The Return of Odysseus

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jul 3, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    At first glance, this is a coin showing the return of Ulixes (Odysseus). But in fact it is about Sulla, as we will see.

    The coin:
    Roman Republic, C. Mamilius Limetanus, gens Mamilia
    AR - denarius serratus, 20mm, 3.78g, 45°
    Rome, 82 BC
    Obv.: Bust of Mercurius, draped and with winged petasos, r.; caduceus over r.
    shoulder; upper left A (control mark)
    Rev.: left from top to Bottom: C.MAMIL, right from bottom to top LIMETAN (TA
    Ulixes (Odysseus), bearded, with mantle and pilos, clad as beggar, advancing r.,
    resting with raised l. hand on staff and stretching r. hand to his old dog Argus,
    who stands r. before him looking up to him.
    Ref.: Crawford 362/1; Sydenham 741; RCV 282; Albert 1253; Mamilia 6
    rare, SS
    (1) The gens Mamilia claims her origin from Mamilia, daughter of Telegonos, the son of Circe from Ulixes, who himself was a son of Mercurius: Telegonos is said to be the founder of Tusculum, which was the city of the gens Mamilia
    (2) Lat. pileus = Greek pilos, a felt cap, often equated with the bonnet of liberty worn by the French Jacobins, but in error

    (1) After the fall of Troy Odysseus has set to return to Ithaka. He has known that his journey would last 10 years due to the merciless hate of Poseidon. Here is not the place to spread out all his countless adventures. But Calypso alone hold him for 7 years on her island of Ogygia. When Poseidon once was absent Zeus sent Hermes to Calypso with the order to release Odysseus. Yet he built a float and sailed away. When Poseidon recognized his escape he sent a heavy storm so that Odysseus could save himself just barely to the beach of the island of Drepane where he exhausted fell asleep. This island belonged to the Phaiakians, known for their hospitality. Nausikaa, the king's daughter, found the beached next morning and took him to the palace of her royal parents, Alkinoos and Arete. He was dressed and hosted friendly. But Odysseus longing for coming home asked them for bringing him back to Ithaca. So Phaiakian companions brought him to Phorkys on Ithaca putting him down gently on the sand of the beach not to disturb his sleep of fatigue.

    While Odysseus was twenty years away from Ithaca more than 120 impudent suitors have had gathered in his palace who courted his wife Penelopeia hoping to get his throne. During the whole time they lived and feasted in his palace, drank his wine, butchered his pigs, sheep and cattle, and pleasured themselves with his maidservants. Telemachos, the son of Odysseus, being on search for his father at Menelaos in Sparta, they wanted to kill when he came home.

    When Odysseus awoke Athena appeared, transformed him into a beggar and brought him to Eumaios his loyal old swineherd, which didn't recocnized him but hosted him friendly. Athena sent back Telemachos to Ithaca where father and son recognized each other with the help of Athena. Disguised again as beggar Odysseus betake himself to his palace where he met Melantheus, the goatherd, who mocked him and kicked him with his foot. But Odysseus still suspended his avenge. When he entered the court-yard of his palace we come to the scene which is depicted on the coin.

    (2) Here is the relevant text from the Odyssey (Book 17):
    As they were speaking, a dog that had been lying asleep raised his head and pricked up his ears. This was Argos, whom Odysseus had bred before setting out for Troy, but he had never had any enjoyment from him. In the old days he used to be taken out by the young men when they went hunting wild goats, or deer, or hares, but now that his master was gone he was lying neglected on the heaps of mule and cow dung that lay in front of the stable doors till the men should come and draw it away to manure the great close; and he was full of fleas. As soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close up to his master. When Odysseus saw the dog on the other side of the yard, dashed a tear from his eyes without Eumaios seeing it, and said:
    "Eumaios, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept merely for show?"
    "This dog," answered Eumaios, "belonged to him who has died in a far country. If he were what he was when Odysseus left for Troy, he would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks. But now he has fallen on evil times, for his master is dead and gone, and the women take no care of him. Servants never do their work when their master's hand is no longer over them, for Zeus takes half the goodness out of a man when he makes a slave of him."
    So saying he entered the well-built mansion, and made straight for the riotous pretenders in the hall. But Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had seen his master once more after twenty years.

