly in the Odyssey.  Can this help us understand oinops?  Is there something about ‘wine’ and ‘face’ that is relevant to the hour of the day and the sun?  We hope that you will join us in the forum to discuss.

Coming next time: Seeing Oinops through a Different Lens

Down load Oinops Passages here: Oinops Word Study Passages (PDF)


[1] Sourcebook: The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook of Original Greek Texts Translated into English, Gregory Nagy, General Editor.

Image Credit

Creative Commons photo of Aegean Sea Lookout by Divya Thakur, link at