    Naturally Odysseus' dog is the symbol of unconditional loyality, which was
    demanded from Sulla too (see 'History'!).

    (3) What happened thereafter:
    To check the suitors Odysseus paced from one to the other and asked for leftovers. But the suitors were not only greedy but stingy too. The most impudent of them all was Antinoos, who even threw a stool at him. On the next day Penelopeia announced that she was ready to take as spouse the one who was able to shoot an arrow through twelve axe holes, and gave them the bow of Osysseus. But no one of the suitors could even bend the bow. Thereupon Odysseus took the bow, bent the bow easily and shot an arrow through all twelve axe holes. Odysseus announced himself as the true king and killed Antinoos by a shot through his throat. Horror-stricken the suitors jumped up, but Odysseus shot one after the other with his arrows. In the same time Athena in the shape of a swallow flew twittering through the hall, while Odysseus pursued his bloody profession until all were dead. Only Medon the herald and Phemios the singer he spared.

    Then he called Eurykleia his old nurse and asked her for the loyality of his maidservants. The twelve guilty ones were brought and had to clean the palace hall from the blood. Then Odysseus hung them one after the other. Thereafter he cut off the limbs of Melantheus the goatherd, nose, ears, hands, feet and genitals and threw them to the dogs.

    This excessive avange of Odysseus is described totally unemotionally, and we are terrified by his exorbitance. But how much more terrible is reality!

    (4) The further fate of Odysseus:
    Years later Odysseus - according to a prophecy of Teiresias whom he had consulted on his visit of the Underworld - should have introduced the cult of Poseidon at the Thesprotians (in Epiros) to become reconciled with Poseidon. The queen of the Thesprotians fell in love with Odysseus and Odysseus stayed as king with her. Only after her death he returned to Penelopeia. In the meantime Telegonos, his son from Kirke, has grown up and was on search for his father. When once by chance he came to Ithaca and robbed some cattle he met Odysseus. They got into a fight and Odysseus was killed by his own son (Apollodor, Bibliotheka, X 33-36).

    The depiction on the reverse of the coin should be an allusion to the return of Sulla to Rome. Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (138-78 BC), the leader of the patrician party against the populares under Gaius Marius has captured Rome twice: 88 BC at the 1. march on Rome and 82 BC after the battle at the Porta Collina. After that he was appointed dictator legibus scribundis et rei publicae constituendae. Both captures were assiocated with terror, but the terror beginning in 82 BC was excessive. It was a massacre. Some thousands of Samnites were slaughtered on the Campus Martius. His enemies enclosed in Praeneste were killed undiscriminately after they have surrendered. But the most outrageous sanctions were the beginning proscriptions, lists with names of persons who were declared as outlaws. The legal basis was created by the lex Valeria but only afterwards. Everyone could suspect anyone who then was killed without the judgement of the court. Tens of thousands became victims of the proscriptions, not only enemies of Sulla, but all who displeased somebody. A number of 4700 Roman citizens is reported. But we must add the number of entire families together with children and grandchildren. The latifundia of the killed were sold to Sulla's followers or sold by auction. In this way e.g. Crassus became the richest man of his time.

    It was the merciless avenge of a man who didn't knew any limits. There is a striking similarity with the blood rage we have seen at Odysseus, when he killed the suitors one after the other and then hung the maidservants with his own hands. At the end he was so full of blood that even his wife Penelopeia could not recognize him. And Sulla we see as man with two faces: the conservative statesman who tried to save the old republican state order, and as brutal dictator who rang the bell for the end of the res publica. But his terror regime could delay the doom of the republic only for a short time. Even Schiller's word about Wallenstein: "Confused by the favour and hate of the parties his character sketch sways in history" doesn't match Sulla. His name stands until today for cruelty and terror.

    History of art:
    Naturally the adventures of Odysseus already in ancíent times were a rich source for
    depictions. In the Vatican Museums we find the part of a group where Odysseus gives Polyphem the cup of wine, 1st century AD. In the museum of Sperlonga we have the same-aged Skylla Group from the cave of Sperlonga. On a hydria from Caere the blinding of Polyphem is depicted lively (Rome, Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia, 6th century BC). The killing of the suitors we find on an Attic skyphos from c.450 BC, today in the Antikensammlung, Berlin (attached!). There are scenes with Kirke, the Sirens, with Kalypso and so on. These scenes appear as vase paintings, on coins, as glyptic and as sculptures. When Odysseus is depicted alone then regularely in a thoughtful position, as patient sufferer, as he is called by Homer, always bearded and with the pileus on his head.

    In Renaissance these themes were picked up again. P. Tibaldi has created a cycle of paintings in the Palazzo Poggi in Bologna (1554-56), Annibale Caracci in the Palazzo Farnese in Rome (1597-1600) and Niccolo d'Abbate (1550-60) in Fontainebleau, destroyed but known from several copies. Max Beckmann has painted Odysseus and Kalypso 1943 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg) and by Kokoschka we have 44 lithographies (1963-65). The total number of depictions can't be overlooked (Aghion). I have choosed the pictures from two skyphoi of the Penelope painter, because they cover our theme, the return of Odysseus.

    Poets too were fascinated by the dubious figure of Odysseus. We know tragedies of Sophokles and Euripides. Seneca has written the "Trojan Women" and naturally we find these themes in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In Dante's "Divina Comedia" Odysseus is banned to the 8th circle of hell as liar and deceptive advisor. In Shakespear's "Troilus and Cressida" too he is depicted as doubtful.
    Calderon de la Barca describes 1637 the adventures of Odysseus with Kirke. In the evolution of musique the opera "Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria" of Claudio Monteverdi, 1640, plays an important role. It is one of the highlights of the early opera which was invented only some decades before.

    With reference to modern times I mention Jean Gireaudoux' "There will be no Troyan War", 1935, where he points to the conflict between Germany and France and where the prevention of the war fails prophetically. Nikos Kazantzakis has written a spin-off of the Odysseus-Epos in 33.333 neo-Greek verses. And last not least the phenomenal novel "Ulysses" from the Irishman James Joyce, 1922, must be mentioned. In his work he tells 24 hours of a Dublin citizen, which are based on the chants of the Odyssey.

    Nikomachos von Theben, a painter from the 4th century BC is said to be the first one who has depicted Odysseus with a pileus. This cap was perfect to illustrate the versatility of our hero. At first this cap, used as inner lining of helmets, is a symbol of fighters. Then it was worn in Greece by voyagers, craftsmen - especially artists - and sailors. All of these groups are connected with Odysseus, and just this versatility makes the pileus a special attribute of Odysseus. By this cap he is signed as figure of identification for all Greeks (Niederberger).

    I have added 3 pics:
    (1) Odysseus and his nurse, washing his feet, Penelope painter, side B of a
    Attic red-figured vase (skyphos) from Chiusi, c.430 BC, high classical

    (2) Odysseus kills the suitors, Attic red-figured vase (skyphos), Penelope painter,
    c.440 BC, from Tarquinia, now in the Antikenmuseum Berlin
    left part!

    (3) as above, right part!
    (1) Homer, Odyssey
    (2) James Joyce, Ulysses

    (1) Der kleine Pauly
    (2) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon (online too)
    (3) Wilhelm H. Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen
    Mythologie, 1884-1890 (online too!)
    (4) Robert von Ranke-Graves, Griechische Mythologie
    (5) Oliver Primavesi, in 'Die Heimkehr des Odysseus', Beck 2007
    (6) Karl Christ, Sulla, Beck 2002
    (7) Aghion/Barbillon/Lissarrague, Reclams Lexikon der antiken Götter und Heroen in
    der Kunst, 2000
    (8) Gerhard Fink, Who's who in der antiken Mythologie, dtv 1993

    [1] Wikipedia
    [2] (pics)
    [3] Thomas Niederberger, Das Mützchen des Odysseus (Pilos)

    Excursion: The island of the Phaiakians - Homer's Atlantis?

    The article about the return of Odysseus gives me the opportunity to disgress a bit and to write about the island of the Phaiakians. I don't want to speculate here wether the myth of Atlantis has a real background or not or where it eventually was situated. But the similarity of the depiction of Atlantis by Plato and the depiction of the island of the Phaiakians by Homer was mentioned already by ancient authors. Especially Olaf von Rudbeck has written about that (1630-1702).

    We recognize that the geographical description is nearly identical:
    Both are islands situated in the north of the Okeanos, at the end of the world, as eschatoi. Direct in front of the king's island (Basileia) we find a sharply falling away rocky island. The Basileia is located in the mouth of a big stream, the Eridanos. On the island itself hills and dunes extend to the sea, behind of that a flat, very fruitful plain.

    The description of the king's castle are as alike as two peas in a pod: It is surrounded with walls and canals, there are passages for ships and the access to the harbour is so narrow that only one ship could pass. The castle is decorated with gold, silver and copper. Poseidon is the ancestor of the king's family and the Phaiakians and the Atlantides too, who in this way were of divine nature. There was a big temple of Poseidon surrounded by a wall, and to honour Poseidon bulls were sacrificed. Both nations are famous sailors. The climate was optimal. On top of the society there was no autokrat but a council decided about political events. Both nations were known for their sporting matches and gymnastic exercises.

    "The accordances are so numerous, that one can think, that Platon have used Homer's depictions as prototype." (Spanuth)

    Tacitus in his "Germania" writes "that according to many Odysseus has been cast away to the northern Okeanos". The same is suggested by Claudian, agreed by Procopius. F.G.Welcker has written "The stories of the Phaiakians must be originated from the North Sea region." (1833, 1845)

    Interesting are Homer's sailing instructions. They are geographical and astronomical so precise that they probably are originated from a periplous. Eratosthenes has called Homer a liar because he has written that the stream of the island of the Phaiakians has flowed backwards, and Odysseus has thrown the veil of Ino "into the saline waves of the stream". But this is the typical phenomenon of a river in a tidal range, which was unknown by Eratosthenes because the Mediterranean doesn't not have tides. Homer decribes phenomena of the Okeanos where we don't know where he could have the information. Historically they are not known before Pytheas of Marsilia c.380-320 BC.

    Apollonios Rhodios in his "Argonautika" equates the Basileia of the Phaiakians with th "sacred island of Elektris", situated near the stream of Eridanos at the sea of Kronos (North sea?). He calls the Phaiakians too as Hyperboreans and as collectors of amber, again a match with the Atlantides. Amber is Greek elektron.

    R. Hennig (1934) thinks that all these accordances couldn't be accidental, but that Homer and Platon have both taken their stories from the same original source. Except where Platon has copied Homer!

    Periplous = description of an ocean route for orientiation in foreign waters. Forerunner of our nautical charts.

    I have added the pic of a drawing from the German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680). It is a fantasy drawing of the "Insula Atlantis" according to the belief of the Egyptians and the descriptions of Platon, made c.1669. (The pic shows the earth upside.down!)


    (1) Homer, Odyssee
    (2) Platon, Timaios
    (3) Platon, Kritias
    (4) Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika

    (1) Jürgen Spanuth, Die Atlanter, Grabow 1989
    (2) K. A. Frank, Atlantis war anders, VfS 1978

    (1) Wikipedia
    (2) (drawing from Kircher)

    Best regards
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  3. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status

    Another wonderful write up and BEAuuuutiful coin!
    I'd never heard or read the Ulysses/Sulla theory. It makes perfect sense. Was this your own idea or one that you picked up somewhere?
    I have a very well used one directly next to my Sulla coin in my RR collection (same year):


    C. Mamilius Limetanus
    82 BC.
    Silver Serrate Denarius, 4.06 g., 19 mm.
    Obv. Bust of Mercury right, wearing petasus and holding caduceus.
    Rev. Ulysses (Odysseus) greeting his dog Argos who wags his tail in recognition, the scene recounted in Odyssey 17.290 ff.
    Crawford 362/1; Sydenham 741.
    L. Sulla and L. Manlius Torquatus
    82 BC. AR Denarius (18mm, 3.8 g). Military mint traveling with Sulla. Helmeted head of Roma right / Sulla driving triumphal quadriga right; above, crowning Victory flying left.
    As consul for the year 88 BC, Sulla was awarded the coveted assignment of suppressing the revolt of Mithradates VI of Pontus, but political maneuvers resulted in this assignment being transferred to Marius. In response, Sulla turned his army on Rome,!
  4. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    @Ryro That this coin has a connection with the politics of Sulla I have found in Primavesi.
    Ryro likes this.
  5. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    It has been years since I stopped gathering fourrees but I still have too many. Perhaps someday I will get a solid one; perhaps not.
  6. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?

    For those intersted in Jochen's writeup, I'd also recommend Yarrow "Ulysses's Return and Portrayals of Fides on Republican Coins" Essays Witschonke (ANS, New York: 2015). My offstruck example of the OP type below:

    roman208obv.jpg roman208rev.jpg
  7. Volodya

    Volodya Junior Member

    One of the first Republican denarii I ever bought:

    Phil (56).JPG

    Phil Davis
  8. Sulla80

    Sulla80 Well-Known Member

    Dear @Jochen1 - once again I thank you - your effort and expertise are highly valued. Your write-up is both engaging and brutally vivid. This is a time period in the history of the Roman republic period that is most interesting and where I have been adding to my collection (very slowly). The time period so dense with stories that I feel I have only scratched the surface.

    Just before his attack on Rome, Sulla was driven to the home of Marius by a murderous mob raised by Sulpicius to promote the cause of Marius with the senate. This mob of Marius supporters murdered Sulla's son-in-law Quintus, the son of Pompeius married to Cornelia Sulla, and others.[Lives] The republic was damaged by this, and by Sulla's act of turning six legions against Rome, when he didn't accept the manipulation of the senate that gave Marius command of "his" legions. The loyalty and service to the republic became confused with the ambitions of powerful and egotistical leaders - both Marius, and Sulla - and their supporters. The senate and laws became pawns in their ambitions. Julius Caesar was formed during this period - and his confrontation with Sulla is another interesting story.

    Here is a related story from Appian of Sulla's call for loyalty & threat for disloyalty (with another coin from the time) . Quintus Lucretius Ofella dared to bid for consulship in 81 BC, defying Sulla. Loyalty and obedience to Sulla and loyalty and obedience to the laws of the republic and the values of the Roman republic became confused.
    AR Denarius, C. Marius Capito (no relation to Marius the consul) 81 BC Obv: Bust of Ceres Rev: Plowman with oxen.

    Then Sulla assembled the people and said to them, "Know, citizens, and learn from me, that I caused the death of Lucretius because he disobeyed me." And then he told the following story: "A plowman was bitten by fleas while plowing. He stopped his plowing twice in order to clear them out of his shirt. When they bit him again he burned his shirt, so that he might not be so often interrupted in his work. And I tell you, who have felt my hand twice, to take warning lest the third time fire be brought to bear."
    - Appian Bellum Civile 1.11.101

    Michael Harlan in his book on Moneyers 81-64 BCE asks if, perhaps, the story might have inspired the coin or the coin inspired the story...
  9. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE

    Nice coin and write-up, @Jochen1 . I was never aware of the connection with Sulla. However, I knew he was brutal to the Samnites after the Social War.

    I got this for my Dog, Blue.

    RR C Mamilius 82 BCE AR Den Serrate Mercury caduceus Ulysses Dog Argos Sear 282 Craw 362-1.jpg
    RR C Mamilius 82 BCE AR Den Serrate Mercury caduceus Ulysses Dog Argos Sear 282 Craw 362-1

    RR Manlius Torquatus L. Corn Sulla 82 BCE AR den 17mm 3.7g Mil mint w Sulla. Roma - Sulla triumpl quadriga vict wreath Cr 367-3 Syd 759 S 286
  10. Sulla80

    Sulla80 Well-Known Member

    Thank you for the recommendation: pdf here for others interested.
    Jochen1 likes this.
  11. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Nice write-up @Jochen1 - I learned a lot.
    Jochen1 likes this.
  12. Voulgaroktonou

    Voulgaroktonou Well-Known Member

    A wonderful write up. Thanks! I've always thought those lines from Odyssey Book 17 are the saddest words in Greek literature. At least they are to me, a dog lover. Tetris and MBa.JPG
    Alegandron, Jochen1, Sulla80 and 6 others like this.
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